We were new to our neighborhood, and as part of my new church assignment, I was gathered with several other ladies in a living room for a meeting. As we chatted, one was asked how her mother was doing and whether she was still in the hospital.
Apparently her mother was going to be there for a while longer, and the daughter explained soberly what was wrong and why it would be a few weeks yet before her mother’s discharge — if she lived.
Based on the description of her mother’s situation — which included no medical jargon whatsoever — I said something like, “Oh, no. No wonder you’re so worried. Peritonitis is serious.”
I didn’t realize I’d said anything odd until she narrowed her eyes and said, “How do you know what peritonitis is? Are you a nurse?”
Um . . . no . . .
Considering my phobia of needles and my aversion for studying chemistry and several other subjects medical professionals must dig into, the idea of my being a nurse is pretty laughable.
How do I know about that? I thought.
The answer came pretty quickly: I’m a writer.
In other words, I read, own, and highlight all kinds of off-the-wall books for research, like the one that taught me, among other things, about perforated bowels and the dangerous infection that can result in . . . peritonitis.
This is my life, so it’s easy to forget that normal people don’t spend time reading up on bizarre topics out of curiosity, and hey, maybe they might used in a book one day.
Like the time we were visiting my in-laws at Christmas, years before I was published. Snow fell, holiday cheer abounded, and the scent of pie wafted through the house.
And there I was in my mother-in-law’s front room, engrossed in Body Trauma, a book wherein every chapter follows an organ system and what can go wrong with it. The pages were filled with explanations of injuries and how they affect the human body. Best of all, it was written for writers, so each section detailed how those injuries can be used in a story.
I had a ball reading along about blood and guts, then coming to something along the lines of, “Use this injury if you need your character’s future to be uncertain,” or, “This is a good one to use if a character needs to be ill, recover, and then relapse.”
Sometimes I forget that others don’t share my bizarre curiosity. You should have seen the faces of my brothers-in-law when they saw the book.
“Light reading, huh?” Scott asked as he inched toward the kitchen.
“No, really, it’s fascinating,” I said. I got off the couch and stepped forward, eager to share gems. “Did you know that if someone has a bad impact — say they fall from a cliff — and it’s so bad you can’t tell where their face is, you look for air bubbles?”
Scott turned pale and vanished into the kitchen. Mark sank to the couch, eyes wide with horror. Poor Steve, still in high school, gripped his Nintendo controller harder and pretended I was talking about something that wouldn’t give him nightmares. Maybe cookies or nail polish or something else more fitting for what he pictured a sister-in-law would find interesting?
Sorry, kid. I’m weird.
I’m a creative. I’m a writer. That puts me a bit off the beaten path.
How many other people do you know who have conflicts appear in their imaginations in the middle of the night?
Who else hears people talking in their heads (and no, they don’t need medication for the voices).
Who else finds joy in the discovery of new information that will help make their pretend world a little closer to reality?
And how many people do you know who are so obsessed punctuation rules that they cringe when they see a T-shirt with a comma splice?
So yes, I’m weird. And I celebrate that weirdness.
Weirdness brings me the wonders of words, characters, story, and so much more. Being weird makes me love the very act of creation.
Embracing that weirdness is what brought me to the place of — finally — getting published.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, that manuscript I read Body Trauma for did end up published several years later, complete with different injuries for three victims of a car accident.
A few months after reading Body Trauma, I brought my next bit of light reading to the in-laws. This book’s title: Cause of Death.
“These diagrams are so cool!” I called toward Scott’s retreating form. “Look! They show how to cut the body for an autopsy!”
Steven, a little older now and less liable to be traumatized, turned his face and covered his eyes, complaining, “Are you kidding me?”
Sheesh. Some people can’t appreciate a good reference book.