When conducting the triage of a multi-casualty incident, start by taking charge. Consider the textbook example, based on the events of July 16, 2002, in Santa Monica, California. On a Wednesday afternoon, against the sparkling backdrop of summer sky and swaying palm trees, an eighty-six-year-old man drove his burgundy 1992 Buick LeSabre down three blocks of Arizona Avenue’s crowded farmers’ market. He was going about sixty miles per hour. He killed eight people and injured forty, and by the time his vehicle came to a stop there was a body pinned under the engine, a body resting on the hood, and an empty pair of shoes on the roof.
It will take some time before you show up to a scene like that and feel comfortable. It will take even longer before your only thought is here we go as you snap on gloves and get to work. But if you happened to be there, standing on Arizona Avenue between the rows of produce, the bag of kale your girlfriend asked you to pick up still dangling from your wrist as the Buick shuddered to a stop, you wouldn’t have time to think. Just remember the golden rule of emergency medicine: air goes in and out, blood goes round and round, any variation on this is bad.
–Excerpt from In Case of Emergency.
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Courtney Moreno: Single queer female EMT seeks love and coping mechanisms.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
CM: This book is the result of a joyful orgy that involved an unknown number of participants, but the following identities have been confirmed: “Brokeback Mountain,” Black Flies, Catcher in the Rye, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Rumor has it that an introductory biology textbook and a guide to neurology were also present, lending a somber and scholarly reverence to the riotous affair.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
CM: Words and grammar and punctuation.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
CM: The Ground Beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie, which was so compelling and pleasurable on first read I did something I’ve never done before or since, which was to keep rewinding: I would go back thirty or forty pages from where I’d left off, and then read forward past that place, because I wanted that giant book to last as long as possible.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
CM: You were a professional dancer for years before you began writing. How different or similar are the creative processes of these two art forms? They couldn’t be more different. Dance is communal from start to finish, from class to rehearsal to performance, at which time everything converges—the choreographer’s vision, the living bodies, the musicians and light designer—in front of the audience waiting to receive it. And then it never happens again, or at least, never happens the same way twice, because performance art is the most maddeningly ephemeral art ever.
Writing on the other hand is solitary, even lonely: my novel was the result of four years of steady work, and in it I try to remind the reader of the body, the physical fact and frailty of it, in as many ways as I can. Unlike performance art, if and when a novel reaches its audience, even then the reader’s response won’t happen with the writer in the room, and the work is, arguably, more permanent and consistent. The reader will change her perspective as time goes on but the novel continues to sit wherever it ended up, the words inside remaining as they were.
Get a copy of In Case of Emergency at IndieBound.
Courtney Moreno’s award-winning writing has been published in LA Weekly and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She received a B.S. in molecular biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of San Francisco. During the ten years in between, she worked as an entomologist’s assistant, lab technician, clinical research coordinator, stagehand, set carpenter, modern and aerial dancer, EMT, and field training officer. She lives in San Francisco.