Q&A with Christina McDonald, Author of Do No Harm

by Heather Caliendo
christina mcdonald interview - book club chat
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Christina McDonald is the author of Do No Harm, which will publish on February 16.

Christina McDonald is the USA Today bestselling author of Behind Every Lie and The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio. Originally from Seattle, WA, she has an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland Galway, and now lives in London, England.

I selected Do No Harm as one of my must-read book club picks for 2021! So be sure to add it to your list.

Here’s the synopsis:

Emma loves her life. She’s the mother of a precocious kindergartener, married to her soulmate—a loyal and loving police detective—and has a rewarding career as a doctor at the local hospital.

But everything comes crashing down when her son, Josh, is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

Determined to save him, Emma makes the risky decision to sell opioids to fund the life-saving treatment he needs. But when somebody ends up dead, a lethal game of cat and mouse ensues, her own husband leading the chase. With her son’s life hanging in the balance, Emma is dragged into the dark world of drugs, lies, and murder. Will the truth catch up to her before she can save Josh?

A timely and moving exploration of a town gripped by the opioid epidemic, and featuring Christina McDonald’s signature “complex, emotionally intense” (Publishers Weekly) prose, Do No Harm examines whether the ends ever justify the means…even for a desperate mother.

Let’s get to know Christina as she talks favorite novels, writing for the thriller genre, inspirations behind her latest story and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

My favorite genre to read is, perhaps unsurprisingly, suspense/thrillers. Some of my favorite authors in the genre are Mary Kubica, Kimberly Belle, Lisa Unger, Wendy Walker, and going back a bit further, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. I think most suspense authors love Rebecca! I grew up on these books and adored them, so it seemed only right that my writing would fit into that genre. A few books that absolutely took my breath away recently are Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier and Don’t Look For Me by Wendy Walker.

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I’m one of those people who always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I told my stories to my little sisters, and as I got older I made up elaborate, creative stories that my friends and I would act out.

The very first story I remember writing (I must’ve been about 7 or 8!) was about a girl who was very poor and all she wanted was as much candy as she could possibly eat. One day, the girl and her sisters realized they had hair that was made of real gold. So they cut their hair and took it to the bank and sold it, then used the money to buy all the candy they wanted. Clearly I had a lot to learn about stakes and plot twists back then.

When I got older and went to university, it was for a degree in journalism, and when I moved on from that it was into digital copywriting. But while I’ve had other writing-based jobs, writing novels was always my dream.

What do you like best about writing for the thriller/suspense genre? 

I think what I like about writing in the thriller/suspense genre is the same as why I like reading in it. These types of stories are page turners, adrenaline inducers, mental puzzlers. They explore our deepest fears and make us uncomfortable, but they do so in a safe, contained way. We can explore how terrifying it would be to be kidnapped or have a loved one murdered, but it’s completely safe within the confines of a book. We like solving the puzzles and seeing if we can outsmart the author. And on the flip side, I like writing these puzzles to see if I can outsmart the reader.

What do you think are some of the key elements required in a well-written thriller?

For me, character always comes first, regardless of the genre. I can’t get behind a book if the character isn’t empathetically written. I don’t mean necessarily likeable; I just mean I have to understand their motivations and want to join them on their journey. After that, I think intriguing questions, plot twists and emotional resonance make for well-rounded, enjoyable thrillers. That ‘what-would-I-do’ vibe readers get where they can put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes.

What inspired you to write Do No Harm?

Writing for me is a fine line between an idea and a personal connection. The initial idea for Do No Harm came from reading a news article about a podiatrist in Indiana who got arrested after setting up an oxy ring. My biggest question was, why? Why’d he do it: was it money, power, fame, intrigue, to save someone he loved?

The second part of the story idea came from personal experience. My brother has suffered from addiction for most of my adult life. Like many who’ve suffered, he first became addicted after being prescribed oxy for a back injury.

Watching someone you love go to war with themselves is a special level of hell. It changes them. It changes you. There are so many things about watching a sibling spiral into addiction that affects you for life. And there’s this silent stigma around addiction that makes it so you can’t really talk about it.

I wanted to write about the oxy epidemic, which has devastated so many, and I wanted to open up the stigma of addiction and help people realize that people from all backgrounds become addicted. By talking about it we are empowered, and we can help solve the problem.

Do you have your endings figured out from the beginning of the writing process or does it evolve?

I’m very much a pantser, so nothing I write is plotted. I just show up at my desk and write. The end is often such a surprise that I have sat there weeping as I write because those emotions are so new and powerful. It means I have a lot of editing to do after that initial first draft, but it also means that my writing comes from a place of pure creativity, and I’m happy with that.

What are you working on next? 

I’m currently working on a new book, but it’s still in the early stages so I can’t say anything about it just yet!

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading, and loving, Loreth Anne White’s new book, In The Deep. It’s about a woman who’s on trial for the murder of her husband, but nothing is as it seems. Next up in my TBR is an advance copy of a book called Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone about estranged twin sisters and a dark, imaginary place under the stairs of their childhood home. When one twin disappears, the other must use the clues around the house to find her.

Click here to order Do No Harm on Amazon.

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