Monday, November 11, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Thriller Author Alan Wanderer, MD

Dr. Alan Wanderer, Author
Dr. Alan Wanderer brings us ANAPHYLAXIS, A MEDICAL THRILLER described by a reviewer as “one of the most riveting tales of intrigue, love, hate, and revenge with so many twists and turns, one can't see it all coming until the very end.”  Dr. Wanderer believes that creating suspense is “a real art form” and wrote ANAPHYLAXIS as a thriller with “medical validation.”

Dr. Wanderer spent 40 years practicing medicine primarily specializing in allergy, asthma and clinical immunology. Although currently medical director of a clinical research drug study center, he has channeled his creative efforts into writing -- supported by his wife and family including four children and six grandchildren. He enjoys fly fishing, scuba diving, and playing with his two dogs, Max and Ruby.

Q: Reviewers of ANAPHYLAXIS, A MEDICAL THRILLER praise it as a “scary book” about the “chilling underside of medicine.” They claim they neglected chores and their loved ones to finish your book, which offered unexpected twists and turns up to the very end. How do you build such suspense?

Alan Wanderer: I believe creating suspense is a real art form. There are many great examples such as the opening scene of Grisham’s ‘A TIME TO KILL’ when an innocent black child is viciously raped by two rednecks. I wanted the opening scene to have significant suspense after speaking with a past owner of a book store who told me that browsers take only a few minutes when deciding to purchase a book. Based on that observation, I decided to begin the story with an immediate chilling anaphylactic event that would catch the attention of browsers, especially the segment affected by allergy, i.e. 20% of the overall population. Once I had the reader’s attention it allowed me to add new suspense with twists and turns.

Q: Your reviewers tout your realism and attention to accuracy --“very valid medical and scientific mystery.” How important is accuracy to believability? How helpful is it to building suspense?

Alan Wanderer:  As a physician and medical scientist, I decided to write a fictional story with medical validation. I wanted readers to experience a situation based on true knowledge and experience, not unlike the action movie that dealt with the sea rescue of Captain Phillips.  In part, I believe validation added magnitude to the suspense within the story. Accuracy also reduces challenges by peers and by others in the medical profession and they in turn may express support for its accurate depictions. It is a win-win for the readers, the reviewers and for me as the author.

Q: You have a career as a successful physician. What caused you to write a novel? Where did your interest in writing originate?

Alan Wanderer: I should start by saying that I have mostly written peer reviewed scientific articles. Going from that more rigid writing style to fiction was a struggle, especially starting in my late 60s’. I hoped I might have some untapped creativity since I had helped design medical devices and successfully solved some medical enigmas. I first started learning to play the violin at 64, but after three years as a member of a children’s orchestra and an obvious aged outlier, I shifted my attention to writing a novel.

The idea for the story developed over a dinner conversation when a friend told me about the mysterious disappearance of a researcher who had made a breakthrough discovery that could inactivate an illicit drug. That gave me the idea for the story in which a researcher, who had discovered an effective vaccine to reduce cocaine addiction, dies from an anaphylactic event.

Q: One reviewer likes your “fascinating characters.” What makes your characters “fascinating?” How do you engage your readers to care about your characters?

Alan Wanderer: I learned this through writing over fifty iterations of my story and working with an experienced independent editor, several family members and friends. I thought the names of the characters had to be somewhat unique to help me with their portrayal. One reviewer thought they were interesting, uncommon names and helped him remember the characters within the story. For example, I named the psychiatrist David Sabatha. I visualized him as being a very erudite physician who would enjoy spending a day, the Sabbath, reading and resting. The protagonist’s name came from the German ‘haber’ which is the infinitive for the verb ‘to have.’ His name became Haberman, a man who ‘has’ professional pride, moral strength and sensitivity and someone who could solve problems with analytical skill. Mostly, I didn’t follow known literary rules for character development because I considered it to be part of an author’s creative process. In a sense it is a process that is unique to each author as a self-identifying descriptor.

Q: Are you a believer in heroes and villains? How do you define a villain? A hero?

Alan Wanderer:  I loved this question because it made me think of immunity to metaphorically describe the villainous characters in my novel. We are born with innate immune mechanisms that allow our bodies to react against microbial invaders the first time we interact with them. If we didn’t have these built in immune responses at birth, the human species would never have survived. As we age, our bodies develop what is called adaptive immunity, the ability to build up defenses over time against previously recognized invaders. Now you may wonder why I am using this metaphor.  We all have the innate ability to unequivocally recognize villainous people, like a Charles Manson or Osama bin Laden. Where we have difficulty is with villains that are sociopathic, who on first interaction seem kindly and who we accept as friends until we realize who they really are. In a sense they are like HIV viruses that are not detected by our immune defenses as dangerous. Hence I created villains that we all recognize as dangerous, and then sociopathic villains that we cannot easily detect until it is too late.

