Welcome to Long Island!

I admit I couldn’t come up with a topic for this month’s blog post so I put it out to my Facebook friends/followers and one suggested I write about life on Long Island. See, that’s the first thing you have to know. Unlike people who live in Cincinnati or Wichita or even New York, we live on Long Island.

So, here are a few things I love about my home:

The food. You can’t get better pizza anywhere, and there is literally a pizzeria within walking distance of anywhere you live here. And I’m not talking about Domino’s or Pizza Hut or any of those other franchise chains. We’re all about the small business pizza owner here. I drive 2.5 miles to work every day, on one main road, and I pass three pizzerias on my way! I could probably give up everything else if I moved, but the pizza is a deal-breaker.

Transplanted Long Islanders tell me the must-have egg sandwiches are not available anywhere else. Luckily, I can make my own at home. Start with a seeded roll, layer on grilled ham or turkey or bacon or no meat, if that’s your preference (I usually go with the ham), two eggs prepared anyway you want (over easy, please – with the yolk still drippy), cheese if that’s your thing, and your favorite condiments (most people go with SPK: salt, pepper, ketchup. Ketchup on eggs is sacrilege, in my book.) Like pizza, you can find these delights at any bagel shop or delicatessen on your way to work. The good places will throw in a coffee and small orange juice for a great morning meal!

IMG-1685

And don’t get me started on bagels. (Okay, fine.) Like our pizza, our bagels are the best and readily available. You want flavors? We got ‘em: egg, onion, sesame, everything, cinnamon raisin, French toast, blueberry, strawberry, even rainbow bagels, and the St. Patrick’s Day tradition of green bagels! Grab a dozen and some hand-whipped cream cheese for a feast that can’t be beat.

Location, location, location! If I drive west, I wind up in one of the most exciting cities in the world: New York. I’m an hour’s ride by train or car from Broadway plays, museums, zoos and aquariums, world-class shopping, or sightseeing. Driving east, I hit the Hamptons and Montauk (fun fact: Montauk is the inspiration fo my fictional town of Snug Harbor in my Calendar Girls series) for five-star beaches,DuetinSeptember 500x750 (1)fishing, summer fun, vineyards, microbreweries, farm fresh fruits and veggies, and quiet but lovely off-season getaways. In my own sleepy little town, I’m a five-minute drive from stunning sunsets at our local beach.

sunset

IMG-0786IMG-0946

We’re quirky. We have buildings shaped like a giant duck, like castles, and like a pirate ship. We’re the home of the world-famous Grucci Fireworks family and the Amityville Horror House.

shutterstock_283681106

Credit: Shutterstock.com

We’re historical. The first English-speaking settlement in New York was founded in Southold in the 17th century. During the Revolutionary War, our residents were spies who aided Washington’s forces in New York. America’s first poet, Walt Whitman, was a born-and-bred Long Islander. The first golf course was built here. Sorry, Texas, but we had the first cattle ranch. First lighthouse? Montauk Point. The first supermarket was our very own King Kullen. And our ancestors drove to it on the first parkway. We probably suffered through the first traffic jams, too. Charles Lindburgh’s famous transatlantic flight began here. President Theodore Roosevelt had his summer home here, as did the Vanderbilts, the Gettys, and other wealthy families of the late 19th century. In 1965, 7-11 introduced the first coffee-to-go on Long Island (you’re welcome, caffeine-aficionados!). The Apollo lunar module was built here. The science of DNA was started at Cold Spring Harbor Labs. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind had its start here (and is still located here. Go to the local mall early on any morning and you can see the trainer volunteers walking new recruits).

Long Island is not, in actuality, an island; it’s a peninsula. Shaped like a fish, it’s 23 miles from north to south at its widest point and 118 miles long. We’re the most populated island in the U.S., and if we were a state, we’d be the 13th largest in the country. It’s not cheap to live here. In fact, we have some of the highest real estate prices, property taxes, and utility bills nationwide. But it’s the place that I (along with about 8 million other people) call home.

shutterstock_356023628

Here’s how one of my characters in DUET IN SEPTEMBER, Book I of the Calendar Girls Series describes her hometown:

After dropping Nia off at her store, I considered my options. Going back to bed was out of the question. But if I planned to forgo my usual Saturday morning routine in favor of an early start to the day, I would need coffee. Stat.

