Allen Wyler is a renowned neurosurgeon who earned an international reputation for pioneering surgical techniques to record brain activity. He has served on the faculties of both the University of Washington and the University of Tennessee, and in 1992 was recruited by the prestigious Swedish Medical Center to develop a neuroscience institute.
In 2002, he left active practice to become Medical Director for a startup med-tech company (that went public in 2006) and he now chairs the Institutional Review Board of a major medical center in the Pacific Northwest.
Leveraging a love for thrillers since the early 70’s, Wyler devoted himself to fiction writing in earnest, eventually serving as Vice President of the International Thriller Writers organization for several years. After publishing his first two medical thrillers Deadly Errors (2005) and Dead Head (2007), he officially retired from medicine to devote himself to writing full time. Deadly Odds is his most recent novel.
He and his wife, Lily, divide their time between Seattle and the San Juan Islands.
I’m delighted to welcome Allen Wyler today
to share a few thoughts with us.
cncbooks: What made you decide to be an author, specifically a thriller author?
Allen: From the time I was able to read, I enjoyed losing myself in books. Both fiction and non-fiction. The more I read, the more I wanted to try to write. But because of being set on a career in medicine – and eventually in neurosurgery – that goal seemed impossible. One Saturday as I drove home from rounds, I decided to act on that desire, so I sat down and tried to write something. (I can’t even remember what that was.) I’ve been writing ever since.
Not all my books are thrillers. Changes, for example, explores the fantasy of having the opportunity to live life over but with your present fund of knowledge. Cutter’s Trial, due out in a few months, is also a non-thriller. It’s the story of a neurosurgeon’s journey through the disillusionment phase of his career.
My love of thrillers began after reading Marathon Man. That book hooked me on the genre. In following the rule, “write what you know,” I begin by writing medical thrillers. Deadly Odds is far from medical.
cncbooks: What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like the least?
Allen: I love the creative process of developing an idea into a plot-line and then fleshing it out into a fully developed story; the whole process from start to finish. I least like having the self-promotion part of the business and I’ve never been good at it.
cncbooks: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
Allen: Crime is rich with socially dysfunctional personalities and the emotional aftermath it inflicts upon the victims. The practice of medicine, in particular neurosurgery, has given me a wealth of insight into this aspect of human behavior.
cncbooks: Is there one author (crime fiction or otherwise) who has really influenced your writing career?
Allen: It’s extremely difficult to designate one writer because I admire so many. Each author I read brings a slightly different skill set to their story telling. If forced to pick one who has influenced me most, it would be Elmore Leonard. He had a wonderful way of moving a story along while developing truly interesting characters.
cncbooks: What do you read for pleasure when you’re writing?
Allen: There is never a day that goes by that my nose isn’t in a book. I read a ton of nonfiction as well as fiction. For fiction, I read mostly crime and political thrillers. For nonfiction I prefer true crime, science, politics, and history.
cncbooks: If you could spend a weekend with one fictional character not your own, who would it be and why?
Allen: Boy, that’s a tough one. Guess it’s a dead heat between Harry Bosch and Lucas Davenport. Bosch is such a dark, complicated character that I’d love to spend time learning more about how he views life. Davenport simply cracks me up with his sarcastic view of what’s happening.
cncbooks: If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently in your writing career?
Allen: I’m not sure. Perhaps it would be to start earlier. I was very goal directed in my quest of a medical career, and this took horrendous amounts of time. Although I’d published in medical journals, my fiction career began rather late, but I guess it came at about the right time.
cncbooks: What has been the toughest criticism you’ve been given as an author?
Allen: A reviewer claimed that the characters in my first thriller, Deadly Errors, were “cardboard.” This prompted me to reflect on the story and to realize the basis for the criticism. Because I believe that fast pacing is elemental to good thrillers, I initially had difficulty figuring out how to solve this problem while moving a plot along. I was extremely pleased that several Deadly Odds reviews claim the characters are well developed. So, I guess you could say that the toughest criticism ended up helping me improve my stories.
cncbooks: What has been the best compliment?
Allen: For several years I judged for the Thriller and the Hammet awards. This served as a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to new authors. The downside, of course, was seeing repetitive story clichés, such as the alcoholic, divorced detective who obtains redemption by tracking down a serial killer. Thus, I was thrilled when Philip Margolin called Deadly Odds “original.”
cncbooks: What part of your crime research has been the most interesting?
Allen: Deadly Odds deals with the Dark Net, a portion of the Internet I knew nothing about until reading an article in Wired. In delving into it, I was fascinated to learn how criminals use this region of the Internet for such nefarious activities as drug dealing and hiring hit men.
cncbooks: Deadly Odds has received some very nice reader reviews. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Allen: Arnold Gold is a 23 year old virgin, orphan, computer genius, and odds maker who idolizes Nate Silver. Poorly developed social skills have kept him socially isolated. He’s more interested in computers than small talk. He is also frustrated in dealing with some very basic human desires, one of which is sex. He can’t get to first base with women. His confidant and best friend suggests the best way to break through this particular barrier is to fly to Vegas and… well, you can guess what. So he does just that. But the trip lands him in a vortex of problems.
Allen: I couldn’t help but put a lot of myself into developing Arnold. Like most young men, I worried and wondered how my first sexual encounter would unfold. And like Arnold, I’m a social hesitant. Working with a character in Arnold’s stage of life has been great fun, but also very difficult because it took great effort to realistically figure out Arnold’s reactions to situations. Writing about Arnold was fun, a bit embarrassing, and quite illuminating.
cncbooks: What is your favorite scene in the book and why?
Allen: I can’t answer that in detail without giving away the punchline, but the final scenes are my favorites. I had to really think hard to figure out a way to free him from a very bad situation. Have you ever seen the movie “Platoon”, the scene in which the commander calls in an air strike on their position? That’s what gave me the idea.
cncbooks: What’s next for you?
Allen: As I mentioned earlier, Cutter’s Trial is due out in a few months. Depending on how well it’s received, I may consider a sequel. I’ve also been working on Deadly Odds 2.0. Hackers are popular at the moment, and Arnold Gold seems to be a character who resonates with many readers, so it’s appealing to consider a small series with him and Palmer Davidson working in tandem. They’re a great pair of characters to play with.