Saturday, December 19, 2009

McSnarly and Mc . . . Mistletoe.

It's 4 days from Christmas and I'm waiting for the refrigerator repairman. For more than a week our freezer compartment has been attempting to build a life-size replica of Frosty the Snowman. Which could be festive except for the fact that he is managing somehow to drip down into the refrigerator . . . and turn the crisper draws into lagoons. Lettuce does not swim well--check out any turtle terrarium.

So, I'm patiently waiting. And because I've already sent a Christmas letter to readers via my newsletter, and posted photos of our tree, home, and Mom's lovely Nativity Set on my FaceBook Page, I thought I'd offer a few quirky and obscure facts about a common holiday tradition:

Kissing under Mistletoe

First some facts about the berry-studded greenery itself:

1) The name mistletoe originated from the ancient belief that it was propagated by bird droppings. "Mistel" is an Anglo Saxon word for "dung" and "tan" (close enough to toe) is the word for "twig"--thus, mistletoe meant "dung-on-a-twig." (Off to a romantic start!)

2) According to European folklore mistletoe was long regarded as a mysterious and sacred plant--bestowing fertility and protection against poisoning. (Ironic, considering how many alleged mistletoe "poisoning" calls we receive in the ER every December!)

3) In England and Wales, a bouquet of mistletoe would be presented to the first cow that calved in a season, in the belief it would bring good luck to the entire herd.

As for smooching:

1) Kissing under the mistletoe was first found associated with an ancient Greek festival and later as a primitive marriage rite.

2) In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace under which enemies (and quarreling spouses!) would achieve a truce.

3) In parts of England, mistletoe is burned on twelfth night, "lest boys and girls who kissed under it never marry."

4) And for those of you who are sticklers for correct etiquette: a man should pluck a berry when he kisses a woman under the mistletoe--and when all the berries are gone, there is to be no more kissing!

There you have it. Mistletoe 101, thanks to Sara Williams of University of Saskatchewan Extension.

On a personal note:

When I was growing up in California, we had plenty of mistletoe growing in the oaks at a park near our home. In the bustling weeks before Christmas some of it would always find its way into our house--to be tied onto a hanging lamp in the entryway. And one time, when I was about seventeen, I was surprised to see that it had also found its way into my date's car . . . about half-dozen sprigs affixed to the ceiling (with Scotch tape--and a great deal of hope, no doubt) over the passenger seat!

How about YOU? Was/Is mistletoe (plucking, hanging--or dodging!) a part of your traditions?
Do share!

And, yes, I did get carried away with the Santa hat on McSnarly. What did you expect from someone growing a snowman in her freezer?

But I did think he looked particularly good under the mistletoe . . .

A warm and wonderful Christmas to all of you!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Check it Out-- Win a Book

Here, lean close. No, I'm not going to check your heartbeat or listen to your lungs--I'm retired from that gig. What I want to do, is tell you to pop over to the Seekerville Blog site and check out my "guest appearance," today. I'm doing a post titled, "Writer 911: 'Help my character's fallen and can't get up," which shares information about adding medical detail in fiction--and getting it right. Find out why this much used line in novels is flawed: "Anger was written all over his face, from his clenched jaw to the vein pulsing at his temple," and which common scene in TV shows is far too close to malpractice. I'm giving you the inside scoop, and hanging around all day to read comments and answer questions.

It's a huge honor to be invited to Seekerville by bestselling author Julie Lessman, and I know you'll enjoy perusing this wonderful site with posts by fifteen unpublished and newly published Christian fiction writers. These generous "Seekers" have a mission to encourage aspiring writers by offering tips regarding "Escape from Unpubbed Island . . . writing, contests, publication . . . and everything in between." And they do it superbly. Take your time and see what they have to share. And while you're there, leave a comment on my post and your name will be entered in a drawing for a free, signed copy of CRITICAL CARE.

C'mon over and join us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bandit Bill Does Thanksgiving

Just for fun, I'd like to share (with permission) my book giveaway winner's Thanksgiving memory. The book drawing was completely random, but if the contest had been based on humor, this memory would definitely have been a contender. Here, then, is Tammie's story:

"When I was growing up we had a cat named Bandit Bill who never, ever got on the kitchen counters, except when a turkey was cooking. After throwing him off the counters a 1/2 dozen times, my mother grabbed him, told him he wasn't good for nothing and was kicking his a** out.

Several hours later after all the family arrived and we were all waiting for the dinner, Bandit came back in through the doggy door. He strode up to my 80 year old Grandmother and very proudly dropped a mouse between her legs. I never knew Grandma could move so fast.

He proved he was worth something." ~

Isn't that hoot? Loved it! Reading your entries--so many warm, lovely, and funny, Thanksgiving memories--was completely delightful and a high point of my holiday. It made me even more certain of one of the blessings I'm most thankful for: YOU.

And now we're off to spend a few days in Arizona with our children and beautiful grand sons Vin and Drake.
I hope you have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving, and that your newest memories will be warm and happy--bandit cats, or not.

Thank you, Tammie!

Congratulations to my Book Giveaway Winner!

A big congratulations to Tammie for winning the drawing for a signed copy of Critical Care!
Whoo hoo, it's great to have you "scrub in" with the Mercy Hospital team!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Book Giveaway!

