John Bishop M.D. is an orthopedic surgeon whose Houston Doc Brady thriller series reveals a dark underbelly of medical malpractice, breaches of patient confidentiality and legal conspiracies.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and today Dr John talks about how he made the switch from medicine to writing and reflects on the personal experiences that fuel his plotlines.
We’ve got three copies of Book Two in the Doc Brady series, Act of Deception, to give away to three lucky readers. It’s a riveting read that throws a new light on doctors and their patients. Enter the draw on The Joys of Binge Reading website or our Binge Reading Facebook page. You can also find links to John’s books and website in the show notes for this episode on www.thejoysofbingereading.com. Offer closes August 15 so get in now!
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- Writing not his first or even second vocation
- The murky swamps of medical malpractice suits
- A son’s surprising gift
- Med Schools and real life sometimes different
- Blockbuster authors he admires
- What he’d do differently second time around
Where to find John Bishop:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s John. Hello there, John, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us,
John Bishop: Thank you very much for asking me.
Jenny Wheeler: John, when we did our introduction, we gave you your professional title MD because you started out as an orthopedic surgeon yourself. A lot of people might want to ask the question, how does a surgeon find himself writing medical thrillers?
John Bishop: I’m not sure what happened. I was an academic orthopedic surgeon meaning I did a lot of teaching residents and fellows and medical students and about 10 or 12 years after I had been in practice, I got burdened with that and changed my position to taking care of patients only and not doing all the academic thing.
I had done that for years and I had presented a lot of papers and written a lot of articles and that got me into writing mode, but when I gave it up, I had a lot of free time. I was an avid fiction reader and I had free time. I just sat down one day and started writing.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s amazing. Did you have any idea about structure and all that kind of thing when you started?
John Bishop: No, as I said, I was an avid reader of fiction and medical fiction, and I got on the old Apple Mac computer and started typing just to see what would happen.
How the doc got started on thrillers
Jenny Wheeler: I guess that medical thrillers would be an obvious genre for you but nevertheless, why did you decide to do medical thrillers and not for example, maybe historical medical fiction or something else?
John Bishop: I started out writing some sort of traditional medical fiction, but I would get 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 pages into it and I couldn’t figure out where the story was going, so I decided to throw in a little murder here and there and that seemed to spice it up.
Jenny Wheeler: Now you’ve got the bit between your teeth. As far as I can see from your online website, you’ve published three books in this series you’re working on within the last 12 months, or you will have by the end of this year. Is that correct?
John Bishop: Yes, that is correct. I had been writing the books for longer than that but when I got this contract with Anna Sacca it was a deal to put together three books and that was the first three I had written, which was Murder, Deception and Revenge.
Another side of the medical life
Jenny Wheeler: Deception is the one that is out now, Book Two in the series. That was published in June this year. I jokingly have said to friends that it achieved the impossible as far as I was concerned. It made me feel sympathetic to orthopedic surgeons who in the past I had regarded as high earning people in a very privileged position in life. You show another side of that, don’t you?
John Bishop: I do. I realize that they are high earning individuals, but high earning individuals have a side of themselves too that is sensitive and I try to present that and I try to present the real feelings of how someone who gets sued, handles that whole complicated business. It’s much easier for the lawyers who do the suing. It’s much harder for the doctors who get the lawsuits.
Jenny Wheeler: To give a little bit of background to Art of Deception, it deals with your protagonist who is a Houston orthopedic surgeon and he is sued by a patient for medical malpractice.
Your doctor, Jim Bob Brady, accepts that his patient has suffered a very rare complication but is a bit perplexed about some of the missing pieces as to why this really occurred. Can you give us a little bit of an idea of what starts to unfold in the story?
An operation that goes badly wrong
John Bishop: What happens is he has a knee replacement and he gets an infection and loses his leg above the knee, which is an absolute, tragic, horrible complication. Going through the storyline, the patient was in and out of the hospital two or three times, absent for a month and then comes back with this overwhelming infection.
Doc Brady has it in his head somehow that he understands it’s possible that he did something wrong, but since he brought the patient back into the hospital several times and had all this testing done, and no infection was revealed while he was in the hospital in Houston, he is convinced that something happened when the patient was outside the hospital that caused the problem. That’s how the story unfolds.
Jenny Wheeler: Then it gets more complicated because it does seem as if there is some inside source in the hospital that is feeding disreputable lawyers patient information. Has this happened anywhere that you know of?
John Bishop: Yes. It happened in a situation, not to me directly, but in a situation I was in some years ago. Plaintiff’s lawyers were paying people who worked in medical records, in Emergency and other locations to give them names of patients who might have a legitimate lawsuit they could go after. That’s where that idea came from.
Jenny Wheeler: Whereabouts was that?
John Bishop: In Houston.
Jenny Wheeler: It was in Houston. My goodness. Was it uncovered and were they found out?
John Bishop: Yes. People went to jail and all sorts of horrible things, but you know, there’s big money involved. Where there’s big money involved, sometimes it’s worth taking a risk.
Sympathy for the patients
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Your book is fairly sympathetic to some of those patients, because even though they do allow themselves to be drawn into lies and deceit, you can also have a bit of sympathy for how that might have happened, why they allowed themselves to be drawn into it. It’s not just a one-sided story, is it?
John Bishop: No, it’s not and I try to present every side as clearly as I possibly could, but who’s caught in the middle of all this is the poor patient who’s laying there with a lot of broken bones and no job and a bunch of kids to feed. That’s what I was trying to portray.
Jenny Wheeler: Now your lawyer character, he’s got a friend who is a lawyer, has quite a mercenary attitude to the court cases. For him it’s simply a case of economics and he makes the point at one stage that there’s nothing personal in it. That goes rather against the grain for a lot of doctors, doesn’t it?
John Bishop: Yes, it does. For the lawyers it’s strictly business but for us it’s a personal crusade.
Jenny Wheeler: The first book in the series, Act of Murder, involves a hit and run death of a young boy who is the son of one of Jim Bob’s friends and as he tries to uncover what’s going on, he traces back to a strange and macabre conspiracy that reaches right into the highest points of Houston’s legal community. I wondered if you found that, after that book was published, some of your friends didn’t want to talk to you or were a little bit wary of talking to you.
John Bishop: Only the ones who thought I was writing about them. The rest of them were fine.
Marrying fact and fiction
Jenny Wheeler: Tell us about the background to that one. Was there some fact in that fiction?
John Bishop: What happened in that particular novel was that I got interested in this osteogenesis imperfecta issue which the boy suffered from, and through that, I wove a medical mystery. At the same time, a friend of mine’s child died, and I was a very close friend and I had to do all the arrangements for the funeral myself.
I was trying to display the severe grief and emotional trauma that one goes through when they lose a child. Obviously having not lost one, I can’t feel it, but I could write about what I witnessed in a very close friend of mine, so that was interwoven in the story as well.
Jenny Wheeler: Book Three, Act of Revenge, is coming out in September, I believe?
John Bishop: Yes, September 10.
Jenny Wheeler: Your protagonist in this one is no longer your Jim Bob character. It’s a plastic surgeon called Lou Edwards and his life has been complicated by two major issues. Why did you change your key protagonist?
John Bishop: I didn’t really. What happened is that I wanted somebody else to get involved and so I was the third person looking in on the problem. In the story I run into this guy, literally, on the ski slopes of Aspen. We have a crash, and I take him over, he’s got an injured knee and I get him back to Houston. I get his knee all fixed up and we become friends.
Medical malpractice nightmares
It turns out that he has had his medical malpractice insurance canceled because he is a plastic surgeon and this all has to do with the silicone breast implant lawsuits back in the nineties and 2000s. Since I’m an orthopedic surgeon and I’m not involved in the surgery, I had to find a new fall guy and that’s what Doctor Edwards is.
Jenny Wheeler: So Jim Bob is still in there.
John Bishop: He’s still in there, but somebody else is taking the heat besides him.
Jenny Wheeler: Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that these books are set in the mid-nineties, so they’re set more or less twenty years ago. Has medical malpractice law and what’s going on around it changed much in the last 20 years?
John Bishop: Yes, it has changed some because caps and limits on damages have changed. In Texas, I forget exactly when it happened, but George Bush was the Governor of Texas and he instituted caps on damages.
