Thursday, October 10, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Author Louis Kirby, MD

Louis Kirby, Author
Author Louis Kirby, MD, has written SHADOW OF EDEN, a medical thriller described by a reviewer as “a rat-a-tat triangulated tale of medical murder, corporate greed, political complexity, and international intrigue woven seamlessly around Dr. Steve James—an everyday-kind-of-guy.” I confess: that review got to me, and I am looking forward to meeting Dr. Steve James. 

As a physician, Kirby specialized in the research and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. He also has co-founded a company, Zetta Science. On the personal side, he spends time with his wife and daughter and hikes as often as possible including twice a year at the Grand Canyon.

Don’t miss the excerpt at the end of his interview – a falling Boeing 747 with no pilot can really get a book off to a fast start!

Q: Reviewer after reviewer praises your “heart thumping” action scenes in your medical thriller SHADOW OF EDEN. How do you create such suspense?

Louis Kirby: I think generating suspense involves a creative interaction between both the reader and writer. As a writer, I respect the reader’s intellect. They can figure things out which gives me the freedom to move the story ahead at a rapid pace, dropping clues and bits of information as I go. I also must create characters that the reader believes and cares about; only then will a tense situation really engage the reader.

If I have succeeded thus far, then I create situations that are credible and populate them with real threats. This can be a dangerous killer sniffing a trail or a political impasse with lives at stake. I also build the basis for the conflict ahead of time so they are anticipated and savored. Lastly, I let the reader believe that anyone is expendable in some fashion. There is no free Get Out of Jail card for any of the characters. Since it is not a series, even the main character is in real peril.

In addition, the antagonists must also be palpably real. They have frustrations, setbacks, challenges, and triumphs like any of us, yet they pose real threats and risks for the protagonists. And I let the reader see these aspects of the antagonists. I believe knowing them at an intimate level makes their actions believable and, consequently, manifestly threatening. So when the action starts, and there is quite a lot sprinkled throughout the book, the reader is fully along for the ride.

Lastly, there is the craft. How do you pace the build up? How do you drop hints as to what is to come? How do you stage the encounter? And can you write in such a way that the writing does not get in the way of the action?

Q: Your reviewers cite your ability to realistically combine your knowledge of medicine as an MD with fast-paced action. How relevant is credibility to creating a thriller? What kind of research did you conduct for SHADOW OF EDEN to make it a plausible story?

Louis Kirby: It comes back to respect of the reader. I have an opportunity to teach some very interesting science and medicine but do it in a way that serves the story and intrigues the reader. Accuracy is key. I want my readers looking up things I drop into the story to confirm that what they just read is actually true. And they are.

In the thriller genre I can’t just pawn off some half-baked science that is disconnected from the reader’s knowledge and experience. That would be science fiction or fantasy and my readers would instantly smell it and move on. My advantage is my scientific and medical expertise and I know what is scientifically and medically real. The art is how to push the boundaries in a way that serves the story while staying true to the science. I had a number of experts review the book to comment on its accuracy. Some scientists actually got ideas from my manuscript that they subsequently began to test in the laboratory.

Yet I don’t let the science take over the narrative. I wove it in so the needed information was doled out naturally and gradually. I don’t want anyone falling asleep during a science lecture!

The non-medical research was both challenging and fascinating. For example, I talked my way into the cockpit of a 747 flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Another time I spent a day with the former navy top gun pilot, aircraft carrier captain and fleet admiral asking him questions and soaking up the answers. Of course I read copiously and had more subject matter experts read the manuscript to ensure accuracy.

Q: Why do readers accept your character Dr. Steve James, an “everyday-kind-of-guy,” as a plausible hero in a world of intrigue? 

Louis Kirby: I am a bit tired reading about these super-trained, super macho, best in their class, special forces bad ass guys who are ex-FBI/CIA/Black ops/Delta Force clones who you expect will prevail in any encounter with another baddie. Where’s interest in that? I certainly cannot relate on a personal level. My interest is in the ordinary guy faced with extraordinary circumstances. Don’t we all wonder how we’d react when confronted with a threat to our family or our lives?

