NOTE: The Next Big Thing is a blog chain, winding its way through the internet. Today, I’m delighted to participate by answering a few questions about my new book. Big thanks to NATALIE SERBER for inviting me to join in. You can find out more about Natalie’s NYT/SF Chronicle/Oregonian Top 100 books of 2012 story collection Shout Her Lovely Name and her forthcoming novel here

The Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

A History of the Present Illness

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m a doctor and one of the things I love best about that is getting to meet and care for people from all backgrounds. I often am with them at key moments in their lives – exactly the sorts of moments that we look for in fiction. The book also has a lot of stories about doctors in crises of various sorts as they cope with seeing so much suffering and with balancing their work with their personal lives.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’m going to have to quote the person before me in this chain – Natalie Serber – and say “Though I think the term sounds slightly pretentious, I’d have to say Literary Fiction.”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

There are too many to match them all, but here are a few dream possibilities: Lauren Velez as Marta Perez-Barton in “Heart Failure,” Alan Arkin (with a wig; sorry Alan) as Harold in “Days of Awe,” Mindy Kaling as Chitra in “Soup or Sex,” Michael B. Jordan as Rodney in “After,” and Dante Basco as Rey Bautista in “Lucky You.” Maybe also Tom Hanks as Robert in “Giving Good Death” and Clare Danes as the unnamed narrator of “A Medical Story.”

This list makes me sad (again) about the death of director Robert Altman.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A History of the Present Illness is a collection of 16 linked stories that takes readers into the lives of diverse doctors, patients, and families, offering an insider’s view of illness and medicine in modern life.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book is represented by the Wendy Weil Agency and will be published by Bloomsbury.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I would love to take the 5th on this, if only that wouldn’t be a cop out! A long time, a really long time – over a decade. Of course, it depends on what you count as there were years of learning early on which only sometimes included work on this book, and in recent years there have been long stretches with no writing or revising as I worked as a geriatrician and medical educator.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My goal was to write the medical version of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Others that have comparable elements (and which I love and reread) are Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Bharati Mukherjee’s Middleman and Other Stories, Amy Bloom’s A Blind Man Could Tell How Much I Love You, and Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My patients, their families, their caregivers. My colleagues. My own life. Every writer who wrote a book I loved that took me somewhere new, or rendered something in a beautiful, new, or original way.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is fiction and should transport the reader as fiction does, but it’s also true in that it’s based on my own experiences in training, as a doctor, and as a patient. It shows some of the realities that are ignored or glossed over in medical TV shows and tackled only partially in autobiographical doctor books that are limited to one person’s life. And whether you like straight narrative, or flash fiction, or borrowed forms, or first person, or third person close, or omniscient, or kids, or old people, or anyone in between, or just about any class or flavor of citizen, there’s something in the book for you.

Here are the writers I get to tag for next week’s The Next Big Thing:

Jason Karlawish

Natalie Baszile

Bill Hayes

Katie Hafner




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