Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dare to Put Yourself on the Page

As authors, we all strive to convey a message through our stories. Yet, over the years and the dozens of stories I've written, I've also learned a lot--mostly about myself. The characters I create all carry some small part of me in them. I'm not a plotter when it comes to writing. Usually, I have a few basic ideas about my characters and where the story will go, but it's barely enough to fill a Post-It note. Everything else develops as I get deeper into the story, with my characters taking the helm and steering me where they want.

I've been "in the zone," that fugue-like state where the real world melts away and my fingers frantically try to keep up with my brain as the words magically appear on the pages. And often, when I finally return to earth, I read what I've written and sit back in awe. Not at the brilliance of the excerpt, but at the insight.

All of my values, my beliefs, my fears and, yes, even some of my memories have spilled onto the page. Characters like April Raine in NOBODY'S DARLING, Marisa Alvarez in KISMET'S REVENGE, and Jodie Devlin in ETERNALLY YOURS have so much of who I am in them, it's almost frightening. Sure, it's fiction, and at the same time, it's part autobiographical, too.

If I could give writers one piece of advice, it would be this: Dare to Put Yourself on the Page. Go there. Examine yourself, dig into those memories (especially the ones that make you wince!), open up that vein and bleed on the page. Because, my friends, that is what makes your characters resonate with readers. 

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Duet in September Sneak Peek: Paige's Point of View

With Duet in September up for a RONE nomination from InD'Tale Magazine, I'm sharing snippets of the story as a means of convincing you, the readers, to vote for its continued journey toward a win at the Romance Novel Convention this summer in Las Vegas. And so, without further ado, here's a sneak peek at twin sister, Paige.

