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Book Buzz: Father, son probe 'tarnished' industry

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Imagine this scenario: A big pharmaceutical company sells a drug that relieves arthritis pain. But side effects could cause damage to the heart and other organs and result in death. The pharmaceutical company is aware of this but doesn't warn doctors or the public.

If you think this sounds like the Merck/Vioxx case, you're right. But it's also the topic of a new novel by an Atlanta doctor and his son that was written long before the Vioxx problems came to light.

"Tarnished" (Longstreet Press, $25) by Philip W. Hurst and J. Willis Hurst is a fictionalized account of greed, power and organized crime in the health care industry and the impact all that has on ordinary citizens.

Maybe the organized-crime angle is slightly farfetched, says Philip Hurst, a Marietta business consultant and psychologist, but the rest of the plot could have been ripped from the headlines.

"We added the organized-crime element to make it more interesting," says Hurst, whose father and co-author was President Lyndon B. Johnson's personal physician and is former chairman of Emory University's Department of Medicine. "Fiction is about highlighting extremes in a way that's imaginative. What we're trying to do is get our message across in an entertaining way."

The message, says Willis Hurst, 84, is that the health care system needs major surgery. Doctors are forced to work in a system that he sees as filled with greed, frivolous malpractice suits and unethical behavior by insurance and drug companies.

"They are beholden to their investors rather than the patient," says the elder Hurst.

The country needs more people like Dr. Vance Connelly, the courageous protagonist in "Tarnished," who takes on powerful politicians and pharmaceutical executives in a dramatic battle of good vs. evil.

Connelly's story is compelling and inspiring, but it is, of course, fiction. > Short takes: has launched Amazon Shorts, a way for customers to sample the works of their favorite authors or discover new writers. For 49 cents a download, readers can select from a variety of works --- including essays, one-act plays and sample chapters --- from authors such as Stuart Woods, who has written a personal account of finding his beloved luggage; Richard Rhodes, who writes about his experience with the birds of the Pacific and the writings of John James Audubon; and Ann Beattie, who examines the process of writing fiction. Amazon Shorts can be accessed at > Literary workshops: Want to hone your own prose? Novelist Tina McElroy Ansa is accepting applications for the 2005 Sea Island Writers Retreats scheduled Sept. 15-18 and Nov. 17-20.

Ansa, author of "Baby of the Family" and "Ugly Ways," founded the retreats in 2004 in response to the explosive growth in African-American literature.

"The number of committed writers who feel they have a story to tell has grown exponentially," she says. "I want to do my part to help get those stories out into the world."

The four-day workshops will be held on Sapelo Island, south of Savannah. The sessions will concentrate on fiction, nonfiction, memoir, children's literature and editing. Each retreat will include a lecture on Web design.

Workshop instructors include Cornelia Walker Bailey, author of "God, Dr. Buzzard and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island"; Blanche Richardson, editor of "Best Black Women's Erotica"; and novelist Valerie Wilson Wesley, author of the Tamara Hayle mystery series and the "Willimena Rules!" series of children's books.

For information, go to, e-mail or call 912-638-4418.

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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