Saturday, June 02, 2007
Sassy novel puts hospital volunteering at center stage
By DAN BARNETT
Why was novelist Jane Heller invited to appear earlier this month at Chico's Enloe Conference Center to celebrate hospital volunteerism?
It turns out her 13th novel, "Some Nerve" ($24.95 in hardcover from William Morrow), does exactly that. After life as a publicist (working with the likes of Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark), Heller turned to her own writing, producing a series of satirical, breezy romances that People magazine called ideal beach reading.
In "Some Nerve," Ann Roth, a reporter for Famous magazine, is assigned the "get" of a lifetime -- an interview with reclusive Hollywood hunk Malcolm Goddard. But Roth has to get the get, and Goddard is notoriously unavailable to celebrity mag "parasites." When Roth's bravado proves no match for Goddard's egocentricity, Roth begins to suffer from panic attacks and finds herself back home with her dysfunctional family in Middletown, Mo., as phobic and washed up as they are.
Until she begins volunteering at the local hospital. And wouldn't you know it: Guess which actor shows up incognito for heart tests?
On her Web site, Heller writes that "the idea for 'Some Nerve' was triggered by a conversation I had with the agent who handles the movie rights to my books. It had been widely publicized that Julia Roberts was flat on her back at a local L.A. hospital while she was awaiting the birth of her twins. My agent and I were dying for her to read 'An Ex to Grind' and play the part of the heroine, Melanie Banks, so she said, 'Why don't you sneak into the hospital as a volunteer and hand her the manuscript? She has plenty of time to read.' She was kidding, of course, but my imagination took off. I came up with the story of a celebrity reporter who becomes a hospital volunteer in order to get the story on an ailing actor.
"And then I went straight to my local hospital in L.A. to speak to the head of volunteers. I asked her if I could observe for a few days, to research my novel. She said no. 'We don't allow access to our patients for "material,"' she said. 'But if you'd like to become a volunteer, we'd love to have you.'"
According to Enloe Medical Center Director of Volunteer Services Roseanna Galindo-Kuhn, Heller, now based in Santa Barbara, fell in love with hospital volunteering. The lives she touched changed her own. That's Roth's experience, too, and it's pretty clear how things will turn out romantically. But, oh what fun getting there.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.