Write What You Know

By Kathie Bennett

Reinvention is a concept familiar to Kimmery Martin, a Charlotte, North Carolina, physician. A few years ago, spurred by her love of literature, Martin decided to try writing a novel. Set in the world she knows best- the practice of medicine- her debut novel The Queen of Hearts revolves around a significant secret between a cardiologist and a trauma surgeon. Her highly anticipated follow-up work of fiction, a spinoff entitled The Antidote for Everything, explores what happens in the friendship between a female urologist and a gay male family medicine doctor when one of them is unjustly fired; it released February 18 with a thirty-city book tour.

“I was completely unburdened by any knowledge of how to structure a novel,” Martin says with a laugh when asked about her decision to become an author. “My initial writing routine was an exercise in ignorance. I plunked myself in a chair and started vomiting out pages, which, let me tell you, is not the ideal way to write a book.”

You could be forgiven for assuming the final product of this effort might not qualify as exquisite fiction. But after several years of revision and the arduous process of seeking representation from a literary agent, Martin’s debut novel was published by Penguin Random House to great acclaim, garnering praise from Southern Living, The Harvard Crimson, The New York Times and many others. Accolades from the press read like a writer’s dream list of adjectives: stunning, impressive, funny and real, excellent, engrossing, humorous, spectacular, insightful, haunting, irresistible.

Kimmery was a budding novelist from a young age, but first she had to become an accomplished emergency medical doctor to know what she wanted to write about.

Martin, a leggy, stylish woman with an easy smile, credits her years of practice as an emergency medicine doctor for inspiring her subject matter. “If there’s one piece of advice that’s hurled at all novice authors, it’s “write what you know.” And it’s good advice: to some degree, all novels contain elements of the author. In my case, I threw myself into mastering the technical challenges of writing. I had to educate myself about character arcs and plotting and creating tension and all the other elements of good fiction. It would have been overwhelming to research an entire new industry at the same time. But as a reader, I gravitate toward those books in which you’re immersed in an insider perspective of a world the author knows well. There was no question in my mind that the setting of my novels would be medical.”

When asked if this means the novels are based on her own life,Martin laughs again. “Yes. And no! People always want to know if one of the protagonists is really me, or if the other characters were based on real people. At first I told everyone no, this is fiction. But then I realized I’d actually addressed the question in my author’s note, so I started reading a paragraph from that: I meant that to be humorous, but, yeah, I gotta admit it: I did put a little bit of myself—or people I know—in several of the characters, though the situations were fictional. Much of fiction is that way: a bit sparked by reality, a bit of straight-up invention. It’s the second-most common topic I’m asked about when I’m speaking.”

This, naturally, begs the question: what is the most-common query Martin receives? “That’s easy,” she says. “People want to know how I have time to do what I do. They hear me speak or see my very curated social media profile and assume I’m handling everything beautifully.” By “everything,” Martin is doubtless referring to the achievements listed in her biography, particularly her medical career. “Emergency medicine is a fascinating field—you work around the clock, including nights, weekends and holidays—and you encounter unimaginable things. To borrow from my first author’s note, physicians have “the immeasurable blessing of seeing life in all its anguish and glory.” We treat people from their first breath to their last breath. We battle death, and we try to ease suffering. It’s very rewarding and, at times, very difficult.”

Kimmery at her desk at home, where she lives with her husband and three children in Charlotte, North Carolina. PHOTOGRAPH BY RUSTY WILLIAMS

Writing poses its own challenges. In some ways, the act of generating words on a computer screen represents the tip of the iceberg; in order to launch her novels, Martin handles travel and speaking engagements, blogging, a robust social media presence and even participation in conferences in which she teaches fiction writing. She’s also a wife and a mother to three young children as well as a dedicated volunteer and board member of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system, which serves over 2 million people. In addition, she’s active within her church. So, it’s a reasonable question: how does she balance her time?

“Poorly,” Martin answers. “People are right: writing and publishing and promoting a novel are enormously time-consuming. The reality involved in spending that kind of time in a new pursuit means something’s got to give, and, in my case, I wound up restructuring my entire life to be able to do it. I joke a lot about giving up housekeeping and hygiene, but initially, I found myself so captivated by the writing process that I slid into a pit of disarray. Eventually, after foisting a ridiculous amount of dysfunction onto my family, I admitted what everyone around me knew: I could not “do it all.” So I started cutting things out of my life. I gave up watching television, and I stopped volunteering, except with the library, which I’m passionate about. I changed my work hours and ultimately accepted a less demanding medical job. And finally, because I’ve been fortunate to have had a financially stable career, I hired help with the kids and the house. Not everyone has that kind of financial security, especially in the field of literature, and it eases a lot of burdens. And even with that blessing, I still screw a lot of things up; I’m not going to pretend I have superpowers.”

Martin, who was raised in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, may not be a superwoman, but she clearly cherishes her life. Her Instagram feed is studded with images of three beautiful children, global travel, gorgeous workspaces and, above all, a plethora of treasured books. “I’ve always been an obsessive reader,” admits Martin. “My social media tends to reflect some of the more visually attractive things I love: flowers, fashion, interior design. But there’s a strong inner geek in me too. Science fascinates me, especially biotechnology. I’m interested in geopolitics, particularly in how we collectively address the issues that will affect future generations. I pay attention to social issues, especially material that challenges my assumptions. And all of this is reflected in my choice of reading material. I am, first and foremost, a huge book nerd; I read three or four books a week. I’d credit my love of reading for making my life exponentially more rewarding. To me, it’s incomprehensible that everybody doesn’t walk around with their nose glued to a book.”

Editor’s Note: Kimmery Martin is an emergency medicine doctor turned novelist whose works of medical fiction have been widely praised. Kimmery completed her medical training at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. She lives with her husband and three children in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her latest novel, The Antidote for Everything, was released on February 18, 2020. More information on Kimmery is available at her website, kimmerymartin.com or on her Instagram handle @kimmerymartin.

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