Friday, July 25, 2008

TLC Turnabout

I took myself to a local Spa and splurged on a facial . . . the "Signature Facial"--a full 60 minutes of bliss that began with champagne mimosas, fresh fruit, candelight, aromatherapy, and classical music. Then moved on to a warm misting machine, heated towels, countless scented potions, massage, cucumber mask, and a finale of four-hundred butterflies dancing Swan Lake on my face (okay, I don't know if it was really butterflies because my eyes were covered by cucumber slices--but it felt like the brush of butterfly wings. And because I'm a fiction writer, I get to embellish). Let me tell you, this whole experience was wonderful. Before you start thinkin' boy oh boy is she spoiled, must be nice, lah de dah, let me explain that this Spa indulgence was a very rare thing. I've had maybe two other facials in my whole life. Maybe . . . less than 6 massages. (And one of those was technically physical therapy after I broke my neck. Not much glamour there. And not a single dancing butterfly.)

Because, of course, as a nurse my goal was to provide TLC for other people. Back rubs, warmed blankets, lemon-freshened mouth swabs, cool compresses to feverish foreheads . . . hand holding, quiet listening. And, on occasion, whispered prayers. The fact is, I've always been far more comfortable on the giving side than the receiving side . . . but turnabout is a good thing. Besides, I was rewarding myself for hitting the home stretch in completing revisions on my debut Christian novel, CRITICAL CARE. Reading, tweaking, clarifying, adding some new scenes (filled with medical drama and grab-a-hankie emotion), and incorporating wonderful input from my editors. Trust me, sitting hunched in front of the computer for hours on end will put a few knots in your neck . . . and bags under your eyes! So a Spa escape was just what the author ordered.

I'm still smiling when I think of my hour at the Spa, and the direct contrast of that elegant setting to a gritty hour in my former career as an ER nurse. Let's see:

Champagne vs. Hospital Coffee (aged 12 hours and served in Styrofoam)

Fresh Fruit vs. Leftover Halloween Candy (brought to work in . . . February) (and not half bad with the stale coffee)

Candlelight vs. Blinking Flourescent glare

Aroma Therapy vs. We Won't go There (how long can you hold your breath?)

Classical Music vs. Sirens, screams, shouted Dr.'s orders, cardiac monitor alarms

Warm Misting vs. sweaty scrubs

Scented Potions vs. Iodine, burn cream, rubbing alcohol, NeoSporin, Green Soap

Massage vs. a barely dodged right hook, reallllly sore feet, aching back

Dancing Butterflies vs. black widow spider in a jar, snake in a shoebox, and head lice . . . on heads

Uh, oh. Flashback, and . . . Hmmm. Three decades as an ER nurse? 3 facials?

Probably should have gone for the 90 minute Luxury Facial!

And now, how about your day? Uh huh . . . oh yeah . . . my goodness! Well, then that settles it:

Tune up the violins and get those butterflies into toe shoes: TLC for Everyone!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bridging the Gap?

When I found this image I laughed out loud. Is there an image that tries any harder to bridge the gap between my fluffy Chick Lit mysteries . . . and my new Inspirational medical drama series? A nail polish named "Critical Care"?? Oops, sorry, I apologize for that snort, but I can't stop cracking up at how funny this strikes me. Especially because, of course, I'd love to have my loyal cruise-mystery readers "climb onboard" the new adventures offered by this upcoming series for Tyndale House. And (thank you!) many of you have already expressed interest since,though the genres (mainstream mystery & Christian fiction) differ, there will be many similiarities. Let's compare, mystery vs. medical drama:

intriguing setting: cruise ship; hospital emergency department

feisty, lovable nurse heroine: Darcy Cavanaugh; Claire Avery

handsome hero: FBI agent Luke Skyler; ER Director Dr. Logan Caldwell

quirky sidekick: cigar-smoking Marie Whitley; Smokey the one-eared cat

fast pacing: running the decks in high heels; can you spell . . . STAT?

suspense: who dunnit? ; who will change, survive?

laughs: snarky comebacks, slapstick antics; lively dialogue, warm, tension-releasing humor

romance: angst, quick clinches; real-life relationship struggles, genuine emotion, soul-satisfying happiness

heart: in glimpses, somewhere under the sequins; beating from the get-go, in rhythm with the story

Happy ending: implied; guaranteed

Reader take away: entertainment, behind the scenes glimpse into cruise travel; entertainment, an uplifting message of hope, chance to "scrub in" on the fast-paced world of emergency medicine

TV comparison: "I Love Lucy meets ER on the Love Boat"; "Grey's Anatomy finds its Soul."

So, yeah, maybe the nail polish bottle is a good image--the fine print on the bottle, after all, reads "intensive care for soft nails." Maybe that fits, since my new series trades fluff for heart and angst for faith.