If you're a subscriber to my newsletter, you probably already know I'm hosting a giveaway drawing for a signed copy of CRITICAL CARE. Details on how to enter are included in this latest newsletter, so sign up if you haven't already! I'll be drawing the winner's name on Monday November 23rd at 2 PM Central and making contact via e-mail, as well as posting the name here on the blog. Good luck!

Monday, November 16, 2009

What You Sea

The photo above is Evelyn, ship nurse on the ms. Zuiderdam, Holland America lines--normally an ER nurse in New York. The day I met her (Deck A, bottom of the ship infirmary), she had a few minutes of down time . . . after treating no fewer than 5 passengers seriously ill enough to be transported (some via helicopter) off the ship. A small percentage of 2,000 passengers overall, but still a challenge--and she loves it. Cruise vacation combined with adrenalin-infused medical drama: must admit, it intrigued me enough that I applied for a position with Holland America a few years back. Then got my first publishing contract and put those plans on hold. Since then we've cruised multiple times and, in fact, I based my 3 wacky chick-lit mysteries (The Darcy Cavanaugh series) on real voyages. Research is so grueling, but someone's got to do it! But now . . . I choose to cruise because it gives me such an amazing sense of getaway. I think you can tell that by the look on my face in the photo below-- hubby sneaked this shot from our stateroom. Room service coffee, fluffy ship bathrobe, morning sun, miles of Caribbean sea . . .
I'm always surprised by folks who think cruising is boring. The fact is, that a cruise ship is a floating city and you can be as busy (or laid back) as you want to be. For instance, here are a few activities listed in our Daily Program for our last At Sea day:

1) 7 AM: Sunrise Stretch (Greenhouse Spa)
2) 7:30: Tai Chi on the Deck
3) Cycling
4) Yoga
5) Walk a Mile Promenade Deck (we did this often--there was also a 5K Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure)
6) Spa seminars (health and beauty)
7) Asian Fusion Cooking class (Wine & Food Magazine)
8) Digital Workshops (with onboard computer expert)
9) Line dancing Class at Northern Lights Club
10) Volleyball serve challenge, Sports Deck
11) *Team Trivia Challenge, Crow's Nest ("Which has more complex DNA: Camel, Chicken, Cat?")*
12) Movie in the Screening Room (complete with popcorn)
13) Whatever Floats Your Boat Sea Trials (make your own boat, sail it in the hot tub)
14) Steel Drum encore, Farewell Variety Show (live stage show, Vista Lounge)
15) 4 separate musical venues in various ship sites, from sing along piano to classical strings . . .

And these, of course, were all the non-port days. In port, we enjoyed a range of activities from kayaking to snorkeling, to an aerial tram ride through the Costa Rican Rainforest. To see some of those photos, see my FaceBook album, Cruisin'.

Yes, we are cruise fanatics. We enjoy the fact that dollar-for-dollar this vacation provides the best value--world class accomdations, gourmet food, top notch entertainment, amazing adventures . . . requiring travelers to only unpack once. But most of all, we love the opportunity to meet people, both onboard and in various ports--folks of all ages (very elderly to honeymooners, to babes in arms), from diverse cultures, different flags. The ship, in effect, offers a microcosm of humanity. Smiles, laughs, graciousness are universal. We come back with that sense of connection, and that is good. We see scenery that knocks our socks off . . . and speaks to God's glory:
And now we're home, regaining our land legs. I'm smiling to think of nurse Evelyn rockin' and rollin' on the high seas (or maybe even back in her ER in New York) reading Critical Care. I hope she enjoys it. She'll climb aboard another gangway sooner than I will, but meanwhile I'll be back at work, refreshed and relaxed--perhaps using bits of sounds, sights, smells, dialogue I "collected" in my new work. Evelyn said she's met several authors at sea, "It seems like writers like to cruise." I'm not surprised.

* Oh, yes. The answer to that Trivia Question about DNA: It's the chicken. *

And one other shipboard activity I forgot to mention--Towel Folding:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Packing, Ports, Panama . . . Plots

This Yours Truly in the new "Coolibar" sunhat. Wide-brimmed. SPF 50. Chin strap for winds . . . whether they come when standing at a highly polished ship rail far out at sea, or while kayaking a peaceful lagoon at Half Moon Cay. Protects my head from sunburn. (Flashback to very unattractive peeling stripes where my hair parts--too many times to count). And prevents my freckles from completely coalescing--in the past, my only way of "tanning." I'm too health conscious to do that now; tans come in spray booths, bottles and lotions these days, thank heaven. And besides, we're not going on this cruise to get a tan; we're going in order to enjoy the blessings of a change of scenery, the company of good friends, and to simply get away.

Which will happen, absolutely . . . for my husband. For 11 days he'll be away from volunteer obligations, lawn and pool duty, the burden of having a house up for sale, and cleaning up after his cooking-crazed wife. He'll take a less enjoyable break from TV football (unless it's changed, at sea programming only offers soccer), and practicing his guitar.

But do writers every really take a break from writing? Hmmm. . . Not unless we leave our brains at home! I mean, sure, physically we do. We can walk away from the office, the laptop, can set paper and pencils aside. We can close the "How To" writing books. And I'll be doing that, welcoming a break after writing three books in the Mercy Hospital Series. It will be a celebration of having accomplished what I set out to do. But my writer's brain won't be cajoled by blue water, palm trees, or the steel drums of a reggae band. It will be working. Whispering bits of dialogue, prodding--plotting a new book. Ask any writer. The process continues most waking hours and, for some, even during sleep. Everything we see, hear, touch, smell, and experience begs--like a small child tugging the hem of his parent's coat-- to be translated into words. It's hard to ignore.

