Himalaya: Listen. Learn. Grow.
Leading A Double Life
Hi, everyone, and welcome to episode 3 of my podcast Leading A Double Life. I’m Kwei Quartey, a physician and author of the Inspector Darko Dawson novels. On my podcast, what it’s like to be a medical doctor and a writer. This episode, How I Got Published.One of the top most exciting times of my life was the day in 2008 that I learned Random House had accepted my first novel, WIFE OF THE GODS, for publication. My phone was buzzing with messages back and forth to and from my agent as she negotiated the deal.But I have to go back in time, because it was a decades-long road to that hallowed major publisher destination, and Random House is huge. After graduating from my Internal Medicine residency, I had returned to my old love of fiction writing. As a pre-teen, I’d written several adventure and mystery novels and won a few fiction-writing contests. My parents were very supportive and encouraging of my efforts, but at no point did they ever force me to write. I did it at urgings from within. I believe wanting or needing to write is something indigenous. It’s a part of me as much as the necessity to eat and sleep.I had been working as a newly employed Los Angeles physician for about a year when I began my first novel. At that time, I’d joined a writing group run by a former editor at one of the large publishers, and the literary world was buzzing about a steamy new novel called Destiny by Sally Beauman. It had been only half completed when it got a million-dollar advance from Bantam Books. It debuted at number six on the bestseller list a week before it was even published. It was 848 pages long, and one of those stories described with adjectives such as “sprawling” and “sweeping.” It was Danielle Steele-ish but was more explicit in its description of romantic exchanges, to put it delicately, particularly one jaw-dropping scene that everyone who read it remembers. I certainly do.I was quite taken with Beauman’s tome, and nothing preaches success like success, so I wrote my first novel called A Fateful Place along the lines of Destiny. Mine had an international flavor, taking place in England and the United States, with elements of the fashion world and British aristocracy. Essentially, Fiona, a young American woman visiting England mistakenly believes she has lost her baby boy, Julian, during a tragic ferry accident. In fact, the child has survived and been sold to a rather dodgy upper class British couple unable to have their own child. The lives of Fiona and Julian are separate until by happenstance they cross, and with devastating results.There were holes in the plot of this story large enough to drive a truck through. The question I have now is how I managed to fill some 750 pages with this story. I doubt I could do that now. I don’t recall how many literary agents I sent the manuscript to, but I could have built a paper house with all those rejection letters. Apart from the plot being grossly flawed, who was going to give any standing to a black author writing about the British and American white upper class?I should explain that most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts; that is ones that haven’t passed through a literary agent, who is, I suppose you might say, a gatekeeper. While I was waiting—in vain as it turns out—for an agent to snap up In A Fateful Place, I embarked on a new work of fiction based on the independent movie, Battle Of Algiers, about the war from 1954 to 1962 between Algeria and her French colonizers. I don’t remember which came first—the movie, or my interest in the war, but at any rate I personalized the historical events with a fictional character, Kamila, which was also the book’s title. Kamila, a young Algerian woman working in the French Quarter of Algiers, is caught up between the rival attentions of an Arab nationalist and a wealthy Frenchman. This novel I wrote very quickly—in about three months.