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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on David R Gross

David R. Gross graduated from Colorado State University's veterinary school in 1960 and was in private practice for ten years. He enrolled in graduate school and earned a M.Sc. degree in 1972 and a PhD degree in 1974 from the Ohio State University. He taught and did research at Texas A & M University; College of Veterinary Medicine for sixteen years then became Director of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Research labs at the University of Kentucky, College of Medicine for five years. He retired in 2006 after twelve years as Professor and Head of Veterinary Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Gross is a Fellow of the Cardiovascular Section of the American Physiological Society. He published over ninety papers in refereed scientific journals and over a hundred abstracts in proceedings of scientific meetings. He co-edited three multi-authored textbooks and the third edition of his single author text, ANIMALS MODELS IN CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH is in most medical libraries. Since retirement, Dr. Gross has been busy writing both fiction and non-fiction. He published a self-help study and learn guide; YOU CAN NAIL IT, and a memoir of his first year in veterinary practice; ANIMALS DON'T BLUSH; this most recent effort, MAN HUNT, is published by Whiskey Creek Press. All are available as e-books from all major vendors and in print form. He also writes a regular column ASK THE EDMONDS VET for MyEdmondsNews.com.

The Interview -- Part II

Scroll Down to Read Part I

How has being a writer differed from your life as a scientist, veterinarian, and teacher? Do you find that you use very different skill sets in each of your careers? Or do they work together?
I don’t know that I can separate being a veterinarian, scientist and teacher. When I was in practice I was teaching clients how to best care for their animals and/or teaching about the illness or injury that brought their animals to me. My scientist career was focused on creating new knowledge. An important part of that was communicating what I learned. 

I was always preaching to my graduate students and faculty members, after I became a department head: “If you don’t write it up and get it published it’s the same as never having done it.” Teaching is just a further extension of that same process, organizing your thoughts into some logical sequence and explaining in ways that students, who learn in different ways, can benefit from the transfer of knowledge. One of the most exciting things a teacher can experience is seeing the light bulb go on when a student grasps what you are talking about.

Between your books, your travels, and your blog, you are prolific. Do you have a set schedule? Or does it vary day to day and project to project? What’s your writing process like?
I have been fortunate in being able to concentrate very well, especially when writing. Writing comes easily for me and I still haven’t experienced “writers block”. I’m not even certain what that is, but based on what my writer friends tell me, it’s a serious problem. I write when I feel like it and that generally happens every day, but at no set time. 

Once I get underway I like to write a couple of thousand words and then stop when I am certain of where I want to go with the piece next. That makes it easy to pick it up again the next time I sit down at the computer. When not actually writing I frequently am thinking about how to best present an idea or develop the story, especially if I have trouble falling asleep.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on another memoir, highly fictionalized, but based on the year my family and I spent in Mexico City. Our sons were four and six when I leased my veterinary practice and we moved to Mexico for me to work with a special project of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, School of veterinary medicine. My job was to organize an ambulatory clinic. That was quite the experience. Lots of interesting cases mixed with life in a foreign, to us, environment. 

I was the only American among eleven veterinary “experts” from all over the world who were involved in the project to “upgrade veterinary education in Mexico”. My family and I arrived in April of 1967 and finished May of 1968, just before the summer Olympic games. There was a lot of student unrest during that time and many of my students participated in the riots that resulted in many injuries and some deaths. Those events came about after my family and I were back in Arizona but I brought some of my best students after they graduated to my practice to gain experience and heard the stories from them.

Final Words of Wisdom
“Words of wisdom”: Don’t stop learning something new every day, if you do it’s all over.  What have you learned today that you didn’t know yesterday? My graduate students used to dread me asking that question, but they quickly understood the importance.

The Interview

1    You have successfully written non-fiction, memoir, and fiction. What has led you through your writer’s journey? How did you get started and what prompted you to move into different modes of writing?
I’ve written non-fiction, memoir and fiction but the truth is that I’ve been reading and writing as long as I can remember. When I was a student at Madison Elementary school in Phoenix, AZ the librarian would set aside any new book that came in about any kind of animal because she knew I would devour it in one night and return it the next day. I even tried to write my own animal stories. When in college I wrote Op-ed pieces and even got one or two published.

