FACTS I’VE LEARNED BY WRITING FICTION – BOOK TWO

Continuing with the topic from my previous post, I’m sharing more of the facts I’ve learned by writing fiction, and in particular, researching the Aimee Machado Mysteries, featuring a health sciences librarian.

Librarians are trained researchers. If they’re curious, they look things up. Here are facts I came across while my protagonist searched for the solution to the mystery in CHECKED OUT, the second book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series.

BOOK TWO: CHECKED OUT

QUESTION ONE:
How many people in the U.S. get Lyme disease within a given year?

FACT: The Center for Disease Control estimates 300,000 cases per year.

In the U.S., Lyme disease is spread through the bite of a tiny blacklegged tick.

Most infections occur in three principal areas:

  • Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from northeastern Virginia to Maine
  • North central states, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota
  • West Coast, particularly northern California

The areas listed are based on where people live, not necessarily where they became infected. Cases diagnosed and reported from an area where Lyme disease is not expected are almost always travel-related.      

A national survey found that nearly 20 percent of people surveyed where Lyme disease is common were unaware that it was a risk. Half the people interviewed in another study did nothing to protect themselves against tick bites during warm weather.

For more complete information on Lyme disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html
Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BOOK TWO – QUESTION TWO:
How much can a champion cutting horse earn in one year?

FACT: A three-year-old cutting horse taking first place at a National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) event can win as much as $250,000. By competing in several events during a given year, the same horse can earn as much as a million dollars. Worldwide, total cutting horse event winnings in one year average more that 30 million dollars.

For more complete information on cutting horses, visit http://www.nchacutting.com/

To contact a cutting horse trainer, call 530-945-6079, or visit https://www.facebook.com/RandyBrooksCuttingHorses
Cutting horse photo courtesy of Randy Brooks.

Visit www.sharonstgeorge.com again soon for facts I learned by writing Book Three of the Aimee Machado Mysteries.

Books in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries, published by Camel Press, are available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from your local bookstore in trade paperback and as ebooks.

FACTS I’VE LEARNED BY WRITING FICTION

As a fiction writer, it always surprises me when people say they don’t read fiction because it isn’t real. They read only nonfiction, because they’re more interested in facts.

After hearing yet another nonfiction reader express that notion, I found myself thinking of the many interesting facts I’ve learned by writing fiction, and in particular, researching my mystery series featuring a health sciences librarian.

Librarians are trained researchers. If they’re curious, they look things up. I’d like to share some of the notable facts I’ve come across while my protagonist searched for the solutions to mysteries in the first four books in the Aimee Machado Mystery series.

To keep the list brief, I’ll offer only a small sampling from each book, serving them up one book at a time.

BOOK ONE –  DUE FOR DISCARD

QUESTION ONE:
How many professional journalists are killed in the line of duty within a given year?
FACT:  Thirty-four journalists have been killed so far in 2017. The deadliest countries are:

 

1 – Iraq                         8
2 – Syria                       7
3 – Mexico                    5
4 – Yemen                    2
5 – Somalia                  2
6 – Russia                    2
7 – Afghanistan            1
8 – South Sudan          1
9 – Philippines             1

BOOK ONE – QUESTION TWO:
How much does it cost to have a pet preserved cryogenically?

FACT:  According to the website of one pet cloning and cryogenics company, the cost of cryopreserving a cat is $5,800. For a dog, cryopreservation cost is $5,800 up to fifteen pounds in weight plus $150 per pound for every pound above fifteen. For a pet bird of typical size, the charge is $1,000.

Disclaimer: While the cost is a fact, this author does not vouch for the legitimacy of the service being
offered.

Visit www.sharonstgeorge.com again soon for facts I learned by writing Book Two of the Aimee Machado Mysteries.

The hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries, published by Camel Press, are available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from your local bookstore in trade paperback and as ebooks.

Aimee Machado Talks Turkey

Today on the Sharon St. George website I’ve invited the protagonist from my Aimee Machado Mystery series to post a story about life in fictional Coyote Creek, where she lives with her fictional boyfriend and her fictional grandmother and step-grandfather.

Hi,

My name is Aimee Machado. My boyfriend, Nick Alexander, and I live in a ranching community in Northern California called Coyote Creek. Our apartment is a converted bunkhouse over my grandparents’ llama barn.

I’m a hospital librarian at Timbergate Medical Center, a few short miles from where we live, and Nick is a corporate pilot. But when we’re at home, we’re all about country life.

Sometimes it’s just routine, like helping my grandmother Amah and her husband, Jack, feed and care for their llamas and turkeys. Other times, something a little different comes along.

Like last weekend, when Amah was out of town visiting her brother, and Nick was away flying his billionaire boss to meetings in another state. I was enjoying a relaxing evening, watching Hugh Jackman in Logan, when Jack knocked on my door.

“Aimee, the setting hen just left her nest with three of her hatchlings. Come help me catch them before they scatter. She needs to be caged with them for a while, or they’ll fall victim to all sorts of predators.”

I paused my movie, reluctantly, I admit, and headed out to participate in a poultry roundup. We caught the three little ones easily, and settled them in a large, roomy cage with their mother hen. Jack provided food and water, and I thought we were finished. Back to Logan.

No such luck. Jack had checked the hen’s vacated nest and found one egg still there. The egg was pipped, which meant the poult was still inside, trying to get out, but it was too late to put the egg with the hen. As far as she was concerned, her incubating time was over. She had three offspring to take care of, and she had moved on.

Jack took the egg to the main house, put it in a box and set a lamp over it, hoping once the little one broke out, we could take it to its hen. But nothing was happening. After a few hours, Jack decided to assist by opening the shell himself. The poult was alive, but feeble and floppy, as newborn turkeys usually are for the first few hours.

“This has happened before,” Jack said. “Your Amah usually puts the little one under her shirt next to her heart for a few hours. Then when it’s strong enough to walk on its own, we give it to the hen.” He gave me a meaningful look. Would I volunteer?

“Does that always work?” I asked. “I thought the hen wouldn’t take a baby that had been handled by humans.”

“Not true, at least not with our turkeys,” Jack said. “We’ve done it successfully a few times before. Mama hen and baby both have a strong, instinctive desire to connect.”

I’ll skip to the finish and tell you that the little one came along just fine. After a few hours of cuddling next to my heart, it could stand and run around with sufficient strength that we were able to put it in the cage, reunited with the rest of its family.

Now, back to Logan. He and his fellow mutants have performed amazing feats over the years, but have any of them played nursemaid to a baby turkey? I think not.

To see what Aimee and her crime-solving cohorts are up to these days, have a look at Spine Damage, the newest release in the Aimee Machado Mystery series. If you’re not sure where the Azores Islands are, you’ll know all about this nine-island archipelago by the time you’ve taken an armchair trip there with Aimee and Nick.

“There are many well-researched crime and medical details which lend authenticity to the novel . . . Readers who enjoy detailed world and character building with sweet romance will thoroughly enjoy Spine Damage.” —Claudette Melanson for InD’Tale Magazine

http://indtale.com/reviews/mystery/spine-damage-aimee-machado-mystery-4

 

DON’T FENCE ME IN: GIVING A MYSTERY SERIES ROOM TO ROAM

Some of us are old enough to remember the jokes about “Cabot Cove Syndrome” that were going around back when Angela Lansbury’s mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher, was solving murder cases. Others may have discovered Murder, She Wrote through the ever-present reruns on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel.

The program about a small fictional town in Maine featured a new murder every week, and with the small population there, it seemed townsfolk were dying off like flies. The jokesters had a saying that still rings true as good advice for mystery writers today. “Don’t move to Cabot Cove.” This is particularly important if they’re writing an amateur sleuth series or cozy mysteries, which are often set in small towns.

Eventually, Jessica Fletcher’s writers picked up on the problem, and sent her off to New York City where she kept an apartment. Then they began sending her to all sorts of other cities and countries to practice her detecting skills. She kept her home in Cabot Cove, but far fewer murders happened there.

So how do we place our mystery series protagonist in a small town, yet still offer her, or him, the necessary room to roam? In my case, planning ahead before writing the first book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series was the key. Using what I knew about the world outside my own hometown seemed like the way to go. What were the reasons my protagonist might break away temporarily from her hometown and her job as a hospital librarian to solve a crime?

First, I gave her parents who live half a world away on a mid-Atlantic island in the Azores. Something I was familiar with, because I’d been there.

Then, I gave her a corporate pilot as a boyfriend. Something else I knew about, because there was a general aviation pilot boyfriend in my own past. With a pilot and a plane at her disposal, Aimee can hop to all sorts of destinations when the need arises: San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, even the Azores.  No problem.

And remembering Jessica Fletcher’s New York adventures, I gave my protagonist a grandfather and step-grandmother who are actors living in New York City. Something else I knew about, as I had spent a lot of time around New York’s theatre scene while living on the East Coast studying for my Theatre Arts degree.

And last, but far from least, my protagonist lives on a llama ranch owned by her other set of grandparents. Her home is a converted bunkhouse above their llama barn. Conveniently, it’s only a short drive to the hospital where she works. In the second book in my series, her experience with llamas gave her the opportunity to hike in the mountain wilderness near her home when tracking down a missing character.

So a small-town setting may be a great home base for a mystery protagonist, but it’s a lot more fun for readers if that character has plenty of room to roam. I know it’s a lot more fun for me.

In Spine Damage, the fourth book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, Aimee and Nick travel from their hometown of Timbergate, California to the Azores Islands and then to San Francisco’s yachting scene. They’re on a desperate search for clues to the fate of a missing teenage girl held captive on a superyacht whose destination is unknown. We’ll know if they find her in time when the book is released May 15, 2017.

 

Novelists: Actors Who Play All the Parts

In a temporary lull between final edits of the fourth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery Series, and working out the plot of book five, I found myself tempted to take a plum role in a local theater production of Ken Ludwig’s Edgar-winning play. The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes For the Holidays.

Several years had passed since I last trod the boards, and I had spent those years following my dream of becoming a published mystery novelist. Once that dream became a reality, I thought I had conquered my addiction to live theater. I was confident that I could take on this role, strictly as a favor to the director, of course, and when the run was over, I’d go back to my keyboard and my life as a mystery novelist.

And that’s exactly what happened, but something else happened along the way. I discovered that fiction writers and actors are very much alike. One of my fellow cast members made a remark in the green room about her long-ago desire to write fiction. She said she gave it a try, but everything she wrote seemed stiff, so she decided she wasn’t a writer and gave it up. Hearing her say that made me sad that she had given up so soon, because I recalled going through that same experience. Not only in writing fiction, but in my first attempts as an actor. Stiff. Self-conscious. Blah. I wasn’t “gifted” with spontaneous ability in either art form, so why even try?

For me, the reason to try acting was the feeling, when I attended live theater productions, that I didn’t belong in the audience. I couldn’t stop thinking I belonged on the stage. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized where that feeling came from. As a two-year-old, I was signed up for dance lessons by my mother, and for the next ten years, I was always on stage, never in the audience. First came the hula, then Spanish dancing, rumba, tap, and ballet. Finally, when it became clear that I did not have the feet of a ballerina, my dancing years came to an end. Instead, I turned first to live theater, and then to writing fiction.

After my recent return to acting, it struck me that fiction writers are, in a sense, actors who play all the parts. In theater, we actors usually create only one character—the role we were cast to play. We start with a script, and within the context of the story, we gain some idea of what our character is like. But we must bring that character to life with attitude, emotion, personality quirks, a past, and best of all, a secret. We do everything we can to flesh out that character on a live stage and to give the audience something to understand and relate to.

In writing fiction, we do the same, but instead of creating just one character, we create all of them. In our writing space, we put our physical bodies in a chair and tap a keyboard. But in our minds, we’re becoming any number of living, breathing people. We know what they look like, sound like, think like, and act like. Are they sane or crazy? Healthy or ill? Happy or sad? If we’re doing our characters justice, we could step into any of their skins and take them on a stage, fully formed and ready for an audience who will see them as we do in our minds.


In SPINE DAMAGE, book four of the Aimee Machado Mystery Series, 
Aimee and Nick are on their way to the Azores to hunt down clues to a missing teenage girl who vanished after attending a party on a luxury yacht. They stop off in Boston to visit Aimee’s grandfather, an actor who is appearing in a Boston theater’s production of BUS STOP. Although they enjoy the play, the mystery surrounding the girl’s disappearance deepens, and solving it becomes a deadly race against time. SPINE DAMAGE is due for release on May 15, 2017.

Heavy Traffic Got You Down? It’s Worse Than You Think!

While channel surfing the other day, I happened to land for a few moments on a program where a lovely twenty-eight-year-old Pakistani woman named Nelufar Hedayat was being interviewed. She spoke about a series titled The Traffickers on the Fusion Channel. My interest was aroused, as I had just finished the fourth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery series.

spine_damage_300

In my book, titled Spine Damage, a fifteen-year-old Portuguese girl goes missing from her home on an Azorean island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after she makes the mistake of accepting an invitation to a yacht party.

I can’t reveal here what happens to my character, a lovely, naïve and headstrong teenager named Liliana Ferrera, as that would be a spoiler, and the book isn’t due for release until May of 2017. What I can say is that I wish more attention were being paid to the devastating impact every sort of illegal trafficking makes on countries around the world, including the United States of America.

Not once during the recent, seemingly endless presidential campaign, did I hear a candidate express a workable solution to the problem of trafficking, whether the merchandise is drugs, stolen art, rhino horns, or human beings (often children) who are sold for purposes of slave labor or for sex. Nor did I hear any reference to the illegal trade in black market organs.

Yes, there was mention of building a wall. Of course, Paul Revere could have reminded us that not all invasions come by land. A wall will not stop drug boats from reaching our shores, or freighters from docking in our harbors laden with containers (only a fraction of which are searched). And how many airplanes touch down in our country on remote landing strips? What about autos and foot traffic arriving from the north? Will we build a second wall from coast to coast along the Canadian border?

I hold the fictional answers to lovely Liliana’s fate, but what of the thousands of real-life human souls who have been taken from their homes and forced into a black-market world, or the flood of other illicit trade that feeds the appetites of criminal buyers in this country and others throughout the world? For more on this subject, watch Nelufar Hedayat on the Fusion channel on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m..  http://fusion.net/page/the-traffickers/

Will an innocent, trusting young teen be rescued in time? Find out when Spine Damage, book four in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, is released in May of 2017. And in book five, we’ll continue the theme with a mystery surrounding illegal organ harvesting. Meanwhile, the first three books in the series are available in print and e-book versions by shopping online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or upon request at your local bookstore.

Hospital Volunteers: Unsung Heroes

We tend to think of hospital volunteers as elderly, gray-haired Pink Ladies who sit behind a reception desk in the lobby giving directions. Or we imagine young female Candy Stripers who staff the gift shop, selling flowers or teddy bears to patients’ families. Yes, those are volunteers, and we love them for caring and donating their time. But the modern hospital volunteer fills many other rewarding and sometimes surprising roles.

dsc_4336These days, candy striper outfits only see the light of day at Halloween parties, but most hospitals do require volunteers to wear uniforms that allow them to be easily identified. In spite of the lack of financial compensation, there are many ways that volunteering in a hospital can be rewarding. Men and women of all ages and walks of life are participating in this vital and generous form of volunteer work. They are vibrant, productive and priceless assets in the health care world.

The American Hospital Association’s website mentions a host of volunteer roles that many of us have never imagined. One hospital uses volunteer doulas, trained professionals who provide hands-on physical and psychological support during and just after birth: or who provide emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. That hospital estimates that 23 percent of its 1,500 births annually are attended by volunteer doulas.

And volunteers need not be involved directly with patients. In other hospitals and outpatient facilities, volunteer artists have painted calming scenes on ceiling tiles, providing creative art as a distraction for patients awaiting procedures, lying in hospital beds or undergoing other tests and therapies, as well as for families sitting in waiting rooms.

In another setting, volunteers staff a freestanding bookstore in the center of the hospital, which lends and re-sells new or gently used books and uses the proceeds to fund scholarships for the hospital’s teen storycatcher-1-3volunteers.

A meaningful project for writers is practiced in a hospital where volunteers obtain the life
stories of patients and share them with hospital staff, physicians, family and friends. The stories or poems capture the essence of the patients’ lives and allow patients to restore and/or enhance their relationships with loved ones.

Examples of many more hospital volunteer job descriptions are listed on the Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center website:
http://www.memorialmedicalcenter.org/community/Volunteer/Volunteerservices.html

Breach CoverIn Breach of Ethics, book three of the Aimee Machado mysteries, two senior volunteers, a widow and a widower, find satisfaction and purpose by volunteering in Aimee’s domain, the hospital library. The volunteers work their shifts on alternate days, but their common interest in the library soon brings them close together and promises to light up their golden years.