William Rawlings insists he is only the latest in the long tradition of physicians-turned-novelists.
Certainly, Rawlings has a long way to go to live up to the standard set by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Scottish doctor who created Sherlock Holmes. Or Michael Crichton, the physician who drew inspiration from Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World” to create “Jurassic Park.”
But with his just-released fifth novel, “The Mile High Club,” Rawlings is starting to build his own following.
The Sandersville native said it’s not as big a leap from the scientific side of his brain to the creative side as one might think.
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“I think people who go to medical school know they are on a tough road,” he said. “They have to be persistent. You get a lot of skills that translate into writing. Medicine is an all-encompassing sort of profession. Writing fiction is a good sort of escapism.”
Rawlings, 61, has been a lifelong fan of suspense fiction and is able to draw from his health-care profession not only for story ideas but also for getting a feel for people.
“In primary care, you see the full spectrum,” he said. “You see good things, you see bad things. You get a feel for what life is really like. ... When I see patients, it’s like a soap opera; you see situations and ask ‘What happened?’ You want to laugh, you want to cry. I don’t use their stories per se. I rework it and relabel it.”
Rawlings has become well-known enough around Sandersville for his writing that some of his friends and neighbors claim to see themselves as the characters in his books — even when they aren’t.
“Any situation I write is a melange of the people and experiences I have known,” he said. “When I write a book, I want it to be exceptionally familiar. Because (the books) are set in the South, my characters aren’t named Dominique. They’re named Bubba. The worst thing is if people recognize themselves in the book. One guy was telling people my book was about him. But if he adapts to where (he sees himself in the story), I think I’ve done a great job as a writer.”
“The Mile High Club” is the third novel Rawlings has written around his protagonist Matt Rutherford, whom Rawlings describes as a “slacker-type” who often finds himself caught in the middle of the mystery.
In the latest book, the naked body of a woman whom he once dated is discovered on land Rutherford owns. No one can figure out how the body got there, since there are no vehicle tracks or any other markings to indicate what happened.
The only explanation comes from a wrecked plane about 30 miles away, in which a naked male body, as well as the woman’s ID, is discovered.
Rutherford must uncover why the woman died. Was she murdered because she uncovered a secret about the company she was working for, or did she lead a double life?
In addition to his novels, Rawlings also writes articles for magazines and journals. One of his best pieces was written about his great-uncle, Sandersville businessman Charlie Rawlings, who was convicted in 1925 for arranging the murder of his first cousin. For the article, Rawlings did a great deal of research and in the article points out flaws in the state’s case.
But Rawlings said he likes to write on a variety of subjects.
“I write a broad spectrum of stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”
It also doesn’t mean that Rawlings won’t still be writing novels. In fact, he’s already working on his next one, “The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes,” a thriller about a Savannah attorney who loses his license following a DUI and is then set up for murder.
“As the story evolves, I know how it’s going to change,” Rawlings said. “I always put in twists and turns.”
Whether his fans see Matt Rutherford or any of his other characters on the silver screen — like the characters of Arthur Conan Doyle and Michael Crichton — remains to be seen.
Rawlings’ first Rutherford novel, “The Rutherford Cipher” — “I basically rewrote (Edgar Allan Poe’s) ‘The Gold Bug,’ Rawlings said — was optioned by a Hollywood producer.
But when the similarly themed “The Da Vinci Code” became enormously popular, the movie plans got derailed. Producers have taken a look at some of his other books as well.
“When your book is optioned for the movies, I think there’s some validation,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “but whether you make any money from that is highly improbable.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.