As I cruised down Main Street, I sought out a quick spot for a caffeine infusion. My mistake. This was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, one of the peak times for tourists in Snug Harbor. I passed the block where Mama’s Hen House served breakfast and confirmed my worst fears. Crowds of tourists loitered outside the restaurant on the three park benches, window shopping at the realtor’s next door, or chatting with the others waiting for one of the two dozen tables inside. Their children zipped up and down the sidewalk or slouched beside their parents. Strollers, which were not allowed inside due to the cramped interior, sat parked in rows near the entrance. Strike one.

Two blocks later, the line at the local bakery snaked the length of a football field. Really? These people were willing to wait over an hour for a few Danish? Sorry, I didn’t have the kind of patience needed to infiltrate that mob scene. Strike two.

One last place to check. And I couldn’t even squeeze into the parking lot at our local convenience store, thanks to the multitude of beachgoers buying ice for their coolers, twelve packs of canned soda, a quick breakfast, or all of the above. So much for my getting coffee to go. I’d have to wait until I got home for my morning jolt. Which, when I took my sweatpants and giant t-shirt into account, was probably a very good idea.

I made a beeline for home and soon enough, sat at my kitchen table with a toasted English muffin and my longed-for coffee. Once I finished breakfast and washed my few dishes, I stared at the clock above my sink. Now what? It wasn’t ten o’clock yet, and I had an entire day stretched out in front of me with nothing to do. I couldn’t hit the beach for the same reason I had to come home for breakfast: the plethora of tourists. Ditto for the shops, which would be jam-packed with those seeking that last-minute souvenir of the summer they’d spent in Snug Harbor. I should probably throw some laundry into the washer, but I cringed at the idea of spending my day off doing housework. Besides, it was far too beautiful a day to stay cooped up indoors.

A bike ride might be nice. And…I sneaked a peek at my thighs in my shortie pajama bottoms…beneficial. Yes. A little fresh air and some cardiovascular exercise. This excursion would also serve as my “something different” today. Win/win/win.

I quickly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, before my lazy side could convince me if God wanted us to exercise, He wouldn’t have invented the Lifetime Channel. In the garage, I found my bike penned in by my artificial Christmas tree, the snow blower, and my ski equipment. Okay, so it’d been a while since I’d opted for two-wheel transport rather than four. When I first came home from Albany, Daddy’s deteriorating health had kept Nia and me running back and forth to the hospital. After his death and the funeral, I’d invested all my time into becoming the new Wainwright at the helm of Wainwright Financial. Such a dismal time…

Enough. I shook off the memories and wrestled the poor bike free. Once I rolled it out, I checked the tires and noticed the front one was flat. I ventured back into the garage for my manual pump and filled the tire with air. Fifteen minutes later, I sailed down my driveway, aimed for the circular road that ran around the marina. A salty breeze kissed my cheeks as I rode leisurely through my neighborhood.

I waved to Mrs. Seifert as I pedaled by where she knelt, weeding the garden of red and white impatiens around her mailbox. “Good morning.”

“Morning, Paige,” she called after me. “Enjoy your ride.”

I would.

Snug Harbor earned its name because the town bordered large water on two sides. On the southern coast, the Atlantic Ocean offered miles of pristine beach with soft white sand, ideal for the tourist trade. The rocky northern coast sat at the edge of the Long Island Sound, creating a perfect waterway for fishermen. Whereas the south end of town prospered due to multi-million dollar properties, five star restaurants, and upscale boutiques, this side—the north crescent—catered to a very different clientele. No-frills motels, bars, delicatessens that opened at four in the morning to serve breakfast for early rising mariners, bait shops, and takeout restaurants ruled here.

The north side also had a wilder beauty than the south, thanks to less development and a more rural flavor. At least, that was my opinion. Buildings were erected farther apart, with lots of open space between. Bulrushes caught the breeze and rustled. Seagulls hovered, squawking as they sought leftover food to scavenge. Across the rocky inlet, the Coast Guard station stood sentry with its lighthouse and flapping flags.

