Not Just a Novelist: Negeen Papehn, Dentist
I met Negeen Papehn in a debut author group this year and was immediately in awe. She's an incredible supporter of her fellow writers and a busy mom. She's brilliant at breaking down plot points and creating complex and memorable characters, as demonstrated in her contemporary romance Forbidden by Faith. But not only is she these things and more, Negeen is a dentist. I had to learn more, so I asked!
Jennifer Klepper: What unique challenges does being a dentist present to being a novelist? How do you handle those?
Negeen Papehn: The biggest challenge being a dentist has for my novelist side, is finding the time necessary to actually focus on my work, as well as the energy. I do most of my writing in the in-betweens of life, my job included. Some days, the schedule is slow and I’m able to get work done while I wait for one patient to go numb or another to be seated. But other times, my schedule is so jam packed that I don’t even find a moment to drink water, let alone, write. And then there is the issue of having the energy to be creative. After a long day of dealing with patients, their personalities, needs, and fears, sometimes I have no energy left to think. Those evenings I find it really difficult to be productive. If I manage to force myself to write, usually what comes out isn’t very good.
JK: Forbidden by Faith is a steamy romance but also an intimate look at multi-culturalism in American families. What has the reaction been from your patients regarding your book?
NP: My patients have actually been amazing! The ones that have read it have been excited to have a dentist that’s published a romance novel. They say it’s fun to see the “hot and steamy” side of me. It’s in such contradiction to what would expected in a dentist. But then again, my personality isn’t the reserved and serious type that most people envision in my field. In addition to that, they all have voiced their opinions on the content, appreciating the glimpses into a culture they know very little about, in a light they aren’t used to seeing. Overall, it’s been very positive.
JK: I've loved seeing your patients smiling (with gorgeous teeth) on social media while holding your book! What superpowers as a writer do you have because of your training and experience as a dentist?
NP: I can mulit-task like no other! That is definitely a superpower I’ve attained from being a dentist. I’ve been employed in the same office for over a decade. It’s high volume and high paced, so I work really fast and can see a lot more patients than most. I usually have two to three rooms running at a time, so I need to be able to shift course as required by the various procedures as I bounce back and forth between them. I’ve been able to carry this ability over to my writing as well. Since I do it all in the in-betweens, I’m able to write a few sentences in a scene, leave it hanging in limbo while I work on a patient or deal with my kids, etc, then come right back to where I left off, without skipping a beat. Although a few hours of alone quiet time would be appreciated, I don’t need it in order to write.
JK: It's great to have fulfilling job you're good at, but...if you could do a Freaky Friday swap with someone for a week to try out a different job, what (or who) would that be?
NP: I’d love to switch places with a director. I feel like writing a novel is like seeing a movie playing out on a screen in your mind. It would be magical to have it actually turned into something that can be watched by others, to see my vision become a reality. Either that, or I’d want to trade places with Carrie Underwood. My other passion is singing so I’d love to be on a stage in a stadium filled to the brim, belting out a song.
JK: OK, now I need to hear you sing, but I'll save that for later. Will we see a dentist main character in one of your future novels?
NP: I get asked this all the time! The funny thing is, for everyone that knows me, it was definitely a mission trying to convince my friends and family that Sara was indeed not me. Being that it’s own voices, makes sense that they’d think the Iranian Muslim girl was a portrayal of myself and that her story with Maziar was some sort of autobiography. Till this day, I’m not entirely sure my dad understands that it isn’t, LOL. I’m a bit wary on how a female Dentist MC would be received. I have the feeling I’d have a lot of convincing to do! That being said, you never know. Maybe she will make an appearance in the future. Anything is possible ;)
Negeen and I looked for other dentist-novelists and made some pretty impressive finds. American dentist Zane Grey wrote Western novels; Chinese dentist Yu Hua left dentistry to become an avante-garde novelist; and Egyptian dentist Alaa al-Aswany includes novels among his influential writings.
Negeen Papehn was born and raised in southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and two rambunctious boys. She wasn’t always a writer. A graduate of USC dental school, Negeen spends half of her week with patients and the other half in front of her laptop. In the little time she finds in between, she loves to play with her boys, go wine tasting with her friends, throw parties, and relax with her family.