Mike: I’m delighted to have two guests today, co-authors Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid. Their novel, Dead Air, the first in a series starring radio talk show host Sammy Greene, was released in December 2009.
Deborah Shlian, MD, MBA practiced medicine in California where she also taught at UCLA. She has published nonfiction articles and books as well as medical mystery/thrillers. Her first two novels, Double Illusion and Wednesday’s ChildRabbit in the Moon is an international thriller and has won the Gold Medal for Genre Fiction from the Florida Book Award, the Mystery Book of the Year Silver Medal from ForeWord Magazine, an Indie Excellence Award, a National Best Books Award Finalist from USA Book News and First Prize in the Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association.
Yolanda “Linda” Reid Chassiakos, MD, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. After graduating from and completing her residency in Pediatrics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Reid Chassiakos served as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, and as the Assistant Head of the Ambulatory Branch of Pediatrics at the Naval Hospital, Bethesda and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. She then moved to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and served as a medical editor and feature reporter for the evening Eyewitness news at the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. Dr. Chassiakos joined Lifetime Medical Television as a medical editor, writer, and host of educational programming for healthcare professionals and the public in Los Angeles, and developed and hosted programs and features for media such as the NBC Network Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll, Lorimar-Telepictures, and You TV.
During her thirteen-year tenure as an Associate Physician Diplomate at UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Health Center, Dr. Chassiakos also served as a staff writer for the television series, Family Medical Center. She is currently the Director of the Klotz Student Health Center at California State University, Northridge. Dr. Chassiakos’ features and essays have been published in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Woman’s Day, Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, and Tribune International. She has recently co-edited a text on Collaboration Across the Disciplines in Health Care. Dr. Chassiakos has also written a fantasy novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, for imaginative young adult and adult readers. Dr. Chassiakos and her husband are the proud parents of three teenagers and live in Los Angeles.
I’m continually amazed at the high-caliber people who appear as guests on my blog. You both have exceptional backgrounds, so much so, that I can’t believe you have time to write fiction! Tell us more about your backgrounds and prior writing experiences before the collaboration on Dead Air.
Deborah: My previous earlier novels are co-written with my husband Joel, who is also a physician. We met and were married after a six-week courtship, while we were in medical school at the University of Maryland. Because we wanted to maintain the closeness of our relationship, Joel dropped out of ophthalmology so that we could practice family medicine together.
We did our residencies in Los Angeles, where we eventually joined a large group practice and worked in side-by-side offices. But you can’t live in L.A. for very long without getting bitten by the entertainment bug. Everyone you meet here does something else–your dentist is an agent, your lawyer is a producer, and, of course, every waiter is a would-be actor. Even though Joel and I wrote Double Illusion–originally published by Putnam under the title Nursery–as a novel, we always envisioned our story as a screenplay. The second novel we wrote was Wednesday’s Child, published by Simon and Schuster. Both these books, which are now out in reprints, were optioned for film, although, as is par for the course, the options lapsed. But the stories are written in a very fast-paced, rather cinematic style. Our third novel, just published, is titled Rabbit in the Moon.
In the 10 years between writing Wednesday’s Child and Rabbit in the Moon, Joel and I graduated from UCLA’s Executive MBA program, started a healthcare consulting and recruiting company, and wrote several books and articles on healthcare and medical management issues.
Linda: I began my own neighborhood newspaper at age 10 and continued to write in high school and at the University of Maryland, where I also worked at the campus radio and TV stations. In medical school, I became “The Doc Around the Rock” on radio until I started my clinical training. Then, after my residency, I wrote for the Washington Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post. I later worked as a medical feature reporter for the CBS-affiliate in D.C., and as a medical editor and host for Lifetime Medical Television. I feel truly blessed to be part of the brotherhood of physician-writers.
Mike: Fascinating! So why novels? Your resumes are packed with superb credentials that would enable you to write non-fiction, especially medical articles for journals and the media, which you’ve had some experience with already.
Linda: Debbie and I met at the Student Health Service at UCLA and we discovered that we shared common interests in both creative writing and health education. I had taken a sabbatical from practice to serve as a staff writer for the TV series Family Medical Center, and, after the series ended, I returned to UCLA and Debbie and I developed several project ideas together. Among the projects we discussed was a medical thriller, which has evolved into Dead Air.
