#271 – Year of the Nurse with Cassandra Alexander

Paranormal romance author and ICU nurse Cassandra Alexander joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her new memoir, Year of the Nurse. In her memoir, Cassandra recounts her time on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic working in the ICU.

Paranormal romance author and ICU nurse Cassandra Alexander joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her new memoir, Year of the Nurse. In her memoir, Cassandra recounts her time on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic working in the ICU. She talks to us about the writing process of Year of the Nurse, what it was like revisiting the traumatic events of the previous 18 months, and the lasting effect of the pandemic on her mental health and that of healthcare workers globally.  

Content note: this episode discusses heavy topics including Covid-19, PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Please listen mindfully.  

  • Cassandra tells us about her journey to becoming a published author, and why she chose a career in nursing to help her make her writing dreams come true 
  • She tells us about her memoir, Year of the Nurse, which is made up of a collection of tweets, newsletters, and essays written throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and she tells us what it was like reliving 2020 and 2021 through her own words 
  • Cassandra explains how she decided which content to include in the book, what the editing process was like, why she decided to format it chronologically, and she tells us the story behind her memoir’s title 
  • She talks about her decision to publish Year of the Nurse independently and why the immediacy of the content as well as the incredibly personal nature of the memoir played into this decision 
  • Cassandra tells us who she hopes reads her book and what she hopes people gain from reading it, and she discusses the impact the pandemic has had (and continues to have) on her mental health and the mental health of healthcare workers globally 
  • She talks about balancing writing paranormal romance while also being a full-time ICU nurse, how she uses writing to both process events and also as an escape, and whether or not she lost romance readership due to the content of her memoir 
  • Cassandra tells us whether she’ll revisit her memoir later in the pandemic to add additional chapters, and what is coming next for her in both her writing and nursing career

Useful Links 

Cassandra’s website 
Follow Cassandra on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram 
Year of the Nurse 
Dragon Called 
Prince of the Other Worlds 
One Story Creative 
The Stars My Destination 
Dragonlance Chronicles
Star Trek: Voyager 

Cassie Alexander is a registered nurse and author. As Cassandra, she’s written the Year of the Nurse: A Covid-19 Pandemic Memoir. As Cassie, she’s written numerous paranormal romances, sometimes under the name Cassie Lockharte with her friend Kara Lockharte. She lives in the Bay Area with one husband, two cats, and one million succulents.

Episode Transcript

Episode Transcript provided by Speechpad

Joni: Hey writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts, I’m Joni, Author Engagement Specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Rachel: And I’m Rachel, Author Engagement Coordinator at Kobo Writing Life.

Joni: On today’s episode, we are interviewing Cassandra Alexander, who is a registered nurse in the ICU and a writer of paranormal romance. She’s recently published a memoir, the “Year of the Nurse,” which details her year, 18 months of working as a COVID nurse in the U.S.

Rachel: Before we get into this episode, we do just wanna give you a content warning. This episode does discuss, as Joni said, working in the ICU as a COVID nurse, there’s a lot of discussion about COVID-19, and mental health issues including PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It is a very interesting conversation. We had a great time talking to Cassandra, even though the subject matter was pretty heavy. And we really hope you listen and enjoy.

Joni: So we are here today with Cassandra Alexander, who is a registered nurse, who is also an author of paranormal romance. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Cassandra: Thank you for having me.

Joni: So we really wanted to talk to you about your recently published memoir which is about your time working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you start by telling our listeners a little bit about you and your publishing background?

Cassandra: Yeah. So, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But I, you know, when I was younger, I couldn’t figure out how to make a sustainable wage out of that. So I looked around for alternative careers, at things that I might be interested in doing, and I found nursing because I am very interested in science and the medical side of things. And so, and nursing allowed me to work part-time in the Bay Area, which is amazing, and have free time to write. So going into nursing like 15 years ago was a very calculated choice and an effort to kind of further my writing career. And then along the way, once I became a nurse, I wrote a five-book series for St. Martin’s, the “Edie Spence” series, the first one of which was “Nightshifted.”

And that one was about a nurse working on a floor with vampire-exposed to humans. And it was very just thinly veiled me talking about how scary it was to be a night shift nurse, a new night shift nurse with all these wild patients that, you know. Also with no experience, which made it terrifying from both sides of the bed. And so, after I had that traditionally published series, I went into self-publishing for a while, and then I kind of have bobbed in and out of that. And right now, I am working on a series with a friend of mine, who also has a nurse protagonist, and it starts with “Dragon Called,” and we’re gonna be taking that wide very shortly here I think at the end of this month.

