I did my internship and residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and who grew up in central PA, and while I’ve been back to Pittsburgh several times, last April I had a wonderfully serendipitous encounter with Pittsburgh’s River Rescue.
My first novel, LIFELINES, was released in March and I was lucky enough to come to Pittsburgh for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in April. It was pure luck that the convention (one of the largest gathering of book lovers in the nation) just happened to be the month after LIFELINES came out, just happened to be in Pittsburgh, the same town LIFELINES is set in, and just happened to occur right when I needed to do some Pittsburgh based research for the second book, WARNING SIGNS.
With all those coincidences piling up, I was ready for anything to happen during my trip to Pittsburgh. At least I thought I was. Until I heard a few days beforehand that my aunt (who lives in Altoona) was going to need some pretty serious surgery—guess where? Presby. Guess when? The week I’d already scheduled to be here.
Scraping all plans for research, I begin commuting from the downtown Hilton up to Presby (bringing back lovely memories of riding those same buses when I was an intern and my car was in the shop). And I realized that along the way, I was doing research—getting a feel for the rhythms of the city, the different neighborhoods (like what’s with the new signs telling you you’re in Downtown, Uptown, West Oakland, etc? If you don’t know where you are, you probably shouldn’t be gawking at a sign to tell you!), the architecture, the views….
And then wandering around Presby—no id, no badge, but I went anywhere I wanted—reacquainting myself with a big, sprawling medical center and how easy it is to hide–er, I mean get lost, yeah, right, who would want to hide in a hospital….
I also had arranged a visit back to Childrens—new again to me, but ready to move on to bigger and better things with its new campus (coincidentally at the site of my fictional Angels of Mercy Medical Center—but hey, I was there first! Well, actually St. Francis was, but who’s counting?) when I escorted the wonderful Heather Graham and her troupe of Slushpile Players over to perform for the kids.
The conference over, my aunt well on her way to recovery, I headed back downtown for my last night in Pittsburgh, when, getting off the bus I run into the too-fantastic-for-words Hank Phillippi Ryan (winner of the Agatha for her first book, Prime Time). Hank is looking a bit lost and said she just needed to get out of the hotel but had no idea where to go, so I took her across the Clemente Bridge to the riverwalk.
And this is where it gets weird. You see I have this scene in the second book that deals with a jumper from a bridge. And in that scene I included some of the River Rescue guys and one of their boats.
Guess who happened to be out on the water that Sunday afternoon?
Hank, who is an investigative reporter, sweet-talked our way onto their boathouse and the guys spent an hour with me, let me on the boat, answered my questions (I’d gotten most everything right in my draft, yeah!!), showed me their equipment, and were just the nicest you can imagine!
Turns out one of the medics and I both flew with the old Stat Angels, so we swapped tales about the good ole days over the skies of Pittsburgh. They couldn’t believe I’d left the life of an ER doc to write full time (some days I can’t believe it either) but they all said they wished they had the guts to do it and were very supportive.
So, despite canceling all my planned research, I still ended up getting exactly what I needed—and I didn’t even know it.
Ah, the mysteries of the universe….Pittsburgh style!