Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author D Marshall Craig about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and his new book release, Hidden Agendas.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I have an interesting background to say the least. My initial career includes spending over thirty years in medicine, twenty-five of those years as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon putting people back together in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Six years ago, I retired from my busy private practice to become the winemaker and vineyard manager of a boutique winery in the mountains of western North Carolina. I always had a long-established passion in reading, especially suspense/thriller novels. Because of this, I knew I could write stories that people would enjoy reading.
My first novel of the Dr. Kyle Chandler Thriller Series, Cut to the Chase, was published in October 2020. The second in the series, Hidden Agendas, is scheduled for publication February 8, 2022, with the upcoming third story in the series in 2023.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I actually first wanted to write about all the bizarre situations involving unique patients I encountered during my surgical residency training many years ago. I was much too busy at that time to follow through with such a time-consuming commitment.
When did you take a step to start writing?
It wasn’t until a few years after I started my plastic and reconstructive surgery practice that I actually began to put my ideas down to form the story of my first novel. My second son was born in 1995, so I would get up early around 4:30 am. After feeding him, I would then type on a small Dell laptop until 6:00 am, then get ready for work and head off to surgery.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I finished the first novel in the series, Cut to the Chase, in about 6-8 months. My protagonist was a trauma surgeon interested in French antiques that mistakenly got involved in a private investigation case concerning stolen antiques. It was a fast action thriller with quick, snappy dialogue and a love interest finishing with a surprise ending. I pitched it to multiple publishing houses in New York in 1996 and 1997 with no interest in the story, particularly since I was not a published author and had no book agent. The story languished on the shelf for over twenty-five years.
After retiring from medicine in 2015, I brought the story back to life, reworking the plot slightly. I promoted it to a wider variety of publishers and found one, at White Bird Publications, that loved my story. It was published in October 2020 during the height of COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, I was severely limited on any in-person promotion.
After completing everything for the final edits for my first book, I began on this second novel in the series in late 2020. I had already put down ideas for the second and third novels in the series, so I completed my latest book, Hidden Agendas, in the spring of this year.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Hidden Agendas?
I wanted to write more about my fictional main character, Dr. Kyle Chandler, and his struggle between his personal life and his professional life. He had tragically lost his wife during his surgical training in Boston and was very hesitant in opening up to any new relationship. He meets his match in Caroline Martinelli, a sharp minded antiques dealer in the first novel that challenges him unlike ever before. In the second novel, they go through more of the difficult ups and downs of two busy individuals trying to make a relationship succeed.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Hidden Agendas?
My biggest challenges writing the second novel in a continuous series was trying to make the new story flow forward with interest and excitement without repeating too much about past history in the previous novel. Introducing new characters while keeping some of the principal characters required a delicate balance.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
My protagonist, Dr. Kyle Chandler, was a creation from a mixture of physicians I trained with during my surgical residency and those that I encountered in medicine during my private practice years. Some of the sharp his witted dialogue was inspired by the way Aaron Sorkin writes in his TV series scripts, movie screenplays and Broadway plays. He uses snappy dialogue that creates sexual tension between characters using machine gun cadence that can be almost intriguing as the real thing.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
I always despised the all-powerful Goliath corporate structures towering over the David-like small guys doing the real work in helping patients. That was particularly true about the large healthcare corporations in the 1990’s telling physicians what they could and could not do while trying to help out their patients the best that they could.
What is the inciting incident of Hidden Agendas?
In this second story of the series, Dr. Kyle Chandler is about to take a trauma victim to surgery when he is contacted by Ian Griffin, the head of the private investigation firm that Kyle had worked for earlier that year. He is hesitant to get involved again but gets coaxed into following up in a couple of innocent meetings for Mr. Griffin. The scene turns to London where Kyle stumbles on something completely different, followed by chasing down clues on Long Island and then back to his home in Kansas City.
What is the main conflict of Hidden Agendas?
Like I stated earlier, one of the main themes of this story is Kyle’s struggle between his personal life and his busy professional life. His relationship with his girlfriend is uncertain because of their consuming occupations. Then it goes one step further with the conflict of his busy surgical career and this growing interest in private investigation cases. He’s trying to balance his day job with his growing dangerous side career.
Did you plot Hidden Agendas in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
While every time is a little different, it’s kind of a combination of both. I do form a general framework of the plot in the beginning of the process. I then figure out the start of the story that will grab the reader’s attention, followed by an ending that will be surprising and not at all expected. As the process of the flow of the story is formulated, I will add in thoughts and ideas to grab the reader’s interest as the plot suspense builds.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Hidden Agendas need?
My publisher has developed an excellent process for editing novels. There are three separate edits of the submitted text. The first edit is to question the essential parts of the plot. The second is eliminate unnecessary adverbs and verbiage. And the third edit is for content form and typographical errors. I don’t always agree with all edits, but we do end up with a definitive polished end result. Of course, the toughest edits come from my twenty-something year old son.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Two things in particular are key for me. First off, write what you are passionate about. Your story will not be at all convincing to the reader if you are not passionate about your subject or characters. Second, write what you know about best. Don’t make the language too technical but be convincing to the reader that you know what you are talking about. If you don’t know about some of the details, become an expert on that subject. Extensive research is crucial.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
As I stated before, I envisioned my first book as a progressive series from the beginning. When I completed Hidden Agendas in the spring of 2021, I began on the next story in the series for which I already had a general outline. The third book, tentatively titled Sleight of Hand, will likely be finished the spring or summer of 2022 after completing promotion of Hidden Agendas.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
While I would like to get better at the promotion of each novel in the series, I do feel a deep sense of satisfaction with each book that is completed. The support and positive comments from readers about the small details from the stories make the process all worthwhile. As my younger son who is a journalist told me, “Dad, you writing thriller novels is going to be a whole lot cheaper than psychotherapy.”
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