And just because I enjoy writing about nurses, and I feel like there’s a lot of inherent drama in nursing and taking care of other people. So, along the way, my career, I’ve published like 25 books. Not all of them are currently out right now, I’m kind of in the process of refreshing my backlist and rebranding it. But if I count the books that didn’t get published, I’m in the 30s for sure. I’ve always had a habit of writing and writing through things that happen to me even if I kind of thinly veil them in fiction. And so last year as a COVID Nurse, I had the opportunity to write to a bunch of my friends and tell them what was going on, and express myself on Twitter and tell them what was happening to me like moment by moment at the bedside because I just needed somebody to listen.

And then also I have like an author brand so to speak, and so I would send out newsletters basically imploring people who read my books to please wear masks and please take the vaccine. And so at the end of that, when I collated everything up, I had quite a bit of material. And so that’s kind of how the “Year of the Nurse” was born, because I thought it might be interesting for other people to see what it was like to be bedside last year, like way up close and personal. I hide nothing.

Joni: Yeah, Rach and I had to debrief this morning after reading it. It’s a lot. It’s a lot of information. And even for us, we were saying that we had, neither of us had COVID, we had a very easy pandemic, and it was still like reliving every minute of that, and all the news cycles that were happening. It’s a lot. So, how did you find it, going through your old tweets and your old journal entries?

Cassandra: Yeah. Yeah, no, I’m sorry. Yeah, I’m glad you guys said you’re gonna put a content warning on this episode, because people keep telling me, “Oh, this is a heavy book.” And I’m like, “I know, and I’m sorry.”

Joni: It’s a heavy thing.

Cassandra: Yeah, it’s kind of a sipping book, not a gulping book. I wanted people to feel the immediacy of the moment, and that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t pull any punches, and I pretty much put up straight journal entries in there about how I was feeling. Author’s note, hugely depressed most of the time, and not happy to be at work, and not happy to feel like I was gonna die every day. It wasn’t kind of a miserable experience, it was a very miserable experience in hindsight. But, you know, people always kind of wanna say, “Oh, I had an easy pandemic.” But I want to steer people away from that line of thinking because the pandemic, before I get back to your question, Joni, but the pandemic super sucked for all of us, all of our lives were interrupted in ways large and small.

And so I never wanted to become like a pissing competition about whose life sucked more. Yeah, mine was pretty sucky, but we were all on that roller coaster together. And so, I just want everybody who’s listening to grant themselves some grace for what they experienced in 2020 and what they’ve probably gone through so far in 2021 because none of us had a choice. I mean, we’re all on the ride. But back to kind of what it was like, I feel like at the time, nobody had any time to process anything. There was like so much nonsense, at least in America, happening literally all the time, bad decisions being made, politicians lying to us. It was just a firehose of BS basically. And that was one of the reasons why in the book, I put in some news tweets about death tolls, or stupid things that Trump had said, or things that had happened nationally, to kind of frame that year so that people would get the chance to remember that we had actually, at least in America, been through all of that stuff together because it was just such a blur when it actually happened.

Rachel: That’s one thing that Joni and I kept messaging each other while we were reading, was like “I completely forgot that Trump had told people to drink bleach essentially.” And just all of the small, at the time they weren’t small, but all the little things that happened that were placeholders and markers throughout the pandemic that we had just let our brains forget. So it was interesting to be reliving it, the news cycle again. It was a lot, but it was really cool.

Cassandra: Yeah, just indignity after indignity.

Joni: A lot of it was very early. Like there were things that were happening in April 2020, and I was like, “Whoa, we had no idea back then that we were still gonna be in this.” And yeah, there was all this, “Oh, we’re gonna open by Easter.” It’s wild.

Rachel: We were told to take two weeks at home, like “We’ll see in two weeks.” And that was like 18 months ago?

Cassandra: Yeah. Yeah. I’m not sure what the response is, like if you guys had a more cogent national response up in Canada because I can barely keep track of the ball on our side of the fence. But yeah, just that lack of people wanting to be proactive and getting out ahead of things, and just keeping us trapped in like this reactive state to COVID. And that’s kind of how we are still, that’s one of the things I find frustrating right now kind of at the Biden administration is we’re still reacting to COVID instead of being hugely proactive. Because I feel like as long as we’re reactive then, and just hoping that states over here do the right thing, and putting mask mandates and vaccine mandates, that we’re always gonna be witnessing senseless deaths because people aren’t going to necessarily make the right decisions unless they’re strong-armed into it, unfortunately. So…

Rachel: Yeah, I think it’s pretty similar here, that it’s still reactive rather than proactive. I did have one question about going through and kind of collating the content of the book. For listeners who haven’t read it yet, it’s a combination of tweets, newsletters, journal entries. How did you decide what to put in the book and what to leave out?

