Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Feeling Secure

I'm traveling this week--hubby needed to do some computer consulting out of state, and I said "let me pack a bag!" That's one of the great things about being a writer--Have Laptop Will Travel. It's a matter of a few seconds to transfer The Healer's Heart manuscript onto a flashdrive (I'm still astounded by those), charge up the laptop batteries, print out our boarding passes--throw some of my travel knits into a bag, water the plants, drop the dog off at the "pet resort," and we're off. New cities, new restaurants . . . fresh towels every morning . . . ah, the open road. Everything went without a hitch until I set off the airport security alarms . . . twice. Birthday watch and bracelet. Bling is highly suspect, it appears. So I got "wanded" and patted down (much to hubby's extreme amusement) and was naturally wearing my adorable jean skirt with at least three decorative metal zippers. So, double pat, double wand--"stand with your right foot out . . . your left foot out, your right arm out, your left arm out . . . " It was all I could do not to start singing the "Hokey Pokey"! Actually, the TSA woman was very polite and gentle and--hey--it's blog material, right?

So right now hubby is off to be Techno Superman, I'm settling in with a cup of coffee and doing some re-reading of The Healer's Heart, beginning at Chapter One. Outside my hotel window there are city sounds; so different from the stillness of my office in Texas. But change is invigorating. That's why I love travel--great new opportunities for people watching, new sunsets for my "collection," hustle, bustle and the quirky camaraderie to be found among travelers. Plus those opportunities to sculpt your biceps by trundling suitcases around, eat airline peanuts . . . get patted down. And it all gets cubbied into a writer's brain--trust me on that. References, to be recalled at some future time . . .

And when I write that airport security scene in some future novel, I'll add a few more zippers to my heroine's skirt, along with a cute mettallic toenail charm . . . and she WILL begin to nervously hum the Hokey Pokey . . . to a security person who has absolutely NO sense of humor, and . . . oh dear, what have I done?

Have I mentioned that I LOVE this job?

Back to reading The Healer's Heart. I really think you're going to enjoy this one, folks.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Golden Tickets & Happily Ever After

I'm talking about happy endings today and when I was searching Google Images for an appropriate picture to post, all the obvious ones were there: Cinderella and Prince Charming, Snow White, lah-de-dah wedding cakes and countless cheesy photos of beautiful young couples kissing. But the one that jumped out at me was this one from the ending scene of the movie based on Roald Dahl's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." That look of joyous expectation on Gene Wilder's face says it all--he's about to gift a little boy with . . . Happily Ever After.

What makes this moment so wonderfully satisfying, is that it comes after a long struggle on the part of the young hero, Charlie Bucket. He comes from a poor family that must eat cabbage soup every night, works a paper route to bring in what little money they have--and only gets a chocolate bar once a year, on his birthday. Charlie dreams of one day being able to tour a famous chocolate factory--and is stunned when his birthday candy contains the Golden Ticket entering him in a contest to win that very prize. And then, of course, the struggle continues: nasty greedy co-contestants, physical danger and, finally, temptation to trade everything he values most--his family, his principles, his integrity--for a truckload of money . . . and a lifetime supply of chocolate. I won't spoil the ending. If you haven't seen it (the original with Gene Wilder or the newest version starring Johnny Depp) treat yourself!
Right now, I'm finishing up the Happily Ever After for my characters in THE HEALER'S HEART. I can't tell you how good it feels. And how much of a relief. These folks, ER physician Logan Caldwell, Nurses Claire Avery, Erin Quinn and Sarah Burke--and even a one-eared rescue cat named Smokey--went through some very tough times in the preceding 290 pages, trust me. But in the process they've learned some valuable things about each other . . . and themselves. Their happily ever after--their new hope--didn't come easily. Okay, fine, I was a rugged taskmaster and I admit it! But haven't we all waged battles like that? Haven't we all had times of . . . cabbage soup and temptation? Fumbled in darkness for a candle? Haven't we all had those wacky Oompa Loompas singing warning songs to us as they mine the fudge chocolate mountains . . . oops, that was the movie--you gotta see it, folks.

I'm thinking that my Golden Ticket . . . is the chance to bring this new book series to you. To gift my readers with a story of hope. What would your Golden Ticket offer you?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Light Dawns or Vice Versa

Don't laugh. I used to have one of these gizmos . . . only I think mine actually was shaped like the rising sun. The gist of this "natural alarm clock," is that it mimics dawn, very slowly going from darkness to light--right through your sleeping eyelids. No jangling, buzzing, no radio blaring Hip Hop. No heart-jolting confusion and sudden urge to throw a clock across the room. Oops--did I say that? Seriously, this natural clock--though decidedly weird looking--is pretty ingenious, and it works. We bought ours to use on cruise ships, because the first few times we sailed, we booked the most economical cabins. Translation: Dark and windowless. Remember the Irish passengers in the Titanic movie? Yup. Way down there. It's very disorienting to wake up (jet lagged and in unfamiliar surroundings) and not know if it's day or night. But mostly I bought the natural clock because I'm married to a practical joker, and when I'd sit upright in the bleak, sub-level darkness and mumble, "What time is it?" he would invariably say, "Ten o'clock in the morning--we're late." It was too dark to even find him to smack him.

