5 Questions With Boca Resident, Author Of “Silent Survivor” Dr. Deborah Shlian

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  1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you went from a doctor to an author.

It was only after more than a decade practicing medicine that I decided to write a novel. Like Robin Cook, I chose the medical mystery genre for my stories. To me, a good doctor is really a detective. Since the 1980s, I have had six medical mystery/thrillers published, three stand-alones co-written with my husband (Double Illusion, Wednesday’s Child and Rabbit in the Moon) and two in an on-going series co-written with a physician colleague from California (Dead Air and Devil Wind featuring radio talk show host Sammy Greene). My newest medical thriller, Silent Survivor, is the first novel, I have written on my own and the first that takes place in Florida.

  1. You recently authored Silent Survivor. What is the book about?

The main idea started some years ago when I received a call from a doctor friend who moved to Florida to care for her mother who was dying of a neurological disease. She told me she’d been researching what might have caused her mother’s illness and was concerned that the culprit was a malaria drug developed by the Army. In fact, she sent me a website where veterans with the same disease shared their stories. Like her, they were convinced that the drug was responsible. My friend wanted me to help her investigate and write a nonfiction expose. However within months, the website disappeared. There were rumors the Army denied any responsibility, threatening to take action against anyone making such claims.

As a doctor I realized this might be difficult to prove, but as a medical mystery/thriller writer I thought we could tell the story in the context of fiction as I had with some of my earlier novels. My friend said she wasn’t up to writing a novel or even collaborating, but gave me her blessing to run with the idea.

I read that in 1969 President Nixon declared biological warfare research off limits; the government would only support biological research on defensive measures such as vaccines.

That made sense.

But then I learned that the Army’s Psychological Operations unit has been investigating psycho-pharmaceutical agents and behavior modification techniques to diminish mental performance of our enemies. The idea is to reduce their ability to fight.  That gave me an idea.

What if a rogue subdivision of the Army developed a pill which, instead of decreasing mental performance, enhanced it, increasing alertness and above all aggressiveness? Now what if this drug suddenly produced some terrible side effects? This rogue group would be desperate to keep that quiet.

That was my basic premise for the story.

  1. How did you develop the story?

I next developed a strong protagonist. In this case my main character is 30-year-old Mackenzie Dodd, an Army nurse who goes by the nickname Mac. While in Iraq she is raped by her commanding officer and her marriage falls apart. Returning home to Florida, she joins a PTSD group at the West Palm VA Hospital. One morning she arrives early and finds a young Marine holding a gun to his head. Unable to stop his suicide, Mac blames herself. She posts the incident on SILENT SURVIVOR, a blog in which she encourages veterans with PTSD to share stories.

When the Marine’s widow posts on the blog and reveals there may be more to her husband’s suicide than simply PTSD, Mac begins an investigation, risking her life to expose secrets and betrayals as she uncovers the horrendous consequences of this covert government research.

  1. What was it like to win first place in the Royal Palm Literary Award which is sponsored by the Florida Writers Association?

I consider this a great honor since as a judge in the years I did not submit, I am well aware of how critical the judging process is and how stiff the competition.

  1. Part of the proceeds from book sales goes to charities. Can you tell us about the charities and how much money has been raised so far?

Silent Survivor is dedicated to “all the survivors who understand that only by exposing the truth can secrets lose their power.” It’s why I am donating all royalties to several charities including SemperFiFung.org, which help veterans with PTSD and their families, Powerful Voices Project which empowers women survivors of sexual assault, and the National ALS organization. The book has only been out a few months and so far I have been able to donate almost $6,000 to these three funds.