May 15, 2006
Ann Roth, 30, is living it up as an entertainment reporter for an L.A. celeb-gossip rag, hobnobbing with stars as she chases down the latest “big get” in Heller’s latest entertaining romp (after An Ex to Grind). But trouble looms when the next big get turns out to be the famously grouchy, media-hating actor Malcolm Goddard, whose unwillingness to talk costs Ann her job. She moves back to her small Missouri hometown and gets a surprise second shot at her career when an incredible coincidence sees Malcolm delivered incognito to the local hospital. A former classmate of Ann’s who is now a hospital bigwig (and who has the hots for Ann) tries to impress her by sharing the secret of Goddard’s presence. She scores face time with the actor by signing up for the hospital’s volunteer program, which leads to unforeseen complications of the heart. Though Heller has a tendency to sum up the morals of her story in pat sentences (“The patients at Heartland General were beginning to teach me just how lucky I was”), she makes up for it with quirky, hooks-in-you prose. The ending is an inevitably happy one, but the road to it is full of twists and turns.
June 1, 2006
Ann Roth has her dream job, interviewing celebrities in Hollywood for a popular magazine. Glad to have escaped Missouri, she is good at her job but now has to prove herself to her new editor by interviewing the famously private Malcolm Goddard. But he refuses to grant her an interview, and she returns to her hometown to rusticate with her overly phobic family only to discover that Malcolm has secretly checked into the local hospital. Ann volunteers there so she can interview him, not realizing how volunteering will change her and how befriending the serious movie star will change him. Heller dishes up a gem of a summer read filled with insider Hollywood snippets and heartwarming moments.
July 1, 2006
Heller (An Ex To Grind) fuses the seemingly unrelated worlds of celebrity gossip magazines and volunteerism. Ann Roth is a 30-year-old small-town Missourian who relocates to Los Angeles to take a job as an entertainment reporter for Famous magazine. In trying to land an interview with actor Malcolm Goddard, a man who considers reporters parasites, Ann pulls out all the stops. But her fear of flying prevents her from boarding Malcolm’s Cessna, and she is fired. She returns to Missouri to regroup; in a strange twist of fate, that’s where Malcolm ends up to undergo treatment for a heart condition. Ann knows Malcolm is coming before he arrives and secures a position as a volunteer at the hospital to get close to him. With Ann pretending not to be Ann and Malcolm pretending not to be Malcolm (he’s assumed an alias to elude the press), they really hit it off, but will their relationship survive when Malcolm finds out what Ann is up to? This is a fun and fast-paced read with a likable protagonist who has her quirks but ends up finding her life’s true calling and her perfect match.
Recommended for all public libraries.
October, 2006 by Roberta Austin
Ann Roth has worked hard to move from the tiny Midwestern town of her childhood to become a journalist for the celebrity magazine “Famous”. She prides herself on being fair and ethical. That doesn’t help when her new blowhard boss tells her she needs to develop a killer instinct to go after the “big get” interview of Malcolm Goddard.
Malcolm refuses to give interviews and hates the media. Ann pulls some tricky moves with his publicist and is given an interview on one condition: Ann must conduct it while Malcolm is flying his small engine plane. Ann does her best, but at the last minute can’t get on the plane. Fear of flying is at the top of her long list of phobias.
Ann’s boss fires her and she decides to go back to her hometown to work for the local paper and plan her future. Fate smiles on Ann because Malcolm is coming to her town incognito to be treated for some heart problems. Ann signs up as a volunteer at the hospital. She believes this will be the best way to gain access to Malcolm and get her career back again. Along the way, Ann learns that by serving others we receive much more than we give.
With her lucky 13th novel, Jane Heller has another hit romantic comedy. We can laugh along with Ann as she deals with her phobias and the curve balls life throws her. Malcolm seems like the typical Hollywood “bad boy”, but the author lets us see that even famous celebrities are just people and have to deal with the same emotional baggage from the past as the rest of us. At the same time, they must live their lives in “fishbowls”.
The author says she volunteered at a local hospital to research this book and her life was changed, just as her heroine’s was. She hopes her readers will laugh and have fun with this novel, but also take away a need to pursue volunteering.