So instead, I found the Natural Clock--it only cost about the same as an upgrade to an outside cabin.

Nowadays--in my "retirement"--I'm once again rising before dawn. To write. Up at 5:30 in darkness, fixing my Hazelnut coffee and padding on toward my office where my characters await me. For the past 3 weeks they have felt a lot like the Irish in the bilges of Titanic--trapped in the "Dark Moment," while I was merrily entertaining houseguests and bagpipers. But now I'm back, and I'm typing away, helping them move from darkness to epiphany, from "Aha" toward Happily Ever After. Through faith, from darkness to light. Just the same way that . . . right now, the dawn is beginning to seep through my office window here in South Texas. Real light, the promise of a glorious new day. Very fitting for a book based on the theme of HOPE, I'd say.

From darkness into light. I love it.

Outside cabins for everyone!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Aha: Birthday Lane

Tomorrow is my birthday--I'm not going to say which one . . . and hope to goodness my pastor doesn't ask when I (finally agree to) join the "birthday & anniversary" altar gathering tomorrow morning. I think you could get divinely zapped for fibbing up there. I've not been much on making a big deal of my birthdays, but I have had a few memorable (or infamous, as the case may be) celebrations. Like:
1) My 21st. A surprise party at my parents' house in Sacramento. I was a nursing school student and newly engaged, and remember that I was wearing this polyester pantsuit printed with polka dots and red butterflies. (A fact which undoubtedly gives a clue to my age). I wasn't even blonde then, but I remember walking in--seeing all these people and humongous mounds of potato salad--and gushing something like, "How cool that you all showed up to visit at the same time!" Um . . . seriously.
2) 26th. 8 months pregnant with my first baby--haven't a clue how we celebrated the birthday. Probably by propping my puffy feet up and practicing LaMaze breathing . . . "hee hee hee, paaaah . . . "
3) 4oth. Another surprise party. And the year my husband gave me one of the most unique gifts I've ever received: Moving our Manure Pile. Seriously, backhoe and all--I loved it. You had to be there to understand. I have photos.
4) 46th: Skydiving! I have a video of this one, by a company aptly called Gravity Works.
Although there is something decidedly unglamorous about the way free-falling flared my nostrils out. Should have used a stunt double.
I started to add another milestone, but decided that would spoil my pastor's scoop on announcing my age to the world. Instead, I'll go backward to one more memorable birthday:
Age 8.
The year my parents treated my friends and me to a party at the Sacramento Zoo. I remember wearing a pink gingham-check shorts outfit, braids with ribbons--birthday girl, Princess for a day. All of us us giggling and gathering around the monkey compound . . . where one of the chimps took a drink of water, puffed out his furry cheeks, and launched it in a stream right down my shirt! Eee-w!
Tomorrow we're going low-key. Hubby promised. No manure piles, no skydiving, no monkey spit, definitely no Lamaze. Maybe potato salad . . . and I might still have that polka dot pantsuit somewhere. Vintage,Retro, Pop . . . strangely, it could be back in style.
Then Monday I'm back at work--I've reached the "AHA MOMENT" in THE HEALER'S HEART. That point near the end of the story, when our hero and heroine have struggled through doom and hopelessness and doubt, and finally discover a great truth about themselves . . . and their faith, that gives them hope and a future. I'm already getting goosebumps for them. It's kind of like discovering that the polyester pantsuit, the Lamaze, the skydiving, the Manure Pile, the monkey business, the great times, the really tough times . . . were all part of one Great Plan plan to help this humble author learn and grow--and empathize--so I can write stories that touch my readers' hearts. I love it.
Pass the birthday cake, please!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amazing Grace, Surprising Splash

When our houseguest, talented musician, Chuck Jamison, offered to don his kilt and play us some tunes . . . I picked up (my favorite instrument) the phone and started calling neighbors. We ended up with about 20 friendly faces, gorgeous Hill Country sunset, a table loaded with munchies . . . and plenty of sighs and goosebumps as Chuck piped "Amazing Grace," military fight songs, "Danny Boy," and several classics. It was awesome and informative too, as Chuck described the physical process of playing this remarkable instrument and its history--which goes back to "Biblical" times, long, long before Ireland and Scotland. Fascinating. When he played the military songs (as he does for inagurations, weddings, parades, The Highland Games, Scottish Societies, VFW) several of our neighbors rose in honor of their military affiliations: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Very cool. All in all, a delightful evening of laughter, camaraderie, warm hugs, colorful stories . . . and meatballs, salmon spread, mango salsa, venison sausage tidbits (hey, my neighbors are hunters) and Italian bruschetta. As the commercial says . . . Priceless!

