Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Antidote, and for your character Alex?
A: My children loved the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, and they wanted more and more books on mythology, fun books and scholarly books.
When I volunteered in my oldest son’s middle school classroom, I realized my kids were not the only ones who knew everything there was to know about mythology and then some. Yet during what I considered to be an exciting chicken wing dissection class meant to teach tendons and muscles and bones, I did not see the same enthusiasm.
I wanted to write a book that would make the kids as enthralled with the human body, health, and disease as they were with mythology. It took me a while to settle on how to present the story, but the main character was always a boy named Revelstoke.
Q: As a physician and author, how do the two coexist for you?
A: Each one of my books has medicine included, from my picture book about Alzheimer’s disease to my cozy mysteries with a young doctor helping senior sleuths to this new book, The Antidote, about a family of doctors going back through time and fighting an ancient evil who creates disease. The stories wouldn’t exist without the medicine.
But, logistically, finding time for both doctoring and writing is very, very hard. For years I would wake up when the sun hit my eyes at 4:30 a.m. on Seattle summer weekends and I would leave my cozy bed and trudge two floors down to the study where I write. This process is much more difficult on a cold winter morning.
My gigantic, silent, fluffy Newfoundland dog, Albert, would pad along with me and sleep at my feet. He and I went years like this, and many books were written before my family woke up.
Q: Did you know how this novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: Once I settled on the idea of the ancient evil who creates disease, the basic story never wavered, but so many changes, additions, and subtractions happened along the way.
The book used to start with Alex meeting his nemesis at the bus stop. The book used to end with Alex meeting his nemesis at the bus stop for the second time. Those scenes are still there, but they are now cushioned with a lot of action and excitement on either side.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book, especially during this pandemic?
A: This book was written before COVID-19. ILL’s super disease and COVID-19 are not the same, but infectious diseases throughout time share similarities.
My initial goal was to give kids knowledge about common illnesses around them, like appendicitis or allergic reactions or heart attacks or sudden death in an athlete. I want to spark interest in the body, health, disease, and medicine.
But, crucially relevant today with COVID-19, the story also explains infectious diseases of the past, like plague, polio, smallpox, Spanish flu, measles, leprosy, etc., which kids only read about in school. Understanding the connection to these past diseases allows us to see our place in history.
At heart, though, The Antidote is an adventure, with good vs. evil, and I want kids to just have fun.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am putting the final touches on the third in my cozy mystery series, The Fog Ladies, about a group of senior sleuths and one overtired young doctor-in-training who all live in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The events of 2020 will forever change a generation of children, and some of these kids will see the medical heroes of the pandemic, the first line responders, the EMTs, the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, the scientists, the vaccine makers, everyone involved in healing and helping, and they will choose a medical career themselves. I hope my book can be a part of their inspiration.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb