One day, ages ago, during my high school years when I majored in photography, I wanted to head out before dawn to capture the sunrise. The only one who would join me at that hour, was my beloved grandmother. We got into the car around 4:30 in the morning and headed down to the boardwalk on the South Shore of Staten Island.
It was misty and cool that morning, and the instant I took the lens cap off the camera, the lens fogged. I was disappointed that nature would interfere with my nature photography – go figure – but my grandmother suggested it could make my sunrise pictures different from those of others.
As we walked through the parking lot to the boardwalk we saw this creature lumbering along the sand. We stopped in our tracks. Silent – because, why scream? We were the only people there.
“Raccoon?” I asked in a whisper.
My grandmother snorted a knowing breath. “Rat.”
Beach rat to be precise. About the size of a raccoon.
We were closer to the boardwalk than the car at that point and who knew what was skittering unseen behind us…so we ran. RAN. Myself and my riceball of a grandmother RAN to the boardwalk, up its stairs and over to a bench, laughing the whole way in terror and at the absurdity of it all.
We sat there for a nice long time, with the cool misty air forming our words into puffy little clouds that danced and bowed before our eyes. And then the sun came up, and for those who don’t know, a sunrise is a whole lot faster than a sunset. No time to linger or sigh at the beauty, just time to click the shutter once, twice, maybe 10 times and…done.
I have only one of those pictures now. One that I deliberately trimmed to fit onto a wall clock my grandmother gave me as a gift. It’s not a good shot, by any means, but it might be my favorite of all the pictures I’ve taken through the years.
It was a beautiful sunrise, not because of the sun, but because of the moment. And the person with whom I was fortunate to spend that moment.
As of this morning, this cool misty morning, there have been 10 years of sunrises since my grandmother’s passing. I miss her beyond words. I miss her spunk and biting wit. I miss her encouragement and wisdom. I also miss the question she’d ask repeatedly: “Did you finish your book yet?”
Sadly, my answer was always no, and yet she expressed pride in my efforts every step of the way. While I have many to thank for helping me complete the project – despite work and family and other life events – her constant inquiries still echo in my mind and so to her, today, my book is dedicated. In fact, I believe more than a little bit of her fortitude lives on in my heroine, who never, ever backs down.
At this most uncertain moment in our world’s history, when fear is indescribably elevated for most of us, may we all see many more years of sunrises, and share many more of them with those around us, because it’s the moments, those fleeting blissful moments, that connect us in the here and now, and beyond.
Lest you think the suffering I mounted onto my characters was unfairly balanced upon my heroine’s shoulders, in this excerpt you’ll get a taste of what I forced my hero to endure:
“Drop it. And go.”
If he didn’t drop the backpack, they’d shoot him and take the money anyway. And then his sister would be at their mercy.
Inching his arm out to the side Blake held the backpack by the strap. Let it dangle for a second, not wanting to surprise them with any sudden moves. And then he dropped it, waited a full second, and took a slow step back, starring past the gun, trying to see inside the SUV. Hoping to catch a glimpse of his family.
The window went up. The engine revved and the SUV turned, inching closer until it stopped between him and the backpack. He waited, needing some sign of his sister. Some sign of his young nephew.
When it moved again, the backpack was gone. And then SUV turned, headed straight for him. Sped up. Circled him like a dog herding sheep. Around and around. Covered him in a thick fog of dust. He tried to out-maneuver it, to duck out of the way. He dove to one side, scrambled to his feet only to dive out of the way again. It was a game of chicken and he was losing.
He had no choice but to run – for his life and the life of his family. The only thing he could do was follow their instructions. They said, ‘go’ and they meant it. They chased him. Down the dirt road, back into the lot. When he thought they’d catch him and run him down, they passed him, so close, so fast, the breeze of the vehicle nearly spun him around.
Heaving breaths of fury, exertion and despair, he stared after them as they disappeared down the road. Maggie. He let her down. What did they want from him? He did everything they asked. He gave them their money. They took the bag…
“Where are they!”
Imagine being a child, 10 years of age, and suddenly responsible for the wellbeing of a baby brother or sister. While seeing children as caretakers is not that uncommon, when children take on the role of parent for their siblings, teaching them to walk, talk, brush their teeth, read, write, cook, drive… the same emotional parent-child bond is often formed.
Each step of the way, they’re proud of their baby brother or sister’s accomplishments, putting aside their own youthful milestones in favor of cheering their sibling’s, hoping, like the guardian they’ve become, that what they’ve tried to teach the child is enough to carry them forward, into their own life, without them stumbling too much.
But knowing they will stumble, as we all do, is tough for even some of the most stoic guardians. We’ll eagerly wait for their call, their check in, so we know they’re okay, so they can share some moments of their lives with us again.
So it is for my hero in my soon-to-be-released romantic suspense novel, SURRENDER AT CANYON ROAD, when, after months of silence, he receives a call, a desperate plea for help – not from his sister, but from her husband and the father of her child.
Blake feels responsible for his younger sister. He always has because he always was. Having helped raise her, he watched her grow. He tended her scraped knees, let her fly while their mother acted as full-time nurse to her own ailing parents, and their father worked multiple jobs to support them all. Blake put his sister first the way his parents put family first, protected her, made decisions for her, even after she was old enough to make her own. The more she rebelled, the tighter he held. After all, he had been her world at one time, her hero, there to see to her every need as any parent would.
Even after she married…the wrong man…a man Blake had introduced her to…and had a child of her own, he still thought of her as the baby sister who needed him.
