Russell set to release third novel in “Mackie” McKay series March 21

UAB Internal Medicine and Pediatrics physician adds an audiobook feature with his latest release, which explores the power of pharmaceutical companies in this frightening medical thriller.

Stephen Russell, M.D., wrote his current novel, “Control Group,” 12 years ago. And in that decade-plus, Russell has often had to practice what he preaches to his four children — patience.

control group bookRussell has two upcoming book signings at Little Professor in Homewood on April 4, and at Emmet O’Neal Library in Mountain Brook on April 9. See more on his website at www.authorstephenrussell.com. “I tell my kids all the time, ‘Be patient. You will understand one day why it’s important,’” said Russell, an associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. “Of course, I would have to live up to my own advice. But it’s true, and for me, “Control Group” has been the perfect example of patience paying off. By taking the extra time to get the book truly ready, and make the characters and story a little more mature, the result is a book that is better than it would have been.”

“Control Group” will be released in print, e-book and — in a first for Russell — a self-read audiobook Tuesday, March 21. It is available for preorder exclusively at Amazon.com. “Control Group” is the third novel to feature the character Dr. Cooper “Mackie” McKay, but is a prequel to his previous Mackie McKay releases, “Blood Money” and “Command and Control,” both released in 2014.

It was actually those two books that set the stage for a re-write of “Control Group” and, in a way, laid the groundwork for Russell to record the novel as an audiobook.

Russell originally wrote “Control Group” with a different main character. However, publisher Blue Jay Media loved the “Mackie” McKay character so much that they asked Russell to write him in as the main character for “Control Group."

“It took me a really long time to figure out how to make that work,” Russell said. “I had to figure out a way to put him in a realistic situation where he could be solving this crime and yet be true to readers where they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I could see how that would happen.’”

Russell did this for “Control Group” by taking McKay back to the end of his medical training when he was starting a young family and experiences a paralyzing family tragedy. In order to regroup and get his land legs back underneath him, McKay takes a sabbatical from his job, and is exposed to a drug company where he realizes big problems are emerging that threaten the health of patients around the country.

“Knowing who he was in the future with these other novels I’ve already created, I was able to go back and rewrite Mackie’s story line, which was kind of fun, too,” Russell said. “I got to exhume his wife, who was dead in the first book. I got to see what she would look like 20 years in the past, so it was a lot of fun to do.”

Recording an audiobook

Aside from rewriting some elements of “Control Group,” the other big challenge — and probably the biggest — was making the decision to record an audiobook of the novel himself.

After releasing his first two novels, two colleagues suggested to Russell that he make an audiobook of his next novel. The suggestions came about two months apart, and Russell started giving it serious thought.

stephen russell 2017 bookRussell started at Page 1 and read all 307 pages. He spent a total of almost 20 hours recording for what will amount to a 10-to 12-hour audiobook. The process was helpful in terms of further editing — he was able to catch several minor mistakes — and, it was fun. He also drew on his experience of being a parent and the “Dad Summer Book Club” he runs for his children each year. Russell assigns each of his four children one age-appropriate book apiece that he purchases for them and reads to them himself over the course of the summer.

“One of the things I love to do as part of this is interpret the story as I tell it to them,” Russell said. “I make up the voices for each character as I hear the story. I did the ‘Harry Potter’ series that way with them. I love reading. I love reading out loud, and I love making a fool out of myself in front of my kids doing those character voices, so I just thought, ‘Maybe I can do something about this with ‘Control Group.’”

Russell had dinner with a cousin who works as a voice artist and gave him a roadmap for how to record his book, if he chose. He spent a good portion of the past year researching the information she gave him before reaching out to Boutwell Studios in Birmingham to disclose his interest.

“I told them, ‘I have this book coming out in spring 2017, and I’m interested in performing it as an audiobook myself. Can you guys help me?’ They said, ‘Absolutely, come on in and let’s see what we can do,’” Russell said.

Russell started at Page 1 and read all 307 pages. He spent a total of almost 20 hours recording for what will amount to a 10-to 12-hour audiobook. The process was helpful in terms of further editing — he was able to catch several minor mistakes — and, it was fun.

“It was an opportunity to tell the story and interpret the characters as I hear them in my mind, as I did when I was writing them,” Russell said. “I’m putting the accents and dialects with each one, trying to represent the characters as I think they should be represented. This is so far from my personal training, but it’s been a blast. What’s really been fun with it is to recognize that the fun stuff I enjoy with my kids and being silly and learning how to make up voices, there’s a whole art to how to read and how to read effectively. But what it comes down to is what I love about writing to begin with, which is how to tell a story. It’s not just the words on a page. It’s how to get to the motivations and how to get to what a character wants and how to be able to represent that.”

Russell has two upcoming book signings at Little Professor in Homewood on April 4, and at Emmet O’Neal Library in Mountain Brook on April 9. See more on his website at www.authorstephenrussell.com.

Back to Top