Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wildcat Freshman

I have received word that I am now officially a WILDCAT!

What . . . ? Em . . . no, that does not have anything to do with my last post about my driving mishap (But thank you for your concern). By WILDCAT, I'm referring to the sports team of Weber State University. Wait . . . now it sounds like I've been recruited to play football. Scratch all that and let me start over:

I've enrolled in a course at Weber State University in Ogden Utah. The welcome letter called me a Freshman. Which made me double over laughing, since: a) it's been a whole lotta years since I was a freshman anywhere, and b) I plan to attend my class in . . . my jammies. Since it's ONLINE. If I can manage to navigate the cyber classroom that is. That remains to be seen, but I am excited! Because the class I'm taking will be a big help to my writing research. It's called: "Critical Incident Stress Management." A refresher for the extended course I took a few years back for certification as a Peer Counselor for Critical Incident Stress. The course description, sounds like this:

"An initial pilot course provides an ongoing update in the fields of critical incident response, crisis intervention, and disaster mental health. These fields are in constant flux, evolving with every major disaster. Every week the headlines reflect terrorism, natural disasters, and fears of pandemics. New information comes out regularly. It is, therefore, necessary to keep those who must meet these challenges abreast of important changes as they occur. These updates can be an important medium to provide access to the latest trends, theories, and practices."

Frankly, it gives me goosebumps. Because my Shift in Faith medical drama series for Tyndale House is based upon such pulse-pounding occurances . . . and the lives of the heroic rescuers who throw themselves heartfirst into the action. The Healer's Heart begins in the aftermath of a propane explosion at a local daycare, and I'm already scrubbed in on the opening disaster of Heart's Hazard: a widespread toxic chemical exposure in a small, coastal town.

In addition to the online course, I've also re-newed my membership in the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation--an amazing organization whose mission is to "mitigate critical incident stress and assist all of those affected by work related stress, disasters, and other traumatic events."

Okay, I realize this all sounds a little heavy. But don't worry: my biggest personal stress right now . . . is how I'm going to see the cyber blackboard through the slits of the very cool paper mache mask featured in the image above. Frankly, it pinched a bit while I was prancing around my dorm room.


Monday, June 23, 2008

A GodStop

Umm . . . I got a speeding ticket today. Only the second-ever ticket in my 37 years of driving. I mention that record, hoping it shows I'm not habitually prone to rubber-burning Dukes of Hazzard car stunts. In fact, I tend to be a real "rules," person--check my pillows: every one has its "do not remove under penalty of law" tag. And, heaven knows, as an ER nurse I saw WAY too many tragic results from traffic accidents.

But then, I did deserve this speeding ticket. Evidenced by the fact that when I spotted the city police car parked along the freeway access road, I immediately felt that gut-level "uh oh" feeling. Followed by the discreet braking symptom, and then the hopeful bargaining self-talk symptom ( "that nice young officer's pulling out behind you just to be sure you're driving safely . . . because you remind him of his wonderful and saintly mother . . . ) combined with the one eyeball on the rearview mirror symptom, which all slid right into . . . the flashing blue light Moment of Truth. Busted!

The officer began by politely asking,"Do you have a reason for exceeding the speed limit?"

"No, sir," I responded. And quickly added, "And I'm glad you're doing this--people drive too fast around here." Except that I never quite believed I was one of those "people." Now I have proof in writing.

As the officer handed me back my license (along with the ticket), he said, "Have a safe day."

So, I slunk slowly home--very slowly--and confessed to hubby that I'd just received a traffic citation while speeding home from . . . Bible study. Seriously.

But as I reviewed my options: pay the (BIG) fine, appear in court and contest the ticket (except that I was guilty and I don't lie), or attend traffic school . . . suddenly the bigger truth strikes me. And it was right there, all along, in the officer's departing statement, "Have a safe day." The truth: I was speeding, and instead of getting into an accident where I could have injured somebody, I got a ticket. And, undoubtedly, a lesson I'll remember. A reminder to be safe--to keep other people safe. To be responsible. I'm choosing to consider that a good thing. Even a blessing.

Which makes me sound like that famous young actress who recently( and effusively) thanked the police for arresting her during a drug buy. Insisting they did her a huge favor by keeping her from falling back into a terrible lifestyle. People everywhere (including me, admittedly) thought it was a pretty clever way of "handling things" and "looking good" in a bad situation.

But now, ticket in hand, I'm re-thinking my reaction to her uncharacteristic response. Maybe she did mean that. Maybe she is grateful. Maybe she thought long and hard about what the alternatives could have been. And learned something that will keep her (and her loved ones) safer and more secure.

At Bible study class we're doing Beth Moore's "Believing God". Part of the daily homework is to take a moment at the end of the day and note where you may have seen God working in your life that day. Basically, count your blessings. She calls it a "GodStop." So far I've noted things like finding inspiration during my writing on a particular day, seeing the awesome
Painted Buntings at our backyard feeder, and a recent afternoon of langor spent canoe-ing with my husband on the tranquil, green Guadalupe River.

