The cold Chicago air breezes in through the singular window in Cadaver Lab B. The overpowering smells of formaldehyde and bright fluorescent lights would be replaced with the chatter of excited medical students dropping their tools after everyone became familiar with their assigned cadavers. Dr. Nash walked around, excited to see the attentive students, and told them that this cadaver was to be treated like their first patient. Caroline Zachry along with three other male students she refers to as the three W’s stare down at their cadaver. The tag is labeled J.B., male, 68, and like most people, Zachry had never seen a naked dead body.
Determined to make her second semester of medical school successful, after a few late nights, sleep-deprived Zachry swears she saw J.B.’s finger move into a thumbs up after she answered Dr. Nash’s surprise question correctly. Brushing it off as an overworked medical student, Zachry tries to push through the semester battling memorization, sexism, a fight for ethics, and unlikely friendships.
This latest novella by Elizabeth Toman was the winner of the University of Indianapolis’s student-run Etching’s Press novella prize. Elizabeth Toman writes short fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in CALYX, Halfway Down the Stairs, Emerge, and elsewhere. She works as a primary care physician in New Mexico.
Interview with the Author
Etchings Press: What does your creative process look like?
Elizabeth Toman: It is messy and slow. I gather ideas from my day-to-day life, memories, chance encounters, bits of dialogue I overhear, and sometimes from a single word or image that inspires me. Then, I think about a story for a long time before writing anything down. The most challenging part is getting the original out of my brain and onto a document. Revising is easier for me, but it can be a never-ending process. I want to edit my writing even after publication. Nothing is ever as worthy as it might be.
EP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
ET: Read as much as you can and as much variety as you can. Discover which writers you most admire and why. Then, write to please yourself first.
EP: How do you overcome writer’s block?
ET: I read, often returning to my favorite authors or books. I also put time aside and force myself to write something, even if it’s complete nonsense, just to be writing. Sometimes I go to a file called “beginnings,” where I have just the tiniest wisp of a new story and try to work on that idea rather than continuing with a piece I am stuck on.
EP: Is there an author you’ve read that inspired your writing content or style?
ET: There are many, and they change from year to year. I mainly write short stories, so Alice Munro, George Saunders, Lauren Groff, Jennifer Egan, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Tobias Woolf are a few of my favorites. Recent favorites are Yiyun Li and Anna Burns.
EP: Do you set time aside each day to write?
ET: I write something daily with few exceptions and try to write in the mornings. My schedule varies a lot, so the time is not consistent.
EP: When did you realize you wanted writing to be part of your life?
ET: I have always had a writing habit, from keeping journals and writing letters in my teens and early adulthood to story and essay writing in recent years. It is my one consistent creative outlet.