By Angel Smits
How does a romance writer end up writing a book about Alzheimer’s care? That question nearly stumped me, not because I don’t know how—I lived it—but because it’s a lot bigger question than it seems.
I’ve always written, always played with words and stories—ever since I was a kid. And romance has long been one of my favorite genres to read as well as write. It was a natural path to write romance when I started to focus on my fiction.
But I’ve also always known how hard it is to make a living writing, how competitive it is.
In college, I figured out that I needed to have a Plan B, a way to support myself—just in case writing didn’t work out. I’d worked in a nursing home in high school and enjoyed the people, so when I found a class in Gerontology was offered, I signed up—and promptly fell in love with a second?—first?—career.
Ever since, I’ve really never been able to decide which I enjoy more. I’ve published in both areas; mostly articles when it came to my Gerontology work and now nine romance novels, primarily for Harlequin.
While I was learning my writing craft, I kept working with the elderly, first as a social worker then later as a director for secure specialized units for Alzheimer’s patients. At night, I wrote and sent my fiction off to publishers, while during the day I created care plans, social histories, activity schedules and training staff how to provide the 1-1 care we specialized in.
I can proudly say that the work paid off. I got my first publishing contract and the special care units I ran were full with waiting lists for potential residents. I felt like I’d reached both my dreams.
One day I was in my office and the wife of one of the residents asked to see me. She looked upset and came in to sit across from me. She visited her husband nearly every day and participated in the activities with him. I knew her pretty well and it hurt to see the tears in her eyes.
She asked me a question that still haunts me. “You teach all these young people, these strangers, to take care of my husband.” I felt my pride swell at her praise. Then she continued. “Why can’t you teach me?” And I stared at her pain.
Her words hit me hard, like a bolt of lightning—and not exactly pleasantly. Why hadn’t such a thing ever occurred to me? I don’t know why, but it hadn’t. I was just so caught up in my job, in the fact that it was how the industry worked, that I didn’t think beyond those parameters.
But those words stuck with me, haunting me. When I started the next class of trainees, I saw things differently. This knowledge I’d gathered, that I was teaching, was easily something family members could learn—and something many wanted to do.
It was one of the biggest aha moments of my life.
I had the idea for the book for several months before I figured out how to do it. Just like in training, I wanted to use case studies to help illustrate the information. Finally, my fiction brain kicked in, and I came up with Rose and Lou—a couple much like the people I’d worked with every day. It felt right to blend the fiction with the training tools.
By the time I’d finished When Reasoning No Longer Works, I was writing primarily fiction and I’d moved away from working in the senior field. My focus is now on using my words to help those dealing with caregiving. My fiction has senior characters, a couple with dementia, where I’ve slipped in some of my tips.
The melding of both my passions now seems natural to me. I’ll always be grateful to the woman who asked me that one simple question that changed my world, and showed me how to share what I’ve learned with others who need it.