Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Hot Docs!, The Writing Life

When Real Life Makes Its Way Into A Book

I have a confession to make. Sometimes little pieces of me make their way into my books. Not my big dark secrets (which aren’t very big or very dark—I lead a surprisingly boring life), but the medical issues my family and I have dealt with over the years. After all, I write Medicals, I have to get my material from somewhere. Sorry family…your injuries will become fodder for my books.

What kinds of things make the cut? Let me count the ways and the books:

  • Doctor’s Guide to Dating in the Jungle: While taking barrel racing lessons in
    Tina and Chalana running a barrel pattern.
    Tina and Chalana running a barrel pattern.

    Brazil, my horse went into a jarring trot unexpectedly, and I felt a shooting pain in my back. Thinking I’d pulled a muscle, I put heat on the area and kept going back week after week only to have the pain get progressively worse whenever my horse did more than a slow walk. Trotting or loping literally took my breath away. I finally went to the doctor. The verdict? Compression fractures of my 6th and 9th thoracic vertebrae. From a simple trot, of all things, not even a fall. My doctor shook his head and sent me off for a bone scan. You probably guessed it. I was diagnosed with borderline osteoporosis (osteopenia), even though I’d just turned forty. Once I healed, I did go back to barrel racing without any problems. How did this get into my book? My heroine treats a woman with this exact injury. In my book, the patient switched equine disciplines and started doing Western Pleasure riding instead, which is easier on the bones.

  • The Lone Wolf’s Craving: After I was diagnosed, I was advised to take bone building drugs in the form of a once-a-month pill or a yearly shot. My family knows that I’m wary of taking medicines unless I’ve really researched them. The alternative was to add calcium and vitamin D to my diet and incorporate strength training. I’d read that percussive exercise (although it seems counterintuitive) helps builds bone by forcing the body to adjust to the demands placed on it. The reason that simple trot injured my back was because I’d led a sedentary life for several years prior—very bad for the bones. I used to run as a teenager, so I slowly got back into the routine using Couch-to-5K.  Now I’m up to three miles several times a week. In my book, my heroine is an avid runner—although she runs for the joy of it.
  • The Man Who Wouldn’t Marry: Hubby is a big do-it-yourselfer, for which I’m grateful. I’ve reaped many benefits from his talents. But he’s had his share of mishaps, including stepping through a glass coffee table and then falling on a piece of the glass. The result was a deep gash on the inside of his arm near the elbow. He wanted me to just slap a butterfly bandage on it. The kids and I begged, threatened, and I finally resorted to crying to get him to agree to go to the emergency room. It looked that bad, and I’m not a squeamish person. Brazil uses a triage-style system to evaluate patients. You see a preliminary nurse who assigns you a colored identification bracelet. The color basically determines how long you wait. No cute, colored bracelet for hubby, however. He was whisked through a back door into an exam room, and a doctor came right in. Why? Because the area he cut evidently has an abundance of nerves and tendons running through it. Cutting the wrong thing could result in a loss of function in parts of his hand. “Wifey was right,” said the mean old doctor.  So as hubby hung his head, the doctor tested motion and sensation in various parts of his hand and arm and then stitched him up. I have a similar injury in my book—the doctor steps through a glass table while hanging a light fixture and…voila, cuts his arm. Which, of course the heroine (who’s also a doctor) has to treat in her own…er…special way.

I could go on and on and bore you with all of our medical history, but I’ll stop and let you guess which events are real and which ones are made up. Hint: there’s a touch of reality in almost every one of my books. Including my March duet featuring Brazilian brothers.

How about you? Do you ever wonder if scenes in books are taken from the authors’ personal files? And writers, do you inject a bit of yourselves into your books? If so, can you give us a hint? Inquiring minds want to know! To Play with FireDangers of Dating Dr. Carvalho

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22 thoughts on “When Real Life Makes Its Way Into A Book”

  1. I’ve worked as a nurse in CCU, medical and orthopaedics. Then as a district nurse and a health visitor. I’ve seen lots of weird and wonderful things that can make their way into my books. But I have most fun when people annoy me, because although I might change names and descriptions, I can reap terrible revenge!

    1. Ha ha, Scarlet! I imagine you’ve seen quite a few things that would make most people’s toes curl. I think orthopedics would be really cool place to be. All those breaks. There’s evidently a new procedure that can stabilize compression fractures using a type of cement. My doctor in the U.S. said if he’d seen me earlier, they could have done the procedure on the worst of the two in my back. The things they can do now…really amazing.

