In medicine, every patient encounter starts with a story: What brings you into
clinic today? How did you fall? What were you doing when the pain started? Does
sunlight make your symptoms worse? Better? What do you do for work? I learned
early in medical school that the correct diagnosis is often in the history—and
that means asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers.
One of the reasons medicine plays an important part in my writing is because
it’s so narrative-based. I enjoy listening to people’s stories—hearing what
happened and why, and trying to put seemingly unrelated pieces of information
together to come up with an answer. Crafting a story mirrors this thought
process in many ways. There is no surefire way to reach the end (ie the
diagnosis), or even to know how to get there. Over time, I’ve gotten better at
choosing a more stable, more reliable path to those answers. But in medicine, as
in writing, there are many times when I’ve heard the story and I’m not quite
sure where to go. Then I ask more questions. Consider more tests. I tell myself
that there is nothing wrong with taking a step back and thinking things through.
There are other facets of medicine that definitely inform my writing—theme is a
big one. GIRL UNDERWATER is about a young woman recovering from a
traumatic event, but it’s also about a young woman dealing with mental and
physical illness. It’s one thing to treat these issues as a physician, but it’s
quite another to face them as a patient. I’ve been on both sides of the bed, so
to speak, and I wanted to write about both perspectives. Avery is both a patient
and a provider in this story—and in many ways, she struggles with both roles. In
writing this story, I enjoyed exploring that interplay (maybe in part because I
deal with it on a daily basis!).
The medical details in GIRL UNDERWATER are based in large part on my own
experience, which definitely helped in creating a more realistic portrayal of
Avery’s struggles in the wilderness and back home (or at least I hope so!). I’m
still learning, of course, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by other doctors
who are more than happy to act as consultants. I wanted readers to experience
Avery’s story without questioning medical details, and that was my goal in the
scenes that incorporate such elements.
Will my next book have a medical bent? Probably. Medicine is such a significant,
daily part of my life, that it naturally finds its way into my writing. I like
tackling tough questions and themes that have to do with life and death, not
just because they fascinate me (although they do!), but because they scare me.
In some respects, I like writing scared. It forces me to dig deeper, to exploit
emotions I don’t particularly like to think about. I think that makes for a good
About GIRL UNDERWATER
An adventurous debut novel that cross cuts between a competitive college
swimmer’s harrowing days in the Rocky Mountains after a major airline disaster
and her recovery supported by the two men who love her—only one of whom knows
what really happened in the wilderness.
Nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte loves the water. Growing up in Brookline,
Massachusetts, she took swim lessons at her community pool and captained the
local team; in high school, she raced across bays and sprawling North American
lakes. Now a sophomore on her university’s nationally ranked team, she struggles
under the weight of new expectations but life is otherwise pretty good. Perfect,
That all changes when Avery’s red-eye home for Thanksgiving makes a ditch
landing in a mountain lake in the Colorado Rockies. She is one of only five
survivors, which includes three little boys and Colin Shea, who happens to be
her teammate. Colin is also the only person in Avery’s college life who
challenged her to swim her own events, to be her own person—something she
refused to do. Instead she’s avoided him since the first day of freshman year.
But now, faced with sub-zero temperatures, minimal supplies, and the dangers of
a forbidding nowhere, Avery and Colin must rely on each other in ways they never
In the wilderness, the concept of survival is clear-cut. Simple. In the real
world, it’s anything but.
About Claire Kells
Claire Kells was born and raised outside Philadelphia. She received a degree in
English from Princeton University and a medical degree from the University of
California. Currently in residency, she lives and works in the Bay Area. Connect
with Claire on her website.
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