Today I'm signing up for Traffic School and preparing to pay a hefty fine for my error.

But tonight . . . I'll be listing that speeding ticket as a God Stop. A reminder to slow down, be safe . . . and, always, count my blessings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ding Ding . . . Chapter One

I don't know why, but I love the idea of a woman owning boxing gloves--red ones. The readers of my comic mystery series are SO not surprised by this, of course. Because my heroine in those books, nurse Darcy Cavanaugh, was known to lace up a pair of boxing gloves now and then. Not that she wasn't equally drawn to sparkly shoes and dainty handbags . . . but once in awhile she needed to just punch something. I'm guessing we've all felt that way at times.

I've never owned boxing gloves. Never tried them on. Or even taken a whack at a punching bag. Not that I haven't tackled a few hair-raising sports: sky diving, swimming with stingrays, jumping horses. And as far as martial arts go . . . I have done Tai Chi. Of course that involved a wooden sword and . . . a cute red fan. But boxing, no. And my hubby will attest to the fact that I cannot abide boxing matches on TV--I'd rather watch those foolish people on Fear Factor eat cockroaches. So then, why would I put my fictional heroine in boxing gloves? To give her an outlet, I suppose. An outward--red leather--show of strength, when inside . . . she's feeling a lot like room temperature Jello. Ever been there?

So I'm starting the second book in The Shift in Faith medical drama series. It's tentatively titled, HEART'S HAZARD, and takes place in a fictional oceanside town called Pacific Point. Sand, surf, ocean breezes . . . and a hazardous waste spill that turns this sleepy little town upside down. Nurse Erin Quinn thinks she's escaping the turmoil in her life by moving to Pacific Point, but she's about to wade hip deep into conflict that will change her life. Good thing she's bringing her boxing gloves. She'll need them . . . until she discovers where her real strength lies.

Ding ding . . . round one. Oops, I meant Chapter One.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kissing Them Goodbye

Today I sent THE HEALER'S HEART off to my Tyndale editor, and I only let my cursor hover over the "Send" button . . . for ten minutes or so. After opening the attached document about 3 times to check that the formatting hadn't mysteriously morphed into Klingon in Wingding font. Seriously, I think about these things. Because, for an author, submitting a completed manuscript to your editor (especially for the first time) is a LOT like sending your child off to school. Packing his lunch, choosing his clothes, double-knotting his laces, and spitting on a Kleenex to wipe his face one last time--oh c'mon, we've all done that! But really, a completed manuscript feels like precious cargo after you've molded the characters, "listened" to them talk, struggled over theme, lost sleep, thrilled to flashes of brilliant insight and survived (so many) moments of doubt. Months and months of work, from the seed of an idea to a completed work weighing in at some 277 pages or 80-plus thousand words . . . and 4 1/2 pounds of paper . . . it's a wonder I don't have stretch marks!

Before I was published, we would send my manuscripts out to requesting editors via "snail mail." Which meant I'd run off copies at home (burned up 3 printers!) and send them to my agent, along with my biography sheets and author headshots. She would then re-package them into gorgeous burgundy boxes with her agency logo, add a stellar cover letter . . . and mail them out to editors. I once sent NINE manuscripts to her in one box . . . like 45 pounds or so of pages. I had a closet full of specially purchased manuscript boxes, rolls and rolls of strapping tape, sheets of shipping labels, yards of bubble wrap . . . and huge postage expenses write off on my taxes. In comparison with today's "cyber-send," I guess it was harder to physically hand over a manuscript box to the post office or UPS guys. Especially when they laughed at me for kissing it goodbye. Hey, you had to be there to understand. And I'm far more mature and professional now.

So, today it was CLICK-SEND for my newest crew: Nurses Claire Avery, Erin Quinn, Sarah Burke, and Dr. Logan Caldwell . . . along with Smokey the cat, a few speckled chickens, 300,000 daffodils . . . and a mechanical bull. Pulse-pounding medical drama, heart-tugging romance, a few great chuckles . . . and a soul satisfying message of hope. Whirling through cyberspace. No burgundy box, no strapping tape, no bubble wrap.

