Sunday, December 28, 2008

Making Books

I'm at an interesting point in the life of my new book series: when the first novel, CRITICAL CARE, is well into production phase, and the second book is heading toward "The End" in the initial draft stage. Writing one book while awaiting the official birth of the other. And by April, I'll be writing the third book, while doing signings and appearances for the first, and planning the launch of the second. All of which reminds me of the time I innocently bought my daughter a pair of pet rabbits. Supposedly two males. There were dozens and dozens of hopping bits of fluff--three floppy eared generations--before we figured things out and . . . nuff said. We're talkin' books not bunnies.

But still, it's quite the process, trust me. Here's what's happening right now with CRITICAL CARE, in preparation for it's June 2009 release:

1) The manuscript has gone through editing and proof-reading, and is typeset.

2) It's been presented to National Sales representatives.

3) Endorsement quotes (from gracious and stellar) authors are rolling in. Like this from bestseller, Harry Kraus M.D.:

"Finally, a reason to turn off ER and Grey's Anatomy. Here is a realistic medical drama with heart. Candace Calvert gets it right with page-turning prose, a heart-warming love story, and hope. Don't make us wait too long for the next one!"

4) Tyndale Marketing and PR teams have designed a (wonderful and exciting) plan for presenting the book (and author) to retailers and readers.

5) The (fabulous and soon to be unveiled) book cover has been designed.

6) Back cover copy (book description) is being drafted. Perhaps something like this:

"Lord . . . heal my heart, move me forward."

"After her brother dies in a trauma room, nurse Claire Avery can no longer face the ER. She’s determined to make a fresh start--new hospital, new career in nursing education--move forward, no turning back. But her plans fall apart when she’s called to offer stress counseling for medical staff after a heartbreaking day care center explosion. Worse, she’s forced back to the ER, where she clashes with Dr. Logan Caldwell, a man who believes touchy-feely counseling is a waste of time. He demands his staff be as tough as he is. Yet finds himself drawn to this nurse educator . . . who just might teach him the true meaning of healing.
CRITICAL CARE ~ Who heals the healers?"

7) ARC's (Advanced Reader Copies) will soon be bound and sent to reviewers such as Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, BookList, And Christian Retailing.

Meanwhile, I'm already preparing for online author interviews, a blog tour, local launch party, and much, much more.

A bit like planning a wedding. While juggling. And dodging baby bunnies.

You have to be a little crazy. And love it.

We are. We do.

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail--out of the way, Mama's on deadline!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I've begun to Twitter . . . which, of course, sounds like something my parents would say when I was on a sugar high from too many holiday gumdrops:

"Candace Lee, for heaven's sake please stop twittering!"

Sad but true. Not that it stopped me. But I mostly do it now . . . in print.

If you haven't heard, "Twitter" is the newest trend in online social networking. Don't groan--really this one's different.

I've tried the other online gathering spots, like FaceBook, Crimespace (I was a mystery writer, remember), BookSpace, HA! (yup, comedy folks) . . . yada, yada. But frankly, they're too complex for me. I never know how to navigate around, I'm at a loss when someone "Friends" me, or sends me "Good Karma" or a cyber plant (do you have to water those?)

But "Twitter," on the other hand is gumdrop simple.

It's based entirely on the question, "What are you doing now?"

And, you are allowed only 140 characters (letters/numbers) with which to respond.

Or they cut you off. Snip snap.

Trust me, this a challenge for an author with a luxurious allowance of some 80,000 words.

So, then, what's the big deal about Twitter? Why am I . . . hooked?

Maybe it's a bit like taking a walk after dusk . . . when you pass houses and see lights inside, and wonder what people are doing. Twitter makes it feel like a little sign is posted above the doors, saying: "Angie's daughter is in the Christmas pageant tonight," "Bob's taking his wife to the movies--chick flick this time," "Kathryn's snowbound in rural Indiana--and grateful for a good book." Personalities, moods, encouragement, frustrations, humor, tips, wisdom . . . life. In 140 characters or less.

You can choose to "follow" (receive updates) on people, and they can choose to follow you. Or not. The group I'm "twittering" with tends to be writing-related (authors, editors, agents, publishers) for the most part and mostly in my genre, inspirational fiction. But I read with interest about other people, too, like an organic gardener in California--who's just picked the last of the season's green peppers. I could almost taste his dinner quiche.

I guess, when it comes down to it, Twitter is people-watching. With a sense of community.

Great for a writer.

And valuable too--learning how to snip "fatty" narrative away.

Make a point in limited words.

Becoming more.


Oops . . . gotta make 85,000 words on DISASTER STATUS. Better twitter . . . longer.

Come visit me on Twitter:

Bring gumdrops.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let it Snow

This is an early morning shot of our home . . . early meaning I threw a coat over my jammies, shoved my feet into a pair of clogs and dashed outside. Because it SNOWED. And this does not happen in semi-tropical South Central Texas. We're climate of things "jungle-y," like warm afternoon rainstorms, rainbow colored birds, chameleons, geckos . . . and creeping vines that cover a house as fast as that one in "Little Shop of Horrors." Except (as far as I know) no one's actually been eaten by a vine. So far. We should probably do a head count of neighbors on summer nights.

Anyway, this amazing snow happened last Wednesday--the day our California kids were catching a plane to sunny Texas. The weather folks flirted with a "possible snow" forecast, but no one truly believes those reports, right? Still, it was cold. Cold enough to throw beach towels over my potted plants and tenderly blossoming dwarf Meyer lemon tree. And to turn on the electric blanket. Still . . . snow? C'mon.

I awakened just before dawn in my snuggly nest of warmed sheets, and hubby says . . . "It snowed. Go look."

Well, this man--an infamous teaser--has about as much credibility as a Texas weatherman. So, I say, "Uh huh. Right."

And he says, "Really. I was up at 3:00, and I saw it."

"Sure," I smirk. "And were deer making snow angels?"

He shrugs and pulls up the covers, and I . . . can't stand it. I know he's hooked me like a baited bass, and I know the tile floors are going to be mercilessly frigid, but . . .

And there it was: SNOW. Accompanied by much girly squealing. Many Tigger-like leaps. Followed immediately by the jammies and clogs and camera scenario. I'm out the door in Winter Wonderland.

It snowed.

On the lawn, on the roof, on our little wooden bridges, around the pool, on the beach towel covering my lemon tree . . . everywhere. Like white royal frosting on gingerbread.

I took photos of everyone's house on our little cul de sac. I took a photo of my neighbor grabbing his newspaper. I looked for deer . . . making snow angels. No photo proof. But still . . .

I went from non-believer. To believing.

Of course, as an author of inspirational fiction, I love the hopeful message in that.

I'm including this photo on our Christmas cards.

In this season of miracles . . . snow.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gone Armadillo Hunting

Quick post to say: Real post will be mid-week.


We're armadillo hunting.


Son and family are here from California and they've never seen one.

Which means (of course):

All armadillos--that would normally be trenching our lawn and flowerbeds to smithereens--have gone AWOL. Or to Luckenbach.


So, while the hunt continues, we console ourselves with:

Gingerbread, Barbecue, pizza, roadrunner sightings, live Texas music, salsa, spelunking, fudge, and generally having a good time.

More later. Got to go put out more armadillo bait.

