Red Fern Book Review

Lost Immunity

June 10, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 17
Red Fern Book Review
Lost Immunity
Show Notes Transcript

For the season finale, I am joined by best selling author and ER physician Daniel Kalla to talk about his new release Lost Immunity. This edge-of-your-seat medical thriller looks at an outbreak of bacterial meningitis that is sweeping the city of Seattle. The city's Chief Public Health Officer Lisa Dyer is out to save the day with an experimental vaccine that could save the community ... until the vaccine is tampered with. We talk about dialogue, side characters and learn about his upcoming book set in Alaska with Nordic noir vibes.

Books discussed:
Lost Immunity
The Far Side of the Sky

Amy Mair:

Hello, welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. And I am here today with best selling author and Vancouver native Daniel Kalla. And he has just published a best selling book. t's number eight, currently right now in the country according to the Globe and Mail bestseller list, and it's called Lost immunity. It's a super timely medical thriller. And I'm really excited about this. So I'm going to just give a little background on Daniel. He was born and raised in Vancouver, and he has worked as an ER doctor at St. Paul's hospital for the past 20 years. And he is currently the department head. He's also the author of 12 novels that have been translated into 13 languages. And two of his novels have been optioned for film. And his Shanghai trilogy is being developed for TV series. And his current novel, Lost Immunity, tackles the issue of vaccine hesitancy and the potential impact on a global outbreak. And all the while tapping into his real life experience working on the front lines. So welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today. And I also want to add that Daniel is a tennis player. And we've played each other a couple times, but it didn't end very well for me. You wrote the first draft before you were aware of the current pandemic. So I just wanted to ask you a broad question as a doctor. You have actually written several books about pandemics, your first book is called Pandemic. What is it like compared to the scenarios as a doctor that you've trained for? Is there anything that's been really unexpected?

Daniel Kalla:

Yeah, I mean, I think everything has been unexpected about COVID. You know, how it showed up? How it's behaved. Maybe it shouldn't have been unexpected, but it's been such a strange virus, you know, how it is so deadly to some people and so harmless to other people. You know, and we were so overdue for such a major pandemic, we really haven't seen a deadly pandemic, the least one that shut the world downs for over 100 years since the Spanish Flu. So, but I think we all including us in medicine, got a bit complacent, not expecting anything quite like COVID. So it's, as I say, I would never have written a story as depressing as COVID has turned out to be. So it's been, it's been very eye opening for me.

Amy Mair:

You wrote the first draft, and then you realized what was happening. And then in real time, you're editing the draft. What did you then do with this draft, you now have an actual pandemic on your hands? So how did that change? What was the editing process like?

Daniel Kalla:

Well, I mean, you know, to go back to your listeners who who don't know, I mean, Lost Immunity is a story about a fictional outbreak. But it's based on a very real bacteria called meningococcal type B, which is a deadly bacteria that causes a terrible meningitis, mainly in younger people and kids and teenagers and youths. And it's scary, it's like the flesh eating equivalent of meningitis and blood infection. It kills people often quicker than we can treat it with antibiotics, even though we do have antibiotics for it. I deliberately chose something that's very scary and is one of the bacterias that really does not have a very good vaccine. And so I wanted there to be a new vaccine and a new outbreak and a problem with the vaccine. Of course, the problem is manmade. I established early somebody is tampering with a vaccine and the hero has to figure out what's going on because the new vaccine campaign which starts promisingly goes terribly awry when a couple of people get very sick and die from the vaccine. So all that to say that there were tons of parallels to COVID that I didn't even realize at the time. But when COVID came along, it was very easy to add. I was just able to add COVID as background like his lessons learned. It was a little difficult because as I was editing, I didn't know exactly how successful the Pfizer vaccine was going to be. It hadn't even been released yet. So I had to make some assumptions and guesses about being in a post COVID world. But it really actually just added flavor to set it after COVID. And it was incredibly easy to add references to COVID. It didn't change any of the sort of nuts and bolts of the actual story. So I was very fortunate in a way.

Amy Mair:

It's set I'm going to guess 2022? Is that right? Like or just when would you say?

Unknown:

For me, it was just going to be the immediate future. But if you're guessing relative to COVID, I would say it's set in late summer, you know, I would say could almost apply this year in 2021, I think we're going to be so you know, I think the third wave is going to be so over by then. And I think things are going to be opening up so yeah, but 2022 is fine. You can pick a year 2023, 2021 any of them work.

Amy Mair:

When people pick up your books they're interested in the medical aspects, but they're probably not necessarily doctors. So you're balancing, providing precise medical details with you know, making it fun for people will fun. You know what I mean by that, the thrill. There's a lot of terms I personally didn't ever think about before like herd immunity, asymptomatic carrier. We all know what that is now. And so did that make it easy for you, as a doctor and a writer?

