North County author Joan Swan is proof that inspiration can strike anywhere.
She got the idea for her first novel while administering sonograms to prisoners at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.
“We knew where the (guards) parked. We knew how badly scheduling was handled. We knew how often they mixed up freakin’ prisoners and brought the wrong guy,” she said. “We knew how easily these guys’ families could be notified they were there, and come and break (them) out.”
It was just a matter of time, she reasoned, before a prisoner took a medical staffer hostage.
That “one kernel of an idea” became the foundation for “Fever,” the first novel in Swan’s romantic suspense series “Phoenix Rising.”
Growing up in San Mateo, Swan had little interest in writing. “I was like, ‘What is a novelist?’ I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” she recalled.
Instead, she studied interior design at Cal Poly, working in that field for a few years until the market dried up. Then a friend encouraged her to pursue sonography, which uses ultrasound imagery to diagnose ailments.
Swan worked as an ultrasound technician for 22 years on the Central Coast, in the Bay Area and in Reno — 15 of them at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Although she and her family moved to Templeton about a decade ago, Swan said she preferred commuting to work in the big city.
“At UCSF, you work hand in hand with the doctors. You’re treated with the same kind of respect as the doctors are treated,” she said. “Not to overemphasize the importance, but (if) sonographers miss something, people die.”
A voracious reader of romance novels, Swan said she got serious about writing for publication about 14 years ago. She sold her first novel, about a doctor who’s kidnapped by a dangerous yet devastatingly sexy convict, to Kensington Publishing Corp. imprint Brava in 2010; it was published in 2012.
Between work, writing and traveling, “I just didn’t have any kind of life,” Swan said with a laugh.
Rather than risk turning into an “emotional wreck,” she left her job in June — just as she was finishing up the final book in the “Phoenix Rising” series, “Shatter,” which was released in December. Her decision coincided with her husband Rick Swan’s retirement as Cal Fire deputy chief. (The couple has two daughters, ages 17 and 21, who attend Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.)
Since then, Joan Swan’s writing career has become all consuming.
“Even when it gets stressful I just think, ‘You know what, the worst day writing is better than the best day at work (at the hospital),’ ” she said.
Affairs of love
One of the challenges Swan faces is crafting convincing chemistry between characters.
“The whole thing about romance is what makes one person special for that other person?” she said. “Why are people so drawn to each other? What makes that chemistry? It’s this intangible thing.”
Asked whether her characters are based on anyone she knows, Swan responded with a resounding “no.”
“That’s one of the greatest myths that readers believe, that (characters) in some way reflect their author,” she said. “I haven’t had their experiences, and they haven’t had mine.”
In addition to the “Phoenix Rising” series, which also includes the books “Blaze” and “Rush,” Swan contributed novellas to three anthologies: “Dark Nights and Dangerous Men,” “Wicked Firsts” and “Sinful Seconds.” (The latter comes out in March.)
Swan is self-publishing a new series of contemporary romance novels under a pseudonym, Skye Jordan.
“Reckless,” the first book in the “Renegade” series, centers on the love affair between Lexi, a couture wedding dress designer, and Jax, a Hollywood actor turned stuntman. It came out in print in August; a sequel, “Rebel,” was released in e-book form in December.
Swan said she’d eventually like to branch out into straightforward thrillers. Although she’s not quite ready to make that jump, she has enrolled in a number of law enforcement courses for authors — such as the Writers’ Police Academy, which includes jail tours, ride-alongs and classes on fingerprinting, blood stains and interrogation techniques.
While Swan’s family supports her writing career, she’s sensitive to the fact that the steamy subject matter can make some people uncomfortable.
“My mom came to me one day and said, ‘You know, your books would better if they didn’t have so much sex in them.’ (I said) ‘Then they wouldn’t sell as well,’ ” recalled Swan, who gently suggested that her mother not read her novels.
“She stopped reading my books, and we’re good now,” the author added with a laugh.