Interview with Gay Courter, Author of Healing Paradise

I really enjoyed Healing Paradise by Gay Courter, and am pleased that she agreed to answer a few questions for me about the book.

What drew you to set your story in medical school?

The readers of my Midwife books kept asking for a sequel. It seemed too farfetched to send her to medical school, but then I thought her son or daughter could go. But neither personality lent to that. Of course, I was a bit narrow-minded because the Midwife is based on my paternal grandmother and her children n my dad and aunt to some extent. My aunt became an opera singer, my dad a …. Well a gunrunner was one of his jobs! (Really an international businessman.) But I did research a woman in medical school at the time, and found it fascinating—like the rule about having only 4 women at Cornell because they had to dissect together and they would only allot one cadaver to females.

Is Rozy based on a real person? Could you describe a bit of your process for inventing your protagonists?

Rosalind is the name of my “Auntie Mame”—my mother’s best friend, who lived in NY and had a very glamorous life—and enabled me in many ways and cheered me on. But she was into PR and the art scene. So I had to go looking for women docs of the period and was able to interview many. If you look at my acknowledgements, you will see that many are deceased. I interviewed many in the last years of their lives. (This book took awhile for a long list of reasons.)

I love to cut and paste from my experiences as well as those of family members and friends. For instance, Rozy’s accident with acid in her eyes really did happen—to my husband, but not in a chem lab. It was a big trauma for us and very painful for him. He’s a cameraman so you can imagine our fears, but he’s fine.

Where did you find accounts of female medical students from the time period?

I read lots of books by women who were docs then and of course my interviews. I did some in nursing homes. One interesting item kept coming up—many of them contracted TB….and I decided that should be a theme.

Why did you choose to place Rozy’s journey against the backdrop of WWII?

I arrived at that time period looking at where the Midwife’s children might be and also because there were still docs around to interview through the American Women’s Medical Association. Also, I was interested to learn that when the men went to war that the women docs left behind ended up running the hospital departments-but lost their authority when the men returned. I was going to make more of this, but it seemed a bit strident and it was time for my characters to move on to private practice etc.

How did you discover Dr. Martin Couney? Why didn’t we get to see more of him? I would’ve loved watching Rozy learn from him.

He was a fortuitous accident. The timing was perfect for the World’s Fair and I researched it as a field trip for Rozy and friends—a place for romance to develop. Originally I had a bigger scene with Alex and Rozy, but I felt I was rushing things and to let Bernadette and Nick have the stage right then. So, checking out the pavilions I came across Dr. Couney. Blew me away. So I started researching him and the other preemie docs of the period. One was the doc of the Dionne quintuplets in Canada who built Quintland as an attraction around them. I wrote quite a bit more about Dr. Couney, but this book was huge and that section was a bit stilted and thick with research rather than a natural relationship. Plus, Dr. Couney was considered a carney and charlatan. I thought it better to go back to Dr. Budin and the other specialists and be more clinical for someone in Rozy’s position in a fine university hospital. Of course the experiment on the triplets was unethical—but whose to say that sort of thing did not happen?

Do you have any plans for books about any of Rozy’s friends? I’m dying to see more of Claire both in the convent and as a world traveling epidemiologist!

Gosh, I sort of sent Claire to the convent…I did not expect her to start traveling, but why not? I am very interested in tropical diseases. My best friend died of fulminating malaria after a week in Haiti with our son. And that son has spent the last 4 months living in a safari van in Kenya with his wife filming a documentary on hunger. So, if readers like this book, why not?

It would be interesting to show how much one person—and some inoculations
can do to change a society. But my next books are centered on a fictional look at my volunteer work as a Guardian ad Litem in the Florida courts.

Thank you so much for your time!

Thanks to all of you!

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