I have been a big Jane Heller fan for a while and SOME NERVE is an excellent example of why she continues to be popular with so many readers.
Santa Barbara News-Press
November 19, 2007
As the holiday season bears down, a little light reading is just the ticket for a momentary escape into the fantasy world of chick lit. Santa Barbara’s Jane Heller, one of the queens of chick lit, aims higher than the usual smarm. With “Some Nerve,” she delivers a wicked meringue of a novel with a transparent plot and the standard girl-gets-what-she-deserves-in-her-heart ending. As in the best of these books, the fun lies not in the destination but in the trip itself.
Much chick lit is gosh-and-golly wallow in the romantic preoccupations of quavering semiprofessional young women who yearn, in their heart of hearts, for a good man above all else. They don’t want to give up the careers they’re struggling for, but, when push comes to shove, if they can’t have it all, they’ll settle for the guy.
Jane Heller’s heroine, Ann Roth, hails from a backwater Missouri town, but she’s managed to make a life as a Hollywood entertainment reporter for a major celebrity magazine that’s a cut above the tabloids featuring rumored divorce and cellulite.
She makes her living doing fairly soft interviews with and features on the glitzy, beautiful stars we all pine after, and it’s precisely what she has wanted to do since she was a girl. She has a promiscuous but loyal best girl friend and a charming gay neighbor, and Ann’s reinvented herself far from the phobic home she grew up in. What could be better?
A voracious new editor takes over, and what he wants is not softball interviews but someone who will do whatever it takes to come back with the killer “get,” the brightest, most difficult star waxing at the moment. That would be Malcolm Goddard, gorgeous, arrogant and disdainful of the press.
Sent on this do-or-be-fired mission, Ann does her best. She orders a Zabar’s cheesecake, a fond memory from Goddard’s New York childhood, to be delivered to his Spago dinner party. Suffice it to say all does not go well, and Ann winds up wearing a reasonable portion of the confection.
Using her wiles and savvy, she does wangle an interview, but there’s a catch: It must take place in Goddard’s small private plane as it cruises the SoCal skies. Goddard knows that Ann’s family phobias include flying; it’s only intense and serial application of Bloody Marys that gets her in the air with hundreds of others in planes with greater survival records than single-engine Cessnas.
Within days, Ann has retreated to Missouri and is writing freelance profiles for the local paper. Interviews for these exciting pieces begin with questions like, “How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a chimney sweep?” She’s also living with what passes for the family matriarch: an agoraphobic mother, a Lysol-obsessed grandmother and an aunt with her own ornate set of phobias and issues.
Wouldn’t you know it, the local hospital, besides doing a bang-up hysterectomy business, has a cardiac department that rivals the best. When Malcolm Goddard passes out on the set of his newest film, he asks to be sent to someplace quiet and competent for cardiac tests and treatment, and, of course, it’s Ann’s local hospital.
Our gal Ann instantly volunteers as an adult candy striper with the goal to get her interview, and the fun is on. She learns a great deal about life and values, about herself and the value of her Missouri roots, about Malcolm Goddard as both man and star, and about what she really wants to do with her life. There’s plenty of deception, more than enough misunderstandings, and, eventually, after everyone has settled on what they want most, a happy ending.
For everyone who deserves it, that is.
If you forgive the jumps in logic and the morals summarized in one sentence, Ms. Heller delivers a lively read and joyful digs at the Midwest (land of “casseroles made with cream of mushroom soup and needlepoint pillows with bumper-sticker type sayings on them”) and Hollywood (land of healers sporting “two gold hoop earrings, one in each nostril” and “TV bachelorettes who claim they’re in it for true love, then pose nude for ‘Playboy.'”)
Some Nerve isn’t literature, but, for those so inclined, it will provide fast-paced escape and brisk humor.
The idea for Some Nerve was triggered by a conversation I had with the agent who handles the movie rights to my books. It had been widely publicized that Julia Roberts was flat on her back at a local L.A. hospital while she was awaiting the birth of her twins. My agent and I were dying for her to read An Ex to Grind and play the part of the heroine, Melanie Banks, so she said, “Why don’t you sneak into the hospital as a volunteer and hand her the manuscript? She has plenty of time to read.” She was kidding, of course, but my imagination took off. I came up with the story of a celebrity reporter who becomes a hospital volunteer in order to get the story on an ailing actor. And then I went straight to my local hospital in L.A. to speak to the head of volunteers. I asked her if I could observe for a few days, to research my novel. She said no. “We don’t allow access to our patients for ‘material,'” she said. “But if you’d like to become a volunteer, we’d love to have you.”
