Five Things My Father Taught Me About Writing

Read Daniel Palmer's guest post about the 5 lessons his father taught him about writing, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his latest Michael Palmer medical thriller, The First Family!

Here’s a fact: I write Michael Palmer medical thrillers. I’ve been doing the job since 2013, which is the same year my father passed away. He died suddenly after collapsing in an airport upon his return from an incredible trip to Africa. Though many miss him dearly—his family especially—I’m comforted in knowing that he had experienced joy, wonder, and tranquility in his last few weeks with us.

It was some time after the letters and condolences stopped pouring in that my father’s longtime editor, Jennifer Enderlin, asked if I could continue my dad’s writing legacy. Readers love good medical suspense stories, but there aren’t many authors who can blend accurate medicine with great suspense—it’s a strange mix of skills, and if you knew my father, you’d know he was indeed a rarity.

I might not have an M.D. to my name, but a lot of my friends and family members do. I could figure out from them what I needed to know to cover the medical part of the equation and apply my skill in understanding what makes a good story and what makes for suspenseful reading to cover the rest.

If I’d said no, then that would have been the end of that part of my father’s story and his legions of fans worldwide would have had Resistant to savor as the final book in his impressive oeuvre. If I’d said yes, I’d have to seamlessly blend my tendencies as a storyteller with his—or to put it another way, I would have to take on a persona that was larger than life and channel it into a book that, for all intents and purposes, would read like a Michael Palmer medical thriller.

It was a tall order, but if I could do it, his fans would benefit and so would I—not only by keeping his writing legacy alive but also by feeding my father’s grandchildren, something he would have approved without reservation.

In fact, my father had wanted me to write Michael Palmer medical thrillers after he was gone for that very reason.

So could I do it?

My interest in writing (I published five novels before being asked to write under the Michael Palmer name) had grown from years of discussions with my father about his books. For him, the process of making a book “work” was an arduous one, and he had benefited greatly from the counsel of a select group of trusted advisors, of whom I was one. It gave me a unique glimpse behind the book-writing curtain before I had a curtain of my own.

Expectations would be high, not only from my father’s editor and his readers but from myself as well. Hey, no kid wants to sully the family name! I took stock of my father’s teachings over the years to see if I had the “write stuff” to do him proud.

Five lessons my father imparted about the writing life came to me, teachings that if I could live up to, embrace, or comprehend the way he did would give me the confidence to do these books justice. So without further ado, here are my father’s teachings that I carefully weighed and considered, in the order I considered them, before making my decision.

Be Fearless

When giving life advice, my dad would often say: “One day at a time. You can only do what you can do.” He’d also say, “Higgy piggy,” which was his shorthand for those pithy sayings. But when it came to writing, his motto was: Be Fearless. Follow your gut. Listen to people you trust. Do another draft. Throw the book away if you must. Try again. Just go for it—fearlessly, without anything holding you back.

The writer’s job is to write, and if you’re in some looping, pointless thought-spiral, chances are you won’t be entertaining to anybody, especially the reader. So I let the fear of disappointing my dad’s readers pass through me like a breeze as I thought about saying yes to writing his books.

Relax

If I became tense, the writing would be stiff. That was one of my father’s first lessons about good writing: get out of your head, and get into your heart. If I thought about the guy or gal on the subway reading my book and rolling their eyes, I’d clam right up and the prose would be as dull as a butter knife. Breathe in and breathe out and relax. “You can do it, kiddo.” That’s what my father would say. It’s good advice no matter what the profession or project. So I relaxed, but I still wasn’t sure if I had a book in me—his book, to be precise.

Daniel Palmer’s first Michael Palmer medical thriller, Trauma

This Is Hard

And it really is difficult. To write well takes effort and practice. You’ve got to read and write to get good at reading and writing. It seems simple on the surface, but the effort is mentally and emotionally taxing. It’s like playing baseball or an instrument—you need repetitions to build up the muscle memory. But even then, it takes concentration and commitment to execute to the best of your ability.

So when I contemplated writing Trauma—the first of my Michael Palmer medical thrillersand was blank on ideas, I remembered my father’s words: that it’s hard, to let it be hard, and that I needed to relax and be brave. When I did that, I saw a book in my head and thought—yeah, I can pull this off, Dad. I got this. Sort of…

Use Your Imagination

When he started, my dad was virtually a blank slate as far as creative writing was concerned. He had never even taken a course on writing. He had the discipline honed by years of memorization and study in med school, and he had read a lot of fiction, but he had no formal training. What he had to his advantage was a powerful imagination and a deeply ingrained sense of what was dramatic.

