Monday, November 16, 2015

Straight from the Mouth of 'Adrenaline' Dr. John Benedict

Dr. 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.

 Purchase ADRENALINE on Amazon.

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

I am an anesthesiologist in real life. To illustrate the real reason I started writing, I will need to relate a true story from 20 years ago:     
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. (Disclaimer time: I don’t want to scare people here. All the docs I have known in my 30 years of medical practice are highly competent professional people, who would never purposely hurt anyone.) 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. 

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?   
The demands are easy to list: The goal of getting published requires hard work and perseverance and an enormous investment of time.  And you must believe in yourself, even when no one else seems to.  It’s also helpful to have thick skin when it comes to handling lots of rejection letters and one-star reviews.  Write because you enjoy the process, not because you think big success (and money) is right around the corner.  The perks are as follows: 1) getting a 5-star review from a reader who falls in love with your story and can’t wait to read the next one. 2) getting picked up by a mainstream publisher who loves your work. 3) getting critical acclaim by a recognized national review organization.  4) watching your Amazon sales rank soar. 
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like? 
You must realize the journey is long.  Good agents and interested editors are very hard to find.  I sent out literally hundreds of query letters to agents and even managed to hook up with several poor agents.  This was primarily an exercise in frustration.  Finally, I attended multiple writing conferences and did manage to get signed by a reputable agent. I thought my journey was near its end. However, I learned that even finding a decent agent doesn’t guarantee selling your book to a mainstream publisher. My agent couldn’t sell my book.  Finally, I decided to go the self-publishing route.  This proved to be the way to go for me.  I chose CreateSpace, which worked fine for me—there are several other good alternatives out there.  Be prepared to pay a small amount to get your book published—it pays to price-shop.  Once set up, you can sell your book as an inexpensive ebook on Amazon (and elsewhere).  The internet is an extremely valuable sales platform and if your book is half-decent, it can spread by word-of-mouth alone.  Readers leave reviews and rate your book and this can attract new readers.  I’m pleased to report that Adrenaline sold very well as a Kindle ebook. In 2014, over 80,000 copies were downloaded from Amazon pushing it to the #1 paid medical thriller.  I also picked up over 400 reader reviews (mostly 5-star).  Armed with these sales numbers and positive reader reviews, I was finally able to attract a mainstream publisher for my third medical thriller, Fatal Complications, due out in December 2015. 
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you? 

Eventually your family comes to the realization that you are serious about your writing and it is more than a hobby.  Until you reach this point, however, you will need to carve out time to write and this can be difficult. In the beginning, I would try to get up early on a Sunday morning and head to the library—I would finish up in a couple of hours and make it back home before anyone was awake. Ideally, you’ll have an understanding spouse who will indulge your dream of becoming an author.  As everything in life, it’s a balancing act and you must try hard not to alienate your family in the process of writing your novel.

Your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word? 

Luckily, I have a wife and three children, so between the five of us, the dog always managed to get fed—mostly on time.

Are they actually still alive? 

Do plants need water?  Who knew?

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late? 

I always needed to go to a library or super quiet place away from phone, internet, TV and family—otherwise I would just waste my time with distractions.

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process? 

This is gonna sound dumb, but I’ll never forget this moment.  Amazon lets you do a 5-day free sale every so often on your books.  So, I ran a BookBub promo on Adrenaline for 5 days.  I was traveling at the time, so I checked my numbers on my phone at a rest stop. By noon of the first day, 50,000 e-books had been downloaded.  I thought for sure it was a mistake, signal glitch or I was simply reading it wrong.  However, by the end of the fifth day, over 80,000 books had gone out.  This was way beyond anything in my experience.  Even though the books went out for free and I didn’t make a dime, the exposure was awesome and I picked up over 400 reader reviews in short order. 

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid? 

I’m not convinced that Facebook or Twitter ever helped me that much.  Perhaps if you devoted enough time to them and had zillions of friends/followers it would make a difference.  But then where would you get the time to actually write?  I’ve found Goodreads to be pretty useful—the members are definitely into books, although they tend to be a more critical bunch.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you? 

This is the tough one—where the rubber meets the road.
My experience is that there are two basic ways to improve sales.  The first is to write a good book, which will garner good reviews.  Good reviews are huge in determining who will buy your book.  The more, the better.  Word-of-mouth matters. The second way to goose sales is by dropping the prices on your books from time to time to attract new readers.  For instance, if you have more than one book, you can drop the price on the first one (or offer it for free for a limited time) in an effort to gain new readers.  The theory goes, if they like your stuff, they’ll come back and pay full freight for your other books.  Even if you only have one book, it’s still worthwhile to drop the price to attract readers and hopefully get some reviews, which are all-important.
In addition, if you can advertise with Bookbub or similar outfits, you can maximize your results.  You may have to pay something to make something.

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

The publishing industry has undergone massive changes in the last ten years.  Self-publishing no longer has the stigma that it once had.  Many people want to write a book and now is a great time to do so.  I believe a very viable strategy is to self-publish first and try to establish a track record of sales and good reviews (sadly, there’s no substitute for writing a decent story).  After you have done this, then you approach an agent or editor and make your pitch. In this ultra-competitive environment, you’ll have a much better chance of getting picked up this way by a traditional publisher and save yourself a lot of the rejection pain. 

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?  

OK, it’s the perks of being a writer that I mentioned above that make it all worthwhile.  Writers, I believe become addicted to readers praising their books.  Above all, writers crave the validation of their work that comes from satisfied readers.  So, as long as the praise is forthcoming, the writer can easily ignore all the hard work and pain of actually producing a novel.  It’s also pretty cool to see a shiny new hardback on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, or to see someone reading your book in public.

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