From nursing supervisor to novelist: My career after retirement

Carole Lee Limata |

The author shares tips with aspiring writers.

From nursing supervisor to novelist: My career after retirement

As a nurse involved with patient care, she was used to writing down goals, and she did the same in planning for retirement. But life circumstances changed those plans.

The nursing profession offers many ways to develop one’s skills and talents. I’ve been fortunate to work in a variety of interesting roles—from community health educator to genetics supervisor.

Carole Lee LimataIn 2008, I retired from my position as supervisor of screening programs in the genetics department at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, USA. As a well-trained nurse, I outlined my goals for retirement because I anticipated having significant time to pursue interests that had long stood on the sidelines of my life. I was going to learn a new language, travel, and exercise more. But when I found myself the sole caregiver for my elderly mother, my retirement went in a different direction. Today, 11 years after composing my retirement to-do list, I find that I have made little impact on my original goals.

Hospital for immigrants
I didn’t have time to pursue the outside interests I had contemplated, but I did have time to read and write. I am an avid reader, and I had written a handful of articles for professional publications. Fiction writing intrigued me, but I lacked confidence and had never found the time. After reading Lori Conway’s book, Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America’s Immigrant Hospital, I became so captivated with her description of Ellis Island’s long-forgotten 750-bed facility that I read every book on the topic I could find and visited the site numerous times.

The federal government had archived all of the nursing and medical records, but they were eventually lost, so there wasn’t much nursing history available from that source. The Ellis Island librarians, however, encouraged me to listen to the many oral histories immigrants had recorded and to review thousands of photographs the library had preserved. In this way, I slowly pieced together the 1920s-era story of the Ellis Island nurses. Four years later, my first novel, Ellis Angels: The Nurses of Ellis Island Hospital, was published.

Carole Lee LimataOne of my goals in writing that novel was to document nursing care procedures prior to today’s technology. Since then, I’ve written three more historical-fiction nursing novels. While my novels are based on fictitious characters, they contain a wealth of rich nursing history. Ellis Angels on the Move: Making a Difference in Brooklyn focuses on community health. When the nurses prepare to leave the hospital setting to become settlement house nurses, they meet Lillian Wald—who, of course, is a very real person in nursing history. Angels in Brooklyn, the third novel in the series, also focuses on community health and includes vivid flashbacks to nursing in World War I. At the end of each Ellis Angels novel is a 20-question discussion guide for nurses and nursing students, along with a section that identifies which parts of the book are fictional and which are factual.

My fourth novel, which departs from the Ellis Angels motif, is Luna Babies. The book is based in part on the amazing true story of the infant incubator exhibit at Luna Park, one of Coney Island’s largest amusement parks. During a 40-year period, spectators who paid admission could view the care of 8,000 premature infants. This book describes the fascinating beginning of neonatology in Europe and America.

Although I had been a nursing professional for 40 years, I entered the writing world as a novice and had much to learn—but my nursing experiences helped prepare me. Reporting on my patients’ progress and preparing endless employee evaluations honed my writing skills. I learned to use a computer and acquired public speaking skills. Knowledge of the nursing process—assessing and reassessing—also helped improve my writing. It taught me not to be afraid to seek valuable feedback from a variety of sources.

To my surprise, my novels have been well received by the nursing community and by women in general. Many nurses have asked me for writing advice. I encourage them to write because they have a calling, and many people are interested in reading about nurses’ hospital experiences.

Advice for aspiring authors
The first step in finding a publisher is attracting a literary agent. Remember, you are a newcomer to writing, so don’t get discouraged when you receive rejections. Self-publishing has never been easier than it is now. If you can’t find a literary agent, consider publishing your work electronically at no cost on Amazon Kindle or Nook. Both sources give you all the information you need to prepare your manuscript for publication.

Ask others to review your work—and be prepared for negative comments. When you receive a bad review, take a deep breath and try to understand what you can learn from the feedback. All critiquing is valuable and can be used in some way.

Write your story with the intention of editing it a number of times. It takes me a year to write a first draft and another year or two to revise it.

Lastly, although it is always admirable to set high expectations, I tell prospective authors not to plan on writing a bestseller immediately. Gaining immortality or making a living through writing was never my objective. I write simply for the sheer joy of it and to share what I’ve learned. RNL

Carole Lee Limata, MSN, RN, is retired and resides in Lafayette, California, USA. 
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