We sit in an airport and study people, wonder what motivates them, what worries them, where they find comfort, joy. We hear short snippets of conversation (okay, we eavesdrop!) and mentally fill in the blanks, create scenes . . . take it forward on the wheels of "what if?"

The beauty of it, of course, is that this process is a secret thing. No one has to know. A writer can look like anyone else in the crowd, while scenes are playing out in their heads.

Even on a lagoon in Half Moon Cay.
At the Panama Canal.
In the jungles of Costa Rica.
Behind sunglasses.
Under a nifty new Coolibar sunhat.

Which of course, does not answer the real question: How does a man manage to travel with only 3 pair of shoes?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Krazy Kindle Klub

I just returned home from a spur-of-the moment visit to California to visit my children. And because I needed an "Ashland fix--" our newest grand daughter, 6 months old. According to hubby, I was "moping around" and he therefore insisted that I go--short of twisting my arm. Which would be impossible to do with me packing so fast: clothes, shoes, gifts for baby, chocolates for bookstore staff, make-up, hair dryer . . . and BOOKS of course.

5 hour flight, gotta read. I had a paperback to finish--a medical suspense by awesome author, Hannah Alexander. But there were only a few chapters left, and I knew I'd need more. So I brought my Amazon Kindle reader and (while sitting in airport) downloaded several more books in a matter of seconds. Seriously, this process (this concept) still gives me chills. Thousands of books available at my fingertips (okay, and then on my credit card) at any moment in time.

Get me a bib, I'm drooling.

And I'm not the only one.

On the plane, the woman across from me was reading The Shack on her 2nd generation Kindle.
Then the woman directly behind me craned her head enough to ask me, "Is that a Kindle?" And proceeded to tell me she loved hers. (Lovvvvvves) Indeed, her husband joked that she was never without her Kindle--that she was like that weird, dark character "Gollum" in Lord of the Rings. Which she proved by pretending to stroke her Kindle cover, whispering "My precious-sssss."

Soon it was a 3-way Kindle lovefest, all of us reporting what we liked best (convenience, accessibility, having a tidy featherweight portable library), what we liked least (only one thing: you gotta turn it off when an airplane takes off/lands); and completely pooh poohing the myth that a real bibliophile must have the scent of paper in order for the reading experience to be satisfactory. No way. "Get a grip--keep a page in your pocket if you need to!" We were passionate, we were waving our hands, we were . . . joined by a flight attendant.

Too rowdy? Blocking the aisle? Making an Air Marshal nervous?
She was a Kindle owner wannabe.
And we were eager to share. My precioussssss . . .

This scenario has happened to me many times. And I'm guessing--with Amazon dropping the price 40 dollars pre-holidays (and making Kindle books available world-wide), one that will repeat more and more often. There was a time when e-books were thought to be a fad like Pet Rocks, hula hoops, Furbies, or The Clapper light switch thingy. But that time is past.

My books--old comic mysteries, new Mercy Hospital series--are now available on Kindle.
As are newspapers and magazines.

My very busy (very savvy) literary agent now requests manuscripts as e-mailed documents and then transfers them to her Kindle--zip, zap. And she's ready to read dozens of books from potential clients, without lugging 4 pound stacks of printed paper everywhere she goes!

I just uploaded my critique partner's manuscript to read. Simple, convenient--"turn" the pages with a touch of a fingertip. Not backlit, no eye fatigue. "Bookmarks" your page with the touch of a button. Includes an instantly accessible dictionary to check unfamiliar words.
Each book download is a few dollars cheaper than print books, no shipping--and first chapters may be "sampled" for free. For those who haven't had the chance to play with a Kindle reader, here's a video clip.

Am I selling Kindles? No. But I probably have inadvertently done so by my enthusiasm.

Do I still love "real" books? Absolutely! Can't autograph a Kindle book, or admire it on my bookshelf. Or stroll down a hushed library aisle enjoying their quiet camaraderie . . . the very feel of them.

I haven't abandoned paper books at all. In fact, guess what gift I brought to baby Ashland?

That's right. A book. Noah's Ark--with puffy fabric pages. Because right now she'd eat paper pages. Fabric to paper, to . . . Kindle? Maybe. It's highly likely that her schoolbooks will be in electronic format.

But don't worry, Grandma will keep plenty of those "vintage" ones around.

How about you? Tried an e-reader yet?

What do you think? Willing to join the Krazy Kindle Klub?

** Hot off the press (and to prove a point): Barnes & Noble now has its own e-reader, the NOOK reader for pre-order. **

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stalked by a Nameless Hero

My brain is being held hostage by (as yet) an untold story. I don't know how it begins or ends, but the hero is wearing rumpled camouflage and is trying to talk me into a skydiving scene. He's a doctor, and a strange dichotomy: a man committed to saving lives, who can't feel truly alive unless he's risking his own. Not an easy man to be around, trust me; the first to volunteer for a medical mission to Afghanistan, a man who'll finish his ER shift stateside despite a fractured leg-- and, trust me, someone who'll have no empathy if you call in sick with a sore throat. Nor will he open to discovering the emotional wounds behind his own apparent death wish.

