Author writes about 'other' characters

Greer believes people don't want to read about the normal

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During a writing workshop, Robert Greer learned that the way to capture the reader's attention is to write about "other."

"People do not want to read about the standard stereotypical character," Greer said. So he introduced his readers to a character that in every way personifies "otherness." The protagonist of his latest book, "Heat Shock," is Carmen Nguyen. She is the product of an affair between a black American soldier and a Vietnamese mother. She grew up in Ho Chi Minh City and left Vietnam with her aunt in 1979 as part of a flotilla of boat people.

"One of the thousands of throwaway love children from America's longest and least popular war ... a black half-breed, whether in America or Vietnam," Greer wrote.

She settled outside Grand Junction in Palisade, eventually earning a medical degree from the University of Colorado.

She is the product of Greer's imagination and his life experience.

During the Vietnam War, Greer served in the U.S. Coast Guard as a triage doctor in the States. There, he met many men who married Vietnamese women. He also met their Amerasian children.

"Maybe that was the genesis of this character," he said.

Carmen Nguyen is presented as a free-spirited woman -- a doctor at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction who rides to work on her restored 1947 Indian motorcycle.

Her fate changes -- and the story line of the book is born -- when she meets a patient named Luke Redstone who asks her to feed his fighting gamecocks.

The book is a medical thriller that features science as a piece of the plot.

The premise of the book revolves around a concept called "heat shock," a genetic adjustment that the body makes after exposure to a trigger such as radiation. The genetic change is passed to the next generation, Greer said.

"In the novel, this old cockfighter is breeding gamecocks that seem to be invincible," Greer said. The reason is simple: They have been genetically altered by their proximity to uranium mines.

To write the book, Greer researched cock fighting, read books and talked to colleagues about heat shock. He then visited uranium mines in Colorado.

"Heat Shock," his fifth book, took 11 months to write. He is already 60 pages into another.

Greer is a pathologist who works in Denver but spends weekends on his cattle ranch in Dunckley Park. His books take place almost exclusively in Colorado. "Heat Shock" takes place on the Western Slope, and a previous book, "Devil's Hatband," takes place in Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

"Sense of place acts as a character," he said. "The stories are driven by place."

He makes time for writing between ranching chores and medical research by "just doing it," he said. "When I write, I just sit down and start. You can't talk or dream or wish you were writing. The key to writing is to have your bottom in the chair."

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