Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Q&A with David Sklar




David Sklar is the author of the new novel Moonstone Hero. His other books include the novel Atlas of Men. Also a physician, he lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


Q: What inspired you to write Moonstone Hero, and how did you create your character Andrew?


A: When I was in Tanzania, one of the people in my group climbing Mount Kilimanjaro became deathly ill from high altitude pulmonary edema at the top of the mountain. I was just a medical student but realized that we needed to get him down from the mountain immediately even though it was the middle of the night and freezing cold.


One of the porters and I helped to carry him back down the mountain and there were many moments when I felt that we were all going to die together. But I still felt it was the right thing to do. And I felt that most people, had they been in my shoes, would have done the same thing.


Recently, with all of the dangers facing all of us in the world today, I thought it might be valuable to write a story based upon that experience. And maybe the story would encourage a culture of helping each other in a time of crisis.


I started writing, and then along came Covid. Countless health professionals and other essential workers put themselves at risk before there was a vaccine and before there was adequate personal protective equipment.


So I looked around and saw all these heroes around me who were normal people, who weren’t perfect or supermen or superwomen and who did courageous things in spite of their fears and personal flaws.


These people inspired me to write about what the rescue on the mountain was like, what it meant and the aftermath when we’re picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of what happened.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make changes along the way?


A: I knew that I wanted the story to be about more than the adventure on the mountain, because I know that all of us who care for very sick people carry them and their stories with us. The experiences affect our personal lives and our families as we try to understand the meaning of the suffering we witness.


I decided that I wanted love and family to be part of the answer to how the characters might cope with their closeness to death. And so those were issues that became an important part of the way the story ends.


Q: How does your work as a physician affect your fiction writing?


A: I think that what I like most about being a physician is the opportunity to hear a patient’s story and understand it. If I can listen carefully, I can often figure out the cause of the problem and make an accurate diagnosis. I can also develop rapport with the patient that will help me understand their values.


It all begins when I walk into a room and observe the people in the room, the movement and emotion, the sounds, the smells. I can learn so much in those first moments if I pay attention. I think that the same kind of observation can help develop a character and set up the action in a fictional story.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Under some circumstances moonstone allows some light to pass through it while reflecting other light, creating a light blue glow. At other times, it can be dull and opaque.


The duality of the stone is also how I think about heroism. I think we all have the potential to be heroes under the right circumstances and then we can almost glow. On the other hand, we can also be resistant and opaque. It’s up to us.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have spent the last three months in Ireland as a Fulbright Fellow working on medical education and how patient stories can be integrated into the curriculum for medical students as we develop cases for our students to study.


Much of our medical education has focused on the scientific principles that underlie many of our biological and pathological processes, but I think that if we don’t teach our students to listen to the patient’s story we may lose what is most important about the doctor-patient relationship. I’m hoping to write about that to influence our future educational priorities in medicine.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Moonstone Hero is about overcoming our fears and recognizing our common humanity one person at a time. We will need to take risks and reach across the borders that have thus far separated us as people and countries. There will be moments of fog and opaqueness but there is also the possibility of clarity. I am hopeful that Moonstone Hero will help to light the path forward.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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