We had a joke that the day that bill was signed into law, all of plaintiffs’ lawyers moved to Louisiana. I think the problem still goes on except when damages are capped and doctors don’t carry the same kind of malpractice insurance levels that we used to carry because most of the young guys are working for hospitals, working for other doctors. The situation is still there, but it’s not as bad as it was.
Jenny Wheeler: How long is it since you were practicing yourself?
John Bishop: 12 years.
Jenny Wheeler: And when did you first start writing?
John Bishop: I started writing in the late nineties, early 2000s, kind of slow and just for fun, really.
Jenny Wheeler: So you’ve been going on this trilogy, which is perhaps going to continue into a series, we’ll talk about that in a moment, but you’ve been going on that quite a while then.
Med school clash with real life
John Bishop: Yes. After you get them published, you know, I had to go back and revise things, but I had been writing all this time. There is a whole other section of Jim Bob Brady books out there that haven’t been published yet. Who knows if they will, but we’ll see.
Jenny Wheeler: What do you foresee for Jim Bob? How many would you think it might extend to?
John Bishop: I’ve done eight and I’m working on nine.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. One of the things that comes through is the feeling that there might be a conflict between the values that doctors are taught in medical school and what is happening out there in the real world. Is that still the case or was this more of a conflict in the nineties?
John Bishop: I think these conflicts were very prevalent in the nineties and then the early 2000s. I think things have changed. I think things have calmed down a great deal. I still think you can find a bad apple in every bunch of lawyers or doctors, but I believe that we have done a little better job of policing ourselves than we did that back in that era. That was a very unusual era, I think.
Jenny Wheeler: How much does Jim Bob Brady reflect you yourself as a character? What is there that’s similar and what is there that’s very different?
John Bishop: As I tell everybody, this is completely a work of fiction and the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I’ve learned after writing that many novels that a lot of your personality comes out when you’re writing, and then you as a writer, things you think and feel, you eventually get down on paper as maybe somebody else’s thoughts.
I’m always including my feelings in these stories about Jim Bob, but Jim Bob’s a whole lot better human being in person, I think, than I am. He’s the White Knight.
Jenny Wheeler: He’s your ideal person, is he?
John Bishop: Pretty much.
Musician to surgeon to author
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. This whole aspect of medical malpractice and concern over being sued by patients – was that something that affected you personally during your time practicing?
John Bishop: Yes. There used to be a saying that if you haven’t been sued, you’re not operating on anybody. Back in the day, everyone got sued. The trick was that the lawyers didn’t want to go to court.
What they wanted to do was to simply settle for the limits of your medical mal and if you got to that point and your insurance coverage said, okay, we’re going to settle, the lawyer took the settlement and walked away and you never heard from him again. I used to think of it as a racket. That’s again something that was pretty prevalent in the nineties and early 2000s. I think a lot of that is passé now.
Jenny Wheeler: I guess that if you did allow that to happen, you would end up being regarded as a liability by your insurance company and then it would be very difficult to get insurance. It would become very expensive.
John Bishop: Absolutely correct.
Jenny Wheeler: Turning to your wider career, was being a specialist, a doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, your first vocational love?
John Bishop: I was a musician originally. I started out playing the piano, keyboard, organ and I played for years. I played in bands all through high school and then I got into college and was trying to play music and go to school. My father was a career army officer, this was back in the Vietnam war era.
Music a stress reliever
I can remember coming home for a holiday in my second year of college with a pitiful grade point average, talking about some band I had played with and where I had been and my dad says to me, son, in case you don’t know this, there was no market for players in a foxhole.
That was the wakeup call. It just so happened that I lived in one of these dormitory suites with about eight guys and seven of the guys were pre-med, they all had parents who were doctors and it sounded like it might be a good life, so I switched my major and became a doctor. The rest is history.
Jenny Wheeler: It was that simple.
John Bishop: Not exactly but I made it sound simple, didn’t I?
Jenny Wheeler: Are you still playing music today?
John Bishop: Yes, that’s probably kept me out of the psychiatrist’s office, being able to pound those keys.
Jenny Wheeler: How active are you? Do you play publicly?
