Carrie Rubin is a physician with a master’s degree in public health. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two sons, and is the author of The Seneca Scourge and the new novel Eating Bull. What comes below is our conversation with the author on her latest work.
You are a physician who decided to write medical thrillers. What inspired you to switch careers and enter the field of writing and publishing?
I’ve had a love of books since I was a child and always wanted to write novels. In fact, I wrote my first book fourteen years ago. But as often happens, life got in the way. During a career transition from clinical to nonclinical medicine a few years ago, I jumped off a cliff and dived into writing instead. I keep all my medical licensure and public health requirements up to date for life’s next chapter, as well as ties to the hospital. For now, I’m enjoying the life of a writer.
EATING BULL is the story of Jeremy, an obese teen who is roped into suing the food industry by Sue, a public health nurse. Was your idea of the book sparked by actual events?
Several years ago in my clinic, a tearful, severely overweight teenage patient said to me, “Not a day goes by I don’t know I’m fat, because no one will let me forget it.” Those heartbreaking words have stayed with me ever since, and are what led me to make my latest protagonist a teenager, even though the novel itself is not Young Adult fiction.
My frustration with managing overweightness/obesity in a clinical setting also sparked the writing of Eating Bull. Plenty of people wanted to lose weight, but there were so many obstacles in their way—the food industry among them.
In public health, we move beyond the individual alone and target all the factors that contribute to an illness or condition. Since the food industry plays a huge role in what we eat, they bear some responsibility for the obesity epidemic. That is what I wanted to explore. But since plenty of nonfiction books have been written on the subject, I decided to weave the issue into fiction.
What challenges did you face writing a medical thriller, even with your knowledge of the public health field and your background as a physician?
The same challenges any writer faces: finding time to write, avoiding plot holes, keeping the story alive from beginning to end. But the more we write and study the craft, the easier these challenges become. Well, except for maybe the time thing. Most of us still struggle with that!
For me, writing a medical thriller is actually less challenging than writing something else. The old “write what you know” adage comes into play. Being an avid reader of thrillers helps me understand the nuts and bolts behind the genre’s structure.
While working on EATING BULL, is there anything that you learned about yourself and your feelings toward certain social topics?
As part of my research, I attended a seminar led by overweight public health practitioners. The seminar’s focus was to highlight the frequent fat-shaming that goes on in our society—including from the healthcare industry—and to shift the onus from weight loss to size acceptance.
Though I wasn’t ready to write off weight loss as a goal, the seminar was eye-opening, and it made me reevaluate some of my thinking. I made some changes to my protagonist’s characterization as a result, including how he is treated by a less-than-supportive ER nurse.
It is not an overstatement to say I was appalled by the tales these speakers told, tales of the shaming they endure on a regular basis in the U.S. The experience made me realize if I wanted to make my hero’s experience believable, I’d have to inject this pain into his life.
You have a popular blog, “The Write Transition,” that incorporates humor into learning how to transition into the writing world. How does humor help you in becoming a better writer? Do you find a lot of support online?
I find tremendous support online. I am a strong introvert, and in “real life,” you’ll rarely find me out and about except in a professional setting. But introverts thrive online. We get to cut through the small talk and head straight to the meat.
Social media can be daunting at first, but the biggest reward is the positive interactions with like-minded people from all over the world. Through my blog I’ve found a supportive community of writers and non-writers alike.
Injecting humor into my posts brings levity and hopefully makes the subject more readable. While sometimes I write about fluff, I mostly try to have a message—whether on writing, health, or other topics. But I like to deliver that message with a side of light. Life is dark enough as it is. And so are my novels…
What would you recommend to other women who are looking to drastically (or not so drastically) change careers or lifestyle?
Although it felt like I was jumping off a cliff when I leapt into writing full-time, it was actually a gradual process. I’d been writing for eleven years before my first novel was published while I continued my employment. It wasn’t until I had already decided to transition to nonclinical medicine that I made the plunge completely.
But, unless our last name is King, Rowling, or Patterson, we’re not going to get rich with writing. The book market is saturated, which is wonderful for readers but trickier for authors. We need to be sensible and not expect a best-seller straight out of the gate, if ever. So taking things slowly makes sense.
I also recommend a supportive partner. Were it not for my husband encouraging me to make the leap (“It’s now or never,” he said), I couldn’t have done it. Thanks to him, I’ve been able to put the day job on hold to pursue my passion. Plus, I’ve had more time with my teenage sons.
Who is your favorite author? How did he or she motivate you to become a writer?
As a teenager I devoured Stephen King’s books. I credit my love of storytelling mostly to him. His stories entertained me a great deal, and I wanted to do that for others. I still read King’s work, but I also have a list of mystery & thriller authors I love to read including Robin Cook, John Grisham, Jo Nesbø, Jussi Adler-Olsen, J.K. Rowling (AKA Robert Galbraith), and Sue Grafton. When I’m in the mood for lighter mysteries, I enjoy the work of indie author Maddie Cochere. Literary fiction that I enjoy includes Anita Shreve, Chris Bohjalian, and Amy Tan.