New Year’s In August: Excerpt Alert

I’m hard at work on the second of three novellas in a holiday series, and this one is a New Year’s story that picks up where the Christmas one left off but with Trish’s friend, Nadia.  I’d love to get your feedback on the opening scene below:

* * *

“Dear, could I possibly get you to do something for me?”

On the surface, the question seemed harmless enough, especially when the petite white-haired lady asking it looked like she could have stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  When one actually knew the matchmaking schemer that lay beneath that innocent exterior, though, one learned to pay close attention before committing to anything.

And Nadia Normandy had long ago learned to pay very close attention.  Straightening from behind the Heavenly Bites display case in which she was rearranging a tray of cream puffs, she put both hands squarely on the counter and leaned forward to look the older woman straight in the eye.  Well, forward and down; Mrs. Beasley was only four foot eleven.  “Who is he, Mrs. B?”

Her customer blinked at her through enormous tortoiseshell glasses, her eyes wide with innocence.  Considering how much the huge lenses magnified her eyes, they looked very wide indeed.  “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Last time you asked me to do something for you with that little quaver in your voice, I wound up agreeing to a blind date with a carpet salesman who had an absolutely out-of-this-world sweating problem.  What was wrong with that poor man anyway?  Was

it something glandular?”

“My dry cleaner’s son is very nice,” Mrs. Beasley huffed with what struck Nadia

as incredibly insincere indignation.

“He used my cashmere scarf to wipe his forehead at dinner.  Twice.”

“Yes, but he did offer to get it cleaned for you at his mother’s shop for a fantastic discount.”

“Sorry, Mrs. B.”  Nadia bent down to resume working on the cream puffs.  “I can find my own dates just fine, thank you.”  She’d gotten nibbles from three different prospects this week alone due to all the holiday parties she’d attended.  A hunky physical trainer, a Latin musician with a smile to die for, and the third one—what was he again?  A dogwalker?  Dog trainer maybe?  Or maybe he just liked dogs.  All she really remembered about him was his great tan because she was impressed that he managed to maintain it so well despite it being the middle of winter.  Well, maybe she was more curious than impressed.

The fact that his tan was the only memorable thing about him was a bad sign, though.  She’d give him the benefit of the doubt and one date, but somehow she suspected there wouldn’t be a second one.

“Pretty thing like you?  Of course you don’t need help finding somebody.”  And yet it was impossible to miss the glance Mrs. Beasley gave to the ringless finger on Nadia’s left hand, especially since her eyes were magnified to twice their normal size by her tremendous lenses.

Nadia raised one eyebrow to let her know that she understood exactly what that look meant but chose not to comment.

“And anyway,” the older woman continued, “that wasn’t the kind of favor I was

going to ask of you.”

“No?”

“No.”

Closing up the display case, Nadia returned her attention to Mrs. Beasley.  “So there’s no man involved in this favor whatsoever?”

“Well…”

Now Nadia raised both eyebrows.  “Uh huh, that’s what I thought.”

“It is not what you think.  You see, the young man who handles all of my financial matters for me is a sweet boy, but he’s also rather…awkward.”

“Awkward?”

“Socially speaking, yes.  You see, Benji—“

“Benji?  This guy is named after a dog?  And he’s an accountant—oh, Mrs. B…”  Shaking her head, Nadia reached for a cloth and began wiping down the counter.

“Benji is short for Benjamin actually, but Benji really suits him better.  You’ll see what I mean when you meet him.”

“Mrs. B, I am not going out with your accountant.”

“I’m not asking you to see him socially, dear, I’m asking you to…to educate him.”

Nadia blinked and stopped wiping the counter.  “Educate him?  In what, scones and shortbread?”

“In social niceties, particularly in regards to women.  How to talk to them, where to meet them, that sort of thing.”  Mrs. Beasley patted Nadia on the hand.  “You’re so

good with people, dear.  You’d be a natural at this!”

“At teaching a man how to pick up women?  Mrs. B, what exactly do you think I

do when I go out?”

“Who better to teach a man what women want than a woman?”

It was hard to argue with that.  Still, the prospect of becoming a dating coach to a complete stranger was about as appealing as a second date with the uber-moist carpet salesman.  “What about asking your granddaughter?  She’s not exactly shy with other people.  Why not have her do it?”

Mrs. Beasley fidgeted and cleared her throat.  “Aimee is… unconventional.  I’m not sure she’d be the best person to give Benji advice on dating.”

