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 . . .