Thursday, July 06, 2006

Autopsy Room Four

I read the first short story by Stephen King in the Everything's Eventual collection, and was reminded how a professional writer does it. Jaye wrote yesterday about research. I'm sure Mr. King has anyone available to him that he needs. Who wouldn't be more than happy to tell him everything he needs to know about their business?

Thank goodness for the afterward. King admits to making up a few facts. So seamless did he do this that I assumed the existence of an entire species of poisonous snake.

The story was called Autopsy Room Four. It wasn't entirely original, rather a twist on an old TV show I had seen before, to which King pays homage. The man protagonist has been bitten by a poisonous snake and is dead by most standards, but is completely aware of his situation as he lies on the autopsy table. Did that just give you a cold chill? It did me. But just as Wesley was in Princess Bride, our man was only mostly dead, and only needed to recover from the poison to wake up again. King teases us the whole time as the coroner toys with the meat clippers that will open his chest while he is fully aware.

What impressed me, and thus the reason I am writing this post, is the technical jargon King employed. I don't have the book in front of me or I would reproduce some of the language. The doctor turns on a tape recorder and dictates his observations. King has done some research, unless he moonlights as a coroner, or actually spent time on the battlefield as his paralyzed character has.

So I have an idea right now to rewrite a short story I wrote in college, but with more detail and character development. I need to know something about heart transplants, and how one person can know if another is a viable donor. My friend got married to a woman whose brother is a heart surgeon in New Orleans. For three days he and I hung out maybe ten years ago. The chances of being remembered are slim. And what would I say anyway?

How could I interview a heart surgeon? How would you go about this?


Anonymous said...

Since we're not King (yet), you might want to try a cardiothoracic surgeon resident rather than a full-blown doctor. They'd probably be more excited to talk to you. If you have a major teaching institution/hospital near you, you could talk to the program director for that residency program. He or she might be able to link you up with someone interested.

magnetbabe said...

Jason- I was thinking the exact same thing. A resident would get a major ego stroke if they were interviewed for a short story.

A few years back I devoured Everything's Eventual. I have always been a King fan and though his novels are waning, his short stories are as good as ever. I especially liked the title story. I can't wait to read what you are brewing up next, Scott!

Flood said...

That story is exactly the reason I am terrified of organ donation. What if I know what's going on?

I'm with Jason about talking to professionals. I needed to research police procedures, so I talked to a janitor for our local station, a by-law officer and the legal secretary for a criminal lawyer. I didn't need a great deal of info, just enough to seem like I knew what I was talking about.

Talking with the people that help those in the profession you're researching gives you lots to work with. The hardest part for me was saying, "I'm a writer and I need your help." Once I did that, though, it went great.

Scott said...

Jason - Thanks for that advice. I'll ask around and see what we have. Maybe Mr. Schprock will have an idea on this, being the local boy he is.

Nat - An interview, how interesting. As far as King's novels, I lost interest a long time ago. He is a great writer no doubt, but he falls into annoying speech patterns, and his characters have a certain something that I recognize. The first short though was brilliant.

Flood - I'm convinced more than ever that I am going to be cremated. Even if I do feel it, it won't take long. That's cool by the way that you did an interview. Maybe I'll talk to my local law enforcement too, just to get an idea of how police work goes.

fringes said...

Maybe you can try making the whole thing up, medical details and all. We are reading for good writing, not necessarily for medical accuracy. If your character is talking while his heart is laying on the table next to him, what fun! He'd have a few tales to tell the reader, that's for sure.

Bhaswati said...

Don't forget good old Google. A whole lot of solid medical information is available online.

Nothing like hearing it from professionals, though.

Jaye Wells said...

I think that even though it is fiction, it has to be believable. You don't want your reader getting sucked out of the story because you made something up because you were too intimidated to interview someone.

People are usually happy to help. I think Jason's idea is a good one. Another option is to call an oranization that advocates for donors. They probably have lots of information for the media you might find helpful, as well as someone you could interview who is used to these types of inquiries.

mr. schprock said...

I've always thought the Internet must be the greatest boon to writers ever as a research aid. There are so many things you can check out with never having your fanny leave the chair.

A long, long time ago, while working weekends for a housepainter, I was working in a room with another painter who was sometimes employed by the Spencer For Hire author as a research assistant. All he did was track down facts for the author. I guess when you hit the big time, that's what it's like: have lackeys do all the legwork for you.

I think the TV show the King story's based on was the one with Joseph Cotton in "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." It was a tear coming from Cotton's eye that saved him as I recall.

Good luck on that short story!

Bernita said...

What they said.

Writing Blind said...

I go to the Internet for pretty much everything too, although nothing substitutes firsthand advice. Plus, it's a little exciting to be able to call someone up and request an interview like that. Good luck with the story.

