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Thomas Jay Berger, MD – Dueling in Death’s Backyard – Interview
Catching up with Dr. Thomas Jay Berger we asked him to tell us more about his medical thrillers Dueling in Death’s Backyard and about himself.
Exposing a scandal at the VA hospital was Dr. Cooper Logan’s responsibility, and his first mistake. The world was background noise as Cooper worked to save lives. He’d won his scholarship wrestling and keeping Death off-balance was his new passion. But, politics wasn’t what Cooper was interested in and learning them the hard way cost him his residency. But when the nurse who had betrayed him turns up dead Cooper’s life begins to unravel. And the danger he faced now had Death staring him in the face.
How much of yourself is in Cooper, your main protagonist?
I attended Tufts College and med-school, in Boston, just like Cooper Logan. In the seventies, I trained with Dr. John Kirklin, in Birmingham, Alabama. Cooper was a resident there with Dr. Joseph Kirkwood. We each achieved our mutual dream of becoming a cardiac surgeon. But Cooper is not I and I am not Cooper Logan. I had two loving parents and was a fairly decent wrestler. Cooper came from a broken home and won a wrestling scholarship. Cooper is a fictional character. I’m pretty sure I’m real.
What made you want to be an author?
When I was about 8 years old, my father gave me a Tarzan book. I have been reading ever since and the relationship between reader and author has always seemed magical to me. If I write something that makes a reader laugh or cry, or love a character I created, that is just about the coolest thing I can imagine. That is why I love answering questions about or discussing my novel. I answer every email or Face Book query personally and, when I have a twitter account, I will gladly tweet back to any reader who tweets me.
Why a medical thriller as opposed to literary fiction or a medical book?
Actually I have written a number of scientific articles as well as a chapter in a book about medical malpractice litigation. Since retiring from active practice in 1998, due to problems with my vision, I have served as an expert in hundreds of medical cases. This work often involves writing detailed reports, which must be written in layman’s language. These reports helped prepare me to describe complex surgical procedures dramatically in a way that any reader can understand and enjoy. The way historical fiction can make a battle come alive as if you were there, my OR scenes make surgery come alive as if you were the surgeon.
Writing fiction is the easiest kind of writing because you are all-powerful. You can make anything happen in the world you create – anything. Of course, that also means that you must choose what you want to happen out of a literally infinite number of options. That’s why fiction is also the hardest kind of writing.
When writing fiction, I can sit down and work for an hour, and, when I’m done, I’ll look at the clock and find that six hours have passed. It’s the ultimate high.
Why medical thrillers? I guess it’s just because one must write about what one knows.
Who inspires you as an author?
Dueling was inspired by my mentor, the late Dr. John Kirklin, the real life Dr. Kirkwood. Dr. Kirklin was the first person to do a series of open heart operations with a heart lung machine. He is the true Father of Cardiac Surgery, although that title is often wrongly attributed to C. Walton Lillehei. Lillehei used another human being as the heart lung machine for his operations; a technique that soon hit the dustbin of surgical history. Lillehei is no more the Father of Cardiac Surgery than Elvis is the King of Rock ‘n Roll; a title that clearly belongs to Jerry Lee Lewis.
Dr. Kirkwood, in Dueling, IS Dr. Kirklin. I hope that the novel will give immortality to my mentor, a remarkable and fascinating man, and the true Father of Cardiac Surgery.