The one exception to this pristine homage to Mother Nature was Coffield’s Wharf, a miniature version of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Our replica boasted a popular clam bar where tourists and locals could grab fresh-caught seafood and pitchers of frosty beer while dining outdoors at picnic tables. For higher end clientele, there was also one five-star restaurant with spectacular water views. The various outbuildings housed a few souvenir shops, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, an expensive toy store, and of course, a Coffield’s Bluff wine store that offered free tastings on weekends. When Nia and I were kids, our parents often took us to the wharf in the evenings for ice cream or fried clams, or just to walk over to the docks next door to see the party boats sailing back with the day’s catch. At ten on a Saturday morning, I figured most of the crowds would be elsewhere: the beach, breakfast (obviously), aboard party boats, or wherever else tourists went on beautiful sunny days.

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 naïve heroine do? Go home with the monster so as not to hurt his feelings?

Lucky for me, this wasn’t a movie. I had no qualms about turning him down. “No, that’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

“Do I scare you, Paige?”

I snorted to hide my surprise. “Puh-leez.” He thought I was afraid of him? Or was he actually daring me to come to his house?

“Good. Then you’ve got no good reason to decline. And the break will give you time to reapply your sunscreen, too, since it looks like your face is starting to burn.”

“My…” Sunscreen. Of course. Something else I forgot. Jeez, I was a moron. But I’d committed to this stupidity and wouldn’t give Sam Dillon the satisfaction of catching me in my lies.

“Forgot that as well, huh?”

“I didn’t forget,” I retorted. “I just ran out and decided to pick up more when I got my water.”

“Uh-huh.” His knowing grin raised hackles on my nape. Note to self: don’t try to lie to a cop. “Come on. Let’s get you properly outfitted for your ‘training.’”

“It’s really not necessary,” I said lamely.

“Yeah, it is. Your sister would never forgive me if you wound up in the hospital and I could have prevented it.”

Nia. Again. I sighed my defeat and pushed my bike forward. “Then I guess I’ll take you up on your hospitality. Thanks, Sam.”

As I followed him and his dog, I had the uneasy feeling I’d just agreed to visit the devil in his private circle of hell.

 

Is There a Techie in the House?

Yes, there is.

And, apparently, it’s…

cavewoman…me?

Last night was another of those evenings where the menfolk kept pestering me about their electronic devices. It’s as if the minute they see me open my WIP to get some writing done, they conspire to sidetrack me. And it’s always those devious electronic devices that stump my guys.

We’ll begin with The Boy (who, at 20, probably deserves a new nickname by now, but I’m not ready to call him The Man, thankyouverymuch.)

Let me set the stage. I’m sitting in my bedroom with my laptop, writing. My hero is just about to find out the heroine’s big secret from a secondary character who’s a blabbermouth. The Boy knocks on my door and enters.

Boy: Is your cable okay?
Me: Seems fine. Why?
Boy: Because ever since we had that power outage yesterday, my television’s been skitchy.
Me: Did you reboot the box?
Boy: I’m trying to watch the hockey game and the picture keeps wobbling. I think it’s the connection in the attic.
Me: We just replaced the connection in the attic a month ago, remember? So unless you’ve been hanging out up there, playing with the wires, or the cats have grown opposable thumbs, I doubt that’s the issue. Have you rebooted the box?
Boy (muttering): Great. I’ll just get a headache from watching the wobbly picture.

I leave my hero sitting with the blabbermouth who hasn’t yet blabbed and follow my apprentice martyr into his room. I reboot the box, which, of course, solves the problem. Lo and behold! I am a genius!

One last glare in my son’s direction and I return to my room to settle down with my manuscript, ready to get my hero and heroine immersed in their black moment. Naturally, I’m interrupted again. This time, it’s the Hubster, who stalks into the room to inform me he’s still having problems accessing his voicemail on his cell–a fact I was unaware of, but apparently, I should have surmised this based on…

I dunno. I got nothin’.

Untitled design (3)

Hubster: One of these days, you’re gonna have to fix that for me. It’s frustrating to see all these calls and not know if it’s important because I can’t play the message.
Me (with a heavy sigh): Bring me your phone.
(He hands me the phone and I ask him what the problem is.)
Hubster: I told you. I can’t access my voicemail.
Me: Why not? (I hit the voicemail button. It shows he has ten unheard messages. I choose one, hit play, and voila! It plays. No problem.)
Hubster: Hey! You fixed it.
Me: Yeah, how about that?

