This mainstream fiction debut by a romance novelist opens on a promising note, with a taut prologue depicting the final minutes of an ill-fated DC-6, chartered to fly a ragtag entourage of journeymen sidewalk artists and craftsmen to Hawaii on July 4, 1985, for an art show gala. Flashing back over the five days leading up to the flight, the narrative lapses into a rather colorless account of the desperate, quotidian lives of the scheduled passengers (and their significant others) as they unwittingly count down to their doomsday. Just past midnight on Wednesday, June 29, already late to begin an overnight drive from L.A. to San Francisco for a scheduled show, artist Mariel Foster learns that her fellow artist lover of six months is married. In shock, she nearly wrecks her car and is rescued by L.A. obstetrician Quentin Anderson, who turns out to be her long-lost childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, on the eve of assuming proprietorship of yet another art show tour, Mariel's best friend, Jane, is back in L.A. Switching back and forth between characters and art show venues, the plot imagines the bohemian existence of some three dozen quixotic artists, friends and lovers. This parade of rather cardboard characters--an ex-rodeo rider, a one-eyed painter of architecture, a black collage artist, a lesbian couple and a closet gay, all distinguished more by the type of art they do than by their personas--blurs into a smear of faceless homogeneity as the narrative hopscotches from bed to bed, moving inexorably toward the star-crossed flight to Hawaii. In the end, it comes off as arbitrary and enigmatic just who is spared and who is doomed. Regional author tour. (Feb.) Forecast: Did someone say ""The Bridge at San Luis Rey""? Lacking originality and deep character, this novel won't do much, though crossover marketing to the romance market could draw some of Ashworth's faithful.