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Graham Elder’s grand adventures led to the publication of a novella

"A Covid Odyssey" is a medical thriller and a hero’s journey about love and resilience in a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic

At seventeen, Dr. Graham Elder joined the Naval Reserves for “many exhilarating adventures on the high seas.”

His time in the Reserves afforded him a steady income to pay for his lengthy education.

As a student of McGill University for thirteen years, in his hometown of Montreal, he completed degrees in Physiotherapy, Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery.

In early 2000, Elder was considering where his future might lead him.

A fateful decision to attend a career day event changed the course of his life.

“The working climate for docs at that time was quite poor in Quebec and based on disincentives,” says Elder.

The career event he attended was billed as a way to find work “outside” of the province.

It was there that he ran into a general surgeon who was in the class ahead of him at McGill University who had relocated to Sault Ste. Marie the previous year.

“He said, ‘come check it out, it’s got everything you love,’ says Elder.

“My wife, Andrea, and I came for a recruitment tour and a few months later, we loaded up the trucks, two [young] kids, two dogs and 'moved to Beverly.’

Although Elder jokingly references the motley Clampett family who moved to the big city after striking oil in their rural farm, the orthopedic surgeon and his family did the opposite, moving from a larger centre to a place rich in the great outdoors.

From a family perspective, they had no other connections to the Sault.

“We had planned to stay a few years and then move on but, if you like the great outdoors and wonderful people, why would anyone leave such a marvellous city,” he says.

Outside of work and making the most of the Sault’s natural surroundings, the orthopedic surgeon often found himself weaving bedtime tales and stories for his children.   

“Andrea pointed it out when the kids were younger. I would carry storylines through from night to night at bedtime. Apparently, my kids were quite convinced that my wife and I were of magically descended royalty,” he laughs.

“Having a few antique swords around the house for effect can be quite useful.”

A decade ago, Elder turned one particular set of bedtime stories based on a character called Geekboy and his journey through the earth’s core into a trilogy that he self-published for his children as a Christmas gift.

“That would be my first writing effort.”

From that self-publishing experience, Elder caught the writing bug and decided to expand beyond stories for his children.

Being schooled in the French language up until his time at university, Elder realized that he could likely benefit from some writing assistance if he wanted to produce quality writing in English.

In 2015, Elder joined forces with his long-time medical school friend Laura Cody and launched a website [TwoDocsWriting.com], the name suggested by his wife.

“Laura and I met on day one of medical school in 1991,” he says.

“I believe a great many friendships in life are based on the natural order of the alphabet.”

Cody’s maiden name is Downs. Downs starts with D and Elder with E.

“I caught the writing bug hard about 5 years ago when I turned 50. I was looking to open up my creative side after years of stuffing scientific facts into my brain,” he says.  

“Laura and I had always remained the best of friends after medical school and with her pre-med degree in English literature from Notre Dame, she was the perfect match …I expected her background as a forensic psychiatrist [a sub-specialty of psychiatry that is related to criminology] in New York would also add something interesting to the mix.”

Fortunately for Elder, Cody also caught the writing bug around the period he did.

What was initially an obvious decision to incorporate their professional experiences and subject matter into their writing didn’t happen.

“It was in the beginning, but we completely ignored it. I think this came from wanting to get away from medicine and the work we were doing on a daily basis,” says Elder.  

The fruits of their writing partnership were published on their website.

The duo is nearing the completion of their first full-length novel, The Epsilon Project, the first in a trilogy.

“The trilogy we’ve been working on for the past four years is dystopian, speculative fiction with some zombie-like action thrown in,” he says.

“Laura and I have teenage boys of the same age who were deeply immersed in The Walking Dead five years ago. We wanted to create something that would get them reading.”

The writing and editing of The Epsilon Project have been a lengthy process for Elder and Cody with an expected publication in late 2021.

Elder’s latest publication, a new novella called A Covid Odyssey was a complete turnaround, leading him back to his roots in medicine and to a shorter writing format.

When the pandemic was declared, Elder’s writing partner was in the process of revising their first book in the trilogy, his hospital duties were temporarily shuttered and his wife away on business in Scotland.

Elder was left with time on his hands.

“With elective surgery cancelled and my office closed, I found myself with five weeks of unexpected R & R. I had already written a blog about the [Sault Area Hospital] getting ready for the pandemic [“A Hospital Goes to War”] and decided to write a short fictional story for our website,” he says.  

Elder describes A Covid Odyssey as a medical thriller and a hero’s journey about love and resilience in a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to fun escapism, Elder addresses some of the controversial topics of the day.

“I wondered what would happen if my wife became infected with COVID-19, isolated in a foreign country with unknown levels of healthcare as she was in a small town thirty minutes north of Inverness.”

Elder transferred the scenario to the U.S. and let his imagination run wild

“This short story became a novella [which was] too long to post on our website.”

So Elder decided to self-publish it in order to gain some experience in the industry, to potentially help inform the release of he and Cody’s full-length novel early next year.

“With COVID on the loose, there was no travel and so it made sense to start from a place I knew in order to establish some authenticity from the outset,” noting he used Sault Ste. Marie as the backdrop where the story begins.

“I had to do some serious online research with Google to set up the rest of the story and make it believable.”

The story centres on a Northern Ontario physician trying to get to his wife who becomes deathly ill with COVID-19 while attending a conference in Florida when the international borders close.

As her health spirals downward, the physician concocts a plan to bring her an experimental anti-viral drug that might save her life.

The challenge is that he needs to find a way to cross the Ontario/Michigan border and travel 2000 km through a pandemic American landscape to get to her.

Elder says the experience of publishing the novella was an incredible learning opportunity.

“The feedback and support from [Sault Area Hospital] staff [and others who have read it] has been tremendous.”

Releasing the novella in June was perfectly timed.

“Information was changing so fast with COVID-19, I wanted to publish a book about the first wave, during the first wave.”

The seeds of a sequel are already germinating in his imagination.

 “Did someone whisper ‘Second Wave’?”

A Covid Odyssey is available in paperback on Amazon as well as in Epub format everywhere Epub books are sold (Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble).

To read more about Elder’s writing, visit TwoDocsWriting.com.