Interview: Dr. R. Scott Anderson

Russell Scott Anderson M.D. is a Radiation Oncologist who serves as the Medical Director of Anderson Cancer Center in Meridian, Mississippi. He is a former Navy diver who worked in operations in the Middle East, Central America, and in support of the Navy’s EOD community, SEALS, the US Army’s Green Berets, the Secret Service, and the New York Police Department at various times during his time in the service.

Three of Dr. Anderson’s stories in The Uncommon Thread collection were nominated for the small press Pushcart Prize award. Having spent some years in San Diego and Virginia Beach, the author lives once again in the Southeast and has settled for the past twenty years in the state of Mississippi with his wife and children.

Enjoy this interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?

Hello there, and thanks for having me on.  Let me introduce myself, my full name is Russell Scott Anderson MD.  I tell you all that, not because I have a big head about being a doctor, but because you kind of have to know it to understand all of the twists and turns my writing career has taken along the way.

In my daily life I am a Radiation Oncologist who runs a large cancer center in Mississippi, I have been involved in scientific writing as a part of that, publishing papers in several international scientific journals over the years.  When a friend, Dwalia South, was elected president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, she asked if I would contribute one column while she looked for other contributors.  So R. Scott Anderson MD wrote his first column.  One turned to two, two turned to four and still no one showed up so I became the regular author of the monthly column Una Voce for a year.  When Dr. South was diagnosed with cancer, I stayed on.

My hobby for a good part of that time was as a painter, I painted oil paintings that through the years evolved from landscapes to progressively more abstract works.  I painted a particularly evocative painting of a very sad young woman with animals hidden in the abstracted fields that surrounded her.  Somebody asked me what it was about.  The novel/screenplay Time Donors Wanted came out of my attempt to explain the circumstances of the painting.  Another friend, Emmy award winner Kevin Ivey said, “That’s not a book, it’s a movie.  I’ll show you how to write a screenplay.”   And he did. I was credited as R. S. Anderson.

In trying to sell the screenplay, Kevin found a hedge fund that was willing to take a chance on financing the project.  But first they wanted proof we weren’t idiots or crooks, so they suggested a smaller project one that would cost less than $250,000.  We said fine, so along with my son Jackson we wrote Teary Sockets, got it approved, and headed off to LA to film it.  While we were filming I got a call from the attorney handling the funding that another client of his, Grammy award winning gospel group, The Williams Brothers, had been talking to Tyler Perry and needed the 100 year story of their family’s history written as a screenplay, as soon as possible and they were willing to pay to have it done. Teary Sockets was over budget, and Lord knew we could use an infusion of cash.

I asked if we could finish filming before I started on the new project and was told that they needed it done in 8 weeks.  I took the job and six weeks after we wrapped filming for Teary Sockets, I sent them the finished screenplay for Still Standing Tall.  Two other screenplays followed, Terrence and the Toilet Fairy, and Hood but by then the banking crisis was washing all the liquid cash in hedge fund funding away and we were effectively done as a production company.

Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?

Throughout all of this I continued to write my monthly column, and I started work trying to write to novel I knew Time Donors Wanted could be.  I published it under the pen name Russell Scott.  This was about when Dr. South, recovered from her cancer and fueled by the recent death of her husband returned to reclaim Una Voce.  So, not knowing what else to do with me the editors gave me my own column The Uncommon ThreadThis book is a collection of those columns.

I hope everyone finds something that they can take with them from my little stories.  Some are touching, some are inflammatory, and some are just plain stupid.  But they tell the story of how I go through life, curing those I can, and dealing with the tragedy of those I can’t.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Run a cancer center, fight political battles to benefit cancer patients, play golf, and watch whatever it is my kids and grandkids are doing at the time.

Favorite authors?

There are so many, Twain, Welty, Faulkner, I love Vonnegut.  I like Styron and Gore Vidal,  I’m crazy about short stories one of my favorites is Ellie Gilchrist, a new writer I love is Karen Russell.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

The most interesting book I remember was A Tidewater Morning by William Styron.  Not one of the works he’s best remembered for.  Everybody knows Sophie’s Choice and it’s very good, but A Tidewater Morning shows an author at the end of his life putting forth his visions of youth.  It’s the way you hope you can write as an author, truly without fear.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

My goal as a writer in whatever I write is to give the reader something to take away, a smile, a tear, something of meaning.  If I’ve done that then I’m a success.

Where can we learn more about you?

If you want to learn more about me read the book, you’ll know more about me than you ever wanted to, or you can go through the blogs posted on my website at www.chinagrovepress.com .

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that this writing stuff is a lot more confusing and difficult than I ever imagined.  Painting is mostly fun, it takes you away from the real world, it can get frustrating sometimes, but writing is constant work.  It may be that I just haven’t learned to say fini, but I want to edit stuff even after it’s published, its like it can never be good enough, there’s always something to be changed, then you read another great author and you just feel embarrassed that you’ll never be that good and all you want to do is start all over from the beginning.

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