In 1980, his agent purposely sold his book, The Sisterhood, to the late Linda Gray at Bantam—a legendary editor who would be gentle and patient in teaching Dad how to channel his wild imagination into a novel. Over the years, my father helped me channel my imagination the way Linda helped him. He taught me to recognize when I needed to create another point of view, to rein myself in when my writing was becoming pretentious and self-serving, and to step up when I became mentally lazy. So could I channel my imagination into a book worthy of his name? I said yes to that, and moved on to his last teaching.

Just Do It

Let’s say someone (ahem, like my dad) wanted us to sing a silly song at a book talk, and I said no way. He’d say, “Oh, just do it.” So we did. Or let’s say someone wanted us to sing a different silly song at an awards banquet in front of hundreds of our peers and industry titans, with me on guitar, him on harmonica, and hand puppets as props. I’d say, “No way,” and he’d say, “Oh, just do it.” And guess what we did? Yeah, that.

It didn’t really matter what was being asked of him; if my father thought it would be fun, funny, or amusing to somebody, chances were he’d just do it. So I heard my dad’s voice in my head when his editor came to me about writing these Michael Palmer medical thrillers. And guess what I heard him say? So, yeah, I just did it.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The First Family by Daniel Palmer!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

The First Family Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://www.criminalelement.com/five-things-my-father-taught-me-about-writing-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 10, 2018. Sweepstakes ends at 12:59 p.m. ET May 22, 2018. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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Comments

  1. Joyce Benzing

    Read lots of Michael Palmer work, but never David Palmer … yet – will be adding yet another to by TBR pile!

  2. Brenda

    Great advice!

  3. Ginny Phillips

    Sure glad I am over 18 so I have a chance to win!

  4. Debi Huff

    Love the musical entertainment at Thrillerfest!! Just do it!!!!!

  5. Hope Antopolsky Castro

    That is the best advice I’ve ever heard! ❤❤

  6. nancyb

    As Daniel knows, I devoured all of his dad’s books and am well on the way to devouring all of his!

  7. Phyllis McGuire

    Love medical thrillers!

  8. Nancy Shepherd
  9. Nancy Shepherd

    I read every book Michael Palmer published, and am trying my best to read all of Daniel’s. His father would be so very proud of his work!

  10. Richard Mabry

    Daniel, one of the biggest thrills in my life was the blurb your dad wrote for one of my medical thrillers–in fact, he wrote six complimentary one-liners, and I have them posted above my computer. We were going to get together at ITW, but it didn’t work out that way. So glad you’ve taken up the mantle. Blessings.

  11. Kathy O'Sullivan

    Fabulous advice from a fabulous man, and obviously an awesome dad. We are all blessed by his work, and his life. He is missed

  12. Rachel Kramer Bussel

    Great advice all around!

  13. Susanne Troop

    Sounds like a great read!

  14. Mary Woods

    Always ready for one of Michael Palmer’s great medical thrillers!

  15. HESTER MAYO

    Thank you for this opportunity!

  16. Elena.Y.

    I would love so much to win and have a travel to your world!

  17. Rachael Pendleton

    Sounds like an interesting book!

  18. Jeffrey Malis

    Thank you for the guest post and the entry opportunity!

  19. Ashley

    Thank you for the giveaway chance!

  20. Rena

    This book looks good. Would love to win it.

  21. Renee Rousseau

    Medical thrillers rock (the soul)!

  22. donna

    Sounds like a great book, hope to win!

  23. Maureen Wynn

    I always love a good medical thriller – looking forward to this one!

  24. Laura Shangraw

    Wow! Would like to win. Thanks

  25. Sherie Lundmark
  26. Sherie Lundmark

    Would love to check out this new book!

  27. sr111

    I would love to win and read this. It seems there was a wise father and son involved.

  28. sherrie

    thanks for opportunity too win!

  29. Karen Terry

    I loved to win,

  30. Gretchen Esser

    I’d love to add this to my summer reading list!

  31. April Keon

    Looks like an interesting read

  32. Dan Schwebel

    Good stuff. Been looking for some good medical thrillers, I will be sure to check this out!

  33. Jean Barber

    Great read I bet!

  34. Barbara Bibel

    I’,m a medical librarian, so I love medical mysteries.

  35. Carole Knoles

    Fascinating!

  36. littlecrow

    I’ve read your father’s work, but didn’t know about yours! (Rock, I live under) I’m excited to try a new author!

  37. Sally Kohlenberg

    Sounds great! Thanks

  38. bill norris

    yes please

  39. Margaret Wurth

    Looks like a great book to read thank you

  40. Heidi Rude

    I’ve never read anything by Michael or Daniel Palmer. I’d love to win a copy; I’m interested in reading some thriller books by male authors because I just realized my current thriller book collection is mainly titles by female authors.

