Dean DeLuke has spent many years as a surgeon, but he's loved horses for even longer. In his debut novel, Shedrow, he combines his two passions to great effect. Below, my interview with the author.
Jill Dearman: How did a surgeon like you end up writing a taut thriller like this?
Dean M. DeLuke: I had written and published a good deal of work related to my profession and always wanted to write something for the popular press or for a larger audience. I had a proposal in the works with one of the academic presses to do an “insider’s guide” to facial reconstructive surgery. So I started attending courses on writing for physicians—not academic writing, but writing of non-fiction and fiction for a general audience. That’s obviously a totally different skill set than the academic writing that we do for professional journals. In any case, I found myself taking more of the fiction courses—there was something that kept pulling me back to the fiction realm. Writing fiction seemed like fun, whereas the non-fiction projects seemed more like work. I came up with a big “what if” concept for a novel that drew on both my experience as a surgeon and my experience in the thoroughbred business. So I abandoned the non-fiction proposal and here we are.
JD: How long did it take you to write and revise Shedrow, and what was your process like?
DMD: It took a little over two years—one year to get a reasonably well-refined draft, followed by almost a year of revision, review by some very experienced writers, more revision, etc.
As far as my day-to-day process, it really varied quite a bit. I basically had a weekly word count goal that I tried to meet, and I simply found time whenever I could. Some days I might write 1000 words, some days none.
I did most of my writing on a computer in my home office, but if something came to me waiting in an airport, or on a plane, I’d take out my laptop or a pen and legal pad and go to work. I keep a moleskine notebook in my car, and if an idea surfaces, I’ll jot down a few cryptic notes and develop them later.
One of my most productive sessions for the book came in the middle of the night when I was transporting a vehicle to Florida on the autotrain—there’s a mysterious quality to trains, especially at night. So a few of the creepier scenes from Shedrow were inspired by a restless night in an Amtrak sleeper car. I figure that if I ever have a really bad case of writer’s block, I could always self-prescribe an overnight train journey.
It’s interesting to me how the habits of writers vary so much. I always remember Tess Gerritsen saying that she writes all her first drafts with pencil and paper, and someone then transcribes them for her. Initially she has no chapter breaks, but inserts them later.
JD: How much did you draw upon your own experiences as a surgeon for the character of Gianni?
DMD: To give the book authenticity, I drew very heavily on my experience as a surgeon and also on my experience with thoroughbred horses, the latter dating back to my high school and college days working on a thoroughbred farm during the summer. Having said that, I’ll also say that the principal character in the book, Dr.Anthony Gianni, is not based on any single person, but is really a conglomerate of a few.
JD: Tell us about the Thoroughbred Foundation and how you are contributing to it.
DMD: The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a foundation whose mission is to save thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse, and slaughter. It’s a cause I have donated to personally, so it’s obviously one I believe in. For every book sold, one dollar is donated to the TRF.
JD: What authors have influenced you the most?
DMD: I have to say that the three authors who influenced me the most are the three that I spent time mentoring under: Michael Palmer, Tess Gerritsen, and Robert Dugoni. From a reader’s perspective, I would add Robert Parker, Stephen Hunter, and of course I have to include Dick Francis.
I’ll relate a little anecdote about Dick Francis. When I first submitted my idea for a story to an agent at a writers workshop, she said, “This sounds great—reminds me of the Dick Francis books I used to read many years ago.” When I told her I had never actually read a Dick Francis book, she looked at me as if I had three heads. And at that time, I hadn’t actually read him, though I surely have since.
JD: What are you working on next?
DMD: Two possibilities, and I’m still not sure which will surface first. One is a sequel to Shedrow. There’s plenty to work with there, and I already have an outline of key characters and events. Some of the characters still have room to grow, and readers may have questions about Gianni and Janice that might call for a little additional backstory.
The other thing I’m still considering is a serious piece of non-fiction dealing with our health care system and health care reform. I have the background and the platform to tackle that. Two opposite ends of the spectrum, obviously. We’ll see.
JD: For more on Dean, you can visit the website for the novel at http://www.shedrow1.com.
Until next week I leave you with this question: have you used your "day job" to build a plausible career for one of your characters?