Cassandra: Yeah. So basically, it took me like a week or two to just sit there and make this master document that had everything chronological in there. Real fast, before I talk about that, Rachel, let me talk about why I chose the title. I chose “Year of the Nurse,” as you guys know because you’ve read the book because the World Health Organization designates each year to be a “year of the something.” And ironically, 2020 was the Year of the Nurse. And then 2021, we got a redo because it was so bad, and that’s like the Year of the Nurse and the Midwives basically. And so that meant that there was like a poster in every break room in America, in hospital in America saying, “Hey, Year of the Nurse.” And you’re in there thinking, “Yeah, right.”

So, once I kind of realized that that was going to be my title and that the only way that makes sense of all the material I had was to go chronologically, that’s just how I started to break it up. When I started, I was like, “Oh, let me do all these essays, and I’ll kind of organize it by body systems and stuff.” And I was like, “No, there’s too much material, that’s way too complicated, and people lose track, but people understand how a calendar flows.” And it provides this nice ominous drumbeat of like, “Oh, early days when we thought things might get better.” And then, “Oh, gosh.” And everybody who’s already lived through it can like kind of hear the jaws sound as the shark comes up through the holidays.

So, as for trying to figure out what I wanted to keep and what I didn’t, some stuff was just duplicates, so it was easy to kind of toss. I would have thoughts and then I would expound within those thoughts, and maybe in a different format, and I would choose which one was more meaningful. A lot of it was just leaning into my authorial sense of inherent drama, and like the story that needed to be told so that it made sense. And I didn’t rigorously think that everything necessarily needed a callback, but I tried to not have any piece of information in there just dangling on its own. So I have a couple of talks about, I just bring it up like three or four times, GoFundMe’s in general.

And the kicker for me having talked about, hey, it sucks that we have to use GoFundMe’s instead of having National Alliance Healthcare, is that one thing where I’m all like, “Hey, by the way, Trump’s chief of staff lost a leg to COVID, and then had to go run a GoFundMe for his own health because his government and his President wouldn’t just dump money on him after having lost a leg to COVID.” So I tried to kind of remember to come back, and any note that I had kind of picked out, I wanted to make sure that I hit it maybe one more time in the book if it was appropriate, so that it would kind of just feel resonant and come full circle. And then I just reread it like 12 times, and then gosh, probably more actually. And then I had my friends who had seen some of the entries on their own in their own capacities depending on how close a friend it was and stuff, go through it, and tell me where they thought this isn’t really so interesting you should take it out, etc. So, and I trusted in them.

Rachel: What was the process like rereading it over and over again? Was it therapeutic to kind of see it all again, or by the end, you were ready to just throw everything out the window and never think about it again?

Cassandra: You know, there’s always that cycle of every book, right? You know, at first, you’re like, “I’m so jazzed, I’m loving this.” And then there’s the middle, and then there’s the end, and then there’s three months later when you’re like, “Who the hell wrote that?” Like you don’t even remember the person that you were at the time when that book magically happened. This was a little bit different than that because, you know, obviously, it’s nonfiction. So at first, and so people know, I was writing this as a therapy book. So I wound up starting this book. My therapist knew that I was a writer, and at the end of April, I had a suicidal crisis at work where I messaged my girls’ chat, where I was like, “Yo, I don’t really wanna be here. Why am I keeping people alive if I don’t wanna be alive personally?” And I came home, and I started crying, I didn’t stop crying for a long time. And my therapist is like, “Whoa, honey, you have super PTSD,” and which is understandable, right? But because my therapist knew that I was a writer she was like, “Oh, you should maybe do something with this. It’ll have value for you in and of itself even if you don’t show it to anybody else.” And she was right. It gave me the opportunity to process a lot of feelings. And it was hard and scary to go through all that material, but it really helped me to grant the person that I was a lot of grace.

I found out through extensive therapy, which I’m still participating in, that a lot of my issues with how last year went down and my participation as being a nurse last year, were based on outcomes, right? Because I’m used to being successful. I’m used to being a really fantastic nurse, and like doing my best, and having things work, you know? And so, I need to just shift my frame from the outcomes of my patients to “I tried really hard and I did my best”, which is all anybody can actually ask of us especially in these times. And so, I got the opportunity going back and looking at my older material to say, oh my gosh, it was clear. I was trying my hardest all the time, you know? I was trying to keep my friends alive, trying to keep my family alive, I was trying to keep strangers on the internet alive, I was trying to keep my paranormal romance readers alive. Like I was the definition of trying for all of last year. And so that helped me to realize that I had, even though it feels like all of my efforts last year were wasted, that’s not on me, you know? That I stepped up to the plate and I really tried. I’m sorry, I’m gonna try not to cry now, I don’t have any Kleenex or [inaudible 00:13:46] with me. Oh wait, I do. Okay, sorry.