So Dr. James is a guy who likes to mountain bike and teach his kid how to make paper airplanes. Fighting off well-conceived attacks on him and his family is the farthest thing on his mind. Yet confront it he must.

But I don’t turn him into a superhero. He knows when to get help and off he goes to find his ally: a damaged goods private investigator gone to flab who is not sure he wants to take the case. Can they prevail against a hit team that is well financed and trained? That’s an open question.

Q:  Your reviewers compare you to some of my favorite authors, such as, David Baldacci, Michael Crichton, John Grisham.  I’m curious. Do you read authors such as these? Did they influence your writing? How would you compare SHADOW OF EDEN to their writing?

Louis Kirby: Alas, I am afraid I must disappoint here. I can reel off a list of the name brand writers who I have enjoyed but few who actually influenced my writing. Three exceptions and I’m very clear about what they did to influence me. The best writing lessons I learned were from Syd Field’s Screenplay. (Confession: SHADOW OF EDEN was first written as a movie. The screenplay still sits on my shelf waiting for that call from Hollywood).  He taught me the three-act approach to story telling; how to make the story visual, important in novels as well as screenplays; and brevity: get into a scene late and exit early. And it worked for me. SHADOW OF EDEN has interwoven narratives and it would soon become weighted down by excessive detail without the quick-in and quick-out approach.

James Patterson, the second author who influenced me and it was by his example of brevity as described by Sid Field. His technique of quick, short chapters is one I adopted in SHADOW OF EDEN.

The third is Michael Crichton. While I have reservations about his actual writing ability, he did know how to tell a tale with a lot of science built in and get the audience on board.

Q: I’m almost afraid to ask given the topic of SHADOW OF EDEN as a medical thriller involving the world of medicine and our government, but how or where did you conceive of the plot?

Louis Kirby: Like anything else, it was a kernel of an idea that, in a short week, blossomed into a full fledged plot. As a neurologist, I had been doing medical research in Alzheimer’s disease when I realized that most people had little or no understanding of the drug research and development process. The just magically showed up on the pharmacy shelves. The fact that we are able to take a unique molecule and safely introduce it to the body to achieve a measurable benefit is nothing short of amazing. Yet the process can be subverted. It is difficult and it is risky but with the billons of dollars at stake, it is also very tempting. It is a theme that I tell in SHADOW OF EDEN but attempt to make it almost a natural progression from that first questionable ethical lapse to the situation they find themselves in by the time the book starts.

From there, it was a tsunami of “What if…?” questions: What would be the worst side effect you could get (it’s a baddie and worse, it is very real). Who would you most like NOT to get the side effect…but does. And so forth. Then it was a matter of making the characters very real and their motivations very believable plus doing the research to give every aspect the authenticity it deserves. 

Q:  OK, I have to ask. What made you – a successful neurologist – decide to write a medical thriller?

Louis Kirby: It was a story that had to be told. I have inside information of several drug recalls. When one in particular was announced, we were still doing research on it. I had to call each of my study participants and tell them that the drug was being recalled. On one of those phone calls, I spoke to the wife. Her husband, who had been enrolled in the study, had died the previous week of precisely the condition that triggered the recall. There is real danger in drugs, in sloppy science and in pushing the limits of what is safe.

While I know some of the individuals involved in the decision making process, and they are thoughtful, decent people, the safety aspect nevertheless is abstract, reduced to an exercise trying to genuinely balance out the benefit of a drug against its potential to do harm. How difficult indeed is it to make these decisions! Now let’s add money into the mix and the decision becomes harder still.

SHADOW OF EDEN, in my mind is in some ways my story, told from the front lines of someone that has looked at the dangers at eye level, held the hands of those affected by real side effects yet one who has also seen the amazing good that can be achieved by a new and beneficial drug. I felt the real life consequences of ethical lapses could form the nucleus of a story that could be interesting, entertaining and informative at the same time. Didn’t Michael Crichton spend much of his career calling out the consequences of unchecked scientific hubris?

