Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Uncommon Veterinarian: An Interview with Elliott Garber, D.V.M.

Elliott and family in Sicily
Elliott Garber is an Army officer and veterinarian with a passion for globe-trotting, education, and - oh yeah - writing!  He graciously accepted my request for an interview as part of my "Ask the Expert" series, and will be featured on our "Find an Expert" page henceforth.  Here, I ask Elliott about his career, his interests, and how they can play into a good mystery or thriller. 

Elliott, tell us a little bit about yourself.  You're not the average puppy/kitty vet, are you?

I actually do love puppies and kittens and see a fair number of them in my current job! I'm an active duty Army veterinarian currently assigned to a little naval base in Sicily, so along with all these cute military family pets, I also get to provide full-service medical and surgical care to our military working dogs. I'm involved in public health campaigns, food safety investigations, and humanitarian missions involving agriculture and animal health.

My tour in Italy and my commitment to the military will end in about a year, so I'm currently trying to decide if I will stay in the Army for another assignment or transition to something else. If I can swing one of my top Army job choices as a vet with the Special Forces or with the Navy's marine mammal program I will probably stay in, but there are also some cool opportunities with the Centers for Disease Control and other organizations working internationally.

Tell us a little bit about the focus of your website.

The tagline of my website is The Uncommon Veterinarian. I started the site about six months ago with several purposes in mind. First, I wanted to provide a genuine resource for aspiring and current veterinarians who are interested in learning more about less traditional career options within the broad field of veterinary medicine. Second, I wanted to begin to develop a community of interested and like-minded people who might one day be early supporters of my own published writing!

On your website, you make the statement: "I want to remind you of and expose you to all the other possibilities within the diverse field of veterinary medicine."  Do tell!  Examples, please?

Sure! I've been fortunate to have a number of unique and exciting experiences all over the world. My education and work have taken me to South Africa to work with their equivalent of the FBI in tracking down rhino poachers, to Haiti to investigate an outbreak of a new infectious disease devastating the island's pig population, and to Egypt for a yearlong deployment during their revolution a couple of years ago.

Other veterinarians work with Army Special Forces and Navy Seals, the CIA, and the FBI. I have several friends who are vets with the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, and they get to fly around the world investigating new outbreaks of Ebola virus, avian influenza, and whatever new scary infectious disease might show up tomorrow. There are many vets working across the globe to help solve problems of public health and economic development. Then there are veterinarians who have become best-selling authors (like James Rollins), congressmen and senators, and astronauts.

I asked the previous question to set you up for this one: How can and do your experiences as a vet play into your writing?  What have you observed that makes good material for a mystery or thriller?

My job as a veterinarian often puts me right in the middle of real-life thriller situations. Imagine pulling the shiny round from a high-powered rifle out of a dead rhino's lung, and learning from the heavily armed law enforcement officers accompanying you in the South African bush that it probably came from a Thai mafia crime ring that they've been tracking for years. Picture yourself stuck in a taxi in Cairo as crowds of angry protesters close in on you from all directions, or conducting field research at a marsh in Lebanon when a group of armed men appear out of the reeds.

I happen to be privy to the knowledge that you're working on a first novel, and have completed about 20,000 words.  What would you like to tell us about this fledgeling work?

I'm honored that you would deign to recognize my early attempts to join the thriller-writing community! I do, of course, have a nice one-sentence summary ready to go for the New York Times bestseller list:
The appearance of an unknown virus in war-torn central Africa leads an American veterinarian into the center of an international power play that is spiraling out of control.
What do you think? Instant success?? Here's hoping. I also have a couple of working titles: A World Unleashed or The Virunga Sequence. The former is too broad, and the latter too narrow, so I'm hoping I'll come up with something in between. My goal is to finish a good draft by the time I move from Sicily in the summer of 2014. I know, that's probably more time than I really need, but with two kids under two and a full-time job it might be the best I can do.

The story features a former Special Forces veterinarian who is now working on his PhD while studying diseases of the endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda and the Congo. He discovers a group of dead gorillas that appear to have died from a pox-like disease, and the story jumps into action with Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and even the President of the United States all playing roles. Wish me luck!

Far from strictly a nerdy scientist (takes one to know one), you have also spent some time studying Spanish and religious studies.  Care to comment on your interests and activities in these and other fields outside of veterinary medicine?

I do love languages and along with the Spanish have enjoyed picking up basic conversational Portuguese, Arabic, Italian, Tamil, French, and Hebrew. I'm an avid reader, of course (connect with me on Goodreads!), and I'm also an amateur birder with over 1000 species on my life list.

What else would you like our readers to know about you?

I would love to connect with other actual or aspiring authors to share stories and expertise. As a veterinarian who also has a masters degree in public health, I'm happy to provide insights into anything related to animals, medicine, or infectious diseases. Now that I've been an active duty Army officer for almost four years, I also find myself noticing military errors in many of the novels I read. I would be honored to help others in this community avoid those errors in their own manuscripts!

Please provide any and all contact information you would like our readers to have.

The best place to find me is at my digital home. I also share more frequent updates on Facebook and Twitter. Finally, you can find me on Goodreads to see what I'm reading and share recommendations!


  1. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my story, Kris! I'm excited to learn more about others in our community, too.

    1. Elliott, you're so welcome. And thanks for sharing your uncommon experience to the benefit of our members.