KINGMAN - Dr. Kenneth Jackson has thought about writing a book since working on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation northeast of Phoenix when he was just out of medical school. But it wasn't until he was in his 50s, he says, that he had the maturity to put his life experiences into perspective.
Those experiences play a heavy role in Jackson's first book, "Manifest West," a Southwestern suspense story of a doctor working on an Indian reservation who becomes the target of a medical malpractice case involving the death of a young mother while also investigating the disappearance of a young boy.
Jackson said that while the book is a work of fiction, the storyline is heavily influenced by events in his own life, including the malpractice cases that most doctors find themselves the target of at some point in their careers. Many of the characters are composites of people he's known over the years.
"The goal was to take personal experiences and make them universal," he said.
Jackson will read excerpts from his book during a special presentation in the cafeteria of Kingman Regional Medical Center from 3:30 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. Wednesday. Mayor John Salem will be on hand to declare the evening "Dr. Ken Jackson Day."
Jackson, known locally as the "Cowboy Baby Doctor," began his career in 1976 at the Indian Health Service hospital on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, Ariz. He spent five years there before transferring to Pinetop, where he spent another 10 years before coming to Kingman in 1991 to work as a family physician at KRMC.
He continues to provide medical care for the Hualapai tribe in Peach Springs, and on the last Friday of each month, he rides his horse into the Grand Canyon to provide prenatal care to members of the Supai tribe.
Jackson was the editor of his high school newspaper but had no other writing experience before penning his first novel. While he had the idea to write a book back when he worked on the Indian reservation, he says he wrote maybe 20 pages in 20 years. It wasn't until the late 1990s that he began taking his notebooks full of thoughts and ideas and began structuring what would become the story of "Manifest West."
He says he wrote the book at his computer in his study with rock music and two cats prowling around in the background, taking three summers off of work to write.
"As I got closer to the end, I could come home from work and within 15 minutes turn around and start writing," he said.
While working on the book, Jackson attended a "Fiction Writing for Physicians" workshop in Cape Cod, which was being taught by Michael Palmer, a 14-time New York Time's best-selling author. Palmer told those in attendance that he would provide a blurb for anyone who was published by a trade company.
Palmer kept his word, calling Jackson's book exciting and intriguing. He also told Doreen MacDonald, a freelance editor and Jackson's neighbor, that after he finished reading the book, he wished he'd written it himself.
"My heart started beating incredibly fast when I heard that," Jackson said. "Whether he was lying or not, my heart was still beating fast."
MacDonald and her husband, Dick, helped Jackson edit the book. Jackson would leave a chapter a week in a picnic basket on the porch and they'd later offer comments and criticism on messages on his answering machine.
Jackson says the book went through 20 re-writes before it was finished in 2008. He got the first 200 copies, featuring a picture taken by Dick MacDonald of Jackson riding his horse on the ridge above Lazy Yu Ranch, last month, but says the reality of being a published author hasn't hit him yet.
Jackson said writing the book allowed him to order his past.
"It's been a real reward to go back and dig up experiences, some that still have a bit of angst attached to them," he said. "It was very cathartic."
Jackson is scheduled to take his book to outlets across the Southwest this spring and summer, and while he has already started an outline to a sequel to "Manifest West," he says he has every intention to continue practicing medicine.
"I consider my patients to be my extended family," he said.