Q:   Having worked in the biotech industry as a publicist for nearly 15 years, I am curious if you wrote SHADOW OF EDEN to deliver a message? Or were you mostly interested in entertaining your readers?

Louis Kirby: Clearly, there is a message but the message merely irritates if it is preachy or didactic. The drug aspect is only a part of the story not the story. I wrote a book that I would want to read. It is full of action, mystery, science, good people facing high stakes and insurmountable odds yet there are laugh out loud parts. I like a good story and I wanted to write a good story. So I’ll be more than satisfied if I entertain. I’ll be ecstatic if you think about the book days after you turn the last page.

Q:  How do you define a villain? Are villains relevant in SHADOW OF EDEN?

Louis Kirby: Villains drive much of the story. I’ve tried to create really memorable villains, ones you can really hate, but because they are good at what they do, you have to respect them as well. The good guys are flawed and make mistakes as do the bad guys. They come complete with their back stories and understandable motivations. They get mad when things don’t go their way while impressing us with their cunning.

I’ve read enough thrillers to be impatient with cardboard baddies. Somehow being bad is a profession and there is a never ending host of them pouring out of Hell’s gates to rub their hands in cackling glee as they plot their next nefarious deed. Worse, without any explanation, they suddenly show up at the motel where our heroes are holed up. In SHADOW OF EDEN, you’ll know (although maybe not immediately) why and how. The pieces are all picked up or enough clues dropped so you can figure things out. 

Q:  What’s next?

Louis Kirby: I’m researching the next book. I may come back to Steve James later, but this next book is about a scientific expedition to find the biblical Tree of Life. Teaser: A recently translated Sumerian tablet gives credence to an earlier Garden of Eden tradition than the Genesis tale, one that describes harvesting an elixir from the trees of life and selling it to kings of the various lands so they might live for hundreds of years. Look at the ages of the descendents of Adam who all lived over 700 years until Noah, possibly about the time the supply of the elixir gave out.

The tablet also describes the one source of this elixir in the world destroyed by a vengeful god, lost forever in the sudden flood caused by worshiping the god of another tribe. But hidden on this tablet are clues as to where these trees grew and how a dedicated scientific team could find the genetic material of this tree to once again create an elixir of life.

Of course it is not so easy, but you’ll need to read the book to find out. (hint, they actually find it).

Q:  Tell us about Dr. Louis Kirby. What do you like to do other than write or work? – assuming you have any spare time, that is!

Louis Kirby: In my professional life, I am starting a company to accelerate the pace of scientific innovation. You can read about it on If it works it may be a catalyst for finding the answers to some of the big health and life science issues. I still consult on interesting drugs with biotech companies, some of whom have very promising leads targeting some very intractable neurologic conditions. Basically, I’m still an idealist wanting to do the next big thing. I really get to see a part the future as it unfolds.

In my personal life, I spend as much time as possible with my wife and daughter (who will leave for college in just over 2 years). She is learning how to drive so I’m also doing driver’s ed. duties. I hike the Grand Canyon twice a year, which is a great motivator to keep me in some sort of reasonable shape.

About Louis Kirby
Louis Kirby specialized in research and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and served as principal investigator on nearly 400 human clinical trials. He frequently spoke at national and international conferences on drug development and consulted on Alzheimer’s research for the government and the pharmaceutical industry. Throughout his life he has always been drawn to writing and has two other books in process. While in medical school he published several stories, one landing him in hot water with the Dean of Medicine. Louis lives, hikes and bikes in sunny Arizona.

Chillingly plausible and terrifying. You’ll never take another pill without thinking of SHADOW OF EDEN. Peter Glassman MD, author of THE HELIOS RAIN.

Eden, the miraculous new weight loss drug, rips through a society intoxicated by the allure of attainable physical perfection. It is at once more ubiquitous than Tylenol and more fabled than Viagra . . . yet it harbors a deadly secret, putting millions at risk. Faced with the puzzle of a crazed airline pilot and a young woman with horrifying delusions, Dr. Steve James discovers Eden’s fatal flaw and suddenly finds himself, and his family, in the crosshairs of a determined assassin.

