Posted on December 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Jeffrey Bruner

One of the perks of owning The Fussy Librarian is I'm always meeting fascinating people. At the top of my list are people who did something else for a long time before deciding to write a novel. Dr. Steven Kassels fits the bill -- after years in medicine he decided to write a thriller where addiction is a key factor in the storyline. We chat about writing and about how medicine is portrayed in the arts.

JEFFREY: I'm always curious about the right brain-left brain dynamics going on when people in scientific fields, like medicine, write a novel. Did you find it difficult at first or did previous pastimes make it easier to be creative?
STEVEN: I think that as a physician with years of training and experience in the fields of Emergency and Addiction Medicine, I have needed to use both sides of my brain.  I do not believe that one can be a compassionate and analytical doctor without using the left brain for verbal and analytical skills and the right brain for the non-verbal and intuitive approach, using pictures rather than words.  So, for me, the patient is the picture frame with his illness or injury to his organs as the picture I visualize while I use my left brain to analyze the situation in scientific terms and verbalize my thoughts to the nurses and to the patients.  Translating this to my novel writing, my right brain displays the characters in real life situations, as if watching them in a movie while my left brain enters the characters’ minds to analyze and verbalize their thoughts as I put pen to paper.
JEFFREY: "Addiction on Trial" came out of your longtime advocacy on addiction and substance abuse issues. Why do you think that some people are more receptive to the issue when it's absorbed in a cultural format -- either novel, television or film -- than a visit to the doctor?
STEVEN: During my early years in Emergency Medicine, it became clear that a very significant percentage of patients coming to the emergency room were presenting with illnesses directly related to the disease of addiction: the child with asthma because a parent smokes; teenage pregnancies due to acts while intoxicated; eating disorders with resultant diabetes or heart disease; along with the generally thought of situations such as auto accidents; heart attacks from cocaine or years of nicotine dependency; or the opiate addict feigning blood in their urine to make it look like a kidney stone to get a pain prescription. I could go on, but I think you get the point.  So when I would give presentations, round table discussions or lectures to medical students, the local PTA, police, etc. – well I ended up “preaching to the choir.”  So in order to reach a wider audience, and to convert the naysayers, I decided to use both sides of my brain to write a novel based on medical and legal truths.  From the reader reviews to date, I am quite pleased by the comments that emphasize what I set out to do – to entertain with a medical murder mystery/legal thriller while educating and destigmatizing addiction through the back door. I mean really, how many folks want to read another scientific book or go to a lecture about addiction – not me!  So I wrote Addiction on Trial as a page turner to be read on the beach or by the fire on a winter’s night.
JEFFREY: Do you agree that the depiction of medicine in the arts has become more accurate over the years?
STEVEN: There is no question that script writers are much more in tune with the realities of medical care than in the past, but I must admit that I have difficulty watching most medicine related shows as there is an exaggerated emotional component to the interactions and outcome sensationalism to attract a wider audience. But who am I to cast aspersions?  In my novel, which is the first in a series of Shawn Marks Thrillers, I do some of the same.  Attorney Marks, that egotistical but likable big shot Boston attorney, juggles an array of female companions while never taking his eye off the legal challenges of his work.
JEFFREY: But do you believe there are inaccuracies in the portrayal of medical care and if so, how?
STEVEN: So, yes there are some inaccuracies, but they are mostly related to unrealistic patient outcomes from incredibly complex illnesses and injuries.  Having said that though, we do see more and more outcomes that do make us sad and touch our inner fears, as they are more reality based. As a physician who believes it is important to never take away all hope, but to always be honest and paint a realistic picture to patients, I approached my writing in the same way.  And just as in real life, my book addresses the medical illnesses and injuries along with the court case as it truly is in real life  --  not simply black and white, but truly based on medical and legal realities that I have lived through as a physician and as a medical-legal expert testifying on the witness stand.

Addiction on Trial is on sale for 99 cents at Amazon through Jan. 8. (Nook version here.) You can also read more about Steven at his author blog.

Categories: Author Interview

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