By Deborah Shlian
I am a physician (now retired) and a published author of medical mystery/thrillers since the 1980’s. I would never have had the successes I’ve enjoyed had I not found mentors along the way – as I moved along in my medical career and now as I continue to write my novels while the publishing world changes around me.
As a young doctor, fresh out of residency, I joined a large integrated healthcare system (Kaiser Permanente) in Los Angeles. There I found an amazing clinician, outstanding teacher and natural leader who became my first real mentor. Growing up in the early 1960’s, at a time when family and career roles were still fairly differentiated by gender, this view required adjustments from parents, friends and particularly school counselors who regarded nursing or teaching as much more acceptable careers for women than medicine. Indeed, the idea of career itself was “something to fall back on”, to be dusted off should a husband die, or family economics really get tight. Full time wife and mother was the generally accepted proper role for a woman of that era. Dr. Rasgon thought that kind of thinking was baloney and encouraged me to become the best clinician first and then to consider a leadership role within healthcare. Because of his mentoring, when an opportunity to become Medical Director of UCLA’s Student Health Service opened up, I decided to take the risk and put my hat in the ring. I got the job.
At UCLA, I took on the responsibility of oversight for 33,000 students and a large staff of physicians, nurses and non-clinical staff. As my administrative duties expanded, my boss, who became my next mentor, encouraged me to consider getting a Masters in Business. He convinced me that acquiring a working knowledge of the language and concepts of business would allow me to straddle the role of clinician and non-clinician administrator. I enrolled in UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and graduated with an MBA.
While in business school, I decided to write a nonfiction book about the rise of managed care (I had practiced in one of the oldest HMOs in the US and had a unique perspective on what I saw as a revolutionary change in medicine). Unfortunately, publishers in New York in the 1980’s had barely heard the word HMO and told me that the concept would never fly east of the Rockies! A friend who wrote screenplays (Leigh Chapman) and who became my first writing mentor suggested writing a novel and weaving my concerns within a story. Unfortunately, my first attempt was too didactic; I didn’t even try to have it published. However, with my mentor’s encouragement I began to study the craft of novel writing. Robin Cook, a physician and best-selling author, was just getting popular at the time and it was clear that in the context of fiction, he could tell a story that also dealt with some difficult life issue.
The choice to write mysteries versus any other genre seemed natural. To me, a good doctor is really a detective. He or she must take various clues (patients’ symptoms, their physical signs and their story or history) and figure out what’s really going on – that is, make a diagnosis. Since the 1980’s I have co-written three medical mystery/thrillers with my husband (Double Illusion, Wednesday’s Child and Rabbit in the Moon), co-written two in an ongoing series with a physician colleague from California (Dead Air and Devil Wind which feature radio talk show host Sammy Greene).
All of these novels so far have been published by major publishers and all have won several literary awards including four Royal Palm Literary awards from the Florida Writers Association. Rabbit in the Moon won the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal. Two of my novels have been optioned for screenplays.
Between my last novel published in 2011 and a new mystery/thriller I completed this year, the changes in the publishing world had accelerated. My agent had passed away, I wasn’t happy with my experience with my most recent publisher, and I was suddenly a stranger in a whole new world.
Here’s an irony. A young writer (John Ling) who I have been mentoring for several years has now become my mentor! When I read John’s first self-published short stories, I recognized his talent and encouraged him to write a larger work. His first and subsequent thrillers are as good as any of the top thriller writers around the world (I was one of this year’s Edgar Awards judges, so I think I have a good sense of talent). Despite my advice, John, who is extremely savvy about social marketing, chose to self-publish his novels. Happily, he has become a bestselling author and is one of the few writers these days who is actually making a living as a novelist.
So, with John’s encouragement, I have decided to take the leap and self-publish my newest thriller Silent Survivor. Given that most major publishers are outsourcing the marketing to authors, it makes sense to go down the learning curve and maintain control of your project. I understand that for many authors, this is still a difficult mindset. It has been for me. But I am now relying on the encouragement of my mentor and hoping for the best.
According to Steven Spielberg, “the delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
Bottom line- my career path in both medicine and writing has not been a straightforward path. With each opportunity came a choice and a certain risk. Luckily, I found mentors along the way who helped me consider these forks which have made all the difference.
Deborah Shlian is a physician, healthcare consultant and author of numerous nonfiction articles and books as well as six award-winning medical mystery/thrillers, three co-authored with her husband, Joel. Rabbit in the Moon won the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal. Her newest medical mystery/thriller, Silent Survivor, won First Place, Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association.
NOTE: Every dollar from sales of this book is going to veterans’ charities that deal with PTSD as well as charities that help women who have experienced sexual assault
Here’s the link to Amazon (the book won’t be available until July 31st): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7JD1QF?ref_=pe_2427780_160035660
Here’s the link to the trailer: https://youtu.be/QsmiKrIzgpU