Everybody has a book in them, and doctors are no exception. One Galveston-based doctor has managed to produce two novels. By day, Dr. Paul Boor (pictured) is a scientist and professor at Galveston’s medical school, home to the highest-level infectious Bio-Lab. In The Ice Merchants, Boor’s second novel, he explores the history of medical research and the body trade. It’s an historical drama that tells the tale of the post-civil war ice trade, new medical schools, trafficking in corpses, the discovery of a cure for yellow fever, and our human frailties. In this Q&A, Boor provides talks about his books and provides some tips to help doctors write their own.
Q: How has your day job informed or inspired your books?
A: I went into pathology because I thought it was a great place to really understand disease and think about mechanisms of disease. The fact that I’ve been a pathologist for a fair number of years, that’s all reflected, especially in my first novel where the protagonist is a scientist who also does pathology and in fact, even gets involved in some medical and legal aspects of things. That’s the stuff which I have also done for a couple of years.
Q: Why do you write fiction?
A: It’s an escape for me. My books are biomedical thrillers. But it’s also a way of making a point. For instance, especially in my first novel, I think one of the major points that I make is that it’s not so much a mosquito escaping from a high level lab that will cause catastrophe. It’s really the people in the lab. If there’s an epidemic, if there’s a mistake made, it’s going to be a human error, or maybe even a human mental problem. That’s where I went with my first novel. In the second novel, I’m making a scientific point about the history of science, because a lot of it has to do with yellow fever outbreak. It’s kind of a history of science.
Q: How do you find time to write?
A: One of the things I do is I keep a notebook in my pocket. During the day, you’re at lunch or somewhere, and you see something that you’re going to use character wise, so you can make notes and that way you’ll remember it when you do sit down to write. The thing about writing is you really have to dedicate time to it. I really write in the morning. I get up early, about 5:00, and that way I get at least a couple hours of writing so I have some continuity. Then in the evening I’ll edit. I’ll rewrite, or I’ll re-read, and take a little time to do that.
When you’re really in the throes of trying to finish it, I have what I would call a literary weekend. In other words, I would take the Saturday and the Sunday, and if I wasn’t on call and nothing was happening, I would just forget about the lawn, forget about all those lists of stuff that I was supposed to be doing, and I would just write solidly.
Q: What’s the process for publishing a book?
A: I was almost two thirds finished when I started shopping the book around. I entered it in a contest. That’s one very good thing to do. I’ve been a member of the Texas Writers Guild for a number of years. They have groups, and they help you organize if you want to get together with other people who are writing a similar kind of thing, whether it’s memoirs or fiction, or whatever.
My first advice would be to write. Write so that you have a good idea of what the story is, and maybe a first draft, or a good part of a first draft, that you’ve got some really good hooks in your first chapter, the first few chapters. By that I mean, figure five or ten pages.
I entered that contest at least a couple times, and although it didn’t win the first year, in the end I did win for The Ice Merchant. I also won for another novel that’s not yet finished. That really helps you tremendously, because you get to meet the people in the industry. Publishers, agents, and all that stuff at these meetings where they have the novel contests. It’s like a science fair, but for people who write. Join one of those, and enter contests.
Q: What kind of book do most of the doctors you meet at seminars want to write?
A: About half of them want to write a novel. Half are more interested in what I would call memoir writing, where they talk about their career and how it relates to medicine, so it’s really nonfiction, but from a personal point of view.
Q: How much money have you made from your novels?
A: It’s a labor of love. It’s enough to cover your work, and maybe a new laptop.
For more information, visit http://theicemerchant.com/