Become a volunteer? Me? Sure, I admired those who offer their services to worthy causes, but I was busy grinding out a book a year, not to mention as leery of being around sick people as my heroine. And weren’t hospital volunteers either teenaged candy stripers or seniors? I was neither. I was a writer with an assignment, like my heroine.
Then I reminded myself that I could afford to leave my computer once a week for a few hours. And I did love the notion of lifting others’ spirits, which was exactly what I’d been doing with my books. So I signed up, was given my uniform and ID badge, and reported for duty. My “job,” it turned out, was to wheel a magazine cart throughout the various wings of the hospital, offering patients everything from People to Smithsonian, and, in the process, ease their loneliness, be a shoulder to lean on.
My first few shifts were harrowing. Like my heroine, I was terrified of entering rooms where heart monitors beeped and breathing tubes whooshed and smells of illness permeated the air. I was sure I’d stumble into a room during a Code Blue and end up killing somebody.
But there were also humorous moments: when an elderly man peeled back his blanket and “flashed” me; when a psych patient in restraints proposed marriage to me; when a woman delirious on morphine accused me of being her husband’s ex-wife. I learned early on that hospital volunteering is rarely dull.
Still, my primary focus in the beginning was on researching my novel. And then a funny thing happened: I stopped researching and started realizing that I might actually be making a difference in people’s lives. A woman who’d just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer thanked me for brushing her hair. A kid who’d been shot during a gang-related incident told me the Sports Illustrateds I brought him were the highlight of each week. A man who was wasting away from AIDS deemed me his “angel” simply because I helped him write a letter to his mother. I began to look forward to my weekly shifts in ways I’d never anticipated.
I continue to volunteer long after finishing Some Nerve. I’ve moved from L.A. to Santa Barbara and now spend once a week helping out at Cottage Hospital.
I’m not sure if the book inspired me to volunteer or my volunteering inspired the book. Either way, I hope you enjoy it.
Read the First Chapter
Things weren’t going so well for the country that winter-the stock market was slumping and gas prices were rising and our soldiers were still at war-but they were going very well for Britney Spears, who was pregnant with her first child. She described the experience as “freaking awesome” during the two hours we spent together at her recently purchased nine-thousand-square-foot Malibu beach getaway, and she confided that sex with her husband, despite her swollen belly, was “crazy good.”
No, the Britster and I weren’t girlfriends sitting around having an afternoon gabfest, although there were moments when it felt like that. I was a thirty-year-old reporter for Famous, an entertainment magazine in Hollywood, and my beat was interviewing celebrities. Britney was an assignment for a cover story. She’s generally viewed as a product rather than a talent, but she had a sweetness about her, I found, a giggly openness, and I enjoyed my time with her.
I enjoyed my time with all of them. I loved the feeling of gaining access to their private realms, loved trying to figure out for myself what it was that made them special. I’d been fascinated with famous people since I was a kid in Middletown, Missouri, a tiny place in the general vicinity of Kansas City. They were royalty to me-the beautiful ones with the beautiful clothes and the beautiful houses and the beautiful companions-and they were my escape from what was a dull and dispiriting childhood. I dreamed nonstop of fleeing Middletown and landing a job in L.A., and I’d made the dream come true. I’d really done it. So you could say that things were going very well for me too.
Well, you wouldn’t say it if you’re one of those snobs who thinks it’s only news if it’s on PBS or NPR. In fact, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now as you picture Britney telling me about her morning sickness, her fluctuating hormones, and her cravings for pickles and ice cream, but I considered myself the luckiest woman on earth to be doing what I was doing. I could have been stuck in Middletown, where people get their kicks experimenting with different brands of snowblowers, eating casseroles made with cream of mushroom soup, and needlepointing pillows with bumper-sticker-type sayings on them, and where the biggest celebrity for a while was the guy who was cleaning his rifle and accidentally shot himself in the balls. I was bored out of my skull there, logy with the sameness of it all, convinced that if I stayed I would end up like my father, who died a slow and agonizing death, or like my mother, aunt, and grandmother, a trio of phobics who were too afraid of life to take risks and live it.