Right along those lines, we also have traded titles: The Healer's Heart now has a working title of CRITICAL CARE. A term, of course, that was coined far before the naming of the nail product and is based on an exciting and intensive field of medicine. I also like the fact that it speaks as well to the vital concept of caring . . . both physical and spiritual.

Good medicine. And a good story. Hmm . . . sounds like a bridge in the gap to me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Scrubs Fashionista

Okay, I'm laughing. Have been, ever since I was waiting in line at the Wal Mart fabric counter and spotted a Simplicity Pattern display showing "The Hottest Fashion Trend: Scrubs." Sew your own, save money, be extremely cool. Oh. My. Gosh. All those decades that I lived in scrubs--sometimes 16 hours at a stretch if I pulled a double shift--I was a FASHIONISTA. Who would ever have guessed that? Not anyone who actually saw me. Because, honestly, we're talkin' baggy and shapeless, highwater or trip-worthy pant legs, useless pockets , skimpy sleeves, drawstring waistbands and a traditional color range of blue and green. In hues of : Not-yet-Washed, Faded-into-Oblivion, and Hopelessly-Stained-by-Iodine Soap-and-Leaky-Ballpoint-Pen.

But, Grey's Anatomy has changed all that. And the scrub-makers are cashing in, offering the Grey's inspired, Katherine Heigl "Izzy" collection (after one of the mega-hit show's stars), which "draws inspiration from both runway looks and current lifestyle trends."

Runway?? Scrubs? That's a stretch, unless it counts that nurses run from the moment they hit hospital doors . . . to assess patients, administer medication, assist doctors, explain procedures, comfort both patients and family members, perform CPR, ride on Code 3 ambulance runs, climb aboard helicopter transports, mentor student nurses and paramedics, attend staff meetings . . . and much, much more. Run, yes. Runway looks, trends--hmmm. Not that I didn't try, mind you. For instance:

Vests: I became the Queen of Vests in my ER. Sewed my own (yes, a Simplicity pattern) in prints like: Chili Pepper, Easter Egg, Christmas Package, which (quite practically) reversed to Autumn Harvest, 4th of July flags, and Halloween Pumpkin.

Jumpsuits: while, though cute, were a royal pain to negotiate on a 45-second bathroom break between Code 3 ambulance arrivals. I'm lucky to have survived at all.

Cute-sy socks: A fashion statement which perks up any drab scrub set (and ugly, practical white shoe)--and is also prone to Iodine stains. And has the same bouquet as junior-high gym socks after after a grueling 12-hour shift.

Glamorous hairstyles: Do NOT ask me about my Princess Leia braids. Or the time I foolishly got a spiral perm the night before work. And did an impression of The Bride of Frankenstein for a subsequent humiliating and endless shift.

Custom scrub top: Silk-screened from an incredible sketch of our entire Methodist Hospital ER staff. Day shift, PM's, Night Shift. Friends and teammates (wacky, loyal, incredibly skilled and compassionate) front and back, on this one-of-a-kind scrub top. A weird and amazing idea. A salute to people who touched countless lives. And the only article of scrub clothes I've ever kept.

So, scrubs as fashion? I'm not sure I'm going to agree with that. I've worked in them, worn them during a bank robbery (another don't-ask situation), slept in them, laughed in them, cried in them, prayed in them . . . lived in them for most of my adult life. Fashion, nah. Clothing worn by some of the most amazing and compassionate warriors I've ever known? Robes of angels? You betcha.

Here's to the genuine everyday Scrub Fashionistas--set a trend, my honored comrades, we need you!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Speak Medical?

As I prepare to sit down and start revisions on THE HEALER'S HEART, I'm going over the suggestions/comments/questions from my Tyndale House editors. One comment that made this author's heart go pitter patter with glee (and a distinct measure of relief) was something like: "Ooh, yes. Give us more medical scenes--we love those."

The editors were referring to action scenes that are set in my fictitious Gold Rush ER and depict events like: the aftermath of a propane explosion at a daycare, cardiac arrest of a 60-year old teacher, a toddler's critical asthma attack, and treatment of a nurse nearly killed in an auto accident. Plus a few "walk-ons" by a tattooed drunk with wounds from a broken bottle brawl, a two-year old with a blue plastic Lego stuck up her nose . . . you know, the usual. Wait. I should qualify that: Usual for ME. Because I lived in scrubs for over 30 years, and the hospital--the ER--was my second home. A home with iodine-stained flooring, inhumane flourescent lights, bad coffee, sirens, screams, shouts, nervous laughter, truly funky smells, moments of serious danger . . . and where the primary language spoken is Medical. Sometimes with foreign accents, granted, but still Medical. In fact, I speak, write, and even sometimes still dream in this curious language.

