I’ve been asked the question; How did you go from training as a physician to writing a book?
Written words have always been a central part of my world. I grew up nurturing my creative side with writing, art, and fictional stories. To this day, I read and listen to audiobooks constantly (often up to twenty-five hours a week). To me, the question I ask myself is, how did I become an MD? As a child, science was the last thing on my mind. However, after someone close to me became ill, I began to explore medicine as a career. A biochemistry class during college opened my eyes to the complexities of the human body. The immune system is extremely intricate and reliant on specialized cells to ward off microbes to which our bodies are under constant exposure.
Prior to Particles in the Air, I had dreamed of writing a novel for years. It was always in the back of my mind during medical school, residency, and fellowship. My medical training and creative impulses have resulted in a kind of uncommon marriage of the right and left sides of the brain. Sitting down and starting the writing process was the hardest part for me. Once I made a conscious decision to start though, I didn’t stop.
I’m a big proponent of planning and research in both writing and life. “Write what you know” is something I relied upon heavily throughout my process. Before I began, I spent weeks scouring the internet, fact-checking and pinning down setting details. I studied google maps and reviewed immunology textbooks. I made sure my framework was complete before I started chapter one.
With a detailed outline, I knew the direction I was going to take. After getting the first few chapters down, the characters immediately came alive in my mind, and the story flowed naturally from there. Several minor things changed during the writing process, but the major plot points stayed the same.
My inspiration for Particles is multifaceted. It was written to entertain, but also, to present a cautionary tale. For years before COVID, epidemiologists had warned that a global pandemic was only a matter of time. Now, as technology and supplies are becoming more and more accessible via the internet, bioterrorism is rapidly becoming an unfortunate real-life probability.
A great writer and historian, William R. Forstchen, wrote an ultra-realistic novel about a coordinated electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States. One Second After rose to the bestseller list and has since emerged as a tool to increase EMP knowledge among the public. Dr. Forstchen has caught the attention of the US Congress and NASA and has even played a part in educating members of the government on the devastating effects of large-scale EMPs.
A virus doesn't need to be stolen from an ultra-secure lab but manufactured in a homemade one. No further technology needs to be invented or discovered for a catastrophic event to occur. In writing Particles, I hope to raise awareness of this possibility.
***Jenna Podjasek, MD, is an allergist/immunologist who trained at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She lives with her husband, two children, and numerous pets in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Particles in the Air will be published in January 2023. It is her first novel.
Originally featured on: