1) Please tell us about your book.
A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY is set in a desolate future where medical doctors are illegal, and Healers who practice such primitive and superstitious methods as bleeding and chanting are the norm. Hank is a doctor who practices medicine only for himself and his family. His fear of losing everything he’s worked for has estranged him from the Underground, the loose network of physicians that tries to help people who have lost faith in the Healers. Then late one evening a 16-year-old girl named Gina knocks on his door. She has a secret of her own and the power to destroy Hank’s life if he doesn’t come with her and make her seriously ill father well. But there is one catch —Gina’s father is the brother of a Healer who could send Hank to prison for the rest of his life.
2) Can you tell us a little about how conventional medicine becomes illegal in your setting?
Two things happen to cause society to turn away from conventional medicine:
- A large number of people must be willing to reject science and embrace unscientific, popular folk beliefs.
- A catalyst such as the nuclear war in my story disrupts society, and when civilization is rebuilt those unscientific, folk belief people emerge as the majority, which suppresses and oppresses the minority.
I believe a society like this could exist, given the right catalyst. A few examples of the kind of thinking that could lead to such a thought shift are conspiracy theories about aliens having set up a base on the dark side of the moon, the belief that the world is flat, and the belief that men did not land on the moon but in a desert somewhere on Earth. None of these ideas are supported by any hard scientific evidence, yet many people believe them. What if a war happened, and these people became the majority?
3) Did this book require you to do any research on the practice of medicine?
This story was originally written in the mid-1980s and published in 1987 in a magazine called Space and Time. I revised it—including a new beginning and a revamped ending—for this new release. I didn’t do any specific research, but I was inspired to write it after reading some magazine articles and a book about problems with the medical profession and how health care is administered. For the current release I did a little research, aided by some life experience. For instance, the oxygen generator mentioned in the story is a real piece of equipment. We had one for my mother when we were caring for her.
4) Given the furious political debate over health care and, to a lesser extent, the continuing clash over the very nature of what sort of medicine (science-based, empirical, traditional, et cetera) should be practiced, books with health care as a central theme are going to naturally be associated with some of these debates. Did any of these continuing cultural and political discussions influence or inspire your book?
The two things that inspired my book were 1) The high cost of medical treatment, and 2) The medical profession’s dehumanizing approach to treating patients.
The high cost of medicine has been an ongoing problem for years. Most of us, unless we have really good jobs and exceptional insurance, are one catastrophic illness away from bankruptcy.
The medical profession’s increasingly dehumanizing approach to treating patients is more subtle and more insidious. It can take the form doctors not sharing information with the patient (this is the kind of arrogance Hank refers to when he says the old time doctors “thought of themselves as gods”). It can take the form of a doctor who is supposed to discharge a patient at a certain time, but leaves town without making arrangements for another doctor to discharge the patient (that happened to me). In a case I read about, a woman, for philosophical reasons, wanted to give birth at home. The family engaged the services of a midwife and took all the necessary precautions, but when she went into labor the authorities took her to the hospital against her will.
Although these issues weren’t the burning reason I wrote A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, they certainly were skittering around the edges of my mind while I rattled away at the keyboard. The story isn’t a treatise on the sorry state of the medical profession or a warning of what could happen if we don’t mend our ways. It’s a personal journey of characters interacting in a world that is out of kilter.
I’d like to point out, however, that this story isn’t a scathing indictment of our current medical system. I still have faith in the medical profession and medical professionals. Remember that in the A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, the doctor is the hero and the Healer is the villain.
5) Dystopian settings allow the exploration of controversial issues by providing distance from the current socio-political context. At the same time, that same distance somewhat undermines its ability to directly comment on those issues. Could you share your thoughts on these ideas and what difficulties you found in balancing such issues?
I view dystopian stories like all literature: they give you things to think about, but the stories won’t change anything or be catalysts for change. I’ve never had trouble making the connection between a dystopian story and the real world issues that could cause it to come about. Maybe that’s why I like dystopian fiction so well. In FAHRENHEIT 451, for instance, it’s clear to me that Ray Bradbury was concerned that declining interest in reading and increased dependence on television would lead to a desensitization of the citizens. When you factor in video games and the internet (YouTube, anonymous cyber bullying, etc.), much of what Bradbury feared has come to pass (all except wide-scale book burning; fortunately that’s still a little farther down the road).
In my fiction (usually) I focus on the characters rather than the society as a whole. What kinds of choices do they make given the restrictions of their societies? How do they interact with one another? And I hope that within their interactions the readers will find a nugget of truth that will help them to be a bit kinder, a bit more thoughtful, or will inspire them to say “This can’t continue and it must be changed.”
As a character in another of my stories says: “Revolutions start by one man speaking his mind.”
6) Can you tell us briefly about some of your other work?
IN HUMAN FORM is a science fiction/literary novel about an android, built by the last survivor of an alien spacecraft crash, who loses her memory in a house fire and forgets that she is an android. The few townspeople who have learned her secret lead her to believe she is human, with disastrous consequences. This is the first novel in a trilogy; I’m currently working on the second book.
THE MOANING ROCKS AND OTHER STORIES is a collection containing 14 of my best stories from the science fiction, horror, and mainstream genres. I’ve included notes telling how each story came to be written. This collection includes the original version of A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY.
“Elevator” is a stand-alone Twilight Zone-like short story about a man’s claustrophobic nightmare. Not recommended for folks who are nervous about riding elevators.
Two of my earlier books—THE PELICAN IN THE DESERT AND OTHER STORIES OF THE FAMILY FARM and OCTOBER DREAMS, A HARVEST OF HORROR—are out of print, but copies usually can be found on Amazon.
If you'd like to see more from David, please check out his website http://
A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY is available for purchase at Amazon.
In addition, David is running a little contest with a giveaway of a $25 Amazon Gift Card as a prize. Please see his March 29 Meet and Greet at http://www.vbtcafe.com/ for details.