Sunday, March 29, 2009

Research: puzzle, war, & Plan

My editors suggested numerous revisions to my completed DISASTER STATUS manuscript, and one of them involved . . . war. No worries: I'm not referring to any author-ego explosion on my part. I mean literally a war--they suggested that a pivotal character in the story change from a Viet Nam veteran to a Gulf War veteran. "Less dated" and perhaps more relevant to a broader range of readers. It made sense, so I agreed. Except . . . I discovered that there is far less information available on the Persian Gulf war, as compared to Viet Nam and the current Iraq War. My challenge: How would I give "Sarge" the authentic memories (and painful flashbacks) necessary to take him on the journey he must make in this book? I was puzzling over this, when my husband reminded me that a member of our church is Gulf War veteran who has very generously given his time--and his heart--to volunteer at a large military medical center in San Antonio. Most specifically visiting with (listening to) amputees.
My character Sarge lost his leg after stepping on a landmine.

So today, after church, this man graciously sat down with me. I peppered him with questions: about sand, heat, Scud missiles, landmines, sights, smells, military terms . . . post traumatic stress, civilian casualties. I introduced him to Sarge--and then he taught me more about this character I'd created . . . than I ever knew. I scribbled notes page after page, as fast as I could. Interesting details. Like:

1) The all pervasive memory of that war is the burning oil fields: air so black with sulfurous, choking smoke that day looks like night.
2) Day time temperatures reach 117 degrees-- gas masks fill with perspiration until a soldier must to dump it out to avoid inhaling his own sweat.
3) So strong was the fear of biological (and chemical) warfare, that soldiers drank only imported, bottled water from the U.S.
4) The quiet (complete and eerie, dead-still quiet) of the desert night . . . lets you hear your own heartbeat.
5) Scud missiles shriek and squeal as they pass overhead.
6) A foxhole (dark and small and contained) provides a sense of "safety."
7) The last sound a victim of landmine hears . . . is a small "click."

He talked. I listened. I learned. And found amazing factual support for some of the things that already appear in that first draft of DISASTER STATUS. Like traumatically stressed Sarge's need to hole up in a closet--so much like the safety of a foxhole. His obsession with bottled water--he'd learned in war, to trust nothing else. Those parts of the puzzle fit, so much so that I'm grateful that my editors changed wars on me! But mostly, I'm struck for something that happened after my interview with this kind veteran:

I'd thanked him (over and over) and explained how it was my publisher's hope that DISASTER STATUS (and this Mercy Hospital series) would reach thousands of readers that needed an encouraging message of hope. He smiled and said, "Something led you to me--maybe I'm supposed to be part of helping you to help all that happen."

He meant, of course, that it was a result of a bigger Plan than ours.

Amen. I couldn't agree more.

Thank you, veterans and military personnel (and families) everywhere!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hugs and Howdies: CBE

On Saturday, hubby and I tossed a suitcase into the Murano, programmed the GPS and drove north to Dallas--for a whirlwind day at Christian Book Expo. Because we had little time, my goals were simple: get a feel for this first-time event, pop in and say hello at my publisher's booth (Tyndale House) and try to see a few of the author friends I "rub elbows" with almost daily online, but rarely see in person. Simple goal, short day, but entirely enjoyable. And with several great moments. Like:

Hugs and laughs with the lovely, talented (and really funny!) B&H author, Leanna Ellis. That's us in the photo above. She's just signed a copy of her newest release, Ruby's Slippers. Another warm, funny, and thoughtful women's fiction novel set in her native Texas. I've thoroughly enjoyed her first two, Elvis Takes a Back Seat, and Lookin' Back Texas (set in infamous Luckenback, a town not far from where I live), and can't wait to get started on this one!
Here's the description:

Dottie Meyers, 35, is a real-life Dorothy Gale living with her little black dog on a small farm in Kansas that’s about to be hit by a tornado. Knocked unconscious by the storm, she awakes three months later at a recovery facility in California where her father, last seen when she was four, has left her a mysterious pair of ruby slippers.

But unlike The Wizard of Oz, this isn’t a dream, and the yellow brick road journey that Dottie and three friends are about to take from Los Angeles to Seattle in search of her dad will show the realities of a broken childhood. More importantly, everything connected to those sparkling red shoes will prove to Dottie that there’s only one true wonder worker behind the so-called curtain who can heal her wounds and prepare the heart for love.

Besides living in Texas and loving the color red, Le and I have at least a couple of other things in common: we share the same amazing literary agent, Natasha Kern, and we both began our writing careers in the mainstream market before following our hearts to write inspirational fiction. As a matter of fact, Leanna will be giving a workshop at the Romance Writers of America national convention in Washington D.C. this year for other writers who feel they may want to follow this writing path--I have a feeling it will be well attended!

Another highlights of my day at CBE, was seeing and having a quick chat with the gracious and amazing Colleen Coble who signed her newest release, Cry in the Night. I'm hoping to be able to post a picture here of her as well--my camera died and a friend took one, so stay tuned. Plus (more than serendipity), while I was visiting with Colleen, who should be there but one of my very favorite bloggers and CBA reviewers, Linda of Mocha with Linda! Another giddy hugfest, and a wonderful opportunity to sit down and chat--and have an impromptu interview as well. A delightful ending to my whirlwind day at CBE.

