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.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Driving . . . Me Nuts

I spent the last couple of days participating in my (court-mandated) Defensive Driving Course. For convenience, I opted to do the course in the comfort of my own home--via a DVD called "Wheels in Motion" and then take the quizzes and final exam on my computer. (Click here for the post about my speeding ticket) Because of the price of gas, and the hassle of driving into San Antonio this seemed like a great idea. Especially since I could pull on my red sweats, curl up on my very cushy couch . . . and munch popcorn.

All very cool . . . except that the popcorn ran out in 15 minutes, and the DVD lasted SIX HOURS. Kid you not. And it was loaded with enough facts and figures to make my head explode. Oh. My. Gosh. I have been driving for . . . over 35 years, and I had no idea how how many problems I have been blessed to avoid. Like: Road Rage lunatics, exploding car batteries, head on collisions with bicyclists, skids, spins, car fires, failed brakes . . . and the hood of a car flying open on the freeway. Not to mention braking suddenly and being smacked in the back of the head by an airborne can of Diet Coke. I'm SO glad they didn't show what could happen if you got hit while curling your eyelashes. Not that I would do that while driving . . . ever again.

But aside from the omigosh factor, by far the worst part of this course was the TIMED quizzes.
Now, it's not that I'm not bright--I am--and I'm a champ test taker (heck, I do surveys just for fun), but I can't stand to be timed. And these quizzes had an actual little moving black timeline under each question that got smaller and smaller and . . . aagh!!! Thirty years as an ER nurse, and the stress of taking those little quizzes turned me into a quivering mass of anxiety! Worse, the quiz was sprinkled with odd questions that are designed to "verify your identity." Apparently some people get other people to take their test? Anyway, the little time ticker goes by when you're answering those identity questions, too. So, I'M EMBARRASSED TO ADMIT that I missed the following quiz questions:

1) According to your driver's licence, what is your middle initial?

2) What year is your vehicle?

3) Is your vehicle . . . a truck, a motorcycle, a sedan . . . or an "other?"

In my own defense, let me explain. First, I am not a natural blonde. However, the middle initial question seemed too obvious, you know? And, I had the time-pressure. So I answered "not applicable." Heck, I rarely use my middle name. It's Lee.

I always thought my Honda was a 1997. And the officer who wrote my speeding ticket has lousy writing. It looked a lot like a 97.

Who knew there was difference between a sedan and coupe? Not me.

The humiliating truth is that I missed so many personal identity questions that they froze my computer screen and I had to call the 1-800 number to be re-instated to take the test. (Yes, I had to admit I had missed my own middle initial). (I'm pretty sure the woman snickered)

HOWEVER, in case you're all afraid to share the roads with me, I DID pass the final exam with a score of 100%. And my speeding conviction has been set aside. So relax when you see me out there on the road. I'll be the blonde driving really slowly and cautiously. In my 1998 Honda Coupe. But if you pull alongside and ask me my middle name . . . give me longer than thirty seconds, okay?

It's Lee. Lee. L-E-E.

Buckle up and drive safely, y'all!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Floating 101

It's been HOT here in South Texas, topping 100 degrees more than once this past week. And I've been going from air conditioned home office to air conditioned car (when absolutely forced, because of no food in the refrigerator ) to air conditioned Baskin Robbins (did I say that?) (hubby drags me, I swear) to . . . our backyard pool. The pool being, IMO, a far better treat than even Jamoca Almond Fudge, Mango Tango, Love Struck Cheesecake or Temptation Island. Because I LOVE floating in pools. Not swimming. Not diving. Not playing water polo or doing water aerobics. Just . . . FLOATING. Mindless, staring-up-at-the-clouds floating. And, because I don't want to work at it: on an inflatable raft. I have one of those rafts that has a teeny pillow and is made of mesh, so that I'm sort of semi-submerged when I float . . . just enough to keep me blissfullly cool. It's heavenly.

I've been a floating afficiando for quite awhile now, my need to float born some thirteen years ago. When I was was going through a tough personal time and floating became an affordable escape. My backyard pool, warm sun, solitude, gentle sounds of nature, fuschia-pink plastic raft . . . just what this heartbroken nurse ordered. And I learned stuff, too:

1) Books get really FAT when you Float and Read. ***

2) It is possible to fall asleep in the middle of a swimming pool. And sunburn your knee-pits.

3) Coconut sunscreen is like Baskin Robbins to several varieties of wasps.

4) Radio stations play way too many sad love songs. It's a conspiracy.

5) Labrador Retrievers are called "retrievers" for a good reason. Don't splash in a pool unless you need to be rescued. There's no extra room on a pink raft for a loyal, hundred pound Lab.

6) Hope . . . does indeed float.

Nowadays--in Texas and far happier times--I'm still floating. And still learning:

1) Floating is a perfect time to work out snarls in manuscript plots.

2) Someone really needs to invent a waterproof paperback . . . does the Kindle e-reader float?

3) It is possible to fall THROUGH a web raft. If it's left in the sun too long. Hubby will laugh.

4) Armadillos can drown. Scorpions can hold their breath.

5) Coconut sunscreen is Baskin Robbins to hummingbirds. Which sound like Star Wars light sabers when they buzz your head.

6) Counted blessings . . . will float gratefully Heavenward from a raft in the middle of the swimming pool.

Now . . . if I could just find a waffle cone that doesn't go all mooshy in the water. Stay cool everyone!

*** Oh, forgot: Back in those California days, my fellow ER nurses decided to lift my spirits by hosting a girls' Float and Read party. It was great fun. Except everyone forgot their books. And everyone remembered to bring munchies . . . LOTS of calorie-laden munchies.

It became an annual hospital event--aptly re-named, The Float and Bloat.