The more he reached out, the further she ran, teaching him some hard lessons of her own—namely that she needed to be her own person. To make her own mistakes, brush off her own knees and get back on her own feet. He had to step back, like parents must, begrudgingly though it may be.
But she’s in trouble now. Desperate trouble. And so is her young son. Their lives threatened, and the man Blake introduced his sister to, seemingly the cause of all their woes. Unlike fictional romantic hero from the past, Blake is an ordinary man forced to do extraordinary things. He doesn’t stop to think how, he just forges ahead, knowing only that he must protect his family.
In his feverish search for them, Blake reminds himself of the life lessons he taught his sister. He hopes she remembers them, too. Hopes those lessons will be enough to get her through these days fraught with fear and peril. That is, until he can find her, save her, and protect her as he did all those years ago and for all those moments. Before he lets her fly away again.
As the youngest in my family, I didn’t become caretaker to anyone until my adulthood when I rescued my first furbaby–a 5-year-old shih tzu princess. Were you the child guardian of a sibling or other youngster? Did you struggle to let go and let that child fly on their own? Or were you a child raised by an older child, sibling or otherwise? How difficult was it for you to set out on your own? Did they let go easily or hold tighter, fearful to let you fly? Did you know other children as caretakers? How tight was their bond? The same as parent and child? Tighter? Let me know, join the conversation on Twitter or FACEBOOK
I started on my journey toward publication years ago, more than 15 in fact. I had a full-time job, a child, pets, and volunteer work at a local animal shelter. But, I also had the dream of seeing my name in print on the spine of a book on a bookstore shelf. I pursued that dream by scraping up time here and there, and writing.
I dreamt about it. I breathed it. I loved it.
But, it was a lonely and confusing process.
I’d heard people say I should look into organizations for people like me. People with the dream to be published. I heeded the advice and found an international organization that promised support and guidance and understanding. That promise was fulfilled many times over as the years passed and as I grew as a writer.
I took workshops, forged friendships, felt empowered and validated. I even found myself offering advice to newer newbies than I. It was an incredible experience. The memories of it – as well as the friendships I still have – will remain with me, hopefully, forever.
But… I’m no longer part of that organization. It changed. I changed. And I decided it was time to close that chapter and start a new one.
I’ve grown not only as a writer, which isn’t to say there isn’t a whole lot more for me to learn, but also as a person. A woman. I’m no longer concerned about doing things the ‘wrong’ way. Instead, I’m interested in finding the ‘right’ way. For me. Which, as I have found, isn’t necessarily right for others… especially those who believe the path that’s been laid out for them is the only path any of us should follow.
I learned, by meeting some amazing authors at all levels of their careers, that no single path works for everyone or for one person all the time. There has to be room for individuality. There has to be time for us to stand back for a bit and breathe, to relish the moment rather than be caught in the tsunami of deadlines and demands. And most of all, there has to be room for us to stumble without being made to feel inferior. We do that to ourselves often enough, we don’t need those we thought we could count on to do it to us as well.
And so I walked.
I thought I would feel lost and alone. Basically, I thought my world, as I knew it, would end. I thought my muse would pack up and leave in a huff, that the pleasure I received from my writing – the plotting, constant forming of story ideas, hearing characters’ voices in my head, the connection with other writers, the drive to continue writing and hoping and dreaming – would all dry up and become a memory. Nothing more.
Oh, boy was I wrong. By remaining as long as I did with an organization whose ideas, ideals, methods, restrictions and labels morphed into something that seemed rather strange to me, I stifled myself. I felt that to belong, I needed to fit myself into a mold not of my choosing… that everyone had to…and it finally dawned on me that my way of working, my process and my vision, were just that: mine.
No one, no matter how tightly they intend to hold the reigns, was–is– going to hold me back. Only I can do that. And only I can urge myself forward.
The beauty of having both options, and this new freedom, is that I and I alone get to choose in which direction I’d like to go.
I’m taking the high road without setting my nose in the air. My ears are open to suggestion, yet closed to the naysayers. My eyes are focused now that I know what’s right for me, and what is not. My hope remains and my respect for many in the industry is as great as ever.
Freedom – and the confidence to grab it – is an amazing thing. I can’t help wonder if this is how the women of Stepford would have felt had they been able to see their transformations reversed.
My writing organization membership just expired. By choice. I had been a member of the largest organization for romance authors for more than a decade. I’d made some amazing friends during my time there. I found my writer’s ‘voice’ and I learned to trust my process. Well, recently, new rules were applied within the organization about what it meant to be a member of it, and what it meant, by extension, to be considered in “serious pursuit’ of a career in writing. I realized, then, that my vision did not in any way match that of the new board of directors, and the direction of the organization did not fit with my personal plan for myself as an author. And so, I chose to let my membership lapse.
Writing is a solitary act. I don’t mind that, but I do like to interact with others in the industry. Fortunately, since I made a number of writing friends over the years, I am now part of another group of writers who value the level at which each of us stand now and where we hope to be – as well as what route we might choose to take to get there. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as belonging to a group that doesn’t force you to conform or make you feel inferior for choosing your own course.
And that brings me to the huge writer’s conference planned, this year, in NYC.
I attended the last writer’s conference in NYC four years ago. Thousands of authors were there. Editors from big publishing houses were there and available. Literary agents were there, as were authors who had already reached the golden ring – Sylvia Day, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kate Pearce, Cherry Adair…
And then there were the rest of us. Thousands of us each vying for the same readership, the same golden ring.
