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Sep 4, 2013

Guest Post: DL Atha_Lessons Learnt From Writing

Posted by Wendy Ewurum  |  at  1:00 AM

The host of the charity ball was just getting to the initial toast the first time it happened to me and it’s a moment I will never forget.

I was sitting at a table, a cardiovascular surgeon to my left, my husband to my right and a highly respected neurosurgeon to the right of my dearly beloved. Across from my seat was the CEO of the hospital where I work and next to him set my best friend and her husband. Beside them set a tiny woman in a nun’s habit, one of the senior most sisters at the hospital where I’m employed.

Everyone at the table had just received their salad and was sipping politely at their champagne while they made small talk. You know things like how the local Catholic diocese was doing, how much money was expected to be raised at tonight’s charity ball, who would be elected president of this year’s ladies auxiliary, and which doctor had the best bedside manner. The nun, an elderly but strong woman of impeccable backbone, was discussing the lack of young women entering the convents in America these days and the CEO was listening intently. The band was gearing up for a ‘hard core’ big band tune. The place was really rocking…well, for a charity gala at a conservative religious hospital anyways!

I was nervous to begin with. You see, I’m not really the kind of girl who goes to these types of events. I’m the girl who stays home to watch the Star Trek marathon or the newest zombie film.  I’m terrible at fashion and am far more at home in the disorganized used book store on the corner.
DL Atha: Author & MD
I became a doctor because I loved science and wanted to save the world.  Not because I enjoyed dressing up, was good at public speaking or even had nominal social graces.
I was the geek girl at the front of the class in elementary school, the charter member of the band club in high school, and as nerdy in college as I was in high school.  I’m sure you’ve seen my type and so can understand how I loathed this yearly night of torture.
 The other ladies at the table were all in their evening gown regalia. I had been very careful to not wear the same dress by accident or repeat a dress from a few years before. Such an accident could lead to months of embarrassment. My heels were right and reasonably comfortable and I’d even managed to stay upright as I walked in. My hair was still decent after a long day of call and for once, even my make-up fit in with the evening’s format. And to make the night even smoother, I’d as of yet to make a Star trek joke or snort when I laughed. I was feeling optimistic. And that’s when it happened.
Dr. Stiff, the cardiologist, (the names have been changed for the sake of privacy) leaned slightly in my direction and said. “Dr. Atha, I’ve been told you dabble in writing.” He smiled politely and waited for my response.

I could feel the corners of my mouth lift at his remark. I smiled nervously and excitedly at the same time. I couldn’t help it. The mere mention of writing makes me giddy! But then I realized the inevitable. I started to sweat. I gripped the stem of my wine glass tightly in my fingers. I became mildly tachycardic. My breathing picked up.

“Yes. I write a little in my free time,” I answered but then I broke eye contact and studied the band. I looked over his head and waved to someone I didn’t even know at the back of the room. They raised their eyebrows and smiled hesitantly but politely waved back. The room was loud and I desperately hoped Dr. Stiff would drop it and not disturb the rest of the conversation going on at our table.  I signaled the waiter for another glass of the bubbly.

“What you do you write about? Do you have a pen name?” He asked as I cursed the innate curiosity of
cardiologists around the world.
The waiter didn’t come and my glass remained empty. I reached for my husband’s glass. After all, he didn’t need it as bad as I did. The CEO of the hospital was looking at me now and two of the wives were waiting expectantly as well. The nun had leaned forward to listen better. The pit of my stomach dropped to my knees.
Avoidance wasn’t possible. I was trapped.
I took one more sip of the champagne and cleared my throat. “Vampires,” I say. And then my cheeks flamed and all the air conditioning in the world wouldn’t have lessened the deep red that colored my face.
‘Doctors do not write about vampires,’ my mother had told me. ‘This is not a good career decision.’ Her words burned in my ears.
 I was mentally pleading with the band to play louder. I was beseeching the Good Lord for help. Knock the electricity out! I begged. Let some drunken dancer fall! I prayed internally. Desperately, I glanced towards my husband but his mouth was full of salad and he’s a firm believer in the ‘chew each bite 32 times club.’ I could expect no help from him.