They eat gingerbread and brisket, right?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

on Purpose

I receive a lot of e-mails from the good folks at Chicken Soup for the Soul. This is because my very first published work was an inspirational story in Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul back in 1999, I think. I held my breath for nearly a year while that story made the rounds of editors, moved into the "final cut" from 2,000 stories being considered for this project. You can imagine my pure JOY when I got the word that my story, "By Accident," would be included. I was especially grateful, because this story was first written at the request of my pastor, after I'd survived a riding accident that left me with 8 fractured ribs, back fractures, a bleeding lung, a broken neck . . . and a spinal cord injury. The neurosurgeon told me that I'd been only millimeters from the fate of Christopher Reeve, my long time hero. Humbled, is not a big enough word. The accident that nearly took my life . . . restored my faith.

It also started my writing career . . . and eventually led me to where I am now: honored to writing inspirational fiction for Tyndale House Publishers. Using the gifts I've been given to offer hope to others.
Imagine my amazement, then, when I recently received an e-mail from Chicken Soup telling me that this story--"By Accident"--has been chosen for a book in their new series, "The Best 101 Stories from Chicken Soup." The title of this one: Best Stories of Faith. My little story appears in the chapter called, "Divine Interventions." AND (goosebump warning) here's
the quote they printed below my title:

"Once you choose hope, anything's possible"~ Christopher Reeve.

I read that and was completely astounded. Hope, you see, is the theme of CRITICAL CARE, my first novel for Tyndale House.

Divine intervention? Oh, absolutely.
And I've no doubt that it's all part of a much bigger plan:

"By Accident" . . . was on Purpose.

I love it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Think Pink!

My son just called from the ultrasound appointment: We're having a GIRL!
He was crying, I was squealing, and Momma-to-Be sounded blissful . . . an amazing moment.
And a wonderous miracle.
Pink happy faces all round!
Are those . . . freckles on those bows?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

We'll Take Two, Please

Next year I'm getting the most amazing birthday gift: TWO new grandbabies--one due the day before and one due the day after. I'm still in awe. One of them will be born in Arizona, a BOY, and the other will arrive in California. We're awaiting the news on the Pink or Blue issue in the Golden State. The ultrasound is TOMORROW. Nine AM. Give or take a few minutes, probably. I've called to confirm this. Two or three times. Not that I'm an anxious grandmother. But this baby is a first on "my side." Meaning that I didn't have to marry a Grandpa to accomplish this particular miracle.
The wonderful fact is, that grandchildren came with the package when I married my handsome husband nearly 10 years ago (you've got to love a God of second chances), and I'm thrilled to have 3 beautiful girls and one incredible nearly-two year old boy call me "Grandma." Though I've tried to claim credit for their beauty, intelligence, talent, and actual freckles--it's a stretch. And pure graciousness on their part.

California Baby, on the other hand, could actually have those freckles, or my mother's ski-jump nose, or my father's boundless energy, or . . a love of words and writing handed down for generations in my quirky family. The possibilities are awesome. And, since I lost both of my parents this past year (this baby's great-grandparents) it feels especially poignant.

So I picked a "Grandma" name (someone told me I had to). It's "CeCe." For my initials, C.C. And because my mother's Grandma name was "BeBe" after her initials, BB. It fit. The idea touched my heart. And the hearts of my son and his wife--parents to be.

I'm over the moon to be a grandmother of 4. And thrilled to be expecting two more. A BOY in Arizona, and . . .

Stay tuned. I'll be announcing news about California Baby tomorrow. If I can type. After staying up all night. Wondering, battling goosebumps . . . and being very, very grateful for God's beautiful miracles.

Pressing question: Can you see freckles on an ultrasound?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's Cookin'?

I LOVE cooking and everything related (except for cleanup and thank goodness I'm married to Felix Unger), from reading labels and prodding vegetables at the grocery store, to mincing and chopping and sauteeing. Oooh, and finishing touches, like piping frosting onto cookies, adding little sprigs of herbs (or fresh edible flowers) to make a dish look pretty, or choosing just the right serving dish.
My cooking impulses have run the gamut, from sweet to strange, to what-on-earth? Like:

1) Escargot. A special request and a true labor of love, involving poking seasoned and slippery snail bodies into decorative shells. Requiring lots of garlic, and--for me--to put aside all queasy common sense that snails are garden pests. Period.

2) Gingerbread houses--TWENTY, all topped with gumdrops and cinnamon red hots and candy canes . . . and itsy bitsy "Welcome" mats.

3) Christmas Yule Log: with knots and textured chocolate "bark", and little green leaves . . . and enough butter and cream to occlude the arteries of an entire city.

4) Abalone steaks: that rare, amazing Northern California shellfish that when perfectly pounded, floured and sauteed in butter . . . is a true delicacy. Ask the sea otters.

5) Tiramisu: the wonderful Italian dessert (with lady fingers, marscapone cheese and Kahlua) that hubby and I have been privileged to savor in romantic spots around the globe. And now reproduce at home in a healthier "Cooking Light" version.

6) Monkfish: freakiest fish you've ever seen, but a yummy "poor man's lobster." Steam, grill, enjoy . . . then try to forget where it came from, so you can sleep without nightmares.

For me, cooking is a lot like writing: creating something and then offering it for the enjoyment of others. Adding/writing in special touches (edible flowers, quirky characters), sweetness (tiramisu, love scenes) . . . local flavor (abalone, colorful settings), unexpected surprises (monkfish, escargot--and unpredictable characters!).

As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm doing both. Planning food, and writing scenes. Love it.

Happy Turkey Day and warm blessings everyone !

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Got Monkeys?

As you may recall, part of my current course of study (toward becoming a lay chaplain), offers an introduction to the practice of meditation, and . . . it has been a real challenge. Evidenced by the evening I got trapped in my wrist watch, while attempting a self-imposed quiet time.

My studies say, "We are what we do in silence." Profound, and perhaps troubling since today's culture is filled with frenzied activity, 24/7 instant communication, and non-stop external noise. Hardly peaceful. Worse, however, is the constant "internal chatter" of the unconcious mind; the endless stream of erratic and egocentric thoughts Buddhists call "a monkey mind," because it most resembles a tree of agitated monkeys all screeching at once. Yipes:

I've got a whole JUNGLE in there.

Now maybe my monkeys are genetic, maybe they jumped onboard during all those adrenaline filled years as an ER nurse, or maybe they simply come with the whole "writer package" mind-set; I'm not sure. But I truly admire people who seem to be . . . without a traveling circus. It led me to write this scene for DISASTER STATUS, which shows our heroine ER nurse Erin Quinn, wrestling (boxing actually) with this very same concept:

Erin stilled the speed bag, and then glanced down at Elmer Fudd. The goldfish, transparent fins swirling, stared placidly out at her. No tsunami waves. She’d finally figured out how to punch the bag without shaking the wall behind his little glass condo. It had to do with her foot position and the arc of her swing. Balance. Just like Annie said. Erin needed to stay balanced over her feet, be strong and consistent, and stick to the moves, the routine . . . no crazy stuff. Crazy.

She pressed a towel against her damp forehead, her stomach fluttering. She wasn’t going to think about Scott. She’d eaten two and a half brownies, whipped her heart rate up to one-forty, and was sweating right through her tee shirt. Chocolate and endorphins--he was supposed to be banished. It wasn’t fair. All she was asking for was a little bit of peace.

