Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Chatting: Interview with Don Stewart, author of 'Past Medical History'

Don Stewart has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Art, with honors, from Birmingham-Southern College, and an MD from the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He also served a year-long surgical internship at the Mayo Clinic, where he published some of his first composite drawings, and won awards for poetry and short fiction.

Dr. Stewart’s short stories have since been published in Pulse--voices from the heart of medicine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Placebo Journal, and The Journal of Irreproducible Results, where he is listed as honorary Art Editor. For four years he served as Contributing Editor to Informal Rounds, the newsletter of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.

For the past quarter century he has made his living as a self-styled Visual Humorist, hammering words and pictures together at the DS Art Studio Gallery in Birmingham:  You can also find him at

His latest book is the autobiography, Past Medical History.

About the Book:

Past Medical History is a compilation of short stories chronicling the life of Dr. Don Stewart, who grew up with the singular goal of becoming a physician, then quit the day he earned his medical license to make a life and a living as an artist. It’s The Devil Wears Prada meets The House of God, with a character who sees his own career circling the drain, pronounces it DOA, and turfs himself to an art studio for treatment. It’s Patch Adams, with an attitude; The Things They Carried, dressed up in scrubs and a white lab coat.

This series of stories draws a clear picture of a doctor who recognized the pitfalls of his chosen profession, discharged himself from the hospital, then took his life in a more creative, and far healthier direction.

Purchase your copy at AMAZON

Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads by clicking HERE.


Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m actually a full-time artist (

I used to be a doctor, but left medicine the day I earned my license to practice. At that point I didn't feel I had anything more to prove academically, and I’d been in training long enough to understanding that my personality did not and would not mesh with the medical industry.

That’s what my book is about, the journey from childhood through college and medical school, and the slow realization that the career I had worked so hard to achieve just wasn’t for me after all.

What I did not understand – and what the book revealed to me – was that I had also been an artist, all along.

When did you start writing?

By the time I was a surgical intern, I was looking for anything that would lend a spark of creativity to my life, something that would distract me for even a moment from the constant focus on pagers and medical paperwork.

The local newspaper offered a prize to complete a story in the purple prose style. They set up the characters and the conflict; I wrote a few pages to flesh out the narrative. My entry won the contest. It gave me a glimmer of hope regarding alternative career possibilities.

It also let me know that I could do something creative, and succeed.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

I would have to say that the pivotal point was when we could see that our crowdfunding campaign was going to be successful, and we had received enough pledges to self-publish a full print run of books.

(Interesting term, ‘published author’. It’s a title with many different meanings these days, isn't it? For me, it means that I’ve been fortunate enough to see my stories in printed form, and now I’d better get busy selling books.)

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

I would come right here to my studio. Without putting too fine a point on it, I made the decision to go where I wanted and do what I wanted the day I left the hospital. That place is here, where I work and play. For me, the two concepts are essentially the same thing.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do? 

Draw. Or dig. I like to play in the garden, too.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I don't have much interest – yet – in writing fiction. That may come, but if it does, it will likely be after I get two or three more volumes of reminiscences out of my head.

Back to your present book, Past Medical History, how did you publish it?

We ran a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo:

Some years ago, we crowdsourced our first publication, a coffee table book of my drawings: That project was funded entirely through pre-orders. The experience gave us enough confidence to try the online crowdfunding program.

We designed, edited and formatted the book here in the art studio.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

Past Medical History is an autobiography. The only place I had to travel was back in time.

Why was writing Past Medical History so important to you?

Completing this project was definitely a check mark on my bucket list. I’ve known for years that I would one day write this book, and that it would have this title.

“Past Medical History” is a medical term, a list of the maladies you have suffered prior to your current state of health. The pun was unavoidable – and it makes the perfect title for this collection of stories.

Writing Past Medical History also allowed me to start thinking of myself as a writer – something a little different than an artist who happens to write. I’m still not sure how
comfortable I am with the label, but it’s a great excuse to start writing another book.
If there’s a sequel detailing my life as an artist, I plan to call it History of Present Illness.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

My best ideas always stem from unexpected verbal juxtapositions. Puns, mostly, especially with my artwork, since I am such a visual thinker. But as I find myself writing more, I am noticing that descriptive phrases come to me more easily as I hold an image in my mind.

Any final words?

Not yet…

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