I can imagine the inevitable clash if he must suddenly share workspace with an idealistic ER nurse . . . turned hospital chaplain because of an injury that put her on extended disability. Especially if she gets close enough to see the wounded man behind his bravado.

For writers this is often the way books start, hints of characters, glimpses of action, snippets of dialogue. These things simply come to us--often in the shower. Seriously. Where is that crayon soap when you need it?

So why an "action hero" character? Good question. Maybe because I understand--on a small scale, certainly-- the pull between a cautious, logical, pre-planned, "safe" approach to life and the intriguing draw of the out-of-the-ordinary adventure. Or because, admittedly, I've had times in my life when due to circumstances, I threw ordinary caution to the wind. And now, in hindsight, I can ask . . . "What on earth were you thinking?!" Like when I:

1) took my small children to watch their father strap himself into a hang glider and jump from a high Sierra cliff. Then chased him for miles when an updraft carried him frighteningly out of sight and far away from target.

2) climbed into the bucket seat of an ultralight aircraft--no more than a lawnmower with wings--legs dangling, to skim over northern California vineyards . . . and chase coyotes. Always holding my breath when the tiny engine sputtered, gasped.

3) drove to a sky diving site to take photographs . . . and ended up jumping from a plane at 13,000 feet.

4) Swam in the Caribbean with stingrays . . . the week before the Crocodile Hunter was fatally speared through the chest by one.

5) Rode a young thoroughbred who'd been laid up for months (his energy building like a volcano), and was bucked off to suffer fractured ribs, back, punctured lung, a broken neck and a spinal cord injury.

I do not consider myself particularly adventurous. But, in hindsight and with distance, it's clear to me that in almost every instance there was an emotional component that spurred my taking an uncharacteristic risk. That is what I find intriguing about this new hero who has been tugging at my subconcious. Why is he so willing to take risks? What motivates him? Is he truly fearless . . . or does he fear something far more devastating than physical injury and even death?
And . . . what would it take for him to change?

Couple of questions for you:

1) Have you taken an uncharacteristic risk that makes you now wonder, "What was I thinking?"
2) Anyone have a suggestion for good name for this hero who is stomping around in my mind?

My last 3 heroes were Logan, Scott, and Nick.

This new name should ideally work well with the heroine's name: Riley. So I should avoid R's, or "ee" sounding endings--too "matchy matchy". (This coming from an author who is a "Candy" married to an "Andy"!)

Perhaps one syllable, or three? A shortened version of a longer name?
I'd love to hear your ideas!

Meanwhile I'll let these characters, this story, percolate while hubby and finish making excursion plans for our upcoming vacation. A cruise through the Southern Caribbean to the Panama Canal. I'm proud of myself for crossing out the "Stingray Adventure" this go round. A glass bottom boat (even if Pirahnas are an issue) sounds relatively tame. Kayaks though the Grand Cayman lagoon, sure--vegetation is non-threatening. Chagres River Panama rainforest hike with sloths, igunanas, monkeys, toucans . . . cool. And then there's that last one:

"Rain Forest Canopy Adventure": double-cable ziplines streching 197 feet above the rainforest. The rainforest canopy at eye-level, thrilling slides from platform to platform, "adrenaline afficionados will love this tour."

Oh, blast it.

My un-named hero, is whispering "Go for it."

Forget the shower soap. Get me a roll of duct tape--this character is going to be a challenge.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Congratulations Sherry!

At noon Pacific Time, I asked my real-life hero, Andy, to close his eyes and draw a slip of paper from a glass bowl. Names of entrants who wanted to win a free signed hardbound LARGE PRINT copy of CRITICAL CARE. I held my breath. He drew a name: SHERRY from Fremont, California!
I love it that she wants me to sign it to her grandmother LOREAN, the woman she describes as an "inspiration." It is my complete delight to do that. And to interact with readers at my new fan page Candace Calvert Books on FaceBook. If you haven't joined, I hope you will--we have book discussions, share ideas . . . and I'll be giving away more books. "Scrub in," won't you?
Congratulations SHERRY! And Lorean, what a blessing you have in your grand daughter!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Book Giveaway

This is the hardbound large print version of CRITICAL CARE--same book as the one put out by Tyndale House, but published especially for folks who need a larger font to read comfortably. Or lose their glasses on top of their heads like I do! I've been supplied with a couple of copies and donated one to our local library. The other copy I'd like to autograph and send to one of you. Visit (and join!) my FaceBook fan page, leave a post saying whether you like this cover or the original cover best, and I'll enter you in a drawing. I'll draw the lucky winner's name tomorrow (Monday) at noon and post it on the fan page. C'mon over:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Taste of Gratitude

This is my grand daughter Ashland Skye on her first visit to Apple Hill in northern California--a rich fall tradition replete with the fruits of harvest: pie, jam, turnovers, tarts, sauce . . . plus arts, crafts, tractors, animals and more. But mostly apples, dozens of varieties (Golden Delicious, MacIntosh, Fuji) in colors from red to green to yellow. At barely 6 months old, this is the first time Ashland has seen so many apples, and the last year she'll be unequipped to bite into one--no teeth. Teeth are required to fully enjoy a bite of crispy, crunchy apple; we know that from personal experience as well as the full-spectrum of denture adhesive TV commercials! So what do apples and Polident have to do with gratitude?
Well . . .