Erin stepped close to window and smiled. Now there was the perfect vision of serenity. Her grandmother, rusty auburn hair tied up with a batik scarf, sat on the garden bench in the rosy- gold sunset, her back straight, hands resting on her thighs, and eyes gently closed. Her breathing was rhythmic and intentional. Beside her lay her well-worn Bible. Centering Prayer. She’d done this for as long as Erin could remember. Explained it alternately as “my quiet time,” Christian meditation, “listening with the ear of my heart,” and-- when her life was particularly hectic and her temper short--“my only sliver of sanity. Now scoot and leave me be!” During those awful months of her husband’s illness, this daily silence had seemed exactly that. Her sanity and her strength.

Since childhood, Erin had tried over and over to emulate her Nana’s peaceful repose. And failed completely. The truth was that profound stillness made her edgy. Silence prompted her to . . . fill it. Her work, the chaos of ER--sirens, nervous chatter, beeping alarms--felt far more normal. And on her days off, she whacked at her speed bag, shadow boxed on the beach or jogged along the sand, listening to her Ipod instead of the waves. Even when she curled up to read, she tapped her foot to an endless stream of music. Deprived of that, she’d hum. Always moving, never silent-- it was who she was. Erin shook her head. If she were a goldfish, she’d welcome the tsunami.

Guess what Erin's challenge will be? Yes . . . to learn to be still and listen to what is truly important. Will she learn that easily?

No. Her heart--and the life of someone she loves--will be at risk before she learns the difference between being "strong" and finding "strength."

Meanwhile, I'll be working on my own slice of silence and serenity. It's getting easier, step by step. On tiptoe. Quietly. Shh.

So much to hear.

How about you? Traveling circus, or present-moment peace?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Truth or Fiction?

As a kid, I got in trouble for telling whoppers . . . as an author I get paid for it. Strange, but that's what we as writers do: Make stuff up.

Nevertheless, the most frequent question that writers get asked, is:
"How much of this is real . . . is this stuff really about YOU?"

Not long after my first Darcy Cavanaugh mystery hit the shelves, I got a confusing phone call that went something like this:
(me, innocently) "Hello?"

"Is Darcy there?"
(me, straddling a strange sense of disassociation) "Um, no, there's nobody here by that name."

"Oh, yes, I think there certainly is."
(Big spooky silence on my end) "No, really there--"
"Ha! You can't fool me. I know that book's about YOU, Candy!"

It was a neighbor who'd been tickled to read a book written by someone she knew. And who fortunately (I hope) was finally convinced I did NOT have a shamrock tattoo, have never dated an FBI agent, dangled perilously from a lighthouse cliff, or (though I've taken many memorable cruises) discovered a dead body in a shipboard spa.

But the fact is, there is at least a smidgeon of truth in all fiction. As writers we draw upon life experiences to springboard plots, and must offer up many personal emotions and sensitivities in order to develop characters who seem "real." I certainly did this in my comic mysteries, and continue to do so in my new medical drama series for Tyndale. I pencil in truths/memories/feelings the same way I sprinkle cilantro or fresh rosemary onto the food I cook. It's makes the story ring true for the reader . . . and for the writer. A good friend sent me a card with a quote from Anais Nin:

"We write to taste life twice." I framed it for my office.

Personal memory certainly played a part in this snippet of a scene from my current work, DISASTER STATUS. My heroine, Erin Quinn, goes to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk:

The morning breeze smelled of seaweed, hosed asphalt, Coppertone, cotton candy and popcorn. Screeches from gulls blended with other sounds: laughing children, an electronic ding-boing, pow-pow-pow from the Casino arcade, the relentless whoosh and pull of ocean waves . . . and a continuing chorus of screams from the Giant Dipper roller coaster. If Erin kept her eyes shut a moment longer, it could be 1980 and she’d be perched atop her grandfather’s shoulders, her nose sun-crinkled, feet bare and speckled with sand, fingers wonderfully sticky and tongue half numb from eating a frozen chocolate banana. . . But Scott's voice hauled her back to the present, as effectively as if he'd thrown her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

Have I been to Santa Cruz? Sure, lots of times. Did I eat those frozen bananas? You betcha. Was my impromptou dance on the wharf with a handsome fire captain . . . interrupted to dramatically rescue an electrocuted dock worker? No way!

But it was great to have Santa Cruz in my "toolbox" of writers' experiences. As well as others I've collected over the years, good stuff & tough stuff. I'll use these in the fiction I write. And I'll do it much the same way this list combines fiction from my books and experiences from my life. Have I really:

Been stalked by a poet?
Swum with stingrays?
Worn a Wonder Woman costume?
Delivered a foal?
Been in bank robbery?
Broken my neck?
Owned a one-eared cat?
Sat on a chicken at Daffodil Hill?
Done the limbo on a jet-powered catamaran?
Ridden a camel at the pyramids?

Truth or whoppers? I'll never tell.
Oh, yes, the camel photo. Good point. Okay, you caught me there.

I get paid to make stuff up. And I draw upon the blessings of past experience . . . to taste life twice. And then I share it, to entertain and to encourage others. Doesn't get better than that. And that's the truth.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Heart . . . and Home

When people learn I'm a native Californian, they inevitably ask: "How did you end up in Texas?"

Well, actually it sounds more like this: "How'd y'all wind up in Texas?"

My answer to both is: "The pre-nup."

When the brows rise, I tell them that I'm joking . . . sort of.

The fact is that not long after I began dating my wonderful husband (11 years ago this month), he starting dropping little hints. As in, "Ever been to Texas?" " Look at those clouds . . . looks like a Texas sky to me." "Ever wanted to . . . visit Texas?" And then there was that subtle refrigerator magnet: "Life's too short not to live it as a Texan."

When he slipped the engagement ring on my finger and the lovely sapphire was "exactly the color of Texas bluebonnets," I finally figured it out. Once a Texan, always a Texan.

So, though the "pre-nup," never actually existed . . . we've been in Texas for four years now.

It's been amazing. New terrain, new weather (every 5 minutes) new food (fried . . . what?), new creatures (scorpions in the shower, armadillo in the pool, lizards on the dining room ceiling . . . don't get me started on the wild pigs), whole new culture. All joking aside, I've loved every minute, but . . .

We're ready to move back. Really. Our house is on the market. Has been for 2 months now.

You know how that goes--keeping the house perfect all the time: toilet lids down, check the pool for armadillos, light the pumpkin-pie scented candles, vacuum every seven minutes, Windex the finish off the mirrors, re-plant the flowers after the deer eat them . . . don't even think about cooking fish. Lots of fun.

Amazingly (though the economy has managed to tank since we listed the house) we've had more active interest than we expected. The truth is, our house is wonderful and we've priced it below market--which, in Texas, is still holding better than most of the country. Whoever finally does get this house will be blessed, as we have been. It's by far the nicest house we've ever owned, in an outstandingly beautiful setting, in a wonderful, artsy, peaceful little town. We have neighbors you could trust your life with, a church we dearly love . . . so why are we moving? Good question. And a perfectly cliche answer:

Because "Home is where the heart is."

Or to be exact: Where the Kids and Grandkids are. And they live out West--in California, Nevada, and Arizona. For the past several years we've been flying and driving back and forth, but it never feels often enough. We miss them!

The final prod? Recent news that we'll have two more babies due on MY BIRTHDAY (April) next year. One in California (the first on my side!) and the other in Arizona.

So we're giving this house selling deal a shot. We're keeping the armadillos out of the pool, we're lighting the candles . . . we're hoping that this house will be just right for someone, and that somewhere out West there's a place for us.

