Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Ogre and the Princess

Orville came in, fresh from Memorial, just as we were ending our shift change briefing. The ambulance crew was just getting him settled in Room 326 with the help of some of the shift aides finishing their good deeds for the evening.

Laura, our shift nurse, took down the word from a tired second shift supervisor: "New transfer, total hip replacement. He's combative, disoriented, and PIA."

Oh, great. That's all we need. Another THR who's here to finish out their last days with the rest of the Skilled Ward's "sliders."

I'd been at Hope Terrace nursing home for over a year by them, and was starting to get hardened from the stream of old, infirm, and helpless who were relegated to the "Forget Me Ward" biding their time, slowly sliding downhill until one of us finds them cold and still on the 3AM bed check. Most of them never even had families who visited anymore.

We took over after the second shift crew went home for the night. Rosie gathered a fresh supply of bed linens for the first check and I joined her on rounds while Shirley filled fresh water pitchers and Linda grabbed the cuff, stethoscope and thermometer for TPR's. Rosie and I walked into 326 and said hello to Fred, Orville's roommate. Fred had been at Hope Terrace going on his twentieth year, after taking a drunken header off the town's one viaduct. He was... okay, in most ways. Fred was just highly disoriented most of the time, and it was all we could do to keep him from tottering off down Andrew Avenue, calling every male "Jack" and asking for a ride to get a beer. Yeah, Fred was all right.

Orville was another matter. After Rosie and I said our hellos, Rosie lifted Orville's covers to check for moisture or a mess, when Orville's hand shot out and grabbed her by the wrist. She cried out in pain and surprise and tried to pull back. But as weak as the old man's lower body was, he had incredible arm and hand strength. He uttered an incomprehensible stream of what could be interpreted as obscenities, and wrench Rosie's arm.

I reached over to rescue my partner, but Orville's other hand came up before I could dodge, an iron-hard fist that smashed into my mouth and sent me reeling across the room.

Before I could get back up, the rest of the crew charged in with a Posie jacket. It took all five of us to hold that old codger down so Laura could zap him with a dose of Thorazine strong enough to mellow out an angry buffalo, and then we trussed him up so he couldn't do anyone else any more harm.

That was our introduction to "Orville the Ogre," and nothing changed after that. A few weeks later, I transferred to second shift, going in at 3PM and working until 11. Bed checks were replaced with therapy sessions and baths, and if you think it's easy giving a chair shower to a retired farmer with a mean streak a mile wide and the upper body strength of a bull, you have another think coming.

We had a total of thirty-six patients in the "Forget Me Ward," and spending all the extra time and attention keeping everyone else away from The Ogre kept us all hopping. We kept him tied to his wheelchair, secured by a restraint strap to the handrail in the hall, whenever we weren't feeding him or wrestling through his physical therapy. He was constantly hallucinating. The rock by the flagpole in the yard was a pig. The nurse's station was the cattle trough. In his barely intelligible, mush-mouthed way, he let us all know in no uncertain terms how he saw us, and I don't recall the term "human" being used once. Anything or anyone who wandered within range of those long, powerful arms got a punch or a pinch, or whatever unpleasantness he could unleash against one so foolish.

And then it happened. Family Day. Or what passed for Family Day in the "Forget Me Ward." A family actually came to visit one of the patients. A young mom and dad, in their twenties, there to see Grandma Lettie. And with them came Little Cassie. Three years old, dressed in a fairy princess gown. The cutest little thing anyone there had ever seen, and precocious as only a toddler could be. She skipped down the hall from the main lobby, just ahead of her parents. Past the utility room where we rinsed soiled bed linens before bagging them up for the laundry, past the nurse's station where Nancy prepped the medicine cups for the 5 o'clock round, around the corner--

And straight into the waiting arms of the Ogre.

I was watching him, I swear I was. I was young, I was fast, and I was strong, but I couldn't outrun a three-year-old princess, and I had no chance to save her. Horrified, we all watched speechless as the old farmer swept her up and drew her into his lap.

And hugged her close as she threw her arms around his neck with a happy squeal.

Orville the Ogre's face transformed. Stress lines disappeared, replaced by laugh wrinkles. The hard, angry eyes opened wide. For the first time, we heard his soft, hoarse voice, clear and strong. "Hello, there, young lady. Who may I ask are you?"

"I'm Cassie, and you can be my grandpa," she replied, and grabbed his weathered face in both hands, planting a warm, sloppy kiss right on his nose.