In Washington, D.C., bewildered White House staffers and Cabinet members scramble to cover up President Dixon’s alarmingly erratic behavior while managing an escalating confrontation with China. Dr. James, running from the relentless contract killer, realizes he alone may know what is wrong with the President—with less than twenty-four hours before war begins with China.

Beginning with a terrifying dive in a 747, through state of the art medical sleuthing, and high stakes political brinksmanship and calculating corporate treachery, SHADOW OF EDEN takes the reader on a non-stop, rollercoaster of intrigue, murder, corruption and sabotage.

Excerpt from SHADOW OF EDEN by Louis Kirby

The announcement awoke Steve James with a start. Irritated, he opened his eyes and saw an agitated male flight attendant standing at the front of the compartment. Gradually, he processed the words. He staggered to his feet and approached the flight attendant.
“I’m a doctor—a neurologist, if that makes a difference.”
“Perfect. Follow me.”
Steve followed him into the dim cockpit. His eyes swiftly took in the condition of the two men. Jesus. Steve bent over the copilot. He found a strong carotid pulse and saw that the man’s breathing was normal. Steve’s fingers explored the bloody scalp and found two lacerations, but no skull depression.
He glanced at Oliveros. “I think he’ll be okay.” He then turned to the pilot. “Sir, how are you?”
The pilot looked at him through bloodshot eyes. “I thought I killed him. A goddamn flashback. Is he going to be . . . Marvin. Thank God.”
A medium-built man in a pilot’s uniform had joined them.
“What the hell happened?”
“Captain Verness—” Oliveros began.
“Never mind.” Verness snapped. “Ralph, it’s time to get out of here.” He pulled Steve towards the copilot. “Look after him.”
Palmer’s right arm started shaking and his gaze turned glassy. To Steve, he looked like an actively hallucinating schizophrenic.
“I’m hit. Fire! Fire!” Palmer yelled. He reached up and yanked all four fire extinguisher levers.
“No!” Verness grabbed at Palmer’s hands but too late. The engines shut down. Lights flickered and alarms filled the cockpit. The plane’s abrupt slowing flung Verness into the center throttle console, slamming him into switches and knobs, including the overhead intercom button.
“Help me out here!” Verness shouted, as he righted himself and grabbed Palmer from behind. Oliveros sprang to help. Steve hurriedly moved out of the way and leaned over the copilot’s seat.
Palmer thrashed and punched as they pulled him out of his seat. “You can’t take me again, you bastards!” He kicked like a madman, knocking the control yoke forward. The floor of the cockpit plunged like an elevator with a snapped cable. Everyone flew upwards. Palmer, Oliveros, and Verness slammed their heads against the ceiling. Steve, bent over McElroy, smashed his back into the knob-laden ceiling, the metal switches puncturing and lacerating Steve’s back with knife-like agony. 
Gasping with the sudden pain, Steve twisted to dislodge the bits of metal from his back but the centrifugal forces of the diving jetliner still held him against the ceiling. And despite his pain, a single thought pierced through Steve’s mind. Who was flying the plane?
Below him, he saw the empty seat where the pilot should be and, right underneath him, the still unconscious co-pilot. His gaze swept out the windshield and down past a break in the clouds. The distant lights were drawing closer with each moment. With horror, he suddenly understood. There was no one flying the plane. He twisted around, remembering the others. The other men floated in a tangle against the ceiling next to him.
“Hey!” He grabbed the arm of the nearest man, the new pilot called Verness, and shook him. The arm was limp. As he looked closer, Steve realized the pilot was out cold. He looked at the others. They were all unconscious—or dead.


Twitter: @lou7is (the 7 is silent)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Joyce for your interview. I found your questions quite provocative and unique. It was challenging while also satisfying to dive in and answer them. I love your blog. Count me as a fan.