Lord willing, it's going to happen. Meanwhile, this is a great place to live. And to write books. I'm not complaining in the least.

Okay. Maybe if there are two floating armadillos, and the deer get my purple pansies again.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Drawing the Dark Hero

(Cue drum roll) I've passed the halfway mark in the first draft of DISASTER STATUS, the second in my medical drama series. My most ambitious work so far (involving a pesticide scare in a Pacific coast community), it's told from the point of view of FIVE separate characters: ER nurse Erin Quinn, Fire captain Scott McKenna, elderly widow Iris Quinn, female physician Leigh Henner . . . and hospital housekeeper (and Viet Nam vet) "Sarge" Gunther.
In the action-packed opening scene, firefighter Scott McKenna barrels through the ER doors carrying a migrant worker's child suffering a full-blown seizure. A toxic exposure is the cause, and the devastating effects may be widespread--a fact that is both unifying and polarizing for related rescue personnel. Off-duty charge nurse Erin Quinn discovers this bluntly when attempting to re-join her ER team only to be denied access by newly appointed incident commander Captain McKenna. Fear, duty, pride . . . and personal survival instincts, come into play as each character adds his/her own "baggage" to the already toxic mix.

As a writer, it is intriguing to "climb into" the minds of these very different characters. And at this 'halfway' marker, I'm finding that viewing the story through the eyes of my "dark" character, "Sarge" is most intriguing of all. I'm not surprised. In CRITICAL CARE (set for release June 2009) , the character of ER nurse Sarah Burke was equally enjoyable. So what do I mean by a "dark" character? Darth Vader? Not exactly. Maybe more like T.V.'s Gregory "House." Was there ever a character you hate to love more than that brilliant and abrasive doctor?? Or one whose heroic qualities are more finely balanced against all too obvious flaws and weaknesses?

That is exactly the challenge for a writer.

I remember very clearly a line in a writing workshop that made bells ring for me. It may have been author Jennifer Crusie who said it (not sure); but here's the gist:

"A villain {or dark character} is a hero in his own mind."

His goals, his driving motivation, are as desperately important to him as are those that guide the hero. He (or she) is fully dimensional (has strengths and flaws) and--to some degree--becomes somewhat sympathetic to the reader. In the case of my characters Sarah and Sarge, their painful and troubled pasts lead them into downward spirals . . . that inevitably alter the lives of people around them. They become catalysts for change.

Here's a snippet from the draft of DISASTER STATUS, when we first "climb inside" the head of hospital housekeeper, "Sarge":

Sarge Gunther grimaced in the darkness against a jolt of searing pain . . . in a calf he didn’t have. Phantom pain the VA called it. He shifted his weight on the bulky prosthesis, then focused the penlight to inspect the water bottles on the storage room shelf, looking carefully at the dates, the places of manufacture, the bar codes and the lot numbers. He lined them up symmetrically and examined the tops to be certain they hadn’t been opened and re-capped. Or pierced with a needle right through the plastic. They could do that--to add the pesticides. He’d seen what they’d done to that little girl in the ER. She was still in a coma. He had to be careful. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if the Sergeant was out of commission. My unit counts on me.

When he finished checking the bottles, he’d mark each label with a tiny, inconspicuous dot of permanent ink. And then he’d know they were safe to drink, when he returned here to spend the night after everyone was gone. Sarge’s duty was here at the hospital. Sandy was safely home now. Mission completed there.
But that boy was still upstairs. Only ten years old. They were trying to take his leg.

Troubled? You betcha. Hero in his own mind? Absolutely. Villain? Dangerous?

Hmmm . . . you'll have to wait to see. Me too. I'm only HALFWAY through the first draft.

Meanwhile, anyone want to try the moustache?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Konfessions of a Klutz

I got trapped in my wrist watch. I am. Not. Kidding. I have a pea-size bruise to prove it. And, most humbling of all, it all happened because I was trying to MEDITATE. Go ahead and laugh, my husband still is. Here's how it went down:

I told you in a previous post that:

1) I'm taking a spirituality class that will allow me to become a lay chaplain.

2) Part of the training is learning to be comfortable in SILENCE . . . enhancing the student's ability to truly listen.

3) I am not a person entirely cool with silence. It makes me a little . . . antsy.

In a recent class we learned about MEDITATION (the process and benefits), and I knew it was something I needed to pursue. I was actually encouraged by my ability to sit in silence for ten full minutes during our classroom practice. Which is why:

I decided to give it a try on my own the other evening. Perfect timing . . . dusk, crisp fall air, pastoral silence. I'd sit on my favorite bench on the porch and just silently and serenely . . . BE. For maybe 5-10 minutes. Which (according to class) should be timed because, apparently, there are (non-antsy) people who can "disappear" into silence for a really long time. So because I didn't have a timer--and refused to use that as an excuse--I decided to wear my watch and sort of time myself by sneaking a peek now and then. Which (I know, I know) probably negates the whole process, but I'm like a dog worrying a bone when I get an idea in my head.


I chose my pretty Brighton bracelet watch and snapped it on securely. At which point I realized that I wouldn't be able to see it in the darkness. Then I glanced down at it and was surprised to find that . . . I couldn't actually even see the watch face right there inside my kitchen. So I grabbed my reading glasses--and discovered that . . . I'd snapped it on INSIDE OUT. Meaning that the watch was FACE DOWN. And, worse, so was the (very secure) FASTENER. And I was . . . trapped.

Right about that time hubby entered the picture and--red-faced--I confessed my klutzy problem. He was determined to come to the manly rescue. So here's what we tried for the next TWENTY minutes:

1) Releasing the lift-snap from underneath . . . his big fingers, my little ones, switching on and off who manned the flashlight and who hoisted the (tight) band as high as possible.

2) Rubbing liquid soap on my wrist and trying to slip, slide, wiggle the thing off over my knuckles . . . managing only to get it stuck halfway and contort my hand into a paralytic lobster claw (note: even at hubby's insistence, it is not possible to "suck in" your hand and make it a size smaller. Even if you've managed this feat a thousand times to fit into your skinny jeans).

3) Applying ice cubes to hand and wrist to shrink it . . . frostbite isn't helpful either

4) Jabbing at the latch with a dinner knife. Not recommended. And may cause heart palpitations.

BUT, just as hubby was heading off to the garage for "TOOLS" (and I was thinking about how I'd explain it to the local ER when they were doing my stitches) I tried one more prod with the dinner knife and . . . SPROING, I was SPRUNG!

I never did get to meditate. But I felt way more peaceful.

And remember when I said that SILENCE made me antsy? Well, I have a whole new outlook now. I'll take silence over jewelry extrication any day. And I'll be back on that bench, feet on ground, back straight, silently repeating my mantra. Not worrying about the time . . . and not wearing a watch.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Making Fiction Real

A few days ago I turned in my final revisions on CRITICAL CARE, and was elated that my editors gave it a very strong thumbs-up. They were especially pleased with a dramatic new opening scene that pulls the reader into the "Code Room" alongside Dr. Logan Caldwell as he takes over heart compressions in a last desperate attempt to save a toddler's life.

Along with a later scene showing--in detail--the (critical, every-second-counts) treatment of a trauma victim's near-fatal lung collapse. The scenes are fast-paced, gritty-real, and highly emotional. Kind of like my years in ER. And they add SO much to the story's impact, on many levels. My editors were absolutely right that I needed to include them, but they had to nudge me several times. Which led this author to an interesting self-discovery: I'd been trying to "protect" my readers from the realities of ER. The same way I'd protected my family (all those many years) from "what Mommy does at work."

