July 2013




Ophthalmologist and researcher turned novelist

by Vanessa Caceres EyeWorld Contributing Writer

Award-winning books focus on international historical adventures

In his day job, Steven E. Wilson, MD, is professor of ophthalmology and director of corneal research at Cole Eye Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Clevelandbasically, he's an ophthalmologist and research scientist. If you were trading surgical pearls with him at a conference, you might not realize he's also an award-winning author of three published adventure thrillers.

Dr. Wilson published his first book in 2003, "Winter in Kandahar." Set in Afghanistan, "Winter in Kandahar" is an "epic adventure of love, betrayal, and war," according to ForeWord Reviews. The book also focuses on the eternal struggle between the Tajik and Pashtun groups in that country. It went on to receive the Benjamin Franklin Award, Finalist for Best New Voice in Fiction. After writing "Winter in Kandahar," Dr. Wilson wrote the 656-page "Ascent from Darkness," which was an Indie Book Award Finalist in Action and Adventure 2008. That book focuses on a CIA agent who joins U.S. forces and Iraqi peasants to fight against Saddam Hussein. "The thriller unfolds like a motion picture, complete with forbidden romance, desperate Special Forces operations, and a never-say-die love of country," according to Amazon.com. In 2010, he published the 454-page "The Ghosts of Anatolia: An Epic Journey to Forgiveness," which chronicles the relationship between an Armenian family and two Turkish families joined together in 1914 at the start of World War I. Yet more awards came, with the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Gold Award in Fiction in 2010 and the Runner-up Award in General Fiction at the Hollywood Book Festival in 2011.

Dr. Wilson described all of his books as "faction." "They are based on real events with my characters' stories interwoven in what has occurred in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and the Ottoman Empire and Syria," he said. He also compares the books to epic-style movies like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The English Patient." "They're all written in the vein of historical action," he said.

Reviews of his books on Amazon comment on Dr. Wilson's sophisticated writing and compelling storylines, noting that the tomes would make good motion picturesa possibility that's been discussed with "Winter in Kandahar," Dr. Wilson said.

The story behind the stories

So how did a clinician-researcher get involved with writing epic novels? Dr. Wilson has always had an interest in writing. Around the time he was in college and living in Los Angeles, he wrote song lyrics that were used by some smaller bands in the area.

While at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 1994, he decided to write a murder mystery, but it was never published.

Of course, he's done a good deal of medical and science writing as well.

It was around the time of 9/11 that he decided to work on "Winter in Kandahar." While traveling in Europe for work, at the time of the terrorist attack, he used writing to fill up the down time. It took about a year to finish the book, after which he shopped around for an agent and distributor. He eventually connected with a book distributor that went on to publish the three books he's written so far.

After "Winter in Kandahar" was published, Dr. Wilson was asked in 2003 to come on the Fox News morning show "Fox & Friends." Instead of listing him at the bottom of the screen as an author, they inadvertently listed him as an Al Qaeda expert. "This is when 9/11 was still a hot topic. I spent some time after that trying to hide my address from public records," he said. He's since appeared on the morning news program two more times.

Of course, Dr. Wilson is writing about topics that aren't exactly in his backyard. He's traveled a good deal to the Middle East and Central Asia, so that helps provide a sense of place for his novels. His books also take an inordinate amount of research to get the historical facts and current events right.

Intensive researchbe it on cell biology, corneal growth factors and receptors, or Middle Eastern politicsis a similarity that Dr. Wilson has found between medicine and his writing work.

He still does a good deal of his writing when traveling, although the writing process takes some time at home as well. "There are times when my wife says she loses me for a month, especially when I'm finishing a book," he said. When he completes a book, he works with a team of three editors who help polish what he's written.

Ophthalmologists are known for their perfectionism, and that quality has carried over into Dr. Wilson's writing. He was reading "Winter in Kandahar" to his children recently and began to question how he structured certain sentences and information. So he updated the book and has a second edition available as an e-book. When the book reaches its sixth printing, the updated edition will be published, he explained.

Dr. Wilson is currently working on a fourth novel called "Escape from Benghazi," centered on the revolution in Libya. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was already a major character in the novel when the consulate attacks in Benghazi occurred in September, killing Ambassador Stevens. Dr. Wilson has decided to dedicate the book to him.

As his clinical work has been so demanding recently, Dr. Wilson predicts it may take another year before he finishes his fourth book. However, getting some distance from what he's written is not always a bad thing, he believes. "When you put something down for a while, you sometimes get great ideas you hadn't thought of before," he said.

Contact information

Wilson: 216-444-5887, WILSONS4@ccf.org

Ophthalmologist and researcher turned novelist Ophthalmologist and researcher turned novelist
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