Q: Given that you have a professional career outside of writing, when and how did you decide you wanted to be an author?
A: For many years I have been a big fan of stories that, while fiction, could very much represent real people, living their best lives. Books like Still Alice and Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova, put a face on grave medical subjects that affect segments of our population. It is important to help the general public understand these terrifying and elusive disorders, to promote understanding, empathy and inclusiveness. I knew this was a topic I could do successfully with my background, and in the winter of 2017, I decided I was ready. Never thought I could carve out the time from my busy personal and professional life to write, but once I got going, the story felt like it wrote itself.
Q: How did you get the idea for your story?
A: If you ask my daughter, she’ll tell you I have a sick mind. I guess it’s a combination of my genetic counseling training and experience, a love of family drama stories, and watching way too many soap operas as a kid.
Q: Who are your favorite authors, and why?
A: My two favorites are Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova. Ms. Picoult creates moving and unique stories and carves out beautiful narratives with impeccable research. She is not afraid to tackle any topic, from the mistreatment of majestic elephants in Africa to white supremacy in our backyards. Ms. Genova writes about subjects that I can relate to. Her book Inside the O’Briens, about a family that struggles with the devastating ravages of Huntingtons disease, is one of my all-time favorites. Huntingtons has been described as a combination of Alzheimers, Parkinsons and ALS, perhaps the scariest diagnosis one could be given. She has a knack for weaving the science and the genetics into the story that makes it accessible for the average reader. My ultimate motivation was to do the same.
Q: What do genetic counselors do, and how did your experience affect your writing?
A: Genetic counselors have advanced education and training in genetics and counseling, and provide tailored help to patients as they make decisions about their genetic health or that of their families. We guide and support patients seeking more information about how inherited conditions might affect them or their families, how family and medical histories may impact the chance of disease, which genetic tests may be right for them, and what those tests may or may show. While now in academia, in my early career, I provided genetic counseling for women who were pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. For the remainder of my clinical career, I worked with cancer patients and their family members. The fear my patients had at the beginning of their sessions with me, replaced with knowledge, strength and courage at the end, was inspiring. Rarely did I find that what I thought was common knowledge in the world of genetics was actually common. My goal with Brooke’s Promise is to make genetics accessible to the average reader, demystify some myths, and provide a broader understanding for diversity and inclusion.
Q: Did you know the plot of the whole story before you wrote it?
A: In some ways I did. A very wise friend had recommended that I outline each chapter very carefully, so that I would know where I was going. That kept me on course, and allowed the story to flow properly without having to fix big chunks to make it fit where it ultimately flowed. But the characters have minds of their own, and I was occasionally led down an unexpected path. I relished these occurrences, as that meant the characters were alive.
Q: Did you draw upon your own experiences with family and friends as you created your characters and plot?
A: To some extent. No character is based solely on one person in my life. Some are amalgams of a few, but most just have certain character traits, use similar types of language to those I know, or state inside jokes. My biggest fan is my sister, and I knew that while reading each draft chapter as I wrote it, she would get a kick out of all the references I included. For example, a one-liner uttered by a friend of hers I never met came out of Ryan’s mouth, and she loved it. There was even a reference to Alan Alda’s character in M*A*S*H*! I drew the plot out of my head, but sprinkled the story with people and experiences from my own life.