Dr. Richard Mabry

After his retirement from a distinguished career as a physician and medical educator, Richard Mabry turned his talents to nonmedical writing with the publication of The Tender Scar: Life After the Death of a Spouse. From there he moved to fiction, writing “medical suspense with heart.” Code Blue is his debut novel, the first of the Prescription for Trouble series. He and his wife, Kay, make their home in North Texas. You can learn more about Richard at http://rmabry.com, follow his musings at http://rmabry.blogspot.com, and see his “tweets” at http://twitter.com/richardmabry.

Writer by Night

by Richard L. Mabry, MD

How do you write in your “spare time” if you’re retired? Well, to begin with, I wasn’t retired when I started my nonmedical writing. I was working full time as a professor in the Otolaryngology (that’s “ear, nose, and throat”) Department of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. And like most faculty members in a clinical department, my time was filled with seeing patients, doing surgery, teaching residents, and putting together research studies.

Then, ten years ago, my world was turned upside down when my first wife, Cynthia, died just as we were about to retire together. It took a long time for the shock to begin wearing off, and when it did, I looked at the journaling I’d done after her death and began thinking that maybe those words describing my feelings and how I coped with them could help others who’d suffered a similar loss. That eventually led me to a Christian writer’s workshop, where I felt God leading me toward using portions of what I’d written as the basis for a book, eventually published as The Tender Scar: Life After the Death of a Spouse (Kregel, 2006).

By the time The Tender Scar was published, I’d retired from my position at the med school, although I continued my medical activities by editing two textbooks and collaborating on several academic papers, chairing or serving on a number of consultant boards, and lecturing all over the world in my specialty field, rhinology and allergy. But even while I was engaged in these activities, I found myself drawn to try my hand at fiction. The credit (or blame) for this falls on two writers and an editor whom I met at that first conference: James Scott Bell, Alton Gansky, and Gary Terashita.

My first book, with the working title More than a Game, dealt with a young man who had failed as a professional baseball player, and instead completed his medical education in an effort to please his demanding father. It wove baseball and medicine together, received a positive reaction from the editor who read it . . . and was turned down by the publisher’s Pub Board as “not salable.” I’m obviously a slow learner because the next book I wrote, still in the “slowing down from medicine” phase of my retirement, had a male physician protagonist as well. This one also garnered interest from a publisher, but after several rewrites it was turned down. Same story with number three.

Well, by this time I recalled the advice of one of my medical school professors: “You can teach a white mouse in three times.” So novel number four had a female doctor as a protagonist. I’d grown up in a small town in North Texas, so I knew a bit about the feel of such a place. And anywhere you practice medicine, you will find rivalries and turf battles—maybe not evident on the surface, but still there. Since my background included training in internal medicine and surgery before moving into my specialty, I thought I could write pretty well about family practice. So that’s what I did.

Unfortunately, the novel was no more successful than its predecessors, and I reached the painful decision to give up my writing. Then, more or less on a whim, I entered a contest held

by Rachelle Gardner, who was looking for the best first line for a story. I won with “Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled up everything.” (That story’s still on my hard drive, by the way). Anyway, I won the prize, an edit of a first chapter. I submitted the first chapter of my most recent novel, and I’ll never forget Rachelle’s reply: “Send me something that needs editing.”

That was all the encouragement I needed. I submitted a query to Rachelle about representation, hoping to get a request to send a proposal or even a full manuscript. Instead, I got a reply offering representation. After that, things started moving fast. Rachelle took my proposal for the book, working title Run Away Home, to the ICRS meeting and pitched it to Barbara Scott of Abingdon. Barbara asked for Rachelle’s hard copy of the proposal so she could read it on the plane ride home, and within a few days she called to ask for the full manuscript.

The end result was a contract for publication, and the novel, now titled Code Blue, will be out in April. Here’s the back cover copy: Code Blue means more to Dr. Cathy Sewell than the cardiac emergencies she faces. It describes her mental state when she finds that returning to her hometown hasn’t brought her the peace she so desperately needs. Now two men compete for her affection; the town doctors resent the fact that she’s a woman and a newcomer; and the potentially fatal heart problem that results from one of her prescriptions may mean the end of her practice. But a killer doesn’t just want to run her out of town—they want her dead.

Yes, I started out as a part-time writer, shaping my story in the evening after the day’s work was done. I thought that would change after I retired, but whoever said that retired persons live a life of leisure was sadly mistaken. Let them spend a week at our house. Guess I’m back to being a writer by night again.

Code Blue