The simple joys of childhood echoed around me as I cycled toward the wharf. I passed the old elementary school Nia and I had attended. Behind the school sat the playground where I’d had my first kiss from a boy. Darren Simmons had been eight and I was seven. His family moved to Texas a few weeks later and for a while, I thought my scandalous behavior was the cause of their abrupt departure from Snug Harbor. When I’d finally confessed my deep dark sin to my mother, she’d laughed and explained Darren’s father had been offered a transfer from his company. The peck on the lips I’d shared with Darren was probably his way of saying goodbye. Of course, only a year later, my mother became the poster child for “scandalous behavior,” but at the time, her comments made perfect sense.
On the next block, I rode past the public library, a frequent hangout in my school years—before the existence of the Internet.
Everywhere I looked along my route sparked a memory to make me smile.
Why hadn’t I done this before now? My legs pumped for an uphill climb, then relaxed my feet on the pedals as I coasted down the other side. I felt exhilarated, powerful, and a little bit sexy. No wonder people raved about the endorphin rush that came from exercising. This was amazing!
A higher hill came into view, and I shifted gears to prepare. I had to pedal a bit harder than I’d anticipated, but I pushed myself, knowing I could coast down the other side. Once I reached the other side. Funny how I never noticed how steep this road was when I drove it every day in my SUV. My thigh muscles ached, and I actually rose off the seat to get more power into my pedaling. Sweat broke out on my forehead. Still, the bike and I climbed. My pace slowed with my exertion, making every motion harder to complete. At last, I crested the hill, but only found a plateau. No downhill break to catch my breath. I had to push on.
A few yards ahead of me, a man walked a large, lean dog near the curb that ran along the shoreline. The man had a great build with broad shoulders packed into a tight t-shirt and long, muscular legs in khaki shorts. Nice buns, I contemplated as I drew closer. A good handful, but no excess.
Beeeeeeep! A car horn blared from behind me, and I swerved to keep the front tire straight. The bike veered onto the road’s shoulder and slid on a patch of sand, nearly upending me.
The expensive convertible roared past me at a speed I surmised was double the town’s limit. The blond driver, her long hair whipping with the wind, flipped me the bird as she sped on down the road.
“Nice,” I shouted after her. “I hope you get arrested!” Where was a cop when I needed one?
“Paige, is that you?”
Oh, good God. Mr. Yummybuns looked at me over his tasty shoulder, and I groaned. Why had I wished for a cop right now?
“Hey, Sam.” I tried to play nonchalant as I braked my bike next to him. “Did you see that moron?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m off-duty right now. If it makes you feel any better, though, Tonya’s at the top of the next ridge with a radar gun.”
Imagining the blonde’s upcoming surprise, I laughed. “No lie?”
“Nope.” Sam’s grin sparked fireworks in my belly.
In the dim hallway last night, I’d found his smile dazzling, but in the light of day, I could easily understand Nia’s attraction to the rest of him. He looked like a sun-bronzed god, all sinew and golden skin with eyes the color of honey and the lushest lashes I’d ever seen on a man.
If only he were mute…
As if to introduce itself, the fawn-colored dog suddenly lurched forward to sniff at my sneakers.
“Daisy, get down.” Sam yanked on the leash.
“Hi there, sweetheart. Aren’t you a love?” I bent to rub the pooch between its folded ears, then looked up at Sam again. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”
“Daisy won’t hurt you. She’s big but loveable.”
“Daisy?” I quirked my eyebrows. “You named this huge beast Daisy?”
“Not my choice. She’s a rescue from the Greyhound Liberation. Her full name is Daisy Chain of Love.”
“Wow.” I slipped my hand under Daisy’s angular jaw, and she snuffled. “I’m impressed.”
“Don’t be,” he replied. “All the racers get goofy names.”
Actually, I was referring to the fact that he had a softness for any living thing. But I wisely bit back the insult. “How long have you had her?” I asked instead.
“Two years.” Daisy licked his hand, and he patted her fondly. “If you’re thinking about a pet, I could probably hook you up with the rescue group. They’re always looking to place retired greyhounds.”
Me with a dog? I shook my head. I couldn’t even keep a houseplant thriving. “I don’t think I’d have the energy for a former racing star.”
“The keyword there is ‘former.’ They’re retired so they actually don’t do much running. And you’ve got a decent-sized yard for a dog to get out his ya-yas. Besides, you look like you could handle anything.” He glanced at my bike, then the road ahead, as if he didn’t want me to see the smirk on his face from his attempt to compliment me.
Yeah, sure. Suddenly he’s worried about hurting my feelings. Get a grip, Paige.
“Where you headed?” he asked, gaze still fixed on the horizon.
“The wharf, then home again.”
He whistled through his teeth. “Oh, right. But you don’t have the energy to keep up with a greyhound. That’s like…what? Eight miles round trip?”
Eight miles?! I swallowed a gasp and forced a casual smile. No way did I want him to know I had no idea how long a trek I’d planned for myself. “Yeah, something like that.”
“You training for some kind of marathon?”
“Sort of,” I lied. “The 10K Twin Fork Ride is next month. I figured I might as well start getting ready.” Wow. Could I get any more ridiculous? No way I had the slightest intention of participating in that torturefest.
“Where’s your water?” He gestured to my bike frame, then looked up at the sun and shielded his eyes with the flat of his hand.
Water? My gaze followed his to the empty wire rack where a water bottle should rest beneath my seat. Oops. I forgot about bringing something to drink on my morning trek. I wasn’t about to let him get the better of me, though.  “I’ll pick up a bottle when I get to the wharf,” I replied with a dismissive air.
His brows rose in twin arcs. “The wharf is still two miles from here. You’ll dehydrate long before you get there.” He jerked his head in the direction of the side street. “Come back to the house with Daisy and me, and I’ll grab you a coupla cold ones to go.”

If this were a movie, the creepy music would start building right now. What should the na├»ve heroine do? Go home with the monster so as not to hurt his feelings? 

Duet in September is available from Amazon for 99 cents for a limited time!

Please vote for Duet in September here in the Cops, Jocks and Cowboys category. (Yes, you have to register onsite to vote. My apologies for the inconvenience and my enduring gratitude to those who go through the process on my behalf anyway.)

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Duet in September Sneak Peek--Nia's Side of the Story

Duet in September, Book I of the Calendar Girls Series, is up for a RONE Award (from InD'Tale Magazine) and on Monday, I'll begin asking for your votes to help me get my sweet little romance into the next round. So it's only fair I share a few excerpts to whet your appetite and give you a taste of what you're voting for. First, the blurb:

Nia and Paige Wainwright, who have grown up in the Long Island seaside town of Snug Harbor, try an experiment to shake up their humdrum lives. Every day for thirty days, they intend to do one thing differently from their normal routine—with unique results. 

