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Interview with Richard Mabry

This is quite the honor for me to interview Dr. Richard Mabry. I’ve been following his work for years, and can highly recommend his writing. Dr. Mabry’s suspense novels have consistently rated 4 1/2 stars by Romantic Times Book Reviews, and were finalists in competitions including ACFW’s Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. His novel Lethal Remedy won a 2012 Selah Award from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. His most recent medical thriller, Heart Failure, was published in October, 2013.

Tell us about your transition from being a doctor to being a novelist…
Although I wrote or edited eight textbooks and had over 100 professional papers published in medical journals, I had absolutely no aspirations to do non-medical writing until September, 1999, when my beloved wife of 40 years, Cynthia, had a fatal stroke. As part of the healing process, I journaled extensively. When some of my friends read that material, they urged me to turn it into a book, but I had no idea how to do that.

Finally, I attended a Christian writers conference, where I not only managed to learn enough to eventually write my book (which was published in 2009 by Kregel as The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse), but received enough encouragement to write fiction that I decided to try my hand at it. After four years spent writing four novels that garnered forty rejections, I received my first contract. By that time, I had retired from medicine, and God had blessed me once more with the love of a beautiful woman. However, I found that retirement was only a transition. Whereas I previously worked at the medical center, now I worked in my office. Not only that, I was starting over as a “newbie” again.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Since I’m retired, you’d think that I would have lots of time to write. If you believe this, ask any of your friends who are retired, and they’ll all say the same thing: “I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.”

How do I do it? I’m not totally sure. Unlike some of my mentors and many writers, I don’t designate a specific word count to be completed every day, working until it’s done. Often—all too often—life intervenes. However, I always keep deadlines in the back of my mind, and I’ve never missed one yet.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I suppose it goes back to my introduction to non-medical writing, when I was trying to share my experiences and insights after Cynthia’s death. At that time, if not for my faith, I truly believe I would have fallen apart. When I began to write fiction, there was never any doubt in my mind that it would be Christian fiction, and that I’d try to find a Christian publisher to partner with me.

Early in my writing journey, I heard rumors (which I never investigated) that some publishers wouldn’t look at a manuscript that didn’t have a conversion scene, an exposition of the Gospel, and preferably a wedding at the end. I don’t write that way, preferring to present eternal truths without hitting the reader over the head with them. Fortunately, my publishers have agreed with the way I have chosen to go in this area, and my readers have responded positively as well.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
Initially, I tried to write mainstream fiction, but couldn’t make it interesting enough for the reader to turn the page. Since I’ve read suspense and thrillers since I was a teen-ager, I began to wonder if I could make that work. I tried cozy mysteries, but in my hands those were a disaster. I kept coming back to full-length suspense. And, since my lifelong profession was medicine, why not incorporate that into the books as well? The result is what I’ve come to call “medical suspense with heart.” It’s working, and you know what they say about fixing something that isn’t broken.

What is your next book about?
As most of the readers of this column know, traditional publishers work ahead, sometimes by as much as a year.

My next book, Critical Condition, is complete and scheduled to release in April of 2014. Here’s a bit more about it:It was supposed to be a quiet dinner party with her colleagues. Not the scene of a murder. But the shooting of a stranger on her front lawn is only the first in a string of events that have Dr. Shannon Frasier’s life teetering on the edge of chaos: She’s unable to make the deeper commitment her boyfriend deserves. Her sister shows up at Shannon’s home needing a place to stay, but with no promise she’ll stay sober. And her father is diagnosed with cancer.

Then Shannon’s life stops teetering, and plunges into the abyss. Because the person behind the guttural voice on the phone wants to know what the stranger said before he died. And he won’t stop until Shannon gives him the information wants—even if she doesn’t have it.

Do you have more books planned?
I’m well into my next book, working title Surgical Judgment. It begins in the Emergency Room, where Dr. Mark Baker and Nurse Linda Atkinson stand at the mercy of a gunman who declares, “If my brother dies, everyone here dies.” Mark’s quick thinking saves their lives, but at the end of the evening three men lie dead. One of them is a police officer Mark and a surgeon, Dr. Anna King, couldn’t save. The other two are members of the feared Zeta drug cartel. Now Mark must work in a different way to save his life and Linda’s.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
For almost fourteen years, I’ve played golf every Wednesday (weather and travel permitting) with my friend/attorney. This has carried us through my wife’s death, his wife’s death, remarriage for both of us, and multiple family crises. We enjoy the fellowship, but don’t keep score. We’ve found it’s more fun that way.

I enjoy reading for relaxation. Kay and I occasionally watch sitcoms that we record. We like baseball and football, although the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys have been a disappointment recently. And, of course, there are our grandchildren. Three of the four are within driving distance, which keeps us busy.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I read both conventional print books and e-books. Right now, my Kindle is at my bedside because I’m just finishing a couple of John Grisham’s books. I read and re-read the work of the late Robert B. Parker, as well as a number of contemporary writers. I’m afraid to start naming names, for fear I’d forget some.

Any parting words?
To those still trudging along their own road to writing, my advice is fairly simple: study the techniques of writing, read a lot, write a lot, get critiques from knowledgeable people, rewrite, and keep on doing it. God knows if and/or when you’ll be published. In the meantime, at least one person is affected by every word you write. And sometimes that’s enough.

Thanks for sharing with us, Richard.

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