John Bishop: I play at people’s houses and I have a fellow I play a little jazz with at little gatherings and things like that. I don’t do anything big anymore now I’m writing. Writing takes a lot of time.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, for sure. Is there one thing you have done in your writing career, perhaps more than any other, that you would see as the secret of your success?
John Bishop: Gosh, I don’t even know how to answer that. I can’t think of anything specific. The only thing I have found, and maybe everyone’s like this who’s a writer, I should ask you, but I sometimes have an idea about a story without having all the details and so I sit down and start writing and see where the spirit leads you.
The author’s crisis of confidence
Sometimes you go down one corridor and sometimes you end up having to back up and go down another corridor. But for some reason once I get started the thing just kind of flows out of me. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience or not, but it’s a unique and unusual feeling.
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds like you might be more of what they call a pantser, that you start with an idea and see where it goes rather than do a lot of outlining.
John Bishop: Yes, that’s very true.
Jenny Wheeler: That obviously works for you if you’ve been doing it for eight or nine books. In fact, it might have got easier as you have gone along because of the experience?
John Bishop: Oh yeah. It’s easier and it’s more fun and it sounds better. It’s a matter of thinking of new stories. I guess there are always new stories to be written out there, it’s just a matter of what comes into your mind.
Jenny Wheeler: I find it interesting that a lot of authors I talk to say that in every book there does come a moment when they’re not sure how it’s going to finish or what’s going to happen next, or they have that black moment when they think, this is rubbish, what am I doing? Do you experience those feelings?
John Bishop: Absolutely. I do. Then I have to get up and walk away or go out and play golf or go play music and come back to it and then see what will fit in. I like to call it the black hole, what you just said, that’s a great description of it. It’s like I don’t know anything, I’m devoid of knowledge, I can’t even write down the word ‘am’ right now.
Books John loves to read
Jenny Wheeler: I think it’s very encouraging when people who have done a lot of books admit to the fact that they still get those feelings, because you know then that you just have to work through them and carry on.
John Bishop: You do, you just have to keep writing and carrying on and eventually something will come on out. You’ve just got to let it happen.
Jenny Wheeler: That might be advice for beginning writers right there.
John Bishop: Yeah, I think so too.
Jenny Wheeler: This is The Joys of Binge Reading so we are talking about books that people might like to discover, new books they may not be aware of. Have you been a binge reader yourself and what sorts of things do you like to read today?
John Bishop: Yes I have, and I have read voluminous numbers of novels from all these characters, writers like John Sandford, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Stuart Woods, Daniel Silva, Greg Iles, and Robin Cook, to name a few. I am an avid reader, I love to see what my characters in those books are doing.
Jenny Wheeler: They’re all big hitters, the names you’ve mentioned, aren’t they?
John Bishop: They’re all big hitters, very successful.
Jenny Wheeler: Any particular titles that come to mind that you’d recommend?
John Bishop: I would say of the other people I mentioned, I have read everything that they’ve written in the last 20 or 30 years. I can say that my favorite, favorite writer, unfortunately deceased, was Robert B. Parker with his character of Spenser which they eventually made a TV show out of and there’s been a couple of movies.
He was the master of brevity. He could mean the most and say the fewest words of any writer I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m sure you’ve read him. He was a genius. He was a master.
Doing it all over again . . . What?
Jenny Wheeler: We’re starting to come to the end of our time together so circling around, looking back over the tunnel of time, at this stage in your career, if you were going to do it all over again, what would you change, if anything?
John Bishop: As it’s all turned out and looking in retrospect, I wouldn’t have changed anything because everything that happened led to the next thing and the next thing led to the next thing. The sequence of events would never have happened if I hadn’t had the initial sequence of events, which I may have not been very happy with, but it turns out that it all flowed as it was meant to flow. So I guess I have to say I’d leave it all alone.
Jenny Wheeler: And how did you find Anna?
John Bishop: My wife found Anna and with her associate they put this whole thing together.
Jenny Wheeler: Can you explain to people a bit more what Anna does in the whole chain of things?
John Bishop: Anna is a publicist, I guess you could say. She promotes me, promotes my books, she arranges what you and I are doing today, this podcast. She’s arranged the interviews, she’s put my name out there, she’s put the books out there. I would look at it as my advocate and current best friend in the book business.
