Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Heart Deep

Today I re-newed my California State Nursing License--online. Didn't realize I could do it that way, until I read the small print. So . . . click, 85-dollar Cha-Ching, and I'm good to go for another 2 years. "Inactive" status, of course, because I now live in Texas and haven't actively practiced in the past four years. Ever since I traded my stethoscope and scrubs for a computer keyboard and . . . um . . . jammies? Hey, cut me some slack--sometimes I start writing at 5:30 AM, that's before hospital day shift even starts! Some folks might (legitimately) ask, "So why re-new your license if you don't live in California, and you aren't actively employed as a nurse? Why not just let it go? Save yourself 85 bucks?" Good question. And my answer would be something like . . . "Because I AM a nurse." And I'd probably stretch a little taller, square my shoulders, lift my chin, blink a few times--and smile. Yeah, man, I AM a nurse. Heart-deep.

It's hard to remember a time when I wasn't a nurse. I mean, I was a nurse before I was a wife, a nurse before I was a mother, a nurse before I was a blonde . . . whoops. Anyway, lots of memories, lots of years joggin' down those ER corridors, climbin' into the back of ambulances, pressing a stethoscope to patients' chests. In honor of that, here are a few random tidbits from Nurse Candy:

Favorite scrubs: Home-sewn chili-pepper print vs. Iguana print. So hard to choose . . .

Surprise gift from a patient: Naming their baby "Candy."

Memorable cases: family of seven upchucking venison stew into vintage Tupperware vs. Snakebite Victim . . . who brought the live snake to the ER in a box. (Let's make Mikey do it.)

Most memorable case: Me, as a patient in my own ER. After the equestrian accident that launched me into the dirt, broke more than a few bones (including my neck), changed my life--and restored my faith. (The subject of my first published work: "By Accident," an inspirational essay in NYT bestselling Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul).

Best line from child patient (pointing at my hard-earned nurse's cap) "Why do you wear that pirate hat, lady?"

Shifts worked: All. Day, PM, Nights . . . 12 hour shifts, double shifts (16 hours), overtime shifts, shifts with no sleep, waddling shifts while 8 months pregnant, shifts hobbling on broken toes, and (far more painful) all those shifts struggling with a broken heart and a failing spirit.

Holidays worked: All. New Years, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving . . . and everything in between. (Pass the re-heated hospital cafeteria turkey roll STAT)

Memorable on the job sport: "Basin Ball"--played like badminton, with nurses batting emesis basins at a surgical glove balloon. (Enjoyed best when sleep deprived. )

Best prank on an ER doc: When all the female staff had glittery tee-shirts stenciled with the logo "Norm's Angels" (after Charlie's Angels) and wore them to work on his shift.

Memorable High and Low: Discovering the diamond missing from my engagement ring at the end of a grueling shift--then having it found by a respiratory therapist passing through the department. (Baked him a "Carat Cake" the next day)

Biggest Myth: That nurses protect their hearts by keeping "professional distance." Bunch of hooey--we cry, we bleed (sometimes literally if we don't dodge a bite or a right hook), we CARE. Bet your LIFE on it.

Because nurses are nurses, heart-deep.

And even though I'm "Inactive," as far as my California Nursing License is concerned, you can betcha I'm still actively reaching out to touch lives via my writing. Especially with my new "Shift in Faith" medical drama series for Tyndale House. It's such a great opportunity to give readers an "inside" glimpse into the world of medicine--and a way to honor my fellow nurses still out there in the "trenches."

Which reminds me that the nurse in the image above looks a lot like my heroine Claire Avery in The Healer's Heart--right down to the pink scrubs. It's been great fun creating her character, using the ups and downs of my long career to make her come "alive" on the pages. Trust me, she knows grueling shifts and challenges. I didn't cut her any slack.

But she did find her happy ending. And I'm guessing that a couple of decades from now--whether Claire's still practicing her career or not--she'll still be a nurse, heart-deep. It's far more than the stethoscope around our necks.

So, if I dig out my iguana scrubs . . . anyone up for a little Basin Ball? Your serve.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The To Do List

How do you like my new business card? It was designed by Kelley Cowan of Iconix and I LOVE the way she added the little apothecary logo for my tagline: RX: Charisma & Contagious Hope. She's done several projects for me in the past (like bookmarks with my cover images), and totally rocks. Iconix is fast, has very economical pricing, and great personal service. I highly recommend them. And having these cards completed is one more task I can check off. Which is so very satisfying, since, well, okay . .

