Award winning author of murder mysteries
By Angela Rogalski
Where do you find a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology who is also an award-winning author of murder mysteries and thrillers? Why, in Jackson, Miss., of course. Dr. Darden North is a dedicated OB/GYN who also writes novels. Award-winning novels. His fifth book, “The 5 Manners of Death,” is his latest story of crime and deception in the modern South.
“The 5 Manners of Death” was released in June 2017.” North said. “And like my previous four novels, doctors and nurses comprise many of the characters. But not all of the players are in the medical profession.”
North’s background begins in Jackson, where he was born. His parents moved to Louisiana when he was three-years-old. In the summer after fourth grade, his family decided to move to Cleveland; his father was an executive with the Boy Scouts of America covering the Mississippi Delta. His mother taught high school English, first at Shaw High School and then at Indianola Academy. North attended Parks Elementary, graduated from Margaret Green Jr. High and Cleveland High schools and went on to Ole Miss to pursue his higher education. North was valedictorian at CHS and graduated magna cum laude from Ole Miss where he was editor-in-chief of the 1978 “Ole Miss” yearbook and vice-president of the Associated Student Body.
“Beginning in the fifth grade, until I graduated from high school, playing in the school band was my main extracurricular activity,” he said. “Growing up in Cleveland in the late sixties before getting a driver’s license, my friends and I felt free to ride our bikes downtown or all the way to Boyle, to just about anywhere within reach. No one worried about a stolen bicycle or being kidnapped. I remember feeling secure in the small town atmosphere that Cleveland provided.”
North said growing up as an only child, he always tried to have a summer job if possible and mowed lawns throughout the school year as well.
“I co-owned and operated the concession stand at the Cleveland Recreation Association Pool for a couple of summers,” he said. “Sometimes I also had a paper route. And we had a lot of kids in our neighborhood, so there were plenty of afternoon games like Kick-the-Can and things like that. My dad did a lot of traveling around the Delta with different events for the Boy Scouts. In addition to teaching school, my mother wrote a social newspaper column (“Have You Heard?”) for many years for the Bolivar Commercial.
North said his becoming a doctor was, in a small way, influenced by his maternal uncles, who were both general practitioners, but he’d always felt a tug toward the sciences in school.
“Observing my uncles and other physicians was an influence as far as choosing medicine for a profession,” he said. “I always knew that I either wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I found myself drawn more toward the science aspect than the legal one. Making good grades and participating in other school campus activities gave me options.”
He chose the field of obstetrics and gynecology because he liked the combination of surgery and medicine that it offered and the patients he would treat.
“The way medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson was structured then, and I believe it’s pretty much the same today, you did rotations in different specialties starting the third year,” North said. “And just the luck of the draw, my first rotation was OB/GYN. Of course, I knew nothing about it. You’re just starting out on the wards working with patients, without much experience. But then I went through all the other specialty rotations, and when I started my 4th year, I thought I was going to be a cardiologist. Next, I decided to be a general surgeon, but after another elective rotation in OB/GYN, I realized that was where I truly belonged.”
After his first year in medical school, North married the former Sally Fortenberry of Columbia, Mississippi, and they have two children: William and Anderson. He and Sally continue to live in Jackson. North will celebrate 32 years at Jackson Healthcare for Women in Flowood this summer. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Foundation.
His first novel, “House Call” came out in 2005, but the process was a long one.
“I started thinking about writing it about 10 years prior to publication,” he said. “But I’ve never curtailed my medical practice or slowed it down any to write. I simply use my vacation time and weekends to write and promote my books. So, my primary work as a doctor has never changed. But writing and publishing has become a second career for me, and it’s something that I am drawn to do and I enjoy it very much. When you get to a certain level, such as being the author of five novels you’re not going to stop. And your reader fans encourage you to write more.”
North said that each of his five books are stand-alone novels, but some of the characters do reappear in the different titles.
“Some characters do carry over, and might pop back up in another book. The last two novels, “Wiggle Room” and “The 5 Manners of Death” basically have a whole new set of characters than the previous three. But when I talk to production people about my novels, I have jokingly said we could easily turn them into a series, no problem at all. But I do feel that they’re stand-alone novels and people don’t have to read them in order.”
North said that what’s different about his books than some of the other medical genre suspense thrillers out there is that the medicine isn’t necessarily the story.
“Some of the people are in the medical field, but the books aren’t about deadly viruses or a human gene that’s gone wrong. They’re not that kind of stories. So, they appeal to people who have no interest in the medical field at all but do like a fast-moving read. But the complex characterization does show how the lives of persons in the medical profession are different from other professions. By involving my medical characters in difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching personal situations, I try to humanize them to show that they can be flawed individuals just like anyone else.”
North said his first two books, “House Call” and “Points of Origin” came from what he knew or had experienced or had been thinking about for a while.
“The first two books were easy to write, because I had characters built up in my mind that I wanted to talk about and exploit,” he. added “And I had life events that I could draw on, especially with my second book, “Points of Origin.” But once we got to “Fresh Frozen,” which is about an infertility clinic in Mississippi, visited by a major Hollywood star as a patient and the subject of an Internet voyeur, my plots were beginning to push deeper. Beginning with “Fresh Frozen,” I was definitely reaching out of my own comfort zone. I believe that’s what keeps an author’s work unique and his or her readers coming back for more.”
With “The 5 Manners of Death” already under his belt, North said there’s more to come.
“I have the main plot for my next two or three novels. Someone recently asked me if I had ever written two novels at the same time. So, I thought I would try it.”
North’s novels have been nationally awarded, including “Points of Origin,” which received a national IPPY award in Southern Fiction from the Independent Publishers Book Association. His current novel, “The 5 Manners of Death,” has been nominated for a 2018 award in Fiction by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, and he was asked to speak at the 29th annual Natchez (MS) Literary and Cinema Celebration on the Southern Gothic literary genre.
“I still work full-time as an OB/GYN; I still deliver babies and do robotic gynecological surgery,” North said. “I love what I do as a doctor and I have no plans to retire from medicine anytime soon. But then I could see myself as a full-time writer, too. So right now, I have the best of both worlds and have no plans to retire from either career.”
For more information on Darden North and a complete list of his books, as well as future works, visit his website: dardennorth.com