Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meet Captain McKenna

One of the breath-catching and goose bumpy moments for authors is when we finally see the cover for our book; doesn't matter if it's a first book or a fiftieth book--it's still a thrill. For me, it's like that moment in Walt Disney's Pinocchio, when the story's little hero changes from a wooden puppet to a "real boy." Because, after months of breathing life into the characters and story via my (coffee-splashed) keyboard, finally seeing the cover makes all those hours feel solid and tangible. Especially since my fabulous publisher, Tyndale House, works very hard at capturing the characters and sense of story, right down to having the designer (mine is the very talented Mark Lane) read the book.

If reader feedback (complete with sighs) is an indication, my publisher was spot-on with the cover of CRITICAL CARE and its depiction of Dr. "McSnarly" Caldwell. And from the reaction at a recent Spring Sales Managers meeting (reports of whoops and whistles from the female faction), I'd say they may have even topped themselves with the cover of DISASTER STATUS.

Pictured above is our new hero, fire captain Scott ("By the Book") McKenna, along with heroine ER charge nurse Erin Quinn.

Just for fun, here's a "teaser" draft of the back cover copy to give you the basic storyline:

Charge nurse Erin Quinn escaped personal turmoil to work at the peaceful California coast. But when a hazardous material spill places Pacific Mercy Hospital on disaster status and stresses staff, she’s put to the test. And thrown into conflict with the fire department’s handsome incident commander who thinks her strategy is out of line.

Fire Captain Scott McKenna has felt the toxic effects of tragedy; he’s learned to go strictly by the book to advance his career, heal his family, and protect his wounded heart. When he’s forced to team with the passionately determined ER charge nurse, sparks fly. As they work to save lives, can they handle the attraction kindled between them . . . without getting burned?

Pique your interest? I hope so! Though the book will not release officially until April 1st, it already available for pre-order on Amazon and Christianbook.com. I'll be posting Chapter One on my website soon, and will be conferencing with editorial staff regarding marketing plans this week. Months in advance, we're already on a roll! That's the way it is in the book publishing world, juggle, juggle. Just today I've booked an interview for CRITICAL CARE, received the cover image for DISASTER STATUS, and am starting a final read through for CODE TRIAGE, which is due next week. Makes me sound a little like the White Rabbit, pulling out my pocket watch and muttering:

"I'm late, I'm late. For a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye--I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"

But I'm not. Not late. Not fussed--and I have plenty of time to say hello. To all the wonderful readers who having been sending notes, via phone call to 40 gracious book sellers last week, to folks I've met at signings, and now . . . to my newest hero.

I think Tyndale House did a great job on the cover, don't you? And I'll be counting the months until I can share this new book . . . and let you meet Captain McKenna.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Readers & Writers: The Winning Combo

On my Twitter Page, I recently "re-Tweeted" (it's a new language, folks!) a post by a fellow author. It was something about authors honoring readers . . . for the simple fact, that without readers there "wouldn't be a reason to write!" Though I wouldn't go so far as to say "no reason to write" (writing is like breathing. Even if no one heard me pant, sigh, hiccup or snore, I'd still have to do it, you know?), I absolutely agree about the need to honor and celebrate our readers! I had a chance to do that recently with my very first contests through Author Buzz , and my salute to all things medical: "Show Me Your Scrubs!"

The random drawing was a high glamor event: excited author up at dawn, printing off the long list of entrants; cutting them up into individual little fortune cookie strips; creasing them sharply . . . and nestling them into separate kitchen mixing bowls. Stirring, stirring, and--while still in jammies--holding them over my dear husband's head (not easy, he's 6'2") one at a time, and instructing him to close his gorgeous blue eyes . . . and draw one slip from the first, five slips from the second. And now (clearing my throat like a presenter at the Academy Awards) . . . .

The winners are:

Pictured above, in heart and pink ribbon scrubs, is TERI a "traveler" RN in Georgia who specializes in a particularly compassionate area of nursing: hospice. I was delighted to tell her that I'd drawn her name as winner in the "Show Me Your Scrubs!" contest--and that I'd be sending her a Starbucks gift card and a signed copy of CRITICAL CARE. I laughed, too, at a note from her husband, kidding that I'd be to blame if she ends up in "Peppermint Mocha rehab"! Nurses and coffee . . . I completely get it!