By contrast, I felt healthy in L.A., empowered, energized by the constant whirl of activity and by the people I met, most of whom were colorful and creative and the opposite of dull. I mean, I was attending movie premieres, film festivals, and Oscar parties, mingling with Clint Eastwood and marveling at the merry band of women who bear his children, waving at Penelope Cruz and admiring her ongoing battle with English, exchanging friendly glances with Meg Ryan and wondering why she looks so much like Michelle Pfeiffer now. It all seemed so glamorous to me, so Technicolor, especially in comparison with the grayness I’d left behind. Rubbing shoulders with exceptional people made me feel exceptional by osmosis.
Yes, the city was my oyster or, to be more L.A.-ish about it, my sushi. I had Leonardo DiCaprio’s cell phone number, for God’s sake. (Okay, his publicist’s cell phone number.) It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
Not for me. Not then. When you grow up yearning to be in the orbit of movie stars and then actually hang out with them, albeit in the service of helping them promote their latest project, it’s, well, freaking awesome.
And as far as I was concerned, there was nothing cheesy or demeaning about my career. I mean, I wasn’t one of those tabloid creeps who picks through people’s garbage. My methods weren’t exploitative or intrusive. I had scruples. I didn’t resort to underhanded tactics to score an interview. I didn’t have to. I was a hard worker and a good reporter. The new and notoriously temperamental editor of Famous, fifty-year-old Harvey Krass, had been expected to clean house and bring in his own writers when he’d taken charge the previous month, and though he did fire some staff, he’d kept me on. I assumed it was because of my straight-forward approach to the job, my integrity. He hadn’t said as much-he wasn’t big on compliments-but the fact that he’d asked me to stay at the magazine spoke volumes.
So, yes, things were going very well for me, I was living my dream, as I said.
And then, suddenly, a jolt.
Not an earthquake, although there was a cluster of tremors that winter. No, this was a much more internal, life-altering shift. A radical change in direction that sent me into an entirely new phase of my life. I went from Gutsy Girl to Gutless Wonder and back again, and what I learned from my journey was this: It’s possible to be chasing the wrong dream and not know it.
“GOOD MORNING,” I trilled to Harvey on Monday at nine twenty-five. His assistant had summoned me to his office for a nine-thirty meeting, but I was always early for things, unlike everybody else in L.A., where traffic is an extremely reliable excuse for being late for things or for missing them altogether. I’d been raised to believe it was rude to be late, and I certainly wasn’t about to be rude to my new boss.
“It isn’t good at all!” he shouted, brandishing a rolled up copy of what appeared to be In Touch Weekly. “This rag and its evil twins are eating into our sales and it’s gotta stop! Right here! Right now!”
As his temper flared, his short, stubby arms shot in the air, nearly knocking over the statue of the Buddha that was resting serenely on a table, courtesy of his feng shui master. He had an unfortunate habit of waving his arms around when he was irritated, which was most of the time. He’d bang into objects and send them crashing to the ground without so much as a backward glance and go right on ranting. Yes, I loved L.A., but borderline-personality disorder was rampant, even among those on a “spiritual path.”
As I sat in one of his visitors’ chairs, he began to pace in front of the window. His office had a spectacular view of the Hollywood sign on a clear day, but he was too wound up to appreciate it. “How can I help?” I said, because I wanted to be indispensable to him.
“You can interview Malcolm Goddard.”
I laughed. “Malcolm Goddard doesn’t do interviews. He hates the media.”
“They all hate the media until their careers are in the toilet!” he yelled. “Then they can’t wait to talk to us!”
A perpetually red-faced man with a pear-shaped body, a silly little ponytail, and the waddle of a duck, he was one of those Neanderthals who didn’t get that it’s not okay to scream at one’s employees at the drop of a hat. He was also a heart attack waiting to happen, and there were many at Famous for whom it couldn’t happen soon enough. But he’d been brought in by our parent company last month precisely because of his hard-driving style. Circulation at Food, our sister publication, had skyrocketed when he was editor in chief there, even as blood pressures did too.
