Kimmery Martin writes insightful, poignant medical fiction—not a surprise, as she’s an emergency medical doctor and novelist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m thrilled to have connected with her.
Kimmery’s first two books, The Queen of Hearts and The Antidote for Everything, were praised by the New York Times, Bustle, Southern Living, Booklist and the Harvard Crimson, among others. Her third novel, Doctors and Friends, releases in November. It follows three doctors whose lives are upended by a pandemic. Kimmery started her novel before COVID-19 emerged, although the real-world pandemic influenced her story, as she describes below.
Speaking of the pandemic: Kimmery used her social media platform—her Facebook posts were shared hundreds of times—to thoughtfully advocate for science and truth, while also acknowledging the real hardship the pandemic imposed on everyone from those directly hit by the disease, to healthcare workers who dedicated themselves to their patients, frontline workers in grocery stores and elsewhere, and business owners who saw their life’s work suddenly at risk.
Here, she gives her insight on writing novels, the U.S. healthcare system, her travel plans now that we’re starting to emerge from our cocoons, and the story behind her lovely name.
Given that you both write and are a doctor, what one or two things would you change about the health care system in the US, if you could?
Ummm, that’s a massively complex question! From a moral and ethical standpoint, our system sucks. It’s intolerable that people face bankruptcy or ruinous health or even death because they cannot afford decent healthcare. How we equitably pay for it, I don’t know. I am selfishly in favor of physicians receiving an above-average income, because we put an above-average amount of training and effort and risk into our careers. But I don’t think the system itself should be for-profit. We need radical change.
How did the world actually experiencing a pandemic impact your book about a fictional pandemic? Any surprises about how the pandemic itself played out or the cultural forces at work (at least here in the U.S.) that impacted your story?
Also a complex question. When Covid struck, my editor and I had a meeting about whether or not to go forward with publication. I’d written the book as a cautionary tale, which, obviously, we no longer need. My editor asked if I could switch the plot from its focus only on the infectious disease doctor and her dilemma with her children—having to choose between them for an experimental medication—to a storyline in which the perspective of some of the other physician characters was shown. We’ve all lived through a pandemic, she pointed out, but not everyone has lived through a pandemic as a frontline responder. So I rewrote parts of the novel to change the point of view and it wound up being a much stronger book. (I also added some Zoom scenes. Geez.)
As far as the cultural forces that shaped our real-life pandemic, I did not foresee the extent of the disinformation campaigns, especially from our own government. In any situation involving a new pathogen, the medical understanding is going to evolve as time goes on. We are going to go through a process of trial and error. We will make some mistakes, especially at first. But in real life, politics infested rational decision-making to the point where we experienced a total break from reality at times. It was baffling and heartbreaking. I decided to stick with my original plan to have a prepared and functional government in the novel … the president is a scientifically-minded woman who thoughtfully and deliberately assesses information to make the best decisions possible. Which I am hoping will not result in this novel being classified as fantasy!
What prompted your shift from medicine to fiction writing? Was it a slow realization that you wanted to change, or a sharper “aha” moment?
It was slow. All my life, I’ve been an avid reader and I wanted to try to write a novel because reading them has given me so much joy. But, wow, is it a humbling process! It took me forever.
What one or two things do you wish you’d known (if anything) before you went into fiction writing?
One or two things? Try thirty. I didn’t have a clue how to write when I wrote my first book, which was a process that led to an immense amount of revision. I think the thing that surprised me the most once my novels were published was how weird it felt to have these manuscripts that had existed solely in my brain suddenly become the experience of other people, who of course saw them differently than I had.
From your Instagram feed, I know you also like to travel. Any places you’re looking forward to heading to, once we’re all vaccinated?
So many places! I’d ultimately like to a publish a humorous but beautiful travel book. Once the plague has ebbed I’d like to visit multiple countries in Asia. Also Denmark because I am part Danish and have never been there. I’d love to see Eastern Europe and South America and parts of Africa … so basically everywhere. Since this is a theoretical question, I’m going to assume an extravagant budget materializes from somewhere to support all this globetrotting.
Who are a few favorite authors?
Nonfiction: Bill Bryson (my fave), Michio Kaku, Michael Lewis. For fiction, I love Tana French, Tom Wolfe, and Donna Tartt. My new favorite fiction writers are Katherine Heiny and Kathy Wang. I LOVED their books Early Morning Riser and Imposter Syndrome.
On a side note, can you give any insight on your name? I love how it’s a fresh twist on an existing one.
My parents straight-up invented it. I like it because it makes email addresses and domain names easy. Not many Kimmerys to compete with.