Joni: I love that you addressed… Well, I mean, I don’t know what we’re gonna do with the information, but I’m glad that you address mental health and the toll that this is taking on how many healthcare workers? Like I don’t know, worldwide. I think it’s…

Cassandra: Yeah, it’s an astounding number of us. And people don’t think about that, that’s why I used that. Like writing my intro I’m like, “Hey, you know there were 4 million nurses in America last year and only 2.7 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.” And soldiers who went to Vietnam, they got breaks, right? They got to come home, and be totally off, and not be stuck in it all the time. We were all stewing in all COVID news all the time. And it was almost impossible, especially as a healthcare worker, to step away from that because it just involved you so vitally, you wanted to be abreast of every situation. And then globally, yeah, there’s not a single country that’s dodging it, and because by and large our political situations and our economic situations haven’t encouraged proactivity.

So, you know, parts of Europe tried their herd immunity experiment, that didn’t go so great. I read this trending report this morning on the situation in Indonesia, which is tragic. And then we’ve got vaccine doses being wasted in America right now that I wish we could have sent to other places that desperately wanted them. That’s hugely unfair. So, I just guarantee you that, with the exception of the weird nurses that they keep finding in “The New York Times” to somehow or the “Wall Street Journal” to somehow interview, those freak one-off nurses who are like, “I hate vaccines,” the rest of us are very interested in our living and our friends living and everybody else’s survival. And so, yeah, this has just been a really heartbreaking period to be bedside.

Joni: Yeah. So, I think that you’ve expressed why you think this is such an important story to tell. I’m interested about your decision to publish it independently because this is something I think is really cool. And there’s a great opportunity offered by indie publishing, so I’d love to hear about what your rationale was for choosing to do that?

Cassandra: Yeah, yeah. So having been traditionally published in the past, and obviously, I’m embedded in like…Well, I have plenty of friends who have trad pub and stuff, and I know how slow that system goes. And at the time when I wrote this, I mean, I actually wrote, in my intro, I was like, “As we go into this, our first safe summer,” which wound up being a lie, but at the time, I thought it was true. I wanted to get my book out there to speak to what healthcare workers had been through this past year, and to let America know what it had done to them, and to let them individually know that they were not alone. I mean, we’ve all got PTSD, just like crazy.

Even the most casual Google test for PTSD, if any nurse took it right now, I’m sure she would ace it. So I wanted to get my book out there as quickly as possible before people forgot because I thought that that was a thing that might happen irrationally. And so the only venue, the only way that I thought I could do that in time to kind of strike while the iron was hot was the self-pub. Because traditionally published books, that whole system is great, but it just takes a while, right? You know, usually, at least six months if not more to get a book out there. And I’m just like, if I feel like this now, I know there’s so many other nurses out there who feel exactly like me. They’re not being… They’re underserved basically.

So yeah, so I just went ahead and I fired up Vellum and I was like I think I can make this work. And I paid good money for a good cover, and I have plenty of writing friends to run my board by and stuff, and I got everything professional copy-edited. And I sat there, and I did the very difficult work of formatting it so it looks sexy despite the fact that it’s got journal entries, and tweets, and everything in there. And I actually really liked having that degree of control over the process honestly too, because it was such an intensely personal work. I think it would have been really weird to sign off on it and give it to somebody else. I also curse a lot in it. And I don’t want to be unfair to trad pub, but I worried that if I had given it to them, they might have wanted to iron some of that out or down a little bit to make it more palatable for people.

And I’m not really interested in it being palatable to everyone in America, I just want nurses to feel seen and people who are curious to get a chance to watch. So yeah, that’s basically all the reasons why I went self-pub. If trad pub rolled up with like a truck, or like Netflix with a truck of money and offered it to me, if they wanted to put me in every airport in America, I would be like, “Oh please, yes.” I would have no problem signing away those rights. But it is what it is right now. And I am reaching nurses, I’ve got great reviews. And I do wish that I could get an even bigger platform for it because I know there’s more people out there who would find it valuable to read, but I have faith that that will come in time.

