Interview with Marty Essen, Author of Doctor Refurb

12 Oct 2022

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Doctor Refurb?

Whether I write nonfiction or fiction, all my books reflect my values of protecting human rights and the environment—and I try to project those values with a wry sense of humor. But even when I’m writing fiction, I draw on facts.

Inspiration for “Doctor Refurb” began almost twenty years ago, when I explored a cave in Belize with an indigenous man. When we came across some old broken pottery, deep inside the cave, he explained to me that this was where his people hid to escape Christian missionaries and practice their own religious beliefs. Later, I did more research into abusive missionaries, molesting priests, and the torture and murders of thousands of indigenous children in Canada’s Christian residential schools.

With “Doctor Refurb,” I hope to give more exposure to such incidents and also tie it into the use of Christianity by the far-right to normalize the abuse of our environment. It all sounds depressing, I know, but “Doctor Refurb” is still a hilarious book, filled with madcap time-travel adventures.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Doctor Refurb, what would they be?

For Dr. Stefan Westin (Doctor Refurb): “Don’t Pray for Me,” by Within Temptation. For female protagonist, Tara Kramer, “Witches Burn,” by The Pretty Reckless.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Authors that write in my genre, “science-fiction political-comedy,” are rare, so I usually read outside my genre. I avoid books with excessive violence and instead gravitate toward books with quirky characters.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

I just finished reading “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman, which was awesome. I’m also a big fan of Fredrik Backman. My favorite of his is “Britt-Marie Was Here,” and I’m currently reading the final book in his “Beartown” series, “The Winners.”

Also last month, on a long road trip with my wife, I listened to the audiobook of Backman’s “A Man Called Ove.” It was the second time I’ve listened to that book. The narrator, actor J.K. Simmons, is the best! What I would do to have him narrate one of my audiobooks!

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

The opening scene, where Dr. Stefan Westin collapses into the front seat of his car, exhausted after a long day of treating COVID-19 patients. Rodney (an alien who will later don an avatar of Trevor Noah to occupy the brains of my two protagonists) whispers into his head, “If you ask us, they’ll be gum.” As the scene progresses, it becomes clear that Rodney is new at his job and is actually in the wrong head.

The entire first chapter becomes a parody of telemarketers and health-product TV commercials, as Rodney—a full-time planetary consultant, third class—has to continually put Stefan “on hold” to check with his supervisor.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I don’t plot out my books in advance. Instead, I come up with a story idea and an ending (which will invariably change later), crank up the music, and write. I can’t write without music playing, because it keeps me from getting distracted, and, if I’m lucky, within a chapter or two, my characters will take over my fingers and type for me. The only disadvantage of this method is that my characters are generally sloppy when they type, and I have to spend hundreds of hours after the first draft going back and correcting their errors.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Write to change the world.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

To answer that, I’m going to defer to a five-star review I just received from Indies Today. The writer of that review understood exactly what I’m trying to accomplish:

“Humor abounds, both obvious and subtle, resulting in a finely tuned fusion of political satire and science fiction that is sure to elicit intelligent, if not hysterical, conversation. A rousing platform to stimulate change, Doctor Refurb is an assertive novel that treads equally in fact, fiction and compulsive entertainment.”

Marty Essen is the author of the new book Doctor Refurb

Connect with Marty Essen

Author Site



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