Israeli-born, Memphis-based author and anesthesiologist Dr. Shira Shiloah knows a thing or two about the world of medicine. She is, after all, a doctor. And as an anesthesiologist, much of her work is done in the operating room, where mistakes can be costly. So her debut medical thriller, Emergence, though fiction, hinges on very realistic and immediate stakes. Shiloah will celebrate the release of Emergence with a virtual event accessible via her author Facebook page at Shira Shiloah, MD. The virtual launch party is Tuesday, September 15th, 7:30-8 p.m.
“I never thought I would be a lifelong Memphian, but the city has been really good to me,” Shiloah says. Her family emigrated from Israel when she was three years old, and she’s spent much of her life since then in Memphis. "I went to grade school, high school [in Memphis], and I came back here for medical school.”
Shiloah completed her residency at Northwestern University in Chicago, where she switched her focus from OBGYN to anesthesiology. “I liked the critical care aspect of it,” she says. “It’s pretty much all operating room.”
She says that her time in medical school and completing her residency were the only times in her life that she couldn’t make time to read for pleasure. “I didn’t know I was going to be a writer, but I was an avid reader. You know the kind of kid who would take books from the library and then finish the first book before they even got to the house? That was me.”
So how did Shiloah’s career as a writer get started? It all comes back to her medical career. “I was touched by a patient encounter and I felt like I had to write it down. It became a short story called ‘Liquid Courage,’ and I submitted it to a writing contest for physicians. And it actually placed third. I realized how much I enjoyed that whole process.” So Shiloah started attending writing conferences, soaking up trade talk from the experts. She also started pulling apart and reworking “Liquid Courage.” She gave the characters more depth and began to see that it would work as a novel.
With its motifs of the trustworthiness of doctors and whistleblowers, Emergence feels especially timely, though Shiloah wasn’t intending to comment on current events. Rather, she hoped to write a satisfying thriller with a strong female protagonist, to show off her adopted hometown of Memphis (where the novel is set), and to cast some light on the dynamics of the operating room. “I wanted to put out a perspective as a female physician and an anesthesiologist,” she says. “I don’t think an anesthesiologist’s story is told very often or very well. The surgeon’s not barking orders. The surgeon’s following orders because there’s a crisis.”
Of course, though its genesis is rooted in the seed of Shiloah’s experience, she says to remember that the best writing advice is to "look out to the window, not in a mirror.” Emergence, she says, is fiction, not autobiography. And except for their shared career and a certain similarity in the alliteration in their names, Shiloah and the fictional Dr. Roxanne Roth are very different. “As far as my colleagues and I, it’s a very good working relationship,” she says. “It’s a team.”
“You have to trust the person on the other side of the sterile sheets,” Shiloah says. And as for Emergence’s Dr. Roxanne Roth, well, “She’s encountering another surgeon that she can’t trust.”