Recognizing a hero becomes easier when you can identify with someone like Haberman who has clearly defined good character and purpose.

Q:  Did you write ANAPHYLAXIS to entertain your readers? Or did you also want to educate? Deliver a message?

Alan Wanderer:  What I really wanted to do was to entertain with a plot that would cause suspense and mystery. However intertwined in it was a sub-theme to increase awareness of the described condition, and for the uninitiated to learn more about it. Many people don’t know the meaning of anaphylaxis nor even how to pronounce it, so there was clear intent on my part to make it an educational thriller. In fact the largest advocacy group (AANMA) for people affected by this and related conditions, has endorsed the book to its membership and related blogging groups. I am pleased to see that occur as a side benefit of the story. 

Q: In your opinion, what key parts of a story make it great?

Alan Wanderer: In reality that will be determined by the readers. However, if I was to modestly identify the best parts, I would probably describe the suspense around the anaphylactic event both in terms of the suffering it caused and the attempt to reverse it. I also wanted the suspense around the deposition to be one that analytically dissected the event to allow the reader to identify with a doctor who tried his very best but nevertheless was still exposed to serious medical liability. By doing that I wanted the reader to sympathize with the protagonist but also understand that physicians are human and can make mistakes. Physicians admitting their mistakes is a good thing; however it becomes a path to major frustration and financial ruin for honest and caring physicians when persons file frivolous lawsuits. In the story you will see I believe there is a need for tort reform to control this trend.

Q: Did you outline your story or did your characters just take you along for the ride?

Alan Wanderer:  I did outline the story at first.  However there were junctions where the story needed a new twist or a way for it to evolve more logically. At times I withdrew a character or added one to make the story more credible. Hence the outline just helped with developing the overall theme, but like an architect’s first drawing may outline a house, details are added to make the house functional and enjoyable. The same is true with the storyline; the added details occurred as I wrote the story to make the suspense build. I do admit the beginning and ending were unchanged from the start as I wanted them to have suspense that would add power to the story.

Q:  What’s next? Will you be writing more medical thrillers?

Alan Wanderer: I do have a storyline that I am outlining, but I am not at the point to start writing it.  Recently I read about an author, Peter S Fisher, who at seventy-eight, is writing murder mysteries with his independent publishing company.  He had been a co-creator of Columbo, a series I enjoyed many years ago. His example has reignited my engine to continue writing another mystery within the medical genre. 

Q:  Tell us about Alan Wanderer. What do you like to do when you’re not writing or treating patients?

Alan Wanderer: I spent forty years practicing medicine mostly as a specialist in allergy, asthma and clinical immunology. I truly enjoyed patient care and making scientific discoveries that provided therapy for certain disorders that now permit afflicted individuals to have almost normal lives. That was part of my past creative process that has now shifted into writing. In the beginning of the novel, an older patient thanks Dr. Haberman for a diagnosis that led to an extension of his life. The patient then mentions it will allow him to play with the band. He was referring to a metaphor he mentioned to Dr. Haberman.  “We are all on the top deck of the Titanic. You can look over the side and watch the rising waterline or go play with the band.”  Like that patient, I have chosen to play with the band.  I can do that because of a supportive loving wife and interacting with my four children and six grandchildren, along with fly fishing in Montana, scuba diving on occasion and playing with my two dogs, Max and Ruby.

About Alan Wanderer

Alan Wanderer received his M.D. from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in internal medicine and pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital and Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Wanderer completed a fellowship in allergy, asthma and immunology at National Jewish Hospital-Health and is certified by the American Board of Allergy & Immunology. He has practiced in Denver Colorado and Bozeman Montana where he lives with his family. Other activities include clinical scientific research in inherited inflammatory disorders, asthma, cold hypersensitivity syndromes with anaphylaxis, sickle cell disease and transplant organ viability. Currently he is medical director of a clinical research drug study center in Bozeman. A detailed CV is available on the center's website and at He spends his recreational time with his family, his dogs Max and Ruby and fly fishing. ANAPHYLAXIS, A MEDICAL THRILLER is his first novel.

Dr. Frank Stevens, the lead scientist at COADD, a biotech company, has discovered an effective vaccine for cocaine addiction. He suffers a catastrophic anaphylactic event in the office of his allergist, Dr. Leonard Haberman, leading to a contentious malpractice lawsuit fanned by Dr. Stevens’ brother-in-law, a politically ambitious Colorado Senator. Concerns arise when it’s discovered that the manufacturing specifications for the vaccine and COADD’s head technician are missing. CBI Agent Ben Locke connects these events with a cold case; the death of a scientist who had made an important discovery involving a different street drug. Forensic evidence exposes a nefarious plot leading to the grand jury indictment of the missing technician suspected of mob connections, and several persons of interest who hated Stevens.  As the fast paced plot unfolds, Haberman makes a shattering discovery, placing him and his family in imminent life-threatening danger.


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