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Interview: Frank Edwards, Author of Final Mercy

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Born in Rochester, New York, Frank Edwards went on to enter the US Army in 1968, serving a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.  Mr. Edwards’ education is vast and extensive, including receiving a BA, complete with honors, in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Frank Edwards then went on to attend medical school at the University of Rochester, graduating with an MD in 1979.  In addition, he then went on to receive an MFA in writing from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC.

Non-fiction books penned by Frank Edwards include Medical Malpractice: Solving the Crisis and, The M & M Files: Morbidity and Mortality Rounds in Emergency Medicine, which has become a standard text in emergency medicine.  In addition to these works, the University of Rochester Press published his collection of poems and short stories, It’ll Ease the Pain in 2004.  Final Mercy is Mr. Edwards’ first novel of fiction and is a medical thriller sure to please suspense and thriller fans near and far.  

Frank Edwards and his wife reside in Lake Ontario, near Rochester.  Readers can learn more about Mr. Edwards and his works at his website.

Please tell us a bit about your book, Final Mercy, and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

I really appreciate the chance to share some time with your readers. Final Mercy tells the story of Dr. Jack Forester, whose dream is to modernize the ER and start a training program for emergency doctors. The interim dean of the medical center, however, Dr. Bryson Witner, has begun throwing up roadblocks, and the reason appears to be Jack’s refusal to endorse Witner’s ambitions to become the permanent dean. Though a great many people have fallen for Witner’s charm and energy, Jack wasn’t among them. When Jack’s mentor and old friend, Dr. James Gain, returns to town suspecting that something is wrong at the Medical Center, Gavin falls victim to a murder attempt set up to look like suicide. Jack doesn’t buy the suicide story, and with the help of a beautiful journalist, Zellie Anderson, he begins a race against time to unravel the truth about Witner’s insanity. The tension builds as someone tries to sabotage Jack’s car, then Zellie doesn’t show up for a date and Jack Forester finds himself on the prow of a small boat in the middle of a blizzard scanning the water with a searchlight.

In Final Mercy I set out to write a thriller with well-wrought characters and a can’t-put-it-down plot.

Who are your favorite characters in the story?

I grew extremely attached, of course, to my co-protagonists, Jack Forester and Zellie Anderson. They are bright, resourceful and good-hearted people who’ve had to overcome considerable odds to be where they are in life, but for reasons beyond their control, they are also quite lonely. In other, words, they need each other, and I enjoyed seeing their relationship blossom. It was also exhilarating to create a villain like Bryson Witner — trying to make his burgeoning craziness as believable and frightening as possible. I also loved the character of Jack’s best friend from childhood, Tim Bonadonna, who is now a security guard at the medical center and an amateur actor who resembles Falstaff in more ways than one.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

I must admit I really liked a scene near the middle of the book where an intern is dealing with a terrible case in the ER and calls the surgical chief resident for help. Here’s a slice of it from the chief resident’s perspective:

Thirty-year-old Sarah Hopper, the on-duty surgical chief resident, was in the ICU checking on a subclavian line she’d placed that afternoon when the ER paged. Her first impulse was to run down and help out. Experience had taught her, however, that if she didn’t put up at least a token resistance, she would soon be busy beyond any human’s capacity. So, she strolled to the phone and called the ER desk.

“Hopper here. What’s up?”

“They need you in trauma,” said the ER ward clerk.

“I assumed that much. For what?”

“Because there’s a patient dying down here.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Hopper retorted.

“Listen, all I know is that a very good nurse told me to page you STAT, okay?”

This didn’t sound like the usual bullshit. Sarah Hopper felt her heart quicken.

The landing craft was grinding against the beach, the ramp swinging down and bullets thwacking metal.

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

In my mind’s eye I envision Jude Law playing Jack Forester — with his intense, honest, energetic face. For Zellie Andersen, Gwyneth Paltrow would be a good casting choice. Lovely, brilliant, sensitive, shy — that’s Zellie. For some reason I can picture George Clooney playing the villain Bryson Witner. Witner oozes charm, but has an over-the-top hidden crazy side. Sorry, George. I mean that as a compliment to your skills.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

I love everything about it, to be honest — the excitement of developing ideas, the process of getting first drafts down, and I especially enjoy making fresh passes in the light of day over a scene or a chapter after it’s had time to cool down. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing Final Mercy was the final editing. For three weeks my editor and publisher, Liz Burton, and I “met” on Google Documents and went over the manuscript line-by-line in real time. I learned a ton of craft in the process, and it was wonderful to see the book come alive in that final polishing stage.

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

Hands down the worst is when you sit and nothing comes out. We all have times when the juices just aren’t flowing. You have no choice but to forge on, and it can be painful. Ideas often die in that stage. So you pick up and try something else.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

My tastes in literature are very eclectic in both fiction and non-fiction. When I was younger I went though a long period of wanting to read nothing but magical realists like Marquez and Borges. Prior to that it was Hemingway, Twain, Tolstoy and Chekhov. But I fell in love with Walker Percy’s work, and Larry McMurtry’s, and for a long time my favorite book was John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. I was intimidated for a very long time by Ulysses, until I listened to an unabridged audio book of that wild novel. Joyce is best appreciated coming at you through the ears. I love it now. In recent years I’ve gravitated more toward suspense and adventure and have ripped through Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series twice now, and once through Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series — and his stunningly written Arthur trilogy. Robert Harris’s Pompeii and Fatherland are way up on my favorites list. For poetry, I’m a die-hard fan of Billy Collins. For non-fiction, Doris Goodwin’s Team of Rivals was spell binding.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Carlo Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind and highly recommend it. Magical Realism is not dead. And if anyone is drawn to literary fantasy and wild humor, check out Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next series and The Big Over Easy. Brilliant, exhilarating entertainment.

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors — dead or alive — who would they be and what would you serve them?

I would roast a pig and invite Emily Dickenson, Hemmingway, S. J. Perelman, Doris Goodwin and Billy Collins.

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

It would probably be A Confederacy of Dunces. The character of Ignatius J. Reilly is so beautifully realized, so human, so vital, so strange and his quest for self-expression and self-justification is so funny and improbable — I don’t know. I still can really explain why this book works so well for me. There’s just something about the language flowing out and circling up. It’s the cosmos in a teacup.

What is the greatest piece of advice (for writing and/or just living) that you have heard?

I really like an analogy I heard recently from a fine writer whose name I wish I remembered, who said that writing is like swimming underwater. The simile doesn’t apply to writing outlines or taking notes, of course, but to when you begin creating the scenes that are the real lifeblood of a story. Then you must dive and stroke your way down into the moment. Then you surface and do it again. The more you practice, the longer you can stay under. The trick lies in learning when you are just floundering on the surface versus going deep.

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