Additional signed copies of CRITICAL CARE have also been sent to the winners drawn from entries in my Author Buzz contest:

Christy (Utah)
Lorraine (Rhode Island)
Ann (West Virginia)
Wendy (Ontario, Canada)
Jennifer (Arkansas)

Congratulations to all of you! And I'll be eager to hear how you liked "scrubbing in" with Dr. McSnarly and company.

Though I'd write even if no one read it, I count my blessings that I am a published author, and (teamed with the awesome Tyndale House) my stories of fast-paced medical drama (with a much-needed prescription for hope!) are being read by YOU. You, dear readers, make the dream come true. Your word-of-mouth enthusiasm (and eager anticipation) of my Mercy Hospital series keeps me typing in my jammies. And your e-mails about how you enjoyed CRITICAL CARE, how the hopeful message resonated . . . warms my heart. You are best. And to think my stories touch you . . . priceless!

Thank you.

Teri in Georgia (with a wonderful husband, and a heart for service) : you're beautiful. Thank you for allowing me to post your photo. I'm honored to have you "scrub in" on the Mercy Hospital team! Enjoy your Peppermint Mochas!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Law & Order (ly) Research

Roger Duncan, Sheriff, Candace, Louis R. Martinez, Lieutenant, Criminal Investigations

Those times a writer can get away from her desk to do research that doesn't involve clicking a mouse on Internet sites . . . can be very cool. I recently had that opportunity when I visited with Kendall County Sheriff Roger Duncan and Lieutenant Louis Martinez. They very graciously took time from their morning to answer questions regarding law enforcement procedures for the third book in my Mercy Hospital series, (working title) CODE TRIAGE. Both gentleman have had impressive law enforcement backgrounds (in Dallas and San Antonio, respectively) even prior to their current roles in safeguarding Kendall County--and I was thrilled to be able to "pick their brains" regarding scenarios in my newest book.

We sat down and talked weapons--carried by officers and perpetrators (Glocks to Sig Sauer); body armor, gun belts, Mobile Data Terminals, officer involved shootings, evidence teams . . . even the emotional after effects of having to shoot/kill a criminal.
I read aloud scenes from CODE TRIAGE, to be sure that the officer-to-officer and dispatch-t0-officer dialogue rang true--and that my shooting scene (written from the point of view of the criminal victim) seemed realistic. I peppered them with questions, they graciously (and expertly) provided answers. And paid me a wonderful compliment in the process . . . they found the scenes intriguing and wanted to read the book! Ask any author how good that feels.

Lt. Martinez took me out to a patrol car and I sat in the driver's seat while he pointed out the features and explained how they worked. I told him it had been years since I'd been in a patrol car--then quickly explained (before he could run me for wants and warrants?) that I'd been married to a deputy sheriff. I'd been with him from academy days, first patrol shifts, jail years, to the assignment he had until his recent retirement: pilot in Air Operations. Therefore, I'd had some experience with things like:

1) Ironing sharp creases into duty uniforms
2) The scent and weight of leather Sam Browne duty belt
3) The feel, weight of wearing a bullet proof vest
4) The heft of a service revolver--and how awkward that can be to carry in your purse when your officer husband wants to take his shirt off at the beach.
5) Fear inducing incomplete snippets on police scanners (they sent my husband where?? What's happening?!)
6) Shooting weapons at the practice range
7) Being a practice "perp" for take downs, handcuffing . . . now that will keep you on the straight and narrow!
8) Riding behind the wire mesh in the back seat of a patrol car--and being told afterward how many people had upchucked there!
9) Gaining some insight into unique psychology of an policy officer's mind/emotions, and the changes that he/she undergoes when signing on for this very demanding career.

All of these things--my personal experience and the wonderful input from the officers pictured above--have helped me to breathe life into police officer Nick Stathos, and bring him to you.

