Dr. Kimmery Martin’s eyes light up at the mention of Boggle, a Scrabble-like word game where players compete by forming words from randomized letter combinations.
“Are you challenging me to a match?” asks Martin, a Cotswold resident and emergency medicine doctor. The self-described literary nerd claims her prowess in the game as a significant life achievement.
Her wordsmithing talents are on display in her new debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, released by Penguin Random House in February. It’s a humor-laced tome about two Charlotte physicians and mothers, featuring an alternating storyline between their current chaotic lives and their time as med-students in Louisville (Martin’s past home). The sudden return of a former colleague—think McDreamy of “Grey’s Anatomy”—exposes a long-dormant secret and threatens to shatter cherished relationships.
SouthPark Magazine sat down with Martin to talk about her love for literature, the process of getting published, and happy endings. Lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Where does your love of literature come from?
My mother has master’s degree in children’s lit. As a little girl, we’d go to the library every week with a red wagon and fill it up with books. I couldn’t go straight home after school because both my parents worked, so I would go to the library every day, and I wound up reading, literally, every children’s book and then every young-adult book in the library.
What drove you to write this book?
All my writing interests started maybe four years ago. It was the summer everybody was surreptitiously reading Fifty Shades of Grey. It was massively inspiring because I thought, “If this thing got published, I could write a book.” Bear in mind I knew nothing at all about the mechanics of writing or the process of becoming published—thankfully, because had I known anything, I’d have been too daunted to try. For me, the process was intensely character driven. I did not have a plot in mind as I started writing.
Tell us about the premise of the story.
I wanted to write about a group of friends in medical school because my own friends in medical school were so utterly central to my life. I still stay in touch with my six best doctor girlfriends and we see each other and talk often. While the book is not about anyone real—all the characters are invented—I did, of course, draw on my experience for inspiration.
The story was mainly about two of them and this very close female friendship. I then thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what their lives are now?” There’s a romantic intrigue, there’s a lot of humor in the book—you can’t write about parenthood and medicine without seeing a lot of things that are hysterical—but there’s also a lot of things that are deeply traumatic.
My publishers wound up comparing the novel to kind of a fusion between Grey’s Anatomy and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. It boils down to be a story about something that went drastically wrong in a friendship.
Describe the process of getting published.
It was incredibly painful. About three-fourths of the way through the book, I started getting serious about figuring out whether I would publish it. I hired a great local editor to help me with the story structure. Eventually, I thought it was in good enough shape to try to find an agent. You write a one-page query letter describing the book and a little bit about you, and send that to agents, most of whom are in New York.
I was a terrible query letter writer. No one paid any attention. I kept refining the query and trying again, and I got to the point where I would hear my email ping and feel my face flame with shame because I knew it was going to be a form rejection. Eventually, I must have written a much better letter because I sent it out to 12 big-name literary agents and, within an hour, I had six requests for the book. Within a couple weeks of that, I had a deal.
It must have been an incredible high.
I was driving my kids to school when my sister called and said, “You have to come home” to Kentucky. My stepmother was dying. I dropped the kids off, went straight to the highway, drove for seven straight hours, and just made it there before she died.
While I was I stopped for gas on a mountaintop in Tennessee, I got an email from the woman who was going to become my agent, offering me representation and saying how much she loved the book. I remember fluttering my hands and being overwhelmed at the juxtaposition of one of the happiest moments and one of the saddest moments of my entire life.
Are you a happy-endings girl?
It’s a rollercoaster. There’s a lot of drama but there’s also a lot of laughter in the book and there’s a lot of focus on friendship and inherent difficulties of being really close to another human being, especially when you sometimes are competitive with them.
Learn more about the author
This story first ran in the February 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.
Photo by Stephen B. Dey | Charlotte Image Photography