Unconventional.  That was a good word for Aimee.  The girl was probably a few years younger than Nadia, somewhere in her mid-twenties, and she had come to live with her grandmother a few months ago.  In that short time, she’d gone from blonde to redhead to jet-black hair with red streaks.  Nadia tried to picture Aimee even in the same room as an accountant and failed.  “Fair enough.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

Nadia couldn’t hold back a wince.  “Mrs. B—“

“Please, dear?  It’s for a good cause, I promise.”

“Is this because Trish is dating Ian now, and you want a matchmaking project?” Nadia asked, referring to her best friend and business partner.  “Who’s next on your list, your pharmacist?”

“No,” Mrs. Beasley replied without a moment’s hesitation.  “My hairdresser.”

Nadia started to laugh and then stopped as she realized the other woman was

serious.  “Wait—you actually do have a list?”

“Never mind that, dear.  Now, Benji works nine to five most days, so it would

probably be best if you met him after work.”

“Hang on, I never said I’d—“

“Please, dear?  At my age, I have so few pleasures left, and who knows how much time I even have at all, really.”  The quaver was back in Mrs. Beasley’s voice, and she let one wrinkled hand hover tremulously over her heart as if it might give out on her within the next three seconds.

It was blatant manipulation, Nadia thought.  It was also very effective.  “Mrs. B,” she groaned, pleading.

“You could consider it a Christmas present to me.”

“I gave you your favorite homemade lemon tarts as your Christmas present!”

The old woman let both hands tremble over her heart now.

“Shame on you,” Nadia muttered, folding her arms across her chest and frowning but also slumping against the back counter in defeat.

Mrs. Beasley beamed at her.  “I think the best thing would be for you two to meet at that charming little coffee shop on Third and Oakdale,” she told Nadia, the quaver in her voice vanishing as quickly as it had appeared.  “It’s midway between both of your workplaces.”  Reaching into her purse with a hand that was as steady as a rock, she pulled out a little slip of paper and handed it to Nadia.  “Here’s the address along with Benji’s phone number.  I’ll tell him to expect you.”

“What?  Mrs. B, it’s Christmas Eve!”

“You’re right,” Mrs. Beasley agreed after a moment’s consideration.  “Silly me.  I

suppose the day after Christmas is more reasonable.”

“The day after Christmas—“ Nadia sputtered, incredulous.

The older woman’s lip quivered.  “I just thought it would be so nice to help Benji start the new year off right, and—and—“  Her hand found its way to her heart again.

“All right, fine, Mrs. B.  I’ll do it.  But you know, woman, you really ought to be regulated by the federal government.  I’ll bet you can squeeze out tears on command, can’t you?”

Mrs. Beasley only patted Nadia’s hand again.  “How does five o’clock sound?”

“Like emotional blackmail, but other than that, fine.”

“Lovely.  Then I’ll just take a dozen of those gingerbread men, and I’ll be on my way.”

Scooping up the requested treats and putting them in a bag, Nadia rang them up and handed them over.  “I don’t even have the first idea of what to say to this guy, you know.”

“You’ll think of something wonderful, dear, I just know it.”

“Mrs. B?”

The woman paused with her hand on the door.  “Yes?”

“Am I on that list of yours?”

“Merry Christmas, dear,” was all Mrs. Beasley called out in response as she stepped out into the wintry weather.

Nadia stared after her.  “Girl,” she said aloud to herself in the empty bakery, “I have the distinct feeling that you are in deep trouble.”

* * *

So…what do you think?

Cover Art For The Bargain

Crimson Romance just sent me the finalized cover art for my second book, The Bargain, so I thought I’d share it with you here.  Without further ado, I give you:

TheBargainCover

Hee!  Did you notice the part where it says my name and then right under it adds “author of Coming Home”?  I can’t seem to stop looking at that part.  Author.  I’ve been saying things like “I like to write” or just “I write” but I haven’t actually called myself a writer yet, and I’ve never applied the word author to myself, either.  But maybe I should start, because it’s really starting to grow on me…

Pardon me while I do a happy dance.  🙂

Dr. Seuss And Romance Don’t Mix

Some popular and widely accepted advice for writers is to not only write regularly but to read regularly too, to keep one’s creative juices recharged.

I think it’s very good advice, but I’ve had trouble putting it into practice lately.  Coming home from work, I find myself trying to squeeze in time to write on a work-in-progress, time to write blog posts, time to network with reviewers and other writers, time to do enough housework to prevent my house from being quarantined by the CDC…

So when to fit in reading for pleasure?

Maybe I can work it in around eating and sleeping.  So if I check my schedule, so far my best option looks like…

Hmm.  The slot between the hours of 2 and 3 AM.