It's true. I'd done exactly that during my career. Sort of a twist on the Vegas deal, only: "What happens in ER stays in ER." For patient confidentiality, of course, but it went further than that. I wanted to spare family (my children especially) and friends from the "tough stuff" that medical workers face every day: violence, hopelessness, injustice, suffering, fear, death . . . the entire gamut of human drama. I made it my mission to protect them from those things--starting with my shoes. Yes, my shoes. Try to imagine a pair of white nurse-shoes after a 12-hour day in the trenches of ER. The (shall we say) . . . "speckles" they might accumulate? All colors, all textures. None of them cherry Kool Aid or chocolate sauce. So I'd leave my shoes outside the back door when I got home.

My daughter (now 29) does this Seinfeld-esqe shtick about developing a morbid fear of white shoes as a very young child. She remembers being told to "never, ever touch Mommy's work shoes." But not exactly why. Were they hot? Sharp? Would flying monkeys carry her off?

The kid exaggerates. But the fact remains, my work was gritty and real. And my instinct was to protect my family and-- even now--my readers. And maybe . . . myself? Sure. Writing this new fictional medical series makes me re-live a lot of those real shifts in ER. Has me walking in the battle-worn shoes again. Not easy. But necessary, if I'm to take my readers to the heart of the story. The fact is, that after watching TV shows like "Grey's Anatomy", "ER," "House," etc., my readers could probably scrub in on brain surgery without flinching. And would laugh in the face of speckled shoes and flying monkeys.

So I'm not holding back in CRITICAL CARE. Tragedy, triumph, pain, laughter, heartbreak, love, and inspiration . . . you'll get it all. I promise. Of course, now I have to type while wearing my old scrubs. And a surgical mask and gloves. The hours are pretty much the same, but the coffee's way better.

A big shout out to intrepid ER veterans Barbara Jamieson R.N. and Tim Sturgill M.D. for reviewing my new scenes . . . for helping to make fiction "real." And to Tyndale editors Jan and Lorie, for the persistent nudge to write it the way it is.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sunrise Adventures Part One

Okay, this was on my dining room ceiling at dawn this morning. I. Kid. You. Not.

Scurrying over the crown molding and onto the coffered ceiling that I once climbed high on a ladder to faux-paint. Today I climbed on the ladder to . . . get the lizard down.

My plan--hastily put in place after a dozen incredulous squeals--involved a dust pan and swimming pool net. I'd sweep him into the net with the dustpan, or vice versa. Except that he decided (his eyes googling) to jump on my head instead.

Fortunately I'd had my coffee, and dodged effectively. Which meant he was on the floor . . . goin' like a greyhound. Here's how it went: sweep-squeal-net-squeal-sweep . . . open the front door. Sweep-squeal-net . . . back under the table. Head 'em off . . . watch him (my eyes googling) climb onto the net and head toward my arm. Squeal . . . fling net and lizard out the door onto the front porch. Then grimace in guilt and horror, because:

The net bounces off him and lops off his tail. And the lizard scurries off, EXCEPT:

For two inches of tail, that continues to WIGGLE on my porch!

Then, of course, I must take the dust pan and sweep up the wiggling severed tail--all the while talking aloud to it . . . after which I suffer the humiliation of realizing that a lone construction worker on the lot across the street is watching me the whole time. It's entirely possible that his lips were forming the word, "Loco."

So, that was my Sunrise Adventure today. Fortunately I'd already returned from my inspiring walk and had done my meditative bench sitting. Unfortunately, I'd brought my potted chrysanthemums inside the night before to keep them from being eaten by deer. And didn't check for hidden lizards.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE those green lizards. They're so cute. But not on my dining room ceiling. Now that the adventure is over, I regret two things:

First: That I accidentally lopped off that poor little guy's tail. I feel really bad about that.

Second: That I didn't discover him 20 minutes later . . . after he'd changed color to match my faux-painted ceiling. Wouldn't that have been too COOL to see?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Giving Myself the Silent Treatment

I've found that people have different comfort levels when it comes to sound . . . for instance, my husband likes his music (from gospel to reggae) LOUD. Same with the TV. When I start up his car ( forgetting his tolerance for decibels) the radio will hit me like a cannon blast. And( because I try not to be a nag, really) I've discreetly used ear plugs on more than one occasion during football season--"Go Cowboys! Whoo-hoo-hoo! What? Is that ref out-of-his-mind?!"

On the opposite extreme, is my beautiful, bright and athletic daughter, Brooklynn, who craves silence. She's most at peace hiking alone in the high Sierra Mountains--pines, snow-capped vistas, pulse-quickening elevations --to find an outcropping of boulders where she can sit and lift her face heavenward, closing her eyes and listening in profound silence, with a faith-filled heart.

And then (like the Three Bears and the porridge. Cold-warm-hot) there's folks who fit somewhere in the middle. Who'd rather not wear ear plugs, but still require a little background noise at all times, to keep them from experiencing the strange, edgy sense of disconnection that comes with complete silence. Radio down low in another room, "pink noise" to sleep by, humming little comforting tunes to ourselves like Winnie the Pooh did, and . . . did I say "ourselves"? Oops, busted! Yes. I'm one of the uncomfortable with silence people. Which makes my newest endeavor so challenging:

I'm taking part in a 10-week Community of Hope course based on the principles of Benedictine Spirituality. It teaches compassionate listening. Listening to others with "the ear of your heart." And often means sitting in silence, "being there" without saying a word. Training me to function, in effect, as a lay chaplain.

Let me say right up front that my husband (though he loves me dearly) pretty much laughed at the idea of me sitting silently. Ever. Meaning he doubts my ability to listen without completing sentences or interupting to offer a plethora of kind and helpful "fixes." Um . . . he may be right. I'm not sure if it's the mother- thing, the nurse-thing, the writer-thing, or a combination of all three. But this concept of "active listening" is a challenge. Though it's goal, (helping others by becoming a compassionate listener ) is more than worth the intense work, whether I eventually use the skills for community outreach (like hospital and hospice visits, support groups, assisting the homeless) or in offering help to neighbors, friends and family. Having someone available to "just listen," is a true blessing for someone feeling helpless in the throes of emotional distress. And it's a reassuring reminder of the hope and compassion present in a relationship with God.

So I'm trying. To listen without fixing. To be present without doing. To sit in silence without humming like Pooh Bear. I'm taking baby steps. And some of those steps have me rising just before dawn to tiptoeout to my front porch. Where I sit on an East-facing bench and watch the sun rise, salmon pink and lavender and gold. Light out of darkness. Glorious. Quiet. And hopeful.
It clears my head for writing, and it stirs my soul.

I'm learning to listen with the ear of my heart. And, to my surprise, I'm feeling less edgy and more . . . connected. That's an added blessing.

Now where are those ear plugs? Hubby's brandishing the remote, and the Cowboys are playing Cincinnati.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Book Diet

My book's on a diet. Not South Beach, Atkins, Mediterranean, Grapefruit . . . or any of those food-related fads. My book is on the EDIT diet . . . and, strangely, the word "edit" even has the same letters as "diet." Very appropriate, since both dieting and book editing have something in common: getting rid of the excess (pounds, inches, or . . . pesky adverbs) to achieve a healthier and more attractive state of being. Whether that culminates in an appreciative glance (as in "Whoa, lookin' good there--been working out?") or an enthusiastic read ("Wow, I couldn't put this book down--when's the next one coming out?"). Of course in a perfect world we'd combine those two: "Great book, and can you believe that someone that attractive can write like this?" But I'm not greedy, just very grateful that my new publisher, Tyndale House, has assigned me an incredibly talented editor: Lorie Popp.

