Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shannon O'Connor - weaving nursing and romance

Like most of my fellow authors, Shannon O'Connor has a day job - in nursing - a profession that's often romanticized, glamorized and otherwise misunderstood.  In her debut novel Red Waves is more than just a steamy romance between an injured surfer and a nurse. It's an exploration of a particular psychological makeup of one succeeding in a caring profession, the rewards and pitfalls of being programmed for altruism.

MJN: Your debut novel features a nurse protagonist. You are in the profession yourself, so you know the terminology and the mentality in and out. I am not in the medical profession, because I frankly suck at biology and chemistry, but I remember that my earliest romantic fantasies involved a wounded hero. I grew up in Russia, watching World War II movies, and there was always a tomboyish nurse who would pull men twice her size across the frozen field and patch up their wounds. There's something endearing and empowering about patching up a lion, isn't it? 

SOC: Nursing is a highly respected job. In polls most people trust what a nurse tells them compared to any other profession, so in turn there's already expectations drawn up in reader's minds about Audrey before they even read about her. She is a tomboy who patches up people for a living, but there's so much more to being a nurse and hopefully the inner thoughts of Audrey help people grasp some of that nursing mentality. In many ways Chad helps to heal Audrey, but toward the end of the trilogy the empathy from nurse Audrey empowers both of them. People are vulnerable when they need help from doctors and nurses and Audrey doesn't take that for granted. 

MJN: Interestingly, some people tend to idealize nurses, calling them angels and whatnot.  And others will tell you that nurses and doctors have to have a certain amount of callousness and cynicism in order to not fall apart. Where do you find that balance between compassion and impartiality?  Is it something that many professionals struggle to achieve even after decades of working in the field?

SOC: Funny because Chad calls Audrey an angel. I've been in healthcare since I was a teen. My very early memories in the hospital some people were very callous and cold-hearted from what I observed. From what I have witnessed it depends on where a person works and their co-workers attitudes will shape their own profession. I happen to work for an extremely great healthcare organization and team of co-workers that truly care for the patient's well-being. I'm very good at not showing my feelings on my face or actions. I can't show distress or it will make the patient freak out as well. Staying calm is the most important thing I've learned throughout the years. Patients are very observant and they know whether a nurse really cares or not. I worked Oncology for a few years and knew when I couldn't emotionally handle losing my patients whom I became very close with, so it's also knowing what area of expertise will bring the best out of me while caring for others. Years of working in the field will only enhance skills if a person has the basic care and need to help others--kindness is the number one requirement. 

MJN: In your novel, Audrey, the protagonist, has a psycho ex-husband who is seeking revenge for her sending him to prison.  I find it fascinating that so many strong, level-headed, good-hearted women run into absolute nut jobs.  Why do you think that happens?  I personally think that if a woman has strong morals, she expects that others abide by the same moral code.

SOC: You've really described Audrey. She's strong, level-headed, and good-hearted, which in many ways was how she innocently trusted her life to turn out great when she met and married her husband. Not everyone can be great at everything though, so I've seen women like her become trapped by psycho men that are threatened by the women's strong presence and try to tear them down. When I was growing up I trusted whatever others would say and quickly learned to expand my examination skills to see beyond. If a person can make a more informed decision about someone they can choose more wisely their future spouse or people they want to associate with. It comes down to self-respecting enough to not let someone else tear you apart. Unfortunately, Audrey learned these lessons a little too late. 

MJN: How do you come up with your characters' names?  Chad Slater feels like a slap on the rump.  Does the sound of the name reflect the essence of the character?

SOC: I always liked the name Chad, but the name was never a fit when I was thinking of names for my four sons. When I thought about my male character being a professional surfer it popped in my head. The last name Slater goes with surfing because of the world famous surfer, Kelly Slater. It's also a family name rooted in the city of Huntington Beach, California where the novels are set in. Chad Slater just sounded sexy and he does like slapping on Audrey's rump, so it works perfectly. Audrey was a name my sister loved and wanted to use for one of her children, but never came to be. It's very sexy, yet innocent.

MJN: Let's talk about the cover. It has a bit of Baywatch color scheme. Is that the collective memory you were hoping to evoke?

SOC: I wasn't thinking Baywatch, not sure if the cover artist had those thoughts when she designed it. I was very detailed in what I wanted and didn't want on the cover. Many people judge a book by its cover, so I wanted it to be great. Of course, the man's toned body will let readers know what's inside. The red cross symbolizes nurse Audrey and the other two books will have symbols to represent Audrey for each. I think Dawne did an amazing job and I was so happy the way it turned out---even better than what was in my mind. But if readers think of Baywatch when they see it, that can only be good because that show is worldwide, even today. Hopefully, the cover gives a full picture of what to expect inside the pages and readers enjoy entering Chad and Audrey's story. 

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