Writing about what he knows best, Tim Sheard, sets his crime mysteries in the medical world. This was an interesting chat with the author, and learning about how he has intertwined his profession into his books makes the plot and characters almost real.
Tim tells how he got started as an author:
After graduating from college in 1970, I was drafted and served two years stateside as a medical orderly. Caring for hospital patients was a revelation: I loved it. I liked the regular hours, the regular pay (though salaries were awfully low back then), and the fellowship of my co-workers. When my tour was completed, I attended nursing school in St. Louis, and then went on to work as a nurse, mainly in critical care. The work allowed me to marry and raise a family. We have two fine sons, one of whom volunteered for two years in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina; the other is a gifted musician who fronts an exciting reggae band.
I worked in hospitals for close to twenty years when I began to think about the patients I had cared for, and about the co-workers I had known. I wanted to tell the world about these wonderful, frail, noble, heroic people. About how they endured and how they triumphed. Most of all, I wanted to tell them what they meant to me. Therefore, at the ripe age of forty I began writing short pieces about my nursing experience. I sold a bunch of them to nursing journals and mainstream magazines. Seeing them in print made me feel connected to those former co-workers.
I sold a number of stories, and then collected a host of them for a memoir, The Cup of Human Kindness, with a theme that traced my personal development as a nurse. I tried for several years to sell that collection, titled, but never landed an agent or a publisher.
My wife Mary, ever a big mystery fan, suggested I turn my nursing stories into medical mysteries. That way I could tell all the true-life tales of health care workers and our patients, and I could weave in a crime story that was marketable. Since I never worked as a police officer or private eye, I decided on an amateur sleuth to carry my flag. And, who could better investigate a murder than a hard-working union steward could? His co-workers are always going to him for help. Therefore, why would they not turn to him when the police wrongfully arrest a co-worker? In this way, Lenny Moss came into the literary world.
I am still working as a nurse in a teaching hospital in Brooklyn; still married to my dear wife Mary; and still writing mystery stories.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
Crime novels are my genre: procedurals and thrillers. My Lenny Moss novels are classic whodunits, with clues scattered through the book and red herrings aplenty. My latest novel, Love Dies, is a cat-and-mouse thriller that features a professional killer and the public health physician who investigates an “outbreak of murder.” I love the mystery because all the surprises remind us again and again that people are much deeper, more complex and more surprising than they appear to the casual observer. We are all capable of great love and compassion, as well as terrible cruelty.
Why did you choose this genre?
I chose the crime genre because it allows me to weave a novel with lots of hooks and puzzles that keep the reader engaged. Moreover, it allows me to reflect on the nature of good and evil, which resides in all of us to some degree.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
In the first book, This Won’t Hurt a Bit, ISBN 0981451810, Hard Ball Press (originally published by Creative Arts, now out of business); the police accuse a hot-tempered young African-American hospital worker, Regis Devoe, of murder. Regis works in the laundry. As he leaves work one day, the security guard demands to search his bag while allowing a white physician to exit without being searched.
Regis starts an argument with the doctor. The next day the doctor disappears, only to be discovered dead a week later in a most embarrassing situation. The police arrest Regis.
Regis’s co-workers turn to their feisty shop steward, Lenny Moss, to find the real killer. Lenny enlists the help of his friends: ward clerks, office secretaries, dietary aides, a young nurse and a friendly doctor. Together they uncover the clues and bring the killer to justice, while fighting along the way for safe working conditions.
The second book, Some Cuts Never Heal, ISBN 0981451802, Hard Ball Press (originally published by Carrol & Graf, now out of business), opens with Lenny pulling off a joke on the administration that lands him and his co-workers in big trouble. To save their jobs, he has to uncover the person who murdered a beautiful drug rep, who may have been conspiring with a greedy doctor to cook the results of a drug trial. Or, was she an innocent victim? At the same time, Lenny’s friends want to attend the funeral of a beloved co-worker, but the funeral is in the middle of a work day. Will Lenny persuade the supervisor to let the hospital workers off to attend?