Deborah: I had just finished writing Rabbit in the Moon and while waiting for it to be published, began to get a little itchy to write another novel. I was Director of Primary Care for the Student Health Service, and Linda, one of our specialists, approached me about writing something together. We decided on a plot that involved a less-than-ethical experiment on a Vermont university campus. The protagonist is a 20-something college student named Sammy Greene, a journalism student with her own campus radio talk show. Sammy uses her show as a forum to solve the mystery of why students are suddenly dying and ultimately expose the experiment. Linda and I have just completed the second book in what will be a series featuring Sammy. Its title is Devil Wind and it takes place five years later when Sammy has moved to Los Angeles.
Talk is cheap, but when this radio host takes action, she may pay the ultimate price. An outspoken, brash, native New Yorker, Sammy Greene isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers at Ellsford University, her traditional New England Ivy League college. Host of “The Hot Line”, a talk-radio show on campus station WELL, Sammy tackles the toughest, most controversial issues facing Ellsford’s students. When Sammy discovers the body of Dr. Barton Conrad, one of Ellsford’s most esteemed professors, her journalistic drive kicks in and she sets out to discover what happened to the beloved professor. But when several Ellsford students mysteriously disappear, Sammy realizes she’s uncovered the seamy, terrifying underbelly of this prestigious institute of higher education. With the entire campus in peril, and demons from her past close behind, Sammy Greene must race to find answers. Along the way, she’ll discover some unlikely allies-and even more unlikely enemies. If Sammy isn’t careful, someone is going to make sure that she signs off-for good.
Mike: That sounds like a seat-of-the pants thriller. Given your medical backgrounds, did any of your real-life experiences make their way into the story at all?
Linda: Very much so. Deborah and I have both spent years in academic settings across the United States as students and then as physicians, staff, and faculty. Our perspectives allowed us to bring a realism to our fictional Ivy League campus, and to describe the challenges of surviving in an environment where “Publish or Perish” has, in tragic cases, become literally true. Additionally, many of us had friends whose children were leaving for college. Saying good-bye to your son or daughter is difficult, but you hope that his or her college experience will be safe. What if it isn’t, and what if the people responsible are the very ones to whom you entrusted your child? Add a look at cutting edge medicine and modern university politics and you have the seeds of our collaboration.
Deborah: We felt that in the context of a novel we could expose some of the corners that academic researchers are willing to cut in order to gain fame and fortune. I think there has been some slippage in morality and how people see “crossing over the line” in society in general. Unfortunately, since doctors are human like everyone else, they, too, may fall prey to the temptations of fame and fortune. The other issue is funding of research. As in our story, Dead Air, more and more research is funded by private interests. Consequently, at least the possibility of allowing bottom-line pressures to creep into the picture exists. Our character in the book, Dr. Palmer, is a well-known, respected scientist who has always had access to university and/or government research monies. When the university decides to co-venture with a Japanese biotech company, he is suddenly faced with some significant moral and ethical dilemmas.
Linda: Economic constraints on physicians lead them to make difficult choices, but, on the whole, most physicians practice a high standard of both medicine and ethics. The potential for larger scale abuse of ethics in medicine and society is there today, however, because of economic pressures and is facilitated by the improvements in science, technology, and communications in our global economy and world that allow a greater use and misuse of power.
Mike: Tell me more about your protagonist.
Deborah/Linda: Sammy Greene shares some traits with both her creators, but is her own young woman, who now tells us what she is going to do and say. We started to develop her as a voice for the moral, political, and ethical concerns we wanted to address in the book, and she grew to be a fully fleshed out dynamo bursting with passions, energy, and joie de vivre. Sammy has elements of each of our personalities, but is much more courageous and outspoken than either of us felt we were at her age. In book two, and now book three, it’s Sammy who is writing her own life script and we, Deborah and Linda, are taking notes so we can share Sammy’s adventures with all her readers and friends.
Mike: That’s a nice perspective on your character…seems to be writing her own story for you as the authors! Describe Sammy more.