Daniel Kalla:

Yeah, I mean, it's become part of the vernacular, the common language that we use. But I, you know, I sort of prided myself in all 12 novels in that I always write for lay people. I always try to explain things in terms without insulting without condescending, but I also write for my medical colleagues that what I'm saying is true. And they wouldn't dispute what I'm saying. And it's just, it's part of the, you know, craft of writing, medical suspense is being able to convey true medical concepts, but in terms that don't bore and don't confuse people. And so I think I've had some experience of that. So, yeah, it makes it easier. People already knew the terminology, but I think I always endeavor to explain it. And anyway, so it didn't. Yeah, I mean, it's, it's helpful, but I don't think it made a huge difference.

Amy Mair:

Now, one of the things in this book, that's a big topic is you're showing the story behind people that are anti vaxxers, and also vaccine hesitant. And, and then you wrote, for those of people that are not in Canada that are listening, you wrote a bit of a lightning rod of the op ed piece in the national newspaper, about vaccine hesitancy. Can you talk about that? Or like explain, you had a lot of comments.

Daniel Kalla:

I've never had a I've never had such impassioned feedback on anything I've ever written. A lot people were very unhappy with me. I was trying to write a piece about appealing to the vaccine hesitant, you know, from the point of view as a doctor, but also all of us, as you know, trying to convince the vaccine hesitant. And the vaccine hesitant is, you know, this, this broad umbrella of heterogeneous group. Most vaccine hesitant people are truly hesitant, they're unsure. They're worried about allergies, they're worried about newness there. It's not that they're fiercely anti Vax. They're just worried about putting something in their body that they don't know if it's been tested enough and so I was trying to make the point of being compassionate and respectable validating their concerns and issues. And at the same time, I was acknowledging there's a certain fraction of the vaccine hesitant who are just fiercely anti Vax, who for its tribalism, its religion for them. There's no conversation. There's no discussion. It's like arguing with a fundamental religious person about their religious beliefs. The data and proof to how well the vaccines have done doesn't matter to them. For them, it's their absolute belief system. It was a real experience because I really was I was trying to, to, to be respectful. I think that's an important part of appealing to the people who are vaccine hesitant, but I ended up enraging certain members of the anti vaccine community reached out to me through social media and through getting the article had 750 comments online about it. And you know, I must have gotten 50, or 60, or maybe even 100, various Facebook messages or other messages through other social media avenues. And so I didn't, I mean, I shouldn't say I didn't expect that I didn't expect the degree of anger I saw from certain people.

Amy Mair:

Okay, I have some questions about the writing style, and a couple of techniques. You're writing about children, which makes it extra scary. But I always think if I'm reading a thriller, like you would talk about someone, and if you give enough of a backstory or tell me something about them, I just think they're gonna be okay. And that wasn't always true. I don't know if you did that on purpose, but I found that it really kept me guessing. And I mean, children, I guess, even if you don't have children, it's a was quite powerful to have. The outbreak affects mainly teens in this book.

Daniel Kalla:

The bacteria tends to cause clusters of outbreaks and you know, in dorms at schools and things like that. So, yeah, no, I mean, it's a technique, and certainly, right you risk really touching, touching a chord with people, you know, certainly it's tough for people who've had tragedies and have had scares with their children. But to me, it's so important that I discovered early on that if you really want to up the stakes in a thriller, and make people care about the victims, you have to make them human . You can't just see them in the morgue and stuff you need to know them. You need to empathize with them to be able to see what they're thinking about what they're afraid of. And it can be very powerful. I mean, I wrote a lot of days, you know, I read a lot of different points of views in this story, and some of them are definitely from the victims. And some of the victims were many of the victims were children, for sure. So you know, it's always a balancing act. But I just find that makes the story so much more immediate. Makes me care more about the stakes makes it feel more real to me if I feel like I know, you know some of the victims.

Amy Mair:

Now, this Okay, this is this is kind of a personal question for me, because I'm interested in this personally. But I really want to know about your use of dialogue. And I think that's one of your great strengths. And I'm asking, because I've actually tried that, like if I've ever tried to write just fiction, for fun, I've tried a little bit of it. And what I find when I'm writing dialogue, I just, it sounds like "H-e-l-l-o, D-r.- K_a_l_l_a, how are you?" I find it really easy to talk about what the day looks like and describe the sunset, but I can't do dialogue, and you have a lot of dialogue, you juggle a lot of conversations. And I feel like it does a couple things that propels the plot along. And also, you've used a bit of humor, because this is obviously really dark. And you've got to balance it a bit. Do you have any tips for would be writers?

