Dr. Mitchell Maiman became a physician at age 24 and is now retired. As a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology and sub-specialist in Gynecologic Oncology, he has had a distinguished academic, clinical and research career in medicine and served as both a Director of Gynecologic Oncology and Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at major New York City-based university hospitals. He has been recognized for his numerous educational contributions in the field and his devotion and commitment to the teaching of residents and fellows.
Mitch lives with his wife, Dr. Judy Levy, in Long Island, New York and is an avid tennis player and practitioner of yoga. They first met during their residency training.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I knew I wanted to become a writer in college when I started to gravitate towards courses in English, Psychology, Literature, and other social sciences. There was only one problem- I also wanted to go to medical school to become a doctor! I was fortunate enough to have a very fulfilling and gratifying medical career as a gynecologic oncologist/cancer surgeon, and was very well published in the medical literature. Over the years, I sensed my frustration with such a confining type of written expression, and knew that as soon as I retired that I would pursue my real dream- that of writing novels.
The thing I love the most about writing is the creation of emotion. I believe great writing must move the reader, play havoc with their feelings, and move them in a not so ordinary way. They must rattle them to the core! To be able to create a book, or a chapter, or even a few paragraphs to that end result is, at least in my mind, clearly the desired result.
However, setting such lofty goals are certainly often accompanied by unwanted frustrations. For me, ending a novel is the biggest challenge of all, for it requires putting all the pieces together and avoiding the inconsistencies that invariably developed in the previous text. All the subplots must come together and every detail, no matter how minuscule, has to be perfect and exact in order to maximize the drama of the moment. The ending needs to be flawless. It is what the reader will remember forever.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
EVERY THIRD NIGHT is an eye-opening yet poignant novel set in a busy, dehumanizing, and unyielding New York City residency program in In Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1984. It brings the reader into the real world of medicine at a time of limited supervision and brutal duty hours through the vantage points of young physicians enduring stressful conflicts and volatile relationships. As the protagonist and his colleagues grapple with the overwhelming friction of their circumstances, the intertwined subplots collide and come crashing down when a haunting mishap leaves the program reeling and the protagonist’s life forever transformed.
Readers can find out more about this novel and myself by going to my author website at mitchmaiman.com, and by particularly exploring the “Media” section for newspaper stories and previous blog posts and interviews.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
The inspiration for my novels come from real life experiences that have greatly affected me, and motivate me to tell a story that, in my mind, must be told. When I am writing well, the words literally seem to come oozing out of my pores and onto the page, like a violent river that can’t be tamed. Similarly, my characters are usually based on someone I have encountered in my own life, although well disguised and usually far more complex and interesting.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
No, I do not have a schedule to complete my writing. I try to work only when I feel properly motivated, thereby not forcing potential unproductive bouts of writing or a sub-optimal product. Luckily since I have already retired from my first career in medicine, I don’t feel pressured to produce at a specific rate. I believe there should be no definitive timetable in creating a quality novel.
I never use an outline. Rather, I create my characters without a specific plot in mind and let their development guide the direction of the novel. I want them to evolve and declare themselves. Naturally, this makes ending the novel infinitely more difficult, bit I feel that is a price I am willing to pay to have my characters be real and my story be honest. EVERY THIRD NIGHT took about two years to write and another year to revise and get published. My next novel is entitled THE RAINBOW DIARY and will be completely different in nature from the last, but hopefully just as compelling.
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
No novel has moved me more than “The Bridges of Madison County” by Robert James Waller. I think I cried continuously for a full hour after completing that book, and openly wondered how anyone could possibly write so beautifully. It made me keenly aware of the potential splendor of this art form. It was certainly a high standard to guide me in my future work.