After I started practicing veterinary medicine in Phoenix I wrote some Op-ed pieces for the local newspaper and managed to get a few clinical case studies published in veterinary journals. After becoming an academic I wrote many scientific articles, edited scientific texts and contributed chapters to those texts. I also wrote a successful reference textbook, ANIMAL MODELS IN CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH. However the most creative writing I did was working on grant proposals. That is a very different skill since it involves dreaming up, or stumbling across, a scientific question that is important enough to warrant an answer then devising a set of experiments that prove or disprove your hypotheses, i.e. provide answers for the question(s) raised. Writing the papers after the studies were completed is just reporting results, not all that creative.

After I retired in 2006 I started writing other things and found I am still motivated to do so. I always seem to have a couple of projects in mind.

What has your publication process been like for your different books? 
The scientific texts I worked on all had publishers lined up before the book was finished.  A couple of them had publishers before the conferences I helped organize and conduct. The papers were first delivered at the conference then edited for the books. ANIMAL MODELS IN CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH was the result of submitting a proposal for the book to the publisher (Springer) and negotiating a contract, with the only advance on royalties I have received, so far I hope. That book now with three separate and updated editions has been quite successful and can be found in most medical libraries.

The ninety or so scientific papers I co-authored were submitted to refereed journals and eventually accepted for publication after peer review. That is a different and interesting experience.

The memoir of my first year in veterinary practice in Sidney, Montana, ANIMALS DON’T BLUSH, did not attract an agent or a publisher so I self-published with Amazon’s Create Space. The same is true of the study guide YOU CAN NAIL IT. The later evolved from a handbook I wrote to give away to veterinary students who were having trouble with grades after getting into veterinary school. Their problems came about because they were very intelligent but had bad study and time management skills. They were able to garner A’s and B’s in high school and as undergraduates with very little effort but when they gained admittance into veterinary school the competition for grades was significantly higher.

As I would tell them: “You are now in the big leagues you cannot get by studying the night before the exam.” My next book MAN HUNT came about after nine years of researching a story first told me by a veterinary school classmate and good friend, about Tom Tobin. I shopped it around and Whiskey Creek Press took it on. I have not been impressed with their promotion of the book, nothing. Recently I have been working with Book PublishersNetwork, a different kind of self-publishing that provides distribution and access to bookstores, unlike Create Space.

It is a very professional organization, but expensive. They published TRAVELS WITH CHARLIZE and a new self-help study guide SUCCEEDING AS A STUDENT. We’ll see how that works out. I am now querying agents with my most recent effort, a crime novel. As a very wise man, my Dad, once told me. “No education is wasted” and I’m getting an education about publishing.

Your second memoir, TRAVELS WITH CHARLIZE deals with recovering from the loss of your wife of almost fifty-three years. Did the writing of that book also impact your recovery? What was the process like for you of writing down your experiences for such a difficult period of your life?
TRAVELS WITH CHARLIZE was a way of dealing with the loss of Rosalie. We knew each other just about a year before we married and spent almost 53 years together. She was a rock in my life and allowed me to drag her with me wherever my next brilliant idea took us. She suffered the aftermath of a viral encephalopathy and had balance problems so after our German shepherd died she didn’t want another dog for fear of tripping or falling over the dog.

I told in the book how just before she died she removed the oxygen tube from her nose and announced: “Well, soon you’ll be able to get another dog.” Two weeks after her death I adopted Charlize and my new companion and I took off, mostly because the house I renovated for Rosalie, full of her things and furniture, was just too much to deal with. I’ve always been a John Steinbeck fan and started re-reading his Travels with Charley. I decided to do something similar with my blogging and it was therapeutic. The book came about when an editor, Carolyn Acheson, read my blogs and encouraged me to put them into book form. 

Check back June 15 for Part II