Daniel Kalla:

I mean, I think every writer has to have their strength and for me, you know, narrative and, and description is not my strength, I struggle, you know, trying to make trying to make scenery interesting trying to make narrative passages. I consider myself a good storyteller, but I'm not I don't consider myself by any means poetic and I'm not even necessarily the most eloquent of narrative writers. But what I think I do well, or what I feel like is the strength of my writing at least is the dialogue. It propels me. I get to know all my characters I don't even know first drafts, I don't even describe my characters until they start talking and, and, and I know who they are at once. They'll define themselves as important or insignificant, you know. When I'm bored by a dialogue that I'm writing, I know that it's very, very wrong. And that's one of the tips to look for. If you rereading, and you're not interested in the dialogue that you're reading, that's a tip something's going wrong. But when, when the dialogue is zipping along, and you feel like it's a real conversation. And you know, and you're interested in the character, that's a very good sign for me. I base so much of my writing on the dialogue, but in terms of some tips to use, you know, it's very important if you have a good sense of humor, or you know, you think you do or whatever, not every character can be funny, right? And not every character can be wise. You should be able to read your dialogue without using dialogue tags without having names and pretty much know who said it, right. Okay, they all sound the same. You know, if you can't tell from line to line, who's the one speaking then you have a problem with your dialogue. And to your point about dialogue has to sound absolutely like it's natural conversation. But it's absolutely not natural conversation.

Amy Mair:

That's not easy to do.

Daniel Kalla:

It has to sound natural, but no one cares about two people talking about the weather, which we do all the time in real life or whatever you the dialogue always, you know, has to establish something it's either developing character, it's either developing conflict, or it's furthering the plot, right? And if this dialogue is not doing that, that's, then it's not working for you. But you're right, it has to sound like two people talking. And it has to sound like two people with very distinct voices talking. And so I think that just comes with experience. But for me, that's the you know, I never really struggle with a dialogue. It's all the stuff between the dialogue that makes my writing.

Amy Mair:

I wanted to talk about another book. So I, you've written so many books, but I picked up. The second book I read of yours is the first in the Shanghai Trilogy. And I picked it up a couple people had recommended it, but I also just thought it was different than some of your others. And so I want to talk a bit about it. I thought, I personally love historical fiction. And you've written about a really unique moment. And World War II history set primarily in Shanghai. Can you tell us a little summary of that? That book?

Daniel Kalla:

It all started because I was actually being interviewed for my first novel. And this this woman, it was for Reader's Digest. It was a really big interview, I was really nervous. And we had a great conversation. She was such a superb interviewer. And at the end, I mean, this woman was Jewish and said my parents got married in Shanghai. And how's that possible? Because my family background is Jewish, too. But she said you hadn't heard of the Shanghai Jews? And I said, No. And then, and you know, I've always been a World War II buff, and my family, you know, escaped the Holocaust in various ways. And it was just incredible to me that there's this piece of history of 20,000 plus German Jews who escaped to Shanghai during just before World War II, when the Germans were still letting Jews out if they had anywhere to go. The problem was no one in the world would take them except Shanghai, which was this incredible, you know, Paris of the East. And I first started reading about I was just so fascinated. And as I discovered, the more I researched it, there was no big books, there was no big fiction or nonfiction. So how could anybody not have written about, you know, it's actually a relatively positive, relatively positive story, during the Holocaust of Jews who actually survived granted in very harrowing circumstances insert, so it was supposed to be one book, not a trilogy, but just about a very secular, you know, German, Austrian Jewish doctor who was married to a Gentile, you know, at a slightly disabled child, and was, you know, a star and the star surgeon, and then the Nazis came along, and he lost everything and Kristallnacht came along, and his whole life came under threat. And he manages to escape to Shanghai with his daughter, and he falls in love with a local Eurasian nurse there who works in the refugee hospital, and they work together and, and she's the other heroine of the story. She's an interesting character, and that, you know, she's Eurasian, her father's Chinese, her mother was American. And you know, when you do our hundreds of 1000s of eurasians, in Shanghai at the time, but none of them are born. They're not from your Asian parents, they're, you know, in so they have no community and culture and so she was like a fish out of water in her own city. And she related to these refugees who arrived and felt the same way so and then it was just, you know, it just flowed so easily from there to tell this story. And I couldn't tell it in one book, it took three books to tell, you know, the story of all the things that happened in Shanghai during World War II and and how these people survived and it was such a great setting for drama. I mean, I'm really proud of the end result of men. You know, it was The first historical novel I tackled, and I love doing it. But there was a huge effort ton of research.

Amy Mair:

How did you do your research? Like, did you interview? Did you have family to interview? Or did you go over there?

