New Brunswick

Busy Saint John doctor quietly builds resumé as published sci-fi author

Dr. Mike Simon is a busy family physician in Saint John who has built a nice resumé as a published science fiction author over the past two decades and has attracted the attention of a literary agent.

Dr. Mike Simon uses what little spare time he has to write science fiction

Dr. Mike Simon works a punishing schedule as a family doctor in Saint John but writes science fiction when he's able. (CBC)

For Saint John's Mike Simon, finding some spare time isn't an easy thing to do. 

The family doctor spends most days doing office hours at his busy practice in the city's north end.

He also does rounds at the local hospital and at a nearby nursing home, and weekend on-call shifts.

"I worked last weekend. I started on call at four o'clock [p.m.] on Friday to Monday at eight o'clock in the morning," he said in an interview from his office.

On top of that, he fills in at the Saint John Regional Hospital's ER from time to time, makes a regular weekly radio appearance on CBC News, works as a physician at local junior hockey games and has even found time to volunteer to give COVID-19 vaccinations.

All that makes it hard to squeeze in Simon's other passion — writing science fiction.

"My biggest heartache is trying to squirrel away an hour or 20 minutes [to write]," he said.

"It's been my biggest struggle over the past years."

As if to put an exclamation point on the comment, our phone call is interrupted.

"Speak of the devil. Can you hold on for one sec? I just got a call from the hospital."

Childhood fan

Simon's affection for science fiction and fantasy began when he was young. He said he read everything he could lay his hands on.

But it was only as an adult, and well into his medical career, that he decided to try his hand at serious writing.

"Probably about 20 years ago I started writing short stories, and I started entering contests."

Simon won a few of those contests early on, and that gave him the confidence to continue.

"I took some creative writing classes, online of course because of my schedule, from various universities," Simon recalled.

Soon, he moved from winning prizes in contests to selling short stories to numerous science fiction and horror anthologies.

Simon says freeing up time to write is one of the biggest challenges these days. But he still managed to write a novel that has attracted the attention of a literary agent in the U.S. (michaelsimon.live)

So, what is it about the genre that appeals to a busy physician?

"The science fiction part appeals to me because it's limitless. The stories don't have boundaries," Simon said.

"It gives you that many more options."

And he likes the big picture messages in sci-fi, the "Where's mankind going in this?" aspect of the stories.

"I like 'military sci-fi,' stories with conflict and struggle, in a 'space opera' sort of way," he said, "There's a winner and a loser, a protagonist and antagonist."

And do medical themes play a role in what he writes?

"Yes, they do," Simon said with a laugh, "I've never had a story that has been totally medical [in theme], but there are often medical things in what I write."

"Even in my writing group, the other students, they always ask me about medical things so they can write something realistic."

Beyond short stories

Simon took a bigger step recently with his writing and tackled a bigger project.

"A few years ago, I took the plunge to see if I could write a novel," he said.

The result is called Extinction, the story of a soldier in a far-off outpost in space who is trying to stop a pandemic that has decimated Earth.

The novel has attracted the attention of the Storm Literary Agency, based in Minnesota.

Simon signed on with them in July of last year, and the process of shopping his book to publishers is underway.

"I've been lucky enough to attract a literary agent, but, I'll tell you, shopping a book, it's quite a battle."

Publicity art for Mike Simon's novel Extinction. (michaelsimon.live)

Simon writes outside the genre, too. 

He has published some travel writing and is a regular contributor to the Medical Post, an industry publication for the medical profession.

He also sits on the magazine's editorial board.

But it's clear Simon wants to pursue this passion and see where it leads.

"Writing is hard work, as you know. Creating characters — they all have to be relatable and credible and unique."

And the ideas generally come to him "when the right side of your brain gets time to breathe," he said.

"I would like to free up more time to do this." 

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