Orville laughed.

And three nurses and eight aides let go a collective sigh of relief. I stepped forward, still shaking, to help Cassie down, but her parents stopped me. "It's okay," her father said. "We just lost my dad, and if Cassie wants another Grandpa, I'm fine with it."

Cassie and Orville talked for another five minutes together. She showed him how she could dance in her pretty pink dress, and Orville oohed and ahed over every twirl, every dip, and every little bow.

Finally, her mom and dad called her over, and Cassie gave Orville one last hug with a promise to come see her new grandpa again, soon. Then she skipped off to say hello to Great Grandma Lettie.

I came to get Orville later to help him to bed. I barely avoided the punch thrown at my head as I untied the strap from the handrail, and ignored his mush-mouthed verbal assault as we rolled down the hall.

As I secured his Posie for the night, he scowled up at me one last time for the day. "Ain' summon gonna feed that damned pig?"

I chuckled to myself on the way out the door. Cassie, you better come back soon.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Simply Asking

Most people who know me know I'm not a proud man. God knows I haven't done much of which to be proud, in the grand scheme of things. I'm just a man. That being said,  I have done some things that I thought were pretty cool.

I got to meet Jim Varney once. For those who aren't familiar, Jim's most famous character was Ernest P. Worrell, a most loveable klutz very high on my cool-people list.
Another thing I'm pretty proud of is my writing, not in a "Oh, look at me, I'm awesome!" kind of way but more in a "Hey, I came up with this cool story and some folks liked it enough to publish it" way. It even won an award. So I guess that's pretty cool.
Which brings me to the heart of my post this week: I'd really like it if you bought my books. I have four out now, and you can check them all out by clicking on my "My Books" page.
I'd love to write full-time, and from the feedback I've received on my work, folks enjoy it a lot. But getting published, even winning awards, are wholly different from getting the exposure I need to become a commercial success. After making the "1 per cent cut" to get published, now I find myself trying to out-shout a half-million other writers out there trying to sell their books as well, and I'm afraid I'm not one to "jump in the mud and wrestle with the pigs."
So what I'm asking for, is everyone who has read my work and likes it, please tell your friends, post on Facebook and Twitter, and just spread the word. For those who haven't dived into my books yet, or hasn't read them all, I'd sincerely appreciate it if you bought my work.
Based on other feedback, You'll like what you read.
Thanks for your time. We'll be back next week with another peek inside my head (Not too scary, I assure you.) 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Author Influence: David Weber

Greetings once again, fellow castaways.

This week, I want to talk about yet another of the writers who have had significant influence in my literary taste, and writing style.

Few of you may even be aware of David Weber, unless you're big military science fiction fans. Thos who are, know exactly what I'm talking about when I say the term "Honorverse."

I was introduced to Mr. Weber through the first book in his series about Starship Captain Honor Harrington, aka who Janeway should have been.

