Guest Post: Curiosity in Writing and Medicine by Dr. David Sklar, author of ‘Atlas of Men’

About the novel, Atlas of Men:

Dr. Robert Thames, an infectious disease specialist who travels the world in search of new antibiotics, has just learned that his government job is about to be cut when three boxes are unexpectedly delivered to his home in Washington, D.C. Inside them are files of a long lost secret research study conducted at his prestigious prep school when he was a student there. Robert has repressed all memories of this degrading “study,” particularly the naked photos. He learns that the research intended to explore the relationship between body type and leadership qualities–and it shocks and infuriates him. He decides to track down his four closest friends from Danvers Academy, and together they uncover the terrible truth of what was buried by the faculty, the school, and the boys themselves.

Please welcome, Dr. David Sklar, author of Atlas of Men.

Whether I am working in an emergency department or writing, I feel like I am walking along a beach noticing the shells, rocks, broken glass and pieces of bones that have washed up onto the sand. I will bend down and pick up the most interesting objects and examine them more closely. I am curious about the forces that brought them to me, transformed them into their current state and the journey they have taken.

In medicine, the object of my curiosity is a person with an illness or injury. I use my curiosity to delve into the medical history and understand what pathology has disturbed the previous health of the person in front of me, what information I need to find the answers and how I can best help. In writing, the object of my curiosity is usually a problem that has caused confusion or differences between people.

I allow my curiosity to take me where it will, and describe what I see and what it means to me. I write editorials for a medical journal every month and try to find some resolution to the questions and problems I pose at the beginning because I know that the readers of the journal are looking for some guidance and have a limited amount of time to do their own investigation of the problem. I often incorporate a personal story in my essays to provide context for the readers and authenticity so that they know where I’m coming from when I provide suggestions or recommendations at the end of my essay.

When I am writing fiction, I am less concerned about finding a resolution to a problem I have posed and instead encourage the reader to engage and pursue the questions I raise. I am also an entertainer providing pace, tension and surprise. I want the readers to come along with me on the journey and do not want to lose them. I want them to relate to the characters and be able to share their emotions.

In my current novel Atlas of Men, I begin with an actual event, the taking of nude photographs of myself and my classmates when we were 14 and 15 year old students at a New England prep school. The event was disturbing and asking why it happened could have been an interesting non-fiction investigative story. But I chose to use the event to understand the culture and philosophy of life that supported the event and other related events, some real and some imagined through the eyes of characters who would be memorable to the reader.

I asked myself the question, “what if,” as I was writing rather than “what happened and why” which would have been my driving question if this were a non-fiction book. In Atlas of Men, the photos of the boys show up years later when the boys are now grown and assessing their lives and in some cases facing illness or death. They have to put the photos and why they were taken into the context of their lives and the decisions they made along the way, about who they would become what sacrifices they would make to get there and what they meant to each other.

Writing fiction for me was both liberating and terrifying because I had the freedom to pursue the various threads of the story but I was never sure where I’d end up. I felt like I was driving a train down a mountain and adding additional cars ; the train was becoming increasingly difficult to control as we added the cars and picked up speed. It was exhilarating and in the end I did make to the station, though it was not where I thought we’d end up when I started.

About the Author:

From 1965 to 1968, David Sklar attended a prep school where he was the unwitting subject of a research study that attempted to link body type to leadership potential. This disturbing experience inspired Atlas of Men (Oct. 16, 2018). Sklar’s previous book, a memoir, explores his experience as a volunteer in a rural Mexican clinic prior to medical school and how it shaped his later career in healthcare. “La Clinica” was chosen as one of the Best Books of 2008. An emergency physician, researcher, editor of a medical education journal, and a Professor of Medicine at both Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico, Sklar currently lives with his wife in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit his website. Find the book on Amazon and add it to your GoodReads shelf.