In pitching my debut novel to agents at writing conferences, I’ve gotten a few comments like, “A pharmacist as the main character? Why?” or “Pharmacist turned vigilante? Really?”
I never thought of my main character as being weird. I’ll admit, though, he is unusual. He’s got heart-wrenching childhood issues to deal with, is ex-Special Forces and has more nasty suppressed memories than most of us will EVER experience. But he works hard at having a normal life, and at least outwardly he succeeds.
So what if he is a pharmacist? So am I! And writers often write about what they know. I’ve spent a lot of years as one: first in retail, then in manufacturing, then back to school for an advanced clinical degree. Then I spent years in specialized clinical patient management and drug study management. Wow, where did the time go?
Anyway, I thought it was time for a pharmacist to be the hero, albeit a flawed hero, but someone who takes control of his life when things go terribly wrong. Why can’t a pharmacist save the day and live to tell about it? And why isn’t a pharmacist portrayed as the protagonist more often?
To answer that, I had to dig back through the cobwebs of my brain. Came up empty: no pharmacists as protagonists (except for my character, of course). So I went to the Internet and found reference to a Law and Order episode where the pharmacist was a murderer. He was diluting cancer drugs to make extra money to donate to his church. Really?? Probably that was one of those “ripped from the headlines” episodes about that Kansas City pharmacist who diluted drugs for extra profit, as he explained, “They were going to die anyway”.
Then there’s George (who dated Bree on Desperate Housewives) and who switched the heart meds of Bree’s husband out of spite. And who can forget the pharmacist character on The Family Guy who came to his kid’s school to discuss career choices and then started telling all about the embarrassing illnesses the other kids’ parents had. Didn’t see that one, but wished I had. Anyway, these characters are secondary and not presented as having good, memorable character traits. They’re often nerdy, awkward, backward people.
So, in short, I found no pharmacist protagonists and no pharmacist heroes (except for one short reference to John Wayne playing a gun slinging druggist). Maybe you guys can come up with something I missed? I hope so, because in my experience I’ve come across some neat people as pharmacists. They’re caring, thoughtful, courageous people who I can visualize “stepping up to the plate” if the need arises, both for themselves as well as for others.
Possibly it’s because of the type of pharmacy I ultimately practiced: advanced clinical practice with more direct patient interaction and a more collaborative approach involving a team of medical professionals: the physician, the nurse, the pharmacist, as well as an array of other healthcare professionals working together to bring patients back to normal.
The ultimate question is, do I actually have a unique character? A sophisticated, successful health professional whose past shortcomings give him the scrappy personality to fight back when someone threatens to take away all that he’s worked so hard to achieve? Sounds like it to me.
But would my novel be more believable if the protagonist was a cop or a federal agent? Maybe so, but that would be true only if my pharmacist character hadn’t done all those nasty things in Special Forces. That levels the playing field some, and the black ops friend he associates with doesn’t hurt either.
The bottom line is: pharmacist or doctor, law enforcement guru or ordinary citizen, when the situation is believable enough for the protagonist to pick out the bad guys and have the courage and resources to fight back, then the starting profession is immaterial. And so, a vigilante pharmacist? Why not? All a writer (like me) needs to do is weave the best fable he can. And that’s really what good fiction is, a lie told so well that it’s believable.
Thoughts? Comments? I’m curious. Let me know.