Joni: No, I think the immediacy of it is part of the strength of the book. That it is, well, I mean, I wanna say recent, but really, we’re still in the middle of it all. But I thought that was very powerful. And I agree with you that it would have taken a lot more time had you gone the traditional route. I think this is, yeah, one of the kind of cool opportunities offered by indie is for you to be able to say, “This is happening now. This is very important right now. So let’s do it.” I’m also curious, who are you hoping to reach with the book? And what are you hoping that readers get from it?

Cassandra: Again, I definitely want nurses to feel seen and to know that they weren’t alone because that is the worst. When as a whole society doesn’t discuss mental health issues in general, I don’t know how it is in Canada, but that’s how it is in America, right? And then you’ve got the double whammy. It’s like born of some weird American exceptionalism and machismo that we’ve got. And then in health care, nobody ever wants to admit that they were wrong. And so, and if you can never admit that you’re wrong, it’s really hard to admit that things are going on with you inside that maybe other people can’t see. But I know from my nurse friends how all messed up all of us are, and from nurses on the internet that I encounter you know, or nurses sobbing in their cars after shift on TikTok.

So there’s just this huge amount of psychic damage that is being accrued by healthcare workers right now. And so, I really wanted people to know if they’re suffering in silence somewhere that they’re not alone. That of course you would have PTSD after everything that had happened to us, like a literal course. It was so funny, and I mentioned this in the book but I’ll repeat it now, Joni, like when I had that first visit with my therapist, and I hadn’t talked to her for like 14 months because she’s not in my health system, she had to wedge me in, it was a weird situation. I basically barfed like 14 months of trauma onto her. And it was me telling her all of that where I realized, “Oh, my God, I cannot believe all these things actually happened to me.” And I know that I was only in the Bay Area where things weren’t as bad as they were in New York, or LA, or Florida, or Texas now.

So yeah, I think there’s there’s gonna be a desperate need for healthcare workers to be acknowledged in the future, to have therapy in the future, and for America to understand what it’s done to us. And then I know too, a lot of people are really, I don’t want to see lookie-loos because that sounds like I’m putting them down, but people are really curious about what happens bedside, and what it’s like. I mean, that’s why “ER” was the most popular TV show in the world for so long, right? Or “Grey’s Anatomy,” or “House.” Even though those are fictionalized accounts of what happens in a hospital, they’re still interesting.

So I was hoping that my book, that people wanted to rubberneck some and see it was really like, at least for me. My book would give them the opportunity to do that, and hopefully make them feel strongly about being pro-public health, and pro masks, and everything in the future, and voting accordingly. So yeah, I’ve gotten a couple of freakish one-star reviews of people who didn’t like the book, and they were all like, “Oh, it was too political.” And I’m just like, “How did you think this book was going to go?” Like it’s not a Hallmark Channel. So yeah, so that’s who I kind of I hope my readers are. And anybody who’s got any form of PTSD I think would be interested in it. And unfortunately, that’s probably like 4 million of us. So…

Rachel: I just wanna say that if anybody has healthcare workers in their life, you should pick up this book, there’s kind of like…I have four family members who work in hospitals, I have a bunch of friends who are nurses, and reading this book, obviously, you have empathy for your friends, but just to kind of see and understand what your friends and family are going through. It’s wildly eye-opening. And also, I don’t know, it changed my perspective on a couple of things, like anybody who is like, “Oh, well, you know you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not getting a vaccine, you get sick, like that’s on you, blah, blah, blah. I don’t care.” But you should care because somebody has to take care of these people. So I think that it should be relatively mandatory reading, but that’s just me on my little soapbox over here.

Cassandra: That’s a great soapbox to be on.

Rachel: Thank you. I did kind of wanna just touch back on what you said about getting a one-star review saying that the book was too political. You also write paranormal romance and you have other books like you mentioned up top. Were you worried at all about losing any of that readership based on the content of this book?

Cassandra: I think I edited some of that out. I think there might have been a snippet or two in there where I was sending out newsletters to people, and I was just like, “Please buy my fiction before I piss you off.” Because, yeah, when you accrete your newsletter list over time, you’re promising those people like sexy dragon shifters, or werewolves, or vampires, and happiness, and escape. And, yeah, I just took a hard right and I was like I cannot let this audience go. If I have the opportunity to help you all make good decisions no matter where you are, we’re gonna go down that road. And so it did cost me people on my newsletter and stuff. I would get messages where they would just be like, you know, the people who couldn’t figure out the unsubscribe button, who email you back and they’re like, “Unsubscribe me.”

