The two most frequent questions I get asked are how do I come up with my ideas, and how do I shape them into a novel.

Being a full-time pharmacist has many perks, from the satisfaction of helping patients to being privy to the latest drug therapies. My incessant study of medicine reveals a treasure trove of ideas for new novels. The age-old question, What if?, reigns supreme as I read about new drugs, harmful interactions, and strange side effects.

Once I have an idea, I begin research in earnest. This is often my favorite part of writing. My task then becomes deciding what will work in the story and what awesome, fascinating, but ultimately non-useable stuff I leave out. (Sometimes it’s downright heartbreaking.) Then I tackle the challenge of making the science easy to understand to a lay audience and yet have it remain complex enough to fascinate and add credence to plausibility. It’s my personal goal (and claim to fame) that 99% of all the science, medicines, reactions, etc in my novels is real. I believe it adds to the creepiness of the story if you realize that what you’re reading could actually happen! (gasp!)

The next step is crafting a compelling story around the research. Do I use an outline? Not really. I first imagine a handful of scenarios in my mind, giving each a beginning, a middle, and an end. I then mentally construct a sequential backbone with these scenes, giving my story a skeletal framework. From there I begin to add the muscle. This is when the actual writing takes place. I pound out the scenes, watching the movies in my head, and layer them onto my skeleton. When the body is mostly formed, I go back and paint on a skin. This is where I buff, sculpt, scrape, trim fat, and give a face to my story. The final fine-tuning is much like a cosmetic surgeon nipping, tucking, and tightening the end product.

Having said that, I am actually more of a discovery writer than a structured out-liner.  I generally know where I want to start, what needs to happen, and how it should end, but I have no idea how it will play out until I start typing. I am a big believer in letting my characters tell the story. So despite all the planning mentioned in the previous paragraph, I often am surprised by the twists, turns, and even dialogue my characters employ as they are presented with the complexities of the story. Yes, my imaginary friends tell me what to do. But they always take me for a great ride.

I believe having compelling characters is the most vital component of any good novel. And while the science/plot/concept is cool and thrilling, it’s how the characters use, react to, or manipulate that science that make a good story.

So there you have it. These are all my literary secrets. Now you too can write a gripping medical thriller!