While attending a writers’ conference a number of years ago, Dr. Keith Wilson was interested in hearing a presentation on “Love & Romance.”
Then he discovered that the presenter was restricting the audience to women only. So, Wilson and some friends, reasoning that love and romance often involved both sexes, bought dresses at a thrift store and walked into the presentation in drag. That brought the room to a standstill and the presenter had to allow them in.
Wilson learned the values of self-reliance and hard work growing up in Niwot, Colo., in an Arapaho Indian village where his father was a clergyman.
“I was a reader,” he recalls. “We didn’t have much in the way of organized sports, so I read everything – The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Dave Dawson with the RAF.”
During high school, he also worked long hours trying to make money for college.
“In the summertime – farming until I was 17, but I also worked nights in a warehouse unloading trucks and closing up. Trying to get home before midnight so I could get up and go to school the next day,” he says.
Wilson went back east to Ohio State Medical School and then west again to Denver for his residency in radiology.
After a few years of teaching, he went on to spend the remainder of his professional career in breast imaging and biopsies as director of the MRI Section of Toledo Hospital and medical director of the PEYT-CT/MRI outpatient office.
Wilson often had difficult situations to deal with.
“If you’ve seen an obvious cancer and you biopsy it, then you know for certain what it was,” he says. “If it’s a normal mammogram and there’s nothing wrong, then you’re happy about that. It’s the ones that are kind of ‘iffy’ that are the problem.
“If you don’t biopsy it’s potentially an unresolved problem. If you do biopsy and there’s no problem, then you’ve put the patient through a tough time. So, you deal with that a lot.”
As a radiologist, Wilson would also sometimes deliver bad news, however there was support for the patient through the hospital oncology team.
“When there’s something bad you try to support them, be gentle. It’s not easy,” he says.
While he is an award-winning writer of short stories, Wilson’s main meal is the medical suspense thriller. The first, “Life Form,” was published in 1992 and recently reissued by Hallard Press. In the spring of 2020, Hallard Press published “Plunder” featuring Dr. Brett Carson, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic intelligence service agent who helps save the world from a potential pandemic. Although completed before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it is eerily prophetic.
Wilson also has two other books in print. “Cause of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death and Dying,” which was published by Writer’s Digest Books in 1992, details the manner in which people die so that writers can be accurate in writing death and autopsy scenes. During the OJ Simpson trial, Keith was interviewed on TV about the trauma probably experienced by Nicole Simpson when she died.
Another Wilson book is “Code Blue: A Writer’s Guide to Hospitals,” which details – again, for writers – how emergency room, operating room and intensive care units work in hospitals. He also is a Hemingway Short Story Contest and a National Writer’s Club award winner.
A new Keith Wilson medical thriller is due to be released this year. The plot involves Dr. Brett Carson and girlfriend Keri Wheeler (whom he met in the previous book), who become entangled in a mystery that features an Indian tribe living in the Grand Canyon, a mysterious development company and something unknown in the Canyon’s lower layers of rock.
Wilson says that he tries to have a dog and a Jeep in all of this books. But that’s where the similarity ends.
“I’m not a hero like these guys,” he says. “I don’t like jumping into a lot of danger.”
Wilson smiles when he talks about his love of Jeeps and driving them.
“I have one at both of our Ohio properties,” he says.
He also never lets a good name go to waste. In “Life Form” the mysterious government facility in New Hampshire that was poisoning the town water was called The Niwot Project, which was the name of the Colorado town outside of Boulder where Wilson grew up.
Wilson met his wife, Cathy, while in medical school. It was homecoming weekend and he was in the lab doing a dissection, feeling badly that he couldn’t be down enjoying the fun with friends.
“Then, one of my medical school colleagues came in with her sister, Cathy,” he says. “I thought, “Wow! I’ve got to have her phone number!”
Cathy is a major influence in Keith’s writing.
“Cath was an English major,” he says. “She goes through my work and corrects and says, ‘Why don’t you try this or that.’ Always very supportive.”
An author in her own right, Cathy has written and published essays and poetry.
Their son, Jody, is an astrophysicist whom Wilson says writes scientific material. During the pandemic, his team moved from Boston University to the University of New Hampshire.
Being a physician enabled Wilson to write – in a perverse way.
“Sometimes when we’d have a conference, I’d present a case and then while the clinicians were discussing it, I would sketch out a book scene,” he says. “So, I would end up with a whole bunch of scenes on the back of the conference notes.”
Wilson develops the chapters of his book like a movie director visualizes scenes.
“Kind of like a storyboard,” he says. “Some scenes are short; some long. So, I don’t worry too much about making them all the same length. I just write what I think is important for that scene.”
Now retired, Cathy and Keith enjoy their homes in Sylvania, a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, and a place in Loudonville, Ohio near the Mohican State Park. Prior to the pandemic, they spent part of the year in Cape Cod and in The Villages.
Wilson likes his heroes to have strong, manly names. The protagonist of “Life Form” is named Matt Strong – a combination of names of relatives. Until he met a real Matt Strong.
“I was playing golf in Phoenix,” he relates, “and the guy checking us in had on a name badge that said Matt Strong. The next day I brought him a signed copy of the book. He was really thrilled to know that he was the star in a book.”