On September 9 at 7:00 pm, Mysterious Galaxy will host the launch party for David Bajo’s new medical thriller, “Mercy 6.” Bajo comes from a family heavily involved in medicine, so for this interview, the San Diego author discussed how family dinner talk from his childhood led him down the path to write a medical thriller.
“I come from the most medical family that has ever existed,” said Bajo. “My father was a physician for over forty years. My mother was a nurse. My sister, Suzanne, has been an ER doctor for over twenty years, working in big-city hospitals throughout southern California. My brother, John, is an ER nurse. Three more of my siblings are physicians and four more are nurses.”
As if that weren’t enough pressure to go into medicine, all of the nine siblings born before Bajo were either pre-med or nursing. Bajo said, “I grew up in hospitals, not as a patient, but as an observer. I was fascinated by what I saw, but had no thoughts of pursuing any medical profession. I suppose I was programmed to write this particular novel. My protagonist, Anna Mendenhall, and the hospital she battles within and against are syntheses of my family, my other life.”
A writer his entire career, Bajo said he strives to offer what he’s learned in a way that is entertaining and provocative. “I wanted to write about our contemporary viral society, how speed, efficiency, and flash supersede truth and sensibility. This phenomenon gains importance as we all become more connected and more quickly connected. I’m not sure that Francis Bacon’s infamous and oft-repeated claim that knowledge is power applies today. The most powerful claim or impression is the one that goes viral. Truth, science, research—knowledge—don’t seem to matter much in this process.”
According to Bajo, the struggle between perception and reality is a driving force in “Mercy 6.” He said, “Anna Mendenhall functions on science, research and instincts wrought by ten years of ER training and experience. Her opposition is the information that goes viral and those forces that benefit and gain power from that information. That information is based on appearance, fear, profit, and prescribed anticipation. These forces infect her as well, and her allies. It’s disorienting and very challenging when our gained knowledge and cultivated instincts run counter to trends, to that which goes viral.”
Because Bajo comes from a family that is heavily involved in medicine, he is naturally concerned about reactions—especially from those close to him. “I’m nervous about how my many brothers and sisters and in-laws in the medical profession will react to the book,” he said. “Will they be looking for themselves in there? Will they laugh? Will they ever speak to me again?”
This is Bajo’s third novel, but his first in this genre. “I didn’t set out to write a medical thriller,” he said. “I’ve only read two, both as a teenager: Michael Crichton’s ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and Robin Cook’s ‘Coma.’ I didn’t go back to those works at all. Going in, I knew my story and I knew my main characters. I wanted to compose a narrative that was more vertical than horizontal, one driven by action, with the background and world-building occurring in the bricolage.”
Bajo hasn’t yet said whether he’ll be working on another medical thriller. When he recalls those family discussions, however, it seems a natural fit. “Dinner talk was almost always medical, peppered with odd cases and fascinating human reactions to physiology. My father, one of the last doctors to make house calls, would often take us kids on these calls, these long drives over the Otay Mesa visiting a most unique cast of characters. In ‘Mercy 6,’ I barely scraped the surface of the vast bank of medical cases I had at my disposal.”