Well, thanks a lot, now I’m scared to go to another art exhibit! Just kidding . . . maybe. Anyway, I loved the story. How did this premise occur to you?
I took an online horror writing class with Garrett Cook last fall and one of the exercise prompts was to “take a moment where a work of art has caused an uproar of some kind and set your piece in that moment . . . Let’s examine transgression in the arts, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.” That really resonated with me. After that, things just started to come together.
I liked how Danny and Pam faced obvious tangible threats, like death, while your protagonist went through the prolonged horror of disappearing, after a career of being increasingly important. Since you’re in medicine, I’m suspecting this might come from some observation of personality types there? Can you share some ways in which your experiences informed this story?
I didn’t originally have my protagonist in the medical field. Going into the second draft, I knew I wanted her story to show the horror of being both invisible and hypervisible in society. I had already established that one of her friends would get inadequate medical care and it occurred to me that I could have the added dynamic of being in a position to help but then feeling hopeless because society has decided to ignore you.
My experience in medicine has definitely informed much of the dynamic. It’s a high-stress, high-stakes, highly hierarchical environment. There’s four years of medical school and then three to ten years of residency (depending on the specialty) and the whole process is working your way up the totem pole. My protagonist is in her last year of residency and a big part of her identity has become being a leader in the hospital, being highly reliable, and being able to help people.
I’ve also definitely seen my POC colleagues be reprimanded heavily for the same things our non-POC colleagues would do regularly. I’ve gone through the last eight years feeling I have to be relatively squeaky clean to survive.
Is there anything about “Now You See Me” that you wanted to make sure readers noticed?
Perhaps this is apparent, but I definitely want people to recognize and reflect on the fact that I used real fears/experiences of Black and Brown people in this country. Our protagonist becomes in a sort of way invisible to society, except when she does wrong and then receives heavy consequences. Her friend begins to run into legal trouble and the response is “well, what did she do to bring this on herself?” Her other friend experiences the real fear of receiving medical care in a system that is historically tilted against us. I thought of a Black pediatric resident who recently died in childbirth (Chaniece Wallace, MD) while writing that. I just want people to know the result is fiction, but like most speculative writing, it’s rooted in reality.
Given all you have going on—work, family, and writing, I feel like you might have some thoughts on time management! How do you manage to fit writing in with everything else? Any advice for the rest of us?
I’ve adopted (read: am at peace with) the method of writing in spurts. Though writing now is definitely becoming a more consistent, daily thing, throughout medical school and residency and family-expanding I had to be comfortable with going periods of time without writing. I was able to set things up for myself so that even during those “off-seasons” I could feel productive in some way. For example, I did Clarion West the summer between my second and third year of medical school (which just so happened to be the last summer break of my life), wrote my ass off, and then during the last two years of medical school I mostly revised and managed submissions. Now I mostly write at night once the children are asleep and do smaller things like light edits or managing stories in the in-between time (I am writing this at eight a.m. before my first patient at 8:30, for example). To-Do Lists help. Using different media helps shake writer’s block. Sometimes writing a scene long-hand or even on my phone can help get out of a funk. Don’t get discouraged by periods of not writing. I stopped working on my novel for two years and now I have an agent for it!
What are you working on lately? Where else can readers find more of your work?
I recently landed an agent, Adam Eaglin of The Cheney Agency, and we are working on preparing both a novel and a short story collection for submission to publication houses, hopefully sometime this year. I am wrapping on a yet-announced project with Realm, have turned in final drafts for upcoming stories in the anthologies Vital, Don’t Touch That, and the new and exciting collaborative Many-Worlds project spearheaded by Cadwell Turnbull. My serialized novella, Spider King, is available now wherever you get your podcasts. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @JustinKey_MD and links to all my published works on my website, justinckey.com.
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