In addition, I've been reading (eating up!) a fabulous book by former police detective Lee Lofland. Police Procedure & Investigation. A Guide for Writers. Great, gritty, realistic stuff. And very good insights for building a police officer character. Like these interesting traits that I noticed about my deputy husband, but never really attributed to his career:

Police officers:

1) have a tendency to walk with their arms away from their bodies because they're so used to carrying a gun--if their arms hang normally, the hammer of their sidearms would scratch the skin near their elbows.
2) sit with their backs to the wall in public places so they can easily watch both front and rear doors (my husband always did this in restaurants).
3) are naturally suspicious, examine other people's every move.
4) stand with a defensive stance--one foot slightly forward with their gun-hand side to the rear.
5) are hyper-aware of surroundings, drive defensively

AND, interestingly: Crooks look for these surefire signs of police officers. Making it necessary for undercover cops to learn to fight these natural tendencies.

So, yeah, police research. Fun. And next up--San Francisco research, since this book is set in that city and I need a brush up on local color, flavor . . . and cool foggy weather! After weeks of Texas heat . . . that's just what the doctor ordered for this author, trust me.

Again, many thanks to Sheriff Duncan and Lt. Martinez for your kindness, time, expertise--and for the gift of a beautiful Challenge Coin emblazoned with the Sheriff's Dept. badge and log and with the words: "Service Isn't Just Something We Provide . . . It's the Reason We Exist."

I absolutely believe it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Final Polish

My contracted deadline for (working title) CODE TRIAGE is September 1st, and I'm at one of my favorite stages in the preparation of this manuscript: the final polish of the draft. I have it printed out in a thick chunk of pages, and I'm reading it through with as freshly critical an eye as I can muster . . . for something I've read, re-read and greeted at dawn for nearly 6 months. I'm scribbling on the pages, marking bits of sentences out, making notes to check on details for consistency. Erasing eyebrow gymnastics. As I always must do, since they have more than tendency to perform as if in Olympic competition. My earlier post on The Eyebrow Thing, says it all. I'm also crossing out dozens of visceral reactions: gasps, stomach sinkings, trembles, waves of dizziness . . . I have to laugh, because I think I actually feel most of those things as I write a heavily emotional scene--amazing that I don't require an oxygen tank, smelling salts, and a vat of Pepto Bismol on my desk. Don't let anyone tell you that writing isn't hard work or that authors don't suffer for their craft!

The great part (the gentle breeze, music and fluttering butterfly part) is that I'm actually enjoying this read. I like the characters: Police officer Nick Stathos, physician Leigh Stathos . . . her troubled sister Caroline, ER chaplain Riley Hale. The tough-as-nails antagonist, Samantha Gordon. The villain, Kurt. And my inevitable (and quirky) tertiary and walk-on characters: Harry and Antoinette McNealy and their cockatiel Cha Cha. Oly, the flower vendor. The quiet orphan, Maria--and her abused donkey, Tag. Frisco, Leigh's thoroughbred horse. And even the inanimate (but nonetheless important) "characters" : A dining room table, The historic San Francisco Tonga Room, a dying lemon tree, the full moon, Tony Bennet's recording of "San Francisco," . . . a bowl of lemon soup.

It's interesting to see how they all come together to carry the story forward, some to teach lessons, some to learn . . . all struggling in the process. (All likely eye-ing my bottle of Pepto Bismol at one time or another!) I probably owe them an apology, but they know I'm proud of them. For showing up at dawn these past months, whispering their stories to me in the shower, keeping me awake in the middle of the night. All so that we could get this adventure down for you, the readers. And we did.

Except for the polish, which is nearly finished. Rub, rub, shine, shine. Like in the image above, the old ad for "Miracle Cloth." Maybe that's fitting--there were many times that we (me, the cockatiel, the donkey . . . all of them) looked at each other and said, "It's going to be a miracle if with get this thing written!"

But the real the miracle, for me, is the blessing of that moment when it reaches the hands of my readers, entertains you, encourages you . . . maybe even touches your heart. I've had some wonderful letters that say exactly that about CRITICAL CARE. Thank you!

Meanwhile, progress is moving forward on the production of DISASTER STATUS, cover art, back cover "teaser," author endorsements. In case you haven't heard, the release date has been moved out to April, instead of January. You'll have to wait a teeny bit longer to read it, but I think you'll agree it's worth the wait. Feel free to use the extra time to tell everyone you know about CRITICAL CARE!

That's a "novel" idea!

And now back to polishing . . .