Author Maggie Dubris discusses her book Skels: A Novel, drawn from her 20 years as a paramedic in New York City. The novel features EMS in NYC in late 1970s. Maggie weaves together a fascinating tale of paramedics, police officers, and homeless citizens (skels) with famous literature and music.
In our interview Maggie talks about the origin of the term “Skels” – a New York term that is used as a noun and as a verb. Skels was written over 10 years while Maggie was working as a medic. To write the book Maggie tried to imagine that the homeless people she knew were more complex and have a deeper back-story than what is readily apparent.
She tried to capture what it felt like to be one of the first female paramedics in New York City. She wanted to show EMS to the world. The patient encounters in the book are graphic and horrific. She tells me that the incidents are based on things that happened, but made as wild as possible. So much in EMS is beyond imagination – the injuries, how people live, the larger than life personalities – that little embellishing is needed to craft a fictional narrative.
Since interviewing Maggie I was able to finish Skels. Most EMS literature is firsthand accounts of working as a paramedic where the author is the main character and the plot is their life. The themes are the lessons the author learned working as a paramedic. Since Skels is a novel, Maggie, was able to write a plot with several twists, plant characters early in the book that play a central role together, and write about themes of counter-culture, addiction, family, and moral ambiguity. I really enjoyed how she used EMS as the backdrop to a powerful story.
Our interview concluded with Maggie encouraging authors to “Find your own true voice. Write about what you really feel and see. And react to it.”