Daniel Kalla:

Yeah, I didn't interview people, specifically per se. There's some very good documentaries on that. And there's a bunch of online information and video clips. So I saw a lot of the survivors and heard their stories. And I read about four or five memoirs, a lot of them are just self published memoirs of people who live. And then I went over and spent about two weeks in China. Shanghai was a cosmopolitan city built by the British and the French and run by the British and the French and the Americans and, and then at the beginning of World War II the Japanese had invaded and so they were in the surrounding areas that all used to be so it was a Chinese city that had no Chinese rule that had a Chinese population of three millions but still had a Chinatown for all the Westerners to go visit. Like it was some kind of gimmicky, you know, see the authentic Chinese lifestyle like to me, all of that stuff is just amazing, bizarre, but a lot of that stuff like the beautiful French architecture is still there. The Bund, which is one of the most famous, you know, neighborhoods in the world, like along the river, the the Art Deco buildings are still there. So there's so much of it, I could go see that I was writing about it was amazing.

Amy Mair:

Franz Adler is the hero and Sonny Ma, she's the hero too. And it's the love story. But what they're they to me seem a bit classic characters in a way. But another thing I really loved about this book were the side characters and I love there's character named Simon. I feel like he kind of stole the show a little bit. He's a loud, brash New Yorker, where did you come up with the idea for him? And was how are you inspired by that character?

Daniel Kalla:

I don't, I honestly don't remember it. Like, I don't know, who specifically inspired me, but I knew I needed a local, you know, character who was going to help these refugees who was and people existed. There are some American Jews who are there already, because some of the refugees that already arrived, and there is, as you know, from reading the book, already this bizarre Russian Jewish population and the very wealthy British Jewish population who lived there. So there were all this strange history, but I just wanted the character to be an enabler. He was a New Yorker and would end up falling in love with the hero's former sister-in-law. And he just, I honestly don't remember. A lot of those secondary characters weren't in the outline. Just as I needed somebody to fill roles, they just appeared. And it was to your point about dialogue, you know, when he started talking, yeah. Yeah, this is, you know, I know this guy I know, you know, what he might be like, and so, yeah, it was easy.

Amy Mair:

Okay, well, tell me, what are you working on now? Because that you write a lot of books. I'm certain you've got something in the planning stages. What's happening now?

Daniel Kalla:

Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm beyond planning stages. I have a finished manuscript that's just going through the final edit stages. But it's, yeah, it's a, it's another big departure. For me. It's a very, it's pretty much a mystery thriller. It's dark psychological thriller. It's not really medical, it has some peripheral medical associations, but it's set in the Arctic, in the most northern town in the world really would connect Alaska, the tip of the, you know, isn't the center of the Arctic Circle at the tip of Alaska, it's the kind of regional capital of the oil industry up there. And it's about a psychiatrist and a social worker, who are dealing with an epidemic of murders in this town. And, sorry, epidemic with suicides in this town. I don't want to give too much away. That may or may not be the may or may not all be suicides. So but it's probably the biggest twist I've ever put into a novel before two of them actually. And so and it's written is to first person narrators, there's one narrators tells the first half of the story and another narrator who has to correct a lot of the assumptions in the first half of the story and the second half of the story. So you know, it started with the idea of it sort of came from virtual medicine, you know, the idea of so much virtual metal Well, COVID and other What if there was a psychiatrist supporting a truly remote community. And as it happens, he's based in Anchorage, Alaska, but he's supporting this tiny town, way north, and then he has to go visit this town. And you can only get there by air, there's no access any of there's no roads, there's no C. And so it's very remote. It's sort of inspired a lot by the kind of Nordic, you know, by the millennial trilogy, and a lot of those Nordic Noir, thrillers and it was a really fun novel to write. It's such a departure for me. And I really put a lot of effort in because it's told in the first person, I'm getting the voices, you know, exactly as I wanted and getting the story, right.

Amy Mair:

When will the and when will that be released?

Daniel Kalla:

Next year? It'll be probably around this time in 2022.

Amy Mair:

Thank you so much for joining me today. And I hope everyone goes out and buys it. And I really enjoyed Lost Immunity. I thought was great. I love thrillers, but I haven't read a lot of medical thrillers. And so I really, I have to say I read it in just a few days. So thanks. Thank you so much. What a great way to end my first season. Thanks so much to Dan Kalla, for coming on the podcast today. And I learned a lot including about how to approach dialogue and side characters. So that's something something I'm going to maybe work on a bit over the summer. So that's a wrap. I've completed 17 episodes. We've covered sci fi, mystery biography, fiction, contemporary fiction, referenced a few classics, talked about cool podcasts and streaming shows that you should check out. And thank you so much for listening. If you've enjoyed this podcast, I'd love it if you went on Apple podcasts and shared me with your friends. So I will be back after a little hiatus in September, with a whole new lineup. I'm already working on it now. Geoff ha actually already started th book. In the meantime, I'm goi g to pick up my other thrilling astime of knitting which I've b en neglecting this time. Just o dered some yarn and ready to han out on the back porch. I will ee you soon