We got the chance to speak with S.K. Radhakrishnan, the author of ‘I Have No Earthly Idea’; a novel that follows the story of an immigrant from India who makes his way to America with the hope of becoming successful for his family. S.K. is a successful Neurosurgical Physician Assistant who has brought his knowledge of the medical field as well as his personal experiences as an immigrant to bring a realness to his novel. He is passionate about using his platform as a writer to reflect important, real-life topics that are personal to him.

Aside from his work writing, ‘I Have No Earthly Idea’, S.K. has spent his time as a volunteer with the Special Olympics, as well as gone on mission trips to Uganda for neurosurgery. The story brings readers through grappling decisions of career, quality of life, and love. We got a chance to get the inside scoop on S.K.’s creative process, inspirations, and dreams.

Hi S.K., I’d love for you to start off by taking us through your creative writing process- what’s your first step when you sit down to write?

Given my long hours and hectic work week as a neurosurgical physician assistant, I usually resort to writing on the weekends. I take inspiration from the world around me and the people I meet. Rather than write about things farfetched, I prefer to write about stories that could happen to you or someone next door. I like to write with a sense of realism. I do mind sacrificing pace for the meticulous development of a character.  

My writing process begins the night before I sit down to write. I do all the thinking and outline in bed. It is like a dream. Friday night as I lay in bed, I think about what I want to write, my thought flow, my talking points, outline, and my game plan. I develop my characters and imagine what they’ll do and say with my eyes closed and in the dark. I fall asleep thinking about them and the story. I believe my brain does a lot of processing and fine-tuning of my plan in the subconscious state. 

I wake up early Saturday morning and I am ready to go. My friends Cami and Mary, my ardent supporters, gave me a robe as a gift when I started writing my debut novel, I Have No Earthly Idea. I always wear that robe when I sit down to write. On a good weekend, I can write all day Saturday and Sunday, sometimes without even taking a break to eat. 

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Cami is on the Right and Mary is on the Left                         The infamous robe

‘I Have No Earthly Idea’ highlights the importance of self-reflection, and breaking boundaries- how did you navigate these concepts when it came to writing your novel?

For me, the best way to tell a story is to look within. I write about issues important to me and ones that affect society at large. I always root for the underdog and love to see them triumph. As a fledgling author, it is important to start writing about things I know and am familiar with so the writing is authentic, and readers can relate. 

Also, I like to see a story from a unique angle and shed a new perspective and light on a subject. We have so many medical shows highlighting characters as doctors, nurses, administrators but seldom portrayed are other professions -the unsung heroes of healthcare. In my story, the protagonist is a physician assistant (PA). The profession was created in the 1960s due to the necessity – shortage of physicians. Duke University is the birthplace of this profession and Dr. Eugene Stead, based on his knowledge of the expedited training of doctors during World War II created the curriculum for educating and training PAs. The PA profession has been in existence for 54 years and they are an integral part of the healthcare system. Yet many people are not familiar with who they are and what they do. What better way to highlight this noble profession than to create a story with a PA as the protagonist? Other professions enjoying the much-needed spotlight in my novel are physical therapists and speech pathologists. They add a sense of realism to a story with a medical backdrop. My novel did break boundaries when it comes to telling a story in the medical setting. 

As a writer- I’m sure you understand having a creative block, how do you work through that? And where do you draw inspiration from?

Oh yes, Being able to write is a gift but I am all too familiar with the dreaded writer’s block. I mentioned in the earlier question about my writing process and how I plan the details the night before. Some weekends I have sat in front of my computer lost in my thoughts and having trouble navigating the conflicts in my head. I blame it on my subconscious for adding more layers and complexities during sleep and I need time to tackle them. I never forced myself to write and hence it took me five years to finish and another two years to edit. I do incentivize myself to write though. I have sweet teeth, not a sweet tooth. Sometimes the trick is to sit down with an array of desserts. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.

As far as inspiration, I find them all around me. I am a neurosurgical PA and work with patients diagnosed with brain tumors. I meet them at the most vulnerable time of their lives. They touch my life more than I do theirs. I do have a healthy dose of nervousness that strangely translates to the excitement for the writing process and reverence for my characters. 

