When I stepped into my first nursing clinical twenty-five years ago, I had huge plans and big ideas. Ideas inspired by the amazing nurses who had not only helped my father in his final hours on this earth, but who’d held the hand of a crying five-year-old as she faced one of the hardest things in life: losing a parent. One of my first memories is of the nurses who took each crayon drawing I delivered to my father’s hospital room, and papered the walls with then until nary an inch of cream-colored paint showed beyond. Those nurses were my superheroes. Their impact on my life fueled my desire to touch the lives of others in the same way, and I knew that if I could become even one person’s superhero, I would’ve fulfilled my five-year-old self’s dream.
While college friends went to raging frat parties, I buried my nose in anatomy textbooks and memorized the classes, side-effects and generic names of more medications than I’d ever thought possible. If you needed to write up a nursing care plan for someone afflicted with diabetes mellitus or ventilator associated pneumonia, I was your girl.
But if someone would’ve told me as a doe-eyed college freshman that I’d be nursing during a global pandemic, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, not gonna happen.” And if they’d told me that I’d become a published romance author trying to create happily ever afters while nursing in a pandemic, I would’ve rolled my eyes and snorted in disbelief. Books had always been a solace for me growing up, but write one of my own? Being an author was so far removed from clinical nursing that I never would’ve anticipated it, until that very first plot popped into my head while pregnant and on bedrest and armed—for the first time in years—with a laptop instead of a stethoscope.
Two years later, I’m still nursing and writing … in a pandemic.
Yet here we are, more than two years into the thick of the pandemic, and COVID is still hanging around like that horrific blind date you can’t seem to ditch. It hit my family hard and fast. Closed schools. Kiddos quarantined. My husband home. Lockdowns and shutdowns. Scoring a roll of toilet paper at the grocery store elicited high-fives between the hubby and I, and when it was a canister of Clorox? Full in-store dance-party.
But do you know what brought me right back down? My shifts at the hospital. I love being a nurse—even two years into this pandemic. But for the first time in my 20-plus-year nursing career, each time I walked through the hospital doors, I worried that, despite all my careful diligence, that shift would be the one where I’d bring this virus home to my vulnerable family members. I worried about my colleagues’ physical and mental health. My heart ached for my patients, most of whom were hospitalized for the first time in their lives, who were sick and alone and at their most vulnerable.
The pandemic created an unparalleled situation in the medical field which called for unprecedented actions. Every day, and sometimes hour-by-hour, guidance from policy committees and safety councils changed, often telling us nurses to ignore everything we learned from those textbooks, to ignore the decades of experience already under our “nursing hat.”
We worked extra hours, losing time away from our own families. Many stepped out of their comfort zones — and areas of expertise — to help in COVID ICUs and to hold the hands of dying patients or help make those tearful final phone calls. Medical personnel came out of retirement to attempt to ease the load. Instead of lengthy, comforting orientations into their very first nursing positions, new graduates were dropped into the middle of a healthcare war zone and told to do their best.
It has been, by far, the toughest two years of my nursing career. I see it in my dark under-eye circles, and in the faces of my hospital family. And amongst all the uncertainty, tears and fears, Author April still needed to write those happily ever afters. Words needed to be written. Pages edited. Have you ever tried harvesting water from a dry well? It’s impossible. With looming deadlines, overtime at the hospital and rising frustrations, my well wasn’t just dry. It was barren.
I’ve found a home in books since childhood...
Even as a child, when my mom lovingly booted me out of the door with orders to get “fresh air and sunshine,” there was usually a paperback tucked under my arm. That didn’t change when I hit my teen years, or even adulthood. But in addition to devouring stories that originated in other people’s minds, I escaped into worlds created by my own imagination.
Under the pen name April Hunt, I wrote high-octane romantic suspense complete with hair-raising car chases and villainous bad guys who needed to be squished like a bug. A metaphorical clock ticked down to a possible doomsday scenario, and it was up to the muscle-bound hero and kick-ass heroine to save the day.
For the pre-COVID April of two years ago, that heart-pounding action was my jam. But the April who had completed three grueling 12-hour shifts decked out in multiple layers of personal protective equipment and sported facial bruising left behind by her respirator? Not so much. She’d had her fill of death-defying stunts simply trying to navigate her increased patient load.
After one particularly difficult shift, I sat next to my kids on the couch and admitted to myself that I needed an escape back to the cozy, familiar, comforting stories of my childhood. I needed something so far different from my previously published romantic suspense books and so far removed from our new reality that one couldn’t see it with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Our new world called for a new kind of writing, too.
Enter my love for everything paranormal. Growing up, authors like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike had been my staple. Vampire Diaries? I adored it before Ian Somerholder graced the TV show with his signature sexy smirk. And trust me when I say, you do not want to play a Buffy the Vampire Slayer trivia game with me unless you’re prepared to lose. (My hubby learned that lesson the hard way).
I took my love for everything that went bump in the night and asked myself one question: What would happen if supernatural beings were no longer confined to the shadows, but part of everyday life, navigating being sexy, single and supernatural in the city?
That’s the second Not The Witch You Wed was born. I immediately knew my heroine, Violet, had to be a witch from a prominent witch family, and what better struggle to give her than to be magicless in a world that expected her to be the most powerful? After all, it’s exactly what I felt every time I stepped onto the hospital floor. Next, came my hero, Lincoln. An Alpha wolf shifter with a gooey cinnamon roll center, his main goal in life was to discard the old, blood-thirsty system that ruled his pack for generations, and to build a "shiftocracy."
Writing through it helped lighten my load.
I heaved all my 2020 frustrations onto my characters, and then I watched as they battled against them, armed with loads of humor, snark and most of all, love. Suddenly, the words that I had previously struggled to get down on the page poured out of me, making Not The Witch You Wed the fastest book I’ve ever written to date.
By making my characters laugh, I smiled. By watching them fall in love, the gentle stirrings of hope once again tugged at my heart. My COVID reality was still very much part of my life, but I found that I feared it less. The heavy dread that usually sat on my chest when I went to the hospital lightened just the tiniest bit as I worked alongside my colleagues and with my patients. By helping my characters come to their satisfying happily ever after moment, I led myself not only to a place of acceptance, but hope. And one of Violet’s life’s lessons became my very own: If we let our magic guide us, we can overcome anything. Together.
April Asher's new book, Not the Witch You Wed, is now available from your favorite bookseller. This essay is part of a series highlighting the Good Housekeeping Book Club — you can join the conversation and check out more of our favorite book recommendations.