My next book is not going to be the book I wanted to write.
I bumbled into the literary world without much of an understanding of what happens when you publish a novel. Like the hypothetical bride who doesn’t think beyond the altar, I was hyper-focused on querying and didn’t research much of the intricacies of the publishing process itself. To be fair, I couldn’t research much of the behind-the-scenes stuff; while there are a zillion articles on querying, there are very few that explain what happens at a publishing house acquisition meeting, or how sales teams structure their time with booksellers, or how publishers allocate their marketing resources. As an author with one of the Big Five, you are likely going to be ignorant of a lot of the specifics of what people there are saying and doing about your debut book. And you are almost certain to be ignorant about what the process will be like for the next book after that.
My publisher took a leap of faith to support my career. After the publication of The Queen of Hearts, they offered me a multi-book contract. This was wonderful news, but there was a condition attached to the offer: the books had to be medical fiction/women’s fiction about female doctors. I get this: I’m a female doctor and medical fiction is a natural niche for me, particularly since there aren’t many people who have the background (or else the research stamina) to write it well. And I love writing it.
The problem was that in my ignorance I’d already launched into a novel about a male venture capitalist in the biotech industry. By no stretch of the imagination could it have been considered women’s fiction, or even medical fiction. I was fired up about it: I’d read dozens of books on finance and biotechnology, mainly because I have an interest in those subjects and because I thought of a killer idea for a story involving them. My publisher, however, was unconvinced my audience—assuming I developed one—would harbor a keen interest in mortgage-backed securities, nanotechnology, or quantum computing. They gently told me to redirect.
So I did. Several times, in fact. I played around with various scenarios about one of the minor characters from The Queen of Hearts (a couple of which were rejected by the publisher after I’d written a substantial portion of them) before settling on one. I’m an inefficient character-driven pantser; discussing a plot prior to writing a big chunk of the novel was extremely difficult for me to do. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with an outline prior to writing, because once I start writing, everything changes. Finally, in desperation, I sent my editor a few lines about an idea I literally conjured up on the spot, trying to fulfill their request for a “hot-button” issue.
They liked it.
Here’s the basic premise:
Three doctors working for a corporately-owned clinic go rogue after discovering they are each being screwed in different ways: one is being paid less than her counterparts, one is being harassed by a hateful colleague, and one is ultimately fired for treating too many “undesirable” patients.
Rogue doctors? What’s not to love? I’m hesitant to say too much here about the plot, though, because it will change quite a bit as the writing progresses. As I mentioned above, the protagonist is a spin-off character from The Queen Of Hearts: a quirky, free-spirited urologist in Charleston named Georgia Brown, who was a briefly-mentioned medical school friend of the main characters in TQOH. The other two doctors are new: a hilarious family medicine physician named Jonah, and a rehab doc (currently) named Elisabeth, who is the mother of three young daughters.
I’m not even finished with this thing and I’m already mourning the fact that Jonah isn’t real; even though he is a figment of my imagination, he has become one of my favorite people. (It’s so nice being able to create a man and assign him any characteristics you like, y’all.) It’s not even romantic on my part: Jonah is gay, so in case you were wondering, there’s no possibility of sexual entanglement between my leads–although there is a love-story subplot that develops for Georgia after she saves the life of an intriguing stranger on an airplane. This leads to my absolute favorite scene I’ve ever written, in which Jonah and Georgia get into some trouble in Amsterdam during a trip for a medical conference. I’m not saying everyone will like it, but it’s definitely one of the funniest things I’ve written. Uh, in my opinion.
That’s as much as I am prepared to say right now about this as-yet untitled manuscript. But I’ll add this: there may be life in my financial/biotech story after all. Somewhere down the line, I think I can repurpose some elements of it to become a suspenseful husband-and-wife drama… featuring a doctor, of course. And that one is going to be good.