“Right, but he’s hot now and he won’t talk to anybody,” I said. The approach I’d adopted with Harvey was to remain focused and professional no matter what his decibel level. “He wouldn’t cooperate for People’s Sexiest Man Alive cover, for example.”
“I envision Famous as much hipper than People,” he said with disdain. “We won’t do stories about miracle quintuplets.”
“Even if Charlize Theron gives birth to them?” I suggested. “Now that I think of it, why don’t I interview her?”
Harvey wheeled around to face me, his cheeks florid with fury, his ears flaming. “Because she’s not the big get anymore. Malcolm Goddard is!”
“Chelsea Clinton is a big get,” I said. “Malcolm Goddard is a get-me-not.”
“No, the Olsen twins are a get-me-not. I’ve told you my motto: If they’re overexposed or over-the-hill, the only way they’ll make it into Famous is if they croak. I want Goddard.”
“He won’t do it,” I repeated. I wasn’t trying to be negative, just realistic. I had nothing against Malcolm Goddard-I really did try to see the best in celebrities, even the ones who were reputed to be insufferable bullies-but he’d made it clear that he had no use for publications like ours. “Did you read that interview he gave Vanity Fair last year? He said it was his last. He sounded like an artiste with a sense of entitlement to match. He told the magazine-wait, let me quote his exact words-‘Reporters are parasites who only want to feed off my vessel.'”
“What do you expect?” sniffed Harvey. “He’s one of those Method assholes. Their vessel. Their instrument. Their whatever. ‘The role took me places I never thought I could go.’ They all spout that crap.”
“But he seems to have a genuine distaste for the media, so who needs him?”
“We do!” Out went the flailing arms, just missing the hunk of crystal he’d been given by a shaman in Santa Fe. “He’s the ‘it’ guy now and millions of women are in love with him and I don’t want to see his face in Us Weekly or In Touch Weekly or Up My Ass Weekly! He’s ours and you’re gonna make him ours, do you hear me?”
The shaman in Santa Fe could probably hear him. I sat very still for a couple of seconds, my eardrums throbbing, waiting to see if he’d cool down again. Or fall to the floor and die.
“Look, Ann,” he said. “You’ve been working here for-what?-three years?”
I had arrived in Los Angeles shortly after getting my degree in journalism from Mizzou. Why journalism? I had a penchant for asking questions and digging for answers-a “busybody nature,” my mother called it-and I’d always gotten As in English classes. Why celebrity journalism when a byline at the New York Times was so much more respectable? As I’ve said, I had an attraction to all things Hollywood, needed to place myself in the midst of that glitter. I could have taken my J-school degree and gone the Maureen Dowd route, ferreting out the truth and then penning withering Op-Ed pieces about wars and presidents and matters of real importance, but I was more interested in movie stars and TV stars and matters of no real importance. I actually cared when celebrity couples like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt broke up. I wanted to know why they broke up and who said what when they broke up and did anyone threaten suicide while they were breaking up, not to mention whether a third party was involved. I know it makes me seem like a complete fluff ball to admit this, but I wanted to know who celebrities were underneath their designer clothes and nine-trillion-dollar haircuts and surgically altered faces, wanted to understand their specialness. Blame it on Don Johnson. He was born and raised in a small town in Missouri, just like I was. I was still a kid when he became a star on Miami Vice, and I guess it started me wondering why some people rise to the top and others don’t. Yes, I could have taken my degree and covered wars and presidents and matters of real importance, but my need to know about George Clooney trumped my need to know about George Bush. So I headed for L.A., spotted an ad for an entry-level position at Famous, grabbed it, and scaled the ladder.
“Yeah, well, entertainment journalism has changed in those five years,” said Harvey in almost an avuncular tone, as if he were suddenly my teacher as opposed to my tormentor. “The competition is uglier. Print. Television. The Internet. Celebrities are all over the place, so who cares about most of them? It’s about the big get now-the person we fight over, the one who isn’t accessible.”
