Leonard Goldberg stops by In Reference to Murder today to take some "Author R&R" (Reference and Research). Leonard is the creator of the medical thrillers featuring forensic patholoist Joanna Blalock, which have been translated into a dozen languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide.
Goldberg's latest release is Plague Ship, so named because a highly contagious, deadly virus strikes a luxury liner, which causes the ship to be placed under quarantine and not allowed to dock—anywhere. Their only hope may be David Ballineau, a doctor and Special Forces veteran, who is traveling on board with his nurse girlfriend and his 11-year-old daughter.
Here's Leonard to tell you more about the background for the novel and why he started writing medical thrillers.
I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided to write a medical thriller. It all began with one of my patients at UCLA where I was in training to become a hematologist. The patient had a terribly aggressive form of anemia that was caused by her own immune system making antibodies that destroyed her own red blood cells. The antibodies were directed against various Rh factors on the surface of her red cells. And since virtually everybody’s red cells have some form of Rh factors on them, blood transfusions were of no use in this patient because her antibodies immediately destroyed the red cells transfused into her. Various drugs had no effect and her worsening anemia was causing her heart to fail. Death seemed imminent.
Then we heard of a family whose red blood cells were type O – Rh null, indicating the cells were totally deficient in A, B, and Rh factors and could be administered to virtually anyone without fear of transfusion reaction. We took blood from this family and transfused it into our patient with antibody-induced anemia, and the result was spectacular. There was not even a hint of transfusion reaction. So the donor’s blood, which was type O – Rh null, was the proverbial universal donor and would be accepted by anyone without rejection. And this gave me the idea for an individual who was born without a tissue type, making that person’s organs transplantable into anyone without fear of rejection. My first novel, Transplant, revolved around a young woman who was discovered to be a universal organ donor and was hounded by a wealthy, powerful man in desperate need of a new kidney. The book went through multiple printings and was auctioned by a major Hollywood studio. And so I was off to the races as a medical thriller writer.
Then, other ideas for novels came to mind. Being a big fan of author Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, I began to envision a modern-day medical Sherlock Holmes, who happened to be a woman. Not just any woman, but one who was young and strikingly attractive and who on first glance would always be underrated. So I made her a forensic pathologist with a razor-sharp mind, who was every bit Sherlock Holmes’ equal when it came to observation and deduction. And so Joanna Blalock was born and was the lead character in my next nine novels, many of which went through multiple printings. While Joanna is still in my mind, I have created yet another leading character named David Ballineau, an ER specialist who was once in Special Forces. A curious and unusual combination, you say. True, but he is loosely based on a real-life story as told to me by a former patient who was once in Special Forces.
With all this in mind, let’s turn to the question of why I started writing medical thrillers. Perhaps, deep down, there’s always been a bit of the writer in me. As a matter of fact, in my high school annual, I was projected to become a famous sports writer. Then, along came a five-star medical education, a deep love for mysteries and Sherlock Holmes stories, and a few fascinating ideas for a novel – and you end up with a writer of medical thrillers. You might say it was a gathering of the right elements at the exact right time. And why do I continue to write and dream up new ideas? Well, there’s a simple answer to that. Because writing becomes an addiction. I think Oliver Wendell Holmes described it best when he called it “the intoxicating pleasure of authorship.”
You can visit Leonard Goldberg's website, which also has more information about his books and ordering information for Plague Ship and also his Joanna Blalock thrillers.