In conversation with the author of the Phineas Mann Series
Hi Mark! Let me start this virtual conversation by saying how delightful it was to read your book, Breath and Mercy! I am really glad you sent it to us! It’s clear from the way you built the character of Phineas, who is a doctor, that the story is not only the result of a lot of research. Have you yourself been a doctor at a certain point of your life?
In 2017, I retired from Duke University after a forty-year career in internal medicine, pulmonary diseases, and critical care medicine.
How and why did this influence the choice of writing a book about it? I know the adagio recites ‘write about what you know’, but why not choosing another subject instead?
I hadn’t written any fiction since I studied creative writing in college. When I began taking classes in 2017 on how to write a novel, the scenes, story arc, characters, and other parts came to me from my many years in medicine. I had so many experiences to draw from. Lots of authors write medical thrillers. How many of them have lived that life?
How much of the book is fiction and how much derives from personal experience? I don’t have kids myself, but I found [SPOILER ALERT] the miscarriage scene an extremely powerful and agonising one, especially the part where the young doctor sat with the premature baby so he wasn’t alone in his first and last moments.
The book is fiction. A few scenes are inspired by my experiences. None are exactly the way it happened. The miscarriage scene is indeed based on a real experience, one I will never forget. I was a 23-year-old medical student.
What did you do before starting your writing career, and what pushed you to put pen to paper and inking it with your stories?
My career in pulmonary and critical care medicine left unexplored parts of my brain. Writing stories was one of these parts. I’d been through enough to begin sharing some of what I’ve learned as novels. My goal was to tell good stories to keep readers engaged while exploring worthy themes like racism, climate change, and the difficult decisions at the end of a life.
What was the most difficult and the most rewarding moment of your writing career so far?
The most difficult moment came when I launched my debut novel, A Swarm in May. The pandemic made this a Zoom launch. I’m not by nature a performer, so I feared I’d stumble during my first author event. I’m grateful to all the supportive readers who made that night fun. There have been many rewarding moments, especially the enthusiastic reviews. My debut novel, A Swarm in May, scored high enough that BookLife included in their Elite Program.
It’s said, on any creative writing manual, that if you want to be a good writer, you have to be an exceptional reader. Can you tell us something about your reading habits and preferences/dislikes? Feel free to suggest us must-read books, even better if they are self-published!
I’ve loved reading ever since my high school English teacher, Mrs. Clements, set up a quarter during which we just read novels then discussed them with her. No pressure. Just reading and a one-on-one insightful review of a book. Now that I am free of the responsibility of keeping up with the latest breakthroughs in medical literature, I read as many novels as I can. My book club forces me to read nonfiction, but I can’t wait to get back to a classic or contemporary novel. I want to see what makes a book a lasting classic, and I want to see what my fellow living authors are writing (and to support them). I just finished Summer by Edith Wharton (I found it on a bookshelf in our library). Recent great reads included Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. When the pandemic hit, I figured it was the moment to finally conquer War and Peace.
Which book is the one that touched you the most? And what are you currently reading?
It’s hard to pick just one book that most touched me, but it would have to be The Plague by Albert Camus. If you’ve read it, you’ll know why. To live in its protagonist’s world left me spent but gave me courage. I’ve read it three times, so far. I’m currently reading Beyond the Northlands by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough for my book club. It’s nonfiction and about the Viking voyages and sagas.
What are your writing plans for the future? I am already working my way through Nature’s Bite, and I’ll definitely follow up with A Swarm in May (you got me so hooked!).
I’m currently workshopping my first draft of Culled, the sequel to Nature’s Bite, and the fourth in the series. The second draft adds a new character, so I must start at the beginning and fit them in. I wish I’d recommended starting with Swarm and then follow with its sequel, Nature’s Bite, but I do believe that each novel stands on its own.
Where will you go next? Will you continue with the Phineas Mann saga, or will you go in a totally different direction?
Hopefully, a fifth novel. Unless I get a great idea for another Phineas Mann thriller, I will go in another direction. I have an idea that won’t be medical, but first I need to finish Culled.
If there’s anything else you’d like to add, please feel free to do so!
I recently attended the Zoom meeting of a New Orleans book club. They’d read A Swarm in May, and the discussion was great fun. I’m happy to ‘attend’ more events with interested readers. New authors need help in spreading the word about their works. Any help that readers can give is greatly appreciated.
My website: markanthonypowers.com provides more about me (including videos) and gives links to my books as well a way to contact me.