Riveting Characters Are Her Specialty: Meet Medical Thriller Author/Physician Tammy Euliano
Tammy Euliano has worked just as hard at finetuning her skills as a professional writer as she has at developing her expertise as a physician, educator, and researcher. Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio and contact/buy links:
First off, congratulations on the release of Misfire, the second novel in your medical thriller series featuring Dr. Kate Downey. Can you tell our readers about your story and what inspired it?
Thanks Lynn, I’m excited to share Kate’s next chapter. This time Kate fears for her beloved Aunt Irm. The defibrillator implanted to save her life has misfired in other patients with disastrous consequences. Efforts to protect those with the device are thwarted by its inventor, focused on the impending sale of his technology. When Kate’s cardiologist friend disappears and deaths mount, Kate and her colleagues uncover a larger plot of revenge and greed. Seemingly random events come together, the misfires are attacks, and Kate will stop at nothing to protect her aunt and the other patients whose life-saving devices could turn on them at any moment.
What is your protagonist, Dr. Downey, like? Does she bear any resemblance to yourself or other physicians you’ve known in your professional life?
As with many beginning authors, my protagonist started out as basically a white-washed version of me. A few years my junior, she was the me I aspired to be. Then terrible things started happening to her, and she showed a resilience far beyond what I think I could handle. It was fascinating to watch her evolve in my mind and on the page over the course of several years and innumerable edits. In the end, she turned out way cooler than I am, and someone I’d love to be friends with. Several of the other physician characters resemble people with whom I’ve been privileged to work. For the occasional bad actor…they’re completely imaginary, completely.
One of the interesting things about writing a series is that the story and character have an arc in each novel, and there is also an over-arching arc. Has Dr. Downey changed from her first appearance in Fatal Intent?
Funny you mention that. It’s something I’m struggling with for the third in the series. Yes, she had a clear arc (in my mind at least) in Fatal Intent, ending that novel far more confident in her skills and beginning to finally heal. Her arc in Misfire starts from there and moves her forward. Overall, she is evolving from a young, early-career physician who has survived tragic loss to a more confident doctor moving on with her career and life. As in real life, there are setbacks and accelerations, though her setbacks are pretty dang epic compared to anything most of us face.
Are your plot lines inspired by real-life events you’ve observed as an anesthesiologist?
Definitely. Several scenes in Fatal Intent were real situations and the same is true in Misfire. It makes them fairly easy to write when I can picture the events. Fortunately most of the events in Misfire are entirely fictional and not something I’ve dealt with directly.
Fiction writing is so different from academic writing. Did you find it challenging to make that transition? What steps did you take to develop your fiction writing skills?
Boy, you said it! Deciding to write, and writing, are very different. Especially when I realized fiction and medical writing are VERY different. I started by reading KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel, followed every step, and eventually had a first draft of what would become Fatal Intent. It was a finalist for a Pacific Northwest Writers Association award, which led me to attend their meeting, which led to meeting like-minded people and reinforcement of my passion. After NUMEROUS rejections, though, I learned that I still didn’t know how to write, so I took on-line courses, read more craft books, joined some short-lived critique groups, worked with an editor, listened to podcasts, joined groups, attended conferences. From each I learn something and I’ve been fortunate to form lasting friendships that help immensely when the rejections still come.
You are known for your outstanding character development. Best-selling author Lisa Gardner has said about your work: “You will read MISFIRE for the plot, but absolutely stay for the characters. I miss them already.” Can you talk about your writing process and how you develop such memorable characters?
Thanks Lynn, there’s no higher compliment for an author, I think. As I mentioned, Kate started as a cool version of me. Some other characters start as people I know, or combinations of people, but as I write, they morph into who they really are. I know that sounds nuts, and I thought it was when authors mentioned it, but it really happens. I’m writing a scene and the character in my head says, “Nope, not gonna do/say that,” and suddenly the movie in my head is disrupted. The character I’m picturing really wouldn’t do/say that. One thing I do, that I’m sure I learned from someone, is have the characters write me a letter in their own voice. Tell me their backstory, what made them who they are. I find that far more helpful than the worksheets of character traits, and I have them add to their letter when I’m stymied with new scenes and need their “input.”
A related question: What advice would you give to aspiring fiction writers?
Find a supportive tribe, read critically, take classes that provide professional feedback, attend a conference if at all possible, develop thick skin, write what you love!
What are you currently working on?
The third in the series in which Kate Downey, Aunt Irm and Christian face another series of challenges. I’m also working on a stand-alone dual timeline related to the Salem Witch Trials. Pre-covid I wrote a two-book series about a bioengineered virus that destroyed the fertility of humans and other primates. Sort of Children of Men-ish, minus the soul-crushing fate of mankind described by PD James. Anyway, I LOVE the themes, the characters and the challenging topics raised, but have yet to interest an agent or publisher.
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
I recently read Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (twice and counting). Oliver Burkeman encourages us to consider how fortunate we are to be alive (our parents met, the egg/sperm…), and how “absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short” life is (4000 weeks if we live to be 80). In that finite time, everything we say “yes” to is saying “no” to something else, some other way to spend that time. Knowing that, consider how you invest your 4000 weeks. Keep up with responsibilities, but don’t be afraid to explore a passion. And reassess every ten years, it’s easy to get in a rut and do what we do because we do it.
Thanks so much for visiting today, Tammy!
Tammy Euliano’s writing is inspired by her day job as a physician, researcher and educator at the University of Florida. She’s received numerous teaching awards, ~100,000 views of her YouTube teaching videos, and was featured in a calendar of women inventors. In addition to numerous short stories, her first medical thriller, Fatal Intent, was published by Oceanview in March, 2021. Kathy Reichs called it, “Medical suspense as sharp as it gets.” The sequel, Misfire, came out January 3, 2023.
Amazon buy links:
Fatal Intent: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1608094162
Social Media links:
Thanks for having me, Lynn!