Friday, May 20, 2011


So I'm waiting for a prescription at the pharmacy a couple months ago and I pick up a worn paperback copy of Michael Palmer's novel, "The Last Surgeon," from the book rack to pass the time.  I read the entire first chapter with my mouth open.  This thing was spinetingling from the start.  I brought it home and finished it within a couple of days.  Yes I paid for it, don't interrupt. Then a couple of days later I notice Michael Palmer is actually a Twitter friend.  Since then, we've developed this very close relationship over Twitter to the point where he will be stopping by for dinner next week during one of his book tours.  Okay I made that up, but it sounded good coming off the keypad.

It turns out Michael is a genuine person who will respond to comments and really does interact with his readers, even though every one of his books has been a NY Times bestseller.  He spent 20 years as a fulltime Internist before turning his full attention toward writing.  He's also been on medical missions to third world countries to help the impoverished and still volunteers at Massachusetts Medical Society Physician Health Services —an organization that helps doctors suffering with physical and mental illness or substance abuse.

He writes some of the best medical/political thrillers of our time, including Extremes Measures which became a movie starring Gene Hackman and Hugh Grant.  His latest thriller is titled, "A Heartbeat Away."  I'm very grateful he agreed to play 5 questions with me.  Thanks Michael.

1- The Last Surgeon offers possibly the best opening chapter I’ve ever read. Is grabbing the reader from the first paragraph a relatively new phenomenon? It seems like years ago authors could spend a chapter or two introducing their characters before there was any serious action going on. Am I wrong about that?

I can't speak for other authors, but almost all of my books have high-octane prologues. The energy these prologues provide immediately upon starting the book enables me to slow down a bit with chapter one. But a thriller is meant to thrill, so I never want to have character development replace story. The two should go hand in hand.

2- It’s obvious you’ve mastered the art of writing, yet you claim to have had no flair for it when you were young. It begs the question—are writers born, or can they be developed?

I believe writing can be taught. What is point of view? What is pacing? What is "voice?" What cannot be taught is a sense of story and what is dramatic. I believe I developed that sense early in life and later discovered that it made people want to read what I had written.

3- You do a terrific job at keeping the tension at a high level throughout your novels. Is that a learned skill, or does that come during the editing process?

I trust my instincts and my editor, as well as a couple of skilled readers. The guiding quote throughout my writing career came from my first editor, the late, legendary Linda Gray. I told her I was worried about my book because I didn't think there was enough action. "Michael," she said, "you must never forget that we are paying you not to write action, but to write tension."

4- Outside of writing, what’s your favorite weekend activity?

I usually write to one extent or another 6 days a week. My retreat is a 230 y.o. farmhouse on a lake in southern NH, 70 miles from here. There we have tennis, canoeing, fields to run in, and plenty of places to read. I love movies and when I have have time, play tournament bridge, and am a sports nut--mostly for Boston teams.

5- With the increased attention toward the digital platform, what do you think the publishing world will look like in 5 years?

I am a professional at staying in the moment, not projecting, and controlling only those things I can control. It looks like the electronic age will have more people reading, but less of them reading paper books. My job is to keep writing good stories so long as I can earn a living doing it.



  1. A fine interview with a terrific writer, Gary. Based on this and your thoughts on The Last Surgeon, I'm looking it up right now.

  2. Hello Gary,

    Fabulous interview with a truly great writer. I mentioned to Micheal on a recent trip to Sydney that the female passenger sitting next to me was totally absorbed in one of his books titled, "The First Patient".

    I thoroughly enjoyed your interview with, Michael Palmer, informative and always entertaining.

  3. Hi, listen, I'm pretty new on this blogosphere and Internet thing, so I don't know if there's a sort of "subscription" method that I can use in order to receive notifications of your new entries...? Thing is I enjoy reading your blog a lot and I'd like to be up to date with your posts!