A digression: Twelve years ago, I stood before an audience of two hundred or so folks at a writer’s conference in the Tidewater area of Virginia. I gave a dramatic reading of one of my short stories, about a surgeon in the time of the American Civil War who discovers his mortally wounded son on the battlefield, realizes he cannot save him, and sets the dying man aside to help those he can save. It was an emotional reading for me. Shortly thereafter, the author David Poyer approached me. He seemed interested, we talked, and said he would call me. I was not myself that day and realized later I had neglected to give him my phone number.
A day or two later, this was shortly after I had been released from a night of police custody, my wife informed me David Poyer had called. I was crestfallen. One of the best selling authors in contemporary nautical fiction had actually taken the time to look me up and I had been unavailable. I doubted he would call back.
I was wrong. He did call back, later that day if memory serves. We talked for a few minutes and he told me he had attended a great many writing conferences over the years, had heard a great many readings, and had rarely been so affected. He said the piece was one of the best he had ever heard. Would I mind sending him my book for his perusal?
Hell yes I would send him my book.
What David Poyer didn’t know, what nobody at that conference could have known, was that my oldest son, Endyll, had killed himself just two days before. Just twenty-one, he took his life with a gun. In the wake of that tragedy, I had not planned to attend the conference, but it was close to our house and my wife, Jean, had insisted. I still remember her words that morning. “You’re a surgeon,” she said, “but writing is who you are. It’s what you do.” She suggested the conference would be good for me. She was right, of course. It was my son I thought about the entire time I stood at the lectern that day.
When I returned home, the police were waiting. I had earlier visited the pawn shop that sold my then underaged son the gun he eventually used to take his own life. I had sat in my car outside the picture window fronting that place, eyeballing the proprietor as he moved around unawares inside. I had come damn close to driving my car through that window. I settled for walking inside instead. I think the old man was as shocked as I when I slammed the box of bullets down on the counter and hollered how a bullet from that box had stilled my son’s heart when fired from a gun purchased at his shop. Thanks be to God that old man didn’t pull his own gun then. Likely there would have been another funeral that week if he had.
Hence the night in police custody. Once it was determined I was neither suicidal nor homicidal, I was released. I was hurting was all. And, as with Cuuda and his walking in Not One Among Them Whole, that hurting was a slog. Pure slog.
It took a long time to get past my son’s death. I’m not sure you ever get over such a thing. It sort of moves in with you, like a lost relation who shows up uninvited and never leaves. After awhile you learn that relation’s habits and haunts, and how to live with them. But he can still sting, as plenty of folks’ll tell you. I resigned my commission and left a promising career in the military. I didn’t practice medicine for the better part of a year. I moved my family halfway across the country trying to outrun the demons. I went through three jobs.
And I wrote through it all.
And every once in a while, I would get a note from Dave and it would never fail to spur me forward. He read the book I sent to him, an early version of this one. He was impressed, not blown away but impressed enough to work with me on and off over several years. I learned a great deal from his edits and advice, especially how to rewrite, which I have come to believe is the key to good storytelling. I am grateful for his confidence in me as a writer. It has meant everything over the years and I can truly say I am a better writer today because of David Poyer and his wife, the novelist Lenore Hart. I asked Dave once if I should get an MFA in creative writing. He said no, I didn’t need anymore credentials or technical assistance. “You have everything a writer needs,” he said, “you just need to write. Put words on the page.”
Thanks for that simple advice, Dave.
Today I live in the American midwest and consider myself both a writer and a novelist. My writing tends to involve ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and is often informed by medicine, though I rarely write about medicine directly. My stories showcase historical fiction and the supernatural, especially ghosts. I received honorable mention in the Seventeenth Edition of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2003), and have been published in Paradox Magazine, The Summerset Review, The Armchair Aesthete, On The Premises Magazine, and others. Read several of my short stories HERE.
For anyone who might be interested, I am also a graduate of Stanford University and a practicing neurosurgeon. I am board certified in the practice of adult and pediatric neurosurgery.
I also collect historical etchings and attend at least 1-2 baseball games a week between April and October, more if the Minnesota Twins are in town. I proudly served fourteen years in the United States Navy, rising from enlisted to full commander. At one time I was a naval aircrewman on the A-3 Skywarrior and I have over 100 cats and traps (carrier take-offs & landings) to my record. I served time at sea aboard the USS Carl Vinson, USS Forestal, and the USS John F. Kennedy. In 2002, I served with the medical team treating the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and performed the first ever thoracic laminectomy at that facility (on a prisoner with TB of the spine).
NOT ONE AMONG THEM WHOLE is my second novel. My first, THE BURDEN, is out of print. My next, THE MATRIARCH OF RUINS, a novel of one woman’s struggle to keep her family going in the midst of the fighting at Gettysburg, will be out soon.