Also, anytime I feel low or need some inspiration to press on, I rely on some true stories, and fiction Hollywood magic brought to the silver screen. I watch movies like Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Togo, Eight Below, The American President, As Good as it Gets, Sleepless in Seattle, Good Will Hunting, just to name a few. Books like Cutting for Stone and When Breath Become Air also inspire and motivate me. 

I wrote a blog on my website about writing my novel and another about aspiration and inspiration. Here is the link to both. 

You have a professional medical background, how was writing creatively for yourself different from the medical-based writing you have to do for your position as a neurosurgical physician assistant?

As a neurosurgical PA, I do write a fair share of history and physicals (H&P) and discharge summaries (DC). Each one tells a story about a patient. I take pride in them and make sure they are accurate, thorough, and complete. When another healthcare provider reads my H&P or DC summary, I want them to get the whole picture about the patient and every detail they need to know to maintain continuity of care. I hate it when I come across H&Ps and DC summaries that are inadequate and have sections like “No Past Medical History or No Past Surgical History available. It is a waste of time if I have to look at five different documents in five different places to get the whole picture of the patient. 

While the H&P and DC summaries tell a story about a patient, they are “matter of fact” documents. It is a story filled with facts not feelings. Creative writing on the other hand tells a story with embellishments, flavor, feelings, from the writer’s point of view. I can take risks and challenges, and while I have control over the characters and the story, sometimes I surrender and be a conduit for the story to unfold and let characters evolve. For someone like me whose first language is not English and who grew up speaking a different language – Tamil, medical-based writing was a great exercise to learn to write in English. Adding feelings transcends language and comes naturally. 

You’ve discussed the possibility of bringing your novel to a visual media format- what scene would you be most excited to see play out in a film or TV show?

Yes. It is my goal. My novel has all the ingredients to make a wonderful movie or miniseries. Also, it can be easily elaborated to make a longer-running television series. If you ask me to talk about one scene I would have to say, it would be from the first chapter. It would make a great opening act. Here is an excerpt:

It was a long shot. He had not expected her to show up. He would have understood it if she had not. But here she was—as beautiful as ever. With long wavy black hair, a fair complexion, and a willowy frame, she was the envy of Indian women and men alike. Her eyebrows arched perfectly over her soft brown eyes. She was wearing a pink churidar—his favorite color on her. A quintessential balance of the traditional and the modern, she was modest yet sexy. To him, she looked like a goddess comparable only to the carvings of Ajanta and Ellora caves and the statues that adorn Indian temples. 

She seemed to glide towards him. A breeze trailed her—a much-needed relief in the sultry night at Madras International Airport lit with the neon lights of the city. As she reached closer, her fragrance, like the fresh countryside air, replaced the stench of the people around her. There were all sorts of folks—of different ages, colors, and shapes—waiting to bid farewell to their loved ones. She stood out in the crowd. 

With one look at her, he felt all the weight on his shoulders fall off. He exhaled a huge sigh of relief. His family understood the gravity of the situation. Although it would be a long time before they could see him again—their son, their eldest brother—they took a step back to give him a moment alone with her. After all, they were all too aware of what it must have cost her to be here. 

Not knowing what came upon him, he embraced her. For a moment, he forgot the fact that his parents were standing behind him. He did not realize that his brothers and sisters were gawking at him. He held her close, unsure if he was comforting her or seeking solace from her. She did not hold back either and returned his embrace. 

And finally, where can readers connect with you and your novel further? 

Thank you for asking. Readers can connect with me through my website and on all social media formats. My author’s website is  https://www.skradhakrishnan.com/ I am also on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IHaveNoEarthlyIdea. I am also on Instagram and Twitter https://www.instagram.com/skrad007/ and https://twitter.com/SKRad007

Also, I make promotional videos for my novel and share them on my YouTube Channel. You can subscribe and “like” to be notified of new content at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCioh4g9Mi7vsGqksY0XFJ_w

I love interacting with my readers on social media and enjoy answering their questions. Looking forward to connecting with your readers. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.