I'll Confess: I'm a List Person. I love lists--making them (always in pencil) and checking items off one-by-one. In truth, I've made lists OF my lists. Grocery lists, gift lists, party planning lists, travel packing lists. My daughter in law (Dr. Wendy) gets the biggest kick out of checking my party lists (on a dry-erase board in my kitchen, red felt tip pen itemizing the entire food prep minutiae, right down to oven temp settings and assigned serving pieces). Sure I make lists because I don't want to forget things, but a large part of my "Listing" likely has to do with a sense of accomplishment and goals met. I'm a planner. I guess it helps me feel secure. Maybe a shrink would say it gives me a sense of control. Maybe that same shrink would try to make some analogy between my less than storybook childhood and a need to control chaos, even extrapolating that into my choice of career--Emergency Department Nurse. Talk about your chaos! But, hey, we're not talkin' psycho babble here, we're talkin' lists. And the point is, that along with the Writing Life, comes a great new opportunity for new lists! So, approximately one year from the launch of THE HEALER'S HEART, here's what's on the To Do list posted above my computer:

Contact RN Magazine (offer interview)

Contact Disaster Preparedness Nurse Methodist Hospital --DONE--

Contact International Critical Incident Stress Foundation--DONE--

Announce Tyndale Contract on "OverBoard" Blog --DONE--

Send out newsletter to readers announce new genre--DONE--

Finish judging the RWA RITA contest--DONE--

Finish first draft of The Healer's Heart--DONE--

Write Dear Reader Letter

Get New Domain for new website--DONE--

Get new author photo--DONE--

Have business cards made--DONE-- (see above!)

Have bookmarks made when bookcover image available

Register for American Christian Fiction Writers Conference Minneapolis

Make new Blog (RX:Charisma)--DONE--

Make lists of review sites--DONE--

Make lists of promotional venues--DONE--

Think of "branding" ideas--DONE--

Have "Faith QD" logo designed--DONE--

Make contacts for author quotes

Talk with LifeWay regarding booksigning op

Plan book launch party

So, as you can see--I'm getting things "DONE". And, because this isn't my first book series, I know VERY well how fast an author has to "tapdance" to keep up with momentum once things get rolling. My first mystery was released several months ahead of schedule and I felt like the mother of a "preemie"--no Pampers and the crib was still unassembled!

It is by no coincidence that nurse Claire Avery, the heroine of THE HEALER'S HEART, is a "List Person"--actually, an Excel Spreadsheet Person, who has planned her new career path with precision. All designed to avoid facing a painful past and to completely avoid future hurt. She's got it all figured out and (she emphatically insists) has "done all the legwork" and left God to "simply give her plans his stamp of approval." Heh heh. Of course, it doesn't work out that way and brings her a truckload of angst, frustration and doubt--trust me. And that's because God has a far better plan for her future." Along with hope, healing--and a love that was nowhere in her plans.

As List Person and author, I loved creating this conflict for my heroine.

And as a woman of faith, I loved sharing the comfort that comes with learning (despite our checklists, spreadsheets and red ink) to "let go and let God"--let him handle the big stuff. It's his job.

Works for me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Caution: Author Digging

You may notice that I'm posting late today--that's because I spent the greater part of my morning . . . digging. Dirt. With a shovel and (because we're in a drought and our Texas soil is sunbaked) a good sized pick axe. So that I could plant four new shrubs under the oaks at the front of our house, white salvia, and a couple of purple Mexican Sage, both with blooms that attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. I started with a pre-breakfast trip to the Home Depot garden department, then ate my oatmeal quickly, pulled on some grubby clothes and my sunhat, slathered on the SPF 50, and headed outside. Trust me, between the humidity and the pick-axe swinging, I got my heart-rate zipping along as well as I do at the YMCA. Southern Woman Glow. Lift-chop-shovel, lift-chop-shovel. Fill the hole with water from the hose, suck down some iced green tea, then lift-chop-shovel some more. Digging holes in our rocky, sun-parched soil big enough to comfortably accomodate those tender shrub roots. And all the while imagining hummingbirds and butterflies and a beautiful morning view from my office window, or a slice of late afternoon leisure sitting beside hubby on our shady front porch. And because I'm a writer, I was also thinking about my work on THE HEALER'S HEART. It struck me--somewhere between the woozy humidity and the resounding thunk of the pick axe--that writing this book has required some digging as well.

