Love, Law, and Lethal Anesthetics: Unveiling the Medical Thriller of the Year. welcomes as our guest, Rick Novak MD. Rick is a distinguished Stanford physician, holding board certifications in anesthesiology and internal medicine. 

His expertise and dedication extend to his role as an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University. 

Beyond academia, he serves as the Medical Director at the prestigious Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and is a valued member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in the same region.

Rick is not only a distinguished medical professional but also an accomplished author. He has shared his talents with the literary world through several captivating novels, including The Doctor and Mr. Dylan, Doctor Vita, and his most recent literary endeavor, Call From the Jailhouse.


Norm Goldman: Welcome Rick to and thanks for taking part in our interview. Can you share specific instances or experiences from your medical career that directly inspired or informed the content of your book, Call from the Jail House

Rick: Call from the Jail House is a romance, a story about relationships. The two main characters are busy professionals, a doctor and an attorney, who are recently divorced but still have feelings for each other. The divorce rate in physicians is high (24%). I’ve been divorced myself, and I’ve experienced the enormous swings in emotion a failed marriage imparts on every phase of your life. These emotions drive my Call from the Jail House characters into predicaments they could never have imagined when they said “I do” to each other. 

The second experience that drives the plot of Call from the Jail House is that the intravenous anesthetic drugs I’ve administered in my career are potent and wonderful, but when stolen from a hospital, they can kill an individual in minutes, in a fashion that would revolt and fascinate readers.

Norm: Sam Vella’s character undergoes a significant transformation from a beleaguered anesthesiologist to an accused murder suspect. Can you elaborate on the process of developing multi-dimensional characters like Sam in your writing?

Rick: Sam’s dilemma is a common one in America today—he’s an honorable young physician saddled with Herculean debt, with no easy way to repay it. He lives in Silicon Valley amidst astounding wealth, and when presented with the temptation to tap into that level of wealth, he surprises himself by pondering deeds never condoned in the Hippocratic Oath.

Norm: Cicely Vella, Sam’s ex, grapples with her role as a defense attorney torn between professional instincts and personal emotions. How did you approach creating her character and portraying this internal conflict?

Rick: Cicely is an outstanding litigator who rarely loses. She’s become wealthy beyond her dreams. But again, the powerful emotions of being newly divorced have driven Cicely to make success her only love. Sitting on her metaphoric pile of cash, no amount of money is filling the emptiness she feels since she divorced Sam. How can she become whole again? In her mind, the possibility of saving Sam from a life in prison looms as both a gigantic career leap and a relationship mending opportunity.

Norm: The story delves into a high-stakes murder trial filled with desire, wealth, intrigue, and scandal. What challenges did you face while crafting the courtroom scenes, and how did you maintain the tension throughout?

Rick: The first time I was cross-examined by an opposing attorney when I was serving as an expert witness in a courtroom, I held my hands together on the table in front of me. I could feel the pulse in my wrist, and my heart rate was topping 180 beats per minute. Outwardly I maintained a calm countenance, but inwardly I felt fear and confrontation unlike anything I’d felt in an operating room. The courtroom is a battlefield where words are weapons. Attorneys are on their home court. Everyone else—defendants, witnesses, experts, jury members—are involved in this war of sentences. As my career as an expert witness progressed, I became more comfortable with managing inner demons in the courtroom, but I’m well aware of the peril of the unprepared individual on the witness stand. Writing the courtroom scenes was the easiest part of this novel. These scenes were like movies I’d imagined for years. 

Norm: Scarlett is an enigmatic character in the novel. What motivated you to include her in the story, and how did you explore the intricacies of desire and temptation through her character?

Rick: Can a dynamite-looking sexy young woman control the men that surround her? Yes, definitely. Anyone who denies this fact has never met a woman with Scarlett’s skillset. I fell under the spells of beautiful women more than once in my life, and I find the power of a gorgeous female one of the most interesting forces on Earth. Helen of Troy owned a face that launched a thousand ships.  Like Helen, Scarlett inspires passions that can drive a vulnerable man to his doom.

Norm: The novel is described as a must-read for legal thriller fans. What do you believe sets Call From the Jailhouse apart from other books in the genre, and what unique elements did you incorporate into your storytelling?

Rick: Call From the Jailhouse is a romance novel with elements of a noir legal thriller and a medical mystery. The novel culminates in courtroom drama based on true medical facts and possibilities that only an anesthesiologist with a knack for telling suspenseful stories could describe. I love the writing of John Grisham and Scott Turow, but neither of them could pen this story of medical crime.

Norm: The relationship between Sam and Cicely is central to the plot. How did you approach writing their interactions and exploring the dynamics of their complicated past?

Rick: I chose to begin the novel with Sam and Cicely already divorced. Their backstory is revealed piece by piece. I see both Sam and Cicely as good people, outstanding in their professions, but inexperienced and uneducated in the abilities necessary to solve marital conflicts. After Sam’s call from the jailhouse, they both begin to rekindle the attraction that originally brought them together. Can Cicely save him? Even if she could, would Sam be willing to give their relationship a second chance?

You have to read the book to find out.

Norm: Sam’s downfall from the mainstream anesthesia field to administering ketamine in dental offices is an important moment in the story. What inspired this particular plot point, and how did it affect the overall narrative?

Rick: The reason for Sam’s downfall from mainstream anesthesia is held out as a secret until the trial. His eviction from hospital medicine is credible. Physicians make mistakes—some of them medical, some of them emotional. Either one can have dire consequences. Sam’s fall from grace was critical for several reasons: it led to his divorce, it led to him driving around in a Chevy Tahoe with a tacklebox full of anesthesia drugs, and it led to his inability to earn the money he needs to pay his educational debt. 

Enter Scarlett, and remarkably there’s a new pathway toward all his dreams coming true.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Call From the Jailhouse?

Rick: My WEBSITE reveals more about me and my writing.

My SECOND WEBSITE —clicked on over 2.8 million readers, is called The Anesthesia Consultant—and it contains 300+ essays which aim to inform both laypeople and medical people on anesthesia topics.

Norm: What is next for Rick Novak MD?

Rick: Back to the operating room every week. Back to the courtroom several times a year. And back to my MacBook Pro, which tempts me to set fingertips to the keypad, bringing the next set of fictional characters to life in situations no one’s ever dreamed of. 

Norm: As we wrap up our interview, can you offer any insights into your creative process while writing this novel, and what can readers expect from your next literary masterpiece?

Rick: I’m a busy guy. I work as an MD from Monday through Friday, and I’m a single parent to three sons. I ponder ideas and scenes for future fiction every day. 

I’ll set those thoughts into print by and by.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your endeavors.

Rick: Thanks for your time, Norm!





Call From the Jailhouse


Rick Novak’s first novel, THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN

Rick Novak’s second novel, DOCTOR VITA

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