Scott said...

Erica - I agree with to a point, but the more truth that is mixed with fiction, the more believable it is. King did that with this short story, creating a species of snake for instance, that paralyzes when it bites.

Bhaswati - Good reminder. I am doing that as we speak. You're right, there are things out there.

Jaye - I agree. The more facts you put forward, the more the reader is going to believe you, even when you slide in a few things that aren't exactly scientific.

Mr. Schprock - You are dead on. King says that exactly in his story. In fact, when he ends the story, he makes note that his ending was a slightly more twisted revelation. It was pretty cool.

Bernita - Exactly. What more is there to say?

Rebecca - I was thinking the same thing. It would be very cool to do an interview and see where it goes. You never know what kinds of ideas can spark up from listening to someone talk about the real thing.

Tee said...

You could just say, "You probably don't remember me but - blah blah blah - and I'm doing research before I write a book. I was hoping you could provide me with some information on heart surgery."

Or whatever. I think most people would be interested and flattered to help you out.

This King scene you describe is even scarier because it has really happend in real life. I don't know all the exact circumstances but people have "come back to life" on the autopsy table.

(Did you see that episode of LOST where the girl did? The screaming on that tape recording? Ugh! Made me nauseous!)

I just read a book called The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck. My goodness this woman must have researched for years. It was just incredible how knowledgeable she was on the history of the country, the time period, the flora and fauna, etc. Amazing. I was blown away by that.

Good research makes all the difference in the world in novel writing. They say "write what you know"... I'm sure that "Lily Tuck" was not a native Paraguyan a few hundred years ago - so I guess you can "write what you research" and do it very well :)

fringes said...

Here's a helpful link. The author says much better than I did.

Researching short stories

Beth said...

I agree with Schprock. Head to the internet. I've done most research right there and never needed to hit the pavement. Although, I'm big on books as well ... holding the info in my hands.

Kathleen said...

I agree with people who suggest the Internet, but if you need to see your own doctor soon, you might ask him/her for the name of someone who might be willing and have time to help you.

I adore Joseph Cotton! I might have to check out that episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Moni said...

Maybe you should try a teaching hospital. I know that UNC(University of North Carolina)at Chapel Hill has a heart transplant program also Duke University.

I don't know if a Transplant specialist would likely spill the beans regarding transplant compatability qualifiers for fear of being sued. But, maybe they would.

If not you may take the medical journal route. Try this www. Or you could try an organ harvesting organization such as C.O.P.A. Carolina Organ Procurement Agency.

Good luck I'm sure the story will be awesome. :)

Toni Anderson said...

I'd go for the old contact. If he doesn't remember you, no biggy. If he does, great. Surgeons have big egos, stroke it a bit and I bet he'll tell you more than you ever needed to know. Also he might be a King fan.

I'd also google and check out some medical texts from the library.

Good for you. I love research :) Except for the really gory bits about serial killers that I'd probably rather not have known :/

Bailey Stewart said...

Why don't you go through your old friend first as a way of re-introduction?

People used to be buried with bells so they could ring them in case they woke up. And that's why they used to have wakes.

Scott said...

Tee - I did see that episode. Lost can be such a good show, but it faded last season from the glory of it's first. Didn't you think so? I agree about the write what you research thing. You would run out of things to write about real soon if you just stuck to what you already know.

Erica - Thanks for that link. I read the article and the guy makes a lot of sense. I need to look up some of the books he is talking about there.

Beth - Yeah, the internet is great. I don't know what I would do without it as a research tool even for the job I do every day.

Kat - Joe Cotton was in Shadow of a Doubt as Uncle Charlie, as I remember. He was very good.

Moni - Thanks for all the advice. I actually found something yesterday that spoke of compatibility issues. The first is blood type. A type O donor is compatible with everyone, otherwise bloodtypes have to match. Then there is heart size. Others too. So in this case the internet works out. What I would like to know is, can you identify who you want to give your heart to.

Toni - Not a bad idea, and he would be the absolute best source. Maybe I will try that. He was also involved as one of the doctors during Katrina, when snipers were shooting at patients coming out of a hospital. I should prepare a long interview for him.

Bailey - Now that is really cool. A bell huh? I didn't know that.

Toni Anderson said...

Lisa Gardner's website talks a lot about doing research and approaching people. The link is on my website but you can just google her.

One thing I remember her saying is to give the person time to prepare for an interview and secondly always leave the door open for more questions because you're bound to have follow up.

PS. Have you ever read Michael Connelly? His Harry Bosh(?) is a heart transplant patient.

Moni said...

I don't think you can specify who gets a heart. There are so many people who die still on the transplant list.

Too bad artificial hearts don't last long, but ain't nothing like the real thing I suppose.