Nia, still bitter years after her mother left the family for a wealthy tourist, finds herself falling for vineyard owner, Aidan Coffield, the son of a wealthy Manhattan real estate tycoon. 

Meanwhile, Paige keeps knocking heads with her high school nemesis and now town police chief, Sam Dillon. 

Each day of this special September will provide Paige and Nia with new adventures, new self-awareness, and of course, enough love to last two lifetimes.

And now, Nia speaks, from the locale of Snug Harbor Auto Body, where she's gone to have her car repaired after a hit-and-run accident.

With my car keys dangling from his fist, he pointed at the dented steel door behind me marked Office. “Dial nine for an outside line. And come get me if you feel yourself wavering.” He opened my car door and slid into the driver’s seat, effectively halting all further conversation between us.
I stepped inside his office, and the smell of paint thinners nearly knocked me to my knees. The room, with one lone window that opened onto the repair dock, received no natural light or ventilation. Here was a true man cave, the ultimate altar to all things automotive. Gray walls, gray steel desk, two gray metal folding chairs—separated by a pair of stacked milk crates piled high with magazines devoted to cars, trucks, and engines—clearly defined this masculine space. Adding to the bleakness, smears of grease and layers of gray dust coated every surface. Thick black cables tangled around engine pieces, reminding me of Hollywood’s image of a post-apocalyptic world. Here I was, Mad Maxine in the Temple of the Last Chrysler. Cheap plastic frames displayed stained certificates of courses completed in transmission and air conditioning repair, as well as the exorbitant hourly rate for labor in the garage. My personal favorite eye catcher was a white metal sign on the far wall that proclaimed in a bold, red, comic-style font: “I couldn’t fix your brakes so I made your horn louder.”
Averting my gaze from the cluster of big-busted, bikini-clad pinups on the corkboard, I skirted around the desk to the ripped leather chair poised in front of an ancient computer monitor. I found a sheet of blank paper on a shelf above the battered printer and used it like a potholder—a barrier between my hand and the filthy phone receiver. I held the chunky, black earpiece an inch or two away from my skin and punched in the numbers with my fingernail. At least I carried anti-bacterial hand gel in my purse. Did I have enough to bathe in if I spent too long in this room? Probably not, but after this I’d go home and take a long, hot shower to wash away the day’s bad karma.
On the other end of the receiver, the phone rang twice, then, “Hello?” That sultry voice weakened my knees with its sweet syrup undertones.
“Mr. Coffield?” I sounded weird to my own ears. Like I’d sucked on helium. Breathy, high-pitched, and rushed. No doubt, the chemicals in the air took their toll on my throat. I wondered how Brice managed to work in this office for an extended period of time without becoming light-headed. I gulped and plowed on. “This is Nia Wainwright.”
“Miss Wainwright? Wow. I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.” His self-assurance, so apparent in his smug tone, raised my hackles. “Does this mean you’ve reconsidered going to dinner with me?”
Really? Had the man never heard the word no before today? I tightened my jaw, nearly grinding my teeth to dust. Before I spoke again, I took several deep breaths, relaxed my muscles from the neck down to my toes, and counted to ten. Who knew my yoga classes would come in handy in my daily life? “No,” I said, cool and elegant as a Siamese cat. “I’m afraid your car was involved in an accident with mine this morning.”
Yes. Perfect poise. Let him try to get the best of me now. I drew out the silence, allowing him time to digest what I’d just revealed.
“Oh.” That simple syllable told me I’d kicked the puppy love out of him. Mission accomplished. “There went all the goodwill between us, huh?”
“It’s not about goodwill, Mr. Coffield.” Not that we had any goodwill between us anyway. “It’s a matter of someone using your car to drive recklessly, and then leaving the scene of an accident without concern for injuries or damage to other parties.”
“He didn’t hurt you, did he? If that scrawny brat left so much as a scratch on you, I’ll make him sorry he ever took his first breath.”
The passion in his voice took me aback. His reaction was so far flung from what I’d expected.
“No,” I replied with hesitation. “The jolt wasn’t pleasant, mind you, but I’m more concerned about the damage to my car.”
“As long as you’re unharmed, Miss Wainwright. I couldn’t bear to think that I was even indirectly responsible for anything grievous happening to you.”
I stared at the door that led outside, waiting for someone to jump inside and yell, “Gotcha!” and a bunch of guys to laugh at the surprised look on my face.
Aidan Coffield was putting me on. He had to be.
“Chief Dillon gave me your contact info. He said you wanted to speak to me.” Doubts raced rampant through my brain, and my courage abandoned me. “If this is a bad time, I can call back later.”
In contrast to my tentativeness, he became more self-assured. “No. That won’t be necessary. Give me a minute, though, to get my thoughts in order.”
“Sure. I guess.” I winced at my own cowardice. Good God, if I kept up the shy maiden routine, I was doomed. I’d not only give in about reporting the accident, I’d probably wind up paying for the damage out of my own pocket.
From the corkboard, a nearly naked nymph bending under the open hood of a 1960’s-era black Ford Mustang smirked at me. Oh, honey, her smile seemed to say. You’re gonna hafta do a whole lot better than that if you want to keep control of this conversation.
Yeah, sure. Easy for her with her toned, tanned legs in sky high heels, her short shorts, and her Playboy centerfold looks. Unfortunately, some of us had to rely on our wits instead of beauty. And mine had suddenly fled the country, leaving no forwarding address.

