One of my favorite outings as a kid was the weekly trip to our local library. I remember how I loved to fill my mom’s blue tote bag with books, and the thrill of new worlds to be discovered. Not much has changed since those days–except that I have a new tote bag!
You can often find me in a library or bookstore, happily whiling away the hours. Reading is the way I start and finish each day: a place of sanctuary, of learning and exploration. Mystery and crime fiction have long been my favorite genre.
As a medical student in Philadelphia, I would often explore the city, wandering through the narrow cobblestone lanes. My first apartment was at 9th and Pine Street, just a block from Pennsylvania Hospital. I remember taking the tour of the historic surgical amphitheater and discovering places like the Mutter Museum and the medical library at the College of Physicians. I learned of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and was so intrigued by these trailblazing women. I often imagined what their lives might have been like, living and working in the city more than one hundred years before me.
All of these influences simmered in my mind for years, as I finished residency training and began my career as a doctor.
I had always dreamed of writing a mystery novel and one day I decided there was never going to be a right time to begin.
So I started. I wrote the book early in the morning before I went to work as a doctor, or late at night after my three kids were asleep. It was not easy—there were many days when I put the work away, daunted by all that I was trying to do.
But over time, the writing became a wonderful retreat into a world I created. I could think about the arc of a story line or how a character might develop, or happily delve into research about early forensic science or Victorian poetry.
It was fascinating to think like a 19th century doctor. What would it look like to examine a patient and make a diagnosis, using the tools of the time? What treatments were available, long before the advent of antibiotics and insulin? (hint: mercury as a diuretic and bloodletting with leeches!)
I loved learning more about the early physicians of Woman’s Med, who pursued medicine as a career, defying society’s expectations. Some of them, like Drs. Mary Putnam Jacobi and Ann Preston, are better known to history. But for many others, their voices remain through fragments of diaries and letters. I was often struck by how their words felt so vivid and modern, as they wrote of the many challenges they faced, as they sought to balance the personal and professional. Their words gave me so much inspiration, especially as I worked through the long and difficult days of the pandemic.
Murder by Degrees is a work of fiction and my goal was to write a riveting historical mystery, one that keeps the reader turning the pages. But I hope you will be as inspired as I am by this fascinating moment in history and the extraordinary women who lived it.