Conversation Corner with Carrie Rubin, Author of Medical Thrillers

Carrie Rubin

Carrie Rubin

I am so pleased to be hosting Carrie Rubin for today’s Conversation Corner. I love Carrie’s blog The Write Transition, which showcases her wonderful insights about life and writing. Carrie’s blog has many followers, and yet she somehow finds the time to provide thoughtful answers to every single comment. I am frankly in awe of her mastery of all things media.

Carrie is also a truly funny woman who happens to write novels about disease and serial killers. (Go figure.) Her wonderful second novel Eating Bull has just been released, and I asked her if she would come on by to chat about her experiences writing in the thriller genre. Here is our conversation about teenage heroes, book promotion, health, and funny words.

Carrie, I love the beginning of your About page:

Physician, public health advocate, writer. I believe every experience is worthwhile, even if our paths deviate from where we started.

I hope you don’t mind if I steal that second sentence as an inspirational quote. 🙂 I’ve always felt that whatever we learn is never wasted, since it helps us grow later in ways we couldn’t have foreseen. How have your experiences as a physician contributed to your career as a writer? And what prompted you to make that transition?

Please do take advantage of that quote! Other than my teen sons parroting me in a mocking falsetto, no one ever quotes me.

My medical background plays a big role in my writing, first as a write-what-you-know tool and second as a platform of authenticity. This legitimacy is particularly important for my newest novel, because the social issue at play in Eating Bull is obesity and the food industry’s role in it. Readers want to know the author has experience in the area, and between my years of clinical practice and my public health research, I do.

I have always wanted to write novels. In fact, I wrote my first book fourteen years ago. But as so often happens, life got in the way. So, during a career transition from clinical to nonclinical medicine a couple of years back, I jumped off a cliff and dived into writing instead. (Thanks to the amazing support of my husband whose words at the time were, “It’s now or never.”) Of course, I keep all my medical licensure and public health requirements up to date for life’s next chapter, as well as ties to my hospital of employment, but for now I’m enjoying the life of a writer.

It’s clear in Eating Bull that your authenticity has served you well – including your experience with teen boys! Your main character, Jeremy, is so well drawn. What helped you get into his mindset? And how did you handle the ongoing switch between his point of view and that of adult health worker Sue?

Thank you. My oldest son was fifteen years old when I wrote the book, so having a character the same age as my son helped me get into a teenager’s mindset. Plus, my son served as one of my beta readers. I wanted his opinion on whether Jeremy rang true to his age. If he thought something was off, I fixed the issue. This was particularly helpful in relation to Jeremy’s video game playing and his interactions at school.

Since I enjoy writing in a third-person limited narrative, I had to make sure Sue’s chapters sounded different from Jeremy’s. A 48-year-old woman will have different insights and reactions than a 15-year-old boy. So I tried to don the personality of whoever’s point of view I was writing from. Of course, that meant thinking like Darwin, too. Getting into the mindset of a killer makes for an interesting experience!

I’ll bet it does! I’ve always thought writing thrillers must be challenging because of its inevitable focus on the negative side of human nature. How do you get into that mindset? How do you shake it off? And have you come across any useful resources that helped you write this type of thriller?

I’m not sure I do anything specific to get into the mindset, but when I’m focusing on the negative, particularly when writing from the antagonist’s point of view, I remind myself of Stephen King’s words:

If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.

—Stephen King, On Writing

In other words, I try not to censor myself. As much as my antagonist’s actions might disturb me, they are what fuel the story, and I need to be willing to go there.

I’ve read a variety of books on the craft of writing, but two of the most helpful for me in terms of writing thrillers are Story Engineering and Story Physics, both by Larry Brooks. Structure is very important when drafting thrillers, and I like to have it all laid out beforehand. Brooks’s books help me navigate how to do that.

As you know, I’m a fan of Story Engineering as well. It seems to me that engineering is a perfect concept for a lot of the activities involved in writing a book, including the engineering involved in coordinating its release. How do you handle all the various bits and pieces that are involved in promoting your work?

Honestly, that part’s a bit stressful for me. There is much to coordinate, both online and face-to-face. In the weeks leading up to the book’s release, I:

  • wrote blog posts and articles, either for my own site or elsewhere
  • sent out ARCs (Advance Reader Copies)
  • updated my various platforms and included the book’s links
  • contacted potential reviewers
  • designed bookmarks and other promotional items
  • got emails ready to send to local newspapers, alumni newsletters, and professional contacts
  • set up book signings
  • created posters for book signings
  • developed a “talk” should any speaking engagements arise
  • explored other marketing venues

Eating BullAnd, of course, during all that I was reading through the final electronic and print versions of Eating Bull before my publisher gave it the official go. It’s amazing how a typo can slip past 2,000 previous readings!

But I handled it like most of us do: making lists and tackling the elephant one bite at a time.

That sure is a big elephant! You’ve talked a lot on your blog about your introversion. As an introvert, how do you keep yourself from running out of energy with all these activities?

The busy work I listed above doesn’t really drain me. It’s the social interactions that do, particularly the face-to-face ones. So now that the book is released, and I’ll be facing more in-person promotion, I’ll need to make sure I get wind-down time every night, either in the form of a good TV show or some reading. Those always help quiet my mind and recharge my batteries, especially if they are followed by a good night’s sleep and a morning workout.

Sounds like an excellent plan. I know I need that recharging time after a busy social day (although I’m still struggling with the workout part). 🙂

You’ve mentioned that the face-to-face interactions involved in promotion are particularly challenging for you. I’ve noticed that you are active on Twitter and Goodreads and comment on many blogs. Do you find communicating through social media to be easier? And how do you manage to keep up with all your online platforms?

I do find interacting on social media much easier. No eye contact, no small talk, and communication in short snippets—perfect for an introvert. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain mentions that many introverts thrive online. That being said, I’m a big girl, and I can function in the real world when needed. It just saps my energy more than online communication.

I devote a couple of hours each day to social media, but I don’t keep up as well as I’d like. I do best with Twitter and my blog, but even the latter I find challenging since I follow so many others. While I can’t catch every post, especially on the more prolific blogs, I try to stop by when I can. It’s always fun to see what others are up to, and I’ve found the blogging community to be genuine and supportive. In fact, I’ve ‘met’ remarkable people from all over the world.

I wholeheartedly agree – the blogging community has been wonderful to me as well. And of course I got to meet you! 🙂

I have one last question (one that will hopefully help this introvert impress people at awkward social events): Do you have a favourite obscure or funny medical term?

This is one of those questions where you can’t think of a great answer at the time but later come up with something perfect, usually at three in the morning. But here are a couple of medical terms I like: Borborygmus, which is the term for stomach growling, and myokymia, the term for involuntary muscle twitching, like when your eyelid keeps contracting. And if you have both at the same time? Well…you might want to skip your next meeting.

Thank you so much for having me today, Sue! I had a lot of fun, and I’m honored to be a part of your fabulous blog. For anyone who hasn’t seen Sue’s Rogue Word series yet, it’s definitely worth a look. Lots of great writing tips there. I found the s and apostrophes post particularly helpful.

Thanks, Carrie! I’m glad that my series was helpful for you. And thank you so much for stopping by DBW today and sharing your experiences with my readers!


For those of you who enjoy thrillers, I encourage you to take a look at Eating Bull.

And if you’re interested in reading previous conversations on various communication topics, you can find them here. Thanks for reading!


Ode to a Typo

Typo by Roberto Blake

I red four you

The hole way though

Write form page on

Two the end of page too

I should of scene

You hidding their

I do now how to spell

I swear!


Got typo troubles? Here are three tips that can help:

  1. Leave some time between writing and reviewing, even if it’s only a few minutes.
  2. If you’re writing online, review it on paper.
  3. Read it out loud.

Or, if all else fails, just say “I meant to do that.” 🙂


Amazing image by Roberto Blake

I’m experimenting with posting quick tips — let me know what you think! (And yes, that is my attempt at a poem.)

Do you have your own typo tales or tips to share?


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

The Ghouls Have Returned!

Ghouls just wanna have funHappy Hallowe’en, everyone! I hope you are having a ghoulishly good time. I will shortly be shuffling through the streets with my son in search of brains, but before I do, I want to share some frighteningly fantastic news.

My grammar story “Abracadabra! Addressing Affect vs. Effect” has been published in the fall issue of The Ghouls’ Review by Grammar Ghoul Press. If you’re in the mood for creative reading treats so delicious they will pop out your eyeballs (ah, those pesky loose eyeballs), come by and haunt this fiendish site!

(There is also a monstrous picture of me, where you can see what I look like at midnight.)

Ghoulishly yours,


(Image credit)

DBW Review: Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

Description and SettingI have a confession to make: I’m one of those readers who has been known to skip over passages full of description to get to the “good stuff.” I love the story of The Lord of the Rings, for example, but my attention wanes during those meandering sections sandwiched between poignant character moments and violent epic battles. With my avoidance of excessive elaboration (and my admittedly poor visual observation skills), I sometimes find it challenging to imbue my own writing with the right level of descriptive pizzazz.

And I know I’m not the only one. So I thought it was time to read through the book Description & Setting by author and creative writing teacher Ron Rozelle. His book is part of the Write Great Fiction series by Writer’s Digest, which features some helpful books on a variety of writing topics. I hadn’t read this one yet, and I thought it could be helpful for those of us who feel descriptively challenged.

What I Liked

This book covers a wide variety of topics relating to description — even more than I anticipated. Rozelle talks about how to describe both characters and settings. He includes tips for improving dialogue as well as techniques to strengthen exposition. He focuses on the small things, such as the use of adverbs and placement of punctuation, as well as the large things, like establishing the big picture of time and place. There’s a useful chapter on sensory description that includes lots of great examples.

I especially enjoyed his chapter “Too Little, Too Much,” which includes some fantastic thoughts on how to avoid repetition, prevent yourself from wandering off track, and recognize when no description at all is perhaps the better approach.

