you stole my idea

How often do manuscripts get stolen by NY publishers? Should you worry about someone plagiarizing your story when you mail your novel to an editor? I give you my answer over at Check it out.

Mephisto Club in Arabic

I wanted to share the gorgeous cover of the Arabic language edition of Mephisto Club. It’s my first title to be published in the Arabic language, and I’m really curious how it will sell overseas. I love this image:

While this cover is beautiful, I must admit that some of my other foreign editions have had some puzzling cover designs. One recent foreign edition had a photo of — get this — three dead fish. (Were they trying to tell me something?)

At least half my fan mail now comes from overseas readers, and I’ve had a sudden influx of reader mail from Turkey. Just another reminder of how international the book market is.

Writing novels can get you sued

My first medical thriller, Harvest, was about a fictional black market in human organ trafficking, and I based it on rumors that had been circulating for some time. The plot was inspired by a conversation I’d had with a retired policeman who’d been traveling in Russia, and had heard that children were vanishing from Moscow and were being shipped abroad as involuntary organ donors. I was determined to make the story as believable as possible, with enough real medical details to make my audience believe it could be possible — and even probable. To add to the verisimilitude, I used the names of real transplant organizations, including the New England Organ Bank. In no way did NEOB appear as a villain of any kind — in fact they were the good guys in the story.

Harvest was published, became a bestseller, and I began to receive fan mail from transplant patients, doctors, and nurses who told me how much they enjoyed reading a medical thriller with accurate details.

I also received a letter from the New England Organ Bank demanding that the name of their organization be removed from any future editions or their lawyers would contact my publisher’s lawyers, and … well, you get the gist of it. They were going to sue me. (They wrote a similar warning letter to the movie producer who’d bought the feature film rights, demanding that any film of such a story be stopped.) They accused me of spreading malicious rumors about organ trafficking, There is absolutely no black market in human organs, they wrote, and I should know that. I was needlessly upsetting the public, and I was irresponsible to even bring up such a possibility. To make it even worse, I was a physician. Didn’t I have a moral obligation, as a doctor, to stick to the truth?

I wrote back that the book is clearly labeled a novel, and that novels by definition were fiction. I also consulted with my publisher’s legal office, which told me to relax, that they get these sorts of letters all the time, and that since I had not said anything bad about NEOB, there really was no reason they could win a lawsuit. (But they admitted that NEOB could still choose to sue me.)

The paperback edition was released with no changes. The threat of a lawsuit continued to lurk. And I continued to be bothered by that charge of being an irresponsible writer and physician. I kept waiting to receive that letter that yes, I was being sued. But NEOB never wrote me again.

Maybe because they were starting to hear that those “malicious rumors” did in fact have some truth behind them.

Harvest, it seems, wasn’t so far-fetched after all.

Readers resent change

Today I received the following email from a disappointed reader:

What happened to the medical suspense thrillers you wrote earlier? I understand that writers develop new ideas and do not continue to turn out the same old stories with similar plots, but these last books you have written were really disappointing. I’m sure you probably don’t want to hear these comments, however I believe you should be aware of poor reviews as well as the good ones. I’ll skip you future books.

This reader dislikes my crime novels, and is unhappy that I made the switch from the medical thrillers I used to write prior to 2001. So she’s not going to buy any more of my books.

This is the kind of letter that writers always hate to receive. Yet whenever we follow our creative urges and write a different sort of book than we have before, we will almost certainly get these letters. Interestingly enough, this reader puts her finger on exactly what she wants from a writer: The same kind of book, over and over.

So why do authors change their style or their genre? When we run the chance of turning off our readers, why do we take such risks?

Sometimes, it’s because we have uncontrollable creative urges that must be fulfilled. And sometimes, we do it to survive.

Back when I was writing medical thrillers, the genre was still hot. Robin Cook was the brand name in the genre, and he was always near the top of the bestseller lists. My first bestseller, Harvest, was released in 1996, near the height of the genre’s popularity, and I first tasted literary success as a medical thriller author.

But a few years later, I sensed that the genre was fading. A number of medical thrillers by other authors had failed in the marketplace. My own sales weren’t growing. And I myself was getting bored with the same old “good-doctor-caught -in-evil-circumstances” plots. So I wrote a hybrid novel, combining medical themes with a crime thriller: The Surgeon. It introduced detective Jane Rizzoli, and launched my crime thriller series.

And my sales took off.

I’ll never regret changing direction. It’s made my foreign sales boom, because medical thrillers are so often complete flops abroad. Crime novels have allowed me to escape the claustrophobic setting of the hospital and move my plots into the outside world. Because of Jane Rizzoli, I’ve been able to write about mummies and serial killers, nuns and Dead Sea Scrolls.

And that, it seems, has left some of my readers sorely disappointed. Because they want the doctors in jeopardy back.

I wish I could please everyone. I wish that each and every book I write would hit all the right buttons for every reader.

But it’s just not possible.

Don’t be arrogant

Want to know one quick way to ruin your chance of landing an agent? Check out my blog post on this topic over at Murderati.


The schedule for my UK book tour is now posted on my Author Events Page. Here’s where I’ll be appearing. Hope my UK readers can make it! (p.s. — I’m bringing Fred the Head.)

Monday 9th February
7:30 PM: Scarborough Library, Vernon Road, Scarborough

Tuesday 10th February
12:30 PM: Bradford Central Library, Princes Wy, Bradford
7:00 PM: Waterstone’s, Leeds, 93-97 Albion Street

Wednesday 11th February
1:00 PM: Borders Solihull, Touchwood Centre
7:00 PM: Birmingham Library Theatre, Birmingham

Thursday 12th February
Evening event, Borders London, Charing Cross Road
(This will be a joint event with Dennis Lehane!)

Friday 13th February
12:30 PM: Borders Cambridge, 12-13 Market Street
6:30 PM: Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library, The Forum, Millenium Plain, Norwich

A Lei and a haircut

For twelve years, I lived in Hawaii. Some would say I was insane to move to Maine (especially when it’s 12 degrees here this morning), but I was driven off the islands by a terrible case of “rock fever,” which made me feel marooned and isolated from the rest of the world. I’ve never regretted my move to the mainland. But I must admit, on cold winter days like this one, I do think longingly of Hawaii.

So when a family wedding last week beckoned me back to the islands, I was happy to return.

My husband and I met up with Hawaii friends and drove around to all our old haunts: the Honolulu Zoo, the North Shore, Kailua Beach, and the amazing Foster Botanical Garden where the trees are so weird and huge that you feel you’ve walked into an alien jungle. I got a haircut. We ate all my favorite foods: saimin, butterfish in miso, Portuguese sausage and eggs, kailua pig, lau lau, and of course tons and tons of papaya. (Ono!) And I was so happy to find a replacement CD for the one I lost years ago, with the recording of what I think is the most beautiful Hawaiian song ever written: “Ku’u home o Kahaluu,” written and performed by Olomana.

Finally, there was the wedding, held beachside at Waialae, where I got to hang out with my aunts.

They’re both a real hoot — never sitting still for more than a few seconds, and full of jokes. I only hope I’m as zippy when I’m their age.

But now I’m home in Maine, which is actually a good thing. Hawaii is so beautiful, it’s distracting. It takes frigid weather outside to make me focus on writing the next book!