The keynote speech at the luncheon was phenomenal. A tale of overcoming outrageous and discouraging odds. It was funny and sad and cheer-worthy. The unpublished and published writing awards were thrilling. How wonderful to celebrate with other authors, those who finaled, and those who took home the coveted awards.
There was one winner in each of the two contests. There were a handful of successful authors who signed books, gave workshops, and otherwise engaged those of us who had yet to reach that status but instead remained unpublished.
Where did we fit in? Was there even room for us? Would anyone notice if we weren’t there? Would anyone miss us? Care? Would it make a difference in our own pursuit – gee, is it “serious” enough? – if we attended every workshop or instead chose to rub shoulders with the more successful? Was there a path to follow? A yellow-brick-road leading to publication?
How about a path to some self-confidence or a way to look at all the other wannabes, wish them the best, yet still believe in yourself and your own chances? Was there a way to convince your muse that, yes, you have something unique to say, something readers will enjoy enough to buy. Perhaps a way to view your own process as one of pleasure not one of pressure – pressure to beat out every other wannabe vying for success in the romance genre.
Some of the workshop lecturers told attendees the genre they coveted (in my case, Romantic Suspense) was a dying genre and that no one made it in that genre unless they’d already created a name for themselves in it (this was actually said during one workshop which directly contradicted another). Some workshop lecturers offered tried and true methods for getting an entire story down in just a couple of days. Others offered advice on how to revise an entire novel in one week.
It was all fascinating and clearly worked for each of the speakers. Their enthusiasm soared as they spoke and offered advice and guidance – all of it, in my experience, generous and freely presented.
I was pumped when I left, thinking I could refer to my notes and the experience and forge a new path for myself. One lined with encouraging signs and constant forward motion.
Instead, my muse fell silent.
The vast amount of advice was overwhelming enough, but when dissected and compared and, therefore, exposed as contradictory or non-applicable to ‘my’ situation, or just plain awkward given the way I need to work… it became a jumble of nonsense for me. A muddled vision of the huge undertaking that still lay ahead for me… and the thousands more who wished to one day see their own name on a book.
It took months to get myself psyched again. To wake the muse, to rework the creative muscles that had atrophied. To realize the methods that fueled the few success stories relayed there were as varied as the stories sitting on bookstore shelves. That the ‘right’ road toward publication might detour into all of those areas – or none – since we each need to follow our own course, as is creativity’s demand.
There is no room for conformity in creativity. There is no one tried-and-true way to advance to a level of success (and no single definition for “success”). To shuffle along with the crowd, to be told what it means to be serious about the craft, to have all of your effort dismissed for not fitting into that definition, is to stifle the muse, crush the spirit and demand conformity… which limits creativity.
I am not attending the conference in NYC because while some authors are encouraged and invigorated by all it has to offer – and good for them to benefit from the experience – the last time I went, I was left doubting my own desires and my own efforts. Had I left there overwhelmed with possibilities, it would have been wonderful – a cause to return – but that was not to be.
So… while a huge flow of there-already and getting-there authors gather in NYC for a few days and nights of excitement and enlightenment, I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to have experienced it once… and for the ability to have overcome its paralyzing effects.
I know now that there is no yellow-brick-road to follow. There is, however, a man behind the curtain. And now that I’ve seen him for who he is, I realize he is no better than I… or any other author.
all images in this post were purchased from depositphotos.com
I have so enjoyed the interviews from this blog hop, and the ease with which it seemed each participating author managed to get their heroes and heroines talking. Patty Blount’s interview from last week, with the brainy and secretive Julie Murphy from her amazing Young Adult novel, SEND, was no different. In case you missed it, you can find that interview on Patty’s blog – HERE.
When I thought about interviewing a heroine from one of my own stories, I hoped the process would be smooth for me as well. As smooth as a slice of creamy New York cheesecake. I would interview Eden Widow, the haunted yet graceful heroine from my second novel, SAFE IN HIS ARMS. Her story was originally a subplot in my first book but it grew into its own.
Eden is most comfortable in her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side overlooking Central Park, so we meet there. I hear her buzzing me into the building seconds after I’ve already walked in behind a woman with two little white dogs wearing pink bows in their hair. We all ride the elevator together and as I watch the numbers climb, I’d swear the little dogs watch as well.
The moment I step into Eden’s apartment, I’m struck by a panoramic view she has of Central Park from her picture window. A desk sits before it, centered, with plenty of space to either side for a clear unobstructed view. A luxurious cream-colored sofa and club chair sit conversation style with enough room to walk around them to be spacious yet cozy. Besides the view, what strikes me most is the array of cheerful flowers in vases placed on every flat surface I see. The flowers are all the same – white daisies and yellow forsythia sprays. They’re in bud vases, bowls, urns, fluted vases… not overdone, just simply lovely. They’re everywhere I look and make me smile, like this space is a happy one because they make it so.
I follow Eden through the living room to a small breakfast nook where she has tea prepared for us. She moves across the rooms with a confident grace, as though her every movement is part of an intimate choreographed dance. She pours my tea and smiles as I thank her for having me. I take a seat across from her at the delicate round table.
“Please feel free to begin any time.”
Her voice is smoky, though not gruff. Her expressive eyes nearly as dark as her black hair.
I take out my pen and notepad and ask the first, rather blunt, question.
She continues to pour the tea, into her cup now. Then she gently sets the teapot down, not looking at me or answering and I wonder if she heard my question. And then she lifts her teacup and speaks again – with that intriguing voice of hers.