The third, A Race Against Death, ISBN 0981451829, Hard Ball Press (originally published in hardcover by Five Star/Thompson Gale), finds a cold-hearted obstetrics doctor butchering young black women from a poor section of Philadelphia while performing abortions. When one of the women dies a horrible death, angry workers ask Lenny to investigate the butcher for murder. Lenny joins forces with a courageous African-American medical student, president of the medical students of color. Together they pursue the evil physician, even though things do not turn out quite the way they expected. And, along the way, Lenny battles the administration on behalf of the laundry workers, who are passing out due to the terrible heat wave that leaves the basement laundry as hot as a furnace.
The forth book, Slim To None, ISBN 0981451837, from Hard Ball Press, finds the fictional James Madison Hospital operating a string of spas & exercise gyms for a profit, even though they are a “non-profit” business. When Lenny tries to bring the spa workers into the union, he is brutally attacked. Another murder draws Lenny and his friends into a new case. This time Lenny suffers some horrific injuries. Once again, his friends step in and pull him from the jaws of death.
The next Lenny Moss book, So Many Ways to Die, to be released in September 2011, finds the nurses suspecting that a psychopathic serial killer is murdering patients in their hospital. The administrator tells them to keep quiet and not raise any alarms, so they turn to Lenny, who sets off in pursuit of a cold-blooded killer.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
Since my books are inspired by real co-workers and real patients, I pattern my characters after them. My hospital has a daily census loaded with names. It is easy to thumb through it now and then and pick up names that I like. And, the characters? Well, hospitals are full of ‘characters,’ so it is not a big leap to build curious characters for my novels.
How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?
My hero is based largely on a good friend who has dedicated his life to fighting for justice for his co-workers. I have done some work standing up for co-workers as well. And my wife, Mary, has long been a friend and defender of neighbors and colleagues on her job. Therefore, my hero represents all the “Lenny Mosses” of the world who stand with someone who has been threatened or beaten down, and who say, “That’s not right,” or “That’s not fair,” and “We have to do something about it.”
What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
I develop a new antagonist for each book. Each one is inspired by a real person I have known on the job. Of course, none of them committed the murder I attribute to them, but they certainly could have.
What is your favorite thing about your book?
I love the way the every day, unappreciated hospital workers support each other and help each other every day. The solidarity they build. Not that they are all perfect. No, we all have our flaws and our weaknesses. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of working people are generous, good-hearted people, and I love to tell their stories of struggle and of love.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
Really, my crime stories are novels. I have realistic, sympathetic characters dealing with all kinds of personal and work problems. Sometimes they screw up. Sometimes they fall by the wayside. Sometimes they die. These themes are present in all good books. Human beings are mysterious. We have our secrets, don’t we?
Why and when did you begin writing?
I began after nursing in the hospital for twenty years. I wanted to tell the world about our work.
What is your writing schedule?
With a 40-hour day job and personal responsibilities, I wish I had more time to write. However, I try to write on my lunch hour. I sketch out my stories walking to and from work – it is a 2-mile walk. In the afternoon, I write out what I have been imagining. Somehow, the books get done.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
If I can retire from my day job by the end of 2011, I plan to bring back into print long lost writers who deserve to be back in print. Some are friends of mine whose work I have enjoyed. Others wrote a hundred years ago and are still vital storytellers today.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write (especially mystery)?
Take some adult education writing classes, especially for writing mysteries (I did). Form a writing circle out of your classmates and meet weekly at a convenient pub or café: read aloud so you can hear the boring parts, accept criticism, and keep at it. Join the National Writers Union to find advice over contracts and marketing. And, always remember to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. The first draft is a block of wood waiting for the chisel.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Believe that you have a story worth telling that others will want to pay to read. You do.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I volunteer quite a bit with the National Writers Union, helping aspiring writers find their voice and find a publisher. We have free programs the first Monday of the month in New York City. Check them out at www.nwuny.org
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
My marriage to Mary. I could not believe she went through with it. We are still happily married after 35 years (I make her laugh). The birth of my two sons, Matthew and Christopher. The sight of my first novel on a bookshelf in Manhattan. My first book garnering a positive review in the New York Times. The first time seeing and driving my classic 1969 (Studebaker) Avanti.
If you want to learn more about the author and his books, check out the following websites at: