While there are many books written to help other writers, Natalie Dale’s A Writer’s Guide to Medicine definitely caught my eye! I had the chance to catch up with Natalie and talk about her inspiration, her pet peeves, and what she’s got coming in the future.
What inspired you to write A Writer’s Guide to Medicine?
The Writer’s Guide to medicine was inspired by my fellow writer friends. My writer friends kept asking questions about medicine, until one day someone suggested I should write a book compiling the most commonly asked questions.
I started the project, but quickly realized that medicine is WAY too big a topic to cover in just one book. I played around with different structures, and finally came up with an idea for the series. Volume 1: Setting & Character, would cover medical settings, healthcare personnel, and the important medical basics that every writer should know. Volume 2: Injury & Illness, forthcoming 2022, will cover the specifics of particular ailments, ranging from chest pain to head injuries. Volume 3: Special Populations will cover issues specific to unique subsets of the population, such as children, women’s health, and the elderly.
With your medical background, what kinds of things drive you nuts when you watch TV or read a book?
Ooh boy, it’s a long list. I’ll just give you my top three.
- When a character is knocked out by a hit on the head, then wakes up hours later and is totally fine. Head injuries have consequences. If a character is knocked unconscious for even a few seconds, they are going to have a pretty nasty concussion. If they’re knocked out for more than a few minutes, it’s because they had a SIGNIFICANT brain injury. If they wake up at all, they’ll have severe and permanent brain damage.
- When a character passes out from blood loss, then wakes up hours later is totally fine, even though they haven’t gotten any medical care. If your character is bleeding out fast enough to pass out, they’re bleeding out fast enough to die. People don’t just stop bleeding because they lost consciousness. People pass out after losing about 40% of their total blood volume (about 2L for an average sized man); after 50% blood loss (2.5L), they’re dead. So, the window between passing out and dying from blood loss is incredibly narrow.
- When a character receives CPR for 30 seconds, then wakes up and is totally fine. CPR is a last resort. All it does is manually squish the heart, forcing blood to flow through the body. CPR does not cause the heart to start beating again – for that you need a defibrillator and/or injected cardiac medications like epinephrine or amiodarone. To do CPR properly, your character needs to press really hard. The saying goes that if you aren’t breaking ribs, you aren’t doing it right. I understand that actors in movies have to bend their elbows while “performing CPR” on screen to avoid hurting the actor receiving CPR, but it’s given the wrong impression. Performing CPR is hard work and it mutilates the body of the person receiving it. Finally, the success rate for CPR is dismal. Most people who receive CPR outside a hospital setting will die. Even if they’re able to get a heartbeat back for a little while, the vast majority will not survive to hospital discharge.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
At my desk, with my cat on my lap. I love looking out over the field behind my backyard, watching the birds. I regularly see kestrels, a resident pair of red tail hawks, great blue herons, scrub jays, and flickers, along with the usual crowd of sparrows, juncos, and finches.
Are you reading anything good right now?
I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. What a powerful and poignant book!
What do you feel is the most important advice for someone who needs to incorporate medical information into their book?
Do your research and use reliable sources. Healthline, Mayo Clinic, and UpToDate are all excellent sources. Websites associated with universities – Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic, etc. – are also good bets. If you’re going to write anything about mental illness, do yourself a favor and buy a copy of the DSM-5 – the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s basically the psychiatrist’s bible. And if you’re looking for information on what certain conditions feel like, look at support networks like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Cancer.org.
Stay away from self-help websites and any site trying to sell you things. Also, avoid crowdsourcing your answers – just because one person had a particular experience, doesn’t mean that their experience is typical or realistic.
Coffee or tea?
Tea all the way. I love black teas (I have a particular soft spot for Masala Chai) with a dash of milk but I’m also a sucker for a good peppermint tea.
Do you have another book in the works?
I’ve finished writing the second volume of the “Writer’s Guide to Medicine” series, Illness & Injury, so now I just need to go down the rabbit hole of editing. Hopefully that won’t take too long, as I’m planning to publish in spring 2022.
But I can’t stop there.
My first novel, Pathétique, is a women’s fiction novel about a professional violinist with bipolar disorder. I wrote it while dealing with my own diagnosis of bipolar. I currently have the manuscript out to several agent – fingers crossed it gets picked up!
I’m also working on the second draft of a YA fantasy novel that emerged from last year’s NaNoWriMo and have been outlining ideas for a potential historical fiction novel based loosely on my mother’s experience as the daughter of a diplomat escaping Indonesia during the failed 1965 coup. I also have several essays and short stories coming down the pipeline.
As you can tell, I’m totally incapable of sticking to a single genre, or even a single project. I love writing about a whole host of different topics; I can never pick just one!
After struggling with bipolar disorder, Natalie Dale, MD, took a leap of faith and left her Neurology residency to focus on her life-long passion: writing. Since then, her short stories and essays have been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Wyldblood, McCoy Monthly, the READ White and Blue Anthology, and the National Health and Mental Illness (NAMI) blog, among others. In her spare time, Natalie organizes an elementary school reading program, runs a writing critique group, and plays violin in a community orchestra. You can visit Natalie on her website, on Twitter @DaleNatalie, and on Instagram at natalierose6627.
Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keepingand The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.
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