Jenny Wheeler: Are indie published? Are you publishing yourself?
John Bishop: I’m not sure how to answer that. We have a publisher and an editor and a copy guy, and all these people come together to put the books together.
Jenny Wheeler: So it’s a package deal where it’s all done by contract.
A rare gift from a son
John Bishop: Act of Murder originally was an indie publication because my son did that through Amazon and gave it to me as a gift.
Jenny Wheeler: Is that right?
John Bishop: I had these old manuscripts and old floppy disks and I had fiddled with them and I couldn’t get anything going. I couldn’t read them. It was archaic technology, and my son said, let me look at that. He’s in the software business, an engineering business, and on Father’s Day a year or two ago and I opened this present and there is the book Act of Murder. He’s had it published on Amazon. That started the whole thing with me writing.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s a great story. Gosh, floppy disks were a long time ago.
What is next for John the writer? What projects have you got in the works for the next 12 months?
John Bishop: I’ve got several more Jim Bob Brady novels finished and some in the works. The next two in line hopefully will get published. One is called Act of Negligence which is about nursing home malpractice. The other is called Act of Fate in which a murder is committed and in the same time period my wife in the novel, Mary Louise, gets side winded in a car accident and goes into a coma.
That book is about me, my devastation with her being injured and looking for the person who might have run into her. Our son in the book, J.J., gets involved with his private investigation firm and it becomes a very complicated mess of personalities. That’s what’s coming up.
Where to find John Bishop online
Jenny Wheeler: That’s a very nice subtext in the book, the obviously deep love Jim Bob has for Mary Lou. I can see that would be quite a touching storyline to bring through.
John Bishop: Yes. There was a lot of emotion to me writing that one too. A lot of personal feelings about that as well. It’s tragic, but it has a good ending.
Jenny Wheeler: Are you aiming to do three books a year or something like that for the next little while?
John Bishop: I think two a year is fine, but I’ve got a backlog so I could release three a year, but then I’ll have to hurry and write and catch up. So I’ll have to see.
Jenny Wheeler: You’re aiming for two at this stage.
John Bishop: Yeah. I’m trying to get by with two.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you like talking to your readers or interacting with your readers and how do you do that? Do you do it online or in person?
John Bishop: I have a website called johnbishopauthor.com and there are ways on that website to communicate with me via email. That’s all I’m doing at this point.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you get people emailing you?
John Bishop: Yes.
Jenny Wheeler: And do you like talking to them?
John Bishop: Well, it takes time to answer. I certainly don’t mind talking to people. I just have to compartmentalize that and give it a certain amount of time that’s available to do that. You know how that is, you have pockets of time that you have to devote to this and that. I enjoy talking to you. You’re a lot of fun.
Jenny Wheeler: Has coronavirus made much of an impact on your life?
Living with lockdown
John Bishop: I’ve known a few people that got it but we sequestered ourselves at the right time, I guess we did have to go through that for about two months. Not a major impact because fortunately neither my wife nor our kids have had it, so that’s a blessing.
Jenny Wheeler: Your book launch in June wasn’t too badly affected?
John Bishop: No, it wasn’t. As far as I know.
Jenny Wheeler: You weren’t planning to do a book tour or anything?
John Bishop: No, I wasn’t. It’s interesting. People tell me that they have had trouble reading since the virus came about and I don’t really understand that. A friend of mine said, I haven’t read your book because I can’t read right now. I said, why? Because of the virus. The virus is not affecting your reading. No, but I’m just worried about it and I can’t read, I can’t concentrate. Have you heard that?
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, it’s funny how it affects people differently. I was walking earlier this morning with people who were saying they just had to have stuff to read during lockdown. It was the opposite effect entirely.
John Bishop: Yeah, me too. I bought dozens of books when I thought this was coming so I’d have something to read. I was scared I’d have nothing.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great, John. Well, look, I’ll let you get back to your writing. It’s been fantastic talking and we look forward to seeing Book Three coming in September.
John Bishop: Thanks very much. I appreciate the time.
Jenny Wheeler: Okay, bye.
John Bishop: Bye now.
If you enjoyed John Bishop perhaps you would also enjoy Christine Trent’s Victorian Gothic mysteries featuring Florence Nightingale
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