Doctor by Day; Writer by Night
authors Linda Jarrett
Growing up in Fort Smith, Ark., the son of Jewish immigrants who escaped the Holocaust, John Daniels, MD, always knew he wanted to be a doctor.
In high school, his English teacher taught him the fundamentals of writing, and that was when he knew he wanted to write fiction.
His debut novel, “The Intern,” came out the first of August and, according to Daniels, sales have been good.
“I’ve always wanted to write fiction,” Daniels said. “I love reading great novels.
In my book, the protagonist’s favorite novel is Of Human Bondage, which is my favorite also.”
“There’s nothing better than reading a well-written novel,” he said. “I figured at my age, I‘d better get to it now or it wasn’t going to happen. So a year ago, I started writing.”
Mark Twain said “Write what you know,” and reading the book, it is apparent that the author knows his material.
Daniels is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Endocrinology and Metabolism, and has a practice at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
The novel is semi-autobiographical, he said, in the sense that Jason Green, the protagonist, is a Southern Jewish boy who happens to be gay, and who goes to the “big city” to complete his medical training at Sinai Medical Center.
His book starts on the first day of Green’s internship when a “Code Blue” is called for a woman in heart failure, and the woman dies.
“That really happened to me,” Daniels said. “There were four codes that day, and it was such a traumatic day, I was ready to go back to Arkansas, but I didn’t.
“At 2 a.m. I was sitting and writing progress notes, and there was a code I didn’t go to,” he said. “They called the code again and I went and saw this poor nurse by herself trying to resuscitate this patient.
“The patient was the only one to survive that day,” he said. “Many other events in the book really happened.
“Jason Green is a prodigy which I am not,” Daniels said. “He’s almost too good to be true, a brilliant kid, talented in many ways, a guy I’d like to be.”
Daniels also based some of his characters on persons from real life.
“Dr. Glassman was similar to my mentor when I was doing my endocrinology fellowship, as was the department head of medicine similar to department head of medicine when I was chief resident at Washington University,” he said. “Along with the woman with the glass eyes we tried to resuscitate.”
Penning a novel is a painstaking career in itself, but combining it with a successful medical practice takes a lot of discipline.
After leaving his office around 5 p.m., he would head home, eat, exercise, go to bed, arise at 2 a.m. and start writing. He followed this regimen three or four days a week for a year.
“I didn’t outline in detail like many authors do,” he said. “I just sat down and started writing.
“I became obsessed with the story and the characters,” he said. “I got completely invested in the story to the point that there were scenes that I was writing where I would start crying.
“But it was a real catharsis,” he said. “A lot of the novel is really me, and I had a ball doing it, probably the most fun I’ve had in my life.”
While Daniels has written scientific papers and published medical articles and chapters in textbooks, he found that writing fiction was an entirely different animal. His first draft was 600 pages, so he contacted a novelist who helps first-time authors.
“My biggest challenge was learning how to write fiction, and the novelist showed me what I was doing wrong,” he said. “The challenge was not the concept of the novel, not the creativity of it, but the structuring.
“I really learned by making mistakes, editing, and rewriting,” he said. “I probably rewrote it 20 to 25 times before I got to the final one. I got rid of so many things I thought were important.”
Daniels used a company called Wheatmark to publish his novel, which he described as a cross between traditional and self-publishing. At first, he had an agent whom he described as “brutal.”
“He wanted me to do things I simply didn’t want to do,” he said. “It is a gay love story, and he wanted more graphic sexual scenes which I didn’t want because I wanted the book to be for the general public. I didn’t want people to be turned off by explicit sex.”
He describes the book as a love story with a little bit of a thriller involving Chinese espionage.
“The overriding theme is that in the protagonist’s professional and personal life, you learn that the most important thing is to ask the right questions,” he said. “And that’s probably true of any professional, and certainly true of medicine.
Daniels said that being Jewish in a southern town, he did experience some of the bigotry described in his novel.
“I was the only Jew in my high school, and growing up in a southern town, the bigotry was certainly overt,” he said. “It never bothered me and I never suffered. It was something I found interesting, and I never got angry about it.
“I knew it existed everywhere, especially knowing what my parents went through,” he said.
Unlike Jason Green, however, Daniels said he did not come out until years later after his marriage dissolved.
Now that he has his first novel under his belt, Daniels has an idea simmering for a second book.
“My father’s uncle was in Luxemburg at the start of World War II,” he said. “He was in the French underground and kept a diary. I found a lady who teaches German to translate it for me, so I’m thinking about writing a book on his experiences.”
“Plus there are other medical things that I’m interested in writing,” he said. “I have several on the burner now.”
For relaxation, besides writing, Daniels and his partner of 18 years like to travel a couple of times a year, and they recently took a Jazz Cruise.
“You can hear jazz all week,” he said. “I never left the ship.”
Several years ago, Daniels traveled to Japan and Europe with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra as their physician.
“To repay me, they let me conduct Stars and Stripes Forever one July 4 at Queeny Park,” he said. “My daughter, who was 7 at the time, said, “Daddy, when did you become such a good conductor?”
John S. Daniels, MD
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