NYC Big Book Award: GAB TALKS with John Albedo
Nutshell is a genre-bending thriller that offers readers a birds eye view into the rigors of med-school through the lens of a supernatural-tinged, multi-generational drama...the award-winning novelist writes with a deft hand, weaving together a myriad of storylines into a unified narrative -- one that will leave readers guessing until the very last page. Add to that Albedo's tempered prose and clear mastery over the subtleties of suspense and you have yourself a truly thought-provoking page-turner."
During Dust Bowl days in west Texas, a country doctor with shaky credentials delivers a baby, a so-called "monster," acceptable parlance of that era indicating a newborn with multiple birth defects.
Later, Ivy Pettibone is mistakenly thought schizophrenic due to her garbled speech, landing her in a mental institution. There, she weaponizes one of her unusual birth defects, allowing her to emerge as an alpha female among the inmates.
In a parallel story merging decades later, Chase Callaway, grandson of Ivy's delivering "doctor," enters medical school planning on a career in psychiatry. While working as an aide in the mental institution, he strikes up a friendship with Ivy whereupon their lives become intertwined. After observing a surgical procedure with its instantaneous success, Chase alters his path toward specializing in general surgery. There, he ignores warning signs that he might be headed in the wrong direction. As Chase builds his shell of emotional protection to combat the "sins of commission" that are encountered in surgery, his armor includes one rusty bolt - his relationship with a distant physician-father who never finished his surgical residency.
Relationships shift and coincidences abound, raising the question of metaphysical explanations. Is the Callaway family haunted by a 13-generation curse? Is Ivy a designated guardian angel for Chase? Or, is the saga a simple tale made complex by quirky events?
To complete the interview above, Alan B Hollingsworth (a.k.a. John Albedo) provided some additional information.
Are you a practicing physician?
Retired from patient care (breast cancer surgery), but actively consulting with several companies, helping to introduce new screening technology.
Some reviews have called NUTSHELL a debut novel, but not true?
Not true – because I used a pseudonym, it only appeared to be my first novel.
I’ve been writing for 45 years, with my first published novel 22 years ago. With its success, I had to decide whether to drop medicine and devote myself to writing full-time. The book was a coming-of-age story called FLATBELLIES, and was completely non-medical. It was, to date, my greatest success. Reviewed in USA Today, selected as “One of the top 10 golf books of all time” by a panel of East Coast sportswriters, and optioned for film three times over 15 years, now looking at a possible fourth option for TV series that would include the sequel to FLATBELLIES, called UNIVERSITY BOULEVARD (both published by WW Norton after hardcover by a small sports publisher).
And how did you get from these coming-of-age stories to dark medical fiction?
Personal experience. Even UNIVERSITY BOULEVARD is darker than FLATBELLIES, as the wheels of trouble were already in motion after I had completed FLATBELLIES.
Is this where your pseudonym was born? You became “John Albedo” for your novel NUTSHELL, which was selected as a Distinguished Favorite…..
I wrote one more book before making that leap – a true crime story about the 1923 murder of my 30 year-old maternal grandfather, Albert Berch, who was killed by a mob in small town Oklahoma, for having hired an African-American to work as a porter at my grandparent’s hotel. That’s another story, but I functioned as an investigative reporter who arrived on the scene 90 years after the fact, and that became the book, KILLING ALBERT BERCH. I also slipped in two books on breast cancer, all the while working on a trilogy, starting with NUTSHELL. My pseudonym is used only for the 3 books in what I call the BRAINBOW CHRONICLES. And I picked “Albedo” because it’s a physics term related to units of measurement applied to reflection and reflective properties. The theme – reflecting on faith vs. science – runs throughout the trilogy.
And why a pseudonym at all?... that means starting over, building your readership.
The usual….I wanted to distance myself from the story. But also, the “voice” in this trilogy is entirely different than what readers liked about FLATBELLIES. I didn’t want readers to expect the same light-hearted voice that drove the FLATBELLIES story.
Tell us about NUTSHELL, the novel recognized in the NYC Big Book Awards……
My protagonist, Chase Callaway, heads to medical school planning on a career in psychiatry. However, an encounter with a surgical patient, apparently cured by a simple operation, prompts him to switch his decision and become a surgeon. At a deeper level, however, it seems he is in competition with his distant father, a physician who never finished his surgical training. Chase's story is interwoven with that of Ivy Pettibone, an inmate in a nearby mental institution, who was placed there by mistake, based on a language disorder, as opposed to her diagnosis of schizophrenia. With multiple birth defects, she weaponizes one in particular that has protected her throughout her life, and then serves as a guardian angel to Chase as their stories become intertwined. In short, Nutshell is the "making of a surgeon," but with a design flaw.
So NUTSHELL is the first of a trilogy. Where do you take your protagonist in the next book, and is available yet?
Unlike the first book written in the omniscient viewpoint, the second book – CANNIBAL CLUB – is written by Chase Callaway as “proof” to his psychiatrist that he is a candidate to undergo experimental psychosurgery to control his rage induced by experiences in medicine for two decades following the end of NUTSHELL. A short summary of the book would be: “The deconstruction of a surgeon.” While not a roman a clef exactly, certain vignettes in this second book are based on reality. CANNIBAL CLUB was released a few months ago, and while a summary of NUTSHELL is placed at the beginning of the book, I think the reader experience is greatly enhanced by reading the 3 books in order.
And the third book?
With release in February 2023, HEAVENLY BLUES is a “roundabout redemption” as told by one of Chase Callaway’s old medical school classmates. So, each of the three books has a different viewpoint. Will Glendenning becomes the protagonist in this final book, as he faces the challenge of a huge endowment left by his father to the local medical school, but with the caveat that the money be spent for a cancer research agenda that is ludicrous. At least, that’s what everyone believes until new evidence inadvertently prompts investigation into the life of Chase Callaway. As with the second installment, it is strongly recommended that the books be read in order.
I’m planning on a 25th anniversary issue of my first novel, FLATBELLIES, hopefully to be timed with the announcement of a TV series deal (wishful thinking, perhaps).
Web sites for Alan. B. Hollingsworth:
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Nutshell (The Brainbow Chronicles)
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