Which presented an interesting dilemma when I first decided to use my medical background in my novels. (The old "write what you know deal.") The heroine in my comic mystery series was an ER nurse. So I faced the challenge (beyond planting clues and planning murders) of giving my readers factual medical details--and jargon--without committing either of two ugly sins: 1) getting too technical and "losing" my readers in confusing medical detail, or 2) talking "down" to my readers by assuming they know nothing. Which isn't fair to them, and makes my characters sound like folks you wouldn't trust with your appendix. ("Hey, Darcy, hand me the thingamajig to fix her whatchamacallit, wouldya?")

Thank goodness for TV.

With the huge popularity of shows like ER, Grey's Anatomy, House, Scrubs, and now Hopkins, (not to mention the CSIs in all their gory glory--yipe!), viewers (and readers) have become quite medically savvy. I might even go so far as to say, they pretty much speak Medical.

Just to be sure, I always run my work (including and especially the medical scenes) by my critique partner Nancy Herriman. She's a fabulously *talented writer *and very educated woman, yet still a layperson when it comes to medical things. Even better, she rarely watches TV. So she's a perfect "test" for my medical scenes. She'll tell me where I need a bit of clarification ("Why is that oxygen percentage worrisome--what's the normal range?" "Do we need to know the sizes of all those needles?").

This is why I was very happy that my two editors had "no problem at all" understanding the medical scenes in THE HEALER'S HEART.

So now it's your turn. Try your hand at this Medical Trivia Quiz.

1) What is meant by, "Get a line in"?
2) By, "I'm going to have to tube him"?
3) What is Code Three?
4) How do scrub pants fasten: zipper, elastic, drawstring, snaps, velcro?
5) What is the thread used for stitching a wound called? What's it made out of?
6) Do ERs really have the local pizza delivery on Speed Dial?

How'd you do? Easy? Confusing? Never even thought of that? Well, my goal with The Shift in Faith Series is not only to entertain my readers--but educate them as well. Not only in medical lingo, but with an "inside glimpse" into the white-jacket (and sometimes white-knuckle, trust me) world of emergency medicine. And also, into the hearts of those people who answer the call to serve in these professions. As you may recall, I began my writing career after a near fatal accident that landed me as a patient in my own ER: I've been on BOTH sides of the stethoscope. So I know how much we need these dedicated people! Am I recruiting? Sure. It's an incredible way to serve your fellow man and your God. I don't regret for a single moment--even those scary, sad, and frustrating moments--my decades long career as a nurse. Plus, now I have endless quirky and heartwarming stories. A win-win all round.

So, on to those revisions. And . . . study up, folks. The next Medical Trivia Quiz is harder.

1) Start an IV 2) place an endotracheal tube (breathing tube down the throat to aid breathing)
3) Refers to an ambulance displaying lights and sirens, denoting a life and death emergency
4) draw string 5) suture; usually nylon 6) Absolutely--and Chinese, Baskin Robbins, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme . . .

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Team Huddle

So yesterday was one of those big moments in the life of a book . . . a first official meeting between author and editors. A three-way conference call between the Chicago area and South Central Texas--to discuss book revisions. I like thinking of this as a Team Huddle. Because, of course, that's what it takes to produce a book, a team effort. Writer, agent, editors, publisher, contract folks, marketing, sales, cover designers, printers . . . and even more. But when I picked up the phone in my office yesterday afternoon, I was concerned with only one basic truth--they'd read The Healer's Heart. And I was going to hear what they thought of it. Can you spell ANGST? Let's put it this way:

If you're a Top Chef fan, picture the judging team all tasting your Macadamia Nut Gazpacho with Pan Roasted Fish. And then think of that scene in the movie "Big," where Tom Hanks tastes the caviar, makes a face, spits it into his napkin . . . and then frantically scrapes the remaining bits off his tongue. Yes, these things DO all go through an author's mind. Okay, now I've mixed my metaphors into sports goulash, but I think you get the picture of the importance of this conference call.

And (drum roll)--I'm very pleased to say--no one had to scrape their tongues after reading my book! In fact, they really liked it. And, best of all, the editors were both enthusiastic and helpful in brainstorming additions/clarifications that will make this medical drama even more exciting. An author's dream: editors who "get" your work and want to lend their expertise to take it to an even higher level. And, speaking of expertise, the third person on the conference call (besides acquiring editor Jan Stob and moi) was Tyndale editor Lorie Popp. She's edited books for the bestselling megastars like Karen Kingsbury and Angela Hunt, and . . . she'll be editing my book! Trust me, the rise of goose bumps nearly lifted me out of my office chair. I'm honored.

So, the Team Huddle was great. The end result was that I got some awesome suggestions to tinker with on revisions--a new title being mulled over--a warm welcome, an awesome new editor . . . and a strong sense that this new publishing "home" is right where God wants me. Priceless.

Oh, if you're trying to figure out who's playing me in the team photo above, that would be number 5 without a doubt. The one with dust on her back pockets (from sliding in well ahead of deadline)--and a teeny smudge of Macadamia Gazpacho on her jersey.

Go Team!