“My greatest fear is one which haunts me night and day. It’s the recurring nightmares and whatever truth they’re keeping from me. I want to know what it is as much as I fear knowing.
“I’ve told Luke about them, my brother. It would be impossible not to. We’re not twins, he and I, but we could be, it’s been only us for so long and we couldn’t be closer. Besides, he knows all about my dreams since I’ve had them from youth… from when I… from when our parents died… in a tragic fire…
“That fire started it all… I still smell it. I still feel the heat of it on my face. I still hear my own hoarse screams and pleas from when I fought to go back inside to save them and the fireman held me back. I had nightmares for the longest time after that. They were uncontrollable.”
She sips her tea and I can’t help but look around her apartment. There are candles placed here and there – floating candles, pillars, scented jars. All have blackened wicks. I’m no expert, but I’m a little surprised someone so traumatized by fire would have flame-lit, not battery-powered, candles around.
The light clink of her teacup on the saucer draws my attention back to her.
“Luke was there for me. He understood because he had gone through it, too. He held it together for my sake but when I finally realized how tormented he was by my pain, I found an outlet for it. I took all of the images from my dreams, all of the unanswered questions and disturbed emotions, and turned them into fiction. I adopted the pen name Gerard Blackwood, whose tales of murder and mayhem are depraved and gruesome… and… beloved by an insatiable and loyal audience. The more I wrote, the more time there was between nightmares, until they finally subsided.
But something happened recently…”
She looks at me without speaking, a small uncomfortable smile playing upon her full lips. I sense her apprehension and fear, and realize she’s struggling for composure. I cover her hand with mine and she closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them she seems stronger.
“I… was assaulted. Here in this very apartment. I… know this because I woke in the hospital with worried faces all around me. Everyone wanted to know what had happened, who I had let into my apartment, did I know the man… but I couldn’t remember. When I tried, panic blurred the memory, blended what happened before, with the fire, with what happened now and… it was all too much… and then the nightmares started again. They’re more violent now, more cryptic, and my writing has become darker because of it… I’m not sure my mind will ever unmuddle the memory of what really happened to me. I wish I could say I am in a state of blissful ignorance but I am not. The memory teases. My greatest fear is that the teasing will stop and the truth will become clear.”
She smiles and though it’s not a grand smile, I am taken in by the beauty of her eyes as it reaches them.
“That is an easy one. Scott Parker. He has been so patient with me. I have dated men before, not many, but enough. At one time I was even engaged to a man I adored and who adored me. Too much, perhaps. Dylan James. He is a beautiful man, strong. Solid. Sooty eyes and hair. He’s part of the family now because his sister married my brother. But he had a tendency to smother me. It wasn’t meant to be cruel, just attentive and… protective, I suppose. Especially when it came to my nightmares. The questions he would ask me about them… sometimes they frightened me more than the dreams.
“Scott is different. He doesn’t push or plead. He’s confident in his own skin. Confident enough for both of us, in fact. He loves me, I know it without question, and I love him, but he does not need to hear that from me at every meeting, during every conversation. He just knows. We can just be, and it’s enough. He trusts me to make my own choices, unlike Dylan, who tried to orchestrate my every move, as though he feared I might shatter…like spun glass.”
She offers more tea and I accept though she does not pour more for herself.
“As an author with deadlines, I have a lot of time to myself. Too much sometimes. I must say, I so look forward to time with Scott. His home upstate is lovely. His property ends where stunning and serene parkland begins, so it looks and feels like it goes on and on. A stroll in the gardens on his property is all it takes to unwind. Especially when he’s with me. I find my most peaceful and fulfilling moments are with him. There in his space…and even here. With him. In mine.
“I do have a secret. It’s one I wish to learn… the meaning behind my dreams. I know something happened to me. Something besides the fire. Something that frightened me so much I have been unable to see it. And so it haunts me. I do not feel the need to keep it secret… yet, there are times, moments, when the answer seems too close, and I turn away. When I awake… I am still unsure what my secret might be.”
Her phone rings and I wait, certain she’ll answer it, but she doesn’t.
“That would be Luke. He and his wife have invited me to dinner this evening. Along with Dylan. Please accept my apologies but I must get ready.”
I understand and say so I as I pack up my pen and notepad. And then a deep male voice comes over her answering machine.
“Hey E, it’s me. Kristen’s craving Mexican now, so no Italian tonight.
Unless she changes her mind again. She still wants the ice cream so
don’t forget to bring that. If you didn’t get it already, you might have
to head into Queens for it ’cause I’m sure I bought out all of Manhattan.
Don’t be late.”
Eden smiles as she walks me to the door. I tell her I hope she won’t have to drive to Queens for the ice cream and she laughs softly.
“Thank you but I won’t need to. I’ve been stocking ice cream for Kristen for months now.”
I step into the hall saying I have just one more question. She waits and I ask.
I see that same effort for composure as before and I wish I could withdraw the question, not wanting to leave her feeling low but rather with that sweet, content smile. She breathes softly.
“If I could ask for one thing, it would be to go back in time and unplug the potpourri pot that overheated, started a fire that destroyed our house… and killed our parents.”
She eases the door closed between us.
I have missed Eden and Scott, and all the other characters from this book. I cannot wait to revisit them and again watch Eden reach her much-deserved Happily Ever After.