This is why I always worry when I travel that I will return home to find my boys huddled around the blackened remains of my house, trying to open a can of peas with a sharp rock. It could happen.

With conference season in full swing, I’m about to have some sleepless nights. But at least  I’ll get some writing done!

“Real” Moms and Their Kids

me and my babies09182014

Me and my babies too many years ago

“I don’t think she misses those kids at all. They weren’t her real kids, you know. They were adopted. You can tell she never loved them–not the way she loves the kids she had naturally with her new husband.”

This statement was uttered by a coworker yesterday regarding the long-ago breakup of a celebrity couple and the subsequent fallout to their children’s relationship with Mom due to Dad’s involvement in a religious cult.  

There are a lot of times I have to zip my lip or run to the ladies room to bang my head against a hard surface during the day job. My brow is still throbbing after this one.

I’m fortunate that I know all kinds of mothers, and let me assure you the giving birth aspect of motherhood has nothing to do with the love any of them have for their children. Every one of them is a real mother who considers all of her children her “real” children. It doesn’t matter if these are natural children of the parents, adopted children, foster children, grandchildren they’re caring for, or…yes…furbabies. Take it from me. No one spends years cleaning up poop and puke, dabbing bloody knees, gushing over dandelion bouquets, worrying about missed curfews, and comforting broken hearts because there’s nothing decent on television. You do it out of love: deep, unconditional, abiding love. 

A real mother is emotionally invested in every one of her children. She does not have less love for one than another. She loves all her children equally, but uniquely. What do I mean by uniquely? Just as each child is an individual, a real mom’s love reflects that same level of individuality. She’ll know, and be able to recite in the blink of an eye, her children’s flaws and gifts. She can tell you which one is gullible, which one is the leader, which one feels too deeply, and/or which one is the creative dreamer. She knows their likes and dislikes, can name her children’s best friends, favorite activities, the meals they dislike, their best and worst school subjects. When one of her children hurts, there’s no difference in the measurement of her empathy based on the circumstances of their birth. When one of her children makes her happy, she couldn’t care less if she carried that one inside her for nine months. The real mother is proud of all her children’s triumphs, commiserates with their disappointments. Real moms are human. Sometimes, they make mistakes. But the depth of their love is never one of them. 

This Sunday, here in the States, we’ll honor those real moms for all they’ve done for us. To celebrate, I’ve placed my Calendar Girls novella, CHARMING FOR MOTHER’S DAY, on sale for 99 cents for ten days, beginning today. This holiday story introduces readers to the town of Snug Harbor, where all my Calendar Girls stories take place. Colin Murriere has returned to Snug Harbor, the winning chef from a reality cooking show, ready to win back the girl he left behind. Lucie Soto’s life took a downward spiral when Colin broke up with her after a summer fling years ago. Now a single mom struggling to maintain a normal life, Lucie wants nothing to do with him or his dreams of a shining future. But her daughter, Ariana, an expert on fairy tales, knows Prince Charming when she sees him and will stop at nothing to bring these two their Happily-Ever-After.

Charming Promo

Happy Mother’s Day to all the real moms. It may not always seem like it, but we know we’re the luckiest kids in the world because you’re ours!

The Real Authors of Romance

Untitled design (1)Spend any time at all on the Bravo TV channel, you’ll probably stumble on a Real Housewives episode. There are half a dozen of these shows now, spanning cities across the world. (Did you know they have a London one? They do!) With that in mind, I’d like to suggest Andy Cohen consider a new arm of this successful franchise: Real Authors. And get this! You could do different genres! Sci-fi, horror, mystery, literary, memoir, and of course, romance.

