Today, I’m interviewing fellow Ylva Publishing author Chris Zett. Chris lives in Berlin, works as a physician, and writes authentic lesbian medical romances.
Chris is giving away an ebook copy of her lesbian romance novel Irregular Heartbeat, so don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this post!
Chris also offers a free short story for her newsletter subscribers, which she’ll send out in time for Christmas, so if you want to receive it, make sure you sign up to her newsletter.
Welcome, Chris. Please tell us a little about your debut novel, Irregular Heartbeat, which was a finalist for a GCLS Award this year.
Irregular Heartbeat is, as the name suggests, a lesbian medical romance. After nearly a decade as a professional drummer, Diana leaves her rock-star life behind to continue her residency in emergency medicine. Emily is an attending physician in the ER and takes her job very seriously. When a new resident shows up with a secret past, she isn’t happy to babysit the intriguing newcomer. They’re not only forced to work together but soon their personal lives intersect as well, and the once-clear lines between attending and resident begin to blur.
Most readers love medical romances. What do you think makes novels about doctors and detectives so irresistible? Is it just the women-in-scrubs-or-a-white-coat phenomena?
I think some professions are well known and mysterious at the same time. Everyone grows up knowing of doctors, nurses, cops, and firemen. You meet a few of them on a regular basis (hopefully not cops), but not everyone knows someone in these jobs privately. So there is enough room to imagine all kinds of exciting backstories and fascinating personalities hiding behind their uniforms. Plus, these careers all have in common that you suspect the people who choose to pursue them have some intention of “doing good” or “saving the world.” It’s easy to glorify a doctor for working 24 hours, sacrificing sleep for the lives of others.
While some medical professionals buy into this narrative and think of themselves as “demi-gods in white,” most of us know that we’re humans, just like everyone else, not better or worse. We all have our own mixed personalities and motives.
Medical romances—at least the good ones—allow the reader do sneak behind the stage and get to know the person behind the professional role they’re playing.
As a medical professional, do you read medical romance novels, or do you tend to stay away from them? If you do read them, what are the things that make you flinch?
I love medical romances! I’m not different than anyone else and want to catch a glimpse behind the facade. I think I read most of what the lesbian fiction market has to offer. I love it when the setting genuinely fits the character and isn’t just an easy means to dress up a character in a white coat.
Medical inaccuracies that are easy to research make me flinch. And groan. And fling my e-reader away.
I’m not talking about super complicated details, but small things that add up, like talking through breathing tubes, shocking a flatline, or getting up and immediately walking away after a few months of coma.
Watching TV shouldn’t be the only form of research for a writer. But I think this problem stems from the same phenomenon as the interest in medical romances—medicine is well known and mysterious at the same time. Everyone knows someone who has been in a hospital or has been sick and therefore thinks they are an expert on medical procedures they have seen maybe once. But even though I’ve been in school for thirteen years and encountered far too many teachers, I don’t know enough to write about one without proper research.
If anyone is interested in writing a medical romance or writing medical scenes in any other novel, please don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional. I’m always willing to help and have done it before. It always has been fun to figure out with the writer what they need for their scene and how to achieve it best while still staying realistic.
Which of your characters do you feel you relate to the most and why?
This is a great question. None? All of them? Help!
Diana’s character is very relaxed, confident, someone you can rely on. She knows who she is and where she wants to be and just does everything that needs to be done. I believe I have some of these qualities, but we’re still very different.
In Emily, I wanted to portray a typical career-focused doctor whose self-imposed high standard stands in the way of her own happiness—that’s not me. At all. But her struggle with her emotional detachment, especially concerning her mother, has some familiar aspects I can relate too very well.
Jess, a cardiologist from my upcoming medical romance Heart Failure, loves planning and is very stubborn. Again, some of that is me, but most of the time, while writing the novel, I wanted to kick her and tell her to get over herself. (Spoiler alarm: she did, eventually.)
Finally, Lena (from Heart Failure) has massive problems believing she is worthy to be loved. Teenage-me would have related to her so much. But I’m very happy that I’m in a different place now.
Many authors suffer from “second book syndrome,” meaning they struggle with their second book, maybe because there’s more pressure to deliver a book that is even better than the first one. While working on your second novel, Heart Failure, did you experience that, and if you did, how did you deal with it?
In medicine, we have this terrible (but sometimes true) saying: See one, do one, teach one. But just as in medicine, I had to discover the hard way that just because you have tons of theoretical knowledge and did it once, you’re not an expert. I expected that all I had learned during the countless revisions and edits on my first book to translate automatically in a perfect second novel. Um, no. I got frustrated because I couldn’t do those characters and ideas justice that lived vividly in my imagination.
After I got over my disappointment that I hadn’t changed into a perfect bestseller author overnight, I clung to the thought that I had already successfully finished and published a novel, so I knew it wasn’t impossible. And unlike writing my first book, I didn’t suffer from writer’s block. The most important lesson I learned from my first novel was that you can really, really transform a novel by editing. But to get to this stage, you need to write something first.
You are a fellow German writing in English. Why do you prefer to write your novels in English, and what’s your biggest struggle?
