Nurses are natural born detectives. They have an uncanny ability to figure out and solve any problem that they run into within the workplace.
It just seems to be a natural gift, so when Lori Avocato decided it was time to hang up her nursing cap and go into retirement, she used what she learned as a nurse, and became a mystery writer.
Avocato says nursing helped taught her the art of perseverance, something that came in handy as she received 40 rejection letters before being taken on by her first writing agent.
It took 5 years before her first book was published. She has since penned 15 mystery novels.
Recently, Avocato met with producers from USA Network and Dreamworks and is hoping her series of books will be turned into a television series.
Her next book, Dead on Arrival, is about ambulance fraud and will be released in July.
Avocato says she has always loved to read, and that reading helped her escape from the stresses of working as a nurse.
She confesses reading also helped her stay awake when she was working the night shift in OB when the babies and their mothers were sleeping, and when no one was in labor.
She began her nursing career when she graduated from St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in 1973. She then attended Southern Connecticut State College and earned a B.S. in 1976.
During her 13-year nursing career, Avocato served 4 years as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force as an OB and med/surg nurse, caring for patients in ambulances and helicopters.
After leaving the military, Avocato worked as a float pool nurse, a manager in neuro surgical unit, and as an assistant manager in a 250-bed nursing home in Winston-Salem, NC.
Avocato started writing 10 years ago after working nights, weekends, and holidays for many years. She said she decided to transition out of nursing because she was physically slowing down, and since she always had an interest in reading, she decided to start writing books.
"I grew up reading Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew books," she says. "When I was reading books as an adult and kept saying, 'I can write one of these.' I learned it was a lot harder to write a book than you think."
Avocato says her life reflects the old adage, "Once a nurse, always a nurse," and that's a big reason why she chose to write a series of mystery books whose main character is a nurse.
Successful writers pen stories about the things they are passionate about, and that many writers base their stories on their own life experiences, she says: "I asked myself, 'What do I know the most about?' And the answer was nursing."
Birth of Pauline
Avocato eventually came up with the idea to write books about Pauline Sokol, an ex-nurse who stumbles into a job as a medical insurance fraud investigator. Pauline works undercover as a nurse, and uses her nursing knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve crimes.
Avocato said she named her character after her Polish grandmother, and that Pauline has many of her own characteristics.
"Pauline has my sense of humor, and I try to have her act the way I think I would, not knowing really how to be an investigator, when she's working to solve a case," Avocato says.
When writing her book, One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest, Avocato used information she gleaned off of the Internet.
"I Googled the term 'medical fraud,' and a story come up about people being hijacked from airports and taken to private mental institutions," she says. "Everything was taken away from them, like their airline tickets, and kept until their insurance ran out."
Avocato also reached back into her memory and incorporated some of things she saw as a nursing student into the book. She completed her psychiatric clinical rotation at private psychiatric institution that resembled the one featured in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Since the series began, Pauline Sokol also has investigated an illegal Viagra ring, a clinic that submits fake insurance claims, fraud and murder on a luxury liner, and medical fraud at a plastic surgery clinic for the rich and famous.
Avocato says she also gets ideas and inspiration from her readers, and that nurses are some of her biggest fans.
One of her fans is a nurse who works as a medical fraud investigator for major medical insurance company. The woman wrote to her, saying that when she read the back cover of her book, The Stiff and the Dead, she laughed while standing in the middle of a bookstore, and thought that Avocato was writing about her life.
Avocato keeps in touch with her and receives technical advise about medical fraud investigation from her expert fan.
For more information about Lori Avocato, visit her Website at www.loriavocato.com
Terri Polick is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.