  41. Toni A Laliberte

    Thanks for the chance!

  42. Carl

    Dying to read this new one, thanks for the chance to win it.

  43. Diane

    can’t wait for this one!

  44. Sally Schmidt

    How have I not read any of these by the father or the son? Interesting post and books I’m sure I will enjoy.

  45. Marianne Squire-Maszer

    What a lovely tribute to your father. Look forward to reading your work. Thanks for chance to win!

  46. lasvegasnv

    cool

  47. Anne

    Intriguing mystery and interesting feature. Thanks.

  48. Sara Lontcoski

    Sounds great

  49. Cindi Hoppes

    Hi, I enjoyed reading what your dad taught you! Relax is a biggie to me… Thank you for the opportunity to win your book!!!!!
    Cindi

  50. lfogle1963

    Would love to read. Loved your father’s advice.

  51. Andrea

    Terrific

  52. April

    Enjoyed your beautiful post about your father and your writing.

  53. Melissa Freeman

    I’d love to win!

  54. Jenny Nestler

    Looking forward to reading this novel!

  55. Anita Nowak

    I have read many books by both Daniel and Michael Palmer, and enjoyed them immensely. Will look forward to reading this new one! Hoping to win!

  56. sinned48

    I have never read anything by Daniel Palmer, but this sounds like a book I would enjoy.

  57. Dawn

    would love to win this

  58. Darlene Slocum

    Great advice from your dad–so, just do it!

  59. ravensfan

    This sounds like a book I would enjoy.

  60. Shirley Evans

    This books looks really, really good and I would love to win a copy. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

  61. Julie Blumke

    I so want to win.

  62. David Siegel

    Can’t wait.

  63. Steven Epstein

    MOM and I love these types of books and would love to win a copy. Thank you very much!!

  64. Tiffany

    Sounds great

  65. Kathleene Macmac

    I’m sure your Dad is happy you have carried on his legacy.

  66. Martha DeMarco

    Love Michael Pamer’s books ,can’t wait to read another one!

  67. Laurent Latulippe

    Sounds like a great prize.

  68. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks!

  69. Suzanne McMannis

    Thanks for the chance

  70. Cherie Gravette

    I adore medical thrillers and love your books! And the advice from your dad is priceless! Thank you for this chance!

  71. Daniel M

    sounds very interesting

  72. Roxanna Buck

    Can’t wait!!!

  73. Trina

    I look forward to discovering a new mystery author.

  74. Brigette R.

    I’ve read all of Michael’s books, starting with ‘The Sisterhood’. I even got to exchange a few emails with him. So proud of Daniel for continuing his Dad’s legacy.

  75. Amanda Banks

    I’d love the chance to read something by Michael Palmer!

  76. Irene Menge

    I’ve enjoyed books by Michael Palmer. Would love to see what his son can do.

  77. Patricia Hawes

    I just like to read and win books!

  78. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  79. Jean Hall

    What a great way to honor your father’s memory. Can’t wait to check out your books.

  80. Bridget Eggers

    Way to pick up and carry, or run with the torch. Can’t wait to read a great story as well as a continued legacy.

  81. Janet Gould

    great article

  82. Lisa Murray

    I think your Dad would be very pleased. Thanks

  83. Andrea Young

    I love medical thrillers and Michael Palmer is a long time favorite, I would love to win! I happy Daniel Palmer is carrying on his dad’s legacy 🙂

  84. Lori P

    So wonderful to have had such a wise and caring mentor, and to have been such a receptive student. Would love read the results in The First Family.

  85. pat murphy

    It sounds like something I would enjoy .

  86. Judy Gregory

    Interesting.

  87. Linda Cosby

    I would like to read this book.

  88. Nancy Bovy

    I haven’t read any of his books yet so it would be great to win one. Thank you for the opportunity.

  89. Nancy Bovy

    I haven’t read any of his books yet so it would be great to win one. Thank you for the opportunity.

  90. Jodi Scott

    Sounds like a great read

  91. Lisa A.

    Love medical thrillers! This one sounds like a page turner!

  92. Agnes Zelgert

    What an insightful interview, I loved the background of building the story and honoring the legacy but forging on to another chapter. Thanks for this opportunity

  93. Susan Morris

    Loved reading the advice Daniel received from his father. I’m just another huge fan of the medical thriller.

  94. Marisa Young

    Love these medical thrillers. Would like to win.

  95. Karen Queen

    Medical thrillers are the best!

  96. Anita Yancey

    I love Michael’s books, and would enjoy reading this one. Thanks for this chance.