  2. Tina, I don’t think it’s possible to separate real life from fiction when you are a writer – it always creeps in! And yes I have used my family as guinea pigs…ehem, research cases many times over the years. After all, it adds that touch of reality to a story which is what Medical Romance readers love.
    Love those covers. They’re really hot!
    Jennifer

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I totally agree. I think seeing cases up close and personal allows you to write those little details that make things pop on the page. I probably wouldn’t have thought about adding the stuff about the nerves and tendons in that elbow cut if a doctor hadn’t said something. I would have probably just written in some blood (in profuse quantities). I even had my heroine voice the dr.’s remarks. That’s about as real as it gets. 😉

  3. Hi Tina, what fun to learn about your source of “fiction”. 🙂 I’m glad you are a runner now. I’ve met you and you are petite and osteoporosis likes that body frame for some reason. The most recent time I’ve used personal experience in a book was in my Special Edition – The Medic’s Homecoming. Both experiences were from when my kids were runners on a high school track team. The gun went off for one race and soon went off again as one boy caught his foot on a hurdle, fell onto the tartan track and had a compound fracture. My daughter still remembers his bone sticking out. And another time a kid dislocated a finger at the starting line. My son sprained his angle on a couple of occasions and the heroine in the book just happened to have that happen to her while out on a run by herself. All based in truth, yet one reader thought the injuries were overdone for track and said she’d never send her kid to that school. LOL

    1. Yikes on the compound fracture! But boo for the “overdone” comment. I’ve fallen twice just doing my normal running, So on a track team? With speed, stress and…hurdles? Oh yeah, I can totally see those injuries happening!

      My hubby went on a ski trip with a group of young people one time and one of the girls hit a tree and broke her femur. The doctor said if she hadn’t been a cheerleader with a lot of muscle holding everything in place, the bone would have come through. I’m totally using that in my current book (which takes place at a ski resort).

  4. Tina, I put stuff from my life in all the time, especially when I am writing about young children. Most of my boys’ “precious cuddly” landed up in a book. My sister’s dogs are in books and some of random family expressions. My sister likes to read my books to find the one family reference!

    Yikes on your injury though! Keep up the weight-bearing exercises!!

    1. I put my kids’s quirks in my books as well, Fiona. They’ve done some pretty funny things over the years. It’s always interesting how we can fit the oddest things in and still keep our plots moving right along. So much fun!

  5. Oh yeh – most of my medical stuff comes from personal experience or things I’ve seen as a nurse over the years. After all dont they say that truth is stranger than fiction? 🙂

  6. As a nurse, I bet you could write a book about the things you’ve seen and heard…oh wait, you’ve written several! 😉 Seriously, it is great to have little pieces of “us” in our books. It’s not quite journaling (after all, my characters act pretty outrageously at times), but I think it’s a little bit like that– recording parts of who we are, either in our characters themselves, their hopes and fears, or what they experience. This is such an awesome job!

  7. Medical stuff in my life goes into all my books. My first one Heart Surgeon, Hero… Husband? is about a boy who needs a heart transplant. My son has had one. Not having a medical background I have to use the stuff I know-what happens to me or my family.

    1. I’m right there with you, Susan! I try to use what I know first. I do a ton of research for the stuff that I’m not as familiar with. Which is fun, since I love odd medical conditions and watch all kinds of medical documentary-type shows!

      I remember that about your first book. I’m sure that’s why it resonated with so many readers (including me), because there’s that feeling of authenticity to the story that you can’t get any other way!

  8. The baby in my book Pregnant with the Soldier’s Son, yeah same condition as my middle guy. Totally played on my own birthing experience there.

    I think any writer writes a piece of them in their work.

    1. I think so too, Amy! I used my birthing experience in a book as well (in fact it was my debut book–I crammed all I knew into one book).

      Maybe that’s why I get so emotional when I write certain types of scenes. Because I’m seeing a piece of me in there, and it plays on my memories. We really do make ourselves vulnerable in order to get those stories out there, and I hope it shows!

  9. I think every book I write has something from my life in it, be it somewhere I’ve been, something I’ve done or some type of illness I’ve nursed. As they say, write what you know!!! Luckily I’m getting pretty old now so I have a lot of experiences to write about otherwise I’d be worrying about running out of ideas! 🙂

  10. Hi Tina, I’m guilty too! I have a horrible feeling that my family thinks that if they get taken ill, that the first thing I’ll do is pull out a notebook 🙂

    Lots of the little things that go into my books are from friends and family – small characteristics or sayings. I guess everything has to come from somewhere, and without true life where would we be?

    1. Exactly, Annie! Everything does have to come from somewhere, so why not pull interesting tidbits from your memory banks? At least you know it’s something that really could have happened. So glad to know I’m not the only one who views those little accidents and illnesses as possible plot material!

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