Meaning that I found myself digging down deep to make the characters' conflicts seem human and real. And universal enough that a reader would feel the tug of "Oh, yeah, I have SO been there myself." And how exactly does an author do that? By putting some of herself into that character; it's the only way. In effect, then, I have walked in the shoes of all of my characters to some respect. Nurse Sarah Burke, desperate and self-destructive after a painful loss; Claire Avery crippled by doubts of her competence after a horrific trauma, Dr. Logan Caldwell pushing people away,viewing emotion as "weakness," nurse Erin Quinn afraid she'll never trust anyone with her heart. Each of them, in addition, struggles with issues of faith, wanting the peace that comes with knowing they don't face life's challenges alone. I know I've been there--and don't know many folks who haven't at one point or another.

So, yeah, epiphany from one grungy, shovel toting author: Creating human and believable characters is a lot like planting shrubs--you have to dig down deep, bare a few roots. Nuture them along . . . let them grow and blossom.
And, hopefully, they'll attract . . . readers, just like my salvia and sage draw hummingbirds and butterflies.

Note: I have no garden analogy for the activity of that amazing green chameleon watching me work today--tipping his head, climbing to ever higher vantage points, watching my every move. Almost as if it were his assignment to oversee that I dug deeply enough, tossed out all the weeds, avoided rocks, spaced the plantings correctly, and . . . wait.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Snip, Tweak--Pass the Shears

I'm at my very favorite part of the writing process: Revising the work. In this case, a first revision (or "polish") by the author herself: Moi. A second revision--likely more extensive--will be suggested by my new Tyndale editor after I turn in this manuscript. But for right now, I'm having the fun task of re-reading THE HEALER'S HEART page by page as if I hadn't seen it a zillion times before (At dawn in my jammies, in the middle of the night when a plot point called to me, on my laptop in airports, in my dreams . . . and nightmares. Ah, the angst!).
I'm reading it through to see the story flow and the characters come to life. To laugh, get teary-eyed, feel a rush of goosebumps, a pitter patter of my heart, a prickle of suspense . . . and, finally, a satisfying lift of my spirit when the adventure ends. Everything that I want my readers to experience when they turn the pages of THE HEALER'S HEART next summer. And I'm also . . . getting out those pruning shears!
During a first revision, an author not only looks for the things I've mentioned before (eyebrows with lives of their own, "crutch words," consistency in character dialogue), but she must also prune the story so to speak. Cut passages that do little to move the plot forward, snip away wording that might confuse the reader, simplify, focus and--most importantly--be sure that the rule of "Show don't Tell" is followed throughout the work. Meaning that the scenes are shaped by action and dialogue that prove the emotion and conflict, not by long paragraphs that explain why people are doing things.
For instance in the first pages, Dr. Logan Caldwell jogs to the ER ambulance bay, scowling--stethoscope swinging across his chest-- shoves a reporter aside and shouts, "Where are those extra nurses? Call the night shift in early--a double shift's not going to kill anyone. We're working a disaster here!"
(And when nurse Claire Avery thinks, "the man looks like he eats chaos for breakfast," we understand why)
What if, instead, I simply wrote: "Dr. Logan Caldwell hurried to the ambulance entrance, angry because a reporter had arrived and because a disaster had happened and the ER was short staffed." See what I'm saying? Show, don't tell.
And, of course, I'm checking the entire story to be sure that in each scene (approx. 4 per chapter) has a goal. If it doesn't, and therefore doesn't move the story forward (as fast as Dr. Caldwell jogs through the ER) then it gets snipped out. No matter how cleverly I think I may have worded it! Snip, tweak, polish. I re-read the manuscript, making penciled notes. Then review the input my very talented critique partner, Nancy, has given me. And I will likely pencil in those changes as well. Then I'll sit down at the computer and make the changes.
After that, comes a "rest period," where I let the manuscript sit for awhile. So that I can re-read it once again, with fresh eyes. And make any additional changes before I send it off to my editor.
While she's reading it (and making a list of more revisions), I'll be working on the second book in The Shift in Faith Series.
So that's the task at hand. Pass me those pruning shears, wouldya? Do you think this third scene in Chapter Seven . . . looks more like a giraffe or an elephant?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The . . . um . . . END!