Okay, I can already hear the What? in your voices. "But Kate Janeway was... Janeway!"
Yes, and she was also the reason I quit watching the Star Trek  franchise. I was just not attached to Capt. Janeway in the way that I was to others in the franchise. James T. Kirk was the "Photon Tordedo Kid," and Jean-Luc Picard was "Make it So." Yeah, they both had their appeal. JT was Mr. Action, always ready for the brawl, the phaser set to stun, the beautiful alien babe for whom to fall head over heels before the episode was over. Jean-Luc was Mr. Classy, ready to negotiate, able to talk his Shakespearian way out of just about any situation. But he always had a Klingon security chief and a first officer who could back up his talk with a big stick. Or bat'leth. Whatever it takes, right? Does anyone disagree with the statement "Worf kicks boo-tay?" Yeah, I thought not.
Okay, so fast forward a little bit to a bookstore where I was browsing one day for a something that would see me through a flight to Dallas. I find this book, On Basilisk Station, by David Weber. David Who?  No, that's Doctor Who. I said David Weber. I'm looking for a good read, and this looks like it's at least less boring than Arthur C. Clarke.
And I am sucked into the Honorverse. Weber creates this whole new universe and makes people live in it. What really set it off for me was the way Weber manages this huge cast of main characters in a way that each one has their own distinct personality, and they all undergo their own transformation throughout the book (See last week's post. I'm big on transformation).
Anyway, here's Miss Honor Harrington, lady starship captain, and she isn't all "Oh, the aliens are revolting? Let's invite them over for tea and crumpets." She is a commander. One who issues orders and expects them to be carried out. One who isn't squeamish about launching huge amounts of whoopass against the enemy, whether it's a flight of nuclear missiles ship-to-ship, or a lightning flurry of punches hand-to-hand.
Plus, she's got a twenty-pound lil' buddy full of claws and temper who's adopted her as his own: Nimitz, the treecat.
Yeah, man. Together, they be azzo-looly bad.
So I pore through Basilisk Station and start in on the rest of the series with great joy and aplomb. Then I discover Weber has written stories and books about my favorite AI's the Bolos. For hose who aren't up to speed, picture giant super-tank the size of a battleship, but on land, with immense firepower and the capacity to huck suns the size of basketballs at targets. That could be a bad day for someone. Oh, and did I mention Bolos are artificially intelligent as well?
I can tell you from reading many stories and books featuring Bolos, it takes a real talent to make a machine come to life convincingly. It's about as hard as writing humor, in fact. But Weber does it well. He's coordinated with John Ringo and other writers on various projects I've seen on the shelves. His voice is clean, his characters strong, his worlds are vivid, and his cultures are realistic. His action sequences will have you clutching the book with both hands, reading just one more page.
I think I've found my replacement for the late great Robert A. Heinlein.
Go to your favorite bookstore and check out David Weber today. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Good day, fellow Castaways on the Distant Shores of my mind. I apologize for the late post this week; it's been an awfully full schedule at the Keith Household. We have many things in transition, and sometimes time gets to be a premium. But here I am. Grad a coffee cup from the cart, fill it with warm, earthy goodness, and while you're at it, swipe a Danish or two. Let's sit by the fire and watch the snow fly by the windows on its way to SOMEWHERE ELSE, PLEASE!!!

I believe the key element in any story is something called Transformation. A character starts the story in one place and ends in another. The character can be a person or a  place, or even a situation. Without transformation, I believe, we really have no story. I only saw one exception to this maxim, in all the years I've read, and that story (written by someone else) hasn't seen the light of day. It was a study on the writer's part.

Even in stories where the main character doesn't transform, someone or something else should. A prime example of this is The Soul of Caliban, by Emma Lindsey Squier. The dog Caliban, an ugly, vicious brute of an animal, still with odd, unpredictable moments of tenderness, maintained his character throughout the story, even up to the last moment when his owner, Leon Suprenon, shoots him, thinking the dog had just mauled a baby. But it was Suprenon who transforms, too late, as he comes to realize Caliban was defending the baby against a pack of wild wolves.

On a more epic level, Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings changes throughout the span of the story line, coming home from war to see his village changed as well, formerly a pastoral paradise now tainted by pollution and corruption. He is no longer the joyful lad drawn against hi will into the conflict of the story. He is now a man ready to take a forceful stand against the forces that damaged his home.

In my series The NADIA Project, several characters go through their own transformations.

Nadia begins the series in a kind of blissful ignorance. By the end of the first book, she is painfully aware of the truth behind her existence, and has become determined to hold The Pinnacle accountable for their arrogance. She changes in many ways, becoming a little harder in some ways, and more flexible in others as the circumstances around her change, and more facts come to light. These changes come about gradually as the story progresses. But some elements stay constant as well. Her love for Jon is always strong, even though it's tested to its limits in Unalive.

Jon becomes changed from a reckless man haunted by his own mistakes, to one who becomes accountable to an authority closer to him (Dr. Hermsen), to one who finds himself actually seeking guidance from Jimmy, in circumstances he realizes he's totally unequipped to handle.

Jenna is the most fluid of all my characters, and I believe that's why she's the most popular one in the series. She's the bad guy, she's the good guy, she's neither, all rolled into one ball of fury and vengeance. She herself begins the story in blissful ignorance as a Pinnacle enforcer. Then, once she realizes she's being manipulated dishonestly, she begins to take steps to correct the relationship she has with her employers.

Bunny is the dark, snarky loner who finds his match in a dynamic, flamboyant Hushi.

Hushi is the brilliant, vivacious anime princess who realizes moments are too fleeting not to grasp.

Sofi is the crushed, angry survivor who knows she is loved for who she is, and for what she is.

Jimmy and Donna are the two most constant characters in the series, maintain their values and integrity all the way through, even with the hard lessons life has thrown at them.

I think the more you make your characters change, the better your story is, especially if it spans more than one book. Transformation is the heartbeat of the story.

Who is your favorite character in literature, and how do they change?