Susan McCormick shares how medicine influenced her writing

Susan McCormick is not only a longtime physician but is also a successful mystery author. Her new novel The Antidote comes out in May. The fantasy follows twelve-year-old Alex Revelstoke who can see disease. And not just disease — injury, illness, anything wrong with the body. But Alex soon learns his new ability puts him and an unsuspecting world in peril. Throughout time, Revelstokes have waged a battle against ancient evil itself — the creator of disease. Alex does not want to fight, but he is the last Revelstoke. YEM spoke with Susan McCormick about her book before she takes over our Twitter account today!

Young Entertainment Mag: How did you first get into writing?

Susan McCormick: When I was young, I wanted to be a doctor by day, a ballerina by night, and a writer all the time. My ballet days ended before they began when my first performance’s curtsy went deep and took out the backdrop and crashed it to the floor. All that was left was being a doctor and a writer. The latter took me a while. Being a doctor was a straight shot, four years of medical school, three years of internal medicine residency, then fellowship. Then pay back the military with a stint in the Army because they paid for medical school, and voila, doctor. Being a writer took longer, but I’ve been plotting my stories since those ballerina days. A bit on a scrap of paper here, a few lines on a napkin there. Keep them all in a box until magic time when it’s time to write.

YEM: You also have a career in the medical field. At what point did you realize you wanted to combine the two? 

Susan: Always. Being a doctor takes up a lot of time, so my dream of writing simmered under the surface for years. When I did sit down to write my first cozy mystery, though, medicine ran through it and the mystery hinged on a medical diagnosis.

YEM: Your new book is called The Antidote. Can you tell us about it?

Susan: Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret. He can see disease. Plus injury, illness, anything wrong with the body. He sees the skin fall away to reveal the organs and the problem underneath. This comes in handy when the boy next to him silently chokes on a hotdog. Or when the school janitor suffers a heart attack unclogging a science experiment gone awry. His “gift” is only now emerging, much to Alex’s shock and revulsion. This gift explains why he was always different from the other boys, ostracized, lonely.

His family has another secret. Revelstokes have waged a centuries-long war against an ancient evil, an entity called ILL, the physical embodiment and the creator of disease. Alex is the last Revelstoke, armed with an antidote eked out over generations, enough left for one use. Save his dog? His new friend, the mysterious blue-haired girl? Himself? You don’t want to know what happens to the antidote.

Full of information about the human body, health, and disease, including diseases and pandemics of the past like plague, Spanish flu, smallpox, polio, etc, the book weaves these in, so you gain an understanding of medicine and even the current COVID-19 pandemic while enjoying an adventure story.

YEM: Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Susan: When I volunteered in my oldest son’s middle school, I was struck by how much mythology kids knew, everything there was to know and then some. They studied it in school, but they already knew it, through the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. During a science class chicken wing dissection meant to teach about tendons, muscles, and bones, I realized the class didn’t know nearly as much about the human body. As a doctor and mother, I wanted to impart an enthusiasm for the human body and a knowledge of disease and health much like existed for mythology. The importance of this is even greater in the era of COVID.

YEM: What elements of your career as a physician crossed over into this book? While this book is a fantasy, how much of it is based on real medical facts?

Susan: Every illness in the book is real, though they weren’t created and enhanced by an ancient evil being. When I chose which ones to include, I researched high impact diseases of the past. Almost all of which were infectious diseases. I also tried to choose modern diseases you might see or hear about like appendicitis, heart attacks, sudden death in a young athlete, etc. I have been a doctor for decades, but medicine is a huge field. And I still had to do research. I knew a lot about most of the diseases I covered just from day-to-day doctoring, but the fine points and details needed honing.

YEM: The main character of this story can see anything that’s wrong with the body. If you could have any ability, what would you choose and why?

Susan: Excellent question! I would like the ability to change time, to make it run slower or gain more of it or return to an earlier spot to allow me to relive a glorious moment or even have a re-do.

YEM: The source of darkness in this story comes from the creator of disease. Do you hope this will resonate with people who are currently suffering from disease and/or injury?

Susan: To me, the idea that an evil entity is behind most of our maladies is not a comfort but a terror. I personally feel more comforted knowing that disease just is. We can affect it somewhat by our lifestyle choices, but for the most part, what happens is just bad luck, nobody’s fault, no evil force.

YEM: Can you relate to the main character in any way? Especially since, as a physician, you are also battling diseases?

Susan: My mother always wished she had a zipper running up and down her middle so that doctors could look right in and figure out her troubles. In a way, this is what Alex can do. I certainly envy him that talent. What I don’t envy is his loneliness, his quirks that set him apart. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Alex is trying to find his place in the world, and he ends up making connections with people who were always already there, but he sees them in a new light after he decides to reach out despite his quirks.

YEM: Do you hope to write more stories that incorporate the medical field? Do you hope this will peak readers’ interest in medicine?    

Susan: I definitely hope to write more stories incorporating medicine. Each book I have written thus far has a medical theme—a picture book about dementia, The Fog Ladies cozy murder mystery series with a young doctor as a main character, along with spunky senior sleuths, and The Antidote. The cozies each have a public service announcement hidden inside, including “Don’t cut a bagel in your hand” and “Don’t get a jailhouse tattoo.” In The Antidote, I describe how to do a Heimlich maneuver and how to use an AED, an automated external defibrillator. I certainly hope people will be inspired to learn more about disease and health and even to consider a career in the medical field.

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