Touring the Burn Unit and Amputee Center at Fort Sam Houston

I recently had the opportunity to revisit Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. The last time I was there was over 20 years ago, when I trained as a Combat Medic. Much has changed since then!

burn_trauma_ORMy first stop was the Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center. This is where doctors and nurses work to keep severely burned patients alive — and then help them cope with the pain of life-changing wounds. Here’s a photo of the emergency suite, which is kept at 90 to 100 degrees since burn patients can’t regulate their body temperature.

Most sobering to me was that most patients don’t even remember their time in the Intensive Care area (average four months!); they are so heavily sedated for pain they wouldn’t want to anyway. Life begins again for them when they reach the Transition area. And after that, it’s still a long road of physical therapy and multiple surgeries.

This was a sobering tour, and weeks afterward, I have to say that I don’t think I could accurately write a character going through this – patient or caregiver!

Second stop was the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), which is where amputees go to get their groove back.

Military War Wounded Get Intensive Treatment At Brooke Army Medical CenterThe CFI was built as a collaboration between government and civilian (much like the fictional Medical Center in True Surrender). In fact, over 600,000 Americans contributed financially to make the CFI a reality.

The CFI is truly world class. It’s where I would have wanted to work had I gone on to become a physical therapist (my original college major). And this tour came at a perfect time, as I’ve been reacquainting myself with my amputee hero, Aaron Bricewick, as I write the script version of True Surrender.

caren_simulator2Highlights for me included the wave pool (think surfboarding indoors) and the CAREN, which is an amazing virtual reality simulator. (For a complete overview of the Center, watch the video here). I was especially gratified to find that my fictional account of Aaron’s gait analysis in True Surrender (based on internet research) was on target.

When I noticed a huge banner of an amputee riding rodeo, I asked my guide if he knew any amputees who were riding motorcycles, and/or if he’d heard of any special modifications for amputees to do so. He didn’t… but I’ll keep in touch. Because I can definitely see a biker/amputee character in a future story!

American Reporter James Foley’s Beheading has Eerie Similarities to True Surrender

This past week I’ve spent every spare minute (and even some when I was supposed to be working my full-time job) working on Draft #4 of the film script for True Surrender.

(Yes! For those of you who said that True Surrender would make an awesome Lifetime Movie – and I was surprised how often that came up – I’m finally taking the first step.)

jamesfoleyIn the midst of my submersion, something interesting happened. I’m sure you’ve heard about it: American reporter James Foley was beheaded by ISIS terrorists.

It shocked me for the obvious reasons – the reasons everyone else was shocked. Namely, the sheer violence and – well, who can really be that sick?

But it is also eerily similar to a scene in True Surrender that I happened to be working on right then, when I heard about James Foley. (And yes, I probably would have watched the whole sordid video if I could have, trash basket nearby in case I felt ill.)

We don’t ‘see’ the violence in either the book or the film script of True Surrender, but in this scene, an American military officer is killed in a ‘snuff movie’ that is shown to our hero, who then tells the heroine about it.

The details are left vague (on purpose) but the reader/viewer gets the impression the officer’s throat was slashed because of earlier events in the story:

     “I know what the doctor said about PTSD,” Holly said quietly. “And I know about the missing officer in Afghanistan.”

     Aaron drew a sharp breath as bile threatened to rush into his throat. Unconsciously his fingers tightened against her jaw.

     “Aaron?” She covered his hand with hers.

     “There’s so much I need to tell you…”

     “No more secrets,” she said.

     “No.” He needed her to know; wanted to share his life with her.

     “Promise?” she said.

     He nodded. “We got a transmission yesterday—” His voice cracked.

     “Transmission?”

     “A message of unknown origin,” he said. “It was…ah…”

     He had to choke the words out around a lump in this throat the size of a golf ball. “A snuff movie.”

     “God, Aaron, you don’t mean…?”

     Aaron nodded. “They videotaped themselves killing him.”

     She couldn’t bring herself to ask for details. “Scott said it was similar to…to what you…”

     He nodded.

     “That could have been you,” she whispered.