And I’m just like, “Okay, fine. I’m sorry I’ve crossed a line here.” But I refuse to be apologetic, right? There was a time when things were getting real, and some doctor said something profound on Twitter, like, “Basically, everybody who has a platform right now who isn’t telling people to wear masks is leaving the lives on the table.” And I took that to heart because it’s true. Like one of the things that I edited out of this book actually were transcriptions of Instagram videos I made. I’m a really avid gardener, and my whole backyard is now covered in plants because every time I had a bad shift I would water a lot of plants. And a lot of my shifts were bad. But one of the things that’s really popular on Instagram is unboxing videos. So I would get these massive hauls of plants in, and I would set up my camera, and I’d be like, “All right, let’s unbox plants. And then let me tell you about public health stuff,” you know?

And so, I cried on camera with that stuff when I found out that my mom had COVID, things like that. And while my Instagram is like all of my plant account, with the exception of these videos which were still nominally plant related, I need to look back on my life and know that I lived it clean and that I tried as hard as I could, and if that makes some people mad, then it’s too bad for them, right? You know, it’s not me worth sullying myself to make myself more palatable to them to take their money. And I feel like there’s plenty of people out there too. I don’t feel like I’m in the minority, so I don’t necessarily feel entirely persecuted for having good public health views. So I don’t think it’ll cost me that many people. I do suspect too that some of the people that left my newsletter were like, “Oh, my gosh, we’re just tired of this lady and hearing this.”

And that’s fine too. If you’re overwhelmed, and you’re already trying to figure out what to do with your three kids at home, I’m not gonna blame you for not needing some other weird rando yelling at you once a month in her newsletter. So, but I did get a bunch of really good comments back though on newsletters, and people would send me pictures of their family, or say, “Thanks for helping keeping my people safe,” and stuff. So those moments made it all worthwhile.

Joni: Yeah, you know there’s gonna be people that were on the fence or unsure about things that maybe did get to see your side of it, and that’s definitely worth losing a couple of readers that maybe didn’t. So, yeah. Something I was wondering about, and maybe you kind of explained it when you…I didn’t understand that you had been working part-time because it really does sound like you’re working all the time during last year.

Cassandra: Oh, no, I just started off part-time. I’m full-time now.

Joni: So you were writing this while you were full-time during what was going on, plus you were writing your paranormal romance because that was the part I’m like when are you doing this?

Cassandra: I’m a weird person Joni. So, I know for other writers, I’m gonna be honest with y’all because I’m honest, so don’t hate me. I wrote 400,000 words of fiction last year on top of all the notes and stuff that wound up being put into “Year of the Nurse.” And it was basically because that was like my trauma response, right? Because I just needed to be someplace happy, and I needed to kind of dissociate from what my current life was like. And so my way of doing that was to be like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna write about sexy time, man-beasts right now.” And so I was wildly prolific, more prolific than I have ever been. And that is not indicative of good mental health necessarily. So, I wouldn’t say that that’s the way to get a bunch of words in is to like, you living in your house, have absolutely nothing to do with anybody else in the world, and to be desperate to escape your day to day life.

Joni: But it was part of what helped you cope.

Cassandra: Yeah, yeah. It was 100% a coping mechanism. Because I needed to kind of write the things that wound up being in “Year of the Nurse” just to get them out of my head, you know? Because then I would sit there looking at a page, and I’d be like, my brain would be trying to file away whatever today’s trauma was. And so I would just like blurt it out into like a journal, or onto Twitter and I’d be like, “Here’s three really sad conversations I had to have today.” Okay, good. I’m glad those are kind of like out of me now, and then I would go on and write fiction. But like it got too at work, when we were lucky enough to have breaks, I always took my laptop into work. And we do 12-hour shifts, so I would write on break at work. It was such an escapist activity for me in a good way that I was really glad that I had it.

Joni: I follow a lot of healthcare workers on social media, and I’m really, really grateful to those that have shared information because that’s where I’m getting a lot of it. And it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Like there’s a lot of really, really valuable information that’s being shared that isn’t necessarily being portrayed in the media. But I’m also in awe that people are able to do that while living their lives, and treating people, and going through what people have gone through over the last 18 months. So yeah, it’s been a valuable public service.

Cassandra: Sometimes I pull away. I’m really good at getting hyper-focused which definitely helps my word count. And so sometimes I’ll be off of Twitter all day and stuff, and that’s kind of good for me to take a little bit of a personal break. And I don’t really use Facebook at all, which is probably not good for my career because I know that’s really where “the readers are” and stuff, but I just find their setup kind of intolerable. So I’m way more of a Twitter girl.

Joni: And on a practical note, I’m interested, how did you find, like switching genres the way that you did, did you use the same editors, cover designers, that kind of thing? Or did you have to find different people to work with because you’re working in such a different genre?