A few posts back, I mentioned my excitement at having been teamed with Lorie--amid great rushes of goose bumps, since she also edits stellar authors such as Karen Kingsbury and Angela Hunt and Susan May Warren. But now, a few days into the "red-line" stage of editing CRITICAL CARE, I'm even more grateful. She's on a mission to make this book shine, for sure. A large part of that involves whacking away at the "fat" in my manuscript, unnecessary or unclear dialogue, repetitive words, lengthy stretches of narrative, "plucking" my characters' tendency toward eyebrow movements, and re-organizing sentence and paragraph order.

She also must fix punctuation, grammar, and spelling (who knew blond didn't have an "e"? Obviously I don't read my L'Oreal boxes). And catch glitches like . . . when a pet a turtle somehow changes into a goldfish 200 pages later.

But perhaps most amazing is Lorie's ability to make substantive suggestions toward improving the overall story impact. In the case of this particular book, she asks that I show even more of an inside glimpse into the action taking place in the ER--letting my readers "scrub in," so to speak, on life and death drama. One such suggestion prompted me to add an additional scene to the opening of CRITICAL CARE. Trust me, by the time a manuscript first reaches an editor the all important opening pages have been written and re-written upwards of a dozen times. Maybe far more. Blood, sweat, tears, angst . . . coffee rings, pizza splotches . . . type-toss-type-delete-groan-moan . . . you get the picture. We get typing tendonitis. That's why most writers are married to their opening scenes by the time they turn them in to the publisher, and hope to never have to tinker with them again. UNLESS:

The red-line suggestions are brilliant . . . as my editor's absolutely are. The new opening paragraphs of CRITICAL CARE pull the reader into the trauma room as fast as you can start CPR. And set up the subsequent scenes for maximum emotional impact. It's like finding that last cardboard bit to the 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I've never been happier with a diet.

So here's to the blessing of a talented editor, the benefits of diet . . . and the weirdness of that Google image I've posted above. A comb in a plate of spaghetti? Shouldn't that be a fork?

Trust me, my editor would have caught that glitch. Thanks Lorie!

Monday, September 22, 2008

So . . . What do you write?

I flew back from the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Minneapolis last night and am currently experiencing a jumble of emotions. Which has me alternately: hugging hubby over and over (I'm pretty sure he's guessed I missed him), delighted by the comfort of my own pillow, the shape of my favorite coffee mug . . . and also experiencing sad little waves of conference withdrawal. Because, face it, it is a rare and wonderful thing to be in a group of 500-plus people who can talk 24/7 about writing and never get bored. Folks who will discuss semi-colons at the drop of a hat, point-of-view endlessly--people who think that hearing voices in your head is . . . well, normal. People (unlike many neighbors, co-workers and even some family members) who are truly interested in this zany world that is the writing life. It occurred to me, that writers at conference--not unlike hopeful singles in a speed-dating venue--even have our own "pick up line." You'll hear it over and over:

"So . . . what do you write?" Ask it and you'll hear a wide variety of answers. Because though these particular writers have in common a desire to write stories that inspire and uplift, there is a wide variety of sub-genres. Including: Historical (from Medieval to Western to Civil and World Wars), Romance (both contemporary and historical), Suspense, Mystery, Legal thrillers, Lits (chick, hen, Mom), Women's Fiction, Young Adult, Children's, and Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy,supernatural) . . . and more. Trust me, a room full of 500 writers brainstorming ideas is like that scene in Star Wars when the Millenium Falcon makes the leap to hyperspace--hang on!

As an ACFW conference "first-timer," I was blown away by the experience. And though its almost impossible to relate, I did promise to share some highlights. So here are a few:

1) Having a long, leisurely lunch with my agent Natasha Kern. She's an amazing woman.

2) Lunching/chatting with Tyndale editors Karen Watson (who initially read Critical Care back when it was titled The Healer's Heart) and Stephanie Broene--both of whom were fabulous.

3) An array of top-notch workshops with titles like: Survival of the Fittest, No Cookie Cutters!, You Write Like a Girl--handling the male point of view, Multiple Deadlines: Blessing or Bane, Colonel Mustard in the Library, and Let's Talk Dialogue.

4) The opportunity to see several first book contracts awarded by editors to surprised and tearful contest winners--made me cry too!

5) The leadership, humor, and heart of author Brandilyn Collins. And awesome addresses (humorous, touching and inspiring) by keynote speaker and best-selling author Angela Hunt.

6) Gathering with 500 fellow authors for daily Worship--contemporary music and inspiring Personal devotions.

7) The glittery (ala Hollywood red carpet) awards ceremony to announce winners of the Book of the Year, unpublished book of the year (Genesis) Mentor of the Year, Agent of the Year and Editor of the Year. Where I had the opportunity to giggle, laugh and share with authors Leanna Ellis and Julie Lessman, Tamera Alexander--and applaud Mary Conneally's Book of the Year win--all of us clients of Natasha Kern. A family of sorts, for sure.
8) Literary agent Chip MacGregor . . . in a kilt.

But perhaps best of all was the chance to meet new writers, all at different stages of the journey . . . from brand new, to multi-published best selling authors. And to see the encouragement and genuine fellowship warmly shared, regardless of where the writer's feet fell along that path. Hugs, tears, sharing of triumphs, empathy for rejections . . . writers understanding writers. Very cool indeed. Hopeful and excited faces, so many smiles . . . Mary, Deb, Rose, Ginny, Phyllis, Donna, Laurie, Carrie, Elaine, Sarah, Diego, Lynne, Patricia, Gin. And many, many more, from all across the US and Canada. From Hollywood to New York, to rural Midwest farms. Several arriving from the chaos and destruction of Hurricane Ike. Shared passions, shared dreams. Incredible talent, big hearts, good people . . . all asking:

"So, what do you write?"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Writing Life: A Roller Coaster

I wouldn't be the first to describe the writing life (and especially the road to publication) as a roller coaster ride. It can slick your hair back, for sure. In all stages of the journey. As a NEWBIE writer, learning the craft: story structure, formatting, show-don't-tell, battling your vicious and nay-saying Internal Editor. As a writer SEEKING publication: attending conferences, entering contests, querying agents and editors, dealing with the Big R (aaagh . . . Rejection), waiting (always waiting) for The Call (acceptance from an agent and/or editor). Then as a PUBLISHED author: meeting deadlines, doing revisions, marketing and promotion, book tours and signings, speaking events, holding your breath for those early reviews, watching the sales numbers . . . brainstorming the next new project. Up, down, sideways, inside out--a thrill ride at the very least. It has been and still is that way for me.

And now, beginning Chapter Eight (or at the 35% mark, not that I'd actually work that out on a calculator of course) of DISASTER STATUS, I'm dealing with a roller coaster ride within a roller coaster ride. That is, I'm sending my hero and heroine (ER nurse Erin Quinn and fire captain Scott McKenna) off to the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk, where they'll be riding the famous Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. The 6th oldest roller coaster in the country, it offers a spectacular view of Monterey Bay, and has appeared in motion pictures including “Sting II,” “The Lost Boys,” “Dangerous Minds,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Sudden Impact."

Legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen once wrote of the The Giant Dipper:

" . . .the great roller coaster arose amid screams above the golden strand of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk ... a tooth-loosener, eyeball-popper, and one long shriek.”

Don't ya love it? And if if that's not enough to whet your whistle, here's a Virtual Ride on the Giant Dipper. Click on that website's virtual ride photo if you dare. And don't be a sissy-- hold your hands up while you watch. (I've been on this coaster several times . . . this video is spot on!)

It's going to be great fun to write, and--face it--with characters who are up past their eyebrows in trauma, blazes, and a community-wide hazardous material disaster, I can't skimp on the R&R. I'm probably going to throw in some pink popcorn, mustard-slathered corndogs, Marini's salt water taffy . . . and then maybe a romantic walk on the beach under a spectacular sunset. Erin and Scott deserve at least that much, after the paces I've put them through in the first 7 chapters.

Speaking of roller coasters, the writing life, and R&R--Wednesday I'm flying off to Minneapolis to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference. I'm excited!! Not only will I be able to mingle with fellow writers, take part in workshops, lunch with my fabulous agent Natasha Kern, meet two Tyndale editors; I'll also be attending a star-studded booksigning at the Mall of America--which, of course, has its own roller coaster.

I'll be home on Sunday, and promise to share the conference highlights via this blog. And then I'll be back to the keyboard, strapping myself in for a wild ride on the Giant Dipper.

Stop by the office, I'll be easy to spot: the writer with the slicked-back hair and bits of pink popcorn (and the silly smile) on her face.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Soul Food

No, you are not seeing things : those are candy pumpkins and . . . beans and franks. Not exactly what might come to mind when you think of manna from Heaven. And frankly (pardon the pun) not exactly gourmet, optimally nutritious, or even very beautiful . . . unless you like orange on orange. (Which actually I do--but that's another post). So why "soul food?" Good question.

Let me first explain that as a nurse I know a bit about nutrition, and that cooking (like writing) is a joy for me. I realize, given the images above, this is hard to believe. Before you panic and imagine me tossing a handful of candy pumpkins into a batch of beanie weenies and ringing the dinner bell, let me tell you what I fixed for dinner last night when we had friends over for dinner:

1) appetizer: East Indian cheese ball with wonderful ingredients like chutney, peanuts, golden raisins, green onion and coconut

2) Wild Alaskan Salmon (with dill, lime and brown sugar rub) grilled under a glorious sunset

3) corn muffins loaded with bits of roasted Hatch peppers

4) cold fresh asparagus and cherub tomatoes with Balsamic vinegar dressing

5) Melon balls (Tuscan cantaloupe and watermelon) with fresh basil, mint, simple syrup, lemon and amaretto

A wonderful chilled California chardonnay

And for dessert: lemon sorbet with a sugar-sprinkled ginger cookie

Tasty, healthful and pretty on the plate: way more colors than orange.

BUT, it's September, and that means autumn, and . . . stirs all sorts of memories for me. Crisp Northern California afternoons, the scent of woodsmoke and hot apple cider, the crunch of fallen leaves, fat bunches of chrysanthemums, grocery store bins piled high with Indian corn, fancy striped gourds and pumpkins.

Candy pumpkins too:

Brach's mellocreme pumpkins, so sweet they hurt your teeth, ridiculously cute on a gradeschool cupcake. A seasonal surprise from my mother to me, then from me to my children--harbingers of autumn. Along with a primal urge to cook hot dogs and beans. Pork and beans right from can (except for the weird white "pork" thingy--gotta toss it) , mixed with sliced onions, brown sugar, ketchup, dash of mustard, worcestshire . . . and sliced up hot dogs. Cooked in a saucepan til it bubbles. Eaten with a spoon and cornbread.

For some reason it became a tradition to make hot dogs and beans before my kids went trick-or-treating, perhaps as a protein buffer against Tootsie Roll overload. Maybe because it was an easy answer to antsy, eager little Darth Vader and Strawberry Shortcake. But more likely because Mom did that for my brothers, sister and me.

She passed away on September 15th of last year.

So now, as fall approaches (despite the heat and humidity in Texas) I'm thinking about candy pumpkins, hot dogs and beans . . . and the kind of food that does more than fill your plate or your stomach. And I fully expect my grown children (in California) will call before long to report that they've bought their first candy pumpkins, or to say they've had a sudden urge to make hot dogs and beans and can't remember if it's yellow onions or red.

Because the real "food"comes from the sharing and the warmth of the company, the love, the laughter . . . the priceless and achy-good memories.

Whether it was last night with good friends, over a dinner I had fun fussing with all day.

Or decades back when Mom opened those cans of pork and beans for her children, and then I did the same for mine.

For me, a candy pumpkin means : I love you in this new season, I miss you, I remember you . . . It's a sweet reminder that the blessing of love is our real soul food.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Side of Squid with that Coffee?

I'm somewhere between 25 and 30% into the first draft of the second book in my new medical drama series, working title: DISASTER STATUS. Which means that I'm not only busy developing charismatic and intriguing characters, I'm also . . "worldbuilding". That is, I'm creating a fictional setting in which my characters will live, learn, love . . . and grow. This is SO much fun to do! And, for an author, the process also becomes a strange sort of portal . . . almost like C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Lucy hides in the old forgotten wardrobe, pulls aside the musty fur coats . . . and then emerges into a pristine, snow covered woods. In the land of Narnia.

DISASTER STATUS takes place on the Northern California coast, in the small town of Pacific Point, and at Pacific Mercy Hospital. I'm brainstorming scenes that may include wonderful real settings like Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and/or the incredible Monterey Bay Aquarium. But sometimes my characters just start wandering . . . and I must helplessly follow. In fact, this just happened: And now (no wardrobes or fur coats or Narnia involved) I'm standing outside a quirky little beachfront establishment called, "Arlo's Bait & Moor." The proprietors--Arlo and Annie--each had a retirement dream: his to run a bait shop, hers to own a seafront coffee shop. Hence Arlo's "Bait" (squid, sardines, tide tables, fishing hooks) and Annie's "Moor" (fresh brewed coffee, muffins when she's in the mood, holiday themed crochet toilet tissue covers . . . free local gossip). It's half a block from (heroine) nurse Erin Quinn's house, and just above the beach where (hero) fire Captain Scott McKenna regularly trains for the Ocean Rescue Team.

Arlo's Bait & Moor is a well kept secret of the locals . . . and one of the last places to find a supply of safe bottled water when a dangerous pesticide spill creates panic in Pacific Point. It's also where Captain McKenna takes Erin Quinn in an attempt to iron out their differences after they butt heads over handling the city's disaster plan. Here's a couple of snippets leading up to the beginning of that first fateful coffee "date".

(After a town meeting to address the issues surrounding the pesticide spill):

As Erin Quinn strode toward him, Scott reached up to gingerly touch his shoulder--not the injury from his ocean skirmish, but the site where she’d given that tetanus shot--it ached like a son of a gun. And, after tonight’s meeting, he sensed his discomfort had barely begun; this redheaded nurse could become a royal pain in the . . . Scott’s throat constricted. Ah, blast it. Does she have to be so beautiful?