I’d personally volunteer for The Real Authors of the Romance Genre. Imagine how fascinated viewers will be, watching us guzzle coffee while listening in on strangers’ conversations at our local Panera Bread, Starbucks, or other public writing spot and finding a way to sneak that fun bit of dialogue we overheard into our stories. Don’t you want to know how we go about researching topics as diverse as women’s underwear in the medieval era, the interior of a G-6, or the sound a bullet might make in space? You can record our booksignings where we keep a friendly smile in place while we provide such pertinent info as directions to the restrooms. Get a peek at our real thoughts when we tell a parent that yes, your child can take a piece of the chocolate we brought with us to lure prospective readers to buy an autographed copy even though we know damn well it’s not going to translate into a sale at the event or any time afterwards. See how we balance writing with family life, day jobs, doctors’ appointments, chronic illness, financial issues, personal relationships, and make it look easy. Sneak behind the scenes to see how we decide things like cover art, titles, plotting vs. pantsing, signing a contract, or finding an agent. Discover how many times we remain polite and bite our tongues when our genre is put down as “those books” or called “bodice-rippers” in the media and learn why it annoys us. Witness our breakdowns when we get that fifteenth rejection, or third round of edits, the bad review that contains spoilers, or find our books on piracy sites.

We have the drama that all Housewives franchises air: serious friendships that sometimes turn toxic, two sides to every story, haves and have-nots, up-and-comers milling with established success stories, great victories and defeats.

Need a season finale that has a big fancy party like all those housewives host? We’ve got that! It’s called the RITA awards and it takes place at our RWA National Conference every year. We have ball gowns and teary-eyed emotional speeches and gold statuettes. We’ve even had several controversies at the event over the years.

And of course, we have romance. Lots and lots of romance. Come on. You know you’d watch.

I Wrote Ten Thousand Words Today!

file9821251142220

Umm…no. I didn’t. Lots of times on Facebook and Twitter, I’ll see posts from authors who crow about how many words they wrote that day. And I’m happy for them. Really. I’m just not one of them. I never will be. Know why? Because my writing routine is very different.

I know writers get tons of advice about just putting dreck on the page and then going back to edit later. If that works for you, and you’re happy to finish a first draft with 200,000 words of dreck that will eventually be cleaned and polished to a 50,000 word manuscript, good for you. Everyone has to find their own process.

Personally, I can’t put dreck on a page and boast about it. I can’t move forward until what I’ve written previously is the best that I can make it. I’ve been known to stall on a chapter for days because one word or sentence is wrong, and I can’t continue the story until I figure out what word or phrase needs to be replaced.

But wait! There’s more. I don’t plot or outline first, either. (Egads. Hide the women and children!) I don’t want to know how my characters are going to get out of that quicksand until I need to pull them out. If I know the answers to all my questions too soon, I get bored, rush to finish the story, and wind up with an unsatisfactory ending. I can’t help it. I can’t keep a secret. Not from my family when it comes to their Christmas gifts, not from my readers when it comes to the Happily-Ever-Afters.

I don’t apologize for not writing 10,000 words in a day because that’s not my process. Here’s a typical writing stint for me:

I write a scene, mostly dialogue. Then I go in and layer that scene. I fix punctuation and spelling errors, double-check my research, add color and scenery and stage direction. Then I do it again, tweaking word choices, tightening my tendency to be too verbose, adding the pertinent info I’ve overlooked. And then, when I think that scene could go into a published work exactly as written, I’m ready to move onto the next scene and do it all over again. 

With a process like this, it’s no wonder I’m thrilled if I write 500 words in a day. The difference between me and the Dreck Writer who writes 10,000 words a day is, when I type The End, it really is The End. I can rest assured that the book needs one quick read-through to focus on story arc and continuity, and that baby is ready to fly. While my counterpart is stuck in revision hell, trying to decide if (s)he really needs to mention the curtains were green right before the house goes up in flames or if (s)he should cut the whole scene because (s)he’s gotta kill a few darlings to meet that word count.

I refuse to feel inadequate because someone’s boasting about writing 10,000 words today, when I’ve stared at the same sentence for a week trying to decide whether to use “cerulean” or “blue.” It’s part of who I am as a writer. And who I am as a writer likes writing the perfect words while having no idea where my characters are going whenever I sit down at that keyboard. Even if I never get to boast that I wrote ten thousand words in one day.

