Monday, April 18, 2016

Do You Want to Write a Medical Mystery?
Lead in the water of Flint, Michigan and the Ebola and Zika viruses have made science newsworthy. Maybe, you’re toying with the idea of writing a medical mystery. Where do you begin?

The first step in writing a medical mystery is research. This means perusing newspaper stories, items on the WEB, and articles in Science, Scientific American, and medical journals for hot topics.

I decided a topic that interested almost everyone was dieting. Hence the title of my new mystery, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight. I noticed many researchers were studying the effect of the gut microbiome on the human body.

You’re thinking, “Who cares? What’s a microbiome?”

Let me reword the sentence: Scientists think they can help you lose weight by altering the bacteria in your gut. It could be a relatively easy way to lose weight.

Now I have your attention. This also illustrates my second point. A novelist must transmit complex science accurately, simply, and in a lively manner. In essence, (s)he must make the science exciting and not slow the plot with too many details.

In Murder...A Way to Lose Weight, two ambitious diet doctors alter the bacteria in the guts of obese subjects in a clinical trail. The two are so eager to become rich and famous diet gurus that they take “short cuts” and endanger their patients’ lives. One doctor is killed after she develops a conscious and admits the “short cuts” to Linda Almquist, the acting associate dean in a medical school.

As the police, with Linda’s help, turn up clues, the readers learn a bit about weird poisons and the social mores of a medical school. 

Good medical mysteries (like Robin Cook’s Coma) are realistic. Readers are more apt to be scared if they believe the situation could happen.

That’s why I use poison, which was the cause of a rash of real accidental poisonings in New Mexico in the 1980s. I wove the information from two scientific articles into my tale of an intentional poisoning and set the novel in Albuquerque as an oblique clue.

To add further authenticity, I referenced key articles in the “The Science Behind the Story” at the end of the novel.

Are you ready to start writing a medical mystery? Maybe, you should read Murder…A Way to Lose Weight first.