Killer Nashville 2012

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For three days at the Hutton Hotel (August 24-26), Killer Nashville is back for another feast of authors, agents, and publishers in the ever-changing world of writing the mystery novel.

Public Anatomy wins Best Mystery 2012

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Public Anatomy was announced as the winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for best mystery of 2012 by the Independent Book Publishers Association last night at the ceremony in New York.

PUBLIC ANATOMY is a finalist for the 2012 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Mystery/Suspense. 

The Benjamin Franklin Award is given annually by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the largest not-for-profit representing independent book publishers. 

 

PUBLIC ANATOMY is one of three finalists nominated and the winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on June 4th,  at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, just before the start of Book Expo America.

Painting Memphis Black and Gold

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The Liberty Bowl has been played for half a century since 1959 when Penn State beat Alabama, 7-0.  Memphis became the bowl’s home in 1965 and will host this year’s game, the Vanderbilt Commodores versus the Cincinnati Bearcats.  This weekend, a host of Commodore fans decked in Black and Gold will descend on the Bluff City. 

Since many people do not know just how much Memphis has to offer, I want to highlight a few places and sights in the order in which Eli Branch experiences them starting in Rupture and then moving on to Public Anatomy.

Near the beginning of Rupture, Eli travels from the medical center down Union Avenue where you’ll find the Peabody Hotel, home of the famous Peabody Ducks. Close to the Mississippi River is the Pyramid Arena, homage to the same-named city in Egypt.  The Pyramid was prior home of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies who now play in the Fed-Ex Forum.  Across from the Pyramid is Harbor Town on Mud Island.  You may remember the tram monorail over to the island as site of one of the final scenes for Matt Damon in John Grishams’s The Firm.  Later on, when you’re hungry, stop in Automatic Slim’s Tonga Club, across from the Peabody.

A lot of the action in Public Anatomy takes place in downtown Memphis where you’ll find Front Street Deli, one of the city’s oldest delicatessen’s.  In Victorian Village, magnificent homes from the mid-nineteenth century are open for browsing.  On second and Beale Street, it’s hard to beat Blues City Café

A bit further south is the Memphis Arts District, an art colony accessed easily by foot or city trolley.  The city is steeped in history, perhaps most notably symbolized by the Lorraine Hotel.  And before leaving, you must go to the Rendezvous.  Start at the Peabody and take the alley beside the Holiday Inn.  Don’t worry, by the time you see the big green dumpsters, you’ll be smellin’ the ribs and know you’re in the right place.

Go ‘Dores.

Inspiring Stories from Vanderbilt

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As we near the end of the year, I am posting a short compilation of four video stories produced by Vanderbilt News Service.

The stories include:

1)      The first graduation for a unique group of Vanderbilt students

2)      A senior student who teaches a life-saving technique that saved her as a child

3)      A visit to my narrative medicine class to listen in as pre-health students read and reflect on patients who have had impact on their lives

4)      And a wrap with Rascal Flatts and all they do for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

Enjoy.

Medicine: What’s Narrative Got To Do With It?

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In the 1891 painting, “The Doctor,” by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, a physician leans toward the bed of a sick child.  He appears deep in thought, watching.  The child’s mother, distraught, is being consoled by the father.  A cup holding a spoon, and perhaps a medicinal ointment, sits on the table.  We know now that a physician at that time could do little as far as medical treatment. 

This is the narrative in the painting: a sick child, worried parents, the family doctor present, bearing witness to their story.  Over one hundred years ago, there was little more than the patient’s story.  At that time, Fleming was thirty-eight years from discovering penicillin, in 1929, which is not that long ago, really.  Before that, poultice, salves, and compresses were the medical mainstay.  Yet the doctor in Fildes’ painting remains present, holding vigil.

Now, fortunately, we have treatments galore: targeted therapies, stents, even robots that participate in operations.  And here I am writing about the patient’s story?  What kind of antiquated concept is that?

At Vanderbilt, I teach an undergraduate course called Narrative Medicine: Stories of Illness and the Doctor-Patient Relationship.  We study classic and contemporary illness narratives written by both doctors and patients.  I find that the students have an inherent sense of the importance of the patient’s story, that is, who the patient is in the context of illness.  I emphasize to the students that narrative-based medicine is how evidence-based medicine is applied to the individual patient.  The key is to have them hold on to this patient-centered concept when they enter the fast-paced, technological race that defines today’s medicine. 

I think Fildes got it right in his painting.  And indeed, he too had a story.  Fildes’ son died of tuberculosis in 1877, no doubt attended by a doctor holding vigil at the bedside.

KILLER BOOKS

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This past weekend, at the Hutton Hotel, Nashville hosted the 6th annual meeting of Killer Nashville.  

Killer Nashville?

Yes.  For the past six years, readers and writers of crime fiction (mysteries and thrillers) gathered for a three day fest, sponsored by Mystery Writers of America, that is devoted to the craft and business of writing.  Throw in a cash bar and a dead body in the parking garage (mock crime scene) and you’ve got a party. 

What was most interesting to me as an author was the ongoing and increasingly heated discussion of the future of publishing.  One thing’s for certain.  Change is the word of the day.  Not only are e-books on the rise but the digital form is pushing out the similarly priced mass market paperback.  (Ironically, several years ago, the publishing industry feared that this handy and cheap paperback version would bring death to the hardcover).  Here we go again.

My thoughts are this:  supply the book in whatever form the reader wants – e-books, paperback, hardcover, bring back the scroll – whatever keeps readers reading.  Any concern I may have about e-books gets squashed whenever someone tells me how they read RUPTURE on their Kindle or enjoyed PUBLIC ANATOMY on their Nook at the beach (although my favorite one is a reader of RUPTURE sitting on an airboat in the backyard).

