How my dad wrote a book every morning before surgery, then published it 25 years later

When I discovered the project, it read like a diary of his younger self. And a lesson to never stop pursuing your dreams.





It’s funny how most children come to believe they know everything about their parents. I certainly thought I did.


My dad was, after all, the most pragmatic person I’d ever met. His world was governed by facts and figures, his days by surgeries and schedules. When he came home from a day as a reconstructive surgeon, he grew grapes and made wine in our backyard, as if 12 hours was far too long to wait to exercise complete control and manipulate every small detail until it was perfect.


He lived with such strong convictions I felt like I could predict his every move and thought.


That pretense was shattered with a simple question posed to me about a year and a half ago. I was in the car, after packing up all my possessions and moving out of my apartment in Chicago. I sat in the passenger seat, and my mother just came out and said, so casually, “you know your father wrote a novel, right?”


My jaw hit the floorboard.


In that moment, I would’ve been less surprised to learn that the moon was made out of cheese or that someone had unzipped Donald Trump Scooby-Doo-style and a still-alive Tupac Shakur was inside operating him like a robot. My world was upside down.


She would go on to explain that he’d written this book some 25 years ago, and despite the fact that I had chosen to pursue writing as my career and he had never once mentioned it to me, he was reviving the project and trying to get it published.


My dad’s world of black and white, optimal and suboptimal, ran counter to everything I knew about the creative process. In my own writing, I’d been tortured by ambiguity and imperfection. I’d agonized over nuance and subtlety. How could he do it?


Little by little, as it turns out. He arose in the early hours of the morning, every morning, achieving slow but steady progress before heading to a full day of surgeries and appointments. If nothing else it was cheaper than therapy, as he funneled all of his experiences and frustrations into a plot about a surgeon on the run from the powers that be (go figure).


The story of how two words became four became a 100,000-word novel really encapsulates my dad’s two essential qualities. First, he is a grinder. If he sets his mind on something, he will pursue it methodically and relentlessly. He will not quit.


And second, he is motivated by an insatiable desire to prove doubters wrong. So I guess it makes sense that after sending his manuscript off to publishing houses back in the 90s and getting ignored or rejected, he never really gave up on the idea of getting his book published.


Around the time I entered the story, he once again cold-emailed dozens of publishers looking for a bite. Meanwhile, I sat down on the couch and devoured the novel. The experience was like mainlining my dad’s subconscious, filled with all of his ticks and quirks and world views. It was like reading a diary of my dad’s life 25 years ago, except even more laid bare because the truth could be cloaked in fiction. How many sons would kill for that chance!


At that time the novel was still rough, and far too long, but the bones for a really exciting caper were clearly there.


White Bird Publications, a small independent publisher out of Texas, must’ve seen the same appeal I saw. They agreed to partner with him to publish the book. From there things moved pretty quickly, through rounds of edits and revisions.


After I got over the initial shock that I, in fact, was not the most accomplished writer in my family, I really got excited about helping my dad’s dream become a reality. I offered feedback and suggestions, designed his website (dmarshallcraigbooks.com), and even created the book’s front cover.


Now, it all feels very real. The book comes out on October 27th. It’s a fast-paced thriller, equal parts Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue and David Baldacci drama.


The protagonist, Dr. Kyle Chandler (my dad swears he came up with the name well before “Friday Night Lights”), loves barbecue and golf and helping people who can’t help themselves. Hmmm…I wonder who that sounds like. Some powerful and invisible force is out to make his life a living hell, unless he can stop them with the help of some colorful friends and a love interest that resembles my mom juuuust enough to be flattering.


Anyway, I think you’d enjoy the book, which is available for pre-order on Amazon. As for my dad, he’s back to grinding. He tells me he’s over halfway done with a sequel to Dr. Kyle Chandler’s adventure. This time, I was not surprised.