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Interview with Don Stewart, author of 'Past Medical History'

Past Medical History
Don Stewart

Past Medical History is a compilation of short stories chronicling the life of Dr. Don Stewart, who grew up with the singular goal of becoming a physician, then quit the day he earned his medical license to make a life and a living as an artist. It’s The Devil Wears Prada meets The House of God, with a character who sees his own career circling the drain, pronounces it DOA, and turfs himself to an art studio for treatment. It’s Patch Adams, with an attitude; The Things They Carried, dressed up in scrubs and a white lab coat.

This series of stories draws a clear picture of a doctor who recognized the pitfalls of his chosen profession, discharged himself from the hospital, then took his life in a more creative, and far healthier direction.
We had a chance to interview the author, Don Stewart, and here's what he has to say about the making of his masterpiece, Past Medical History.

Thank you for this interview, Don. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m a fifty-something artist with an unused medical degree, who spends his days creating complex, humorous drawings with a ballpoint pen.

The faded NaNoWriMo certificate stuck to my bulletin board tells me I started writing in earnest in 2003, though I’d made a few attempts at storytelling prior to that. That of course doesn’t count the several thousand pages of patient progress notes that littered my early years, or the ad copy I’ve been writing for decades.

Past Medical History is my first serious book-length writing project.

Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?

Past Medical History follows the experiences of a surgeon-in-training, who left the hospital just in time to avoid a successful career in medicine. The stories describe the academic and personal challenges that influenced the young doctor’s decision to switch from medicine to art, and highlight the dual threads of science and creativity that defined his life from an early age.

Why did you choose your particular genre?

Past Medical History is a collection of autobiographical short stories. All I had to do was write down the tales I’ve been telling friends, family, and clients for years. Just like that, we had enough to fill a book.

People have often asked me why I made such an unusual career change. This book seemed the best way to answer that question - for them, and in retrospect, for me as well.

What was your greatest challenge writing this book?

The greatest challenge was convincing myself that I had written enough material, and that it was ready for publication.

Beyond that, there was something of a balancing act in writing, then selecting the stories to be included in the anthology. I wanted the book to be entertaining, but not too funny, and I wanted to tell the truth about my educational experience without the process becoming a rant.

Are you published by a traditional house, small press or are you self-published?

We self-published the book, after crowd-funding the printing costs through an Indiegogo campaign.

Was it the right choice for you?

Absolutely! I tried for several months to gain the attention of either an agent or a publisher, but the longer I investigated, the more I understood that it would be quicker, easier and more cost-effective to do it myself.

How are you promoting your book thus far?

Indiegogo provided an excellent platform for test-marketing the book idea, and for identifying our first 100+ customers. We promoted the campaign primarily on Facebook, with regular posts on Twitter and Pinterest, and on a dedicated web site We also sent out e-mail announcements and old-school postcards to all our art customers, which amplified our message considerably.

Adding the book to our regular shopping cart at made it easy for others to support the project, and maintained strong sales after the fundraising campaign was over.

How is that going for you?

We’ve enjoyed a good holiday season, and look forward to promoting the book online, at book signings and art shows throughout the New Year.

Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?

After hearing consistent feedback from our customers that the book would be helpful to pre-med and medical students, we recently launched a free giveaway of 100 copies to students in training for health-related careers. That has generated considerable interest, and surprisingly additional sales.

Do you have another job besides writing?

My day job is “Full-Time Artist.” My wife and I own the DS Art Studio in Birmingham, where I occupy the lofty position of Chief Visual Humorist.

This book is really just another facet of a single occupation. My drawings are pictures built around words. My stories are words built around pictures.

If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?

Tell everyone.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently promoting a series of military-themed drawings that are raising awareness and funds for our nation’s wounded warriors. And I’m developing more drawings with humorous medical themes that will eventually be published in a new coffee table book.

The next book of non-fiction may be a first-hand look at art and craft shows, which is how I’ve been filling my time for the last 25 years. That idea has been cooking for a while now, and a few things have started falling out onto paper.

If I ever do a follow-up series of autobiographical sketches, it will almost certainly be called History of Present Illness. (‘Past Medical History’ and ‘History of Present Illness’ are both terms that relate to integral parts of a standard patient evaluation.)

Thank you for this interview, Don. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?

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