Marschall Runge didn’t realize how many physicians wanted to write fiction until he signed up for a “Writing for Doctors” workshop—and found 300 others in attendance. But Runge, now sixty-nine, persevered. After more than fifteen years and a move from the University of North Carolina to the U-M—he’s dean of the medical school and CEO of Michigan Medicine—Coded to Kill was published last summer.

“It was very exciting,” he says of the day the 300- page paperback arrived.

In his fictional Drexel Hospital, an ambitious administrator is preparing to launch a new electronic health record (EHR) system. Physicians can use it to record diagnoses, direct treatment, and even control medical devices. But a brutal group of hackers can turn diagnoses and treatments in deadly directions with a finger swipe—and when a man who knows too much survives a staged car crash, they do.

Before he dies, he passes on a clue to the hospital’s brilliant new cardiologist. As the medical murders pile up, the doctor teams up with a wisecracking gang of good-guy hackers to fight back.

At a signing at Schuler Books in Westgate, the soft-spoken Texan explains that his frightening scenario is “theoretically possible but highly improbable.” Michigan Medicine, Runge says, fends off about half a million attempted hacks a day. “This is fiction to entertain you,” he emphasizes. “A beach read.”

Runge runs a $7.8 billion empire that includes the U-M medical school, ten hospitals, and 26,000 employees. How did he find the time to write? He explains that he’s been working on it since his days at UNC, where he was executive dean of the medical school. As the father of five, he grew accustomed to rising early, and once the kids left home, he wrote before work.

While he developed “the plot and the characters,” Runge says, veteran journalist J. Peder Zane helped “bring them together.” Coded to Kill was rejected by about 100 agents before one took it on, eventually selling it to Post Hill Press.

By mid-April, between 500 and 600 copies had been sold, and Runge had received his first royalty check: $260, which he’ll share with Zane. He says he’s already started work on a new medical thriller—and this time, “I don’t think it will take fifteen years.”