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Michael Wiggins Tells the Tales of Arkansas in Novel Written with His Son

Dr. Michael Wiggins (Central Arkansas) has ascended the professional ladder as an acclaimed eye doctor and sought-after college professor in the field of ophthalmology.

But his love of writing and gift of storytelling has opened the doors to an equally rewarding pursuit and a new direction in life.

Wiggins grew up in Booneville, Arkansas, a town of 4,000 people with the proverbial “one stoplight” at the time. In small towns, dreams are proportionally aligned with the available options.

“As a kid, my dream was to become a janitor,” he said, noting the appreciation he received when he swept and cleaned up. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

That initial career goal changed through divine medical intervention. As a young teen, Wiggins worked as a stock boy at a hardware store, lifting 80 pounds of cement mix onto trucks in 90-degree weather without the benefit of fans or air conditioning.

“One day after work, I walked across town in the blazing heat to an eye doctor appointment, soaked in sweat, and as I opened the door, a blast of cold AC hit me,” Wiggins recalls, the memory as sharp today as it was decades ago. “With no idea what an eye doctor did, I swore I would do whatever it took to have that job.”

Fast forward several years through universities, labs and late-night study sessions, exams upon exams, residency, and internships, and Dr. Wiggins was living his air-conditioned dream as an ophthalmologist.

But the pull of writing and crafting words into stories remained within him. Even in the rigid world of medical journals and studies where creative writing is rare - if not discouraged - Wiggins founds ways to merge his passions.

A Writer is Born

Wiggins’ flair for writing began at an early age with a comic strip he created in the fifth grade. In the rough and tumble world of grade school, it proved beneficial on the playground.

“The class bully liked it and told me to continue writing it,” he said, laughing at the memory. “It seemed like it was in my best interest to do so.”

From there, he developed his writing skills with humorous poetry in high school, and novels and short stories later on. But medical school (University of Arkansas) and life, in general, got in the way. Writing was packed away until a new opportunity opened the door.

After a short stint in private practice, Wiggins joined the faculty at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. There, he was encouraged (strongly, he recalls) to publish articles in medical journals as part of his job.

“I enjoyed the heck out of that,” he said. “And when I was asked to serve as the medical director for the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program, I co-founded a medical journal for ophthalmic technicians.”

Despite the parameters of medical writing, Wiggins found ways to infuse the science in a way that was less textbook-ish and more creative non-fiction.

At the time, he was also teaching a class to ophthalmology residents and technicians. The students often complained that the available textbooks were hard to read since “intellectual physicians” had authored them.

“They asked me to write one instead…which looking back, may not have been the compliment I thought it was at the time,” said Wiggins, laughing.

He did, however, write “Clinical Optics Made Easy,” which belies the fact it took nearly ten years to complete.

The Family Connection

It was during a work commitment that separated him from his family for six months that Wiggins began writing in earnest.

“It was a trying time for all of us,” he recalls of his time alone in Florida until his family could relocate from Arkansas.

During that interval, he wrote a short story for his wife, Cindi, as an anniversary gift. He later re-wrote it as a novel, titled The Sugarfield Sugar Cookie: Sweet Southern Drama, which is being released in September 2022.

“I had a blast writing that story,” Wiggins said. “Scientific writing is rewarding, but restrictive, and doesn’t allow voice, humor, or expression.”

He was instantly hooked on creative writing and has not stopped writing since. Last year, he and Cindi opened a small publishing company, Davis Street Publishing, which is committed to producing unique regional literature and supporting worthy causes.

At home, Wiggins has a companion in his writing process who shares the same interest and passion for telling a good story. His son, Jack, 12, showed an early interest in writing which his father nurtured.

“We’ve read to our children from the day they were born,” said Wiggins, who also has Sam, 16. “I like to think Jack’s interest in writing came from seeing me hunched over a laptop with poor posture.”

During COVID, when the world shut down and living rooms became classrooms, Jack, who was nine at the time, joined his father on long walks each night where they would make up stories.

From that collection of random stories and make-believe adventures crafted during these walks, “Magical Arkansas Tales” was written and recently published.

The novel is a collection of fictional short stories that span nearly 100 years in Arkansas, from 1919 through 2007. The tales weave together, exploring themes of magic, science fiction, and

fantasy to explore the challenges children face, including bullying, prejudice, step-parents, new kids in class, the needs of others, making friends, and the horrors of dodgeball.

Released in May, “Magical Arkansas Tales” has ranked among the top 100 books on Amazon’s Children’s Multicultural Literature list.

Wiggins sees the collaboration with Jack continuing.

“Jack is now twelve, and he’s not the same kid he was at nine,” he said. “As he matures, I can see our collaborative dynamic changing, and our next book together will reflect that.”

Pushing Past the Norm

The secret to a long, fulfilling life, says Wiggins, is keeping your brain active and stimulated. It’s all about the pursuit of new and challenging experiences.

After earning his bachelor's and medical degrees, he earned his MBA at Harding University through night school while working full time and raising a family.

“After being a cataract surgeon for 15 years, I trained to be a glaucoma surgeon…then I took guitar lessons while I worked to become a better writer,” Wiggins said of his constant pursuit of new experiences.

While he sees the finish line for his glaucoma practice about ten years away, he has no plans to slow down and retire. Establishing Davis Street Publishing is part of his pursuit of the new and challenging.

“I've never created a business from the ground up…and that's the point,” Wiggins said. “You need to change it up now and then and lay down some fresh neural network in your brain. It’s the secret to never growing old.”

Golden Letters and Best Friends

Simply put, Wiggins says Sigma Nu Fraternity found him. Shy and reserved in high school and with few friends initially in college, joining a fraternity was nowhere on his radar when he arrived at the University of Central Arkansas.

That all changed when Paul Suskie and Joey Clark walked into his dorm room and recruited him to help establish the Lambda Phi Chapter of Sigma Nu.

“What a difference that day made,” Wiggins said. “Instantly, I had brothers.”

He worked hard to form the chapter alongside the founding brothers, and his college experience completely changed directions.

“I loved going to parties where everyone knew me,” said Wiggins, who served as an officer for his chapter. “I felt like Norm on Cheers.”

The first day he wore the Sigma Nu letters remains a clear and vivid memory.

“It was a black T-shirt with a raised, golden “ΣN” stitched on the chest, and I can't tell you how many times I wore that shirt,” Wiggins said. “Looking back, I hope I washed it.”

He also remembers the milestone day when the brothers took possession of their first fraternity house. He described it as old and grimy, with roaches crawling throughout the kitchen, but it was home.

“It was right across the street from campus, and it was ours. We were so dang proud,” he said.

Wiggins’ memories of Sigma Nu are filled with so many events, moments, and stories, some of which he vows to take to his grave. But at the heart of it, Sigma Nu meant belonging to something where everyone had each other’s back.

“There's no other feeling like that,” he said. “And I shudder to think what things would have been like for me if Paul and Joey had never knocked on my door.”

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