Tall and lean and dressed in jeans, with a sea-green sweater knotted casually around the shoulders of a simple white shirt, Erin Quinn looked fresh and wholesome. Like one of those women on the cover of a healthy living magazine. Or maybe a young mother headed to a PTA meeting. With all that shiny hair lifted into a ponytail, a faint flush high on her cheeks, and the barest trace of freckles. As she drew closer, her brows scrunched together . . . eyes narrowed . . . and . . . uh oh. Not PTA. And definitely not good for his health. But too late now.

“So,” she said, arriving to where he stood beside the table of County brochures, “exactly how irked are you that I added my two cents to your meeting?” Erin raised her gaze to his and then, to Scott’s relief, offered a slow, rueful smile. “On a scale of one to ten? Be honest.”

Scott exhaled softly. “Ten being . . . how I’d react if you’d actually mentioned the Twin Towers and then called me an insensitive clod?”

And later, after he impulsively invites her for coffee:

Erin’s brows raised. “We’re going to the bait shop?”

Blast it. Scott’s face warmed as he realized what a fool he was. He’d invited the most beautiful woman he’d ever met, to a place that sold live sardines.

Trust me, things only get more complicated.

Back to the keyboard.

Oh, and if you call me and get the answering machine . . . or if I'm slow getting back to you on that e-mail, look for me at Arlo's Bait & Moor. I'm getting "hooked" on that coffee.

Writers: What's your favorite kind of fictional world to "build'?
Readers: How important is setting to your enjoyment of a book?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Purple Bowling Ball?

It seems like there are two types of personalities when it comes to accumulating "stuff"--Pack Rats and Clutter Busters. We all know both types . . . we may fall into either category, or rest rationally somewhere in the middle (smiling smugly beside Mary Poppins, and murmuring "practically perfect in every way.") And we all know the signs. Pack Rats save their clothes from the 70's (and the Disco ball if they were able to snag it), every college notebook they ever wrote (or doodled) in, unopened boxes of Ronco sweater-defuzzing devices, old hamster cages, keys to gym lockers in other states, whoopee cushions . . . you get the picture. And, when they reach a certain age, this saving compulsion is likely to extend to margarine containers, old newspapers, and countless packets of soy sauce.

And then there are the Clutter Busters, extreme version: These folks have the opposite compulsion, and in their haste to keep things simple and organized they pitch the instructions to a brand new electronic gadget (if not pieces of the gadget itself), throw out the key to the safety deposit box ("didn't look familiar"), dig up the marigolds when they get overcrowded, check the expiration dates on packages of beef jerky, and itch to "thin" their spouse's closet.

I was born to a Clutter Buster mother and a Pack Rat father. After they divorced, each indivually honed their skills. Mom threw everything away (I'm lucky to be here at all) and Dad had entire rooms prone to avalanche. Fortunately (though I'm no Mary Poppins) my tendencies fall somewhere in the middle . . . leaning more toward the clutter busting side (aside from truly sentimental items or heirlooms). I pride myself in never having thrown out hubby's Disco shirt (oops, did I say that?) . . . and understanding his need to lug a 1960's purple bowling ball from California to Texas. And, on more than one occasion I've let slabs of cheese get "fuzzy" in the fridge. By my calculation, these acts save me from being a certifiable as a Clutter Buster. But, boy howdy, do the local thrift stores love me--cause I'm thrilled with an excuse to clear things out and donate! I've just spent a Saturday doing exactly that and have several boxes of stuff ready to go. But apparently I have my own purple bowling balls. Here are a few (admittedly inexplicible and strange) things that I can't seem to part with:

1) A full-size mock up of a wedding cake, fully frosted and decorated with a skull and crossbones and miniature firefighter groom topper. (A prop for one of my mystery book signings)

2) An old card from a friend (sent after my tsunami of personal disasters). It says:
"The barn burned down . . . now I can see the moon." I still choke up when I read it.

3) A black leather vest loaned to me by a rock musician . . . too awkward to return, too historically significant to toss. Out of the question to wear. A true conundrum.

4) A cherry cigar--unopened. Another prop from my mystery writing days. The character who smoked them still hangs out in my office on occasion. (Yes, writers are weird.)

The church garage sale is going to be happy with my clutter busting . . . and relieved not to deal with purple bowling balls. My hubby's or my own.

So how about you . . . Pack Rat or Clutter Buster? And . . . what's your purple bowling ball?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pot Holes and Speed Bumps: Life

This past year I've carved a few hours out of my Monday mornings each week to attend a women's Bible study. And though hubby and I had been attending (and in fact, were recently Confirmed) at our sponsoring church, I was initially a bit nervous. Frankly, I'd never done a Bible study before and --because I'm one of those eager-to-please students--worried that I would be starting WAY behind the curve. Kind of like when I joined the Oregon Audubon Society and didn't know a Black Capped Chickadee . . . from my binocular case.

So, because I'm not only eager and conscientious but painfully honest, I whispered to the Bible Study leader that though I'd owned my Bible for years (and dusted it regularly). . . I didn't know how to find anything in it. I expected an arched brow, but got my first blessing instead, when she smiled and whispered back: "No problem. There's a Table of Contents in the front. I'm so happy you're joining us." That was the first part of January and now it's the end of August. Seven months and three studies later, Monday mornings are a high point of my week. A great group of women from several denominations-- new mothers to local businesswomen, to an energetic woman in her 70's--friendship, laughter, shared insights and experiences . . . and our back-to-back Beth Moore (an "electric speaker" "known for presenting the Scripture in living color"--and with laugh-out-loud humor) Bible studies. Right now we're finishing up a study called, "Believing God," and part of our homework involves fashioning a Life Timeline.

It's purpose is to allow a student to review her life, both highs and lows, discern pivotal moments that may have contributed to the growth of her spirituality . . . especially (in hindsight) to note evidence of God's intervention, even if it wasn't the least bit obvious at the time. The project has been challenging from the get go--actually, from the moment I started, since I didn't follow the directions (and diagram) correctly and taped my three sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper together horizontally instead of vertically, which made it REALLY WIDE. Apparently I plan to live longer than Methuselah.

But when I finally got it taped together right, and started diagramming my life into FIFTHS as instructed (in my case, 0-11, 11-22, etc.) and starting noting pivotal events . . . WHOA, I was astounded. For instance, I had to make little icons for to denote things like:

FIRE (that burned my childhood home) FLOOD (sweeping my ranch house) DIVORCE (both my parents and then--quite unexpectedly--my own at age 45), BIRTHS (my two children, our grandchildren, nieces, nephews . . . and a foal I delivered with my own hands) ACCIDENT THAT BROKE MY NECK (and inspired my writing career), moves (California x5, Oregon, Texas), SECOND (equally unexpected) WEDDING, CAREERS (nursing, writing) DEATHS (including both of my parents last year) . . . and amazingly great new stuff, too. Like SKYDIVING (uh, yes, unexpected too. Really.), SWIMMING WITH STINGRAYS, RIDING A CAMEL AT THE PYRAMIDS, second HONEYMOON in VENICE . . . culminating with my new book contract . . . to write a medical drama series for Tyndale House Publishers. Tough spots, miracles . . . pot holes and speed bumps. We all have them.

So . . . Fire, flood . . . what's next, locusts? I'm hoping that South Texas stinging ants, centipedes and scorpions count. But regardless, the life timeline has convinced me . . . I haven't been in this alone. Ever. And I have every reason to count my blessings.

One of which occurs regularly . . . every Monday morning.