Every day, Northern Arizona University alumnus Paul Genesse comes face-to-face with heroes. As a critical care nurse in the cardiac unit at world-renowned Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Genesse witnesses remarkable courage in all aspects of his job. He watches patients carry on in the face of dire diagnoses, and sees nurses and doctors perform under life-and-death pressure. But his experience with heroism isn't strictly limited to hospital corridors: as an up-and-coming sci-fi and fantasy novelist, Genesse has the power to create his own heroes. And, he says, his work as a nurse makes his life as a novelist that much easier.
"I see people at their worst and at their best and it informs me what life is really like," he says. "It is easier for me to write true characters because I see true people so much. (My job as a nurse) allows me to connect with people and really understand them."
Genesse, who says that he has always had a "guardian" personality, was interested in nursing from an early age. It has always been a goal of his to help people, he says, and he was interested in pursuing a career as a nurse while still in high school. When it came time to find a college to help him carry out his dreams, he visited Flagstaff and was hooked by the beautiful campus and the community atmosphere. And, Genesse says, his time as an undergraduate nursing student really helped cement his approach to care.
"The nursing philosophy is one that I embrace much more than the medical philosophy," says Genesse. "I'm glad that we have doctors, and I work with lots of great doctors, but the medical model is not something that I really enjoy. I prefer embracing people on all levels, and not just looking at them as machines that need to be fixed. It's a holistic approach that I learned at NAU."
His time in Flagstaff also provided the spark that started Genesse's literary career. Though he always loved stories—as a child, he was fascinated by the story arcs of medically-oriented television shows like M.A.S.H. and China Beach—Genesse took great lessons away from his time in the classroom.
"I loved my English classes. I could have tested out of 101 and 102, but I didn't want to," he says. "I wanted to take them because writing was fun for me. My professors were great. We wrote short stories, and they helped me improve my writing. But I was still far away from getting published at that point."
But Genesse was not deterred. After he graduated, he started learning as much as he could about the publishing business, going to seminars and workshops, and networking with editors, agents, and publishers. Little by little, his tenacity began to pay off, as he published short stories and began to make a name for himself as a sci-fi and fantasy writer. His path as a writer, he says, was not an easy one. But nearly fifteen years after leaving Flagstaff, Genesse is poised to break out as a writer. And he says the struggle has been worth it.
"After many years of toil and struggle, I finally got the interest of an editor, who passed my first book on to another editor friend of hers who was in the (sci-fi and fantasy) market," he says. "That was The Golden Cord, which is book one of the Iron Dragon series. Book two is out now, and there are five books that will come out eventually. I've also sold 11 short stories to various anthologies in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. I'm a speaker at a lot of conventions and writing seminars, and I teach writing a lot. It's a lot of fun for me."
According to Genesse, nursing will always be his true calling, no matter how successful he becomes as a novelist. As it is, he loves the balance that comes with being both.
"When it comes to the good and bad things that happen to characters, I get to choose," he says. "In nursing, you don't. You can make a real difference in the lives of your patients, but bad things happen to good people all the time. It's hard to take sometimes when you see these nice people with terrible afflictions, and know they're not going to get better. It is very comforting to be able to do the writing, where I can decide who lives or dies."