Bummer.

(And my exercise program went out the window AGES ago, but in fairness, I think that’s got more to do with me having a strong aversion to physical exertion of any kind than with me having a full schedule.)

In the meantime, the only fiction I’ve been reading lately is the picture books that I read to my kindergarten class, and while I love Dr. Seuss, I’m afraid it’s having a detrimental effect on my writing.  Check out this recent excerpt and see if you agree:

As they gazed into each other’s eyes, Lianna couldn’t help but wonder…

Would he kiss her in the car?

Would they kiss under a star?

Would they, could they, make this work?

Or could he, would he, be a jerk?

Would she spend more sleepless nights

Drowning sorrows in chocolate bites;

Or would at last her dreams come true:

Washboard abs and nice pecs, too…

I fear Seuss is shining through.  And you do NOT want to see the scene I wrote after reading Mother Goose.  Trust me.

21 Quotes About Writing

Here are a few gems I came across about writing and the writer’s life.  Enjoy!

1)  The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. ~ Mark Twain

2)  I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper. ~ Steve Martin

3)  A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~ Richard Bach

4)  If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing. ~ Kingsley Amis

5)  Always avoid alliteration. ~ Author Unknown

6)  If a word in the dictionary were misspelled, how would we know? ~ Steve Wright

7)  Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~ Author Unknown

8)  I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~ Elmore Leonard

9)  Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

10)  Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs. ~  John Osborne

11)  Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~ E.L. Doctorow

12)  It’s not plagiarism – I’m recycling words, as any good environmentally conscious writer would do. ~ Uniek Swain

13)  A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one. ~ Baltasar Gracian

14)  What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window. ~ Burton Rascoe

15)  It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous. ~ Robert Benchley

16)  Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted. ~ Jules Renard

17)  It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word. ~ Andrew Jackson

18)  With sixty staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and definite hardening of the paragraphs. ~ James Thurber

19)  If writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers. ~ Irvin S. Cobb

20)  A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print. ~ Marguerite Yourcenar

21)  For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can. ~ Ernest Hemingway

 

Crayola vs. Photoshop

So I would be willing to go to some pretty great lengths to avoid having to learn how to use any kind of new software, since it makes me twitch and all, but I’m currently exploring some software options of my own free will.  Somebody check me for a fever!

You can’t write anything nowadays without hearing a lot about self-publishing options, and it’s something I think I’d like to try in the near future.  Which is not to say that I’ve got a grudge against traditional publishing houses, because I don’t.  I actually have a bit of a crush on them.  I daydream about them all the time, write their names next to mine in little hearts on my notebook, etc.  But as kind as the folks at Crimson Romance have been to me, they still only specialize in romance, and I have a few other genres I’d like to try out, too.  So I’d like to have one foot in each publishing world, self- and traditional.

Of course, if I do self-publish, then I have a lot of other hats to wear besides that of “author.”  Like “editor,” “head of marketing”, “choreographer”, or “body double.”  Okay, so maybe not those last two…

But one of those jobs I’d really have is “cover art designer.”  I’m a kindergarten teacher, so I’m more at home using Crayola materials to create pictures than anything else, but I don’t think that’s going to cut it in the world of ebooks.  So I guess I need to learn a little something about the world of graphic design.

I’m currently reading up on Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, GIMP, and others.  And I’m twitching.  Pixels and jpeg I kind of understand, but when I read terms like “vectors” and “layers” I get bewildered.  I mean, I hear “layers” and I just throw a sweater on over a turtleneck.  So I tried doing that, but it didn’t clear anything up for me.

But I think if I could wade through all the technical stuff without curling into the fetal position, playing around with cover art could be a lot of fun.  Maybe too much fun.  One might forget one has to actually finish writing the book first.  Heh.

We’ll see…

It’s Blog Tag, And I’m It!

Last Wednesday fellow Crimson Romance author Amanda L. V. Shalaby tagged me in a post that was part of The Next Big Blog Tour.  Whee!  I’m it!  So that means it’s my turn to answer 10 basic questions about me and my writing.  Here goes:

1)  What is the working title of your next book?

The Bargain.

2)  Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to write a love story about an ugly duckling type whose transformation is more inner than outer because it’s hard for me to identify with romance heroines who have perfect heart-shaped faces and figures that are impossible outside of a plastic surgeon’s office.

3)  What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary romance.

4)  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm…maybe someone like Felicia Day for Shannon, partly because she’s a redhead and partly because she’s good at playing funny, awkward characters.  And for Michael—for some reason I want to say Taylor Kinney.  Don’t ask me why, but Lady Gaga would understand.