Since I was about 15, I preferred reading in English, and after 18 I barely touched a German book. I was into fantasy novels, and the German translations were often awful. What I did read in German were my mother’s cheap historical romance novels, and whenever I tried to write something in German, it sounded like a juvenile, overly dramatic version of these books. In my early twenties, I dabbled in roleplaying on Yahoo! Groups (what would now be called fan-fiction writing) and like most good things on the Internet in the nineties, it was only possible in English. I used these fantasy short stories to explore my sexuality, but never really finished one. Later, med school and my residency happened, and I quit writing for fun.
Until I discovered lesbian fiction, especially romance. It was as if a switch in my brain had been set from reading to writing, and now I can’t stop. The fun thing is, I never even considered writing in German. Translating my own books into German without using purple prose is extremely difficult, and I would consider this as my biggest struggle. Apart from commas—they are my nemesis.
I know you love to travel and recently even bought a camper van. What’s your favorite place that you have visited so far, and would you ever set a book there?
This is a very easy question. I have visited a lot of beautiful places but I have a clear favorite: Scotland, especially Glencoe. I’ve been in the area more than ten times, on very different kinds of vacations: from group travel to backpacking to couple’s retreat with my wife. I always swear that I’ve seen enough and it’ll be my last time. But after a few years (or months), I get the calling to return.
Actually, the next book I’ll write will be partially set there. My protagonist will go on a hiking trip on the West Highland Way and meet someone she could fall in love with. Lucky for her, it’s a medical romance, and she’ll meet her love interest again as they unexpectedly start working in the same hospital, thousands of miles away, in the US.
Is there a secret book project that you’d love to write at some point in the future but don’t feel quite ready for right now?
I want to write a novel about a female pianist who plays live at the screenings of silent movies. The novel will be set in 1920s Berlin; a time of political, socio-economical, and cultural change, freedom to explore sexual orientations, and endless parties. Just before the rising nationalism tore apart the country and destroyed everything the fledgling democracy stood for.
Apart from the unbelievable amount of research I need to do, I want to become a better writer to do this book justice, especially in German.
I know you’re an avid reader of lesbian and f/f fiction. Can you tell us your five all-time favorites?
No. Seriously, this question is impossible. Five per author? Five per sub-genre? The best five of last month? Are you trying to kill me?
I decided to cheat a little and looked at my labels in Calibre, the best ebook management software I know: I rated 222 books with 5 stars, 65 of them are in my re-read folder (that is books I intend to re-read). Of those, I picked the five that spoke to me the most today. If you ask me again tomorrow, I might name five completely different books.
The oldest of them is No Strings by Gerri Hill. I love the characters, the setting, the bickering. I can’t count how often I read this book.
The newest is Changing the Script by Lee Winter. I only read it once, but in one complete sitting, without getting up to drink, eat, or use the bathroom. I thought I could just read a chapter while I waited for my water to boil for my morning tea. I never even made myself that tea. Not many books have done this to me: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Damage Control are on this entirely different list.
If we’re talking about Jae books, I need to mention Backwards to Oregon. Luke is just so irresistible.
The most surprising book this year was Alone by E. J. Noyes. I knew I loved her writing, but this book really got under my skin.
And last, I’ll cheat some more and mention a series of three books: The Dark Peaks Series by Cari Hunter (No Good Reason, Cold to the Touch and A Quiet Death). A doctor, a detective, a fantastic setting, an unusual romance spanning three books, excellent writing—what more could you want? I especially recommend the audiobooks, the narrative performance by Nicola Victoria Vincent is incredible.
When’s your next book coming out, and what are you working on right now?
My next book will be out in January 2020. Heart Failure is a stand-alone medical romance but set in the same universe as Irregular Heartbeat.
The blurb: Dr. Jess Riley’s perfect life as a top cardiologist and new mom shatters when she has a heart failure. Forced to move home, she’s shocked to find her mother has taken in Lena, a struggling artist with a broken heart. They slowly form a friendship which turns physical. But is it too soon? Should two barely mended souls risk more? An enemies-to-lovers lesbian romance about daring to open your heart.
Right now, I’m working on the German translation until the end of December. (If anyone German is reading this and has a suggestion for a good German title, please email me (chris-zett(at)web.de). I’ll be forever grateful and offer you a signed copy if I use your suggestion.
In January, I’ll plan to start writing my next novel. I’ve been plotting this one for a while and can’t wait to get the first words on the page.
Where can your readers find out more about you and your books?
My website (chris-zett.com) is a good start. I’m all over social media too. I have a Facebook page (facebook.com/ChrisZettAuthor), a Twitter account (twitter.com/ChrisZettAuthor), and Instagram (Instagram.com/ChrisZettAuthor).
Free short story
Chris also has a reader newsletter. If you subscribe now, you’ll get a free short story for Christmas.
Chris is graciously giving away an e-book copy of her lesbian medical romance Irregular Heartbeat.
Anyone can enter. To be entered into the drawing, scroll down to the very end of this page and leave a comment on this blog post.
Entries close on Thursday, December 19, 2019, 10 a.m. CET, when I’ll draw the winners using a random numbers generator. I’ll notify the winner via email. Your email address won’t be used for any other purpose.