S.K. Radhakrishnan, Author of; I Have No Earthly Idea, Gives Us Insight into his New Novel, and the Advantage of Writing about What You Know
We had the opportunity to speak with the author of I Have No Earthly Idea; S.K. Radhakrishnan. S.K. is multifaceted; aside from being an upcoming author he is also an administrative chief and neurosurgical physician assistant. Based in the United States but originally from India, S.K. enjoys cooking, tennis, and playing carrom-board.
On top of his work writing, ‘I Have No Earthly Idea’, S.K. has made time to volunteer with the Special Olympics, as well as go on mission trips to Uganda for neurosurgery. S.K touches on the future possibility of his novel becoming a film, and the impact Covid-19 has had on him as a medical professional. In this interview we discussed the advantages of ‘writing about what you know’, the importance of an immigrant success story in today’s society, and much more!
Hi S. K.! How have you been?
Hi! I have been busy taking care of complex neurosurgical patients at Duke University Medical Center and in my spare time tinkering on a screenplay for my debut novel “I Have No Earthly Idea”. I figured keeping myself busy helps maintain sanity during these crazy times. I hope all is well with you.
Thank You! You have a background in both the medical field as well as stand-up comedy - how has your background informed your success in writing? How have these two experiences intersected in your work, particularly on your new book, ‘I Have No Earthly Idea’?
Well, I have been a physical therapist for 13 years and a neurosurgical physician assistant for 17 years now. While my official stand-up comedy experience was performing 3 times in a local comedy club, I have been making people laugh all through my medical career. I take care of people with brain tumors and see them at their most vulnerable moments. I take pride in my ability to make them laugh.
I believe their recovery is not only dependent on a successful surgery, cutting-edge technology, and medications but also on their emotional well-being. I take care of their mind as well as their body. It is a privilege to care for sick people and I strive to take care of them as people rather than just patients. My patients say I have been a blessing but, in reality, it is the other way around. My story shows healthcare providers’ lives are touched by their patients as much as they touch the lives of their patients.
It was only natural for me to write a novel with a healthcare setting as the backdrop laced with comedy. Life is not a genre, so why should a book be. Life begets art. While my book is shelved under Rom-Com, it is more than just comedy. The storyline includes love, heartbreak. family, tradition, sacrifice, immigration, highlighting the unsung healthcare heroes seldom talked about – physician assistants, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and occupational therapists.
You won’t find the contrived, saccharine ending of many pulp fiction romances here. But oddly enough, although you grieve with the hero, the book leaves you with a lingering smile.
When it comes to writing, you’ve mentioned that writing about what you know is the best way to put out genuine, relatable stories. Do you find yourself incorporating your own personal experiences into your work?
As a writer, I believe I have an obligation to society. I want to give my readers an experience, not just a story. Some of the goals of my writing are to bring awareness to the profession of physician assistants, highlight the careers of physician assistants, speech pathologists, and occupational therapists and depict healthcare in a more realistic setting compared to popular dramas involving only doctors and nurses. The story highlights the best of the Eastern and the Western cultures, sheds light on immigration and the goodness of the American people, and serves as an inspiration for students aspiring to become physician assistants or therapists.
I wanted to make sure all my characters are relatable to people and wanted to make them feel they are next-door neighbors. What better way than to draw inspiration from life experiences? You’ll know drawing inspiration from my personal experience has been successful when you read the reviews of my book. To highlight a few:
- I am a healthcare provider myself and this has inspired me to do better, be better and continue to learn medicine to improve patient outcomes.
- It has humbled me and taught me the challenges of other cultures—and what true sacrifice means.
- The contrasts and similarities between Indian and American cultures were entertaining to contemplate.
- I cried, I laughed, I lived vicariously through the characters' struggles, successes, and moments of innocence and vulnerability. As a medical student myself, I appreciated going through the medical journey in the main character's life - from PT to PA - and seeing the hard work represented as well as the important roles that come together to make medicine the great environment that it is.
