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Posted on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 5:50 a.m.

Janet Gilsdorf, U-M pediatrician, talks about her new novel, 'Ten Days'

By Jenn McKee

Over the course of her long career as a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at the University of Michigan, Janet Gilsdorf concluded that parents almost always notice or figure out when something’s wrong with a child, and they consequently seek out medical attention. Usually, things turn out OK.

“But I was fascinated with the question, ‘What if that doesn’t happen?” said Gilsdorf.

To explore the question further, Gilsdorf spent many years writing and developing, in her spare time (evenings, weekends, and vacations), the just-released novel “Ten Days.” Gilsdorf will sign copies at Nicola’s Books on Thursday, Oct. 25.

The book tells the story of a married couple, a teacher and a physician, who fail to gauge the seriousness of their 6-month-old baby’s illness one Saturday night. The next morning, after the child (Eddie) is rushed to the emergency room, he’s diagnosed with meningitis.

The story is told from three perspectives: Anna, the mother; Jake, the father; and Rose Marie, the woman who runs the daycare that both Eddie and his older brother Chris attend.


Janet Gilsdorf

“Early on, I could see that just telling the story from mother’s and father’s perspective—it was a good way to reveal things about both of them, but it would be tough on the reader, all that angst,” said Gilsdorf. “So I decided to modulate that a bit and tell story from another perspective—and that’s where Rose Marie came in. She’s definitely someone who’s affected by the events surrounding this child’s illness. So I did it to relieve the reader a bit, but it also deepens the story.”

Of course, one of the key questions in storytelling involves choosing the exact right moment to jump into the action.

“Originally I started the book with what’s now the fourth chapter—the night the baby gets sick,” said Gilsdorf. “But I got some valuable feedback. People said, ‘You know, the reader will want to know what the family was like before these bad things befall them,’ and I thought that sounded like a good idea. So I decided to start (the book) earlier in time, getting the mom’s view, the dad’s view, Rose Marie—all of them in their everyday world, and then baby gets sick. But I still wanted to create tension in those first chapters, because every chapter needs an arc, like the story needs an arc, and some foreshadowing of what’s about to happen.


Janet Gilsdorf book signing

  • What: Gilsdorf, an Ann Arbor-based pediatrician, will discuss and sign copies of her debut novel, “Ten Days,” which tells the story of a couple whose 6-month-old baby comes down with a life-threatening case of meningitis.
  • Where: Nicola’s Books, in the Westgate Shopping Center, 734-662-0600.
  • When: Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
  • How much: Free. 734-662-0600 or
“Ten Days” is Gilsdorf’s first published novel (she previously wrote a memoir, “Inside/Outside: A Physician’s Journey with Breast Cancer,” through University of Michigan Press). And as many aspiring writers know, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get a first novel published. How did Gilsdorf do it?

“Serendipity,” Gilsdorf said, explaining that she’d already been writing “Ten Days” for a while when she got the opportunity to write the memoir (published in 2006); when she returned to “Ten Days” and (eventually) finished a saleable draft, she did so as a published author who knew she needed an agent.

“I began to look around for agents, and the publicist that had previously worked for U-M Press … had been in contact with me periodically,” said Gilsdorf. “She knew about ‘Ten Days,’ and she talked with an agent in New York about it, and she told me the agent was interested and wanted me to call her.”

Things fell into place smoothly, and Gilsdorf now—after being part of the same writing group for more than 20 years—has a published novel to her credit. It took a good deal of time and patience, of course, but discipline isn’t something Gilsdorf lacks.

“I work a lot,” said Gilsdorf. “But writing is a real priority for me, so I prioritize it over a lot of things. … Maybe it’s easier to talk about what I don’t do. I don’t watch TV - I never have, we raised our kids with no TV in the house; I don’t play tennis or golf; I don’t go to movies—writing takes the place for me of things that other people do.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.