Next week’s Character Interview will feature Elizabeth D. Spencer’s heroine, Rebecca Simmons from her Historical Romance, WHEN CUPID CAME TO TOWN. You’ll find that interview on Elizabeth’s blog – HERE
Elizabeth D. Spencer lives on Long Island, New York with her husband, three children, and two energetic Sheltie puppies, Brinkley and Carson. (Named for the dog from You’ve Got Mail and Downton Abbey’s very own Carson, the butler.) She shares a love of history with her family and a love of books. Her days and nights are spent writing. When she is not writing Appellate briefs for the day job, she is busy writing historical romance novels. The greatest challenge has been learning to balance it all. Coffee has been a tremendous help!
Every author needs to get characters talking… not just on the page, but to the author herself. And not just in every day niceties but in detail, with secret yearnings, quirks and private musings. I’m sharing a bit of that here today, Week 10 of the Character Interview Blog Hop – HEROES. My thanks to Patty Blount for passing the baton to me. Last week, Patty introduced you to Dan Ellison, the high school student and former bully from her Young Adult novel SEND. You can find her interview with Dan HERE on her blog.
Today you’ll meet my hero, small-town restaurant owner and handsome loner Jake Marlon. I met Jake ages ago and am now spit-shining his story so others can watch him reach his well-deserved and hard-fought happily-ever-after… and maybe even fall in love with him as I have.
I had asked to meet Jake before he started work for the day but he said he starts too early. Then I asked to meet after work, but he said he finishes much too late. And so, I’ve met him at The Grill, where he’s preparing for the lunch crowd, though he’s said “crowd” is not what he’d call it. I sit on the dining room side of the pass-through window, watching him in the kitchen. He’s an impressive man, over 6′, with messy black hair and dark bedroom eyes. He works methodically, moving about the space with ease, and I have an odd sense of watching an animal born in captivity, believing there’s little if anything beyond his small enclosure.
I can tell he’s not thrilled that I’m here. His broad back is to me as he dunks a second basket of onion rings into the deep fryer. It sizzles violently. He sets a timer.
I click my pen, ready to begin, but he doesn’t look at me. I wonder if he’s forgotten I’m here… but he’s already given me the go-ahead, so I begin.
He starts to turn when the timer buzzes for the first basket, drawing his attention. Going back, he hangs it to drain.
He picks up a huge knife and a glorious eggplant, and just looks at me, his dark gaze holding mine. Several emotions pass in his eyes and I find myself drawn in. I feel I should look away, allow him a private moment, but I can’t… In truth, I’m not sure I want to.
My greatest fear?
He looks around the place and it’s as if he’s looking at land from far off shore.
Losing this place.
Raw emotion thickens his voice and I realize this fear of his is real and deep.
It almost happened a few times.
He sets the eggplant on the counter, starts slicing it lengthwise. I’m amazed. Each piece appears to be of perfect ¼” thickness.
I managed to get it going again but… I might not always be so lucky.
His slow smile captivates me. It’s a bit condescending but strangely I don’t care. I smile in response.
The hours I put in here aren’t exactly secret. Do people know what your work means to you? Or do you have to tell them?
I almost answer his question, but then remember this is not about me. I want to know more about him. He’s not just a workaholic. He has secrets. I can see them in his gaze. As I study it, he lifts a dark brow and I can’t tell whether it’s in challenge or amusement.
His smile fades. That play of emotions is in his eyes again.
My life is here. My past. My… future. I’ve worked this place since I was a kid. Back then, my dad did everything I’m doing now. Almost. When he could. Out there…
He points through the pass-through, toward the dining room.
That belonged to my mom. She worked the room like a pro and people liked her. They tipped her good and she’d skim a bunch off the top so the old man wouldn’t get it. He’d’ve wasted it on booze, and she wanted new things for herself. And for me. She bought me a football once. With her tips.
Pissed off the old man. He wanted to know how she was able to afford it. I didn’t tell him, of course. That would’ve been ugly… He took it, you know. The football my mom bought for me. Said I’d get it back when I’d shown my worth, but I never saw it again. Not until after he died. Interesting bastard, my old man.
I want to comfort him but he’s guarded now. Clearly finished with that question, so I ask another.
Christopher Olivieri. He’s my… godson. Tony and Maria’s boy. He notices things and asks a lot of simple questions that are hard to answer. He’s a challenge but he’s a great kid. Happy. Innocent. I have issues with his parents sometimes, mostly Medusa… sorry, I mean… Maria… but they treat him good. Like a kid should be treated. And he comes here sometimes – his parents’ place is at the other corner. The fancy Italian restaurant… they do well down there…
He brushes the eggplant and other vegetables with olive oil and herbs, lays them on the grill, smiling as they sizzle.
Chris brings the ball and glove I got him for his birthday and we’ll play a game of catch in the lot. He says his father’s too busy to play with him, like mine was… for different reasons, though. I’m busy, too, but the kid has a way of getting me to do things I wouldn’t normally do.
Like… take a break from this place now and then. It’s just a few tosses, not a big commitment. And off the kid goes, happy as a kid should be.
He chuckles and it’s a soft warm sound I want to hear again.
Yeah, Christopher. He’s made a difference in my life… It’s hard to explain how an eight-year-old can do that, but he did.
He turns the vegetables. Brushes them lightly.
Used to be, I’d spend time alone here, cleaning up after closing. Then… well… I’ve had company lately. Not that I mind. Not much anyway. It’s Willy. Wilma Davis. She just started showing up here regularly around midnight. I’d be mopping the place, you know, closing up for the night. It annoyed me. Having her crashing my space like that, but… Have you met Willy? Nah, probably not, because if you did, you’d smile just from hearing her name. Or you’d go running from here, screaming.
