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Federal Way author publishes medical mystery book
After years of research, writing, rewriting and pitching, Federal Way resident Douglas Phillip published his first book in May, a medical mystery set in the Alaskan wilderness.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but there’s no money in that,” Phillip said with a chuckle. “I wanted to be a history major in college. There’s no money in that either, by the way.”
Writing fiction allowed Phillip, a retired Army physician, to also dabble in history and research, as well as put to use his medical schooling in a new way.
Phillip writes under the pseudonym Phillip Douglas.
“The Douglas allows me to tap into my Scottish heritage,” he said with a laugh.
But the pseudonym — just his name backwards — comes down to marketing. Phillip Douglas is a less common name and changes the placement of his book on shelves.
The book was a seven-year process.
“It didn’t take that long to write it, it took that long to publish it,” his wife Arlene chimed in.
A book can take a year or two to reach its sales peak before readers move on to the next new book, Phillip said. Since his book has been out only a few months, it is too early to judge its success.
The book, titled “Spirit Made Smaller,” wrestles with reconciling reality with religion, myth and science.
“I believe we each sort and choose pieces of science, religion and myth to make sense of the world,” Phillip said.
“Spirit Made Smaller” is the story of doctor Gharrett Graywood whose son has a mysterious disease. The book focuses on the father’s journey to understand the medical anomaly, as well as coping with the help of his friends, including Monroe Bearhead, a philosophical character of Athabaskan and South Korean descent, and Piper Gunlock, the local womanizing bush pilot.
The book isn’t without a sprinkling of romance, either. After Graywood’s wife leaves him, he finds himself entranced by Jennell Daniels, “the smartest person in the book,” Phillip said.
Daniels is a doctor who works with Graywood to help uncover the cause of his son’s disease. Graywood will also find himself attracted to the second of Gunlock’s four serial wives.
At the end of the book, the reader is forced to interpret how the story ends.
The book takes an array of ideas and themes and weaves them into one narrative, part of Graywood’s quest to make sense of the world.
Some themes Phillip wrestles with in his book include the death penalty and national health care systems.
As a trained epidemiologist with experience in America, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, Phillip has experience setting up small-scale health care systems and considering all the variables. It is with this knowledge that he offers a semi-satirical view of the current health care system, he said.
Readers may also notice themes of threes and fours throughout the book. The themes, while perhaps subtle, force Phillip into a kind of structure, he said.
Each time he puts words on the page, Phillip is trying to make sense of the world while informing, entertaining and provoking insight in his readers.
“If you want to be entertained on the beach, this isn’t the book for you,” he said.
Phillip reads to learn, and that is the experience he tries to give his own readers by explaining the scientific details throughout the book, much as a nonfiction book would do.
But Phillips wraps his facts and information in a blanket of fiction so all readers can enjoy — and understand — the science lesson.
One challenge in writing is finding the balance between enough research and researching the topic to death, he said.
Part of his research requires visiting the places he writes about instead of trying to recreate a realistic idea from Internet images.
“You know I was in Alaska for this book,” Phillip said.
He saves the book and Internet research for places he can’t personally visit, he said.
He also spends a lot of time rewriting. When he starts a book, he knows the beginning and the end. The middle is the journey, he said.
The man behind the book
As a retiree, Phillip has four hobbies: singing, gardening, traveling and writing; a hobby for each season or compass direction, he said.
He and his wife have no children but plenty of nieces and nephews, as well as a cat.
He grew up in Montana and attended medical school at the University of Washington.
“You met me and that’s why you stayed,” his wife said.
He was stationed at Madigan Army Medical Center just before he retired. He currently does some consulting work, though he plans to let his medical license expire, he said.
Phillip, a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, has also written three plays and has a second novel in the works. The second work will be historical fiction set in Norway and Amsterdam.
The book is available in paperback or ebook forms and is listed for $24.95.
Phillip’s next book signing is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hotel Murano, located at 1320 Broadway Plaza in Tacoma.
For more information about Phillip or “Spirit Made Smaller,” visit www.spiritmadesmaller.com.