Peter Rizzolo spent most of his life loving fiction from afar but only had the chance to write in one genre — prescriptions. As a doctor, he practiced family medicine in New Jersey before moving to North Carolina in 1978 and spending 19 years in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC.
But when he retired, he came to NC State to pursue creative writing, something he had wanted to do since he was a child.
“When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend who drew very well,” remembers Rizzolo, who graduated from NC State with a master’s degree in English in 1999. “We put together a comic book. It was a Dick Tracy knockoff.”
Rizzolo eventually moved past the comics to more adult themes, and he recently self-published his second novel called Forbidden Harvest. Rizzolo describes it as “a medical thriller” that takes its lead from his experiences working as a doctor.
“Medicine is such a privilege,” he says. “People come to you and tell you various intimate things. You don’t always get to tell all the stories because of doctor-patient confidentiality. But when you call it ‘fiction’…”
Forbidden Harvest deals with the subject of organ transplants. It’s something Rizzolo has wanted to write about for a long time. He had a childhood friend who died from a kidney ailment at the age of 14. A few years after his death, Rizzolo says doctors began performing organ transplants, and Rizzolo has always wondered how things might have turned out differently for his friend. “In a story where a boy needs a new heart,” he says of his novel, “you can make it turn out how you want.”
Rizzolo says that writing certainly brings along its share of difficulties, from finding a way to get started to staying with it and developing thick skin. But, he says, his new novel shows that writing is the perfect pursuit for someone who spent decades practicing family medicine.
“You tend to write about what you know. And medicine is a really funny combination. It’s part medicine and part being a good listener. It’s not always performing a major operation, and sometimes it’s doing the little things to help.
“That’s what this story is about.”