Dr. Darden North was scheduled for an interview today but is unavailable. However, we previously interviewed him on 9/23/09 and are reposting that interview.
1. Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Dr. North. Tell us about your latest book and your current WIP.
My current novel is Fresh Frozen. Can selling human eggs and embryos lead to fame and fortune? In Fresh Frozen two doctors have competition when everyone wants a piece of movie star Allyn Saxton — not her career, not her autograph, not a one-night stand, but her frozen embryos. Saxton survives her conniving mother, who molds the once successful child actress into an even more popular international celebrity. However, when marriage and a string of broken relationships leave her childless, Saxton slips down to Mississippi and the secluded, state-of-the-art Van Deman Reproduction Center in hopes of having a baby. Secluded, it’s not, when someone hires Internet spy Tinker Murtagh to break through the Center’s security system and steal Saxton’s embryos. Even Murtagh is unaware that in the facility’s next exam room his camera catches the competition for the prize at work. There, a nearly-bankrupt policeman and his tormented wife are also being treated by Dr. Van Deman, so desperate is the cop’s wife for pregnancy that she is willing to kill for it. Human reproductive tissue becomes a fatal commodity in Fresh Frozen. Fresh Frozen was released in hardcover in October 2008 and is available wherever books are sold.
My work-in-progress is a new novel, tentatively titled Wiggle Room. Wiggle Room is a little different for me and it’s exciting, but I believe the story will definitely appeal to my reader base and expand it even more. What if an Air Force surgeon returns from overseas deployment to find that he’s the target of an assassin? Serving four months in Iraq, Dr. Brad Cummins fails to save an injured soldier even as he mends the GI’s attacker. Once back in the U.S., still blaming himself for returning the insurgent to the killing fields, Cummins discovers his own brother shot to death and soon realizes that he is the intended target. Is Dr. Cummins being hunted by a terrorist who follows him from Iraq, a revengeful love interest of the GI he allowed to die, or someone else a little closer to home? I look for Wiggle Room to be available in 2010.
2. Your books are billed as mystery/suspense/medical thrillers and have received national awards. Which award do you cherish the most?
As you said, I have been blessed with national award recognition for all three of my novels to date and am proud of them all. But, I guess, sometimes your first is the most memorable. That would be the award received in Regional Southern Fiction for my second work, Points of Origin, presented by the Independent Book Publishers Awards (IPPY) in New York.
3. As a practicing gynecologist, I imagine you have to be pretty self-disciplined when it comes to setting aside time for writing. Do you have a specific writing ritual?
Most writers I’ve met seem to have another supportive occupation as I do and talk about getting up early to write an hour or so before work. But since I am typically due at the hospital by 7:00 am, jumping out of bed any earlier could be a stretch for me. Therefore, I write at night, but now (with my wife’s encouragement) force myself to call it a day by 10:00 pm. Of course, weekends allow for catch up time.
4. Medical thrillers are a favorite of mine, and as a doctor, you’re the perfect person to write in this genre. Have you thought about crossing over to another genre, say, romance or science fiction?
It’s timely that you ask. I have been working with a published author I met at a writers’ conference in Louisiana about developing a medical romance series. She is presently pitching this idea to romance publishers. We hope to capitalize on the interest in film production in the Deep South, particularly in her native Louisiana, where coincidentally the True Blood television series is set. However, there are no plans for vampires in our medical romance series – at least, not yet. But what about a vampire doctor? Sound interesting?
5. What inspires you as a writer?
Writing allows me to speak and act through other voices. I find it fascinating to develop characters and sometimes twist people or types of people I know into something they are not, but could be. Deep down, I believe that I long to entertain, and I have always stayed busy. Patients and nurses tell me that I have “a good bedside manner” – a trait required of any successful doctor or medical professional and, perhaps, that trait transcends into putting believable words on paper.
6. What motivated you to write your first novel? I was not aware of any practicing physicians at the time writing fiction. It appeared to me that most publication venues seemed to look upon books written by doctors as something along the lines of memoirs, instructional manuals, textbooks, or other health-related “how-to” guides. So, I thought there might be a place for Darden North, the full-time ob/gyn physician from Mississippi, in the fiction marketplace. My wife and mother, both retired English teachers, have been encouraging and a lot of help along the way of this journey.
