Things that slow a mystery writer down

DNA code lettersMy new medical thriller, The Neah Virus, is long overdue. I’ve demolished just about every deadline imaginable, and it’s still not quite done.

Sometimes, that’s just the way it has to be for a mystery writer. A book’s not done until it’s good and finished. And this one has spent a long time just shy of the finish line.

Finally I’m certain the draft I’m working on will be the last. But what has made me miss my mid-summer personal deadline for this one by three months? What tangle of unforeseen pitfalls and roadblocks made this one so long in the making?

Just listen.

First of all, a medical thriller has to be researched to the Nth degree. Is that virus deadly enough to cause a plague of madness, fever, and death spreading across the State of Washington and the world? Or would this other virus be more lethal?

And if a Native American shaman of the Makah Tribe seems to know the cure, but he’s not telling, what is it that he knows? What is kakalaklokadub, for instance? And how do you prepare a medicine from it? Must a ceremony accompany the cure, or can you just gulp it down?

These things require research, and plenty of it. A writer needs to reference scientific books like Erna Gunther’s Ethnobotany Of Western Washington, and cultural histories like Singing The Songs Of My Ancestors by Helma Swan, and language texts like First Lessons In Makah by William Jacobsen Jr, before you can hope to know the answers.

And rewriting. Oh, boy. And rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. When a story hinges on Dr. Peyton McKean’s race against time to discover first a new and deadly virus, and then to find its cure, the action is fast paced and nonstop. That takes a lot of words to say it just right and keep the reader spellbound as the story unfolds.

And then sometimes real life gets in the way. Like the biotechnology company that drafted me to help it solve a dozen major riddles about a real cure they are working on (more about them in a future post). Suffice it to say they have made severe demands on my time throughout the summer and into the fall, as I plunged back into the laboratory like a real-life Peyton McKean, to unravel some of the complexities surrounding a new drug they hope will treat infections, inflammation, anemia, and perhaps a half-a-dozen other maladies that afflict mankind. How could I refuse them?

But it all conspires to slow an author down.

Never fear though. I foresee a few days open in the next week or so that will allow me to finish off this final draft. I really expect to push the “Publish” button in a matter of days.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that no real-world priorities will emerge at the last minute and make me eat this deadline too.

Wish me luck.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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