  97. Destiny Whirlwind-Soldier

    Interesting interview

  98. samantha cox

    very intrigued, can’t wait to read

  99. Pat Murphy

    Carry on tour dad’s good work. Would love to have a copy,

  100. luvlife4ever24

    Looks like a very good book. Author sounds great too!

  101. Ainsley

    Words to live by.

  102. Karl Stenger

    I always enjoy his thrillers.

  103. Jean Feingold

    Great although a bit sad father/son story.

  104. Esther Whatley

    The advice is great not only for writers but for anyone seeking success in any endeavor.

  105. Shannon Baas

    Looks like good book.

  106. Helen Allman

    Cannot wait.

  107. Adrienne Gordon

    love a good thriller

  108. Mary Tyler

    Love medical mysteries and thrillers.

  109. vicki wurgler

    One day at a time. You can only do what you can do I love that advice

  110. Sheila Cohen

    Sounds like a good read. I would love to win this.

  111. Patricia Nicklas

    Great article. Thanks for the giveaway

  112. Sab Edwards

    THANKS FOR THE CHANCE good luck everyone

  113. Michelle Garrity

    This book looks like something my husband would love to read…would love to give it to him for fathers day.

  114. Laura Levesque

    Oodles of great advice! I would love to win and read this book!

  115. Lana Baker

    One of the simultaneously hardest and easiest things to learn as a writer was to be fearless, to step outside my comfort zone. If I said I couldn’t or wouldn’t write something, I could be certain a story involving precisely that would enter my mind within the week.

  116. Andrew Beck

    I haven’t read a medical thriller for years, so I am hoping to win this book!

  117. Karen Hester

    Thanks for the chance to win

  118. bellows22

    i would love to read this!

  119. Susan Mahaffey

    Palmer is a favorite of mine to read. Always on the lookout for his latest boo!

  120. Jackie Wisherd

    Sounds like good advice your dad gave you. It has paid off.

  121. Lisa Garrett

    I think the five things your father taught can apply to just about anything in life. I love it.

  122. susan smoaks

    thank you for the chance to win

  123. HESTER MAYO

    Looks good!!

  124. julie hawkins

    This sounds so interesting.

  125. Vicki Andrew

    sounds good count me in

  126. Debra Patton

    I love the advice to relax. It’s something I have a hard time doing!

  127. Linda Peters

    Just put this on my to read list, thanks for the chance

  128. susan beamon

    I’ve read some Daniel Palmer books, but none of the Michael books yet. I have a couple in my library, so that may change.

  129. Jeffrey Raiffe

    This looks like a book that I would love to read this Summer.

  130. Ann Muth

    can’t wait to read this book

  131. Linda Kish

    I love to read the Michael Palmer books. I look forward to reading your new book.

  132. Leela

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  133. Ed

    Happy Monday!

  134. Tricha Leary

    This sounds wonderful. Thanks for the chance

  135. Hesper Fry

    Medical thrillers are so interesting. Would love to win. I appreciate the chance!

  136. Yana Ryjova

    Thank you for the chance to win!

  137. trish mckee

    This sounds like a great read. Thank you for the chance.

  138. Daniel Vice

    This would be great

  139. Sand Lopez

    This sounds great!

  140. Buddy Garrett

    It sounds like an interesting read. Thanks.

  141. Lily Kwan

    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  142. Julie L.

    very interested in reading it!

  143. Claudia Jones

    Sounds like another winner!

  144. John Smith

    It sounds even more suspenseful than the LP!

  145. Betty Curran

    I love medical thrillers. Don’t know how I’ve overlooked Daniel Palmer, but I won’t again.

  146. Tiffany

    Sounds good

  147. Suzanne Timmsen

    So much to learn from our parents and great that you appreciate your fathers advice.

  148. Dawn

    Oh I love this author and would love to win his book

  149. HESTER MAYO

    Sign me up please!!

  150. Nikki Bonanni

    That video is priceless-and what a fabulous memory for you to have!

  151. Jay Meyers

    Daniel- I loved reading this story about following your Dad’s teachings and now being put to the test. I had only read one of his novels, before I knew he was your father, and thought he was terrific. Same for you. From a guy who didn’t have a father to help me find my way, I find your tribute to him inspiring. I hope I can shape a path for my sons. That’s what it’s really all about isn’t it? Be well my friend, and in the immortal words of Wet Willie, Keep on Smilin’.

  152. Panduch

    The author shared cool memories and ideas. I believe that in addition to schooling, there must be self-study. This is what I owe to my father for showing me https://sky-writer.com/essaylab-review/ and I developed writing skills with non-standard templates. In fact, writing an essay or your own scientific research is not a gift; everything can be learned from professionals.

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