Bette Golden Lamb and her husband, J.J. Lamb, are the co-authors of four crime novels: Sin & Bone, a medical thriller that brings back RN Gina Mazzio, who gets caught up in the illicit trade in human body parts and murder; Sisters in Silence, a medical thriller about a fertility counselor who goes on a mercy-killing spree of barren women; Heir Today, a fast-paced suspense-adventure featuring a husband-wife team that combines fraud, mayhem, high-seas piracy, murder, and a touch of romance; and Bone Dry, a high-tension medical thriller about theft and ransom of critical bone marrow featuring RN Gina Mazzio; described as “not for the squeamish.”
Bette, how did a nurse from the Bronx meet and marry a journalist from the Hoosier state?
On a summer break from my nursing program, I drove from New York to Albuquerque to see my brother. He and J.J. (I didn’t know him then) were journalists in the Associated Press office there. People talk about time standing still, and it sounds romantic, even poetic to talk about love-at-first-sight. But that’s how it happened. It was a beautiful summer night at an impossibly crowded, raucous party when the two of us found each other in a single glance. That was the moment a girl from the Bronx and a boy from Fort Wayne became one.
P.S. Our first date lasted a full 24 hours, and J.J. asked me to marry him on our second date.
Your name, Bette Golden Lamb, suggests a Native American background.
Actually, my parents emigrated from Russia when they were in their teens. I’m first generation American. But it’s funny you bring that up because an uncle of mine looked exactly like a picture of Chief Joseph; I mean a dead-on image.
When did you and J.J. decide to collaborate on crime novels?
I had this great idea for a novel, so I passed in on to J.J., the writer. He seemed to like the idea, but he sure as heck wasn’t going to do anything about it. I brought it up now and then, like every week for two years. One day he dropped a ream of paper on my drafting table. “You like it, you write it.” You don’t need to hear the rest of that conversation. But his challenge did start me on the road to writing. Several years later I had the idea for Bone Dry, and the RN Gina Mazzio series was born, along with our collaboration.
How do you resolve differences while co-authoring a book?
Well, we duke it out, of course :-) Truthfully, it was very hard in the beginning. There were many, many, many conversations about everything. And I mean everything! When I think back to our early collaboration, I have to admit that J.J. was a saint. Some of things I came up with were really off the wall. In fact, they were so weird, I refuse to remember any of them. J.J. must have laughed himself to sleep every night. Now, when we have a disagreement about an in-progress book, the answer always lies within the characters and the story. That resolves most issues. Any ego trip, by either of us, always defeats the work and the collaboration.
Your job as an RN is obviously great background for your medical thrillers. Have you based any of your plots on true life experiences?
In Sin & Bone, our second Gina Mazzio book, the story is about a killer calling a hospital advice center. I’ve been an advice nurse for many years. But realistically, everything in our medical thrillers has its roots in my career as an RN. The mood, the rhythm, the lingo in medical situations is almost impossible to replicate without having that specific experience. Being there reveals so much about the heart and determination of the people in that special environment. It’s what gives the stories reality, and above all, immediacy. When we wrote Bone Dry, I’d worked with cancer patients but never on an oncology unit. Still, when I spoke to the nurses in that specialized field, I found them generous with their time. They even invited me onto the unit where I was able to see and absorb everything we needed for a tense, scary story.
How do you find time to write when you’re also a ceramist and sculptor as well as a nurse? You must be very organized.
I used to take my laptop to work with me and during my lunch break, I would rush out to my car and write -- every single day. On weekends, I would dive right into my art work. It did take tremendous organization, dedication, and plain old compulsive nuttiness. I don’t know why I’m so driven to create. I just am.
If you had to choose just one of your pursuits, which would it be and why?
I did make that choice a while back -- I left nursing. However, I stay as up to date as I can with what’s happening in the nursing and overall medical fields. I loved nursing -- it was a privilege to help people, to be a vital part of their lives. So even though I was reluctant to give it up, I finally did. But writing and art are passions that I could never give up. They give me the precious freedom of expression, and provide a vision of life that can’t be replicated by anything else. Being able to create something beautiful to behold, or write something exciting, not only nourishes my soul, it makes me feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.
Advice for novice writers.
If writing is your thing, you’ll need a day (or night) job doing something that makes you feel worthwhile, something that gives you satisfaction at the end of a long day. It’s just too difficult, or almost impossible, to survive on what you can earn form creative writing. Sure, sure, some writers immediately make it to the top. And sure, talent is always an issue. But all too often luck is what drives success in the creative arts. In case you’re not one of the ones who strike it rich, or have some of that rare publishers’ fairy dust fall on your brow, be prepared to support yourself and live to write another day. As I said, if writing is your thing, you’re already one of the luckiest people in the world.