PAINTED ROCK NEWSLETTER'S
INTERVIEW OF DIRK WYLE
As a 30-year veteran of biomedical science, what elements of your novel paint a
more realistic picture of the profession than has been presented in other medical
I tell the story of "Pharmacology is Murder" in the words of Ben Candidi, my 28 year-old
protagonist. Writing from the viewpoint of a first-person protagonist allows the author
greater intimacy with the reader. I wanted the Reader to experience how it FEELS to
work in biomedical science as well as experiencing the investigation through the
Another goal in "Pharmacology is Murder" is to give the Reader some very general
information about how drugs and poisons work in the body. As a first-person narrator,
Ben is well positioned to make statements like:
"The inner workings of a high-pressure
liquid chromatograph might be a big mystery to Dr. Burk and his crew, but to me an
HPLC is nothing more than a collection of pumps, thin metal tubes, and columns that
separate molecules in solution."
"The pharmacology department's brochure said that
Dr. Moore worked on "pharmacokinetics," the study of what happens to the drug in the
body, how the liver chops it up and the kidneys piss it out."
All of the other medical thrillers I am familiar with bedazzle the Reader more than they
inform the Reader. Get me saying "gee whiz" a dozen times, and my next response might
be "so what?"
In PHARMACOLOGY IS MURDER, Ben Candidi is a Mensa genius working as
a biomedical techie. How does in research in a poisoning lead to his full involvement in
In the beginning of the book, Ben is working a dead-end job doing cocaine analyses in
the labs of the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner. His "Mensa genius" status doesn't
help him in this job, and he is about to be laid off. Then Chief Medical Examiner Goeffrey
Westley asks him to quit and do a little unauthorized snooping. Dr. Westley thinks one of
the pharmacology professors at nearby Bryan Medical School murdered his chairman,
using a cleverly selected poison that left no trace. Dr. Westley persuades Ben to enter the
pharmacology department as a student (Ph.D. candidate) and find out which prof did it
with which poison.
Ben has to learn a lot, himself, to prove the murder.
What are the elements of a good medical thriller?
Firstly, it must be THRILLING, and must teach you something about medicine. Beyond
this, its characters should have depth, and be believable and memorable. Their quirks
and motivations must show. There should be clashes of purpose and of personality. If a
story is really good, there should be moral undertones. The story should be a useful
roadmap for both the intellect and the soul.
Your web site links visitors to current medical information. How important is
research and cutting edge trends to the medical thriller?
They are essential, because the reader of the medical thriller wants to be INFORMED as
well as entertained. At my website, the last two URL "Picks
of the Month" have been "The Scientist", a magazine dealing with science as a profession,
and "Medline", the National Library of Medicine's on-line collection of the abstracts of
ALL biomedical articles since 1965! A educated and patient layperson can literally
diagnose his own disease and analyze information on his medications.
I do not believe in the old "C.P. Snow, Science vs Humanities" dichotomy. The two
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It might have been Life-Goal #10 which I set up for myself at the age of 13. Goal #1 was
becoming a scientist. I began work on "Pharmacology is Murder" in September, 1992,
after Hurricane Andrew wiped out our electricity for four weeks. At that point, it seemed
more sensible to write my own stuff on a battery-operated laptop under the stars, than to
read more of other people's stuff under a Coleman lantern.
Describe your average writing day?
My 8-hour DAY is devoted to my scientific research. My nights given over to my
passions as a writer. I work on my fiction for 2-3 hours per night, and 6-10 hours per
weekend. Last Wednesday night was typical: Three hours of on-screen read-aloud
polish on sequel, "Biotechnology is Murder." I was making triply sure that every sentence
flowed into the other. Around 11:00 PM, Scotty was getting impatient. As usual, he
started barking when I inserted the "a:" diskette and backed the MS up. While we were
on our long walk, I was thinking about plot elements in sequels #3 and #4.
Around 12:15 AM, I was reading myself to sleep with a few pages of a mystery P.D.
James. One of my friends told me my style reminds him of her.
What, if anything, have you given up since selling your first book?
Sailing. It's 5:30, Sunday afternoon. When I finish this interview, I will drive to the canal
where I keep the "Gizmo" (34-foot Grampian ketch), start up her motor, check her
automatic bilge pump, hose off the seagull droppings, and apologize to her for not taking
her to deep water for over 9 months.
What words of wisdom have guided your career?
If you want to be a successful novelist, you have to REWARD the Reader. He or she
has worked 8 hours in a demanding job, has spent 2 hours commuting in slow-moving
traffic, and has spent another 2-4 hours in service of family or household. Your reader
now has the choice of plunking in front of the TV, or spending 30 minutes with your
book. You'd better make it worth his/her while.
The Reader has to be rewarded every 10 pages; every 5 pages if you can do it without
being too obvious. The Reader should say: "I didn't know that!"; "Is he really going to do
that to him?"; "I knew that!"; and "I think I can see what's coming."
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