Michael Palmer is the NY Times Bestselling Author behind "A Heartbeat Away" and "The Last Surgeon." Michael just published his 17th novel "Oath of Office," a gritty, thought provoking story that deals with genetically modified corn. We were hooked within the first five pages when a well-respected doctor inexplicably embarks upon a murderous rampage.
Michael trained in internal medicine at Boston City and Massachusetts General Hospitals, spent twenty years as a full-time practitioner of internal and emergency medicine, and is now an associate director of the Massachusetts Medical Society's physician health program.
Michael talked to us about his career, his new book, and life in Boston.
Tell us about your 17th novel, “Oath of Office.” How did you decide to write it and what can people expect when they open it up?
Each of my novels deals with a medical ethical issue. I chose genetically modified food after seeing the award winning documentary Food, Inc. My suspense stories are tight, character driven, tightly researched and medically factual. I try to write seamlessly and to completely remove myself from every page. After they have finished, I hope my readers will slump down in their chairs, breathing heavily, and thinking, "Damn, that was fun!"
Inspired by Robert Kenner’s 2008 Academy Award nominated documentary Food Inc., “Oath of Office” is an interesting way to explore the underlying realities of the corporate food system. Why did you choose to write a novel instead of a non-fiction work?
Fiction is what I do. The line that separates good fiction from non-fiction is often a thin one. There should be excitement and suspense in good non-fiction, but I prefer to manufacture my own.
The first few pages in the book are very gritty and raw. It just sucks the reader in. Is this a skill you have been perfecting for years or did it come naturally to you when you began writing?
I pay a lot of attention to pacing and to creating books that will be diverting and fun. Part of that goal is action, mixed with a liberal dosing of tension. As far as I know, this aspect of my creativity has always been close to the surface.
It is often the case that vibrant characters write themselves. Did you encounter that with any of the characters in “Oath of Office?”
Dr. Lou Welcome, the protagonist in OoO will be my first recurring character. He is modeled in many ways after me and my world as an ER doctor, who also works part time for a program helping doctors in trouble from mental illness, physical illness, behavioral problems and drug and alcohol dependency. See PhysicianHealth.org to learn what we (and Dr. Lou Welcome) do.
Can you recall a moment when you read back on what you wrote and thought, “Wow, I didn’t expect that character to do that?”
A hermit, "Ives . . . just Ives," who was a peripheral character in Critical Judgment grew in his influence and colorfulness until he was, essentially, the sub-main character in the novel. He surprised me on a daily basis while I was writing.
Are there any authors that have had an influence on your writing?
Probably every one I have ever read in any genre. My favorites are Robertson Davies, James Clavell, and Charles Dickens. Closer to my field are Trevanian, John D. MacDonald, Alistair MacLean, Eric Ambler, and James Lee Burke.
You mention that your first try at fiction writing, The Corey Prescription, was less than successful at first, but it’s now been published in several languages. Are there any plans to publish it in English?
Not as far as I know. It is a decent enough adventure story, but does not involve any medical/ethical issues, and it's a little thin in terms of subplots and other writing "tricks" that spice up my books.
What can we expect to see from you next?
I am moving along with Political Suicide, my second Lou Welcome novel, dealing with the neurobiology of fear. I should be finished by the end of the summer, and it will be out on Valentine's Day of 2013.