Cassandra: Yeah. So I went and did a…I used the same copy editor, because copy editing is just copy editing, and I knew she was great. But I went and found a person who was like a nonfiction cover designer because of how much of a cover cues what the reader experience is gonna be promised by that book, and we wanna make sure that the cover matches the interior. So yeah, I used Wageedah at One Story Creative. She’s in South Africa, and she was amazing. And I’m really super pleased with that cover. But yeah, I wouldn’t have gone to my normal P&R person to just have them do that, you know? Because it would have had the wrong cues.

Rachel: I have a question that just came to me right now. It’s kind of based on what we were talking about earlier about the advantages of publishing this book independently. The book ends at around July 5th if I’m remembering correctly. And like you said, in the intro you said we’re going into our first like chill, COVID less-ish summer, which as we all know, is not as COVID-ish less as we wanted it to be. Do you have any plans to possibly add like an epilogue, or add another chapter as time goes on? Or have you closed the book on “Year of the Nurse” and are moving on?

Cassandra: That’s like such a great question, Rachel. And I really don’t know. I feel like right now I’ve been out of the game in a good way for me because after I had my PTSD diagnosis and stuff, I got this summer off. And I didn’t necessarily feel bad about taking the summer off because our patient load was really light, and because I live in the Bay Area where everybody has been very good about masking all along, we didn’t really have any COVID patients again until kind of just this past month. So I don’t know that I would have had that much to talk about this past summer anyways. And then now, I accidentally fractured my ankle, and I’ll probably actually be out of work for like another two to three months here because I just had pretty intensive ankle surgery with screws, and a plate, and a fake ligament.

So, I don’t wanna have to write another book on this. I don’t wanna have to be that person again who has to write a book like this. I don’t want to ever experience the lows that I experienced in this book again quite frankly. I don’t wanna sound dramatic and be like, I may not survive them, but like I was really hella depressed for like a really long time, and I cannot let myself go back to that place. I don’t necessarily know what my nursing career is gonna look for me after this. I do still wanna go back to ICU the moment my ankle fracture heals up, to get back on the horse and prove to myself that I can do it, but I would be a liar if I said that I saw myself there in five or 10 years. And I think that’s one of the things I talked about in the book is like this mass exodus we’re gonna see of experienced nurses because America has made it untenable for us to continue to care the way we have.

And there’s just not enough money available to keep us at bedside after the way were treated last year. And so if I don’t write anything more in this series, and I don’t want it to be a series, but I want it to be for lack of opportunity. I want it to be because like America got better or I got further away from bedside. And unfortunately, as things continue to unfold, I’m sure there’s somebody else right now in Texas or Florida who’s like in the middle of living it, and I would be really glad to hand this baton over to them.

Joni: If you don’t have an answer to this, that’s fine. But if there are any U.S. based nurses listening right now, are you aware of any resources or anything that people can contact? Is there anything available?

Cassandra: There’s not, and it’s really sad that there’s not. Like therapy services all over America are super impacted right now. I’m just assuming from having heard from friends attempting desperately to find somebody and I talked about that some on the book too. I tried to find somebody through my health insurance, and I couldn’t find so I was continuing to pay out of pocket for my old therapist. So, as far as I’m aware there’s not like a national clearinghouse. There are people I’ve heard, every time I talk about this on Twitter, somebody trips up and they’re like, “Oh, so and so is taking people.” But I don’t have any way to judge whether those people are good or not, so I feel weird passing along that information. So all I would do is if there were nurses listening to this and seeing themselves in it, I would encourage them to keep looking for care. And that even if you do find a therapist, be aware that, you know, it’s just like any other practitioner in your life, be it like a dentist or a yoga person. If for some reason you bounce off the first therapist, try and find another. Don’t give up on therapy and getting help just because you may have had one bad experience.

Joni: That’s a great point. And where can listeners and readers find you online? You’re very active on Twitter.

Cassandra: Yeah, I’m on Twitter as @CassieY4. Or if you look up Cassie Alexander on Twitter, you’ll find me I’m sure. And then I’m at cassiealexander.com, which is my website, which is like 99% paranormal dragon shifter stuff, and then like 0.1% “Year of the Nurse.” And that’s probably the best and most easiest place to find me.

Joni: Perfect. And you’re gonna be going wide with all your books in the near future, is that what you said?