Today is the first of October, my favorite month of my very favorite season, autumn. I'm nostalgic for northern California fall mornings with crisp temperatures that allow you to "see your breath", wisps of "tule fog," the scent of woodsmoke, crunch of leaves underfoot in hues of flame red, orange, yellow, burgundy. And, though it's still weeks away, I'm thinking of Thanksgiving--not so much the turkey and trimmings, but the actual giving of thanks. An "attitude of gratitude," if you will. Since my return from the amazing American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Denver, I've been humbled at being part of such a wonderful writing community--and most grateful for our readers. Yes, you!

Since I began this new writing journey--only 18 months ago--you readers have incredibly warm and welcoming. And your notes have encouraged me over and over. With lines like these:

"I will be going to college a year from now to become a registered nurse, and you have really inspired me . . . "

" I felt that I was right there looking at the mountains and the daffodils as well as the tragedy and triumph of the ER."

"It hit a note in my own walk in faith . . . "

"I am a hopeless, ER, Grey's fanatic... So your book caught my eye immediately. "

"I really like the idea of Faith QD and have been thinking/praying about starting it at my hospital . . ."

"Thank you for writing a great book, with the medical drama under God's care. "

"I am a registered nurse also, with my specialty being in pediatric cardiology. The opening scene of Critical Care just struck me so . . ."

"Great story of what happens when you have enduring faith. "

"I was able to relate to both Sarah and Claire as they struggled to make sense of where life was taking them. "

"Thank you for using this gift to bless your readers and glorify God."

"What an awesome book! What an awesome doctor! (smile) "

I have been humbled over and over by such gracious notes, sometimes laughing aloud, many times choking up--always with a heart full of gratitude. Because my intent, from the beginning of this journey, was to reach out via my writing and offer both entertainment and encouragment. Your kind responses let me know that I'm doing that. They keep me writing.

In my chats with other authors at the conference in Denver, the topic invariably turned to the subject of readers--how grateful we are for them. Keynote speaker and bestselling author Debbie Macomber spoke the truth when she said, "To quit {writing} would mean losing a piece of my soul." My head was bobbing up and down in agreement, absolutely. Writers write. But it goes further than that. Being able to connect with readers, use whatever gifts we've been given to offer stories of hope is the very best part. And that can't happen without you.

Writers need readers
. . . like . . . my baby grand daughter needs teeth to fully enjoy that first autumn-crisp apple!

So THANK YOU for reading my work, encouraging me to write more, taking the time to send these great notes , being there. You're the best!

Now, on to the big questions: Pie--what's your favorite? Apple, pumpkin . . . or?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Congratulations to my Book Giveaway Winner!

A quick but heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to my newsletter drawing winner, NANCY in Virginia. Her name was drawn from those folks who entered the giveaway by correctly identifying the word, "STAT"--medical slang indicating something needed in a rush. I'm delighted to mail Nancy a signed copy of CRITICAL CARE. Check my newsletter and FaceBook Fan Page for upcoming book giveaways. I'd love it if you were my next winner!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book 'Em

My recent flight to Denver was the second time I've been asked to step aside for a personal search by the TSA. The first was more than a year ago and detailed in my blog post, "Feeling Secure." That time the culprit was too much bling (watch, bracelet, zippers on my skirt), and I set off so many alarms that I got "wanded." This time, I was on my way to the annual American Christian Fiction Writers conference, and was surprised that my carry-on bag set was tagged as "suspicious" as it passed through the x-ray machine. It contained no liquids or pointy objects--I'd been very careful about that. And (because it was heavy) I almost checked it, rather than hassle with the bench-press oomph required to heft it into an overhead bin, but . . .

It contained all my "authorly" things, like a 4-pound chunk of freshly printed manuscript, CODE TRIAGE that I needed for the Donald Maas workshop. Plus a new glossy stand-up poster of the cover for DISASTER STATUS, featuring (get a fire-extinguisher, ladies!) the very handsome face of Captain Scott McKenna. And since I was scheduled to take part in my very first ACFW book signing, several other related items, like: gold "Autographed Copy" labels, a plastic bookstand, favorite pens, and a large box of CRITICAL CARE bookmarks. In my opinion stuff too important to risk getting lost in transport, but . . . "suspicious"? Didn't seem likely.

I was asked to step aside, follow the (very polite) TSA employee to an inspection table, my mind tumbling. Were pens too pointy? Did my bookstand look like a weapon in silhouette? Was it--

"Ah . . . cards," the employee said, opening the lid of a small cardboard box.
"Bookmarks," I clarified, idly wondering if I should offer her one. She looked like a reader.
The woman gave a decisive nod. "Organic."
"Paper, thick piles--too hard to identify." She smiled and told me I could zip the suitcase.

I resisted the urge to offer her a bookmark, secured my bag, and moved on, but not without a sense of amusement that my identity as a writer had once again set me apart. If I hadn't been hauling those bookmarks I wouldn't have been stopped; if I wasn't a writer I wouldn't be going to Denver with a hefty chunk of manuscript that represented six months' work. To spend a weekend with more than 500 other people-- mega-published authors and brand new writers--all "set apart" by the passion for words. Folks who (as keynote speaker and best-selling author Debbie Macomber would later say) continue to follow that passion, because "to quit would mean losing a piece of your soul."

