Kimmery Martin’s first novel, The Queen of Hearts, was inspired by her own life as an emergency medicine doctor in Charlotte, North Carolina. In her second novel, The Antidote For Everything, two doctors in Charleston, South Carolina, put their jobs on the line when their hospital tells doctors to stop treating transgender patients.
I spoke with Martin about these two interconnected novels and how they reflect real issues transgender patients face in emergency rooms and medical offices around the world.
How important is the setting of Charleston, South Carolina to The Antidote for Everything?
Charleston is an iconic city. I’m in the city as I write this, on my book tour, and with the palm trees and the stately pastel buildings and the hanging Spanish moss, I feel as if I’m starring in my own movie. The city is widely regarded as emblematic of the American South, and as a Southerner myself, I’ve always loved coming here.
That being said, the issues in the novel are not confined to any particular geographic region and for that reason I was careful to set the fictional clinic where Jonah works outside the boundaries of the city. The city makes a phenomenal backdrop for the novel but the events described within could have taken place in any of the states where it is not currently illegal to fire someone because they are gay.
In recent years, you have transitioned from the ER to working in a medical office. What has this meant to your stories and writing process?
More time and more sleep. However: few settings on earth rival the daily intensity of an emergency department, of course, so now I have to manufacture drama. But fortunately I am good at that.
How natural or difficult was it to focus on Georgia after getting to know Zadie and Emma so well in your debut novel? Why did you choose to revisit Georgia’s character?
She was a minor but vivid character in The Queen of Hearts and I liked her personality, and, if you’ll forgive the horrible pun, her balls. I think she and Jonah offer a nice contrast; she’s fiery and bullheaded and Jonah is endearing and empathetic. Maybe someday I’ll write a short story where I reunite Zadie and Emma and Georgia and a few others from The Queen of Hearts and let them reminisce about the good old days in medical school.
Did the character and voice of primary care doctor Jonah arrive fully formed or did you find yourself making discoveries and adding layers along the way? What was your most surprising revelation about these characters and their professional relationship?
Jonah is probably my favorite character I’ve ever written, aside from maybe Delaney in The Queen of Hearts. (And Delaney was based on one of my own kids so she doesn’t really count.)
Jonah evolved as time went on, as all characters do, but I had a clear sense of him from the beginning. Almost immediately, I knew that the main thrust of the book would revolve around the friendship between him and Georgia; they share an enviable bond. Neither of them has close family and they’ve developed the magical kind of friendship in which you are completely, utterly yourself with the other person. They aren’t romantically involved but they did have a meet-cute: Jonah was once Georgia’s patient, and after she resolved the issue for which he’d seen her, they became friends and ultimately colleagues.
Did you originally set out to make Georgia an ally for Jonah? What real-life events influenced the storyline of medical discrimination, making it so timely?
Georgia is in fact a long-term ally of the LGBTQ community; she’s not some recently-woke straight chick who decides she’s the only one who can save the day. However, her actions in the book stem both from a desire to protect patients and from her love of Jonah in particular. She fights for what she believes to be right but also for the person she loves the most.
A couple things coincided to inspire this story. I became curious about the legal realities involving both employment and medical care after my state legislature passed a bill forbidding communities from passing their own anti-discrimination bills. I also know a physician who was instructed to stop treating transgender patients and was fired after refusing to comply.
Without requiring a spoiler alert, can you share some of the ways Jonah is an ally for Georgia?
This is a great question because the two characters really do prioritize each other. Georgia is a woman in a specialized field that is very much dominated by men. Her friendship with Jonah provides her with a built-in ally when it comes to hospital politics. Jonah also takes it upon himself to micromanage her love life, pointing out she’s failing spectacularly at managing it herself. But he’s also there for her when a disturbing event in her recent past comes to light.
Anything you’d like readers to pay special attention to or to look for in The Antidote For Everything? What would you like for them to take away?
I hope they are entertained and enjoy an insider’s view of the practice of medicine. But also, I’d also like to shed a little light on the fact that not all Americans enjoy the same protections from discrimination. I hope this changes soon; as of this writing, the Supreme Court has already heard
cases relating to employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Any chance we will be hearing from these characters (including love interest Mark or the physician foil Beezon) again in a third novel?
I think I’m done with Beezon but the company that employs Mark is going to play a central role in a future book so we will probably see him again. Which is great because then Georgia and Jonah can make a few cameos.
You’re an avid reader who posts a monthly reading list on your website. How do you know when you’re onto reading something good?
When the writing causes me to immediately shrivel into a heap of jealousy. I read Family Trust by Kathy Wang recently and the voice was so clever and snarky and intelligent and captivating that I ran to the mirror to see if I’d actually turned green. I love discovering an author with that kind of command of every sentence.