She has that effect on people, Willy does. I follow her, you know. At night. After she leaves. She doesn’t know it. She thinks nothing of walking alone through the park in the dead of night in those heels and little skirts of hers. I watch her… I mean… I watch that she gets home okay since she lives right on the other side of the park. With her roommate. Cora.
He leans closer to me as though eager to share a secret, and I ready myself for a juicy bit of gossip.
Talk about wanting to run screaming from someone. If a bawdy redhead swings her hips your way, that’ll be Cora. Run. That’s it. Run.
There’s no down time with her around…
He transfers the fragrant, grill-seared vegetables to a chafing dish. Sits on a stool at the counter.
Sometimes, I’ll stay there, by the lake, after Willy gets home. Wait for the light to go on in her apartment… I’ll be thinking, not thinking… I’ve always done that. You know when you live above the store, you need a place to go and the lake is it…has been since I was a kid. Of course, the old man never knew about it. He’d just say I didn’t know about the cost of time.
Well, I don’t know if it’s a secret, really, but… I wonder how things would be if they’d turned out like I planned. I wanted to own a sweet little 5-star hotel somewhere, and be the head chef in its 5-star restaurant. Not too many people know about that dream. Really, only my mom and Maria knew about it – Maria, as in Christopher’s mother. Tony’s wife.
He gives his head a shake as if to bring himself back to the present.
That’s what I’d be doing if things had worked out differently.
He’s staring me down, or trying to, but I’m on to him now. Those dark eyes of his are rich with secrets I wish I could pry from him, so I won’t let him off the hook.
Women love to ask about other women…
When I was a kid, most of my youth, in fact, until my early twenties… I thought Maria was the one. She took my heart, filled it up…too much. Then, BAM! She popped it like a balloon.
He chuckles. Tries to wipe the smile away.
He has her now.
We were very different back then. I was 17, she was 16. We were together for a year. She’d hang out here a lot. She’d even help out. I liked watching her work. She was one sweet sight.
We were going to go to school together. Business school – hotel/restaurant management. We talked about it like it’d really happen. Then I had more and more responsibilities here and… she… didn’t understand. One night… I was supposed to meet her, out there, by the lake. I asked… I actually begged…for an hour off so I could talk to her, but my dad kept giving me stuff to do. He must have made me tally the receipts four times that night. I got to her more than an hour late, and she was with Tony. They have three kids now. Christopher’s the oldest. You know… that night the old man wouldn’t let me meet her? That night I found her with Tony? That’s the night he died. Wrapped his truck around a tree. I kept thinking I should have taken the keys… but I didn’t.
He pushes off the counter, heads into the dining room with the grilled vegetables, and lights the final sterno.
Then there’s Jessie. Not long after the old man died, my cousin’s girlfriend – Jessie – experienced the same thing. Her father was a drunk, too. Died basically the same way. She didn’t handle it too well, and Steven, my cousin, asked me to talk to her. I did. And… things just went on from there.
He unlocks the front door, flips the closed sign to open.
She’s a great woman. She’s getting married soon. We just…ended things. It wasn’t a healthy relationship. We had a lot in common. Too much, I think. Same pain, same confusion. We didn’t really help each other, just complained mostly. But she’s funny, and she’s sensitive. We both knew nothing more would come of what we had, but…well…it went on for a long time. She did the right thing in saying yes to Carl’s proposal. She knew we’d never get married but she asked me anyway, just to be sure before she gave him her answer. And now she wants me to give her away.
His smile is small. It looks less than happy. He gives me a shrug, waves a hand toward the buffet.
Hungry? It’s all-you-can-eat. Just $9.95.
The bells on the front door ring. He gives it only a passing glance then turns away, heading for the kitchen. I gather my pen and notepad and duck my head under the pass-through to thank him for his time. And that’s when I see it. There, on a shelf next to the door leading into the parking lot, propped against a vintage Diner sign is an aged though unscuffed football.
Be sure to look for next week’s Character Interview when Elizabeth D. Spencer will introduce you to her hero, widow farmer, Jake Callen, from her Historical Romance, WHEN CUPID CAME TO TOWN. You can find that HERE on her blog.
Elizabeth D. Spencer lives on Long Island, New York with her husband, three children, and two energetic Sheltie puppies, Brinkley and Carson. (Named for the dog from You’ve Got Mail and Downton Abbey’s very own Carson, the butler.) She shares a love of history with her family and a love of books. Her days and nights are spent writing. When she is not writing Appellate briefs for the day job, she is busy writing historical romance novels. The greatest challenge has been learning to balance it all. Coffee has been a tremendous help!
I had a scary few hours before the “storm for the history books” was supposed to hit New York. I thought I should share it because, if you’re like me and sit a lot for work, you know this but tend to ignore it.
As a writer, sitting for long periods of time is part of the process. I probably sit more than many writers, though, because I have three jobs and each keeps me in front of the computer for hours (and hours) at a time.
I fidget, I get up for coffee, I let the cat/s lounge across my lap and shift them around when my legs go numb… but I don’t MOVE.
Last Wednesday, I wound up with pain in my leg and thought I’d somehow pulled a muscle (hamstring). I did all the things you should do for sore muscles without thinking further about it. Until Saturday night when I saw how red the back of my thigh was, and by Sunday morning when it was still red but also solid, aching, swollen and hot to the touch.
As I said, I have cats – one of them is 18 years old. I rarely notice pokes and scratches from them anymore. I figured, one of them must have scratched my leg at some point, and I now had a reaction to it, like cat scratch fever.