She hit the nail on the head-- and raised goosebumps all over me. We'd come from places like California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona,Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio, Florida, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand . . . because we needed the connection, the support of people who understood: "to quit would mean losing a piece of my soul." We arrived packing cell phones, lap tops, workbooks, appointment schedules, Birkenstock's, formal wear. And, some of us, even "suspicious organic material" in the form of bookmarks. But more than all that, we came with hopes and dreams . . . that set us apart.

And sometimes get us searched by the TSA. But . . .

We're writers, and it's worth it.

Check out my FaceBook fan page at Candace Calvert Books for photos from ACFW 2009.

And let me know if you'd like some lovely and suspiciously organic bookmarks to give to friends, your favorite bookstore or library. Because . . . shhhh (eyes darting back and forth) :
I'm still armed and dangerous.

Book 'em.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meet Me in Denver

It's Monday, the Denver writers' conference begins Thursday, and these items are still on my To Do list:

1) Pack clothing by outfit
2) Attach accessories to hangers by outfit (jewelry in Zip Lock bags)
3) Pick up long copper skirt from cleaners (if that spot didn't come out, switch out for gold skirt)
4) Buy knee-high stockings, find cushions for clip on earrings (?!), flip-flops to wear home from pedicure
5) Make menus for DH
6) Charge laptop, Kindle, camera, cell phone (pack cords!)
7) print boarding pass
8) manicure, pedicure, facial (use half-off coupon)

Here's what I've checked off:

1) Choose outfits for travel, 3 work days, book signing (scrubs), awards banquet
2) Organize personal travel items
3) polish short boots
4) Make display for bookmarks, get Disaster Status poster made
5) Pack book signing items
6) print of copy of Code Triage for workshop
7) Get cash for tips
8) Call credit card company to tell them I'll be out of state
9) Confirm place/time to meet with agent, editors

I suppose you are cringing about the Zip Lock jewelry bags on the hangers; it does sound like something "Monk" would do--after scrubbing the hangers down with hand wipes. And being certain they were all facing the same direction, of course. But really, it works: put earrings, necklace, bracelets, etc. in a little Zip Lock, seal, poke a hole and slide it onto the hanger with the associated outfit--bing bang, you're ready. And that's just how I'm feeling about the conference: ready.

After living nose-to-keyboard for 18 months writing 3 books, I'm ready to travel to a city I've never seen, greet old friends, meet face-to-face with so many new friends I've met online, sit down for a chat with my agent and editors, take some great workshops, laugh, sing, worship, hug, learn. And mostly spend 3 full days with people who truly speak my language: writers. It's an amazing thing.

Here are some highlights I look forward to in Denver:

1) The Early Bird session on Thursday with Donald Maass--how to write a "breakout novel."
2) Meeting with agent Natasha Kern (and assistant, Rebecca) and Tyndale House editors Karen Watson and Stephanie Broene.
3) Hearing keynote speaker, Debbie Macomber.
4) Sharing "grandma" stories with Colleen Coble.
5) The awards banquet on Saturday night, where I'll sit with Natasha and several other clients including Leanna Ellis, Julie Lessman, Harry Kraus MD, Tamera Alexander, and Mary Conneally. The gathering will be especially exciting since all of these authors are finalists for Book of the Year (in various categories) and Natasha herself has been nominated for Agent of the Year. To make it even more incredible, my long time critique partner Nancy Herriman is also a finalist in the Genesis contest! The folks at neighboring tables may need to cover their ears against the shouts and squeals!

I'm also looking forward to my first book signing as a Christian fiction author--where I'll be among more than 100 stellar authors. Click here for the list.

I still have 2 more days and I'm already breathless. Then by Sunday I'll be hoarse and voiceless. And filled to the brim with good memories. It's amazing to think that this time last year I was packing for my first ACFW conference. I'd just turned in Critical Care. And since then, I've written two more books--big year. I remember feeling squeaky-new, and how wonderful it was that everyone at the conference was so helpful and welcoming. It made all the difference.

Now it's my turn to do the same for other aspiring writers--share the passion, offer encouragement, listen, cheer them on. If that's YOU, please find me. I want to meet you.

Denver here I come!

Oh. Question: Do they still make those little pads to stop the agony of clip on earrings? They matched my necklace and didn't come in pierced. Its been so long since I wore clips. If I can't find those pads . . . maybe I'll cut up little teeny pieces of Zip Locks, and . . .

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gimmee Five!

We've been breaking heat records in South Texas for number of consecutive days over 100 degrees (59) and because of that I've been extra eager for autumn. It's my favorite season and I love everything about it: the cool crisp feel of the air, the display of ember-rich colors from turning leaves to candy corn; seasonal tastes like pumpkin, cider, apple-butter; sounds too--geese honking overhead, the crunch of leaves underfoot, rustling corn stalks, giggling trick-or-treaters. And scents of autumn: woodsmoke, cooking spices, early rains, tangy chrysanthemums. It's Texas summer and I want it to be fall. So much so that (despite the heat) hubby and I enjoyed our first Starbuck's Spiced Pumpkin Latte. And a frosting drizzled pumpkin scone. I took a sip, a bite, closed my eyes, and found myself doing what I always do: trying to put the flavor, the scent, the experience into words. If you're a writer, you know what I mean.