- The protagonist pulls at every heartstring of human emotion. As he carries you through his life journey you feel the honest emotions that come with experiencing love, heartbreak, humiliation, honor, loyalty, and disappointment.
- There is a huge storyline arch that keeps the reader interested with twists and turns but it is the honest and relatable emotions that allow you to feel like you are alongside a dear friend.
- This is a must-read for all and a great book for book clubs and class projects as I found myself wanting to discuss and dissect many different areas of subjects this book brings to life.
Your personal experience makes this so powerful and I can see opportunities to spread this story further. Could you see it as a feature or tv show and what would be the key elements of success for this story in visual media?
Of course. This story has been successful in all formats -reading as a book or an e-book or listening to it as an audiobook. This story has all the oscar worthy ingredients to make a great movie or Emmy-worthy ingredients for a mini-series on streaming media. It has the potential to make a longer TV series as well if we elaborate on the lives of elderly people in nursing homes.
The key elements of the story take us through two decades of surprises and self-discovery spanning two continents and show how the protagonist wins numerous hearts but has his own torn in two. Through a delightful series of slice-of-life vignettes spanning two continents, I Have No Earthly Idea explores the delicate balance between seeking security and following your heart.
A refreshingly honest tale of love and heartbreak, it is a story about a man who spends his life seeking security, only to lose the one thing he holds most dear. It is a must-read for anyone who loves romance and the medical profession. This is a story about a man who spends his life seeking security, only to lose the one thing he holds most dear. Although it’s filled with subtle, bittersweet irony, the story is so warm and heartfelt that it leaves you feeling charmed, rather than melancholic.
When it comes to stories we all love a happy ending. Does my story have a happy or a sad ending? I have no earthly idea, no pun intended. Readers have told me this has been one of the most debated questions in their book clubs. While a happy ending or a sad ending depends upon the perception and interpretations of the readers, even the readers who grieve with the protagonist agree unanimously the ending left them with a lingering smile.
You’ve touched on the importance of highlighting an immigrant’s success story in America, do you feel that there’s an added layer of importance to this storyline with the current social climate?
Yes, it is. While immigration is not the main focus of the storyline, it serves as a very important background or undertone for the story. I came to America as a legal immigrant.
It was a long process and it was not easy. I have been a hard-working, tax-paying, productive alien on an H1B work visa, for six years, and then applied for a green card and anxiously waited on an employment authorization document (EAD) for seven years before being granted permanent resident status with the green card. I was anxious and nervous the whole time as anything can happen.
My application could be denied and I would have to leave the country I have called home for the past 13 years. I had to wait on the green card for five years before I could be eligible to apply for citizenship – a process that took another 3 years. I waited for 21 years while contributing to the economy, taxes, medicare, and social security before becoming a citizen.
My experience is not unique. Thousands of legal immigrants go through this process. As Michael Douglas eloquently says in one of my favorite movies “The American President”, “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad, coz it’s going to put up a fight.”
One of the most interesting experiences I felt in the process was while I was writing the story, I found the story took me on a journey to areas I did not intend. In the current social climate, sentiments of anti-immigration and immigrants are a burden to the society is pervasive. I wanted to share my experience of America being nothing but kind and welcoming and was glad to incorporate that in the story.
I know this industry can require a lot of hours, but it is surely a labor of love. What do you find to be the most fulfilling or favorite thing about your work as a writer?
You are right. Writing is a labor of love. As human beings, we all have stories to tell. Only a few choose to write one. Working full-time as a neurosurgical physician assistant and averaging a 70-72 hour work week, it took me five years of writing and another two years of editing. The most fulfilling and favorite thing about writing is to bring out the vulnerability and triumphs of life and connect with people in the process.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book, ‘I Have No Earthly Idea’?
We may be continents apart, and differ in culture, cuisine, and customs, but we are more similar and have more in common than we know or think.
What one sentiment of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I am a novice and not experienced enough to give advice. However, I can share with aspiring writers my experience and what worked for me. Write about what you know and are familiar with. If you can relate to what you write, you have a better chance your readers can relate to your writing and connect with your characters and you.