Monday, October 2, 2017

Starting Over: Writing to Soothe My Burned Out Soul by Lea Nolan

Nine years ago, I was a health policy analyst specializing in health care access for low-income and vulnerable populations. I was also in a PhD program in public health, a mom to three small kids, and a wife. And I was falling apart.

You see, my specialty—poor people, immigrants, racial/ethnic minorities, the uninsured, and the safety net providers that serve them—are usually the ones who get the short end of the stick. There’s never enough money to care for these populations, few providers willing to treat them, political forces that actively work against providing them the coverage and care they need, and deep unmet need and seemingly endless, needless suffering.

Depressing, huh?

For years I had a fire in my belly. Every injustice stoked my desire to right the health care world. But as I got older, and saw how slowly change came despite glaring deficiencies, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer weight of folks’ pain and suffering, and the indifference and inequity of our nation’s health care system. The fire dimmed but I kept at the work because I was in a senior position at a well-respected academic-based policy shop, and I didn’t see any alternative.

And then a friend raved about a book she’d read. It was about teenagers and vampires and romance. I’d love it, she promised. Go and get a copy right now. Trust me.

Was she serious? Teenagers? Vampires? I was a full grown, serious adult with a serious career, in a very serious PhD program. I hadn’t read about teenagers or vampires since I was a teenager myself.

But she was my best friend and I respected her opinion so I indulged her. I cracked open a copy of Twilight and consumed every page. It changed my life.

Not only did I fall for this book (just as my friend had promised) but it introduced me to the world of young adult fiction. There was no such thing as YA when I was a teen. We read books by writers like Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, then graduated to works by Tolkien, VC Andrews, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. But now, I learned there were tons of amazing coming of age stories, often about girls, that addressed very conceivable problem teens might confront (even if they were set in fantastical lands or situations).

This discovery lightened my heart in a way nothing else had. It transported me back to my youth when I was an avid reader and opened a space in my jaded, analytical brain for fiction and the magical possibility of what if? I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.

I was inspired and in my hubris, thought it would be easy to write a book of my own. Ha ha! Two years, and six-significant re-writes later, I finally had a YA manuscript that was ready to query. Happily, it caught the attention of my first agent, although it wasn’t good enough to submit to publishers. But that was okay because I’d already begun another book that was good enough and eventually became CONJURE, the first book in my Hoodoo Apprentice series.

Today, I write nearly full-time, concentrating on YA books and contemporary romance. Although I dropped out of that PhD program, I’m still involved health care, too. I teach a variety of health care management and policy courses in a graduate program. It keeps me well versed in the policy side of things and the analytical side of my brain working. For me, it’s a great balance.

I’ll forever be grateful to my best friend, who urged me to read a book about teenaged vampires, and for that book which helped fill a hole in my heart and inspired me to change my life.


  1. YA books can be a godsend because they speak to truths that a lot of people can relate to, such as the desire to fit in or the sense of feeling different from everyone else. Even though I'm no longer a teenager, I still have a few of my favorite YA books that I like to reread now and then.

  2. Great post! Books can be many things to many people, and I love that, for you, one particular book helped you find a way to reinvent yourself.

  3. Oddly enough, it was Pride and Prejudice (as part of a writers' voice class) that turned me into a YA writer. It's often one particular book!

  4. I LOVE it when the little things turn out to be momentous.

  5. For me, it was Harry Potter. Once I learned JK Rowling didn't have an MFA and wrote in a coffee shop during nap times, I thought maybe, just maybe, I could do it too.