Dana Schwartz writes the novel she’s always wanted to read


When writer and comedian Dana Schwartz was 22, she first visited Edinburgh, Scotland. Inspired by castles and cobblestones, she tells WPR’s “BETA” that this ideal European Gothic backdrop inspired her to write a novel around her lifelong fascination with the era’s ancient medical history.

“I’ve been fascinated by the macabre side of medical history all my life, right at the dawn of pre-anaesthetic surgery and how horrible it was. But there’s also something romantic about the side of the Enlightenment and the dawn of modern science. reason coming to the fore. So I always had this kind of churning in the back of my mind,” she says.

The result of all that churning is her latest young adult novel, Anatomy: A Love Story.

“Anatomy” is a (Mary) Shelley-esque a nod to gothic literature, with tomb robbing, tragic romance, pre-medieval medicine and its shady practitioners.

“I had this idea inspired by ‘Frankenstein’ – the idea of ​​setting up a human body and what this technology would look like. Basically, if “Frankenstein” technology existed and was real, what other applications could it have? and how could someone have found out about it in a different way with a different purpose?” Schwartz says.

The novel – which was recently nominated for Reese Witherspoon’s YA Book Club – is set in Edinburgh, Scotland in the early 1800s. It follows an independent young woman, Hazel Sinnett, who aspires to be a surgeon, but finds herself opposed to the sexism of the time in the medical community.

“I really wanted Hazel to feel like a woman of her time. Although she is a strong woman, more ambitious and pursuing a path that would not have been considered socially acceptable for a woman at the time, it was really important to me that she still felt very grounded and not like a 2022 protagonist who was just dumped in the 1800s,” says Schwartz.

Hazel comes from a wealthy but isolated background and is trapped in a predetermined marriage with her cousin. She lost her father and her brother and her mother became a recluse. Having basically no role model to emulate, or perhaps better to prevent it, she takes the bold step of going into medicine.

“Hazel kind of grew up alone and isolated, and so she has the kind of naivety that comes from privilege where she thinks, ‘Well, yeah, sure, why can’t I do these things that I want to do? ‘ Because she didn’t have the backing of society that knocked her down again and again,” Schwartz said.

An outcast of the male-dominated medical community—in an age when to advance and practice medicine, access to corpses is like verboten currency—Hazel must discover another way to learn. Thus, she meets a “man of the resurrection”, Jack Kerr.

“It’s a very real profession that existed at the dawn of the 1800s. It was a time when there was no system of giving one’s body to science, and it was considered very sacrilegious to desecrate a corpse. And so, no one was going to have their bodies voluntarily dissected by doctors. But this was the dawn of science in the Age of Enlightenment when doctors needed to know more about the human body through the dissection and study. And so an incredibly lucrative profession arose from people called ‘resurrectionists’ or ‘resurrectionists’, men who dug up corpses and sold them to doctors who could dissect and study them,” says Schwartz.

Hazel and Jack forge an initially rocky partnership that eventually blossoms into a budding romance.

“While Hazel is an incredibly privileged and naive character because of this, Jack is the opposite of that. He’s someone who only existed as having already fallen through the cracks and understands the challenges of reality in a way that Hazel doesn’t yet,” Schwartz says.

Schwartz’s fascination with this era extends to his popular historical podcast, “Noble Blood,” which chronicles the tragic fates of monarchs and historical figures. Schwartz credits his podcasting work with spurring his research and focus on his writing for “Anatomy.”

“I think by working so much on the ‘Noble Blood’ podcast, I really have a love for historical research,” she says. “I became very confident writing back then, and I think I wouldn’t have been so comfortable writing in the early 1800s if I hadn’t had a lot of practice already. ‘Noble Blood ‘ – even though it wasn’t a direct influence in terms of research – gave me this boost of confidence.”

Schwartz, who is well known for playfully parodying the YA genre with one of her popular Twitter accounts, @DystopianYAsays the podcast was a good first step in separating his public identity as a comedian from his personality as a writer.

“In my head, I’ve always been this scary, historical writer because those are always the things that interest me,” she says. “But I think maybe the audience was expecting something funnier or something more sarcastic. And so, I think ‘Noble Blood’ was a good halfway point for people to realize that I am really interested in story and writing things that aren’t necessarily Twitter ready.”

During a recent Q&A on the book, Schwartz was asked if she would ever consider writing an adult version of “Anatomy.” She replied, “It’s the adult version.”

I have found that currently the young adult market is more willing to accept books that mix genres without it being somehow relegated to the sci-fi fantasy section of a bookstore. I’ve always wanted “Anatomy” to be a bit bloody and a bit of “Frankenstein-style” sci-fi, and I found the young adult edition to be just a place where readers were willing to accept that,” Schwartz said.

While she isn’t considering the redundant rewrite of the book, Dana is interested in a possible screen adaptation.

“I’ve had experience writing for TV, and I’d love the chance to turn ‘Anatomy’ into a TV show or a movie. I think it was a really fun world to write. and a really fun time and setting for me, and I think that would translate really well to the screen,” she says.

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