By Sam Prickett
Mountain Brook native Jake Shuford has wanted to be an author since he was a kid, but it took the success of a fellow Indian Springs School alumnus to really get him started.
Shuford grew up attending Mountain Brook Elementary and Mountain Brook Junior High before transferring to Indian Springs School in eighth grade. After graduation, he moved to Colorado, studying at the University of Colorado Boulder before moving to Denver, where he currently lives, and starting a career selling orthopedic implants.
The five years he spent working in that industry would lead to “The Secret of the Green Anole,” his first novel, which he self-published in September.
He was spurred on, he said, by the success of “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska” author John Green, also an Indian Springs alumnus. “The fact that he went to my high school, graduated from there and became a very successful author, maybe that opened the door for me as well. So I wanted to give it a try,” he said.
He’d attempted to write a novel in college but got “swept up in being a college kid” and those plans fell by the wayside. But about a year ago, he said, “It was really bothering me that I wasn’t doing this.”
So, he got to work, drawing inspiration from his career.
Medical Background Comes in Handy
Only half of his job is sales, he said, the other half is more involved.
“I sell the orthopedic implants that go inside your body when you get an ACL reconstruction or a rotator cuff repair,” he said. “Let’s say you tear your ACL, and you go to the operating room a couple of weeks later. I’ll actually be in the operating room with the surgeon, making sure he properly inserts my product inside the patient, and if anything malfunctions or breaks, I have a backup plan for them. I have all the instruments and drills and hammers and all the little gadgets that go with my implant ready to go.”
The job doesn’t require a medical degree, but Shuford did participate in a one-year, “very intensive” training program to “get all my bases covered for medical anatomy.”
That knowledge, along with his day-to-day duties, became the foundation for his first book.
“Every day when I came home from work after being in the operating room all day, my friends would ask me, ‘What surgeries did you do? What procedures did y’all do? What happened in there?’ A lot of people who aren’t in the medical field have no idea what happens in the operating room, and they thought it was extremely interesting. So I decided I’d kind of combine everything (in his first book). … It’s very medically accurate. I talk about a lot of surgeries that I’ve seen and been a part of, so not only can you have a creative story, but you can actually learn something.”
“The Secret of the Green Anole” centers on Dr. Tim Hill, a surgeon fascinated with the titular lizard, which is native to the southeastern United States, and its ability to regrow its tail if it becomes detached. He becomes obsessed with transferring that ability to his patients — but, Shuford said, “he does some spooky stuff along the way.”
Shuford has always been drawn to reptiles and amphibians.
“I pretty much grew up with them,” he said. “I always had pet cats and dogs as well, but I always had snakes and lizards growing up. When I started doing a little research on the green anole, it kind of opened up this whole idea.”
He started with the simple goal of writing one page a day, but that eventually expanded to two pages a day, then three.
“Now I think it’s at the point where I’m writing 10 to 20 pages a day, and I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had doing this,” he said.
The whole writing process, from the first page to publication, took “almost exactly a year,” he said. “Even before I started I had the whole book mapped out, each chapter, so when I sat down I already had a good idea of what I was going to write about and what was going to happen in that chapter. I started writing chapters a day. That’s when I got the meat of the book out and was able to get the first draft done.”
After the first draft was completed, he sent copies to three friends — one a veteran schoolteacher, one an English major and one “just your typical reader, so I kind of got all my bases covered with them,” he said. After their feedback, he hired a professional editor “who really got all of the last kinks out and really polished it up.”
Though he says he received interest from a publishing company, he decided to self-publish “just because it was my first time and I thought I could have a little more freedom with it. It worked out really well, actually.”
For his second book, the first draft of which he’s already completed, he’s hoping to go down “the more traditional route” of getting an agent and a publisher.
His next book “is going to be in the same realm of a scary, spooky thriller, but it’s not going to be as medically driven as the first book,” he said. “It’s not going to be a sequel, either. I just wanted to create some new characters, to try something new. I didn’t want to get locked down to a specific niche. But it’s definitely going to be another thriller.”
He hopes the just-published “Secret of the Green Anole” can provide readers with some reprieve from “the reality of their daily lives.”
“That’s always why I was a big reader growing up,” he said. “Life would be hard. You have your schoolwork, your job, you’re paying your bills and taxes, and whenever you get hope and open up your “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings,” you name it, it allows you to take a mental escape and enjoy someone else’s creativity. Overall, that’s what I hope readers can gain when they read this book.”