Coma Author-Physician on His New Medical Thriller, Cell

Eric Topol Talks Medicine and Murder With Best-Selling Author Robin Cook

; Robin Cook, MD


February 03, 2014

In This Article

From Writing Underwater to Best-Selling Author

Dr. Topol: And you wrote your first book in a submarine, right?

Dr. Cook: I did one patrol underwater on a nuclear submarine, and that was the beginning of my literary career. I wrote my first book completely underwater.

Dr. Topol: Seventy-five days underwater?

Dr. Cook: For 75 days we did not come to the surface. I handwrote it, and when we were all coming up the conning tower to get out of the submarine, I was carrying it in one hand and going up the ladder, and someone asked, "What is that?" I said, "Well, I wrote this book." And he said, "Do you know it's very difficult to get a book published?" That's how much I knew about publishing at that time.

Dr. Topol: Somewhere along the way you wrote Coma. How many years after that first book?

Dr. Cook: That was my second book.

Dr. Topol: It seemed like that changed your life.

Dr. Cook: It did indeed.

Dr. Topol: Was it the book or the movie?

Dr. Cook: Well, it was a combination because I had, in a certain sense, planned Coma, but I was just shocked when it actually happened. I thought my first book was very interesting, but it wasn't really exciting to read. In fact, when I reread it myself, I could recognize that it was a little bit on the boring side. I had to figure out how to write a book that would be fun to read, because if it's not fun then your message is lost. I decided to pick 2 projects to study in-depth: Jaws and Love Story, to try to emulate how those projects happened. Both of them were written as movies first, so I actually wrote Coma as a movie first.

Dr. Topol: Oh, I didn't realize that.

Dr. Cook: Nobody does, because I wasn't even sure I could get a second book published. I knew how difficult it was, so I decided that I was going to have to try all these tricks. I used the screenplay to sell the book and then I quickly wrote the book to sell the movie.

Dr. Topol: And you also held out for Michael Crichton to be the director, right?

Dr. Cook: I did indeed. We were acquaintances because when I was in the Navy, he came down to see the diving research we were doing. At that point I knew he had gone to medical school, and I knew that he could direct Coma in a way that no one else could because of having this medical background. I did not want Coma to be "horror in the hospital." That was not the message, and it could have been distorted in that way very easily.


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