Plastic surgeon writes medical fiction novels
‘Some undergo plastic surgery to move on from past’
After the winter peak season for cosmetic surgery, which usually continues for three months starting December, plastic surgeon Kim You-myung tries to find time to immerse himself deep into his other passion — fiction writing.
Every weekend, Kim, 48, goes to his clinic in Gangnam — an area of southern Seoul famous for its cosmetic surgery clinics — and writes stories.
He says he feels ultimate freedom as there’s no one in his clinic except him. He likes the disturbance-free, peaceful environment because he feels isolated from bustling urban life.
Depending on the day, he says he usually writes for four to five hours. “The first week when I resume writing after a three-month hiatus following the peak winter season is kind of tough,” he said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. “I realized I forgot what I wrote previously. I look at my manuscripts thoroughly and then resume writing.”
Kim said writing in solitude gives him freedom, of which the joy is so fulfilling that he feels like his wounded soul is healed. “We cannot control anything or everything in our lives. But in writing, things are different. We can make it whatever or wherever we want,” he said.
Debuting as a novelist with the medical fiction novel “Anesthesia” in 2018, Kim recently released his second novel, titled “Face.” It tells the story of a 47-year-old plastic surgeon P who makes an unprecedentedly bold decision to establish the nation’s largest hospital for cosmetic surgery. Heavily in debt, he teams up with a few fellow plastic surgeons to start the grandiose medical business in a 13-story building. His business empire sees short-lived prosperity before it crashes.
“The protagonist is a timid, introverted man. He is principled. When a man like him tries to emulate what an outgoing person does such as running a high-risk business, the situation spins out of control,” said the author.
“We don’t need to waste time regretting the roads we didn’t take or try to take risks on things that are not suitable for us. Instead, we can look inside ourselves, think about what we have and focus on what we can do. Otherwise, I’m afraid it’s going to be too late. We could be late learners realizing what made us happy is very near us, only after spending too much time in vain on dreaming and implementing something big that makes everyone envious.”
In addition to the protagonist P’s failed experiment, “Face” unravels the various motives of people who seek plastic surgery. The fate-altering plastic surgery still dominates, but author Kim ushers his readers to a lesser-known function of cosmetic surgery — there are some who undergo surgery to move on from the past and live a new life. An actress with perfect looks visits the plastic surgeon for cosmetic surgery that can fool facial recognition. She’s a victim of revenge pornography by her ex-boyfriend. A foulmouthed middle-aged TV show host seeks it to extend his career. A secret agent whose face was accidentally disclosed on TV footage is another of P’s clients seeking an extreme makeover.
Unlike other fiction novels critical of plastic surgery, which often link cosmetic surgery to materialism in a society where people are judged by their looks, “Face” unravels the other side of physical attractiveness — it comes at a price.
Kim said all success — whether it’s material success, fame, popularity or something else altogether — has a cost.
“People seek makeovers to succeed in their lives. Once they succeed, they belatedly realize that strings are attached to their success. Their privacy and freedom were sacrificed to make it happen,” he said. “They are trying to get them back. Many of us are not as successful as they are, so we just know a bit of success, while remaining unaware of the price we need to pay to get good looks.”
“Face” is a page turner. It gives readers an insider’s peek into how thriving cosmetic clinics work. It explains why some clinics in the Gangnam area crowded with cosmetic clinics are prospering while some nearby close down. The location of clinics, top surgeons and their expertise are meaningless unless they are combined with successful online marketing.
Kim started off as a writer in 2013 when he accidentally thought of the worst-case scenario of a leak of anesthetic drugs he was handling in his office.
“What if the drug bottle shattered into pieces on the floor? What if I lose consciousness as a result of anesthesia? The ‘what ifs’ made me scared,” he said.
He said that fear drove him to work on his first novel “Anesthesia,” which was released in 2018, to warn the public of the possible dangers of anesthetic drugs. It tells the story of a dead city that falls asleep after a leak of anesthetic drugs from the manufacturer. His first novel will be adapted into a movie as he recently signed a contract with a film studio.
The digital age has cast a shadow over novelists.
Among others, declining book sales and the rise of videos and images as alternative content have pushed fiction writers to think about their future and how they can make a living.
Despite the daunting reality, Kim encourages professionals to try to write stories, saying fiction novels that can give insiders’ views of professional fields, such as medicine and law, may help draw readers’ attention back to literature.
“We are all engaged in certain professions to make a living. As time goes by, our experiences broaden and we all became masters in our fields. I think doctors, lawyers and engineers can write fiction novels based on their own experiences to entertain readers,” he said.
Outside Korea, he said, there are several doctors-turned-novelists. “Among them, my two favorite novelists are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Homes, and Michael Crichton, who pulled off Jurassic Park. They are my role models,” he said.
Kim said he wants to be a pioneer in the medical fiction genre in Korea, hoping his novels can be translated into foreign languages and read by global readers.
Born in 1972, Kim has practiced cosmetic surgery in Gangnam for over a decade after graduating from Seoul National University College of Medicine.
Kim You-myung, plastic surgeon and author
“Face” by Kim You-myung