Kimmery Martin is an emergency medicine doctor whose debut novel The Queen of Hearts is making waves in the literary world. With a broad range of writing under her belt—from medical research papers to articles for the writing website The Debutante Ball, The Huffington Post and a variety of other publications. Released in February 2018, The Queen of Hearts was named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by multiple media outlets including Southern Living (and Writer’s Digest) and has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, The Harvard Crimson, The New York Post, and The New York Times.
We were thrilled to catch up with Kimmery following the book release—and ahead of the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, where she’ll be speaking on two panels and signing copies of her book.
Last year, you told WD that The Queen of Hearts is the first thing you had written aside from medical research papers. What drew you to writing fiction?
Reading! I’m a voracious reader—I typically get through a few books a week, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m not partial to a specific genre either; I tend to gravitate toward women’s fiction, suspense, and literary fiction, but I read almost everything. The idea of immortalizing your voice in written language is deeply appealing to me. One day, I sat down and decided to give it a try, and once I started, it unleashed an almost psychotic compulsion to write. I was hooked.
How has your experience in emergency medicine influenced your writing?
Well, you can imagine the fodder there. It’s got everything—humor, tragedy, heroics, drama. Plus it’s what I know best: There was never any question in my mind that my first novel would be placed in a medical setting.
You wrote The Queen of Hearts relatively quickly, but it took a few years before it was published. What advice can you give other writers—both about completing a first draft and about navigating the publishing industry?
I’ll tackle the second question first: If you want to traditionally publish, you must write a query letter that is hooky and concise. I failed—spectacularly—in my initial attempts, because I kept trying to shoehorn the entire plot into the letter. Agents don’t need a detailed plot synopsis in a query; they need a paragraph or two that makes them fling their coffee across the room and shriek I must know more. When I finally composed a better letter—thank you, Query Shark!—I think it was successful because I also sold myself: I made it clear this was a book I was uniquely qualified to write, and I managed to convey that the voice was uniquely mine.
Regarding drafts of a first manuscript: It’s kind of like having a first child. You’ll never again have the experience of just this one baby to worry about. Take your time and enjoy the luxury of doing whatever you want to do with it—no one else cares yet, and there’s beauty in that. You can bend genre expectations; you can ignore word count; you can take your time. There will be plenty of opportunity later to wrangle this sucker into something publishable, but in the beginning, have fun. Writing my first manuscript was a joy.
The Queen of Hearts has been getting some great attention in the media lately. What have you learned since the book was released?
That I’m both overly optimistic and incredibly thin-skinned? I’ve been lucky with professional reviews: They’ve been positive. Even The New York Times, which is known for occasionally savage reviews of women’s fiction, let me off with only moderate snark. But I’m gobsmacked by how variable regular readers can be in their response to a given book. The very things beloved to some readers cause other people’s heads to explode. I know, I know, I know: I should have expected this.
You said you’re working on second novel. What’s that one about, and how’s it coming along?
It’s going great! I’m churning out 15 pages a day of unparalleled brilliance. Just kidding. As every writer since the dawn of written language can attest, the second book is harder.
Here’s something about publishing I didn’t know: Agents and editors and publishers are into branding. They are not at all into genre-switching for your second novel, as I discovered when I blithely announced I was working on a biotech thriller. Everyone recoiled in horror, and then it was gently explained to me my readers—assuming I acquired any—would be expecting something more similar to my first novel. It’s actually in my contract now that my next two books will be about female physicians. So my next book is a spin-off about one of the minor characters from The Queen of Hearts—a urologist named Georgia. The nice thing about female urologists, though, is that the jokes just write themselves.
You’re going to be speaking on two panels at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, one of which is on women’s fiction as a genre. How do you feel about the designation of women’s fiction as a genre? Do you anticipate that that will evolve in the coming years?
I don’t love that designation, although I understand the rationale. But sometimes there is a tendency to assume women’s fiction is less cerebral or less worthy than other types of fiction, which is infuriating. Books can be frothy and funny and dramatic and feminine and still be smart. Books can be about the emotional journey of a female character and still be literary. However, there’s been a lot of genre-bending going on in fiction since the rise of self-publishing, which I think is a good thing. So maybe we’ll evolve past thinking books involving women need that particular label. Also: I know a lot of men read my book because I hear from them.
The other panel you’ll be speaking on (with Bess Kercher, Trish Rohr and Tracy Curtis) is about finding balance through a writing group. How long have you been part of this group, and how has being part of this group benefited your writing?
If you took away my writing group you’d sap my will to live, let alone my will to keep writing. They’re my everything. We formed serendipitously through a variety of chance encounters, but we’ve managed to create a multifaceted entity where we do it all: critiquing, proofreading, idea-generating, and every possible kind of crisis management. Come hear us talk about this at WDC 18!
Kimmery Martin will be speaking at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018 in NYC. Don’t miss it!