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Harry Kraus

Harry KrausThe Harry Kraus File:

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The Advocate



Harry Kraus Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"Faith is such an integral part of who I am, that I cannot possibly untangle it from my life or my stories." -- Harry Kraus, M.D.


Best-selling author Harry Kraus, MD, is a board-certified surgeon whose contemporary fiction (beginning with 1994’s Stainless Steal Hearts and including his 2001 best-seller Could I Have This Dance?) is characterized by medical realism. He practices surgery in Virginia and formerly in Kenya where he served as a missionary surgeon. He's also the author of two works of nonfiction.

How did your Mennonite upbringing impact your growing up years and desire to enter the field of medicine?

Mennonites have several areas of strength. One is stewardship, the idea that everything in your hand is God-given and you need to use it in a responsible way. The other is service to the poor. As I look back on my life, although I’ve not clearly made an association with my upbringing, it looks like I’ve adapted those values, huh?

What was the most memorable moment you experienced growing up as the son of a family doctor? How did you know the medical field was your calling too?

I loved going with my father to his office after hours to meet with patients with emergencies. I remember watching my father carefully stitch up the ear of a little girl mangled from a dog-bite. Another time, I went with my father to the home of a very intoxicated woman to take her to the hospital to get dried out. That was crazy. We found a bottle of wine in her suitcase!

I didn’t know I would follow my father into medicine until I began college. I wanted to do something where I could reach people with the help of the Gospel. It was either seminary or medical school and medical school won.

You’ve said you love medicine because it mixes science and technology with Christian ministry. Could you expound on that thought?

People come into my office not because they want to, but because they are facing crisis. That crisis prompts them to finally ask the right questions about eternity. I love praying for them and sharing with them the practical love of Christ. From a science standpoint, there is no field like medicine that reveals the wonder and glory of God like a study of the complexity of the human body.

I’m intrigued that you didn’t actually start writing fiction until later in life. When did you first realize you wanted to write novels?

I fell in love with reading and turned to fiction as a relief from the stress of surgical residency. It was from my love of reading that I started spinning ideas of my own and had the crazy notion that I might be able to write a novel myself.

It’s a testament to your storytelling gift that you were able to write 4 novels before ever reading a book on the craft of writing. How did you develop your writing skills without any formal teaching?

Truthfully, I did a lot of things correctly just by knack or absorbing techniques by being a reader. I knew how to build suspense, and formulate stories with layers of complexity. Later, after I’d been published, I turned to some wonderful teachers and read about techniques. There are some great teachers out there to assist novelists who want to study craft. My favorites are Donald Maass, Sol Stein, and Donald Frey.

What is the number one thing you have been able to take from your medical training and apply to writing?

The discipline to stick to a long project and see it through.

Six Liter Club by Harry KrausLet’s talk about The Six-Liter Club. First of all, this book was a long time in the making. I hear you started it back in 2003. Could you share the story of how you got this idea and why it’s only now seeing publication?

I got this idea one Sunday morning when my pastor told a truthful account of a missionary who barely escaped death during the Simba Rebellion in the Congo. I wrote the novel the first year I lived in Kenya. Originally, I wrote it under a pseudonym and wanted to publish it in the secular market for non-Christians. But the story had too much faith for the secular market and after two years of rejections in the mainstream market, my agent sold the book to Howard, the inspirational arm of Simon and Schuster.

The Simba rebellion is something you don’t hear about much in America, and it plays a huge role in this story. For those of us who aren’t familiar, tell us how you were impacted by this moment in history.

The Simba rebellion took place in the Congo in the 1960s. Several missionaries were martyred during that time. My protagonist was an orphan because her parents were killed during the rebellion.

What made you decide to write this novel in the point of view of an African-American female? Was that harder or easier to do than you expected?

I was intrigued with what it would have been like for a black woman to break into what was typically a white-boy’s club, the field of academic trauma surgery. Writing from the viewpoint of a woman wasn’t knew to me; I’d done it in a series of novels beginning with Could I have this Dance? for Zondervan. Writing from the eyes of an African American was a little more of a stretch, but remember, my protagonist survived by acting like one of the guys and that was a club I was very familiar with.

This novel could be considered a tad edgy as far as sensuality. Was that your intention?

Of course not. My intention is not to be edgy or “push the envelope” as I’ve been accused in this novel. My intention is to present a non-Christian struggling with real life: a life with real temptations and sin. I don’t glorify sin. I present it in a way that shows the hurtful consequences. That said, I don’t shy away from the grit of the life of an unbeliever either. I don’t believe everyone in a “Christian” novel should act “Christian.” That’s unrealistic. If you are looking for a fluffy prairie story where everyone talks and acts like Mr. Rogers, please don’t read this.Salty Like Blood by Harry Kraus

Did you write this book with a specific message in mind or did the take-away come about as you wrote?

I wrote the book to help us realize that God makes everyone special; we don’t have to try to fit into society’s molds for success. Also, in the novel, there is strong imagery of the Passover. I’m resisting explaining that one, because it may give away the ending!

How did you become involved in advanced laparoscopic surgery, and why do you especially enjoy it?

I trained in general surgery just as laparoscopic surgery started to explode in its applications. I enjoyed being on the modern, cutting edge of technique development.

What was your most embarrassing moment as a doctor or writer?

No comment!

Do you ever struggle with sharing your faith in your stories?

Not really. Faith is such an integral part of who I am, that I cannot possibly untangle it from my life or my stories.

Is it ever a struggle to balance your day job and writing? How do you manage?

My wife! She helps manage a lot of the business end of my life. She helps keep my schedule intact. I write during evenings and on other days I take off of my surgery job.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

I wish I would have studied the craft before becoming published. I think that slowed my adoption of some of the finer techniques that give stories special polish. I think it may not be something my readers notice, but when I read my earlier stuff, I think, I could do that better now.

Harry KrausWhat was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?

The writer’s life is filled with highs and lows. The lowest point? I’m just not even wired to think in those terms. I guess it was when my first non-fiction book, Breathing Grace, failed to sell well after receiving such strong endorsements: stores expected me to have some sort of special platform such as a radio or TV ministry before they were willing to give my book a chance on the shelves.

What’s next for you book-wise?

I’ve written a suspense novel set in Kenya, full of windows into the supernatural (witchdoctors, spiritual warfare etc.). Of course, it has the Kraus signature of medical realism. It has to do with what happens to open heart patients during surgery when their hearts have been stilled, essentially hanging between life and death. They come back after surgery and begin to tell visions from “beyond.”

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

We serve a huge and powerful God, but yet, if you look at our lives, way too often he appears small and domesticated (a weak version of the real thing). I honestly explore this shocking phenomena in a new book, Domesticated Jesus by P&R.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I ran a marathon once. No one would guess that looking at me now!

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love scuba diving and travel.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Coffee. Black. Not contaminated with sugar or fancy creamers.

Three things always found in your refrigerator: Diet soda. Cheese!

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Coffee. Black. (This is sounding repetitive, I know.) If they offer Kenya AA beans, I’m ordering that. I came back from my years as a missionary in Kenya as a real coffee-snob. The old American stuff doesn’t cut it for me anymore.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

I want to see the Great Barrier Reef. I want to be on the New York Times Bestseller list.

When was the last time you cried?

I cried watching “Blindside.”

Three words that best describe you:

Dedicated. Fun. Competent.

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

Dave Crowder Band.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.