Dr. Wanda Venters retired from her pediatric practice after three decades and began her second career as a writer in 2019. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two labradoodles and a Siamese cat.
Dr. Mary Rae trained in emergency medicine, which she practiced in Texas for 20 years before transitioning to primary care. During her 10 years in Houston, she enjoyed exploring the Gulf Coast. Shortly after retiring from medicine in 2020, she and her husband moved to California.

Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

We started with Galveston. Mary had lived nearby in Houston and thought that Galveston would make an original setting for a mystery because of its colorful history, medical complex, and level 4 biosecurity lab. The northern migration of tropical diseases due to climate change prompted the idea of having our victim be a scientist at the lab. Her murder was to stop her research from exposing the spread of dengue fever aka Break Bone Fever. 

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

We selected the beginning because we felt it dropped the reader immediately into the fast-paced activity of an emergency room, introduced the main characters, and the mystery surrounding the murder victim.

Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book? 

From Wanda: I had recently experienced the death of my brother and so the character of Marnie dealing with her loss came from that point of view. I had to tell my husband that I killed him before the story began and he said he was OK with that. It was also handy to have an unattached protagonist to develop a romantic relationship in the book.

From Mary: I mentioned the idea as a complete hypothetical to Wanda and she immediately decided we could do it. My mother, Catherine Rae, published eight mysteries after age 65. I helped her with the medical aspects of her novels and later started kicking around ideas of my own.

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

As the characters developed, the narrative did change. We had to make sure that their actions remained true to their identities. Novelists describe themselves as plotters or “pantsers” but most admit that they are a little bit of both. We found this was true for us as well. It was fun to explore the different motivations our characters would have for being nervous or lying and thus making them suspects in our story.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

We completed a first draft in 2018 and had trouble getting anyone to look at it. We eventually went with Written Dreams, which is a hybrid publisher. We got this publisher from checking out “Death by G-string” by CC Harrison who won the Colorado Book Award in 2018. Our editor did a great job of tightening the story line and helping us make sure each character had an arc. 

We completed the book in late 2019, right before the world shut down with COVID. The pandemic delayed our publishing by about a year and that was disappointing. Learning to market in today’s publishing world has also been a challenge.

Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?

Luckily most readers have really enjoyed the book and been positive in their assessment. My 96-year-old mother had mentioned that the first drafts lacked red herrings and said that the final manuscript was much better.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

From Wanda: Both of us were still working physicians when we started this book. I would carve out writing on weekends and evenings. Now that I’m retired, I still find that I use random blocks of time to write. 

I’m often outside during the day in summer months taking care of a large perennial garden and playing golf. I think about what to write at those times and then must block off certain days to do it.  

Winter months are easier to schedule but I still can’t make myself sit at a computer from 9-1 like many writers claim they do. I have weekly goals of what to write and somehow manage to stay on track. If I get behind, Mary will run away with the story!

From Mary: I was also still working when we wrote Break Bone Fever. That meant sandwiching blocks of time whenever I could. Now that I’m also retired, I find that morning walks are good for inspiration, followed by a few hours at the computer in the afternoon fiddling with the morning’s ideas. I like to intersperse research with writing, especially when my creativity needs a boost.

What was the most interesting research you did in writing this book?

We took a tour of the Galveston National Laboratory, which is a high-security biocontainment laboratory housing several biosafety level 4 research laboratories. We got to go into the labs wearing protective gear and see how they work with disease vectors — specifically mosquitoes.

From Mary: As mentioned, I lived in Houston, about an hour north of Galveston, while writing “Break Bone Fever.” Frequent trips to wander around Galveston’s streets, beaches and historic neighborhoods all provided material. 

A surprisingly interesting resource was the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, built on a retired drilling platform in Galveston Bay. In addition to explaining the complex engineering, it displayed the living facilities for the employees. Great background for one of our characters. 

Tell us about your next project.

We have written a second novel, “Breaking Apart,” with the same characters but set in Colorado. It takes the reader on a fast-paced murder mystery set within America’s largest health care system, the Veterans Administration.