And then, last night, we had another impromptou poolside event: our aged schnauzer fell into the pool! Seriously. I'd come from the office to the kitchen to check on dinner and caught a glimpse through the window of what appeared to be . . . a very wet and unidentified creature paddling in the pool. So I squint, thinking armadillo? Possum . . . Nutria, beaver? And then it hits me and I scream, "Heidi's in the pool!" Hubby and I hit rescue mode and yank her out; she's shivering and moaning . . . breaking our hearts completely, of course. But a few hours later, after a call to our sharp and kindhearted Vet, a warm bath, hair-dryer therapy . . . and guilt-prompted treats that aren't in her diet, the pooch is feeling normal again. Heidi. Who will be 15 in August. And is so deaf she didn't hear the bagpiper. Bless her furry heart.

So now we'll be standing outside, safely observing, as she does her "business" on the lawn. You CAN teach old dog . . . OWNERS new tricks.

Tomorrow we're back to real life. Without houseguests, or pool drama. We hope. And I'll be finishing THE HEALER'S HEART. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Get Along Little Doggie . . .

We're still in B&B mode--with a brief break between the end of my brother's visit and the arrival of tomorrow's guests. So along with making fruit salad for a church breakfast tomorrow, I'm washing sheets and towels, spiffing up the bedroom and bath . . . and yawning. We've had a busy few days, with some interesting moments:
1) An impromptou jam session with my talented hubby and my big brother--convincing my husband that he, too, NEEDS a 12-string guitar.
2) Seeing a man ride a longhorn bull down Main Street in Bandera
3) Finding the perfect cowgirl belt . . . sparkly pink rhinestones on spotted cowhair, does it get any better than that, ladies?
4) Blue Bell ice cream sundaes (with strawberries and pecans) for everyone!
5) A chance for our elderly mini-schnauzer (Heidi) to play with her California "cousin" African wolf mix, "Indie". And watch him escape under the fence, to be rescued (thank goodness) by our vigilant next door neighbor. Quite the adventure--no wonder that pooch was named after Indiana Jones!
6) Glorious sunny & crisp weather, with low enough humidity that we kept "zapping" ourselves on the car doors. But perfect for sunset walks (dogs in tow) and breakfast outside by the pool, accompanied by a chorus of birds (goldfinches, a painted bunting, cardinals, a scissortail flycatcher) and an entire herd of bawling cows in the pasture behind our home. Indie's first ever bovine encounter--yee haw!

Our guests tomorrow are also coming from California, after attending a wedding in San Antonio.
One of them is a professional BAGPIPER. Seriously. I have no idea if the visit will include a jam session . . . but am thinking hubby could look very Sean-Connery handsome in a kilt. Don't tell him I said that, okay?

Wednesday I should be back to work, finishing the final two chapters of THE HEALER'S HEART. And, though I'll still have several weeks of re-reading and "polishing" to do yet, the characters in the second book (Heart's Hazard) are already beginning to whisper in my ear. Telling me about themselves: what makes them happy, what bugs them more than anything, secrets they've never told anyone, hopes, dreams, fears . . . and how they feel about working with an author who drools over a rhinestone-on-spotted-cowhair belt?? Maybe so.

If you hear bagpipes over the next day or so . . . feel free to hum along.
See you Wednesday!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hanging Their Hats at Our House

Tomorrow we are expecting the third wave of houseguests since spring began--third out of five expected groups. So far. And I'm thrilled, not only because it's great to finally be home long enough to host family and friends (we logged a buncha air miles last year!), but also because . . . I've always had a fantasy of running a Bed & Breakfast. Really--there is something in me that loves to make people comfy and happy. From the days when I was a new wife, first-time Mom, ER nurse (plumping pillows . . . adding a sprig of flowers to a food tray here and there) right up to now, when I can share our wonderful Hill Country home. And the guest room I've added such fun touches to: A huge arrangement of silk flowers--magnolias, stock, french lavender, native grasses--in colors that match the furnishings: salmon, a rich brown, sage green, splashes of purple. A fluffy comforter, down pillows--silky sheets; a large oil painting of Tuscany, soft lights, scented candles. And tidbits like a fanciful plush armadillo (a gift from a guest), stacks of Southern Living and Texas Highway magazines, local travel brochures, a carafe of spring water . . . and bowl of Dove chocolates, of course. The guest bath was a hoot to do too: walls painted a deep salmon, a bold striped shower curtain--fluffy towels in sage green, terra cotta, cream and eggplant, a framed poster of Greune, Texas, a rustic wall plaque of an armadillo (hey, do ya think I have armadillos in my yard . . . because they feel welcome in my house?), colorful scented soaps . . . enticing, don't you think?

