The Beauty Doctor

In the spring of 1907, Abigail Platford finds herself unexpectedly adrift in New York City. Penniless and full of self-doubt, she has abandoned her dream of someday attending medical school and becoming a doctor like her late father. Instead, she takes a minor position in the office of Dr. Franklin Rome, hoping at least to maintain contact with the world of medicine that fascinates her. She soon learns that the handsome and sophisticated Dr. Rome is one of a rare new breed of so-called "beauty doctors" who chisel noses, pin back ears, trim eyelids and inject wrinkles with paraffin. At first skeptical, she begins to open her mind, and then her heart, to Dr. Rome. But when his unexpected partnership with an eccentric collector of "human oddities" raises troubling questions, Abigail becomes ensnared in a web of treachery that challenges her most cherished beliefs about a doctor’s sacred duty and threatens to destroy all she loves.

My Review

The author takes me back in time. Instantly, I shared a connection with Abigail. Additionally, she was a bit of a feminist. She did not conform to the idea that she had to marry. She threw that away for a chance to pursue her interest in medicine. This is where Dr. Rome steps in. He was a charmer. As the story started out, he was kind but the further you get into the story, you start to see a different side of Dr. Rome. He was like Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde.

The price of beauty became more about what it was worth to you and how far would you go. I have never been sold on the idea of plastic surgery for myself but it was amazing to think of how far back people have desired perfection. Although, Dr. Rome may have changed, he was not the only one. Abigail went from a young naïve girl to a strong woman. This book had all the elements of a great book...characters, intriguing and well-written storyline, and lovely time period. I look forward to reading more books from this author.

A writer and musician, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is a former Communications Director for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and former Executive Editor of the internationally subscribed Aesthetic Surgery Journal.  She currently lives in Arizona with her husband, Bob, and their black Lab, Pearly Mae. Her historical suspense novel, The Beauty Doctor, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.  For more about Elizabeth, including her historical fiction-lovers' blog, "Style and Subtance," visit or follow her on Facebook.

Did your knowledge in plastic surgery make it an easy process to write this book?
I do think that it helps to write about what you know.  My years of working in the field of plastic surgery---first as a Communications Director and then as Executive Editor of a widely read aesthetic journal---were a very valuable asset. I wouldn't say, though, that my knowledge of plastic surgery made the process of writing this book exactly "easy." I still faced the same challenges as any fiction writer: developing a unique and, in this case, suspenseful plot; fleshing out my characters to make them believable; and communicating my major themes in a way that, hopefully, connects powerfully with readers. And, of course, historical fiction always requires a great deal of research. But grounding the story in a subject that I know well had definite advantages. 
Please share your writing process. Example: Do you listen to music when writing? Do you have a set limit of words or pages you write each day?
It's funny that you ask about music. As a former professional musician---I toured as a vocalist and flutist for nearly a decade---I simply cannot listen to music while I write! I guess I find it too distracting. I did try it for a while when I started on my upcoming novel, Temptation Rag (due for release mid-2018), because the whole story centers on the world of ragtime in the early 20th century in New York City. So when I sat down to write, I would put on a recording from 1912 of the ragtime pianist Mike Bernard, a major figure in my fictionalized story, and try to let the music "work on me" subconsciously. That was the idea, anyway!  But in the end, I found silence more conducive to channeling my characters. As far as how much I write each day, I don't count words. I just get as far as I can, and when I'm close to running out of time I send the whole manuscript to myself in an email, open it up on my iPad in Kindle or iBooks, and read what I've done that day with "fresh eyes." This method really helps me to see my work in a whole different way. Somehow it's better than sitting in front of my big computer looking at the manuscript as a Word document.  I make notations as I'm reading and implement them the next day before moving on to a new section.
How would you compare 1900s plastic surgery techniques to today's techniques?
Some of the techniques used back in the early 1900s were actually quite similar to those used today. The rhinoplasty operation in my book, for example, was very much like it might be performed in 2017. Modern-day facial rejuvenation, however, has become quite a bit more complex as surgeons generally work with the deeper tissues for a better and longer-lasting result. Facial fillers---mainly various concoctions using paraffin---became popular at the turn of the century, before their disastrous results were widely evident. Today, of course, we have a variety of safe and effective substances to fill facial wrinkles and creases and to add volume, and the area of nonsurgical facial rejuvenation has revolutionized aesthetic medicine. The range of procedures in 1907, when my novel takes place, were much more limited than today. Modern plastic surgeons do many body contouring operations which would have been far beyond the scope of early cosmetic surgeons. And don't forget that the medical training of beauty doctors in the early 1900s was often questionable, at best!    
Why do you think so many people are drawn to the idea of plastic surgery?
Here's what the beauty doctor, Franklin Rome, says about his so-called "transformative surgery" as he is advising his young assistant, Abigail Platford, on how to drum up business for his budding beauty practice: "Some will think [beauty surgery] wonderful, others will be aghast. But in the end, they all want to hear about it in every fascinating detail. And if it is presented to them properly, they will hardly be able to restrain themselves from making an appointment right on the spot." It's true that just about everybody is curious about plastic surgery, whether they have ever considered it for themselves or not. As to why people ultimately decide to undergo plastic surgery procedures, there are many reasons---because they want to correct a feature that they find disturbing, or they want to look more like they did when they were younger, or they simply want to feel better about themselves. In The Beauty Doctor, my goal is not really to make a value judgment about cosmetic surgery and why people choose to have it. As the story progresses, we see that surgery works out very well for some, not so well for others, and for reasons often beyond their control.
Why should readers check out this book?
I wrote The Beauty Doctor for readers who enjoy historical fiction with a heavy dose of suspense and a touch of romance. But there is a lot more to the book. The moral and social issues of the day are explored quite extensively through the intricate plot and the harrowing experiences of the characters. And at the heart of the book are questions about the meaning of beauty and man's obligation to his fellow man---questions that are timeless and quite possibly have no single answer.
What can readers expect from you next?
My next historical novel, Temptation Rag, is a compelling tale of the ragtime era (the action of the book starts in 1896) and the musicians who made it great—their lust for fame, their loves and betrayals, and their ultimate longing for redemption.  The fictionalized story focuses on the lives of three of the most famous figures of the time---Ben Harney, Mike Bernard, and Will Marion Cook--as well as the women who loved them. Readers can learn more about it on my website, and they soon should be able to preorder the book.
Cheryl, thanks so much for the opportunity today to talk with everybody about both my historical novels!


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