Interview With Author Charlotte Bismuth

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I am a slightly frazzled mother of four, who always has been in love with books. As an opinionated, injustice-obsessed young woman in the 80s and 90s, I was constantly told that I should be a lawyer — so I went to law school. My dream was to become a prosecutor and right wrongs. I was fortunate to be offered a position at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in 2008, after more than four years in a big law firm and found my (first) calling as a New York City prosecutor. In 2010, while I was assigned to the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, noticing an uptick in prescription drug crimes, I received a tip about a doctor who was selling prescriptions in exchange for cash. That tip changed my life: it revealed the existence of tragic crime, occupied the next four years of my life and became the subject of my first book.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

My book is a memoir from the front lines of the opioid epidemic. It’s a book about pain, greed and justice. One day a weekend, Dr. Stan Li, a well-respected anesthesiologist, ran a “pain clinic” from a basement office in Queens, New York. His business model was simple: he sold prescriptions for oxycodone and Xanax in exchange for cash, to men and women suffering from substance use disorder. We discovered sixteen overdoses related to his practice. My team and I investigated, prosecuted and tried Dr. Li over the course of four years. Ultimately, he became the first physician in New York State to be charged and convicted of homicide for the overdose deaths of his patients. Bad Medicine tells the story of our team and our investigation — but most importantly, it tells the story of his victims, and the brave survivors who came forward to bring him to justice.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I was inspired by the survivors and families whose lives were overturned by Dr. Li. Their ability to wake up each morning, keep going and fight for justice keep me hard at work on their behalf — and inspired my book many years later. To this day, I continue to be inspired by stories of unlikely fighters, who keep going even though their hopes are slim. However, I am cooking up a new idea for a novel — possibly a horror story. In this regard, I’m inspired by my own, overwhelming anxiety and the need to tame it by channeling it into a story.

# How do you deal with creative block?

Creative block is the worst. I step back from social media, I draw instead of writing (scribbling and doodling counts!) and I turn back to my favorite books. Then, I just force myself to set down a couple lines a day, no matter how awful.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Explaining.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

This process is always a team effort, so it’s a balance between listening to your own gut (never go against your gut!) and accepting good suggestions & feedback from design experts.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I try to see all feedback as a gift. There are people who have faced greater hardship than I, who are the target of much more vitriolic trolling than I ever would be: I try to keep that in mind and move on.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

I’m not sure it has, honestly. Will it ever be easy? I have learned to grab ideas as they pass, because even the ones you think you’ll always remember are elusive. Just jot it down!

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

I had not realized that writing a book was such a team effort. I was most surprised and elated by the mind-meld with the wonderful Jessica DuLong, who helped me craft the manuscript into shape.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

If you don’t like what you’ve written, you’ll suffer even more. I am a compulsive re-writer, which isn’t always helpful — but ultimately, I feel that the reader is best served by the most authentic, gut-felt, fine-tuned work you can provide.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

This is such a beautiful and good question. There’s a difference between creativity and work: writing is, first and foremost, work. I believe the creativity comes in as you are giving everything to the work — it never comes first. There are, then, so many emotions that flow through you as you are in a zone of concentration and determination: you feel, deeply, what you are writing, and it is the most rewarding feeling.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

Do the work. Treat it as work.

# What are your plans for future books?

I am trying to follow my own advice and push through writers’ block to write a novel. I’ve written one (terrible) novel before, which I hope will never see the light of day, but I’m ready to try again — writing weekly articles for Medium has really helped me hone in on my voice. It will be a horror story, because that is how my anxiety drives me to see the world at times, and I want to try to capture the reality that I experience.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I love cartooning — especially really boring legal proceedings where the lawyers are speaking in a language that nobody else understands. It’s my way of promoting legal transparency and bringing people into the judicial system through humor. I’m also permanently confused, tired and catching up because of my four kids and a dog, so I hope your readers (some of whom may be aspiring writers) aren’t too hard on themselves!