Capturing a moment (or a place, experience) in words so that it can be shared . . . is an obsession. We need to do it. My dear husband (having been married to a writer for a decade now) no longer finds this weird, bless him. And understood completely when I recently said, "We need to go to San Francisco for a book research trip." He didn't remind me that I'd been there many times before, that details were available on the Internet, in Frommers or Fodor. And he didn't wig out when we got to that fabulous city and I closed my eyes (just like at Starbucks) and used my senses to experience the city: the sounds, the feel, the smells . . . kaliedescope of colors--the taste--of this unforgettable "City by the Bay"!

Here are a few snippets from the initial draft of CODE TRIAGE, set in San Francisco:

Nick slid his key into the lock, heard the click of the deadbolt, then turned to peer down the Richmond district block—our block. Rows of mis-matched homes, mostly Victorians, some lovingly restored with fresh paint the colors of sherbets, leaded glass windows, shingled turrets; some with sagging porches and peeling paint; most with wrought iron entry doors. Trees rising from sidewalks, shrubs in planters hugged close to foundations, window boxes filled with purple bougainvillea, butter yellow chrysanthemums and trailing orange natursiams.

He cocked his head, taking in the timeless blend of sounds that was the voice of this neighborhood: shouts of children at play, pigeons on the wires overhead, guttural wheeze of buses, honks, and distant hum of buses moving along the crisscross tangle of electrical lines. Further out . . . gulls, fog horns, and the faint whoosh of the ocean.

He drew in a breath of crisp, sea-scented air and peered further down the steep slope of cracked asphalt where—when the fog rolled away, like it had today—there was barest glimpse of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. Rising from its piers in the bay between huge towers, a breath-catching span of vermilion-orange suspended over the ocean with scalloped cables like . . . frosting on a wedding cake. He remembered Leigh’s words . . . “We don’t need a wedding cake, Nick . . . we have the Golden Gate . . . every morning and every night.” And now . . . he was cleaning his things out of their house.

And for taste . . .

Leigh pointed to Nick's face, brushing at her own. "You have a little flake of churro, right . . . you got it." She watched him over the rim of her cup--rich Mexican chocolate with cream, eggs, vanilla, and a dash of cinnamon. She almost never indulged in something so decadent, but today . . .

"This is perfect," she said noticing that Nick still had a faint sprinkling of sugar in the dark beard growth on his chin. "The chocolate, I mean," she added quickly.

Then, for a different scene at a stables in Golden Gate National Park:

Leigh walked back to the empty stall beside Frisco’s. She opened the latch, stepped inside, then sank down into the soft, untouched mound of pine shavings. She leaned back against the heavy oak planks at the back of the stall, closed her eyes, and listened to the always-soothing blend of sounds; Frisco’s breathing, deep and steady, to one side, Tag’s snuffles and chewing noises on the other. She heard the high chit-chit of barn swallows swooping through the rafters, a wheelbarrow laden with feed squeaking down the barn’s aisles accompanied by the steady thud of work boots; nickers of horses, and far away strains of a radio playing something in Spanish, laced with guitar and trumpet. All so different from the chaos and turmoil of her hours in the ER. It was peaceful here, bone-level peace. No, it was the soul level peace she craved. She wondered, idly, what it would be like to sleep here, to bed down in a stables. She opened her eyes. Maybe Nick hadn’t been so far off when he’d chided her about living at the barn.

His words last night drifted back: “I still love you.”

As writers, sensory details are important implements in our toolbox. It's a way we can connect with our readers, transport them into our stories. Show them, not just tell them. And it was the reason I recently flew to San Francisco . . . rough duty, I know, but someone's got to do it.

How important is evocative description to you, as a reader? Do you need that to feel you are there "in" the story's setting?

Imagery : Gimmee Five! And another Spiced Pumpkin Latte, please . . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meet Captain McKenna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Readers & Writers: The Winning Combo

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

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

The winners are:

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

Monday, August 10, 2009

Law & Order (ly) Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police officers:

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

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

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

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

I absolutely believe it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Final Polish

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's a "novel" idea!

And now back to polishing . . .

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The End, Back it Up

I finished writing (working title) CODE TRIAGE, the third book in my Mercy Hospital series a few days ago--getting the first draft of the last chapter down on paper. Well, not paper. Electronically down. Tucked into a file and a couple of back up files--at my house and off site. I stop short of having the words tattooed on my body, but I do make sure they are in a safe place. If you want to see a writer's forehead bead up with drops of blood, whisper "I can't find your manuscript file . . . anywhere."

I'm confessing for the first time publicly--right now--that this happened to me once. Several years ago with one of my first manuscripts. Before I made an initial sale. My agent had several editors interested, and arranged to call me to go over some last minute manuscript concerns. She wanted me to "fix" a few things, and planned to have me pull up the manuscript on my computer and she'd synchronize on hers. And we'd input the changes, page by page. Seemed logical, and really techno savvy to me--I was a rookie and she was (is!) a pro and I was sponge-like in my eagerness to learn. So I sat in the chair. Waited for her call. Got butterflies in my stomach. Answered the phone. We synchronized . . . and I pulled up my file (an 80K romantic comedy I'd been working on for more than a year), and . . .

The file was BLANK. Empty. Gone. No. Longer. Existed.

I'd accidentally copied over the manuscript file and obliterated it.

You would not have wanted to own my stomach at that moment in time.

When I could breathe, I . . . hedged. Choking around my heart wedged in my throat.

"Oh . . . wait. . . . Can I call you right back?"

I hung up, slid to the floor and wailed. Then . . .

