This Writing Life--Mark Terry
Thoughts From A Professional Writer

diverse perversity or perverse diversity
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August 23, 2005
I was putting together a communication to Rotary Clubs in hopes of snagging some invitations to give talks at their meetings, and I started listing topics I've written about recently. If you read some of the better books on freelance writing, they suggest you need to decide whether to be a generalist or a specialist, and that specialist was probably better. The reason it's probably better is because if you become known to a bunch of editors as that biotech guy or that molecular diagnostics guy, then they come to you for articles instead of the other way around. It's true, too. On the other hand, there's a lot to be said about somebody who can pretty much write about anything.

Anyway, I think even though I essentially "specialized" in health, medicine, biotechnology and regulation, and have branched out into practice management, small business and consumer spending (God knows how that happened), as well as book reviewing, the topics I've written on have been amazingly diverse. Here. I'll pull out my 2005 clips notebook and give you an idea.

First up, an article about aphasia rehabilitation, ways of treating people who have lost their ability to speak and/or read due to strokes or other brain injury.

--protein identification and analysis
--a book review of "Killing Kelly" by Heather Graham
--book review of "Fairway to Heaven" by Roberta Islieb
--book review of Ridley Pearson's "Cut and Run"
--book review of "Dead of Night" by Randy Wayne White
--cervical cancer vaccine
--paperless electronic medical records
--book review of "Cold Service" by Robert B. Parker
--DOE's follow-up to the Human Genome Project, called Genomics: GTL Program
--computational biology, cell modeling
--author profile of Harlan Coben
--article on the Health Record Network Foundation
--article about a device used to control bladder function
--article about current treatments for rheumatoid arthritis
--interview/profile of Michael Connelly
--article about adapting to technological change
--article on cancer clinical trials and a specific breast cancer clinical trial
--review of "Broken Prey" by John Sandford
--article about living with Hepatitis C

And that's just a sample. I've written about computer security, buy now pay later scams, how to hire new employees, how to work more efficiently, Medicare Reform, microfluidics, hematology on children, teenage yoga, teenage migraines, prostate cancer surgery, laser treatments for enlarged prostate...

Well, you get the idea. And I suspect it's true for any magazine freelancer. And I'd add in there that I edit a technical journal, so I've dealt with a wide variety of topics there, written a guest column for a movie website (Reel Life With Jane--my column was called "Spies Like, Uh, Us.") And of course, fiction.

In the course of my last completed novel, THE SERPENT'S KISS, I read up a lot on sarin gas, the Aum Shinrikyo cult and the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway, the U.S. ConPlan for emergency response to a terrorist attack, the structure of the Department of Homeland Security, various site locations around Detroit, as well as Stanford University, Huey helicopters, knee injuries, Atropine injectors, fog machines for concert stadiums, and equations used to calculate the volume of a large space.

For the work in progress I've interviewed the PR person for a Colorado resort, studied the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, read up on various weapons such as the MP5 and Emerson knives, the Colorado National Guard, G8 Summits here in the U.S. and around the world both to study security and protocol, "Ghilly" suits, interviewed a rep for a manufacturer of walk-in freezers, the various "terrorist" groups operating out of Colombia and a whole range of other topics.

Writing is a great gig for the intellectually curious, and it probably helps to be a bit of an intellectual gadfly, too. I have no inherent interest in Medicare Reform, but it's fairly interesting while I'm working on the article. I do have an inherent interest in a lot of health care procedures, and the article I'm proudest of so far this year is the one on the cervical cancer vaccine, primarily because it asked the question: "Why is the media so interested in this?" Every time the companies working on these trials publishes a paper or an abstract the media goes crazy, as if the working, FDA approved vaccine is coming out that week--it's not, it's a year or two or three down the road. Part of the issue is Human Papilloma Virus, which is what the vaccine is actually for, not only causes cervical cancer, but it is sexually transmitted, and ultra-conservatives can argue against it because, after all, they're against sex. (And I for one wish they would practice what they preach and stop breeding. There, that's my political statement for the week).

I decided that writing about all this stuff is pretty cool and a lot of fun. At least in the long term. I'm working on an article about urinalysis, and that's sort of testing my enthusiasm, but, all work and no play...

Mark Terry

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