Volunteer Lit?

Santa Barbara’s Jane Heller Releases Her 13th Novel, Some Nerve

by Shannon Kelley Gould

book_cover.gifIn the new novel Some Nerve, celebrity journalist Ann Roth is not a killer — much to her boss’s chagrin. When she fails to land an interview with notoriously media-shy “it-man” Malcolm Goddard, she promptly gets canned.

Angry and humiliated, Roth retreats to her perpetually squabbling mom, aunt, and grandmother in Missouri. When a loose-lipped high school pal lets it slip that Goddard will soon be a patient at the hospital where he works, Roth plots to become a volunteer there in order to befriend him, cajole enough out of him for a story, and win her job back in a blaze of glory. But things don’t go as planned. Roth finds that her volunteer work is rewarding in a way her magazine work was not, faces the love-or-career dilemma, and discovers that perhaps she’d been chasing the wrong dreams all along. This light, entertaining read is the perfect accessory for a day at the beach, and its author lives in our midst. With Some Nerve, Santa Barbara’s Jane Heller has 13 novels to her credit, written in as many years, and is taking the tour for her latest to an unexpected — if appropriate —  setting: hospitals.

How did you come up with the idea for this novel? I’d just finished the last one [An Ex to Grind] and was on the phone with my agent who sells the movie rights to the books. She asked whom I saw as the heroine; I said, “Of course, Julia Roberts.” She said, “She’s in the hospital, so if you could sneak in, you could get her to read it.” We had a laugh, and my books usually start with a “What if …?” So I thought, “What if you were a reporter and assigned a story on an incredibly difficult movie star who was in the hospital?” Maybe you’d do anything to get the story; maybe you’d sign up to volunteer.

I was living in L.A. then, so I went to Cedars-Sinai, said, “I’m doing research. Could I observe your volunteers, see what they do?” The coordinator said, “No, but you could become a volunteer.” So I thought, okay, let’s try this. I was writing the book simultaneously, and there were days when I wasn’t sure whose life was whose. Through the experience of volunteering, your character begins to feel ambivalent about her former career, working for a “fluff” magazine, but realizes that there’s some value in it for the patients. Were there some parallels there for you, and the kind of books that you write? Yes, very much. I started getting emails from people. One said, “I was just diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer, I’m going through a very bad time, and I read one of your books, and went out and got the rest, because they were such a great escape.” Fluff is fine. When my books are described that way, as a beach read, I don’t get insulted, because if they take you away from your daily grind, that’s a good thing. Light-hearted entertainment can have value, too. Everybody in the hospital wants People magazine. They want something to distract them.

Your character begins volunteering with motives that aren’t entirely pure, but winds up loving the experience. Was it similar for you? As with my heroine, becoming a volunteer took on much greater importance for me. In the book, the heroine becomes a volunteer in an attempt to get the story, only to find the experience changed her life, and that’s what happened to me. It was really satisfying, so when I moved here in February, I went to Cottage and said I’d love to volunteer here. Now I’m in the patient visitor program and my husband’s a volunteer in the Critical Care Unit.

Why did you decide to do the book tour in hospitals? I decided I’d really like to promote volunteerism. I mentioned it to Cottage, and suggested the first-ever hospital book tour to my publicist, who was like, “What!?” But I hope that by bringing attention, it will be useful to the hospital. It’s not a publicity stunt. Hopefully we’ll help the hospitals recruit volunteers. I don’t want people to think this is a book with a message, but why not call attention to something important?

4•1•1 Jane Heller’s Some Nerve book tour kicks off on September 5 at Cottage Hospital from 4:30-6 p.m. Borders will donate 15 percent of the profits from the sales of Some Nerve to hospitals. For more, see

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