I am currently reading “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. I am enjoying it immensely so far, particularly with regard to character development. The protagonist is so very interesting and unique, and although quite quirky, totally consistent, and believable. The story is nothing short of inspiring.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
My most significant achievement has been to spend my entire adult life as a physician, and then start from scratch to embark on the craft of writing. It was a totally new universe for me, and I lacked almost every possible technical skill that is so imperative in this day and age of publishing. Everything I learned was self-taught, but I remained determined and steadfast to accomplish my goal. As we all age, we must not be afraid to reach out and try new things. We must overcome our natural fear of failure and concentrate more on the potential elation of success and the absolute joy of the growth process itself. Hopefully within the next five years I will have published at least two additional novels.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
I have tried to overcome the feeling of rejection by tapping into the most important of qualities- Passion. One must be passionate about their story and just as enthusiastic about putting it down on paper. You must be ready to overcome unforeseen obstacles and learn and incorporate new skills on the fly. It requires perseverance, incredibly hard work and, most of all, a thick skin. That first review from your content editor can be a brutal experience and it is important to not personalize anything. Just continue to grind through the process.
My advice to other writers trying to navigate the publishing process is to pick the set of professionals that you choose to work with very carefully. That includes everything from the developmental editor, copywriter, proofreader, cover design specialist, social media consultant and public relations assistant. Anything that you can do independently on your own is quite admirable, but do not be hesitant in recruiting the help you need. It will pay off dearly in the final product.
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
Yes, it is at times difficult to balance the creative side of writing with the business side, but it is very important to attempt to separate the two. Writing is pure joy. The sickly competitive and unbalanced promotional side of the publishing business is absolute torture, especially for those previously unfamiliar with that world. Building an author platform takes time, patience, and a ton of resilience. I have found it very important to keep a rational perspective and try to always remember why we engage ourselves in the writing process in the first place- to touch people, to stir their emotions and make an impact. I try to remain much more focused on the feedback that I get from individual readers than any other more classic parameters.
9) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself after it’s out there for the rest of the world?
I love reading my own work. It continually reminds me of the creative fervor I felt in writing the story in the first place. All fiction is semi-autobiographical, whether the author realizes it or not- at least it should be, if it is to be honest and realistic. Therefore, I invariably find myself reviewing a piece of my own life every time I browse through my novel.
10) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
It is never too late for an aspiring writer to write well, but we all may have a different definition of what “successful in the industry” means. Would you rather have a mediocre book that sells well because you have the resources, name recognition and connections, or a splendid novel that reaches far fewer readers? I know I prefer the latter. Those deeply entrenched in the publishing industry from a young age obviously have a tremendous advantage, but good quality should always be marketable. I would encourage every author, no matter what stage in their life, to write with dedication and excitement, and be confident in their pursuits.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
Writing energizes me, fuels me, and keeps me centered. It unleashes my creative side that in many ways has been suppressed for many years. It is an important aspect of my psychological health. As a former physician and cancer surgeon, my previous career was quite dogmatic and intense, and my contributions to the medical literature, while undoubtedly important were quite limited in scope. Fiction writing has allowed me to express myself in a totally different and wonderful way, and has empowered me to make my statements and express my inner most vulnerabilities in the form of compelling stories. Writing, for those of us lucky enough to have such a gift, is a true blessing. Its product leaves a unique legacy that helps define our lives.
12) How do you keep your writing different?
The key to keep your writing “different” is being loyal and true to yourself. We are all singular individuals, and writers are no exception. We think differently, react differently, and compose our prose differently. Writing is simply transmitting the ideas that are filtered out by your brain and expressing them in flowing sentences and appropriate words. Since no two brains are alike, your fiction can only be uniquely yours, unless you violate the cardinal rule of composition and try to mimic another author’s style or live up to some biased standard that you have encountered in the past. Just be yourself! Don’t use words that you wouldn’t use in your everyday language. Don’t invent fancy phrases that you have rarely heard your entire life. And when you try to project yourself into one of your character’s mindsets, don’t deviate too far from your own paradigm. Every character must make sense to you, even if they are deviant or crazy. At times, aren’t we all? For instance, of one of your characters is a murderer, imagine yourself as that criminal and write what you might do in a given situation. If another one is a psychopath, become psychotic in your thoughts and transmit how your own brain interprets that pathology. Don’t let your characters become foreign to you. Intrinsically break them down through your own lens and recite their plights in your own vernacular.