Deborah Shlian is a physician, medical consultant/executive recruiter, and author of numerous non-fiction articles and books as well as three published paperback novels - one romance and two medical thrillers (Double Illusion and Wednesday’s Child). Her fourth novel, Rabbit in the Moon, co-authored with her husband, Joel, is an international thriller set in China, 1989 just before the Tiananmen massacre. It has won numerous awards including the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal for Genre Fiction, the Silver Medal for Mystery Book of the Year from ForeWord Magazine, an Indie Excellence Award, a National Best Books Award Finalist from USA Book News and first place for the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Award. Deborah’s latest medical thriller, co-written with Linda Reid, Dead Air, is the first in a new series featuring amateur sleuth and radio talk show host, Sammy Greene. It was named “hottest new thriller/adventure” by USA Book News.
Linda Reid is a pediatrician-journalist who has served as a medical editor and feature reporter for the evening Eyewitness news at the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC and as a medical editor, writer, and host of educational programming for healthcare professionals and the public in Lifetime Medical Television. She has developed and hosted programs and features for media such as the NBC Network Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll, Lorimar-Telepictures, and You TV. During her thirteen-year tenure at UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Health Center, Dr. Chassiakos also served as a staff writer for the television series, Family Medical Center. She is currently the Director of the Klotz Student Health Center at California State University, Northridge. Dr. Chassiakos’ features and essays have been published in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Woman’s Day, Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, and Tribune International. She is the co-editor of the Bugbee-Falk award-winning Collaboration Across the Disciplines in Health Care and her medical thriller, Dead Air, co authored with Deborah Shlian, was published in December 2009 from Oceanview Publishing. Dr. Chassiakos has also written a fantasy novel, Renegade Paladins, for imaginative young adult and adult readers.
Ladies, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Tell us about Dead Air.
Talk is cheap, but when this radio host takes action, she may pay the ultimate price. An outspoken, brash, native New Yorker, Sammy Greene isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers at Ellsford University, her Ivy League New England college. Host of "The Hot Line", a talk-radio show on campus station WELL, Sammy tackles the toughest, most controversial issues facing Ellsford's students. When Sammy stumbles onto the body of beloved professor Dr. Burton Conrad, she turns investigative reporter, aiming to prove that his death was murder, not suicide. Sammy soon realizes she's uncovered the seamy, terrifying underbelly of this prestigious institute of higher education. With students mysteriously disappearing and the entire campus in peril, Sammy Greene must race to find answers. If she’s not careful, someone is going to make sure that she signs off-for good--and her show will be “Dead Air”.
What’s the hook for the book?
College is murder! We send our young adults to college hoping they’ll be cared for and safe. At Ellsford U—they’re not! And radio reporter Sammy Greene is stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble trying to uncover the killers. With everyone a possible suspect, including the campus Chief of Police, the Dean of Students, and even Sammy’s medical student boyfriend, Sammy’s on her own in her quest to save her fellow students—and herself.
What books came along at just the right time to influence your reading/writing?
We’ve been readers for most of our lives, and have relished a number of books in the mystery-thriller genres. Linda loved the mysteries of Hillary Waugh, the tomes of Isaac Asimov, and the political thrillers of Fletcher Knebel. We both admired Michael Crichton and Robin Cook, ground-breaking authors in the scientific and medical thriller venues.
What are your writing goals?
First, we want to entertain our readers. Our fast-paced, cinematic style will keep you turning the pages, and wondering ‘what happens next’. But we also use the thriller genre to tackle some potentially controversial issues. For example, in Dead Air, we look at cutting-edge medicine and modern university politics. In our story, we expose some of short-cuts academic researchers might be willing to take to gain fame and fortune. One of our characters, the renowned Dr. Palmer, is a respected scientist whose research success had been built on the basis of free-flowing university and government funding. When a challenging economy causes research funding to dry up at his Ivy League university, Dr. Palmer agrees to a public-private partnership with a generous Japanese pharmaceutical/biotech corporation, but is faced with significant moral and ethical dilemmas as profit begins to influence science.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
Enjoy the ride! But, we don’t mind leaving readers with a few issues to think about after they finish the book. Certainly, we would like to promote adherence to ethical guidelines for research, especially when human subjects are involved. As to our characters’ personal lives, we clearly admire Sammy and her courage—both as a reporter, and as a survivor of childhood trauma.
Do you think your writing has improved since your first attempt? In what way?