Duet in September, Book I of the Calendar Girls Series, is available at Amazon for only 99 cents for a limited time! 

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Embarrassing Moment (Brought to you by the Prolonged Winter)

Yes, I'm blaming this bonus round of winter for one of the most embarrassing events to occur to me in I-don't-know-how-long. Okay, so here's the set-up. I recycle my bottles and cans, including the redeemable soda, beer, and water containers, which I keep in trash bags in my garage. Once I've amassed three or four full bags, I stuff them into the car and away we go to the supermarket for my multitude of five-cent increments.

Last week, I noticed I had three full bags in the garage so, after running other errands, I sped back to the house, grabbed the bags, tossed them in the trunk and took off for my weekly shopping expedition. Once again, I was racing a winter storm so time was of the essence. At the supermarket, after circumnavigating the parking lot a dozen times, I found a parking space somewhere near Guam, grabbed a cart with three working wheels (and a fourth that wobbled and veered the cart to the right) and whipped the three bags of bottles/cans from my trunk. With one eye on the ever graying sky, I headed for the bottle redemption area. I lucked out and had the line of machines all to myself, which is always a great thing since I can position my cart and whip the empties from the bags into each individual machine: plastic, cans, glass in a rhythm that would make a hula dancer envious. 

Whip, whip, whip! I got into the groove, emptied bag #1 in no time, moved on to bag #2, untied the knot, and rapid-fired through with barely a pause. Moving right along. Got to bag #3, ripped open the knot. And stopped. Stared. Looked again. Bent and looked at it from another angle. 

Nope. No mistake. Bag #3 did not contain empty bottles and cans. Bag #3 contained...garbage. Apparently, during one of the major snowstorms we'd suffered through, when our household kitchen trash can was full, with no way to shlep the garbage outside and no way to get to the exterior cans, one of my genius family members opted to stow the garbage in the garage--right next to my bags of recyclables. And in my rush to get this task done before the latest coming blizzard, I never noticed--not when I'd grabbed the bags from the garage, not when I'd stowed them in the trunk, not when I'd pulled them out of the trunk, not when I'd put them into the shopping cart. It was only when I opened this last bag that the truth finally dawned on me. 

And worse, I had nowhere to stow this bag of trash now. I'm in the bottle redemption room. There is no garbage can--just a box for recyclables the store doesn't accept and another for empty plastic bags. Okay, so I'm not proud of what I did next, but really, I didn't have much of a choice. I had to leave the bag of garbage next to the box for recyclables. (And I am sooooo sorry! Really!)

On the upside, I managed to get my food shopping done before the first snowflake hit the ground.

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