     “He has a wife and kids,” Aaron said. “Better I should have died over there than him.”

     “Aaron, no!”

As much as I feel for James Foley, his family, and hell, the world…  this event is morbidly fascinating to me as a writer. The above scene was written in 2010 or 2011, so way before this week’s media coverage of James Foley. Fictional characters like those in True Surrender are allowed to be tortured (both physically and mentally), and villains are allowed to be too awful to believe.

I wish it weren’t so in the real world.

The Glamorous Life of an Author… Once a Year!

My life as an author is about as far from glamorous as it’s possible to be. Most of the time, I’m in my ‘writing cave’ (when I’m not parenting or trying to make a living doing something that pays better), and occasionally I get out and commiserate with other authors.

But once a year there’s the Romance Writers of America National conference, which IS actually sort of glamorous… but never happens near my home base in Minnesota. It also falls at a terrible time (late July) when I’m frantically preparing to work the Leader Motorcycle booth at the Sturgis motorcycle rally (this is the first year we’ve sat it out). Thus the reasons I hadn’t yet been.

So what was RWA like for this conference virgin?

NLW_on_RiverwalkWell, first: I’m glad a couple of “homegirls” from my local chapter were there (that’s me with Denise Devine and Lauri Robinson on the San Antonio Riverwalk). I had someone to meet for lunch and dinner, and Denise’s husband was the most awesome chauffeur a girl could ask for.

There were 1800 writers there, 99% of them women. I’m used to being around a lot of people when I work motorcycle rallies, but this was different. This was like being on crack for four days straight; the ‘buzz’ was like a pissed-off bee colony! Either I’m getting old, or there’s a BIG difference in a crowd of mostly women versus a crowd of mostly men! :-)

It took me until Day 3 to stop feeling like I was missing something important, like I needed to be everywhere at once (because of course I couldn’t). And the seminars were a mixed bag: some good, some meh. I learned not to lollygag between seminars or I’d be sitting on the floor for an hour – NOT enjoyable!

I’d hoped to make more connections with other authors, but the sheer volume of people frankly made that difficult. Highlights:
cowboy2

  • pictures with the “cowboys” at a reception hosted by Amazon (here we are at right!)
  • the awards ceremony, which was pretty cool (but too dark for pix)
  • meeting Heather Ashby, my ‘cyber friend’ and fellow writer whose characters I love (military heroes similar to mine!)
  • learning something new about the Alamo (which was literally kitty-corner from my hotel)

Outside the conference, we spent a little time on the Riverwalk. I had been there 20+ years ago, while attending Army Combat Medic training at Fort Sam Houston (just north of town). I have fond memories of my mates/friends drinking on the Riverwalk, but now the Riverwalk just felt claustrophobic, kitchy and just plain hot (the oppressive heat was too hard on this Minnesota native).

Possibly the best use of my time while in San Antonio was the time I spent at Brooke Army Medical Center for research related to future military/veteran characters. But that is a whole ‘nother post for a whole ‘nother day!

How Real-Life Veterans Inspire my Fictional Characters

marine-jesse-cottleLike a lot of people, I fell in love with double-amputee U.S. Marine Jesse Cottle when I came across this photo of him being carried on his wife Kelly’s back.

It’s clear in the photo that Jesse chose joy, chose to truly LIVE even after everything he’d seen and experienced (read more here). Jesse’s sergeant, who was with him the day he stepped on a pressure plate, said: “The way that [Jesse] continues to conduct his life is absolutely amazing and for that reason I would consider him a hero.”

Similarly, in his memoir Battle Ready, Navy medic Mark L. Donald describes in detail an event that laid the foundation for his later struggles with PTSD. He talked about friends and colleagues who didn’t make it home, and two friends in particular that he felt he had “failed” to save in his role as a medic (read more here). Yet there were two “forces” in his life that saved him: his mother and his faith.

When I hear veterans talk about faith, I often wonder if it came naturally to them, or if it was something they struggled with before they finally understood the role or impact of faith on their life.

