Introducing David Farris and his thrilling new novel LIE STILL
Synopsis and Review of LIE STILL:
Lie Still by David Farris
Publisher: William Morrow ISBN: 0060505540
Medical resident Malcolm Ishmail is stunned and bewildered when his latest case turns from a simple procedure to one of life and death. Working the E.R. in a small town in Arizona, a young boy is brought in with symptoms of an asthma attack, but what should’ve been simple, now has turned ugly when the boy slips into a coma after being treated by Ishmail. Things go from bad to worse when the attending nurse begins to accuse Ismail of negligence in his treatment. But soon, after even more unsettling events, Ishamil begins to suspect that the whole incident may have ties to events months previous when he was involved in a torrid affair with his professor in Phoenix, a woman whose brutal intelligence could not hide her deadly faults as a physician, a woman who Ishamil could not allow to continue practicing once he knew the truth. Fearing he is the victim of a vicious plot of revenge, and facing the ending of a career he has put his whole life into, Ishmail must find the answers before it’s too late.
This intelligent and thrilling debut from Ferris shows much promise. Written with compassion and insight into the field of medicine, Ferris has put out a tale that is both suspenseful and dynamic. And although some elements may seem a bit far-fetched, the events depicted still paint a frightening and realistic picture of the medical world gone mad. In a world where survival depends upon politics and bureaucracy, and tenure and reputation, and where the patient’s care too often is obscured behind these meaningless attributes, this discerning look at life as a doctor caught in the middle comes highly recommended.
Interview with DAVID FARRIS:
1. Your debut has quite the machiavellian plot of revenge, what was your inspiration for this?
A sophisticated villain wouldn't indulge in anything simple. Mimi believes in subtlety -- up to a point.
2. How closely does your portrayal of the medical world, the bureaucracy, egos, ect..., reflect the true world of medicine?
It's dead on. In fact, some of the most gratifying feedback has come from other doctors. They'll say 'This really nails exactly what it's like.' Some have been especially thrilled that the story is built around problem areas that are very real but just not talked about.
2a. How about the medicine itself -- the drugs and physiology?
That, too is spot on. That was a necessary pre-condition to anything I was going to write -- it had to be real. Otherwise, no one medical would like it, and everyone knows someone medical. And I'd be peddling more trash, and there's already plenty of that.
3. You're a doctor in "real life", are the situations and characters found in your book based upon any real-life situations and people?
The main characters and events are fabrications, though cobbled together from parts of real situations and real people. They are very real possibilities, the way things go. Otherwise it wouldn't be much of a story. The clinical vignettes -- the sidebars, for lack of a better term -- are all from cases I've seen. If you've been doing this any length of time you don't have to make much up for those parts.
4. Tell us a bit more where your main character Malcolm Ishamail stems from...
A sum of many parts. I traveled and worked small-town ERs for a time, as he does, though it was a choice I made. I got the idea for part of his troubles when I watched a surgery resident at my hospital get drummed out of his job. In his case, there were differing opinions as to what was wrong, but sex and drugs were not issues. I guess I got Malcolm's idealism from my mother. His bad judgement in whom to date, well, that's good fodder for a story. I've had bad dates, but not like that.
5. What do you feel are the most important elements of your novel?
Contrary to one reviewer, it's not the sex. That part of the book gets a lot of talk, but really, the uber-theme is what I learned in medical school and residency -- you spend your career trying to do what's best for the patient -- that's what we put our hearts into every day -- and if you find a big gap you fix it. If you aren't willing to do that you should find another job.
6. What inspired you to write your first novel, and how difficult was it?
I've always craved making things. I've done art photography most of my life. My mom taught me to weld so I could make sculpture. I've dabbled in woodworking. Making a story isn't that much different, except that, unlike all the other stuff, you can work on it between cases at the hospital. It took about 16 years to get done.
7. Any favorite authors you'd like to share with us?
John LeCarre, Scott Turow, Philip Roth. Really, I read pretty broadly. I don't get to read much, so I have to spread it around. I read Moby Dick a few years ago and followed it with the first Harry Potter. John McPhee, though! If someone asks me how to learn to write I say 'Read John McPhee. Anybody who can make plate tectonics fascinating -- well, you've got to study that.'
8. What does your writing routine entail?
Routine? My OR job runs to 80-hour weeks. When I get a break -- and I do get them -- I put in time where I can. If it's only a half hour I may just putter with one troublesome scene and tighten up a few sentences. When I get a block of time, like summer vacations on a lake in Maine, I get to build the longer-running threads. At least that's what's going on now with Book II. Lord knows when it will get done.
9. And finally....we enjoyed meeting Dr. Ishmail, can we expect to see him again in the future? Or do you have something else up your sleeve?
You'll see more from me, assuming someone will want to publish it. I'm hard into Book II. Malcolm isn't in it, though. I think I'd like to write a sequel -- someday. I've gotten kind of attached to Malcolm -- my wife wants him to marry Mary Ellen -- and I've had several friends tell me they'd like to see Mimi come to a more definitive end, but I won't write about them unless I come up with another story that deserves the ink on its own merits.
For David Farris, the life and death drama in his novel Lie Still came from memory. Farris, a 1981 graduate of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, did his internship at a busy county hospital in Phoenix. “It was the most intense experience of my life,” he says. After that, he opted for a year of traveling, temporary work, ranging from an ER in the notorious Hill District of Pittsburgh to covering for a family doctor in a prairie town of 900.
After an anesthesiology residency and subspecialty training in pediatric anesthesia at UCLA, Farris began practice at Emanuel Hospital in Portland, OR, the state’s busiest children’s hospital and largest trauma center. “Emanuel is a special place,” he says. “It has an esprit de corps that comes from extraordinary work. We see it all. From gunshot wounds to conjoined twins.”
Farris was born and raised in Nebraska and educated at Stanford. He comes from a family of artists. “Mom was a painter and sculptor – she taught me to weld. Dad is a nature photographer. I learned to print in his darkroom when I was an eighth grader. My sister is a quilter and my brother, besides being a great wildlife painter, is a rock star. He was the guitar player in the 80s band Mr. Mister.” Farris says his only claim to musical fame is that he played drums the first time his brother ever performed in public. “I had to quit the band, though. It was interfering with my physics homework.”
Photography was Farris’s first creative love. “I’ve been doing art photography since high school. I love it, but when you look at the market for it, it makes you realize the importance of a good day job.”
When asked if there is a similarity between photography and writing, he says, “There is some. It’s in the way you look at all the things around you, trying to see what’s connected to what in a way that might be interesting. Trying to see equivalency, metaphor.”
The idea of a medical thriller came to him in his anesthesiology residency. “One of my professors said one of the drugs we used every day would make a perfect murder weapon. That got me going. It took a lot of years to reshape it beyond the trite and obvious, but I think it works.”