Hugs, Howdies, great books, good folks--the GPS knew right where to go!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Passing the Word

Today at Bible study, a friend told told me she'd been at our local ER and mentioned to a nurse that she knew someone who "is writing a fiction book series about emergency medicine." In an instant, this nurse's brows rose and she quickly asked, "Oh, you mean 'Critical Care'? By Candace Calvert? I can't wait to read that book!" I am not making this up. You could knock me over with a feather . . . and I would lie there flat on my back, smiling. Truth is, I've never met that nurse and (swear) I've never wandered through that (or any) medical facility (yet) wearing a huge sandwich-style advertising sign, shouting via a megaphone "Buy my book!" This nurse apparently lives in San Antonio, and somehow, somewhere heard about the book-- still 2 months from being released!

I have no idea how she learned of it. Maybe in a nurses' lounge. Most likely online, at websites like (my publisher) Tyndale House, Christian Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and American Christian Fiction Writers. Or perhaps via my posts on large social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Shoutlife. Maybe she's even a fan of my quirky cruise mysteries, read about the upcoming series in my newsletter and wants to "climb aboard." I don't know. But the great thing is that she's heard the word, and she (like my friend from Bible study) is passing that information on.

Word of mouth
, even in this age of technical wizardry, is still the best method of marketing. And the kindest on a scrambling author's pocketbook--something definitely on my mind as I mail off the second sizable check to my (very talented) web designer. I'm already budgeting for a launch party and travel to signing events. Authors (both new and experienced) try a variety of marketing and promotional tools. Some standard, some . . . a little strange. Here are a few things I tried in an attempt to stir up the buzz on my mystery series:

1) Huge glossy stand-up posters of the book covers (more than 100 bucks per pop)
2) Postcards and bookmarks--zillions.
3) mini-lifejacket ornaments as prizes.
4) A full size frosted Styrofoam wedding cake (with skull and crossbones) to match a book cover.
5) Baking dozens (and dozens and dozens) of shortbread cookies stamped with anchors
6) Buying "nautical" clothing to wear to signing events.
7) Having a Holland America cruise ship captain pose with me, holding my book
8) Auctioning a chance to appear as a character in one of my books (local charity)
Plus the usual promo ideas like ads in magazines, radio and newspaper interviews, blog tours, holding contests, etc. We make lists, we brainstorm, we try.

Authors do these things (buy this, spend that, lug gear around) never knowing for sure if their efforts influence sales. But, bottom line, if it gets people talking and the word spreads . . . golden. There are thousands of books out there, so many authors to choose from, that I know I'm grateful when a trusted friend recommends a good book. Aren't you?

This is why part of my marketing plan for Critical Care will involve creating a list of "influencers"--volunteers who receive a free copy of the book and then (if they like it), pass the word to friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, church members . . . and via star-studded reviews on sites like and Barnes & Noble. It is the very best way to generate interest . . . and the biggest blessing in the successful launch of a book.

So, if you're interested in joining my list of influencers, let me know. And, meanwhile, if you're in a hospital ER (or grocery store, or barbershop, vet, Jiffy Lube, dog park) tell them you know someone who's writing this great book. My friend at Bible study did. And I've now armed her with a stack of business cards. I'll be giving her an influencer book copy too. But I'm stopping short of asking her to wear that sandwich sign. Or carry a megaphone. Her word of mouth will more than suffice . . . and I'm really grateful.

It's my biggest dream to offer entertainment, encouragement and hope via this new medical drama series. Every day--every TV news cast, headline, every troubled face--I'm convinced we need exactly that. Help me spread the hope, won't you?
Word of mouth--let's start talking!

Oh, and if you need a Styrofoam wedding cake (with a skull and crossbones) give me a call.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Writer's Brain--enter if you dare

Tomorrow I'll back in my (well-worn) chair, typing the opening words of my newest novel (working title) CODE TRIAGE. It will be the third book in my new Mercy Hospital Series. Critical Care is about 10 weeks from appearing on the shelves, Disaster Status is in my editors' hands. Since the most common question for a writer is, "How do you think up all that stuff?" And because my tumbling imagination kept me up into the wee hours last night, I thought I'd give you a peek into this writer's brain. If you dare, that is. So here we go--bring a flashlight. It can get weird in there.

First of all, I have an advantage because I "know" the two main characters who will "star" in this book: ER physician Leigh Stathos, and her estranged husband, San Francisco SWAT officer, Nick Stathos. How did I meet them? Easy: they walked out of the pages of Disaster Status, much the same way one of the main characters in Disaster Status (Erin Quinn) escaped from pages of Critical Care. In TV, they would call this a "spin off." The Mercy Hospital Series is tied together by a single fictional hospital system, and the stories take place in the ER's of Sierra Mercy (Gold Country, California), Pacific Mercy (Northern California coast) and Golden Gate Mercy (San Francisco). Each story revolves around staff reactions (critical stress) after an inciting disaster: a propane explosion, a hazardous material spill, and a hostage situation. The first heroine is a nurse educator, the second an ER charge nurse, the third an ER physician. Heroes (in order) : ER Medical Director, Fire Captain, SWAT officer. Characters, settings, situations, opportunities for conflict. The basic framework in place. It's the details--character quirks, bits of dialogue, past history--that run rampant in a writer's mind and eventually fill out the story.

