Where did the idea for Blood Money come from?

A friend and former financial analyst told me about a threat he received after downgrading the stock of a biotech company that produced synthetic blood. The threat soon proved baseless, but the idea stuck with me: How far would someone go for financial gain, and how much collateral damage would they accept to achieve it?


Are synthetic blood substitutes actually being used in patients?

Yes. Humans have tried to find a substitute for human blood for centuries, with very few early successes.Some promise in the development of these blood substitutes arose in the mid twentieth century, but research in this area exploded in the late 1960’s, when wounded soldier in Viet Nam outpaced the limited blood supply. The FDA approved early blood substitutes in the late 1980’s during a time of worldwide paranoia of contracting HIV or hepatitis C from blood transfusions. My own exposure to synthetic blood came  in the late 1990‘s during a rotation in the intensive care unit my first year of medical residency. The product I saw had the cloudy appearance of skim milk in a zip lock bag. The last ten years has seen advances in both perfluorocarbon-based blood substitutes as well as hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (the H-BOC referenced in Blood Money).


Where did you come up with concept of the deep-fried Twinkie?

Most things taste better fried, a childhood friend of mine believes. Shortly after his honeymoon, he and his wife bought a house in the start-up suburbs of Birmingham and anchored a turkey fryer on the porch. Hot peanut oil wasn’t just for meat. It also turned Oreos into ambrosia. Snacks into side dishes. And munchies into a meal. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the Twinkie fell into the pot. While he didn’t invent the deep-fried Twinkie, he elevated it to a confection worthy to write about. The Twinkie helped shape the character of Mackie’s lawyer and friend, Duel Richardson, and gave them an early common bond with subsequent consequences.


How did Dale Murphy get pulled into the story?

The typical childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ house in Harralson, Georgia, included hot grits each morning and Atlanta Braves Baseball each night. Many evenings I would sit with my granddad under the carport listening to Skip Caray call the games on the radio. In those days, Dale Murphy was our man, even if his team rarely made it to the post season. As I got to know Mackie through the first draft, his enjoyment of baseball became clear. I needed a way to humanize Mackie in Pham’s eyes, and dusty childhood pictures of his daughter at an Atlanta Braves game rang true. That the Braves made it to the World Series shortly after their star player left the club allowed me to connect Pham and Mackie’s shared past, and it gave me a chance to relive my own.


Where did you get the idea for the faulty vehicle armor?

I began to research the topics for Blood Money during a time of increased American casualties in the Iraqi war, some of which came from poorly armored transport vehicles hitting roadside IED’s. My mind was already attuned to the nefarious calculations of unethical businessmen, so it was not a stretch to think of a medical metallurgist doing the same. Since I already knew Mackie to be an orthopedic surgeon by then, the connection readily came between failing metal joints and faulty military amor.


How do you research the medical aspects of your books, such as the autopsy scene?

Training for my day job has helped. I have stood witness to most of the medical procedures in the book, although most of those are no longer part of my daily routine. Still, the buzz of a bone saw in an autopsy or the call of a code in the ICU leaves indelible marks. I spent some time, though, re-reading my texts to make sure the mist of memory did not shroud the emotional force of participating in an autopsy or a resuscitation.


Why choose Nashville as the setting for this book?

Nashville holds the honor of being the first city where I learned to live away from my parents. The possibilities of that city intrigued me much more than any problems that may have existed when I lived there. Geographically, it made sense for the story, located between the rural cul-de-sacs of the south and the more crowded, cosmopolitan Atlanta. The plot of Blood Money needed both to pull off Sarah Collins-McKay’s deadly secret.


Can Mackie come back from such a series of traumatic injuries?

The closed-head injuries and repeated concussions he endures would make even the most obtuse offensive lineman blush, but Mackie can—and does—keep coming back.


Did you know the identity of the killer when you started your first draft?

I did not. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but I did not initially know who would get me there. In the first draft, I had several candidates in mind, but once I identified the killer, I wondered how I could have missed the clues earlier. It took me a bit longer to hone in on the motive, but that, too, seemed to sprout from the compost pile of ideas I had been turning over for three years.


When do your write?

Early morning. It is the only time that a clear mind and a quiet environment converge.