Jackson doctor mixes medicine with thriller writing
by Stephen McDill
Published: June 21,2013
JACKSON: Jackson OB/GYN Darden North’s fourth thriller, “Wiggle Room,” moves quickly from the battlefields of Iraq to the lobby of the King Edward Hotel powered by a rollercoaster page-turning plot written in the spirit of John Grisham and Tom Clancy.
After saving the life of a wounded insurgent at the height of the Iraq War in 2006, Air Force trauma surgeon Maj. Brad Cummins returns to his family in Mississippi. The doctor soon realizes that the war on terror has followed him home.
The story of how a military doctor gets caught up in a life and death struggle in his own backyard came to North after a conversation with a fan.
“The idea came from a book signing in Monroe, La.,” North says. “Someone was talking to me about an experience their son had in Iraq as a physician.”
While not a war novel, the book’s opening scenes unfold at the Balad Air Base Hospital at Camp Anaconda, fifty miles north of Baghdad, an area of the war that North heavily researched. Prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, the compound was used by Saddam Hussein to train his Revolutionary Guard shock troops.
North interviewed a number of physicians for the novel including St. Dominic surgeon Lt. Col. Huey McDaniel, who did a rotation through Balad and shared many pictures and stories from the life of a military trauma surgeon.
“I found it fascinating because I knew nothing about that and how the medicine is run over there,” North said. “What was central to this book was those hospitals are much better than the national hospitals. The injured civilians come to the American hospital and we’re obligated to treat them in an ethical and humanitarian sense.”
Research has always been critical to North’s fiction. For past novels, he has talked to police detectives, SWAT snipers and fire marshals all to insure he is constructing a scene as authentically as possible.
“When you’re writing even though it’s fiction it has to make sense and be reasonable,” North says.
In the case of “Wiggle Room” sometimes the truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
While his plot was developed long before the recent terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, North says the same immigration loopholes that reportedly brought one of the alleged bombers to the U.S. are also exploited by one of his characters.
“The terrorist is here on a study program. He comes to the U.S. on a scholarship,” North says. “It is sort of a timely issue (and will) probably be in the forefront with us for a while.”
Born in Cleveland and educated at the University of Mississippi, North finished his residency at UMMC in Jackson then started what has become a successful 27-year-old practice at Jackson Healthcare for Women.
North’s 2005 debut novel, “House Call,” observes the deaths of a nurse and well-respected doctor and their possible connection in a fictitious north Mississippi town.
“Points of Origin,” published in 2006, tells the story of a small town Delta plastic surgeon that gets caught up in a plaintiffs case. The novel won North a Southern Fiction IPPY award at the annual Independent Publishers Book Awards.
North’s third thriller, “Fresh Frozen,” centers on Hollywood and the fertility industry and he says a screenplay has already been written for a developing movie project. “I think that’s every author’s dream that’s writing commercially,” he says.
North compares his typical characters and situations to those you might find in a popular TV medical drama. The background is usually a hospital or medical clinic and the main characters are mostly MDs. The novels stand-alone as far as the plot but some of North’s more memorable characters have resurfaced over the years.
Putting thoughts on paper in a creative way and thinking outside of the box are two of the main things North says he enjoys most about writing.
“I may have a character say or do something that I might never do or consider wrong,” North says. “Certainly I consider murder is wrong. (Writing) is a way to live in your creative brain and I really do enjoy making up the characters and combining them. You want your readers to like your character but you have to put them under pressure and give them internal and external conflict.”
When he’s not writing, North still maintains a busy schedule that includes delivering babies and performing advanced surgical procedures with his clinic’s acclaimed Da Vinci robotic systems.
An avid outdoorsman and Ole Miss Rebels fan, North and his wife, Sally, live in Jackson.
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