Now point your flashlight: here's a few things prodding my brain these past few weeks:

1) Nick Stathos grew up in foster homes.
2) Leigh's mother is on her third world cruise (and third husband) . . . and didn't attend her daughter's wedding.
3) Leigh missed the funeral of Nick's slain partner.
4) Carbon monoxide poisoning will factor in to the opening scenes.
5) As will the first breath-catching encounter between Leigh Stathos. . . and the beautiful, determined child crisis counselor she blames for her shattered marriage.
6) A lemon tree will likely be symbolic in the story . . .
7) As will an abused miniature donkey (one-eared cat in the first book, aged goldfish in the second . . . see why we toss and turn? It's not just sheep we count, folks).
8) Medical scenes will include: carbon monoxide exposure, overdose, gut trauma, anaphylactic shock.
9) Someone important to the story . . . will get shot.
10) The premise will center around family--betrayal,trust.

I know the beginning, the climax, the "dark moment," and the end. It's not GPS, but enough of a road map to start. So . .

I'll type, punch my pillow, watch for those inevitable "walk on" characters, listen to what they tell me, and keep on going. I'll send chapters to my wonderful critique partner, tuck her suggestions away . . . and move on. Build the story, don't look back.

Keep my flashlight handy. Extra batteries on hand . . . and the coffee flowing.
Book Three, we're off and running!

Oh yeah--I love that writer's brain image above. She has my eyes. And a Chihuahua popping up from her brain. Like the one in Disaster Status. Not kidding. His name is Jonah. And he yodels.

Weird in there. I warned you.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I've officially turned in the polished manuscript for DISASTER STATUS the second book in my Mercy Hospital Series. About two weeks ahead of deadline, but with my usual heart-fluttering angst. Meaning that my finger hovered over the "Send" button for a least an hour, while my dratted "Internal Editor" (the bane of all writers) whispered an ugly and endless litany of things like, "There are typos . . . are you sure about that scene in Chapter 14? You gave a character your editor's last name--are you crazy?" And, his finest: "Who on earth ever told you that you could write a book, anyway????" And then he kept going, until I trapped him under my wastebasket, took a deep breath and sent the manuscript sailing off through cyberspace. A copy to my acquiring editor, my personal editor, and to my literary agent. It took me an hour to calm down afterward, all the while watching my computer's inbox for the return receipt message. Like a Mom covertly tailing her kid's school bus as it takes him to his first day of Kindergarten.

, 323 pages from opening scene to the end of the epilogue--six month's work. And, in truth, my SEVENTH completed book. Doesn't matter, apparently, whether its your first, your seventh, or your 40th. Every writer will tell you that there's always that little doubt, that frisson of anxiety after you type "The End" and prepare to send it off. Because in truth, you've lived with this book, with these characters, for long months. Their goals, quirks, motivations, dark moments, triumphs have become your own, and . . . then they're gone. Leaving you to wonder: did I do them justice? Will their story touch readers? But the soul-soothing balm--the truth--is that a writer isn't alone in this process. Because in addition to those imaginary friends, there is a team of supportive folks like:

My husband: who understands when an idea awakens me at 4:30 in morning, reminds me to get up from the computer and stretch, and proudly tells complete strangers about my work. In the Home Depot line, on the golf course, grocery store, YMCA . . .

My critique partner: Nancy Herriman, has been reading my work--helping me endlessly--for years now. She's very good at swatting my internal editor. And me, too, when necessary. ("Your ellipses are making me crazy--quit that!")
Literary Agent:
I've been represented by outstanding agent, Natasha Kern, for over 6 years now. An enormous blessing.

Writing groups
: Like the Faith Hope & Love chapter of RWA, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the HeartBeat Chapter of RWA. Some members I've met in person, many I know well even cross thousands of cyberspace miles.

And, of course, my editors at Tyndale: Jan Stob and Lorie Popp, who now have DISASTER STATUS in their very capable hands. They'll read it, give me suggestions and feedback to improve it. Make it a better book, the same way they did with CRITICAL CARE. I'm looking forward to working with them again.

So, the truth is that a writing a book isn't at all like the romantic and solitary image of Lucy Ricardo at her typewriter. It's a team effort. Sometimes frantic, often times angsty, and--like Lucy in the candy factory--a bit sticky. But I'm so grateful for the company. And delighted to have written "The End" on DISASTER STATUS.

Oh, yeah. That picture of Lucy and Ethel reminds me: celebratory chocolate. Great idea--chocolate for everyone!

Except the grouchy Internal Editor under my wastebasket. He gets to munch on typos, ellipses, and formatting glitches. Washed down with a cup of angst.

What's that? Aagh, he wants to know when I'm starting the third book, CODE TRIAGE.

Down, boy.
Here we go again.