For Mike Simon of Saint John, finding time off is not an easy thing to do.
The family doctor spends most of his days doing office hours in his busy north end office.
He also does rounds at the local hospital and a nearby nursing home, and weekend shifts.
“I worked last weekend. I started on call at four o’clock [p.m.] from Friday to Monday at eight in the morning,” he said in an interview from his office.
On top of that, he occasionally fills the emergency room at the Saint John Regional Hospital, makes a regular weekly radio appearance on CBC News, works as a doctor at local junior hockey games, and even finds the time to volunteer to give COVID-19 vaccinations.
All of this makes it hard to grasp Simon’s other passion – writing science fiction.
“My biggest heartache is trying to squirrel an hour or 20 minutes [to write],” he said.
“That was my biggest fight in recent years.”
As if to put an exclamation mark on the comment, our phone call is cut off.
“Talk about the devil. Can you wait a second? I just got a call from the hospital.”
Simon’s affection for science fiction and fantasy began when he was young. He said he read anything he could get his hands on.
But it wasn’t until adulthood, 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 started entering competitions.”
Simon won a few of those early contests, which gave him the confidence to keep going.
“I took creative writing courses, online of course because of my schedule, at various universities,” Simon recalls.
Soon he went from winning prizes in competitions to selling short stories to numerous sci-fi and horror anthologies.
So what’s the kind that appeals to a busy doctor?
“The sci-fi part appeals to me because it’s limitless. Stories don’t have boundaries,” Simon said.
“It gives you a lot more options.”
And he loves the big science fiction messages, the “Where’s humanity going in this?” aspect of the stories.
“I like ‘military science fiction’, stories of conflict and struggle, in a kind of ‘space opera'”, he said, “There is a winner and a loser, a protagonist and an antagonist.”
And do medical themes play a role in what he writes?
“Yeah they do,” Simon said with a laugh, “I’ve never had a totally medical history [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 has taken a bigger step recently with his writing and has 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 distant outpost in space trying to stop a pandemic that has decimated the Earth.
The novel caught the attention of the Minnesota-based Storm Literary Agency.
Simon signed with them in July last year, and the process of buying his book from publishers is underway.
“I was lucky enough to attract a literary agent, but, I tell you, buying a book is quite a battle.”
Simon also writes outside of the genre.
He has published 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 that 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, believable and unique.”
And ideas usually come to him “when the right side of your brain has time to breathe,” he said.
“I would like to free up more time to do it.”