Jane Heller is the author of 13 novels, including Some Nerve and An Ex to Grind, and two works of non-fiction, You'd Better Not Die or I'll Kill You: A Caregiver's Survival Guide to Keeping You in Good Health and Good Spirits, and Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Q: Your most recent book, You'd Better Not Die or I'll Kill You, is a guide for caregivers, based on your experiences with your husband, who has Crohn's disease. Why did you decide to write this book, and how did you manage to insert humor into what can be a very difficult topic?
A: I wrote "You'd Better Not Die or I'll Kill You" after my editor told me she was acquiring wellness books and asked if I had anything to contribute to the subject. I hesitated and then said, "Well, I've been a caregiver to my husband, who has a chronic illness, for twenty years. Maybe I could write about that."
She seemed very excited and asked for a book that would not only offer my own personal experiences caring for a spouse, but include interviews with others who care for a child, friend or elderly relative, plus advice from a variety of experts in the field.
When I began the project, I was astounded by how many people - 65 million in the U.S. alone - are caregivers and how, as our parents age, that number is only going to increase. So my book is an attempt to enliven the topic for caregivers by using humor wherever possible (that's where the title comes from; it's literally what I say to my husband before he goes into surgery).
My 13 novels are all romantic comedies, so humor has always been my way of seeing the world. Caregivers, in particular, have to laugh every now and then or we'd go mad.
That said, there are many subjects I cover in the book that aren't funny and I deal with them accordingly. I wanted to write a survival guide that would validate caregivers and promote their good health and let them know they're not alone.
Q: How have other caregivers responded to the book?
A: I've gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response to the book from other caregivers. They've thanked me for being so candid and for lifting their spirits. I've also heard from people who've used my tips for getting a good night's sleep and eating healthy meals and finding time to exercise.
And so many people have responded to my advice about how to navigate the emergency room and how to get on a nurse's good side and insider stuff about the medical world. I'm very gratified to be of help to people. Caregiving is not an easy job but it can be incredibly rewarding.
What's wonderful for me is that I get to travel around the country talking to caregivers, now that I've signed with Speakers on Healthcare, the premier speakers bureau for those with an expertise in medical and health issues. I've joined the ranks of Deepak Chopra and Dr. Oz and it's a thrill. My first gig is coming up in October when I'll be speaking at the Blue Cross Conference in Arkansas.
Q: As someone who writes both fiction and non-fiction, do you have a preference?
A: After writing 13 novels, the move to nonfiction was a big shift. I didn't have to make anything up! I didn't have to create characters or plot twists or a story structure!
The challenge with nonfiction, however, is to decide what to leave out. When I turned in the manuscript for You'd Better Not Die, it was 600 pages. My editor said, "This needs serious cutting. As the author, it's your job to be a filter for the reader. Don't tell us everything. Tell us everything that matters." It was the best advice I ever got about writing nonfiction.
Do I have a preference? I do love writing romantic comedies. I love entertaining readers and making them laugh, and I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
Q: You've also written a book, Confessions of a She-Fan, about being a Yankees fan, and you maintain a blog related to the book. Are you considering writing another book about baseball?
A: I'm not thinking about writing another baseball book. Confessions was it. I enjoyed following the Yankees to every game in every city for half of the 2007 season, and it was an experience of a lifetime. But I'll follow the Yanks from the sidelines from now on.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm on the second draft of my new novel. It's another romantic comedy - no surprise there - and it's very timely and, I hope, funny. I should be finished in a couple of months.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'd just like to remind readers who enjoy lighthearted women's fiction that all of my novels are available in ebook editions now. That's been another thrill for me - to reach a whole new audience that may not have discovered my books before.
I became a Kindle convert a few years ago and while I still love holding a physical book in my hands, I do enjoy the immediacy of having an ebook downloaded to my device in 30 seconds. I really hope people will give the ebook editions of the novels a look if they haven't already.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb