by C.J. Darlington
Richard Mabry Interview
"I’ve flown 2.5 million miles, served in the Air Force, did an air rescue from a helicopter, and I’m afraid of heights." -- Richard Mabry
After his retirement from a distinguished career as a physician and medical educator, Richard turned his talents to non-medical writing. Code Blue is his debut novel, the first of the Prescription For Trouble series, featuring medical suspense. Richard and his wife, Kay, make their home in North Texas, where he continues his struggles to master golf and be the world’s most perfect grandfather.
When did you decide you wanted to become a doctor? Was it something you desired from an early age, or did it come later in life?
Earlier in my life, I wanted to be an airline pilot, then a professional baseball player. By the time I was in high school I’d settled on a couple of career choices: medicine and law. That was decided in a Sunday evening service when, just as clearly as though God were whispering in my ear, I felt a call to medicine.
We would love to hear the story of how you helped save the life of that little girl in the Azores. Were you a doctor in the Navy when this happened?
Wash your mouth out with soap! Navy indeed! I was in the Air Force (although we had a small naval detachment on the island). I’d been drafted out of my training and was serving as a general medical officer and deputy hospital commander of the Air Force hospital in the Azores.
The daughter of our seamstress—she must have been about two—swallowed a coin, and the local doctors had said, “Sorry. She’s going to die.” I talked with our hospital commander and he arranged to treat her through a “people to people program” we had in place. He and I took her to the hospital, she was put under a light anesthetic, and we used an instrument to go in through her mouth to her throat, visualize the coin, and remove it. It’s a pretty routine procedure, and I thought nothing of it until the photographer showed up to take our picture for Stars and Stripes.
I know as an MD you’ve had the chance to write and/or edit several medical textbooks, but when did the bug to write fiction bite you?
I guess I sort of backed into writing fiction. My first wife passed away suddenly in 1999, and I wanted to use the journaling I did for almost two years afterward as the focal point of a book to help others who’d suffered a similar loss. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to interest an editor, I attended a writer’s conference. I got the help I needed, and Kregel published the book I’d envisioned in 2006: The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. It’s still in print, by the way. At that same conference, Alton Gansky and James Scott Bell encouraged me to try my hand at fiction as well. I did, and soon I was fully hooked on writing fiction.
You wrote four novels before you were published. Was your first published novel Code Blue the fourth book you wrote? Tell us the story of how this book came about.
My first three books featured a male protagonist, a physician, and although I thought they were pretty good, they never made it past the editor’s desk. In a class at Mount Hermon, Jeff Gerke kept drilling at me: “What’s the hero’s goal? What happens if he doesn’t reach it? What are the stakes?” Finally that got through to me and I learned to “up the stakes” and write edgier fiction. About that time I realized that most readers of Christian fiction are women and they’d probably identify better with a female protagonist. I wrote such a book, but unfortunately I positioned it as a cozy mystery. That was a flop, but the skeleton of that book eventually became Code Blue.
Let me make an observation here. Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t keep writing and rewriting the same book four times. I see authors doing just that, and I don’t agree with it. If what you’ve written isn’t accepted, take whatever you’ve learned from the experience and start again. Those other manuscripts are quite safe on your hard drive, and when you’re as famous as John Grisham, you can trot them out, polish them, and get them published.
What was it that kept you going after receiving 40 rejections?
Actually, I didn’t keep going. I quit. I dissolved my relationship with my agent, and decided God hadn’t really meant for me to write fiction. Apparently I was wrong.
At an early writer’s conference, I’d met Rachelle Gardner, who was an editor at the time. She hadn’t accepted either my non-fiction or my fiction proposal, but still we sort of “clicked,” so I was delighted to find her blog and begin following it. When she turned agent, she had a contest, offering a critique to the person submitting the best first line. In one of those “why not?” moves, I submitted and won with the line, “Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled up everything.” (I’ll write that story someday—the first chapter’s already done).
For my prize, I submitted the first scene from my latest work. Her reply was, “Send me something that needs editing.” She had similar praise for the second scene I sent her. Taking this as a sign, I got up my courage and sent her a query about representation. She agreed, and I was back writing again.
Even with your medical background, did you find yourself having to do research to write Code Blue? What surprised you most in what you discovered along the way?
I think I was more careful in my research than a lay person might be. After all, how embarrassing would it be for me, as a physician, to make an error about a medical scenario? What surprised me was how accurate my knowledge was, even though I’d been retired from active practice for several years.
Did you write this book with an outline or with a general idea of the story? Which do you prefer?
I’m a semi-seat of the pantser. I start out knowing the major characters (although some others introduce themselves along the way). I know what the protagonist’s quest is, some of the pitfalls they’ll encounter along the way, and, in a general fashion, how the book will wind up. What I don’t know until close to the end of the book is which of the possible suspects will turn out to be the antagonist. That way, both the reader and I have to keep an open mind all along the way.
