One recurring fear about publishing my novel is the hate that I might receive from feminists. I want to point out that there is no gender discrimination of any sort in this novel.
I tell agents in queries that the story examines a female heart surgeon’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has a twisted mind and finds satisfaction in the operating theatre. Of course, you have to include a lot more detail if you’re sending them a synopsis. But some instantly get put off by the term “rape,” although I wrote “apparent rape.” It’s obviously not for people who are sensitive about stories touching upon paedophilia, rape, bestiality, and surgery.
Besides, my novel examines these themes on a completely different level. I used art and imagination to embellish surgical scenes, because for fuck’s sake, I’ve never witnessed a heart surgery, and I don’t have to because this is fiction. I still spent over six weeks of research when I was at university. I don’t remember the number of books I had borrowed from the library. I even grew to like the series Scrubs, which gave me an idea of a hospital routine (no, I don’t watch ER or Grey’s Anatomy – not my cup of tea at all!).
My target audience is both men and women who are into literary fiction with transgressive elements. You may even want to call it women’s fiction. About 80% of the queried agents were women because mainly women love fiction with female protagonists. A lot of them are very picky, though.
Most of the male agents I looked at were into non-fiction, current affairs and business. And the ones that were into fiction were looking for thrillers and historical fiction (duh!). I might have contacted a lot of mainstream agents, which didn’t help.
In the first rejection that I received, the agent said that my novel was a “strong project,” but it didn’t fit with their agency. And you wonder what would fit, or perhaps you didn’t bring the story across well enough in the synopsis? Or perhaps the agents should specify better in their biographies what they are looking for?
Apart from the “apparent rape,” I also indicated the main theme: HOW TO DEAL WITH A BROKEN HEART. And what do you do if you are unable to feel orgasm?
From here, it’s all about my fascination with French philosophy, which, on a personal note, is keeping me alive these days. Sartre’s book on existentialism was my bible for a while until I encountered his friend Camus, who made a lot more sense. Life is absurd and always has been. The only way to revolt against it is to create meaning and occupy yourself with something that makes sense. And if you commit suicide, it’s ok, too, but let’s try to avoid that.
So my protagonist, the female cardiologist, is going through an oh-so-awful heartbreak. Her only creative motivation to get over it is to become a surgeon, believing that this will fix everything. And, of course, the reality is never what it seems. The goal is to keep yourself occupied because otherwise, something drastic will happen. The darker your past, the more drastic your future if you don’t face the dark.
On the mental front, my protagonist carries all that’s mine. As far as emotions are concerned, she’s filtering all mine, and yet, all thoughts and emotions are hers but on a different level and different environment.
I’m merely escorting her through her very own story. Like me, she has many male role models, and that is just a coincidence. I’m personally not interested in femininity or stories about it. I can’t stand Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf for their constant emphasis on what fucking heroines their protagonists are. I want to know everything about a character’s flaws, no matter if fucking male or female. I prefer truth to heroism.
As a writer, I like guiding my characters through their psychological and emotional journey, determining the story’s plot. I naturally tend to construct the voice of an unreliable narrator because I can be biased. Still, I don’t let myself get away with it. I have other characters in the story who disagree with me or give me shit.
My greatest influences for this book are male writers. Instead of listing them, I’m going to tell you about my two favourite female authors that also shaped my protagonist: Mary Shelley and Charlotte Brontë. Mary and I share the same interest in Greek mythology, and I love how it had inspired her to write a masterpiece like Frankenstein. She’d gone through so much pain in her life that I can’t even fathom what it must have felt like. Her pain was based on loss. The only way to soothe her pain was to imagine that you can bring the dead back to life, but how awful are the consequences?
However, my protagonist is not pained by loss; she’s pained by rejection.
Now coming to Charlotte Bronte, I’d like to point out the real woman in fiction: Jane Eyre. I’m not really interested in class structure or the absence of emancipation back in those days–I’m talking about Jane Eyre–an orphan, intelligent, strong, independent and hard-working. She bites her way through struggles to find a sense of love and belonging. In fact, she is looking to be loved. This is a sort of story that works for me. You see Charlotte sitting next to Jane, simply accompanying her, believing in her without hissing, “You have to be the fucking heroine in this story!”
To sum this up, I look up to Charlotte and Mary. My story has a different turn, and it’s about guilt.
What do you do when you’ve done something terrible? Do you atone like little Briony (Ian McEwan’s Atonement) by becoming a nurse to help the injured? Or do you go further than that? My protagonist is not a good forgiver when it comes to love, and I think she got it from me.
If people ask me if I believe in love, I say I’m agnostic, but I believe in honeymoon phases and that nothing, nothing, is permanent. I’m sad and happy about it. Although this is Buddhist philosophy, I’d like to go back to existentialism and absurdism.
Let’s say my protagonist would’ve committed suicide if she hadn’t had a creative motivation to keep her going. However, there is more to it, and unfortunately, I can’t give away the ending. What I can say is, it’s up to you if you want to believe in the truth. The other option is to close your eyes for a bit while driving, like Leonard in Memento. Do you decide to believe in a lie so that you can keep going?
Personally, I’ve gone through enough, and yet, having hope and creating meaning is all I have left to keep going, believing in lies or not. I can’t say I really care anymore. And yet, my protagonist does. She cares…a lot. Unlike me, she has a good mentor (male), who gives her meaning, a supportive supervisor (male) who teaches her. I’m just rolling up the boulder, looking for things that sweep me off my feet (and make sure the rock won’t roll me over).
I’m obviously not giving away the end. Still, I can reassure you that the men portrayed in this novel are good men, so are the women, except that I, on a personal front, did not have a good relationship with my female paediatrician. I strongly reflected it in my story. I don’t think I can tell you any more than this.
I don’t know how much I managed to justify it in the end. If anything, you’ll have to fire reviews directly at me upon reading it. But please note that this is a very emotional story, and I don’t believe in heroism, no matter what gender. If you see the hidden emotions in Hemingway’s writing, I hope you’ll see them in mine as well.