By Sunday night into Monday, the pain was unbearable and all sorts of thoughts for what it could be tortured my mind.
Monday morning, I made an urgent appointment with my doctor, who questioned me thoroughly about my daily habits. After hearing how I work at the computer all day, she wrote a script for a doppler ultrasound of my leg to check for a blood clot. Two very long hours later, I found out I wasn’t going to die from a clot that could have been in my leg and suddenly broke off to lodge in my lung.
I have cellulitis (so I might have been right about the cat-scratch), and the antibiotics I’m on should clear it up soon enough. They’re already helping.
BUT… once my doctor heard about my routine – of sitting for hours at a time, day after day, she knew my risk of clots was pretty high up there.
So is yours if you sit a lot, too.
Her advice to reduce the risk is to sit for shorter periods at a time and really move around. If you want to write for an hour straight without getting up, she said, then do it, but don’t sit in one position. Sit up straight if you tend to lean forward toward your keyboard, put your feet up on a rest under your desk. Lower them. Put your computer on the kitchen counter, and stand while you type. Don’t do your entire day’s workout in the morning and think you’re done. Break up your sitting/writing time with additional five minute workouts throughout the day – even if the time is spent simply going up and down the stairs.
And… don’t sit on the sofa or other soft cushion with your laptop on your lap. We tend to sit ‘folded’ that way, she said, and that causes other problems (I know, I have those too).
The pain I felt Sunday night and the fear I felt about possibly having to deal with a dangerous blood clot – with a blizzard on the way, no less – reminded me how quickly hours can go by when we’re writing, and how easily we can get caught up in the work while forgetting about taking care of ourselves.
Be safe, be smart, be active.
Have you ever noticed how much time you spend sitting in one position? For fun, or not, time yourself. A change of habit is probably in order for you, too.
I was using my treadmill during the day and “between jobs”, but then I stopped, having gotten caught up in the work. I’m bringing it back in and looking at other ways to make sure I don’t put myself at such high risk again.
What are your habits like? Do you have a way to break up hours of sitting?
I’ll be honest from the start – I am a slow writer. For that reason, I’ve resisted participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as it rolls around each year. The goal of NaNo is a great one – spend time prepping yourself for a writing marathon then enter the marathon and come out of it with more words on the page than you would have had otherwise. More specifically, the goal is to complete a 50,000-word novel in one month by writing 1667 words per day, every day for 30 days.
It sounds incredibly daunting and it is. However, there is logic within this madness.
I think of it like Christmas, which to me is the greatest time of year. I start planning early – like in the summer. By September I’ve prepared my gift-giving list and might have even started shopping. By October, I’ve planned the menu for Christmas day. By Thanksgiving, the day after actually, my house is decorated inside and out and during that following week, my family holiday picture is taken – kitties included. By the time Christmas day comes around, all that’s on my list is cooking and celebrating. The day itself is a marathon but I love it because all of the nitty-gritty has been tended to prior to the day.
So it is with NaNo. Plot your story early. Do your character charts or interviews, if you normally do those. Create your storyboard or dictate your notes into a digital recorder… whatever you do to prepare yourself before writing a new story is what you should do in the months or weeks before NaNo.
Then, shop. Stock the fridge and even consider prepping meals you can freeze so that during NaNo, you won’t have to worry about meal planning. Clean the house if a tidy house helps you focus on the story. Warn your friends and family that November will be a very busy month for you and you won’t be taking calls or receiving visitors during that month’s writing hours.
Ditch the excuses and the inner editor at the door and give your muse permission to play. When November 1st arrives, you start. No looking back. No revisions, no self doubt, no research. Just forward motion. If you need to look into something further before you add it to your story, add a note saying you need to look into that further but don’t stop to do it now. Do it in December.
Write. Every day. You’d be surprised how, even if you were unsure where your story would go because of some unexpected blip, by staying in the story day after day, by immersing yourself in your characters’ lives, in their setting, in the action and emotion, each day’s writing will get easier. You’ll just know where to go with each new writing session because for this month you, too, will inhabit the world you’ve created.
It sounds wonderful. I so wish I could work this way. I wish I could complete even 1,000 words per day. However, knowing I have to, knowing that is what’s expected of me, stifles my muse. Performance anxiety, I suppose.
Even though the draft written during NaNo is for no one to see but me, I can’t bring myself to just write – or to leave “to be researched” notes in the text. I have to know NOW. I write linearly. (except for when I jump from Chapter 3 to write the final scene, then jump back to Chapter 4). What I write in one paragraph directly affects the next in a way that will not allow me to skip over details in favor of words on the page.
Since November 1st, I’ve written 4,000 words. My personal goal was 1300 words per day. By now I should be up to 18,200 words. I’m writing a novella so that would put me at the midway point. How wonderful that would be – which is why it was my goal.
The reality is very different for me. My process is different. I simply cannot write this way and trying to rework my process to fit the mold has only frustrated me. I value NaNo’s intention. I admire those who attempt it and stick with it – whether they meet the daily goal or not. But for me, it’s not an enjoyable or productive process and so I’ll be sticking to my agonize-over-every-word method of writing, wave at the NaNo marathoners as they zip past me and continue in my own way, at my own pace, and for my own pleasure. I know I’ll be among the last to cross the finish line but I don’t mind because I will cross it.
Embrace your process. Whatever that may be. You should never be afraid to try something new, but neither should you be afraid to say that something new is not for you.
What has your experience been with NaNo? Thrilling? Daunting? Did your experience with it alter your ‘normal’ writing habits or did you revert back to your own process without looking back?