But you relic lovers rest assured, there’s hope in (Killer) Nashville yet.  Vanderbilt Bookstore, under the auspice of Barnes and Noble, will move into the old Border’s site on West End (how’s that for irony).  And now with Parnassus Books set to open in Green Hills’s Greenbriar Village, those of us who like to feel the cover of a book, to actually turn the printed page, will live to fight another day.

Cotton, Cooking, and Books

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Greenwood, Mississippi is located about two hours south of Memphis in the heart of the Delta.  As noted on the city limit sign, Greenwood is the Cotton Capital of the World and is home to Viking Cooking Range and the Cooking School and to the independent store, Turnrow Books, where owner Jamie Kornegay and his wife, Kelly, hosted a wonderful book signing for me.  If you’re ever fortunate enough to travel to Greenwood, stay at the Alluvian, a cosmopolitan boutique hotel with a AAA four diamond rating.  A grand southern-style breakfast is included and caps off a relaxing experience.  While there, be sure to eat downtown at Steven’s BBQ for wonderful barbecue and super nice folks.  And you may see Greenwood on the silver screen soon.  The town is still a buzz after The Help was filmed there a few months ago and will be released in early August.

3003 hits

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The International Thriller Writers (ITW) is one of the world’s largest groups of writers dedicated to the thriller novel.  Thrillerfest, their annual convention, was held this past weekend and I spoke on a panel about using elements of science in novels. 

In the weeks before the meeting, I had followed Derek Jeter’s quest to become the only Yankee to hit 3000 hits, wondering if his accomplishment could possibly coincide with my time in New York.  But by mid-June, he was placed on the 15 day DL for a calf injury.  Few thought he would be back in two weeks and reaching this milestone looked to be delayed until after the All-Star break.  But Jeter came off the DL, played a couple of minor league games, and was poised to play in the four game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.  After the Thursday night game, he was sitting at 2,998, only two hits away. 

So the moment my panel and signing was over on Friday afternoon, I jumped on the #4 subway to Yankee Stadium, ticket in hand.  At 161st street, the subway car slowed in the light drizzle allowing a host of crowded, sweaty, and disappointed Yankee fans to read the marquee above the stadium.  The game was rained out and rescheduled for September 22.

Don’t get me wrong, I like conversing with other writers about the craft and business of writing, but this was not to match what would potentially happen in Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon at 1:05 PM.   Long story short, I secured a single ticket off the third base line and returned the stadium on a beautiful, hot, sunny day. 

The place was electric.  On the mound for the Rays was David Price, a former Vanderbilt pitcher who I had followed closely in Nashville and saw him pitch on several occasions.  Jeter lined a single on his first at bat and was then one hit away.  The next batter, lefty Curtis Granderson, sent a line-drive foul ball right at the guy sitting next to me who was texting about Jeter’s hit.  I stuck out my left hand and deflected the ball into the aisle where it was quickly retrieved by the man’s son.  Not a bad souvenir, bat mark and all. 

Then Jeter homered for #3000.  Surreal.  But he would not stop there, going 5-5 with the game winning hit.  I returned to Thrillerfest that evening, but the thriller in the Bronx was already history.

Fathers

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Re-post of a Father’s Day piece I wrote a few years ago:

Six years ago, on a Wednesday morning in October, I met a tobacco farmer who lived on the state line between Kentucky and Tennessee.  He was the first patient listed on my surgery clinic roster. Beside his name, two words described the reason for his visit.  He had pancreatic cancer.

I opened the door to his room and saw a tanned wiry man of 72 years old.  He spoke first and proclaimed to be the toughest patient in the hospital.  I introduced myself as his doctor and offered an extra firm handshake that quickly wilted under a half-century of wrapping tobacco.

Cancer of the pancreas strikes 30,000 patients a year and about the same number die each year from the disease.  Few statistics in medicine are more disheartening and none more humbling to a surgical oncologist.  A few days later, he and I entered the operative suite and left, together, after several hours of removing his tumor from a cast of nerves and vessels.  The next morning, it was he who extended his hand with the same hearty grip.

On one of his postoperative visits, he gave me a photograph.  It was taken a short time before his diagnosis and shows him standing in a field of tobacco with a young shirtless boy among broad green leaves, waist high.  Between them, as if posing for the camera, is a harnessed mule.  It is an ageless picture which captures him perfectly, a stoic and proud father.

We spent the next 18 months visiting in the clinic, talking mainly of planting tobacco or the upcoming harvest, trying not to focus on the very real possibility that his cancer could come back.  At the end of one check-up, he proudly presented a gift that I will always cherish.  It was a bundle of dark-fired tobacco leaves.  I smelled the bouquet and can still remember its rich aroma.  Not knowing what to do with it, I took it home in the black plastic bag and hung it in my garage.  Six months later, he died.

Recently, I went to the garage and removed the bag from its perch on a rusty nail. After six years, I expected to find the leaves moldy, decayed, or at least riddled by insects.  Upon opening the bag, I removed the bundle of leaves and found them perfectly preserved in a deep caramel sheen.  As I inhaled, I could see him there in the clinic again — his operation, his strength, his death.  And when I looked at the base, where the leaves were folded in a tight, coiled knot, I felt the grip of his strong hands enveloping mine.  They were the hands of a man who never had any children, because, as I would come to know, the boy in the picture was not his son, although he cared for him as one of his own. 

Along with their illness, each patient brings a gift.  Sometimes the gift is tangible, like the leaves in my garage.  Most often, however, it is a memory, apt to fade and be forgotten in the rush.  My patient’s gift had shown me to grasp the time left with a loved one.

I put the leaves down and called my father, an aging farmer with Parkinson’s disease. It was the thick of planting season and we talked of his health, of acres yet to be sown, of chances for rain.