Absolutely. Both of us have written novels before - Deborah had four published novels before we tackled Dead Air and Linda had one. The more you write, the more you learn about character development and pacing--both of which are critical in a good novel. Of course, collaborating on a novel adds another learning curve. Dead Air was our first together, and we have now completed book #2 in the Sammy Greene series. We have definitely improved our collaborative style with this second book- we have synthesized our “voice” seamlessly so that it is impossible for us to pinpoint who wrote what sentence or what scene.
How do you develop characters? Setting?
We began Dead Air with an idea for a plot, but the project didn’t gel until Sammy Greene was born. Sammy shares some traits with each of us, though she is very much her own person, certainly much more courageous and outspoken than either of us were at her age. We started to develop her as a voice for the moral, political, and ethical concerns we wanted to address in the book, and she grew to be a fully fleshed out dynamo bursting with passions, energy, and joie de vivre. In book 2, and now book 3, it’s Sammy who is writing her own life script and we, Deborah and Linda, are taking notes so we can share Sammy’s adventures with all her readers and friends.
Making Sammy a radio talk show host was a good vehicle to allow her to keep talking, and to highlight her investigations for our readers. Additionally, Linda had worked at her campus radio and TV stations in college and as a Top 40 radio DJ, “The Doc Around the Rock” during medical school. Her experiences provided an authenticity to Sammy’s broadcasting efforts, and a framework for the evolution of talk radio. Many of the other characters such as Chief Gus Pappajohn and Reed Wyndham also drew from our personal circles. The Chief has elements of Linda’s father, and Reed, of Deborah’s husband.
The setting is a student health service on a university campus. Both of us have been Medical Directors of Student Health Services - Deborah at UCLA and Linda at Cal State Northridge. We’d observed the operations of major universities and how education was affected by economic pressures. The idea of placing the story of an unethical medical experiment conducted at a university student health service was a natural. However, we did change the university’s location from Los Angeles to Vermont so that no one would presume this was anything but fiction.
What are your protagonist’s strengths? Flaws?
Sammy is a bright, dedicated young woman who grew up in Brooklyn under the strict tutelage of her loving grandmother, Rose, from whom she learned the Yiddish that she sprinkles into her exclamations. She is 5 feet tall and slim, with curly red hair and green eyes. She has a crackling personality—never afraid to dive into adventures, experiences, new directions. That strength can sometimes lead her into danger—her determination, feistiness, and curiosity can annoy or even alarm those running from her quest to pursue “Truth and Justice”.
Sammy’s father left her mother when she was a child—her mother’s subsequent suicide has scarred her deeply. Sammy hides her vulnerabilities and fears behind a tough exterior; as love knocks on her door, will she have the courage to let emotional intimacy enter her psychological firewalls? Readers will find out in Dead Air.
How do you determine voice in your writing?
We each have a unique voice, but for the Sammy Greene thriller series, we have developed a third voice, Sammy’s, different from our solo efforts. Now, Sammy tells us what to write—and we listen.
How do you promote yourself online and off?
Deborah: For my past novels, promotion focused on book signings, television and radio. But as the publishing world has changed around us, we’ve had to adapt to new venues- especially the Internet. Even many of the radio shows we’ve done for Dead Air have been blog radio rather than in-studio radio programs. We tweet, blog, write articles on sites such as Gather, the Huffington Post, and Examiner,com. We post on Facebook and other social networking sites. Because our books lend themselves to book clubs, we have given talks at libraries and met with many book club members to discuss the issues presented in our novels. Of course we also do book signings and attend writers’ conferences such as Sleuthfest, the Miami Book Fair, Left Coast Crime, and the LA Book Festival.
After hours of intense writing, how do you unwind?
Deborah plays tennis, reads avidly and is learning photography from her husband who is already an award-winning photographer. Linda hangs with her husband and three teenagers, and then curls up next to the unlit fireplace (it is LA, after all!) with a good book.
What are your current projects?
We have just finished the sequel to Dead Air. Devil Wind, set in Hollywood, will be released next April. We are currently plotting our third book in the Sammy Greene thriller series, an international thriller. Meanwhile, Deborah is writing a health column for Examiner.com, while beginning a sequel to Rabbit in the Moon and plotting a tennis mystery. Linda is also working on a sequel to Renegade Paladins and writing for newspapers, magazines, and blogs, including the Huffington Post.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Our website is http://www.sammygreene.com and includes updates, podcasts, and links to Sammy’s blog. Deborah’s website for her other novels is http://www.shlian.com For Linda’s fantasy books: www.zygfed.com
Susan, thank you again for taking the time to chat with us. We hope you enjoy Dead Air!
I've have already read Dead Air and enjoyed it immensely. I hope to read more about SAmmie Greene in the future. Congratulations!