For the past few months, I’ve been working on my erotic novella trilogy. I released Book 1 on May 27th, 2014. Book 2 should be released at the end of this month and then, for the next couple of months, I’ll be working on the release of Book 3. Hopefully, that will be in the fall. The beauty, for me, of writing these stories is that I’m writing them for myself. I had a goal. A tale I wanted to tell in a way I wanted to tell it. And that’s what I’m doing – with input from dear and wise beta readers, and a brilliant copy-editor. I’ve hired an awesome designer for my covers and formatting, and I’m promoting the trilogy myself with the help of some wonderful friends and dedicated readers.
It has been an awesome ride.
I explain all of this because I’m probably like a lot of authors who never expected to have their work out there via self-publishing.
I had always imagined taking the traditional route. I hoped I would query agents, have one see potential in my work, take me on as a client and then shop it around to publishers who would do the whole thing – copy-editing, book doctoring, marketing, cover design, printing and distribution – the way it had been done for ages.
Instead, for this series – which I’ve written under my pen name since it’s erotic fiction and I wanted to distinguish it from my romantic suspense – I chose to take a different route. Yes, I started the traditional way by sending out queries. The responses, however, were requests for me to revise and then resubmit. The requested revision had to do with turning my gritty erotic tale into erotic romance with a happily ever after ending. “Romance” and “Happily Ever After”, are the last words I think about when I consider my trilogy, so that was not a request I felt comfortable fulfilling.
I’ll admit, the decision to keep the trilogy as is and publish it myself was an easy one because self-publishing and erotica seemed, to me at least, to go hand in hand.
Does that mean I’m against traditional publishing? Absolutely not. Though, sad as it is, some rather intelligent people seem to think so. There’s a petty battle being waged between some in the self-publishing corner and some in the traditional publishing corner. Because of that petty battle, any mention of one method over the other is often met with defensive comments and accusations.
I don’t speak for every author, I speak for myself, and I will say this – I admire anyone who puts their work out there for public consumption, no matter the publishing path they take.
This is not a business for the faint of heart. Reviewers – professional and otherwise – can be as wonderful as they can be brutal. You have to trust yourself and your work enough to ignore the random insults while absorbing constructive criticisms and acknowledging that maybe the work isn’t as brilliant as you originally thought. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be out there. It means everyone has a different opinion. And whether you’re self- or traditionally published, a newbie or Nora – you’re going to get great and not-so-great feedback. Success is not determined by the route you take but by timing, luck and the effort put into the project.
I self-published my current work and people seem to be enjoying it. I don’t care that some people look down on self-publishing. I’m not a threat to traditionally published authors, though some react as if I (meaning the entire self-published community) am indeed a threat, a peon, a person who couldn’t get work past the guardians, and decided to enter the market through some dark and dirty tunnel instead.
There’s not a shred of fact in that assumption. I said above that, in my mind, erotic fiction and self-publishing seem to go hand-in-hand. That’s why I chose this route for this series. Would I choose the same route for my romantic suspense? I don’t know. I believe I would query agents as usual. I believe I would hold the same hope I originally held for this story – that they’d see the potential in the work and want to take it on. I also know now that if they decide not to, other quality options are available to me.
*Most* self-published authors are people who believe in their work. People who have poured their passion into it. Who have a dream of seeing their name on a book. Who feel this giddy rush of pleasure when others buy the work, and an even greater rush when they receive a nice review. Most self-published authors aren’t looking to take over the publishing world. Nor are most looking to somehow belittle the accomplishments of traditionally published authors. They’re just creative people who have a story to tell. And if it’s riddled with typos? If the prose drags on or is incomprehensible? Does that mean every self-published book is the same? If you pick up a book from one of the big-five publishing houses and find it to be a wall-banger – and there have been plenty of wall-bangers over the years – is that a sign that standards for the entire industry have plummeted? Or does it mean you bought a book you didn’t like? Or a book that should have received more attention from an editor?
Is there arrogance in some self-published authors? Is there indignation? Of course there is. And it’s exactly the same for the traditionally published community. We’re all part of the same. We’re all authors. We all have stories to tell. Some of us tell them in a more commercially-acceptable way than others. Some of us have the business and common sense to take it slow, to check and recheck before putting it out there. Some of us are still learning, and some of us don’t give a shit. It all shows in the work – whether that work came to life via self- or traditional publishers.
It’s not about the path you take – or about the path someone else chooses to take. It’s about the story you tell.
And now for a shameless plug…
History is revised in this erotic tale of choice removed as the duty to submit wars with the desire to resist. Abigail Prescott, a 17th Century woman accused of witchcraft, seeks to prove herself unmarked by Satan. She willingly submits to her governor’s thorough examination but is ill-prepared for his shameful grueling probe, as it permits him to see and test her every inch and every hollow.
“The Governor is one hell of a Dom.” – award-winning author, Bianca D’Arc
“I defy you not to squirm and moan right along with Abigail as you read The Mark. Rejoice, erotic-fiction fans. Arla Dahl has arrived!”-best-selling author, Pam McKenna
“The Mark, a beautifully written and captivating novella, kept me on the edge of my seat and completely spellbound.” –Smart Mouth Smut
From the Author:
THE MARK, Book 1 in the Immoral Virtue Trilogy is a highly erotic, non-romantic tale of sexual awakening and abandon, of the duty to submit vs. the desire to resist. Due to its explicit sexual nature, with elements of BDSM and dubious consent, THE MARK is intended for audiences 18 and over.