June 06, 2022

From Nuclear Medicine to Historical Fiction

Frederic Fahey, DSc, FACR

In January 2020, I retired as a nuclear medicine physicist at Boston Children’s Hospital. I am still the principal investigator on a subproject funded by a grant, and I am active with the ACR, AAPM, ICRP, SNMMI and Image Gently®. Even while retired, I am still busy — too busy — according to my wife. I think she was secretly relieved that I wasn’t always in her hair! To her profound surprise, I even started to cook.

In the past when I thought about retirement, I hoped to one day write fiction. I had not written serious fiction since my undergraduate days, although some of my professional colleagues might say that I add a hint of fiction to all my writing. Be that as it may, I could not visualize writing fiction until I made myself even less busy — and who knew when that would be!

One day, I watched a MasterClass on writing by the popular novelist Walter Mosely, who discussed his process. He gets up early in the morning, drinks a cup of coffee and proceeds to write for one to three hours, hoping to generate about 1,000 words each day. The theory is if he does that, a first draft would be ready in three to four months (considering a novel of average length is about 90,000 words).

I thought to myself, “I could try that.” As an early riser myself, I could dedicate a couple of hours each morning to writing before continuing with the rest of my day. Some folks get up early to jog; I could get up early to write. Why not to give it a try!?

Last May, I started writing my first novel. I decided it would have nothing to do with physics or medicine as I’d already written plenty on those topics over the past 40 years! I had a notion to write historical fiction from the view of a teenager, borrowing from one of the best writers of all time — Mark Twain.

My main character is Tom Canty, the pauper from Twain’s, “The Prince and the Pauper.” Now a teenager in my story, he is best friends with King Edward of England and sweet on Lady Jane Grey. If you are familiar with history, you know this doesn’t go well, and in my story as well — there is lots of teenage angst. My catchphrase is, “Troubled teens in the time of the Tudors.”

After 108 days with this process, I generated 108,000 words and a first draft! I am now completing my third draft with hopes of finishing the project this year. I found a writing consultant/editor, Stephanie Feldman, who has provided me with invaluable support, guidance and well-chosen words throughout this arduous — but exhilarating — process.

To anyone contemplating fiction writing, find a time each day that works for you and start writing. The words don’t need to be great to start. You’ll find plenty of time to edit and revise later.

Happy writing!