5)  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An awkward wallflower pursues her former high school crush by enlisting an unlikely ally–his estranged ne’er-do-well brother–in a wary bargain that ends up transforming them both.

6)  Who is publishing your book?

Crimson Romance.

7)  How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Maybe around three months?  I’m not sure exactly.  Guess I need to keep better records.  Or a diary.

8)  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m drawing a blank.  Could be because I haven’t had time to sit down and read a book purely for pleasure in quite a while!  And, no, that isn’t a shameless play for sympathy.  Unless it’s working…

9)  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I like unconventional heroines.  I had a lot of fun creating this one!

10)  What else about the book might pique the readers’ interests?

I reveal who really shot JFK.  No, not really.  But wouldn’t it be cool if I did?

 

And now I’m tagging these two wonderful authors:

Kimberly Lewis:  http://kimberlylewisnovels.blogspot.com/

Abigail Sharpe:  http://abigailsharpe.com/

Check them out next Wednesday!

Work In Progress

Crimson Romance is looking for short stories for some collections of holiday romances, and I’m tempted to throw my hat into the ring even though shorter stories aren’t my area of expertise.  Well, I’m not sure that longer stories are either, but at least I’ve published a couple of those.  🙂

So I’m working on one to submit for the Christmas collection, and it’s about a woman who encounters someone who used to pick on her in junior high and now years later doesn’t seem to recognize her.  At first she plans on chewing him out, but through a few twists and turns, she realizes he’s not at all the same person he used to be and that he also had a much sadder past than she ever knew.  She also realizes that she’s starting to really like the man he is now.

So what do you think?  Former bullies aren’t traditionally romantic heroes, but I always like a little redemption in a story, and that’s what I’m aiming for here.  Plus Christmas is a great time to celebrate forgiveness, too.

Here’s the opening scene:

It was probably inviting the worst kind of karma to be contemplating murder during the holiday season of all times, but that didn’t phase Trish Ackerly in the slightest as she stared through her bakery’s storefront window in shock.

It was him.  Ian Rafferty, bane of her junior high school existence.  She’d know that face anywhere, despite the changes in it.  Sure, he was a couple of feet taller now and certainly broader shouldered, but as he glanced away from the winter scene she had painted on the window only yesterday and at a passing car that whizzed by much too fast on the busy city street, the profile he presented to her confirmed it.  Yes, it was him.  That same nose, the odd little scar above his eye, the familiar way he quirked his lips…

Her eyes narrowed.  Ian Rafferty.  That miserable, mean-spirited little—

Then he turned his face back to the window, and Trish gasped and dropped to the floor before he could spot her staring at him.

“What on earth are you doing?” came Nadia’s voice from behind the counter.

Trish huddled behind a tall metal trash can and glanced up through her dark bangs at her startled friend and business partner only to remember belatedly that they had company in the shop, namely wizened little Mrs. Beasley, whose startled eyes blinked at her from behind enormous tortoise-shell spectacles.

Well, there was little help for it now.  “That guy,” Trish hissed, jerking one

thumb in the direction of the window.  “I know him!”

Both Nadia and Mrs. Beasley peered intently through the glass.  “Mmm,” said Nadia appreciatively a moment later.  “Lucky you, girlfriend.”

“No, not lucky me!  That guy made my life a living hell in junior high.  He’s a jerk, he’s a bully—“

“He’s coming in here, dear,” Mrs. Beasley interrupted her, with obvious interest in her voice.

With a squeak of alarm, Trish shuffled hastily behind the counter on her hands and knees and hunched into as small and inconspicuous a ball as she could.

Nadia blinked.  “Trish, are you out of your—“
“Sh!”

“Oh, you did not just shush me—“

“SHH!” Trish insisted again, knowing full well that she’d pay for it later, and then she pulled her head down into her shoulders as much as her anatomy would allow.

The bell on the door jangled cheerfully then, and a gust of cold air heralded Ian Rafferty’s arrival.

“Hi, there,” Nadia greeted him brightly, surreptitiously giving Trish’s foot a little dig with one of her own.  “Welcome to Heavenly Bites.  What can I get for you?”

“Cup of coffee would be great for starters,” came a voice that was deep but soft, and far less reptilian than Trish expected.  She cocked her head slightly to better catch his words and heard the unmistakable sound of him blowing on his hands and rubbing them together to warm them.  “Cream, no sugar.”

“Sure thing, honey.”

“Your window art,” his voice continued, and Trish straightened ever so slightly at the mention of her work.  “It’s fantastic.  Can I ask who painted it?”

“Absolutely,” Nadia returned, turning her attention to getting the coffee he requested.  “My business partner, Trish.”

“Is she around, by any chance?”

Nadia glanced down at where Trish sat scrunched up and did what Trish thought was a very poor job of suppressing a smirk.  “She’s, um, indisposed at the moment.  Why do you ask?”

“I’ve got a couple of windows that could use a little holiday cheer.  Think she might be interested in the job?”

Nadia gave Trish another brief sideways glance.

Trish shook her head frantically.

“Tell you what.  Leave me your number, and we’ll find out.”  Nadia stepped out of reach before Trish could smack her leg.

“Great, thanks.  Here’s my card.”

“I’ll see that she gets it, Mr.—“  Nadia glanced at the card.  “—Rafferty.  Here’s your coffee, and you, sir, have a very nice day.”

The bell on the door jingled again, and Trish cautiously poked her head up long enough to verify that Ian was indeed gone.  She then ignored the fascinated look Mrs. Beasley was giving her and fixed an icy stare on Nadia.  “I’m going to kill you.  How could you do that?”

Nadia tossed her dark braids over her shoulder.  “Hmph.  Shush me in my own shop…”

“I don’t want to talk to that guy!  I don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

“He seemed nice enough to me,” her friend returned, shrugging unapologetically.  “And easy on the eyes, too.”

“And single,” put in Mrs. Beasley eagerly, one wrinkled hand fluttering over her heart.  “No wedding ring.”

“Of course there’s no ring!  No woman wants to marry the devil!”  Trish sank back down onto the floor and leaned back heavily against the shelves behind her.

“He used to be the devil,” Nadia corrected her, examining the business card he had handed to her.  “Now he’s ‘Ian Rafferty, Landscape Architect’.  And he’s a paying customer, Trish.  Face it, you could use the money.”

“Forget it.  I’m not so hard up that I’d go crawling to Ian Rafferty for a job.”  Trish scowled and folded her arms across her chest.  “I have my dignity, you know.”

“Yeah?  Why don’t you get up off the floor and tell me all about your dignity.”

“Oh, shut up,” Trish muttered, getting to her feet and snatching the card from Nadia’s hand.  Wadding it up, she tossed it in the direction of the trashcan and stalked into the bakery’s kitchen.

*     *    *

So what do you think?

Guest Blog

Author Kimberly Lewis has been kind enough to host me in an interview on her blog at http://kimberlylewisnovels.blogspot.com, her official post for April 8th, 2013.  In the interview she asks me about me, my writing process, and my book, Coming Home. Check out the interview here, and please do check out the rest of her site.  She’s an East Coast gal who sounds wonderfully creative, from doing a wide variety of arts and crafts to writing her contemporary western novels.

And please feel welcome to leave comments!  (We bloggers love it when people do that. It makes us feel loved.  Well, depending upon the type of comment, I suppose…)

Screenwriting Competition Update

Heroes For Hire:  Discount Prices has moved on from the quarterfinals to the semifinals in the 2012 All Access Screenwriting Competition!  Yay!  Even if it goes no farther, I think it will sound good in a query letter–well, better at least than saying it didn’t make it to the semifinals. Or saying, “Dear Mr. Agent, my mother says it’s wonderful, and that I’m brilliant. If that doesn’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will.”

Here’s the link if you want to see:  2012 All Access Screenwriting Competition.

Fingers crossed!

Upcoming Promotional Opportunities

Well, it’s officially been one week since Coming Home hit the ebook market, and I think I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to trying to explore marketing opportunities for it.  It can be a wee bit challenging to get folks to read your book if they don’t even know it exists, so it helps if you can get reviewers to read it and post reviews on their sites and/or blogs for the world to see.

…But it turns out it’s also a wee bit challenging to get reviewers to look at your book when A) they’re swamped with review requests, B) they don’t know you from Adam, and C) you have no famous relatives with which to impress them.  Mom swears we’re descended from Robert the Bruce, famed medieval king of Scotland, but apparently that doesn’t carry much weight in the publishing industry.  Hmph.  Go figure.

But I have been fortunate enough to line up a few upcoming guest spots on some other blogs over the next few months, and one reviewer has just agreed to review my book in the next couple of weeks, so yay for that!  (Unless, of course, she doesn’t like the book, in which case…suddenly I’m feeling a little queasy.  Don’t mind me; I’ll just be over here curled up in the fetal position for a while.)

You think I’m kidding, don’t you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go ask my parents if they’re absolutely positive we’re not related to J.K. Rowling.