My best friend, another vampire lover and doctor but with far more suave than myself, was seated next to the CEO. He had strategically set by her with the hopes of recruiting her to our group. I glanced desperately her way, mentally wishing her to fake a seizure, but her expression looked more like the proverbial deer in the headlights. I was on my own.
“What was that?” Dr. Stiff repeated, his hand to his ear.
I leaned forward and whispered it again. “Vampires.”
The middle-aged cardiologist raised his eyebrows and shook his head at me. He still hadn’t gotten it. Perhaps he was in denial.
“Vampires,” I speak louder this time. “I write vampire novels.”
Just my luck, the band ended their riff at that exact moment and my voice broadcasted across our entire section. Dr. Stiff stared at me wordlessly, shocked clear down to his plaid underpants. I could almost see his brain spinning as he wondered if he’d heard me correctly. Looking quizzically at his wife, she nodded in affirmation and turned her back to the table, finding a sudden and new interest in the band but not before I could see the smirk on her face.
“Like Twilight?” the neurosurgeon next to me questioned. “My twelve year old daughter loved Twilight. I guess there’s probably a lot of that stuff out there right now.”
“Not exactly like Twilight,” I said. “More Stephen King-ish or Anne Rice-ish,” I offered.
“Maybe I’ll buy a copy for my daughter. She loves all this vampire stuff,” he answered back obviously not hearing what I was saying.

“Oh. No. Um. My stuff isn’t really appropriate for twelve year olds.” I choked out a little too loudly. The
entire table froze, their forks and spoons held eerily in mid-air. The nun’s hand grazed her Crucifix.
“You mean it’s for adults?” he questioned.
Now I really had their attention. Even the next table over was listening in. Everyone including Dr. Stiff’s wife, Ima Stiff, was looking at me incredulously. The band was only a distant buzzing in the background. My head was spinning. My blood pressure was at stroke level and my husband was consuming his salad at a rate of 5 chews per mouthful. His face was crimson with the effort.
“Yeah,” I stammered. “I was looking for realism. What I was really trying to do was to convey the sheer terror of meeting a vampire face to face...”
“Is there a lot of violence?” the good doctor interrupted.
“It’s a horror story, so yeah,” I answered.
“And a LOT of sex,” my progressively inebriated friend across the table piped up. The stress had finally gotten to her. I forgave her instantly knowing she was trying to help.
The occupants of the table were still staring at me as if I had sprouted black wings from my back and was about to begin levitating when my husband pulled me to my feet and motioned to the dance floor. He just had to dance the cha-cha, he explained to the table. “We love the cha-cha,” he said again as I, red-faced and sweaty, smiled nervously to the table. And then we escaped onto the dance floor and put the entire experience to our backs.

I’d like to say we went back to the table after our awkward dance interpretation ended but I’d be lying. Instead, we cha-cha’ed to the other end of the dance floor and escaped out a side entrance. We didn’t even bother to stop and get my wrap. Instead, I texted my friend to grab it for me.
Well okay, I embellished the story a little. We really didn’t cha-cha. It was more like a drunken two step mixed with a waltz that got us out the door but I’m sure you get the picture.
That was a year ago and luckily, I still have a job at the ultra-conservative Catholic hospital where I’m employed. The nuns look awry when I pass them in the hospital but otherwise, I’ve suffered only the occasional laughter behind closing doors and the too large smiles when someone mentions my writing career like its really funny joke.

The point, you ask?
If you’re a struggling writer (like me) and haven’t, as of yet, managed to land a major publishing deal (like me), you are probably still working. And even more likely, you are working in an environment where being a little different (such as being a writer at all) sticks out like a sore thumb. Write paranormal romance or horror? Odds are you might even be considered strange!
And I can nearly promise you that somewhere and at some time, someone is going to bring up your writing when you least expect it.
So you’ve got to learn to coexist in the real world and the writing world. This co-existing is very difficult for emerging authors in part because he or she is dependent at first on the local support that they receive from family and friends. Their first sales are usually from people they know and it is those sales that begin to boost you up in the ratings on sites like Amazon and other e-book sites. So how do you maintain some type of professional distance at work and still manage to engage the people you know?

Here are a few pointers from my own experiences:

  • Get a pen name. 

