Plot twist: Neurologist turns her hand to romance writing and grabs the prize
Dr. Anne Lipton is an inaugural recipient of an award from Harlequin
There were always clues that aspiring novelist Dr. Anne Lipton would eventually immerse herself into the world of make-believe, fantasy and adventure.
"One of the things that I wrote about in my medical school essay was Nancy Drew," says Lipton, who lives in Vancouver.
"Nancy Drew ... inspired me to try to be a medical detective and find out what was going wrong when someone was sick and how to make them better."
Lipton, who is originally from Michigan, did end up becoming a "medical detective" — and a pretty successful one to boot. The Northwestern University graduate became a neurologist, even penning multiple books on dementia care.
But now, her career has taken a plot twist.
Lipton is one of the inaugural recipients of the Harlequin Books Creator Fund Award, awarded to up-and-coming female writers in the U.S. and Canada. Harlequin, a Toronto-based publishing house, is one of the most successful publishers in the world, with a focus on romance, fantasy and historical fiction.
Romance writing, a genre sometimes dismissed as "empty entertainment", is big business. According to the Romance Writers of America, the billion-dollar romance genre makes up 23 per cent of the fiction market.
In recent years, the genre has undergone a feminist makeover, challenging archaic tropes of damsels in distress and other stereotypes.
Lipton's manuscript — a time travel Christmas-themed romantic comedy set in the video game industry — is a nod to that.
"[My main character] is a strong female protagonist who works in a male-dominated industry," she said.
Commonalities between novels and neurology
It was a move to Ireland that set the stage for Lipton's career change. Despite having a position ready, it was taking a long time for her medical credentials to be recognized in Ireland.
As she waited to be certified, Lipton, who had already written non-fiction, decided to try her hand at writing a novel.
She loved it.
Part of the process of novel writing mirrors her work as a neurologist. Lipton said she was drawn to neurology, and dementia in particular, because of her patients' rich life stories.
"Because dementia often affects older people I was able to hear many very exciting and interesting life stories," she said.
"I would say one reason I didn't go into something like emergency medicine is because once the patient leaves the emergency department you never hear the end of the story. And so I like to have a satisfying story arc in real life and in my novels."
A community of writers
A move to Vancouver seven years ago happened to coincide providentially with NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — in November.
Lipton, who happened to move in the month of October, said she almost immediately got together with other writers in the city.
The internet-based creative writing challenge gives participants exactly 30 days to write a draft of a book or novel, with a minimum 50,000 word count. Close to 10,000 people participate in the challenge across the country.
"I know sometimes people say that Vancouver is a hard place to meet people but I found this a great way to meet people. We all had a shared interest. Most of the people there also enjoyed reading so we discussed books and writing and it was a great way to meet people."
As part of her award, Lipton will receive financial and editorial support from Harlequin — but there are no guarantees her manuscript will get published.
"As a writer, sometimes it's more competitive than applying to medical school in terms of trying to get published," she laughed.
In the meantime, she's hoping for a riveting finale.