(edit 5/16: I've apparently lost my image link into cyberspace and can't retrieve it--please imagine a fanciful lineup of animals--zebra, pig, gorilla, duck, etc. Now, imagine that in a silly posterior view. Ah, there, now you've got it. Read on--)

I absolutely couldn't resist this image. Plus, it was far more upbeat (if not somewhat more snarky) than the Google clips of deadpan people holding picket signs announcing the end of the world. Doesn't work for me. My tagline, after all, is "RX: Charisma & Contagious Hope." Yes, I am the sort of irritating person who wakes up happy. So these animals are a far cheerier representation of "The End." And, face it, I've been an ER nurse and novelist: zoo atmosphere abounds on both counts! Hence, very familiar territory.

But, I digress. The fact is: I'VE JUST FINISHED THE HEALER'S HEART! Can we hear a big WAHOO, please? Thank you. You guys are great! Now, do you want some stats? Kind of like, you know, birth figures? Height, weight, hours in labor, Apgar score--number of stretch marks? I'm joking of course, but finishing a book is indeed a lot like bringing a baby into the world. Because, as the author, I had to grow and nurture both the characters and the plot, holding them near to my heart, protecting them from The Evil Internal Editor (myself on my less than confident days), carefully feeding the progress (this book prefers sushi and cold pizza) along the way . . . until the day it's complete. Which is today, May 14th 2008.

So, stats. Book length: Twenty chapters plus epilogue--some 85,000 plus words.
And, (without baring any physical proof) I did have a few stretch marks. Because (though I've written five others) this was my first inspirational novel, and I had to dig far deeper--stretch--to learn about the motivation of these particular characters, discover their hopes, dreams, fears . . . their struggles in love . . . and with FAITH. Heady stuff, and very rewarding. I LOVED it! I hope you do too. I can't wait for you to read it. Mark your calendar for June of '09.

So, yes, I've completed the first draft of the first book in my SHIFT IN FAITH medical drama series. A book that nudges "Grey's Anatomy" to "find its soul" (and IMO it has needed to for quite awhile). It feels great. And (though I still have to re-read, and "polish" the manuscript) this author's mind is already spinning onto the sequel--working title "Heart's Hazard,"-- which takes me to the California coast. Sun, sand, and ocean breezes. I'm thinking this book will need clam chowder and sourdough bread for sustenance!

Meanwhile--please join me in the I-just-finished-the-book HAPPY DANCE! (Pay no attention to the zebra twirling that pig. They always make fools of themselves).


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Fast Forward

Today is Mother's Day and, because my kids are long-distance, it was relatively low key around here--church, some perfect-weather gardening, a few home projects . . . and an impromtou visit to Babies R Us. I was hooked from the second I walked in. All those cute little outfits, rows of high chairs, fleecy blankets, bins of pacifiers and teething rings . . . ah, a flashback to baby powder and the never-ending fatigue of new motherhood. It seems like only yesterday my "kids" were in bibs and diapers, not 30 years! So why did I spend part of Mother's Day in a baby store?

Because Vin is coming to visit. Not Vincent, or Vinny . . . Vin. Our first grandson. That blue-eyed cherub in the photo above. One of my four blessings for marrying . . . a Grandpa. Gotta love our God of second chances--who adds dollops of frosting!

I'll never forget the first time the implication of impending grandmotherhood struck me. Hubby and I were newly engaged, and I was helping him entertain his little grandaughter at Christmas, a toddler in velvet dress and white tights. It was the end of a wonderful evening and people were saying their goodbyes. I overheard this sleepy child ask Grandpa, "Where's Grandma?" and assumed she meant her great-grandmother. Much to my fiance's (rascally) glee, he informed me that she was looking for ME. Apparently, in a 2-years old's mind, the woman who bakes cookies and hangs out with Grandpa has to be Grandma! Makes perfect sense . . . and knocked me flat. Trust me, I got teased endlessly for months. And started slathering on a lot more face cream. Next week is our wedding anniversary, and it will be 9 years since I officially assumed that Grandma title. Just over a year ago (on Elvis' birthday) Vin joined the grandkid crew. We couldn't be more delighted. In this unbiased grandmother's eyes, he is beyond precious.

So, since the little guy's coming for his first visit to Texas in a couple of weeks, hubby and I got to spend part of Mother's Day buying a portable crib. And bumper pads, and sheets . . . and a darling comforter appliqued with zoo animals, and . . . The store clerks saw us coming, absolutely.

This was my first Mother's Day without my own mother--she passed away last fall. I spent a lot of time thinking about her, remembering so many wonderful times. Along with a warm collage of memories of mothering my own two children. I loved ending the day by coming home with a crib in our car. It felt like a natural progression.
And speaking of progress, I finished the last full chapter in The Healer's Heart. Only a couple of more pages for an Epilogue and the first draft is complete. Ah, what a great feeling.