It really does help and I personally don’t think it’s a cop out. I’m not selling enough books to support myself yet so I still have to work. Most likely you will too. If you have a professional career and you write on taboo subjects, it will help to keep your two worlds separate. Imagine someone being treated for cancer and they Google the doctor’s name only to find links to vampire erotica or horror stories. I think it’s acceptable to want to keep these different parts of your life separate. It doesn’t mean you’re ashamed of your second career or of your writing, only that you respect your current employer enough not to bring any undue criticism onto their business as well.
The point of a pen name in today’s world is so that it cannot be traced back to you and in the age of Google that can be very difficult. I’ve relaxed my standards a little these days as I’ve grown accustomed to being connected at work to my writing but if you choose your name correctly, it can be done. Set down at the computer when you’ve chosen a suitable name and Google the name every way you can think of. Google it with the full pen name and then with just the initials. Then try it with the pen name and half of your real name. Type in every combination you can think of and see if you are able to trace it back to yourself.

  • Don’t ask your co-workers to be your beta readers. 

It puts them in a difficult position. These men and women have to work with you routinely. It’s not their job to tell you that your latest literary work is not up to your usual par.  Even worse, they may tell you the work is good when, in fact, it is not. That is a travesty!  I can promise you it is much better to find out your writing is only so-so before it hits the press than afterwards. Find true beta readers who do not know you and are impartial. In my experience, there are many such readers on a variety of networking sites who would be willing to help you. Start by setting up an author Facebook page and forming a circle of readers who are interested and willing to help.

  • Find some friends apart from your work environment who can appreciate your outside interests. 

As I mentioned before, I work in a Catholic hospital as a physician and most of my fellow doctors have absolutely no interest in the paranormal. I can see their eyes glazing over when I start talking about my research into vampire lore.  Boring them with such details will only widen a gap that I don’t want to exist.  So I save my vampire discussions for the paranormal readers that I’ve met at book signings and other functions.

  • Join some writing groups or a book club in your area. 

Try to find a local successful author that you can connect with. If nothing else, their success will inspire you and inspiration is a commodity you can’t live without if you’re going to try to break into the writing world.  If you’re a romance writer, join a romance writing club. Don’t join a horror novel club if you write romance and vice versa.  If you write horror, you will not likely be well received in a romance group. It’s possible that the confounding stares could scar you for life. I made that mistake once and it was ugly!
Writing clubs are a great place to find beta readers who have an interest in your genre. They know what works in that genre and what doesn’t. A few authors are able to cross genres but it’s truly hard to do, especially when you are first starting out.

  • Don’t pimp your books out to your co-workers. 

No one likes high pressured sales and no one enjoys feeling obligated to read a book that they would never normally read just because they know you. If a co-worker asks about your work, happily give them the names of your books and where to find them but then resist the urge to ask them if they got your book and if they liked it. Trust me; you do not want to know if they didn’t!
And when all of the above fail to keep your writing career and the career that actually pays the bills separate and it will fail at times, try the following:
Be confidant in what you wrote and take pride in your accomplishments! Nearly everyone thinks to write a book at some point in their life but most people never take the time to do so.
If someone makes a snarky remark or laughs at your attempts at writing (and they will), just smile politely and walk away. It will only add to your air of mystery! Grow a really thick skin. Remember you’re a writer. You’re supposed to be a little odd!

I am as pleased as punch with this post. Those of you who follow my facebook page will know. I asked DL for a guest post sometime back, she did notwritewhat I asked her to write about but did one bettter. This is EPIC! DL thank you. But my request still stands hahaha

Where to find DL:
Facebook: FAN Page

About the Author

Most know me as the author to Fabulosity Reads and in actual fact, that is the previous name of this blog. I have since then moved my books to a Wordpress self-hosted blog so that I can have a place to show a different side of me which I am equally passionate about and that is marketing and personal development. I hope you will love being here, watching me grow as I share and learn. My highest hope is that we will grown and learn together in all disciplines affecting our lives. I'd LUUURRRVE to hear from you, so don't be shy...


  1. OMG!!! I LOVE this post! I work in a hospital too, though I'm not a doctor and boy can I totally relate. I write erotic romance and when the doctors I work with ask what I write when they find out I write because one of my lovely friends who also aren't doctors bring it up at work, it's hillarious. I stopped being embarrassed about it a long time ago, and I've said on more than one occasion that I refuse to hide that I write or what I write. If co-workers including doctors want to check my stuff out it's cool, but I agree with DL, not giving them a hard sell is good. I always just say my books are on Amazon and when the guys ask which of my books I think they'd like I point them to the science fiction one that both the guys and gals like. LOL

  2. @LOL> OMW I had such a laugh at that little copp out at the end Regina. Your comment is giving me endless smiles. I love it and thanks for popping in.

  3. Interesting and beautiful post. I love it too and it makes me imagine the author in the act. It would make a good stage play or film.


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