CUMBERLAND — A local filmmaker-turned-author has turned his award-winning, undeveloped film script into his debut novel — Miss Diagnosis.
Longtime Cumberland resident filmmaker and writer Derek Dubois released his approximately 300-page debut novel this spring.
In Miss Diagnosis, Kate White is a young medical student from Boston who is barely holding on. The stress of an internship at a top university hospital, compounded by the recent death of her father and her upcoming marriage to a superstar surgeon, proves too much to handle. Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the hospital’s research lab, secret experiments have led to a terrifying discovery. As Kate finds each new test increasingly overwhelming, she becomes obsessed with finding a way out, crossing all professional boundaries – and putting herself and her colleagues at risk.
“I used to write short stories as a hobby in school, and I minored in creative writing. Then I really fell in love with filmmaking,” Dubois said.
For years, he said, he wrote exclusively for film and used screenwriting as a way to study and explore plot and character. In addition to his day job as finance director for CVS Health, Dubois works as an assistant professor of filmmaking for Rhode Island College and Clark University.
As an adjunct professor teaching screenwriting classes, he said he tasks students with writing a screenplay in one semester. To prove to students that it’s a possible feat and to practice his own skills working through plot challenges or writer’s block, Dubois said he put himself through that same wringer and created script drafts in just a few months every summer.
“Miss Diagnosis started out as one of those scripts that I put out,” Dubious said.
He completed the screenplay almost ten years ago and submitted the story to screenwriting competitions. It won first prize in the science fiction category at the 2016 Rhode Island International Film Festival and was a semi-finalist in other screenwriting competitions. The script landed Dubois an agent in Los Angeles in 2014, but it never found a production location as a live-action film.
“It was just a story that I couldn’t walk away from,” Dubois said.
A continued fascination with the character of Kate White inspired him to revisit the work through the lens of an entirely different medium years later. Dubois said he wanted to delve deeper into Kate’s mind in a book than he could through a screenplay.
“With a screenplay, everything is external – everything has to be told through the action and character dialogue,” Dubois said. “You can’t always get inside a character’s head, unless you’re using voiceover or something.”
Getting into the new medium, he said, allowed him to explore history and genre “as a writer, not a filmmaker.” Instead of drawing inspiration from filmmakers like Ridley Scott or John Carpenter, Dubois said he found himself looking to writers like Stephen King or Michael Crichton for inspiration. He began rewriting the story in novel form about five years ago, spending months in the Bryant University library on his days off until he had a first draft of the book.
“Then I put it aside for a while,” Dubois said.
He worked on a few other news and small projects before dusting off the Miss Diagnosis draft during the pandemic. Dubois spent time on and off over the past two years “putting it into shape” before submitting the novel to Filament Press for publication.
“The novel, while sharing the same basic narrative spine, is fundamentally different from the story told in screenplay form,” Dubois said. “It really took me, as a writer, to new places.”
The book has only been out since April, but Dubois said he’s seen a few independent reviews of the novel, “and they’ve been overwhelmingly positive.” Kirkus Reviews described the novel as “a quirky, surprising and chilling thriller”. Independent Review of Books wrote: “A thrilling and entertaining novel by author Derek Dubois, Miss Diagnosis is a crime thriller that slowly turns into a nightmarish tale of modern science gone horribly wrong.”