Cassandra: Yeah, yeah. So I’m redoing my covers on all of my backlists right now, on all of my solo titles. So all of those will be coming out. I’m hoping to get everything released in like October, November. I wanna have kind of like a pre-order lead and make things look nice. And then my co-author titles, my co-author Kara Lockharte, or she and I when we write together sometimes as Cassie Lockharte, we’re gonna be doing all those wide, we’re just kind of waiting for the last book to come out of KU, and that will be at the end of this month. So if you do like sexy time dragon shifters with nurse protagonists that have happy endings, then I think you would probably like our Prince of the Other World series.

Joni: Amazing. Okay, well, we’ll make sure we share those links. And do you mind if we finish off with some book questions? We’ll try and keep it simple. Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Cassandra: Gosh, that is such a hard question. The 12-year-old version of me wants to tell you that it’s “Dune.” And I’m so hyped for that new movie to come out. So it looks so good, but honestly, I haven’t read “Dune” in like probably 15 years, but then also that’s because I memorized it so I don’t think I have to read it anymore. Or “The Stars My Destination” and I’m gonna feel really bad for [inaudible 00:36:06], I think it’s his name, which has some problematic elements today, but for 1950s science fiction, what he did with it at the time was spectacular. And “The Stars My Destination” is kind of a retro choice, but he does a lot of things in there as far as keeping a plot moving quickly because books back then are shorter and keeping things interesting that I really enjoy. So yeah, those are my random choices.

Rachel: Just on the “Dune” front, yes, the movie looks phenomenal, and I have a friend who’s reading it for the first time right now, and is so obsessed she’s creating fan art. So everybody should read “Dune.” Do you have a book or an author that made you want to become a writer?

Cassandra: Well, ironically, probably “Dune” when I was like a kid and I read it. I also read like a ton of Andre Norton growing up, and like “Dragonlance” stuff, the old school Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman back in the day. I’ve read recently and I know it doesn’t hold up at all, but when you’re like, again, 12 that shit is the bomb. And everything, Anne McCaffrey’s “Pern” series. If you’re sensing your dragon theme here, that’s because there is one. So I think I always enjoyed the transfer of books, you know, having books take me away from my current life. Not that my life as a kid was necessarily all that hard or bad, but I just always enjoyed the ability to get someplace else via books, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I always wanted to write is I wanted to give that gift to other people.

Joni: And a final question. It doesn’t even have to be a book, but do you have a favorite fictional healthcare worker?

Cassandra: Yes, I actually do. I do have a favorite fictional healthcare worker, and you guys are gonna laugh, but I’m holding firm. I have a group of girlfriends, and when the pandemic started, we all started watching “Voyager,” like “Star Trek: Voyager” together. And so we’re still going, we watch like two episodes a week, and there’s so much “Star Trek: Voyager” that we haven’t gone through all of it yet. But I love the Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager.” He was like one of my… He’s just an amazing character. He’s one of those characters when as a writer you’re like, “Oh, I would just love to get…” He’s like the perfect sidekick. He’s like witty, and debonair, and snarky, and sarcastic. And every once and a while they give him his own plots. And my birthday this past year, you know, [inaudible 00:38:24] pandemic times, and my husband actually hunted that actor down on this app called Cameo, and paid him money to shout out me and all of my “Voyager” watching girlfriends. And he was like, “I can’t believe that you guys want to hear from like a guy who looks like a middle-aged shoe salesman, but here you are.” So yes, the Doctor from “Star Trek: Voyager” is my favorite fictional doctor.

Joni: I’m so glad we asked.

Rachel: Yeah. And I’m so happy this isn’t a video recording because the way my face lit up when you said “Star Trek: Voyager” does not need to be captured.

Cassandra: It was so cute.

Rachel: It’s the best “Star Trek.” Don’t fight me on it, but “Voyager” is the best.

Joni: Awesome. Well, thank you so, so much for doing this. This has been really great. I hope lots and lots of people read your book.

Cassandra: Thanks. Yeah, this has been super fun. So I appreciate you guys. And I’m, I don’t want to say surprised, surprised is the wrong word and pleased is also the wrong word, but thank you for having read my book prior to this. So I didn’t expect that, and that was very nice of you guys. So…

Joni: I really enjoyed reading it despite the fact that I did have to walk away and take angry breaks, and call my mum a couple times, and be like, “Oh, this is terrible.” But yeah, I did really enjoy. It was really informative, and I think it’s important that people do know what was going on. It’s a big part of history.

Cassandra: Thank you.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Cassandra’s book, the “Year of the Nurse,” or any of her paranormal romances, we will have links to both in our show notes. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com. And be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Joni Di Placido. Editing is by Kelly Robotham. Music is provided by Tear Jerker and a huge thanks to Cassandra for being our guest today. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up for free at kobo.com/writinglife. Until then, happy writing.