March 2010 Issue
The Best Medicine
The prescription for a balanced life, explains author Martha Moody, doesn’t come in a bottle. Instead, the 54-year-old Washington Township resident takes a more creative approach to ensure her well-being: She pens two paragraphs a day without fail.
“That’s my way of figuring out the world and the things that go on in it,” Moody says about her words, so skillfully crafted that she’s transformed them into three best sellers over the last nine years.
“I need to write,” she adds. “It keeps me normal.”
Moody’s lifestyle is just what the doctor ordered –– literally: The novelist is also a physician.
For three decades, while raising a family with husband Martin Jacobs (also an M.D.), and working as a general internist in Oakwood, Moody never abandoned her dream of becoming a writer. It started while she was an undergraduate, majoring in English at Oberlin College during the ’70s. Her goal: to teach poetry.
But fate charted a different course during her junior year. Moody was in South America researching the continent’s women poets for a class project.
“I saw horrible health conditions while I was there,” she recalls, “so I began thinking about nursing as a career.”
Best pal Jill Herman, Moody’s college roommate, who now lives in Phoenix, had other ideas. She convinced her chum to consider medical school instead.
“And that,” Moody adds, “was it.”
The next decade flew by in a whirlwind of personal and professional achievements. Following graduation from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine, Moody set up a practice in internal medicine in Clermont County, married and gave birth to four sons. Through it all, she never stopped writing: The new mother would put pen to paper in the early afternoon while the kids were napping. She’d also find inspiration in the stillness of the predawn hours, before getting dressed and heading out for rounds at Kettering Hospital.
The idea of composing fiction that a reputable publisher might be interested in took hold after Moody read Conversation in the Cathedral. The 608-page tome by Mario Vargas Llosa examines politics and corruption in Peru.
“I found the novel to be confusing because it jumps from time period to time period,” she says. “But I understood it structurally.
“And I knew I could do this, too.”
Moody initially envisioned herself as a short-story contributor to The New Yorker. In a five-year period, she mailed a dozen tales to the magazine. None was accepted.
“But the rejection letters,” she recalls with a chuckle, “were very encouraging.”
Then, Moody began taking a hard look at the world around her. Plots clicked into place. The ink began to flow.
Moody made her debut in 2001 with Best Friends, a novel paying homage to a long-distance female relationship between two women who meet in college. One becomes a doctor in small-town Ohio. The other returns home to Los Angeles to practice law. Despite years of tumultuous ups and downs, the friendship survives and thrives.
The novel took Moody six years to finish.
Giving up was out of the question.
“I was too involved in the story,” she explains with a laugh. “I was curious to see how it would end.”
Moody sent queries to 20 literary agents without success. The 21st loved it and found a publisher –– one that she’s particularly proud to be associated with.
“I was thrilled when I signed the contract with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam,” she recalls. “As a kid, I’d always read Penguin classics, so it was a special moment.”
Moody’s second book, The Office of Desire, published in 2007, grapples with the conflicts and camaraderie that inevitably develop when five people work together week-in-and-week-out in close quarters.
“There are employees in every work situation who are like these characters,” Moody says. “And that includes someone who is just so troubled, yet nobody realizes it until it’s too late.”
Her latest release, last year’s Sometimes Mine, chronicles the 11-year love affair a single cardiologist in her mid-40s has with a college basketball coach, who’s married. Moody crafted the painful-yet-liberating ending during the writing workshop she conducts every summer at Lakeside.
“At the end of the week, everyone shared their best work,” Moody recalls. “As I read a portion of the book aloud, people began to cry. And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got to use this.’ ”
These days, Moody usually writes more than the requisite paragraph or two a day she initially committed to. When not volunteering her services as medical director of Dayton’s Good Neighbor House, a non-profit organization that provides services to those in need, Moody can be found ensconced in the master bedroom, delving into her next novel. Tentatively titled Lake Humm, it’s the story of two families linked together by marriage and medicine.
“Sometimes, I wonder if I’m just overly restless, because I’m involved with a lot of things,” she muses. “But then again, that’s certainly not the case when I’m revising a manuscript. Then, I get a little crazy. I tell my kids that I look like a normal person, and I sound like a normal person.
“But,” Moody adds, “there’s nothing in my mind but book, book, book.”
For a list of five books that made a difference to Martha Moody, click here.