Now to write . . . a list. Toys and books, and . . . look out, Grandma's on a mission.

Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Eyebrow Thing

Though I still have a few more pages on the original draft of THE HEALER'S HEART, my thoughts are already turning to the next step in this book writing process: "polishing." This is one of my FAVORITE things to do. Printing out a copy, grabbing a cup of tea (or tumbler of iced-tea, depending on the season) and cozying up to re-read the entire manuscript from Chapter One to Chapter Twenty (and Epilogue in this case). Much of the time I'll read it aloud, to get a sense of the flow of both narration and dialogue. Because it's important that characters sound (and act) distinct from one another.

For instance, their individual reactions to stress and irritation: Logan Caldwell might think, "Blast it!", Erin Quinn--our feisty redhead--will likely groan, "Aagh!", heroine Claire Avery will simply lace up her Nikes and hit the nearest running trail . . . while nurse Sarah Burke dives into extra shifts, powered completely by Diet Coke and M&M's. Each different. Consistently different. Claire won't mutter, "aagh" and Logan won't start popping M&M's . . . see what I mean? That's why part of "polishing" is to use the very nifty "Search and Replace" function in my word processing program. I can search a 300 page manuscript for the word "aagh" in mere seconds. Make sure it's only Erin who says that. But it's not the only search I perform. I also search . . . ahem . . . EYEBROWS.

Because body language is important (you can't have your characters stiff as mannequins while they talk) certain amounts of smiling, chuckling, crossing of arms . . . and raising of eyebrows must occur. Problem is, that I seem to have an eyebrow . . . thing. In the course of 20 chapters ( 80-plus scenes of angst, fear, fury, joy) my characters' eyebrows will alternately, "raise," "lift," "arch" "scrunch," and "draw together," in displays of emotion. You probably do that yourselves, with your own brows, right? Thank you. But then, the problem remains that TOO MANY brow gymnastics can get weird. Become, well . . . Groucho Marx. At some point, there is the risk that all dialogue ceases and the book's characters simply stand around mutely wiggling their eyebrows and grimacing . . . don't laugh, I have nightmares about this.

So I search eyebrows and--pardon the pun--pluck them out of my manuscript here and there. It's part of my process. And then I move on to searching my "crutch words," meaning much over-used words like, "just," "actually," "so," "that," "softly," "gently," . . . every writer has his problem words to erase, trust me.

So, actually, over the next few weeks, I'll just be reading The Healer's Heart softly aloud, and gently plucking dozens of scrunching eyebrows and crutch words, so that my new editor won't cringe.

Oops, sorry for that author brow raise--life of their own.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Aw, Mom . . .

It's a mother's job to humiliate her children--you know the drill:

1)The ol' spitting on a Kleenex and wiping their faces in public trick
2)Doing the Chicken Dance to the radio while driving the carpool
3)Making your kid stop and eat a banana in the middle of an equestrian competition (hey--potassium, heatstroke?)
4)Dressing up as Wonder Woman for the preschool SuperHero party
5)Writing mushy/funny notes on their sack lunch napkins
6)Theme party, after theme party, after theme party . . .

And all those embarrassing photo requests of course. Camera-happy Mom and camera shy kids. "Give me a break, Ma"--and they thought my moving to Texas would accomplish that. Like I don't have a new digital Nikon and . . . Southwest reward miles! Can you say cheese?
So here's a couple of coerced photos from our recent trip to California--my favorite being the grocery store snapshot, where I completely mortified my girls by whipping out my camera and asking the Produce Woman to capture the moment! Made perfect sense to me; it's not every day I get to go Mom and Daughter grocery shopping. It was great fun, and a perfect day. Hubby and I had planned to take them all out to dinner, but the kids suggested cooking a meal together so we could all "hang out" longer . . . and it was (as the commercial says): Priceless. Fresh tomato and basil bruschetta, grilled chicken, corn on the cob, chocolate champagne cake--and lots of laughter and hugs!

We had a fabulous visit, and are now back in Texas. And tomorrow I'll be back to work, finishing the last few pages of The Healer's Heart. Speaking of that--when I saw my son, I realized for the first time that he looks a LOT like the hero in this new book, Dr. Logan Caldwell. Dark curls, blue eyes, wide shoulders, great smile . . . I guess it shouldn't surprise me since my firstborn IS the hero type. Of course, I told him that. Which apparently is as embarrassing as . . . Chicken Dancing in the carpool.

A mother's work is never done!