I suspect it is the latter, and I often have my fictional characters grapple with faith. In fact, faith and sensuality exist side-by-side in my novels. Readers most likely to enjoy my writing are those who appreciate that these things co-exist in our own lives; who hasn’t questioned their faith in the darkest times of our own lives? Why should a character in a novel be any different?

video_zacAaron Bricewick, amputee veteran/hero of True Surrender, returns home to find that he has yet to face his biggest battle – the battle within himself – and finds himself questioning everything he’s built his life on.

Much as countless returning veterans are doing.

There are many definitions of “war hero,” and surely Jesse and Mark exemplify some of them. Perhaps there’s even a little of each in the character of Aaron Bricewick. I hope he does them justice!

Read Free Excerpts Here.

Help me Write the Next Lady Biker Book!

TakeTwo_COVER_NEW_FI need your help with the Lady Biker Series!

The first book in the series, Take Two: a Hollywood Romanceis the story of a Gina, a Harley-riding Hollywood director and single mom whose personal life collides with her leading man’s when he is poisoned on set.

Gina’s lady biker friends (Andie, Willow and Sabrina) have stories to tell (see the series overview here), and I have bits and pieces written about each. But I’d like readers (and would-be readers!) to tell me what you’d most like to read – and whose story I should write next!

Click here to respond to my short survey (I use the term loosely), or feel free to send me an email instead with your thoughts (tracey (at) traceycramerkelly.com)!

The Writing Life: Why Design a New Cover for Biker Romance “Take Two”?

TakeTwo_COVER_NEW_FI have some rather astute friends and readers.

When I ‘unveiled’ the new cover for Take Two: a Hollywood Romance a couple weeks ago, certain people immediately said, “Is that you on the cover?”

So, okay, confession time: yes, it is me (or more precisely, my legs and torso). And yes, it is my motorcycle. (I must have ‘channeled’ the heroine, Gina, because AFTER the book was published I found my Yamaha Raider – with a paint job eerily like I used to describe Gina’s bike!)

How did I end up adding “model” to my resume?

I suppose it makes sense to first address the question: why re-design the cover? I originally thought the celebrity stalker angle would be more of a draw, so the first cover leaned heavily on the movie star theme. But as time went on, I’ve found better traction with the biker angle. And, after all, Take Two is the first book in the LADY BIKER series. I decided the “biker” part needed to be more prominent than the small series logo I’d given it.

The producer side of me really wanted to do a photo shoot, with models for the male and female lead (of each book!). It would have been fun… but it would have taken a lot of time away from actually writing (the goal in the first place, right?), not to mention…

Money.

Being an independently published author, that’s an item in even shorter supply than time! And the kind of photo shoot I dreamed of – eight models (two for each book), a professional photographer, borrowing (or renting) some really cool motorcycles, makeup/wardrobe, and (oh pretty please) an assistant to manage all the logistical details… yikes.

It was time to embrace my logical side.

My friend Brett had taken a photo during the “Cool Rider” video shoot that gave me an idea. What if I did four covers with a similar “shot from low” angle, each a different color/brand motorcycle, showing torso and legs to make it obvious it was a woman rider?

Best yet, I could start with my own motorcycle (no begging or borrowing required)!

I asked my hubby to help with the photography (dare I call him “free labor”?). And book cover designer extraordinaire Gregory R pulled it all together.

TakeTwo_COVER_NEW_FI have to say that I’m tickled. I think the new cover says everything I want to say about this series that features women motorcyclists. Women who are not JUST biker chicks, but who are multi-faceted women whose love of motorcycles is almost as strong as their love for the men who come into their lives.

Help me write the next book!

I’d like to invite YOU to be part of the Lady Biker Series. Visit my (short) survey here and tell me what you’d most like to read – and whose story I should write next!

Take Two: a Hollywood Romance (Lady Biker Series #1)

TakeTwo_Slider

Indie Award Finalist (for the THIRD time!)

I’m so excited to announce that Take Two: a Hollywood Romance has been named Finalist in the Romance category for the 2014 Next Generation Indie Awards!

TakeTwo_COVER_NEW_FTake Two: a Hollywood Romance is the story of a Harley-riding Hollywood director and single mom whose personal life collides with her leading man’s when he is poisoned on set.