Deborah/Linda: Sammy is a bright, dedicated young woman who grew up in Brooklyn under the strict tutelage of her loving grandmother, Rose, from whom she learned the Yiddish that she sprinkles into her exclamations. She is five feet tall and slim, with curly red hair and green eyes. She has a crackling personality—never afraid to dive into adventures, experiences, new directions. That strength can sometimes lead her into danger—her determination, feistiness, and curiosity can annoy or even alarm those running from her quest to pursue “Truth and Justice.”
Sammy’s father left her mother when she was a child—her mother’s subsequent suicide has scarred her deeply. Sammy hides her vulnerabilities and fears behind a tough exterior; as love knocks on her door, will she have the courage to let emotional intimacy enter her psychological firewalls? Readers will find out in Dead Air.
Mike: I imagine with your plot, about an Ivy League campus and all the intrigue you described, that you must have one or two particularly evil antagonists that Sammy must deal with?
Deborah/Linda: Everyone at Ellsford University is a suspect in the disappearances and murders of students and faculty. Corrupt University administrators, ambitious professors, unethical researchers, jealous students, and politically manipulative outsiders could all be playing a role in the conspiracy that Sammy uncovers step by step. Even the Chief of Campus Police isn’t beyond suspicion. Sammy’d better find out who’s behind the campus murders before she herself becomes the next victim and her radio show is silenced—Dead Air.
Mike: You mentioned books two and three. What are they about, and does Sammy come back for more adventures?
Deborah/Linda: We have finished the sequel to Dead Air and are currently plotting our third book in the Sammy Greene thriller series, an international thriller. Meanwhile, Deborah and Joel Shlian are working on a sequel to Rabbit in the Moon, and Linda is working on a sequel to Where Angels Fear to Tread and writing for newspapers, magazines, and blogs.
We expect Sammy has lots of exciting adventures in store ahead. Police Chief Gus Pappajohn will join Sammy again in Devil Wind, and she is likely to re-kindle (no pun intended) her romance with Dr. Reed Wyndham. With each book, we’ll learn more about Sammy and thrill to watch her grow. In Devil Wind, for example, we witness her rocky reunion with her estranged father and his third wife. Readers love Sammy and want to share her life, including her joys, challenges—and thrills.
Mike: Dead Air has already had some great success and wonderful book reviews. I’d like to finish your guest-blog with a list of those and anything else you want my readers to know.. Before I turn it over, I want to encourage everyone to visit Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid at their website: http://www.sammygreene.com/Sammy_Greene_website/THE_BOOK.html
Deborah/Linda: Thank you for the opportunity to introduce you to Sammy Greene—we hope your readers will love her as much as we do. Dead Air has had wonderful reviews, and was selected as the Best Adventure/Thriller in the 2009 USA Booknews Best Books Awards. Some comments from Sammy’s fans below:
“A brash college talk-show host uncovers a terrifying conspiracy as she seeks the killer of an esteemed professor.”
San Diego Union Tribune
“A fascinating reveal about the dangers that arise when big business influences medical research.”
“Both authors have medical backgrounds, and the story reflects this. The characters are interesting, and their intrepid heroine, Sammy, looks as if she’s ready for a sequel.”
“A fascinating read, full of action. Dead Air is a breath of fresh air—well written, riveting plots and subplots, and enough action to keep the reader interested until the end.”
I Love a Mystery
“Dead Air is the perfect prescription for readers looking for a good medical mystery with a little Yiddish and Greek mixed in for good measure.”
Review the Book
“A series-worthy heroine. Fans of light mysteries with a hard edge will enjoy this one.”
“Dead Air is a chilling tale guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.”
Midwest Book Review
“Shlian and Reid have created a plausible, plucky amateur detective in this fast-paced medical murder mystery.”
Monsters & Critics
“Excellently written, Dead Air ratchets up the suspense from scene-to-scene with twists and turns beyond the usual medical or campus mystery.”
“(Shlian and Reid) have done for academia what Patricia Cornwell did for forensic science. A great book.. Dead Air is sure to be in high demand this season.”
“A lively novel of secrets, lies, and betrayal, Dead Air captures the very essence of college life and mixes it with a plausible conspiracy. This one is sure to make the dean’s list among avid thriller fans.”
“Excellent and will keep you turning pages all night long.”