7. Do you outline each book or simply sit in front of your computer and let things happen?
It’s sort of a combination for me, but I think that the “just let things happen approach” is more fun. While attending the International Thriller Writers Conference in New York this past summer and sitting through seminars presented by big names like Rollins, Martini, Coban, Cook and others, it dawned on me that when an author says he/she outlines first, what is really meant is using a technique of writing a skeletonized version of the book usually from start to finish and then just expounding from there while adding dialogue.
8. Can you share with us your journey to publication?
After I completed the manuscript of my first novel House Call, I called Denton Gibbes of the Gibbes Company in Ridgeland, MS. Like most first time novelists, I had been unsuccessful in obtaining a literary agent (Yes, I had sent out the nearly 100 obligatory query letters –each rejection letter getting more polite, more encouraging, and more personal), so Denton helped me get published and launch a professional, marketing campaign to promote the novel. Now more than four years since the publication of House Call, a respectable 7000 copies have been sold in hardcover and about 3000 more in paperback. My second novel, Points of Origin, was published in hardcover in October 2006 followed by Fresh Frozen in 2008, both of which have also sold well. The Gibbes Company has designed the jackets of all of my novels, Fresh Frozen winning first place nationally for cover design.
9. Many authors think of promoting their book as a necessary evil in today’s tightening literary world. How do you feel about promoting and what do you think works best for you in regards to promoting?
The way I see is that promoting your book is a little like politics. The process never stops, and the opportunity to promote your books and yourself as an author (or campaign) presents itself at every turn. (Also, once a politician, always a politician, and once a writer, well, you get it.) Anyway, I never miss an opportunity to mention that I have written three novels if the subject or interest arises, and if someone says, “Oh, you’re the doctor who has the books,” I stop and talk to them. But unlike a politician who might kiss babies, I don’t kiss babies — I deliver them. As far as what really sells books? I think having one of my novels adapted as a screenplay and produced as a major motion picture starring well-known celebrities would definitely get the word out about my books. Seriously, I think the Internet is changing marketing, and everyone knows it. I enjoy participating in Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Plaxo, and the like and am a member of several blog websites such as AuthorsDen, CrimeSpace, BookProfessionals, BookTown, Author and Book Event Center, The Writer’s Box, and BookTour. I try to keep these sites updated and participate in as many book discussions there as I can, although my time to do so does get tight. The monthly hits on my website www.dardennorth.com have more than quadrupled from that involvement. Also through my work on line, I have made many writer and reader cyber friends and have received much promotional help.
10. You grew up in and live in Mississippi and I note your books take place in Mississippi, which I interpret as a testament to your love for the state. Tell us about Mississippi and what you enjoy most about this region.
In my novels I try to cast a positive, present-day image of our beautiful state, which is more metropolitan than you might think. For instance, my latest book Fresh Frozen depicts a somewhat controversial, state-of-the-art medical facility located in real-life Canton, Mississippi, (near my home of Jackson) that draws clients from around the world. (It wasn’t a coincidence that I put Fresh Frozen in Canton, since it has been the backdrop of several popular films, including Grisham’s A Time to Kill.) I enjoy Mississippi because of its beautiful people and resources and because the talented people who live here appreciate what they have, what they believe in, and what they can do.
11. The Dames love animals. Do you have any pets? If so, tell us about them. If not, what’s your favorite animal and why?
Presently, my wife Sally and I have two small dogs under five years old: Valerie, a possessive Chihuahua, and Foxy, a playful Pomeranian-rat terrier mix, the breed referred to as Pomerrat, who makes housebreaking a challenge. Foxy likes her indoor puppy pad and my shower, but recently things seem to be getting better. About the time the two younger ones came along, we lost from natural causes our 15-year-old cat Tuxedoe (Yes, the e at the end is correct since Tuxedoe was a girl) and our 12-year-old Sheltie named Rogue. Our son in medical school, who lives only a few blocks away, has Bandit, a yellow lab. We claim Bandit as our granddog and babysit him frequently, consequently having to repaint our backdoor often.
12. What’s your favorite Southern expression (or food or place)?
Fixin’ is a great term. When my peers and I were getting ready to take our oral board exams in Chicago at the completion of residency training to become board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists, one or our professors suggested we avoid such southern colloquialisms as fixin’ during the oral exam. He did not add when talking with those Yankee examiners but we knew what he meant. Anyway, I’m fixin’ to complete a great fourth novel (Wiggle Room) that I hope a whole lot of people will enjoy.
For more information about Darden North and his books: http://www.dardennorth.com