It is also Book One in the “Lady Biker Series,” which features four women bikers whose love of motorcycling binds them together.

Having been a lady biker for over 20 years myself, I decided it was time to write about this unique type of character. But the bigger project is not just about fictional stories; it’s songs, photos and true-life women that I’ve been inspired by and want to give back to (see Cool Rider Project).

Bio: Tracey’s work fuses writing, music and visual imagery and draws from her experience as an Army Reserve paramedic and exposure to helicopter medevac. She owns a motorcycle accessories business, rides a Yamaha Raider, and lives in small-town Minnesota with her husband and two young children.

IndieAwardThe Indie Awards are sponsored by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group to honor the best in small press and independent publishing. The romance category receives hundreds of submissions each year. For more information, see www.IndieBookAwards.com.

I’m so tickled that Take Two joins Last Chance Rescue and True Surrender: a Military Romance, which are also Indie Award Finalists!

From Flight Medic to Cockpit: How I Became a Helicopter Pilot

I have the Army to thank for my love of helicopters.

But no, the Army did not train me to fly helicopters. It was a much more circuitous route…

I joined the National Guard when I was 17 and not quite out of high school. It was not for any life-long dream of being a soldier or for the noble purpose of defending my country. My purpose for joining was to pay for college, and the GI Bill seemed like a good deal. It never occurred to me at that time (and age) that I could actually be sent to war!

injuredThe Army trained me as a medic and an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).

I was not a good soldier (as I’ve written about in the past), but I loved being a paramedic. I liked splinting a broken leg. Inserting an IV. Dressing a sucking chest wound.

One weekend a month I was a grunt soldier and a token medic. But for two weeks in the summer I was a soldier medic. And by my third year in the Guard, I had gained enough rank and experience to be assigned triage duty ‘on the field.’ After treating the injured on the ground, I found myself air-lifted out of the ‘battlefield’ in a helicopter.

It was love at first experience.

And I thought to myself: ‘I am going to be a flight medic.’

So I got certified and worked a few shifts at a civilian ambulance service. I figured it was a good gig: work on my homework during down time and get paid for it.

I can handle blood, guts and gore. What I don’t do well with – and what I hadn’t counted on – was the vomit. The battlefield of 20 years ago was about blood and guts; the ambulance on the civilian street was more about drunks, overdoses and trauma to which the human body’s natural response was…you guessed it…vomit.

It was also lots of boredom, punctuated by periods of utter chaos. I think I handled the chaos better than the boredom!

twiggle_helicopterSo, at the grand old age of 20, I gave up the idea of working as a flight paramedic, and set a different goal for myself: I would be the PILOT. I would learn to fly a helicopter – and I would do it before I turned 30 (which seemed like a long way off at the time, ha). And since I had no intention of staying in the Army, I would do it myself.

I was 29 when I started on this BHAG (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal”) and one month shy of 31 when I got my license. It was truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!

My writing is definitely influenced by the time I spent in the military and by the medical training I received there. When I became a helicopter pilot, it opened new relationships with some amazing people, such as the Whirly Girls (a nonprofit organization made up of female helicopter pilots). In fact, it was one of my fellow female helicopter pilots who helped me set up a ride-along with a search-and-rescue team, an experience that was priceless when writing Last Chance Rescue.

Join the Party! Free Drawings, Food & Drinks at Ladies Night Out May 1st

WhoYourHeroGrab your girlfriends and head for the river town of Stillwater, MN, next Thursday, May 1, for May Day on Main Street!

Stillwater is well known for its small-town merchants, who will offer discounts as well as drink specials, appetizers and food samples, fashion tips and decorating ideas throughout the evening.

Twelve Minnesota authors (myself included) will be part of the Who’s Your Hero romance book sale & signing at Rafters Bar & Grill, located on the second floor at 3rd & Main (317 Main Street).

Who can resist these guys?? (And if that’s not enough, one lucky winner will take home a basket of edible and other types of goodies!)

Festivities start at 5pm! I hope you can join us (after all, I don’t get out much!), but if you can’t, you can still purchase my books here.