And I'm tickled that our houseguests are coming in April, because that is when our famous Texas wildflowers are at their height of beauty--and before our Texas HEAT begins to make everyone . . . glow. (Okay, sweat--but in the South we are too genteel to say that). So we can take advantage of the mild temperatures to enjoy browsing in our artsty little town, eating "barbecue" at a famous Texas eatery, tapping our toes to country music in the Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera, or just sitting out back (on my newly painted Adirondack chairs) and taking in the great, pastoral views.

The tough part of having company is saying goodbye. The visits always seem too short to do everything we want to do, say everything we want to say--eat everything we want to eat (can't miss those bison burgers!) For authors, it's much the same feeling when we are down to the last chapters of a book. The way that I am, with THE HEALER'S HEART. When our company leaves, I'll be back in the office finishing the last two chapters of this book. Saying goodbye to characters I've come to know and love over the past 6 months, tying up the loose ends, closing things down. It's kind of sad--even though the ending will be happy. The heartening part, however, is that since this book is the first in THE SHIFT IN FAITH series, I'll be "spinning off" one of the secondary characters to "star" in my second book (working title Heart's Hazard), so I'll already have a familiar face waiting for me--and for you readers!

Meanwhile, I'm going to iron some pillowcases, bake a batch of Morning Glory Muffins . . . and make sure hubby hasn't raided the guest room chocolates.

I'll check back in . . . when our guests check out.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Painting, Pondering & POV

What does an author do on her weekend off? Scamper outside as quickly as I can . . . before my backside permanently conforms to the shape of my office chair. (Like I need one more thing to angst about before my class reunion this summer!) Seriously, though, fresh air, sunshine, nature . . . even pulling weeds is a nice break from squinting at a computer monitor for days on end.

I did exactly that this weekend in our GORGEOUS south central Texas weather. Planted a yellow esperanza bush, visited with neighbors over the fence, took in a concert in our townsquare with my handsome husband, had breakfast with friends after church . . . and spray painted three plastic Adirondack chairs that I've been proscratinating over since we moved from California nearly four years ago! Once blue, the sun-faded chairs would have been tossed out, except for two things: they're comfortable, and some fiend invented spray paint for plastic. Considering the man (woman) hours spent at this chair task, the gasoline it took to drive to Home Depot (three times), the cost of 6 cans of paint . . . no, I don't want to consider it.
I did it. I painted the chairs--a great, dark terra cotta color (not the green you see here). And I learned several things in the process:

1) red metal primer, though a really fabulous color, cannot be used as a topcoat (which necessitates another trip to Home Depot--and more cash for paint).

2) An index finger (then the other index finger, and finally both thumbs) gets really tired when you're spray painting for hours and hours.

3) If you drive to Home Depot a third time, you can buy a nifty gadget that clamps onto the can and keeps your fingers from becoming paralyzed. It only costs as much as a new chair.

4) The Texas Hill Country breezes make it tough to spray paint outside (first clue: your neighbor politely shouts, "looks like y'all are fighting a losing battle over there.")

5) Wearing gloves isn't good enough protection . . . it's possible for the inside of your nose to become terra cotta color. Along with your tennis shoes.

HOWEVER: For this goal-oriented author, the sense of completion--be it chapters or chairs--is very nice indeed. And as any writer will tell you, plotting is something we do 24/7, so though my hands were far from the keyboard, my mind was swirling with dialogue and pondering plot points. In fact, as I was turning the Adirondack chairs side to side and upside down, to paint the back of the legs, the insides of the slats, and all those angles . . . it reminded me about what writers call POV: points of view. The character whose eyes the reader "looks" through to see the story unfold.

Many times that is only one character--the hero or heroine; everything that happens is seen through her/his eyes. Often in romance, there are dual points of view: the hero AND the heroine. In THE HEALER'S HEART, I am using FOUR points of view. And I love it! It seems very . . . IMAX. And gives the story a well-rounded feel, since we have four characters with different reactions to similar events. For instance (only a smidgeon of a teaser here), in THE HEALER'S HEART, there is a scene in which a horrific accident occurs a few miles from Gold Rush Hospital. Each character reacts in a different way to the impending arrival of the Code 3 ambulance--a nurse who doubts her competency, a demanding doctor with outside stressors, the charge nurse who scrambles to keep her team together . . . and the accident victim, whose identity shocks them all. As author, I get to "play" all four parts--great fun!

So, all in all, a good weekend. Now I'm off to cook up a yummy dinner for my husband . . . and maybe even watch the sunset from those terra cotta chairs. Tomorrow . . . back to Gold Rush Hospital. Only two chapters left, folks!