Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Author Sandra Block Speaks at Lockport Library

Tuesday evening the Lockport Public Library hosted an author lecture series featuring Sandra Block of Buffalo. Block is the author of two Dr. Zoe Goldman novels, Little Black Lies and The Girl Without a Name. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library as part of National Library Week, Block spoke to an audience of about thirty people.
Sandra Block graduated from Harvard then returned to Buffalo for her medical training. She is a practicing neurologist, and lives at home with her husband and two children. She began her talk with a question that was a popular one asked of her. Did she suddenly start writing at 40, or had she always been a writer?

She acknowledged that she had always been a writer, and her first memory of a literary moment was laying in her driveway and watching a plane flying overhead. The tiny, silver speck with its contrails seemed to her to be “like chalk in the sky.”

Meanwhile, in high school, she was entranced by the brain and the study of it as well as an equal fixation with literature. By the time she got to college, she found herself in pre-med with a major in English. During this time, she shadowed a psychiatrist and thought it was “so cool.” It was at that time that she decided to focus on her medical studies rather than her literary passion. She moved her medical interests to neurology as it was more brain-oriented.

Block found it hard to shake the writing bug, and ultimately wrote a novel. She pitched the medical thriller to over one hundred agents only to be rejected by every one of them. She decided that maybe they were right. It was time to dedicate herself to the study of neurology.

Around the age of 41, she noticed a sign at yoga that said, “Never too old, never too sick, never too late to start yoga from scratch once again.” Taking that sign to heart, she felt it was time to try her hand at writing once again. Pushing aside all the excuses, she decided, “I’m going to do this.”
How does a mother, housewife, and full-time doctor find the time to write? It isn’t easy. Block said she started getting up early before anyone else, to make it her writing time. She used the objective problem solving skills she had learned as a medical professional to take a look at herself and find how to make writing work in the rest of her busy schedule. “Writing is a craft. You need to practice to learn about it. You have to be willing to grab some of the dead time throughout the day.”

So, she wrote the first Zoe Goldman book. It took about a year to sell the novel, which ultimately came with a two book deal. That turned out great for her, because during the year she was trying to sell the first book, she had actually nearly finished the second.  The timing worked out perfectly for her. Additionally, the next installment in the Zoe Goldman series is practically finished. She had an idea for a book based on Detective Adams, but it was shelved temporarily when her publisher said readers wanted more of Dr. Goldman.

Several of the people in attendance were eager to ask questions about her writing technique and some of her reasons for making characters follow one path or another. A couple of those questions stuck out for me.  While she didn’t like psychiatry in her rotation, she made her main protagonist a psychology resident rather than a neurologist. She replied that neurology doesn’t relate well on a fictional level, and it was fun to use psychiatry as her character’s focus since it wasn’t her own work. My guess is she didn’t want to live it all day then write it all night, too.

A second question asked why mystery thrillers? Blocks’ explanation was that her own need for a puzzle while reading made a large impression on her writing. As a doctor, each patient comes in with their own puzzle to be solved. Would she be able to solve it? Would Zoe be able to solve it? She finds it more satisfying to work out those little mysteries.

Sandra Block was a popular speaker at the library. Having read both her books (both reviews are on this website), I can tell you it was exhilarating to meet the mind that developed those stories. She read from both books, giving us a glimpse of the voice of her character as she imagined it. It added a depth to the character that can only come from the author.

Each time the Lockport Library has an author’s lecture, I try to attend. Not only do I learn a little bit more on how some of my favorite books are written, I learn some of what it takes to be a writer. Each time, I got new insights on the characters and narrative that could only come from listening to these lectures. I think it is important for the library to continue these programs, and they hopefully will for as long as there are readers out there clamoring for new stories.