What Could Be Better

This book is an odd mix of wordiness and not enough detail. The introductions to some of the chapters are lengthier than they need to be, while many of the subtopics are not covered in as much detail as they could be. I was looking forward to the chapter on different considerations for different genres, for example, but most of the tips in there are straightforward common sense and didn’t really add to my knowledge.

It also suffers from an issue that I find common across many writing books – the examples are taken from older works, and samples from genre fiction are neglected in favour of literary fiction. Since most of the writers I know write genre fiction, I find this to be an unfortunate gap.

Favourite Learning Moment

In Rozelle’s chapter “Using Description and Setting to Drive the Story,” he talks about how to use description and setting to magnify a theme. But instead of focusing on the usual idea of an overall theme, he points out that each scene in the story has its own theme and that you can focus on one scene at a time when determining how the description can be improved. I loved the practical nature of this approach.

Many people come away from their English classes thinking that literary themes are a precious few haughty ideals—like pride, truth, or equality—that are chiseled deep into granite…My idea of a theme is anything that the writer is attempting to convey in a particular scene. So, instead of everlasting love, your theme in the sixth scene of your story might be trying to get a date. (p. 154)


If you don’t have a lot of practice writing fiction yet, or you are looking for a general overview on the topic of description, then I believe this book will be helpful for you. But if you are searching for more in-depth content, I would look for detailed articles relating to your specific interests rather than buying this book.


If you are interested in reading about other writing resources, you may want to take a look at my Resources page. One of these resources is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which has a great chapter on showing vs. telling.

How much description do you like to see in the books you read? What are some of the challenges you face when describing things? Are there techniques that have helped you?


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Blast From the Past: Back to the Future Tense

In honour of Back to the Future Day, I put the pedal to the metal in my retro DeLorean and went back in time to August 2014. I needed to save my grammar story saga on verb tenses before it faded out of existence.

The Time Traveller’s Verbs

Part 1: Telling Campfire Tales

Part 2: How We Changed the Past

Part 3: To Save Our Future

You just never know when you will unexpectedly travel through time and suddenly need to explain what happened the day before next week. So if you missed this the first time around, you may want to take some notes.

Off to try out my hoverboard now…

Back to the future 2 hoverboard

Image from the movie Back to the Future 2, Universal Studios

A Status Update

Hello everyone,

Sorry for dropping off the map for a few weeks! Maybe there’s a blogging curse when you reach one hundred posts, because ever since I celebrated that milestone, I’ve been too busy to blog. It’s been a good sort of busy, though.

My freelance editing business has been going gangbusters, which is fantastic. Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this venture, especially those who have had me over for guest posts.

After constantly writing at my day job and editing in the evenings, I found I needed a break from my computer, otherwise I was pretty sure my eyes were going to fall out. Thus my absence from the blogging scene.


Ah, for the days of typewriters…

I’ve settled into more of an equilibrium now, though, so I should be back to writing posts (albeit less frequently) in the next couple of weeks. I’m currently planning out my series about Captain Comma and her crew. I’ve also been reading more writing resources, so stay tuned for another DBW Review, as well as a new Conversation Corner.

I hope all is well with you. I’ll see you soon!



Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

One Hundred Posts, Three Quotes, and One Big Thank You!

I can’t believe Doorway Between Words is celebrating its 100th post!


Back when I started this blog in March 2014, I had a goal to write once a week. I managed to stick to that schedule most of the time. I even took up the gauntlet and wrote for twenty-six days in April during the 2015 A to Z Challenge.

What’s kept me motivated to write is my incredible community — all of you who have read, liked, and commented on my posts. I hope you’ll all still be with me when I reach 200 posts. 🙂

It seems appropriate that I have also just reached 300 blog followers. Thank you to all of you!

I have been remiss lately in posting additional thanks to those of you who have given me blog awards. I appreciate each and every nomination, even if I don’t always have the time to write up seventeen random facts about myself.

Here are some special individuals who have nominated me for awards in the past few months:

Alex Hurst, for her must-see Must-Read Blog Award

Lori MacLaughlin, for the Creative Blogger Award

Bradscribe, for the Liebster Award

Shawn, for the Real Neat Blog Award

Nimmi, for the Premio Dardos Award

I have also received a request from La Sabrosona to participate in the Three-Day Quote Challenge. I thought I’d share three of my favourite quotes that seem appropriate today:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Mahatma Gandhi

I wrote about the importance of integrity and communication in Would Your Captain Be Proud? It’s still one of my favourite serious posts. When I write this blog, I feel like I can be me in all my forms — my serious side, my zany side, my scholarly side, my imaginative side. Thanks for making me feel comfortable being me.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

I have this one up on my sidebar for a reason. It reminds me that communicating involves more than one person, and that thinking about your audience is the single most important thing you can do when writing. You are why I am here. Otherwise I’d be writing to the coldness of cyberspace, and who needs that?

Just do it.


I dithered a bit before I created this blog. What if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t know what to write? What if it was a spectacular failure?

Sometimes, you just need to do it — take on those challenges and see where they take you.

This one’s taken me to a really great place. And I’m glad you were here to come along with me for the ride. 🙂


Love to you all,



Image by Kirsty Hall via Flickr/Creative Commons