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I love the exhilarating freedom of writing fiction. I can be anybody. I can say anything. I can do anything.

Interview with John Benedict, Author of ‘Adrenaline’

JOHN BENEDICTDr. John Benedict graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and entered medical school at Penn State University College of Medicine.  While there, he also completed an internship, anesthesia residency, and a cardiac anesthesia fellowship. He currently works as a physician/anesthesiologist in a busy private practice in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Benedict has been writing stories since high school, but his creative side was put on hold to pursue a medical education and start a family—he now has a wife and three sons.  Finally, after a 15-year pause, his love of writing was rekindled and his first novel, Adrenaline—a gritty medical thriller with a realism borne of actual experience—was born.

Besides creating scary stories, the hallmark of Dr. Benedict’s writing is genuine medical authenticity—something in short supply these days in thriller fiction.  He draws on his 25+ years of experience as a board-certified anesthesiologist to infuse his writing with a realism that renders it both vivid and frightening.  As one of only a handful of anesthesiologists throughout the country writing fiction, he gives readers a taste of what really goes on in the operating room, the human drama inherent in this high-stress, high stakes environment where lives are continually on the line.  Readers will find out what it’s like to hold a patient’s life in their hands, as the author provides an illuminating glimpse into the fascinating, but poorly understood realm of anesthesia.

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Adrenaline. When did you start writing and what got you into medical thrillers? 

I started writing short stories in high school—I always seemed to love the freedom that writing fiction offered.  In fact, one of my earliest characters was Doug Landry, who now appears in my first two novels.  I am a huge fan of thriller fiction in general.  Writing medical thrillers was a natural step for me because I am a physician and work as an anesthesiologist, so basically I live this stuff everyday. 

adrenalineWhat is your book about?

Adrenaline tells the story of veteran anesthesiologist, Doug Landry.  When patients start dying unexpectedly in the Mercy Hospital OR, Doug winds up being blamed.  Doug is confused at first and wonders if he screwed up somehow.  However, as he investigates further, he unearths evidence of greed and corruption in his department.  As he struggles to unravel the secrets of the mysterious deaths and clear his name, it quickly becomes apparent that someone will stop at nothing to keep him from revealing the devastating truth.  Doug becomes trapped in a race against time to prevent more deaths, including his own. 

What was your inspiration for it?

One day it struck me—at 2:00 in the morning in the midst of another grueling 24-hour shift. I had just finished interviewing a nice lady with an appendix about to burst—we’ll call her Linda. I had done my best not to yawn as I went through the routine questions that an anesthesiologist is obliged to ask. She appeared nervous, which soon gave way to tears. I did my best to comfort her, took her hand, told her I would take good care of her. That I would watch over her carefully in the operating room and see her through surgery. And be there when she woke up in the recovery room. She appeared to calm down a bit. I wrapped up my pre-op assessment and asked her to sign the anesthesia consent form, while assuring her the risks would be minimal. She raised her eyebrows at this and the fearful look returned. I wondered: What the hell does minimal mean when you’re talking about life and death? More tears. She told me of her two young daughters at home that desperately needed a mommy. I felt my own throat tighten. I quickly buried my emotions, tried not to think about my wife and three sons, and focused on the task at hand as we wheeled her litter back down the hall to the OR.

After Linda was safely tucked in the recovery room, operation a success, anesthetic uncomplicated, I lay down in the call room to try to catch a couple of z’s. My mind wandered as I lay there. Rarely, I thought, does a person willingly surrender control of their mind and body to a virtual stranger. Yet, this is exactly what happens when the person is a patient being wheeled in for surgery and the stranger is their anesthesiologist, whom they have just met minutes beforehand. Talk about an extraordinary amount of trust. This degree of trust made a distinct impression on me that night, some twenty years ago.

Other thoughts followed soon thereafter. What if the trust Linda had exhibited earlier was ill-conceived and her doctor was actually bad? Not just incompetent or sleepy, but downright evil. Being an avid reader of thrillers, I thought this chilling concept would make for a good story. Too bad I wasn’t a writer.  But I still couldn’t shake the evil concept; it kept gnawing at me until eventually I had to put it down on paper—lack of writing experience be damned. So Adrenaline was birthed, my first medical thriller novel that explores this issue of absolute trust implicit in the anesthesiologist-patient relationship—specifically, what happens when that trust is abused and replaced by fear.  Adrenaline was finally published twelve years after my encounter with Linda.

What do you hope readers will get from your book? 

First and foremost, I hope readers will get caught up in an exciting, page-turning medical thriller with well-drawn sympathetic characters that will keep them guessing until the end what’s going to happen and who’s going to survive.  Second, I wrote this book with the hopes of showing people what’s it’s like to be inside the world of an anesthesiologist.  Everyone knows they exist, but few have a clue what really goes on in the OR, especially from the anesthesiologist’s perspective.  So I thought this would make for an interesting as well as educational story.  Finally, I wanted to write an authentic medical thriller, with real medicine, physiology and pharmacology.  Too many times I’ve had to cringe while reading a hospital-based story, owing to the erroneous medicine depicted. 

What do you love most about the writer’s life?

I love the exhilarating freedom of writing fiction.  I can be anybody.  I can say anything.  I can do anything.  I can be a really good upstanding guy.   Or I can be a hateful, disgusting slimeball.  What happens in this make-believe world is totally up to me.  I like getting inside different character’s heads and striving to make them act and speak in a totally realistic manner.  I also love to crank up the tension in the book so that it becomes almost unbearable —by throwing little foreshadowing hints here and there—or by eventually forcing characters together into scenes where there can only be one left standing.

Finally, I crave the positive feedback, as all writers do.  We are addicted to this and this is what keeps most of us going through all the rough spots and dry spells.  It’s the validation we need to convince us to take on the burden and write the next book.  Getting a glowing 5-star review is what it’s all about for me. 

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

http://johnbenedictmd.com 

What is your advice for aspiring authors?

Nothing worthwhile in life is quick or easy.  Writing is the same.  Expect to spend a long time learning the craft and improving upon it.  Don’t expect to become famous overnight or make a lot of money easily.  The best advice I can give a would-be novelist is this: You shouldn’t write because you want to make millions or become a household name—you’ll likely be disappointed.

Rather, you should write because you enjoy the process and feel the need to tell a story.  Let the results take care of themselves. 

What has writing taught you?

I’ve learned to believe in myself even when no one else seems to.  I’ve also learned the power of perseverance and patience. The path to successful book publication is notoriously long and arduous for most. Developing a thick skin is also helpful to protect oneself against the many rejection letters and obligatory nasty reviews that will come your way.  Finally, I’ve learned that writing a good book is probably only half the battle.  Getting it published and successfully marketing it may be the most difficult part.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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