Guy Young, MD: Hematologist, Novelist

Guy Young, MD
Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California

Where did the inspiration for Bad Blood come from?

One day during my long commute, the idea just popped into my head: what if a dead body was found and it was still bleeding after it died? Over the next six months, that and other ideas kept percolating, so I finally said to myself, “Well, I better start writing these down.” As a hematologist who deals specifically with coagulation and bleeding disorders, I thought that would make an interesting premise for a fictional story.

Did you draw on any of your own experiences when writing the novel?

At its core, Bad Blood is a medical mystery, but it also touches on social injustice pertaining to health insurance and health-care delivery. I think many of us in medicine are trying to solve the real-life mystery of patients’ disease every day, so I definitely drew upon my own experiences there. And the two main characters are pediatric hematologists interested in coagulation disorders – which is, obviously, very similar to my own interests – but the characters are more an amalgamation of people I have known.

A dead body that is bleeding – would you classify this a science fiction or within the realm of possibility?

I treat many patients with bleeding disorders, but no, I’ve never seen a patient who was still bleeding after death. I suppose it could happen and I tried to provide an explanation for how it could possibly happen. The story is definitely not science fiction though as I have made the story a reality-based mystery, I’d be interested to hear what people think of the explanation I provided.

Was writing a hobby before this?

Well, when I was in the seventh grade, we were supposed to write a short story – “short” meaning three or so pages. I, however, ended up writing 40 pages. I guess I just always liked writing.

Of course, in my professional life I do a lot of scientific writing – grants, articles, etc. – and working on the novel was a nice break from scientific writing. Literary writing drew on a different set of skills, but there’s no question that the scientific writing helped me to become a better writer in general.

When you pictured your career in hematology, did you ever think it would lead to writing a novel?

Writing a novel was not in my career plan, that’s for sure. When I revealed it to my team at the hospital, their jaws all dropped. Mostly, they were surprised that I found the time to write it!

When did you find the time to write?

I think one of the most remarkable aspects is the fact that over 95% of the book was written aboard an airplane. I travel a fair bit for work and flying is one of the few situations when I have lots of undisturbed time. I would write in short spurts, then not touch the manuscript for weeks; it’s not the most efficient way to write, I’ll admit, but with a day job and a family, this was really the only time I had several uninterrupted hours to write. After writing the book over the course of a year – I actually started on a plane flight to our yearly vacation and finished it on the flight back the following year – I spent another year editing it.