“I understand. Malcolm Goddard’s a big get,” I said, conceding the point. “But, practically speaking, how am I supposed to-”
“You just do it!” he bellowed, switching back to Bad Harvey, arms in the air. “I don’t care if he’s a pretentious little prick! I don’t care if he thinks we’re parasites! I don’t care if he never does another interview in his spoiled-brat life after he does this one, but he’s gonna do this one and you’re gonna make it happen!” He paused to examine his hand. He had just singed it on the flame of the soy candle he’d been given by a Tibetan monk. “You’re a good writer, Ann,” he continued more softly, as if reminding himself to be Zen-ish, not churlish. “There was a reason I kept you here: You know how to string sentences together and you know the right questions to ask. It’s your killer instinct I’m not sure about.”
“What do you mean?” I said, stung by the comment. Was he referring to the fact that I didn’t embellish the truth the way some of my colleagues did? That I didn’t turn in stories that were based strictly on rumor and gossip? That I didn’t scheme and stalk my way into a subject’s life? That I was raised to believe that if you were honest and trustworthy and worked hard, you were rewarded? My previous editor had never complained about my lack of a killer instinct. Okay, so I’d lost the Jane Fonda interview to People when her book came out, and Russell Crowe had decided to unburden himself to Esquire after his telephone-throwing incident. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried.
“Just what I said: You’re not a killer.” Harvey shook his head at me. “The business has changed and you haven’t changed along with it. It’s not enough to be nice to people. You need to toughen up, elbow everybody aside, show your edge, prove you’re willing to do whatever it takes for a story.” He sat down behind his big, stupid, desk, a slab of antique mahogany that had been tested for termites by a holistic exterminator who hummed bugs away instead of spraying them with good old pesticides. “And right now, that story is Malcolm Goddard.”
What was this? After five productive, thoroughly fun-filled years at Famous, I needed to prove myself? Prove, as in: change my style or else? Was he issuing me an ultimatum? Was my job suddenly in jeopardy? Did my career, my very identity, hinge on my ability to coax an interview out of Malcolm Goddard, who was not only media shy but downright hostile to reporters? It didn’t seem fair, but I wasn’t about to argue. I would put on my can-do face and continue to do things the way I’d always done them, and everything would turn out just fine. “Okay, sure, Harvey. I’ll try to get him,” I said with a big smile.
“Nope. Not ‘try’.” He shook his head again. “There are plenty of wannabes ready and waiting to ‘try.’ Take a walk down to Human Resources and check out all their resumes.” He leaned forward so he could regard me with his third eye. “You see what I’m saying, don’t you, Ann?”
Now I did see what he was saying: Get the big get or get the hell out.
I felt an unfamiliar chill ripple down my spine, and my shoulders did this odd little shimmy. He was putting me on notice and I hadn’t expected it and I wished I could go back to sleep, wake up again, and start the day over. But then I reminded myself that I had a track record. I had experience. I had credibility. I had nothing to fear.
“Ann Roth is on the case,” I said jauntily as I rose from my chair. “One interview with Malcolm Goddard coming right up.”
She’s different from the other reporters at Famous, the L.A. magazine where she has her dream career interviewing stars like Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie. She values her ethics – she doesn’t pick through people’s garbage, doesn’t print rumor and gossip, doesn’t try to pervert the truth. But when her editor tells her she’s too nice, that what he needs is a killer journalist who’ll do whatever it takes to get a story, she realizes that she must do something drastic.
Of course, her plan backfires. Not only does she fail to score an interview with the notoriously media averse actor Malcolm Goddard (he’ll only do the interview while piloting his Cessna and she has a terrible fear of flying), she gets fired. Her disappointment turns to rage when she learns that Malcolm knew about her phobia all along. He insisted on doing the interview on his plane just to get her off his back.
Hurt, disappointed, not to mention unemployed, she trudges home to her tiny town in Missouri to try to regroup, vowing to cure herself of her fears and reclaim her career. And then a surprising twist: she hears that the great Malcolm himself is in Middletown as a patient at the local hospital – under an alias. Opportunity knocks. Ann sees him as her ticket out of Missouri as well as a chance for payback. She volunteers at the hospital with the sole intention of pretending to befriend Malcolm and worm the story of a lifetime out of him. If she writes it, she’ll have her career back and prove she’s the killer journalist her editor had wanted her to be. But after facing her fear of falling in love, how much is she willing to risk for her job?