Was it challenging at all writing in the point of view of a female character? Did you try to keep anything in mind as you wrote Cathy?
It was terribly challenging to have a female protagonist. Fortunately, two years after Cynthia’s death, God blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman, and since I began writing, Kay has been my first reader and sounding board. She’s the one who will read something I’ve written and say, “A woman wouldn’t say/do that. But she might say/do this.” Then, as a fail-safe, my agent reads my manuscripts and provides guidance and comments as well, including notes from the female perspective. You’d think that after a combined total of almost 50 years of marriage, including rearing a daughter, I’d have this “woman’s point of view” thing down, but I discovered there’s a lot more for me to learn.
Could you share with us the most miraculous moment you’ve experienced in your medical career with a patient?
Even though I practiced as an ear, nose, and throat specialist, my training included a year of internal medicine residency, and once I was able to diagnose a woman with bacterial meningitis when she’d consulted me for a chronic ear infection. Since no specialists were available that Saturday morning, I did the spinal tap, started her on IV antibiotics, and by the time the consultant got there she was stable. That felt sort of good.
Then there were the severe nosebleeds, the ones requiring surgery to bring under control. I actually feel I saved a few lives in those situations.
I don’t think these were particularly miraculous. Instead, they reinforce the words of French army surgeon Ambroise Paré: “I dressed the wounds. God healed the patient.”
Okay, I gotta ask this one. What was your most embarrassing moment as a doctor or even medical school student? :)
I don’t even have to think about this one. As a medical student on OB, I was late getting a patient into the delivery room and ended up delivering her baby on the gurney in the hall of the OB ward. The next day, the senior resident put up a sign at the spot—Mabry’s delivery room.
It was doubly embarrassing because Cynthia, the nursing student who was to become my wife, was on her OB rotation at the time and saw the whole thing!
I’m intrigued to learn you were once involved in baseball! What position did you play on the team and do you still follow any teams or players today?
I was a pitcher. I played for four years in high school. My college didn’t have a team, but I played some semi-pro ball during that time. Unfortunately, this was before the designated hitter, and although I could throw a curve ball, I couldn’t hit one, so that wasn’t a career path I could follow. However, years later I had the opportunity to attend several baseball fantasy camps and play with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Moose Skowron, and a bunch of others.
I still follow the fortunes of the Texas Rangers, in hopes that someday they may actually make it to the World Series. Stranger things have happened.
You also have dabbled in music ministry. Share with us about that. And do you find that experiencing things outside of writing (i.e. hobbies, etc.) actually helps you write better?
Although my music training ended in high school, I’ve continued to enjoy music all my life. I sang in the church choir for many years, including serving as a soloist. In my home church, when we were without a minister of music, I spent a couple of months as the “interim” during my college years. Then, while in Air Force serving in the Azores, I was the music minister for a Baptist congregation and filled in directing music for the General Protestant services for three years. And when Cynthia and I were members of a fledgling congregation I organized and directed the church’s first choir. So I’ve been fortunate enough to help out in this area several times.
I definitely think a writer needs to be aware of the world around him/her, and that includes music and the other arts. It helps them be a more well rounded person.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
The simple answer is “the great American novel.” But until
then, I guess I’ll stick with writing “medical suspense with
What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
The publishing industry moves painfully sloooooowly, and any success we may have is more a matter of God’s timing rather than our own efforts. And stewing about it doesn’t help. We can only try to do our best and keep improving.
What's next for you
I have a three-book contract with Abingdon, and all three books are already written. Medical Error launches September 1, while Diagnosis Death will be published next April. At present I’m working on my fourth novel, in the early stages and as yet uncontracted.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I’d like to thank you, CJ, for this opportunity to share your space and your readers. I hope they enjoy Code Blue, and all the great Christian fiction that’s available for them. And to the authors out there, write on!
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I’ve flown 2.5 million miles, served in the Air Force, did an air rescue from a helicopter, and I’m afraid of heights.
I was in the same medical school class with famous trauma doc James “Red” Duke, and two of the doctors who treated President Kennedy in the Parkland Emergency Room.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading mysteries, watching recorded sitcoms with Kay, playing golf with my long-time friend and golf partner, and spoiling my grandchildren.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Tomato juice, an English muffin, and a glass of skim milk.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Skim milk, diet root beer, and Hero cherry jam.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Tall nonfat, decaf caramel latte with Sweet N Low and one packet turbinado sugar.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Oh, that list filled up long ago. I’ve been blessed to achieve everything I wanted to do and so much more. I’ll leave it up to God to decide what’s next.
When was the last time you cried?
It was this morning, when the Stonebriar Community Church choir sang "His Grace Still Amazes Me," accompanied by our orchestra. Not ashamed to say that I cried. God's grace is truly amazing.
Three words that best describe you:
Overachiever, compulsive, sensitive.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
“The Piano Of David Talbott” (and I wish Dave would do more
Watch the trailer for CODE BLUE:
C.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.