Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Growing the Genre: Veterinary Medical Thrillers

What reader doesn't love a good thriller? When the stakes are high and an unlikely hero is thrust into the cross hairs, the reader is engaged, rooting for the underdog, anxiously waiting for a resolution that brings back the balance between good and evil. Add to this the setting of a veterinary clinic and a hero who is a veterinarian and, well, come on. What's there not to love?

This is where Dr. Clare Walker comes in. She, too, loves a good thriller and just so happens to be

a) a veterinarian and
b) an author. 

An author of vet med thrillers, no less. So, you see dear readers, I simply had to talk with her.
Clare Walker, DVM

Let's cut to the chase. Clare recently independently published her first novel, The Keys of Death. It's in the genre of veterinary medical thriller. Move over, physician and medical thriller novelist Robin Cook. The vets are taking charge of the thriller now. (Insert sound effect for the slapping of latex exam gloves.)

Clare relates how her novel was born. "The germ of the idea occurred to me back in the 2000s. I was working as a vet in the suburbs of Chicago. You hear funny things sometimes and there was a rumor that there was one animal hospital in the area that was haunted. It just got me thinking: a haunted veterinary hospital, that's really interesting. Not that my novel has anything to do with a haunted veterinary hospital, but it was based on me rolling with that thought and going further and further out. I got the idea: what would be a veterinarian's worst nightmare? I thought about the animals we put to sleep via humane euthanasia. What if they woke up? That would be a vet's worst nightmare. So that was the thing, that was the spark that made me start writing the book."

Clare has been interested in writing for most of her life and has said from early on that she's held two major interests: books and natural sciences. "I completed the first draft of the book in 2008 as the thesis project of a masters degree I was obtaining in written communications," she continues. "That version was about half the length of the current version. Then I began revising several years later and finally finished it."
A little ambiance...
The search for an agent to represent her work became, after a while, a road block. "I spent a couple of years shopping the novel around for representation," Clare explains. "I got some interest from agents, but they all passed on it. I thought to myself I could grow old and die waiting to get representation for this novel. This was around 2012, when independent publishing really started to be a thing."

Enter the budding popularity of the independent publishing avenue for writers. Clare easily lists some of the hotshots in independent publishing's recent history (Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, The Martian) in her reasoning why she chose to go that route instead of pursuing the questionable fate of waiting for an agent via traditional publishing. "Independent publishing is a thing now," she says. "The lines are blurring. So I decided to go for it."

"I thought to myself I could grow old and die waiting to get representation."

Let the record show that although The Keys of Death is Clare's first novel, it wasn't her first published work. Prior to publication of The Keys of Death, Clare independently published a collection of short stories called Startling Figures. The stories in this collection are of the paranormal/supernatural variety and some involve vet med, too. Clare started with publishing these stories as a way to test the waters of independent publishing. Finding that this method suited her, she went that way again for The Keys of Death and intends to continue down the independent publishing path with her next novel and a second collection of short stories.

One noteworthy reaction from an agent early on was eye-opening, stark, and -- I agree with Clare -- incorrect. Clare was told simply there wasn't a market for vet med thrillers. "I think the timing [for this genre] is excellent," Clare retorts. "People love animals, love their dogs. Vets have a good reputation. There's a huge market for this. These are the same agents who were turning down J.K. Rowling by the dozens. So, never mind. We will go directly to our readers, thank you very much."
"Never mind. We will go directly to our readers, thank you very much."
Currently, Clare has just finished the first draft of her next short story collection and is almost half way through the first draft of her second novel, which is a new vet med thriller, independent of The Keys of Death. It is set in the desert of the American Southwest. "It has a completely new cast of characters," says Clare.
Clare Walker, DVM
As a writer, Clare thinks one of her greatest strengths is creating strong characters. "People really seem to like my characters," she says. "But one of my weaknesses is the speed with which I write. I think I'm too slow. But, you know, I have to make a living. I have to work enough hours at the vet hospital to pay for this writing habit I have."

"I would not be able to write the books that I write if I weren't a veterinarian."

Speaking of working at the vet hospital, Clare enthusiastically acknowledges how being a vet has benefited her writing career. "Writing the vet med thriller -- it's the perfect melding of my two interests: vet med and writing. It's the best of both worlds. When I'm writing a scene that has to do with something veterinary, whether it's a surgical scene or a necropsy or what goes on at the vet hospital -- those scenes basically write themselves because it comes from my own experiences and my own expertise. I would not be able to write the books that I write if I weren't a veterinarian. It's such a cool mixture."

The excitement with which Clare talks about her writing does not wane throughout our discussion. I can tell Clare loves her characters. She describes her cast in The Keys of Death as real people with real problems; she gives them real compassion, almost empathy for fictitious folks. But Clare also stresses that The Keys of Death, despite the title, is uplifting. "Vets do have a good reputation in the world," she says, "but have recently taken a bit of a beating. And now we're reading about how mental illness is a problem among veterinarians so I think this book is really uplifting."

See? A hero in a thriller usually comes out on top in the end, whether she is an FBI agent, private detective, CIA operative, or veterinarian. Justice (and science!) wins again.

Until next month! Happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting.