A week before Thanksgiving, a sudden virulent pneumonia sent my husband, Ron, into heart failure. Fifteen days later, his life ended in an ICU when I asked the staff to turn off life support. Knowing this was what he would have wanted was the only comfort my sons and I felt.
In the quiet hush of the nursing unit, our youngest son and I waited for the end, touching and talking to Ron, knowing he could hear us even though he couldn’t open his eyes or respond. Seven hours later, we watched the monitor blip red for the last time as his valiant athlete’s heart gave out. Only a straight red line remained, releasing us from our sad vigil.
My shattered heart said goodbye to the man who had been my college sweetheart and best friend. We had celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary months earlier, and his passing stunned me. My family went into shock. He’d played golf with a friend just ten days before illness struck, and now he was gone?
I was plunged into the post traumatic stress reaction we call grief, but life went on, demanding I take on everything Ron had done for us as well as my responsibilities. The daily rhythm to our marriage vanished and my brain fragmented. Forgetting came easy, focusing was almost impossible. By early afternoon my tears and the emotional drain of losing him had exhausted me. I slept a lot.
People urged me to take time for myself, do something fun. You’ve got to be kidding! I’m drowning under everything that must be done.
Because his mother died at 99, Ron wasn’t prepared to pass at 85. He hadn’t told me how to get into the online stock or bank accounts, what to do with his life insurance or how to prepare our taxes. I didn’t know even little things—like how to set the controller for our lawn sprinklers when to pay the gardener or get the car serviced. My husband had not only taken care of all the usual “man” things around the house—fixing a running toilet or taking out the trash—he’d managed our finances because he had an accounting background. I was a retired RN.
I could have sworn I was the object of some witch’s spell when things began to fall apart—printers and TVs, the electric garage door opener, the cords connecting the wooden blinds in the family room shredded due to age, and the vertical blinds in the living room windows that faced the street stopped closing tightly, and people could see in—see a woman alone—at night.
Chaos. There was no other word for it. How was I going to survive?
My WIP, a novella, had lacked only a thousand words to completion when my old life ended so abruptly. Even had I been able to get my mind in gear, I had no time to write. So I didn’t.
After a couple months, the one pleasure I allowed myself was to let friends drive me to a meeting of our RWA chapter in Orange County, California. I let chatting about writing on the drive in and back, the warm chapter friendships, and discussions about craft and marketing flow around and nurture me.
After one meeting, I came home inspired, opened my computer and reread my novella. Oh, I had no time for this but, when I realized this was a world I could control, I wrote for fifteen minutes.
Deepening my characters as they moved toward their goals in the world I’d created brought surcease from the real one I struggled with every day. Little by little, I finished that thousand words, then it struck home that I’d written myself into a hole: I was rushing the ending.
And so I wrote on. Then, as smooth as silk, I had over 40,000 words and the work was done. Without even thinking about it, I had finished a Book in a Year.
I will never forget Ron or the life we shared. He had a gift for numbers, mine was wrangling words onto paper. I loved him because he encouraged that part of me, love him more deeply now because through the chaos words on paper were what centered me, gave me the courage to figure out my “new life”—as my artist/writer friend, Sheila Hansberger, describes widowhood.
Artists paint, sketch and sculpt, composers compose, and writers write because that is what we do.
It is who we are.
Dee Ann Palmer is a multi-published, award-winning author who writes sensual romance under this name. As Carolina Valdez, she writes explicit gay and m/f romances in several subgenres. She lives in southern California, is a PAN member of RWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime.
by Shauna Roberts
Todayâ€™s Guest: Dee Ann Palmer
A former nurse, Dee Ann Palmer now writes full time under her own name and as Carolina Valdez and Carol Holman. Her latest publication as Dee Ann Palmer is the mystery story “Marathon Madness” in the anthology Landmarked for Murder (Top). This month, her Carolina Valdez alter ego publishes “Tie ‘Em Up, Hold ‘Em Down” (Amber Quill Press), an erotic e-novella about two firefighters in love.
Dee Ann, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?
I would tell my prepublished self that I should learn how to research.
My latest project illustrates the importanceâ€”and the difficultyâ€”of researching a story well. As I began “Tie ‘Em Up, Hold ‘Em Down,” I wondered whether I was crazy to tackle a story involving slow-pitch baseball, firefighting, and search and rescue. After all, it was a big chunk, and I was the one crafting the story. I didn’t have to do this! Call me doggedâ€”or maybe just plain stubbornâ€”but I stuck with it.
You need to understand those subjects weren’t entirely new to me. That’s what gave me the courage to use them. The men in my family had played baseball while I cheered from the sidelines and brought refreshments. Training to be a MIC (mobile intensive care) Nurse many years ago, I’d spent twenty hours in a fire station in a neighboring town, hanging out and riding with their paramedics. That gave me an atmosphere from which to create my own station and a glimpse into how they lived while on duty.
There are no women in this novella, but I’d recently seen a presentation to eighth-grade girls by a female firefighter, and I even knew the seventy-pound weight of their backpacks was the same whether carried by men or women.
I’ve watched “Dog Whisperer” on TV, seen TV specials on search-and-rescue teams, and, in my Sisters in Crime chapter meetings, heard an expert witness on search hounds who breeds Bloodhounds.
No matter how familiar the subjects I’d chosen were to me, I researched them. The tools I used included the Internet, personal interviews and the local library, with its interlibrary loan system, periodicals, books, and videos. I could have accessed the Internet in the library if I hadn’t had my own computers.
As an example, I decided to use a Bloodhound, but what colors did they come in? How much did they weigh? An email contact with a breeder gave me that information. I decided which color I liked and gave my hound a name. An Internet look at search and rescue teams gave me clues as to other hounds used and revealed that some are air scenters and others are ground scenters. Because Bloodhounds are ground scenters, I chose an air scenter as my second dog.
A look at online photos of the SAR team in my county as they assembled to train sparked the opening scenes of my story.
As for firefighting, I spoke by phone with a battalion chief in my town and stopped firefighters when I saw them ready to leave a call or found them in the supermarket. Did they sleep dormitory style? Who was in charge on a call? Yes, they still come down poles and only have one minute to hit the mat at the bottom once the alarm sounds. A loudspeaker tells them the nature of the call and what to roll. The captain confirms it via print out.
Because I was writing about gays, I didn’t have the courage to ask for a tour of the main firehouse in my town. I did tell one man I was writing a romance filled with macho firefighters. He just laughed.
And, yes, I read three novels about gays, bought the ebook The Joy of Gay Sex, and looked up gay toys and sexual practices on the Internet.
I checked our local firefighter job descriptions online. Googling firefighting equipment and gear led me to ask about the mat and the boots and suits they use on different calls. I saw yellow suits in the back of an engine when I spoke to some men leaving a call up my street. Yes, they leave their suits in the truck or engine.
Well, what do you knowâ€”there are trucks and there are engines! Different purposes for various calls.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to use all the information in my story, but it would’ve been stupid not to look in depth for more than I’d personally experienced. I guess the short answer to whether all that research is necessary is YES. It makes your story ring with authenticity.
Dee Ann Palmer’s Website is at http://www.DeeAnnPalmer.com and her blog at http://www.dee-ann-palmer.blogspot.com/. The anthology Landmarked for Murder can be purchased from Dee Ann or online at Amazon.com.
Her Carolina Valdez Website is at http://www.CarolinaValdez.com and her blog at http://www.carolina-valdez.blogspot.com/. “Tie ‘Em Up, Hold ‘Em Down” is available at Amber Quill Press and will be available at Amazon.com.