David Z Hirsch grew up on the steppes of Nebraska peddling Kool-Aid off I-129 until saving up enough cash for medical school. After graduation, he moved to Pyongyang to teach pre-med classes at Kim Il-sung University. He soon fell out of favor and was imprisoned at Kaechon where he traded medical favors for soup and toilet paper until he made a daring escape across the border.
Dr. Hirsch subsisted for the next three years by foraging gooseberries and licking the dew off spiny toads. This led to a burst of creativity, and he wrote the first draft of Didn’t Get Frazzled on bark peeled off a dying Manchurian Ash tree. Ultimately discovered in a semi-feral state by the China Coast Guard flotilla from Liaoning, Dr. Hirsch returned to the United States sixty pounds lighter but more inspired than ever.
- Were you really imprisoned in North Korea?
Um…let’s start at the beginning. David Z Hirsch is a pen name. I created a fanciful backstory for my own amusement. No, I have never been to North Korea (nor Nebraska, for that matter). I’d like to go to China at some point, but I doubt I’ll be licking any spiny toads while I’m there.
- Why are you using a pen name?
I’m a practicing physician, so I’d prefer to keep my professional and writing lives separate. There’s also a certain freedom to anonymity. I have an intense job, and writing gives me the opportunity to decompress. Really, in what other endeavor can you just make things up for fun? Go ahead and try that in any other field and you’ll be branded a liar or a criminal. Yet not only is that okay as a novelist, it’s encouraged. Readers want to be whisked away to explore another world. We want to laugh and cry and dig our nails into our Kindles and iPads. I hope Didn’t Get Frazzled will do that for my readers.
- Tell us about your novel. Is this really what it’s like to go through medical school?
Elmore Leonard famously recommended that writers should leave out the part that readers tend to skip. I take this to mean that the best novel is life without the boring parts. In medical school, I spent thousands of hours studying or sitting through lectures, most of this during first and second year. In my book, Seth reaches third year in chapter 6. I distilled all the crucial moments of first and second year into just 5 chapters. The reality is medical school is mostly tedious with flashes of drama, terror, and (if you’re lucky) a little romance. I suppose you can say that medical school is like my book but after adding back all the parts you wish you could have skipped.
- Any medical students reading this are probably getting depressed right about now.
To my medical student readers out there, let me say this. Don’t worry. It gets better. Well, not right away since you have to do an internship next, but after that. Soon. Sooner than you think. Hang in there. I love all my readers and I hope everyone has a positive experience with my book, but I want medical students to recognize that you are not alone. We all go through the same thing. And if you need any more encouraging words to get you through your next exam or your next rotation, send me an email. Often it helps just to write something down.
- Your novel’s genre is listed as medical but also as new adult romance. Is there a love story?
Absolutely. Most medical students are in their twenties and life has a way of refusing to be put on hold for 4 years. Medical school changes a person. Old relationships need to adjust or break, and new relationships spring up in unexpected ways. The stressful environment only serves to intensify everything. This can be traumatic to live through, but it sets the stage for a great story.
- How is your novel different from House of God by Samuel Shem?
How sad that we have to reach back to a book published in 1978 to find another novel about medical training. And that novel was about intern year, not medical school. House of God is a classic, still read by new generations of medical students, but its dated world of white men who treat women as sexual objects turns many people off and doesn’t represent the modern world of medicine. This is a valid criticism of the book, but I don’t criticize the author. He wrote about the medial world as he saw it, and I did exactly the same thing. Decades later, mine was a multiracial world with men and women interacting as equals. I like my world better.
- When did you first start writing?
In the womb. I wrote a short story about a frail creature trapped in an enclosed space who has to suck nutrients out of a tube while gulping his own excrement. He gets carelessly poked and prodded at inopportune moments. Yes, yes, I know, a bit too on the nose, but all writers’ first stories tend to suffer this same problem. At least I got it out of my system as a neonate. Plus, I could never figure out whether the story was a thriller or romantic comedy. And the ending was too predictable.
- How do I know when you’re being you and when you’re being David Z Hirsch?
Um, not to get too meta, but I’m actually interviewing myself right now. That means you are also me.
- Gasp. So I’m not real either? I think I need a latte.
Okay, now you’re freaking me out. I hate coffee. Yes, I know. I may be the one doctor who doesn’t drink coffee. I hope I didn’t just out myself. I’m going to google “the one doctor who doesn’t like coffee” to see if my picture comes up. I may have to delete this question.
- I don’t want to be deleted. Oh, no. This is my last question. Where do I go from here? David, I’m scared.
It’s okay. I’m here for you. And don’t worry. Nothing ever dies on the internet. That’s also the great thing about publishing an ebook. It’ll never go out of print.
Any questions you’d like to ask? Send an email to DavidZHirsch (at) comcast (dot) net.
Also, check out my Amazon Author Page
And another interview on It’s Write Now