Because (we are blessed by a merciful God) and I married an amazing techno savvy man--

While I wailed and writhed on the floor, he performed some sort of hard drive search . . . and found it. Then (with the wonderful compassion of every hero I've written since) scooped me up off the floor. Gave me a hug. And whispered sweet file "back up" information in my ear.

My guess is that this same nightmare has happened to every writer at some point in time. Whether it involved a lost paragraph (always brilliant in hindsight of course), page, scene, chapter, blog post, or (like moi) an entire completed m-m-m-m-manuscript (sorry, flashback finger tremble). Due to power failure, author induced glitch, lightning strike . . . whatever. It happens. And it's awful.

So, while I'm still not the sharpest crayon in the box technically, I do take steps to prevent such a disaster. This is what I personally do:

1) Hit "Save" often ( compulsively) while writing.
2) Install a daily back up system (free ones available through MicroSoft) on site.
3) Save files off site/online (in case of fire). Via a paid storage service, or even by uploading nightly to a online site like a Yahoo Group. (I do this).
4) Burn a CD and keep it in safety deposit box.
5) Send chapters to critique partner.

As writers, we spend hours, weeks, months, sometimes years completing a particular work. Not to mention the angst, heartburn, sweat and tears involved. We don't want to lose that work.
And, take it from me, you don't want to sit in your office chair during a phone call with your agent (or editor), open a file . . . and slide under your desk as your entire circulating blood volume shunts to your feet.

Back it up!

Now that I've gotten all that off my chest, here's where things stand with CODE TRIAGE:

First draft completed: 94, 255 words, 334 pages, 28 chapters plus an epilogue.
It's been read by my awesome critique partner (who is a finalist in the Genesis contest!).
I've read through it once in electronic form, inputting changes based on her comments.
I'll be reading it again on the computer with an eye toward the story's time line (easier in this book because the action spans only a few days!)
Then I'll print it off. Hold it in my hands. (Smell it probably) As fellow writer Bridget Chumbley says, that's the moment it feels "real." She's so right!

Then I'll sit down with the stack of pages and read it through again (much of the time out loud, to get a feel for the dialogue and rhythm), with an editing pencil in hand.

Next I'll input the changes into the computer. (Back it up!)

And let it "steep" (rest) for a week or so.

Then read it again (with fresh eyes), picking out "crutch words" ("weasel words" as some folks say).

And finally . . . I'll send it off to my editors at Tyndale House.

Who will suggest revisions . . . so I can pick it back up again and improve the story.

The End. Fur, feathers, stripes . . . and curly tail.

Feels great!

Writers: how about you--deletion horror stories, saves, back up tips? Do share!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tying up Loose Ends

Last night I was awakened at 2:30 AM by a book. No, not my husband swatting me with one for snoring (and please don't suggest this to him). I was prodded into wakefulness by the book I'm currently writing, (working title) CODE TRIAGE, the third in the Mercy Hospital series. The characters, San Francisco police officer Nick Stathos, ER physician Leigh Stathos, chaplain Dana Hale, a one-eyed donkey named "Tag," and his thoroughbred pal "Frisco" insisted on face time with this author. Even though (after writing 3,880 words that day) my face was very happily scrunched into my pillow thank you. It was 2:30 AM, for goodness sake. That said, I really wasn't surprised. Because . . .

Yesterday I wrote the final chapter of the Code Triage story, and now all that remains in this initial draft is to write an epilogue. A last chapter, set several months after the plot ends, to gives a reader a stronger sense of what happens to all those characters. As the subject title of this post suggests, it "ties up loose ends." And, if the book is part of a continuing series, may also hint at a story to come. Because this particular book is the third in a 3-book contract, I'm in the interesting position of tying my loose ends into sort of a tightrope, so I can walk . . . into the unknown. Will there be a spin off character? A new series in a new setting? The reality is, at this point I don't know. CRITICAL CARE has barely launched, DISASTER STATUS is in production but won't release until January, and CODE TRIAGE is in draft stage. There are plenty of unknowns, a good stretch of tightrope to walk. Something I've done before as a published author--my balance is pretty good.

My series characters, however, are antsy. Everyone wants to be sure that he (she/it) gets their particular loose ends tied up. In Code Triage and, to my surprise, the preceding books as well. At 2:30 A.M., those folks were prodding this author and whispering, "reunion." They laid out a case for an epilogue party--a wedding--a chance for the characters in all three books to gather together. They said it could work. They told me the locale where it should happen. They promised to behave. And reminded me that it was logical, because:

1) they all worked in the same hospital system
2) most of them already knew each other.
3) All had suffered at my hand (I may have heard that wrong, I was half asleep).
4) And therefore deserved a reunion party

They set forth a pretty good case. The whole caboodle of them: characters you're meeting now in Critical Care (Logan "McSnarly" Caldwell, Claire Avery), folks you'll meet at year's end in Disaster Status (Erin Quinn, Scott McKenna), and my current rabble-rousers, Nick and Leigh Stathos in Code Triage. I won't even go into how surreal it is to have a 2:30 AM visitation from their assorted menageries: one-eared cat, geriatric goldfish, yodeling Chihuahua, a cockatoo . . . and that donkey. Very tough on the bedroom carpet. But they got my attention. So . . .

I'll be tying up loose ends. Writing an epilogue for this third book. Keeping my balance . . . and considering these characters' requests. The truth is, they did struggle for me. And did me proud. But . . .

How do you tie a party hat on a goldfish?