Take advantage of the innumerable, free, on-line writing resources, and be careful where you invest money in courses. Some are terrific, others are repetitive. My current rule is, unless I receive individualized feedback on my writing directly from the instructor, I won’t take the class. Though I’ve purchased access to some online videos, I find I never watch them if I miss it live. That might just be me.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Euliano, MD.
Tammy Euliano is the author of Fatal Intent. She is a practicing anesthesiologist and tenured professor at the University of Florida. In addition to a prolific list of academic publications, YouTube teaching videos, and numerous teaching awards, she has also written award-winning short fiction.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Once upon a time…I had been teaching medical students about anesthesia for many years and struggled to find reading materials at an appropriate level for them. So I asked my mentor and he said, “Let’s write one.” So we did, just the two of us, and had an amazing time. After, neither of us wished to end the collaboration so he suggested we start a novel. Sadly, he fell ill and passed away, but he’d lit the spark and the stories began to flow.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The oddest one so far happened at my first PitchFest. I introduced myself to the agent as an anesthesiologist, then started in on my rehearsed pitch for what would become Fatal Intent. When I mentioned the fact the nurse anesthetist character, he interrupted, “Those don’t exist.” Me: “Um, yes, they actually do.” Him: “No, I’ve had surgery, and they don’t. But if you consider rewriting it I’ll take a look.” Go figure, I didn’t submit to him…and yes, Mr. Agent, this is a Santa Claus.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge was realizing that just because I was a good reader and a good doctor and a reasonably intelligent human being didn’t mean I knew ANYTHING about writing fiction. That there was no shame in starting at square one and taking beginners classes and writing and writing and receiving critical feedback that made me want to sulk and even give up at times, but also to improve. While medicine has much art to it, there are still some rights and wrongs. This is much less true in writing, and for every criticism I received, the same line was complimented by someone else. I found that subjectivity excruciating early on.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I went to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC very soon after I started writing…too soon in fact. I did the pitchfest knowing nothing about what I was doing and with my novel not really done. I looked for agents interested in thrillers and found a handful. It went okay, several asked for a formal query but nothing came of it. Later, I met some new friends who encouraged me to attend Thrillerfest where I again went through the Pitchfest. This time, I sat in the hotel room looking through the agents and hoping to find some who were seeking thrillers. Lo and behold it was every single one of them. Yay! and D’uh, it was THRILLERfest for heaven’s sake. The lesson I learned, besides don’t be a moron, was larger. Thrillerfest was a crowd of like-minded supportive, friendly people. I didn’t get the same sense from Writer’s Digest. It could have just been that I knew a couple people at Thrillerfest and they helped me meet more, but I felt like I was amongst family. I’ve been every year since (minus 2020, which I’m pretending didn’t exist) and have loved every minute of it!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I so want to publish my other series. Pre-covid I wrote about a bioengineered virus that destroyed the fertility of humans and other primates. Sort of Children of Men-ish, minus the soul-crushing fate of mankind that PD James depicted. Anyway, I LOVE working on the books, I love the characters and the challenging topics raised, but have yet to interest agent or publisher.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your new book?
Hmm, that’s a tough question, but I can offer a true one that resonates with the theme. When I was an intern (first year of residency, after completing medical school, and basically the bottom of the totem pole, if you assume all the totems above it ate beans and took laxatives — sorry, I digress). Anyway, at night we would cover for each other’s patients. This night, before heading home, the other residents each brought me a sheet on which they wrote a brief history of each of their patients, why they were in the hospital, and anything they needed of me overnight (to check labs, for example). Late that night I was called to see a patient’s family member. The elderly woman was not my patient and I had little information other than she’d had a stroke. Her son angrily asked why I wanted to kill his mother. Eek! (though I probably thought something quite different at that moment of sleep-deprivation). He didn’t want to wait to discuss it with her primary care team in the morning. “Why do you get to play God?” he asked me. To this, I somehow had an answer about God giving us the tools to keep the body alive, and the wisdom to know when that is futile. I don’t recall how the situation ended, but the conversation sticks in my mind. I wonder how he remembers it…
What is the main lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing Fatal Intent?
#1 make a Living Will, and Surrogate for HealthCare Decisions. Talk openly with family about your wishes and DEMAND they do the same. “Do what you want, I won’t know” is not the answer. That’s unfair because it leaves you making the decision at an awful time.
#2 nothing is as straight-forward as it might appear on the surface. Keep an open mind.
Based on your experience, what are the 5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Read, in your genre, outside your genre, and craft books. When I started, thinking, ‘how hard can it be’ I made every mistake in the book, in the first page. KM Weiland’s “Outlining Your Novel” got me started on the right track and I’ve learned a ton since.
2. Find a tribe of like-minded friends, preferably at a similar stage in their writing journey. This is not a critique group, but cheerleaders/commiserators for the very long haul that is writing and publishing a book.
3. Go to at least one in-person writing class/conference. I met my writer buddies at a Margie Lawson Immersion five years ago. We video-chat at least once a month and meet up for a week once a year to write and talk and compare notes. In the intervening 5 years, nearly all of us has published at least one book! Attending a conference in your genre allows you to meet all the wonderful writers at and above your level. It’s how I was able to meet the authors who wrote all the incredible blurbs for my novel.
4. Decide if this is a commitment. After a few years of dabbling, I resigned my administrative duties, wrapped up my research and went part-time at the hospital so I could devote more time to writing. Of course this isn’t possible for everyone, even most people, but there are ways to make time, for example by hiring a maid and allowing the house to be clean only once every 2 weeks, and forcing yourself not to clean in between so you create writing time.
5. Take advantage of the innumerable, free, on-line writing resources, and be careful where you invest money in courses. Some are terrific, others are repetitive. My current rule is, unless I receive individualized feedback on my writing directly from the instructor, I won’t take the class. Though I’ve purchased access to some online videos, I find I never watch them if I miss it live. That might just be me.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Perseverance without a doubt. Academics always came easy to me. Give me a question and parameters for the answer and I will find it, and tie it up with a bow. I have no doubt, if there is an answer out there, I will find it. But writing is so different, there are few absolutes and so much difference of opinion you never know if you “got it right” and there are an infinite number of other ways to tell the story. The “no right answer” can be both crippling and thrilling.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Thrillers. It’s the genre I write, and the genre I enjoy reading. I also like mysteries of course, and read police-procedurals, not so much legal thrillers.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A national movement to discuss the right way to make decisions regarding the end-of-life. In an effort to fight the paternalism of medicine, I believe we have put crushing decisions on family members they are not prepared to make. Instead of “There’s nothing more we can do, should we turn off the ventilator?” And then making it the eldest child’s decision to “kill Grandma,” with the potential for family discord, what if the physician (after confirmation with at least one other physician or ethicist or whomever) could say, “There is nothing more we can do, Grandma’s brain cannot recover meaningfully from this, we’re going to withdraw care tomorrow at X o’clock to give you time to make arrangements and say good-bye.” No one has to make the heart-wrenching decision, but it does require a level of trust that may not exist.
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