Aspiring writers are often advised to “write what you know.” I am not sure if anyone gave this advice to Dr. Kimmery Martin when she decided to try her hand at writing fiction, but she certainly wrote about what she knew in her debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, which came out in 2018.
As a former emergency room physician in Charlotte, Kimmery is very familiar with Charlotte’s medical community, and this background is reflected in The Queen of Hearts. At its core, this novel is about the evolving friendship between Zadie Anson (a pediatric cardiologist) and Emma Colley (a trauma surgeon). These women first became friends in medical school, and both go on to pursue successful medical careers in Charlotte. Their friendship, however, is threatened when secrets from their medical school days start to surface.
Kimmery’s medical background is also reflected in her second novel, The Antidote for Everything, which was published in 2020. In this novel, physician Georgia Brown works as a urologist in a hospital in Charleston. Her best friend and fellow physician Jonah Tsukada is also employed at the same hospital. Their medical careers are tested when Jonah is ordered by the hospital administrators to stop caring for transgender patients. Within the context of this novel, Martin shows how members of the LGBTQ community sometimes face discrimination when seeking medical treatment.
Kimmery’s third medical novel, Doctors and Friends, will be released by Berkley on November 9, 2021. Like her first two novels, Doctors and Friends deals with the friendships among physicians. In this case, the story focuses on three women physicians who have been friends since medical school. They have established their careers in different cities, but they gather together for a reunion each year. When this story opens, their annual get-together is disrupted by the outbreak of a global pandemic. Even though Kimmery wrote the initial draft of this novel before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her novel uncannily anticipates the impact of the current pandemic on the lives of physicians and others in the medical community.
I recently contacted Kimmery and asked her for more information about how she came to write Doctors and Friends. Here is what she sent to me:
For most of my adult life, my day job has involved battling disease. In an average shift at work, I’d fight carcinogens, genetic mutations, blood flow obstructions, and, not least of all, microbial invaders. It’s a bit of a misnomer to call my career a day job, actually; like every ER doctor, I worked days, but also nights, weekends, and holidays, all of it blurring together into a ceaseless stream of injured, sick, and suffering human beings.
Being an emergency medicine physician in Charlotte may sound like the job from hell but in many ways it’s the best job in the world. The ability to ease suffering, even a little, balances the years of grueling training and the hardships of practicing this particular specialty. What could be more gratifying than snatching life from the jaws of death? Every ER doctor knows the fierce joy—and sheer relief—that grips you when you revive a pulseless child or restore consciousness to someone blue and lifeless.
We fight pathogens all the time in my job. I thought I understood them.
In 2018, I had the idea to write a book centered around an infectious disease doctor and an ER doctor. My first novel, The Queen of Hearts—which is set in Charlotte—had just been published and I’d just finished writing my second novel, The Antidote for Everything, both of which are medical fiction. By 2019, I was well into the process of creating my own personal fictional pandemic. I spent the majority of the year researching, outlining, and writing the first draft. I interviewed more than forty experts in various fields of science and medicine, a process which extended into 2020.
Obviously, the world has changed mightily since I first began the process of writing Doctors and Friends. As one of my protagonists says, we’ve all morphed into armchair virologists after our collective experience during a real-life pandemic. Maybe we’ve been sick, or we’ve developed long-term symptoms, or we know someone who’s been hospitalized. We know about spike proteins and mRNA, variants, and origin theories. Millions of us have endured the indescribable grief of losing a loved one to a disease that literally steals their breath.
I’m still a bit stunned by the politicization of our real-life disease. Our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 —and response to it—was evolving on a daily basis just as I was honing the final portrayal of my nasty little fictional virus. It’s hard enough during normal times to whittle an infinite universe of words into a coherent and interesting story. It’s nearly impossible while getting hammered with hundreds of news stories, scientific articles, and social media outrage on the subject. The novel is not always representative of reality. Some of the unrealities in the book stem from what we writers like to call creative license (it’s fiction, y’all!) but some, I must admit, are related to the incompetence of the author. Even so, I might have to get NOT ABOUT COVID tattooed on my forehead in an attempt to ward off the inevitable fallout from people who have strong opinions about what is or is not real when it comes to the nonfictional coronavirus pandemic we’ve endured. Which, of course, is everyone.
I loved writing this book, even after getting slapped by the irony of it all. So far, all my novels have featured friendship as a fundamental theme and I revel in this concept: your friends are the people you choose to love. There’s no familial obligation or romantic entanglement. It’s a purer form of attraction: you care for these people not because you have to but because of who they are. Friendships, especially those that endure over time, are a blessing beyond measure.
In my own case, the friendships forged during medical school and my ER career are among the most intense and cherished of my life—and I hope some of that is reflected in the novel.
For Kimmery, the medical world plays an integral role in all of her novels. Her central characters are shaped by their experiences as physicians, and her plots are structured around medical crises or concerns. Kimmery’s deep knowledge of the dynamics of medical school and the inner workings of hospitals is reflected in the lives of her characters and in the unfolding of her plots. For more information about Kimmery and her medical novels, please click on the following link: https://www.kimmerymartin.com/
Anyone who has lived in Charlotte for very long knows that our city serves as a medical hub for our region. Charlotte is home to famous hospitals and medical clinics, and soon it will have its own medical school. In addition to its excellent medical facilities, Charlotte is also home to many remarkable medical professionals, including one of the country’s top writers of medical fiction—Dr. Kimmery Martin. Storied Charlotte is all the richer because this doctor/author is in our collective house.