Tomorrow I'll back in my (well-worn) chair, typing the opening words of my newest novel (working title) CODE TRIAGE. It will be the third book in my new Mercy Hospital Series. Critical Care is about 10 weeks from appearing on the shelves, Disaster Status is in my editors' hands. Since the most common question for a writer is, "How do you think up all that stuff?" And because my tumbling imagination kept me up into the wee hours last night, I thought I'd give you a peek into this writer's brain. If you dare, that is. So here we go--bring a flashlight. It can get weird in there.
First of all, I have an advantage because I "know" the two main characters who will "star" in this book: ER physician Leigh Stathos, and her estranged husband, San Francisco SWAT officer, Nick Stathos. How did I meet them? Easy: they walked out of the pages of Disaster Status, much the same way one of the main characters in Disaster Status (Erin Quinn) escaped from pages of Critical Care. In TV, they would call this a "spin off." The Mercy Hospital Series is tied together by a single fictional hospital system, and the stories take place in the ER's of Sierra Mercy (Gold Country, California), Pacific Mercy (Northern California coast) and Golden Gate Mercy (San Francisco). Each story revolves around staff reactions (critical stress) after an inciting disaster: a propane explosion, a hazardous material spill, and a hostage situation. The first heroine is a nurse educator, the second an ER charge nurse, the third an ER physician. Heroes (in order) : ER Medical Director, Fire Captain, SWAT officer. Characters, settings, situations, opportunities for conflict. The basic framework in place. It's the details--character quirks, bits of dialogue, past history--that run rampant in a writer's mind and eventually fill out the story.
Now point your flashlight: here's a few things prodding my brain these past few weeks:
1) Nick Stathos grew up in foster homes.
2) Leigh's mother is on her third world cruise (and third husband) . . . and didn't attend her daughter's wedding.
3) Leigh missed the funeral of Nick's slain partner.
4) Carbon monoxide poisoning will factor in to the opening scenes.
5) As will the first breath-catching encounter between Leigh Stathos. . . and the beautiful, determined child crisis counselor she blames for her shattered marriage.
6) A lemon tree will likely be symbolic in the story . . .
7) As will an abused miniature donkey (one-eared cat in the first book, aged goldfish in the second . . . see why we toss and turn? It's not just sheep we count, folks).
8) Medical scenes will include: carbon monoxide exposure, overdose, gut trauma, anaphylactic shock.
9) Someone important to the story . . . will get shot.
10) The premise will center around family--betrayal,trust.
I know the beginning, the climax, the "dark moment," and the end. It's not GPS, but enough of a road map to start. So . .
I'll type, punch my pillow, watch for those inevitable "walk on" characters, listen to what they tell me, and keep on going. I'll send chapters to my wonderful critique partner, tuck her suggestions away . . . and move on. Build the story, don't look back.
Keep my flashlight handy. Extra batteries on hand . . . and the coffee flowing.
Book Three, we're off and running!
Oh yeah--I love that writer's brain image above. She has my eyes. And a Chihuahua popping up from her brain. Like the one in Disaster Status. Not kidding. His name is Jonah. And he yodels.
Weird in there. I warned you.