Do you think Windex will remove the lipstick smudge from my computer monitor?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tasting Tahoe

For me, one of the best things about writing is research. And by that, I don't mean cracking dusty tomes in county libraries, or even (in our tech savvy world) surfing the Internet. I'm talkin' about the kind of research that requires me to pack a suitcase, hit the open road (or sky or sea) and TRAVEL. See, touch, hear, feel taste, and smell--use all my senses--to explore locations that appear in my books. I loved telling audiences how I was "forced" to "dress in sequins and do the Chicken Dance in shipboard discos worldwide" to research my cruise mystery series--and it was true. Every port, every lifeboat drill, and . . . every gooey dessert in those books were authenticated by this author. After all, I owe that to my readers, right? You betcha. And now, for my new SHIFT IN FAITH medical drama series, I'll be researching locations in my native Northern California: Gold Country, the Pacific Coast, and San Francisco. Hence this past weekend (for my readers, of course) I grabbed a plane to Reno, Nevada, and then drove through snow-capped Sierra Mountains up some 6,000 feet . . . to research one of the most beautiful places on God's earth: Lake Tahoe. Because two scenes in The Healer's Heart take place there, and I wanted to be certain I had the details exactly right. Here's a snippet of one of those scenes, which takes place at a fictional restaurant, inspired by the fabulous real one pictured above--Sunnyside Lodge on the lake's west shore. After fishing on the Truckee River, heroine Claire Avery and Dr. Logan Caldwell are having lunch:

“See,” she said, settling into the chair opposite Logan and raising palms still damp from washing. “Perfectly respectable. No one would know I . . .” she narrowed her eyes and smirked, “caught the biggest trout of the day.” She laughed at his groan and then glanced around the umbrella-studded deck and at the other patrons, glad she’d been able to freshen her makeup and pick the pine needles out of her hair.

The marina restaurant, a favorite with both locals and tourists, was casually upscale with men and women sporting trendy resort wear and sunglasses no doubt worth half a nurse’s biweekly paycheck. A jazz combo, bass thrumming deep, played at the edge of the deck its music blending with the patrons’ soft laughter, tinkling glassware and the crisp flutter of sails in the marina below. In the distance the majestic Sierra Mountains, many peaks still white with snow, seemed to rise from the glassy blue surface of the lake itself. Claire closed her eyes for a moment and let the sun warm her face. This was not her typical day, for sure. She opened her eyes as Logan spoke.

“So what would you be doing right now if you weren’t here, humbling me with your fishing prowess?”

Claire laughed. “Huge, important things. Like buying Smokey a catnip toy. The one that looks like Jiminy Cricket. That might get him to purr.” She frowned. “The poor cat had a raccoon scare.”

Though I spent many summers at Lake Tahoe and ate at this particular restaurant countless times, it had been a dozen years since I'd last been there and I was eager to see if I'd captured the imagery on paper correctly. Overall I was pleased, except that I'd missed two key details: first, the tangy scent of the oil-based preservative on the wood decking of the lake's piers. That one struck me the moment I walked out onto Sunnside's marina-view deck, and (as scents often do) brought back a host of memories--swims in the icy water, lying on those fragrant, sun-warmed piers and slathering on Sea & Ski lotion. And the other (how could I have forgotten?) was the taste of Sunnyside's famous battered and crispy-fried zucchini sticks drenched in ranch dressing. Which, of course (for my readers) I had to try again--zucchini sticks, not the icy swim! My dedication doesn't go as far as hypothermia.

But, for me, that's what research is all about--getting the details right so I can put my readers into the scene, make them see it, touch it, smell it, hear it . . . even taste it. So that someone in, say, Indianapolis or Chicago--who may have never seen the Sierra Mountains--will be suddenly looking out at the blue of Tahoe, smelling pines (and the wood decking), feeling the brisk alpine breeze across sun-pink shoulders, and . . . tasting a fried zucchini stick.

Pass that ranch dressing, wouldya?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fabulous Read

I had to let you know about this fabulous book--I finally got it away from my husband so I could finish reading it. We'd basically played tug-of-war with the book since our recent flight to California. Pretty funny antic on a crowded SouthWest Airline flight, since hubby and I each like to sit on the aisle and generally end up sort of kitty-corner across from each other. So we'd each read a chapter, then hand it across to the other, trying not to get tangled up in the peanut-serving duty of our flight attendant crew. But way worth the aerobatics, since this book is that GOOD. Here's the blurb from Amazon:

A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery.
An upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel.
A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream.
A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it.
It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana . . . and an East Texas honky-tonk . . . and, without a doubt, in the heart of God. It unfolds in a Hollywood hacienda . . . an upscale New York gallery . . . a downtown dumpster . . . a Texas ranch.
Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, this true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.

Only truth could be this goose-bumpy terrific and heart-tugging. It's wonderfully written, beautifully honest, both funny and hanky-worthy and--most of all--truly inspiring. I highly recommend it.

On the home front, I'm "polishing up" the last few pages of THE HEALER'S HEART in readiness to send it off early to my new editor, Jan Stob, at Tyndale House who has an awesome reputation and--no surprise--is nominated for Editor of the Year by the members of the American Christian Fiction Writers organization My agent, Natasha Kern, is also up for Agent of the Year--ask me how GREAT it is to be a writer under the wings of talented women like these! Trust me, I'm still pinching myself--and counting my blessings.

Go get Same Kind of Different As Me and let me know how you liked it.

Meanwhile, back to the keyboard with HEALER'S HEART . . . almost to the finish line.