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The Sirens of Suspense




New York Times bestselling author Michael Palmer, M.D., is the author of Political Suicide, Oath of Office, A Heartbeat Away, The Last Surgeon, The Second Opinion, The First Patient, The Fifth Vial, The Society, Fatal, The Patient, Miracle Cure, Critical Judgment, Silent Treatment, Natural Causes, Extreme Measures, Flashback, Side Effects, and The Sisterhood. His books have been translated into thirty-five languages. He trained in internal medicine at Boston City and Massachusetts General Hospitals, spent twenty years as a full-time practitioner of internal and emergency medicine, and is now an associate director of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program.

Find Michael on Twitter and Facebook.

item1 The Curse of the Blank item1

Even after publishing 18 books, writing the first sentence is always hard. This is the case for all writers, whether you’re Stephen King or someone entirely new to the trade. The blank page is always a frightening place.

So, after blindly working through this anxiety for a few years, I came up with two frameworks: one for starting a novel and one for writing it through to completion. As I physician, I have always been big on processes. My hope is that you can use these tips to write your next bestseller (and then offer me 5 percent of the royalties).


Find the “What if?” question

All of my books begin with a question. This question gives me a direction, and a starting point for developing characters, places, and situations that will eventually lead to the answer.

For example, The Patient began with: “What if the most ruthless terrorist had a brain tumor and needed surgery?” The Sisterhood came about as I explored: “What if there was a secret society of nurses dedicated to mercy killing?” And, Political Suicide, my most recent thriller, is the product of: “What if a man orchestrated his own suicide to make it look like a murder?”

Once I find my question I latch onto it for the next several months. I think about it at the gym and at the grocery store. I talk to my sons and my friends about it. I write several scenarios until one fits. Answering this question is a long and difficult process, and it should be. Don’t let the difficulty stop you from enjoying the exploration.

Once you find your question, latch onto it. This is your door into a new world of endless possibilities.


Plot development: How to keep the water boiling:

The main characters in all of my books are average, everyday people in the medical community (because as a physician, that’s the area of life that I know best). These individuals want what we all want: to live happy lives, to be loved and to go home after work everyday and feel safe.

As a suspense author—I cannot allow them to have these things, or else no one would read the book. So instead, I drop them into a cauldron of scorching hot water where the only way out is through the plot. My job is to keep the water boiling by creating obstacles that force the character to think on their feet, make mistakes, and sacrifice everything they believe in. All the while, I allow them to take small steps forward, uncovering hidden truths and barely surviving deadly situations.

This is the case for Lou Welcome, my first continuing character and the star of Oath of Office and Political Suicide. Lou is an emergency room physician and an associate at the Physicians Wellness Program, where he helps doctors who struggle with addiction and mental illness recover and live healthier lives. In Political Suicide, Lou is tasked with unraveling the story behind a ruthless murder allegedly committed by one his clients, Gary McHugh, known in Washington as the “society doc.” Lou hardly sleeps while working through the case, which leads him to the US Department of Defense and those in the highest positions of power.

For more writing tips and to learn more about Political Suicide, take a look at my website.

As I like to say: Writing a novel is like following a recipe for rhinoceros stew that begins: "1) Find a Rhino".




HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE BLANK PAGE? Tell us or ask Michael a question by commenting below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of POLITICAL SUICIDE!


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