Cupid In Love

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, my winter short story, DUPING CUPID, is FREE from February 11-15 at Amazon.

duping-cupid-500x750

“Because sometimes, even Cupid needs a little help…”

Vivi Maxwell runs Cupid To Go, a unique dating service in New York. When wealthy client and former model, Ava Featherstone, seeks an escort for the winter season in Manhattan society, she sets her sights on Vivi’s best friend, Sebastian “Bass” Lawrence.

Vivi and Bass have both been burned in their love lives and have never considered their relationship more than platonic. But Ava’s sudden intrusion makes Bass realize he’s in love with his best friend, Vivi. Now, with Ava’s help, he’ll try to dupe Vivi into seeing that the man she’s been waiting for has stood beside her all along.

Shaking off annoyance, he took Vivi’s seat behind the desk and turned on the charm. “I’m Sebastian Lawrence,” he told the well-dressed and coiffed woman. “My friends call me Bass.”

“Not anymore.” The woman sniffed as she perched on the edge of the chair across from him. “It’s too undignified. If you’re going to be my escort, you’ll go by Sebastian at all times.”

Aha. Vivi’s hesitancy made sense after all. She didn’t worry that he couldn’t handle the gig. She worried he might kill this woman before the winter was over, and the possibility did exist. He should have known better. Well, he’d stepped into the fray when she’d tried to protect him. No way would he abandon her now. “May I ask your name? I’m afraid Vivi was remiss in the introductions.”

The woman grinned, calling to his mind a barracuda zeroing in on a tasty tidbit for dinner. “Ava Featherstone Bannerman.”

“Ava.” Thank God he hadn’t lost his acting skills. He took her hand and placed a soft kiss at the base of her palm. Nothing. Not so much as a smile on her frozen face. Recovering quickly, he reached for the standard paperwork. “Once we go over the contracts, we’ll have you happier than you’ve been in years. For the next four and a half months, I will be your devoted slave.”

She took the stapled packet, folded it, and shoved it into her purse. “Not yet, you’re not. I have to be careful. I can’t afford to look foolish. Not only will I have this reviewed by my attorney, I’ll also be hiring a private detective to thoroughly investigate you. If you have any skeletons in your closet, now’s the time to let me know.”

He relaxed, easing back in the chair. A woman on a power trip. How unoriginal. “No skeletons. My life’s an open book.”

“Not too open, I hope,” she remarked. “Your picture isn’t routinely splashed on tabloid covers, is it?”

“No, of course not.”

“What exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Lawrence?”

“These days? Real estate. I own several lucrative properties in Manhattan.”

“Before that?”

“I was an actor on ‘Our Small Town’ for eleven years.”

No reaction. Wow. Normally, women bounced on their toes and shrieked when they realized he’d played the hunky Dr. Morgan Reed on the successful television series. This one just sat there—like a barracuda—cold, deadly, with soulless eyes.

“What’s your current marital status?”

And the questions kept on coming. “Divorced. Fifteen years ago.”

“Why?”

None of her business. Jeez, did all of Vivi’s clients demand so much personal information? Never having been in the hot seat before today, he had no idea if what she asked was standard.

“I’m waiting, Mr. Lawrence.”

“She found someone else.” An understatement, but all the information this barracuda deserved to know. In truth, his ex-wife had left him for a woman, a blow from which his ego had never fully recovered.

“Any children?”

“No.” He’d wanted them, but his ex, Jenna, an actress in her own right, refused to consider ruining her figure or sacrificing her chaotic lifestyle for a child. After the divorce, he’d realized her stubborn refusal to start a family had actually helped them avoid additional tragedy. The one good thing to come out of the whole ugly mess.

“And what’s your connection to that Maxwell woman?”

“Vivi? We’re friends. For almost ten years now.”

“Nothing more?” She quirked a penciled brow. “Have you ever slept together?”

“No!” The denial came out fast, not because the idea was abhorrent, but because…well, because they were friends. Both scarred from romantic entanglements, they’d never considered ruining their relationship with sex.

“I didn’t really think so,” she replied airily. “A big girl like that. No wonder she’s single.”

Now, wait a minute. Anger welled up inside him. He opened his mouth to argue with her, but she never gave him the chance.

“Shame, too. She has such a pretty face…” Frowning, she glanced down at her flawless French manicure.

“She’s also funny, generous, and the best damn friend I’ve ever had. And I think she’s beautiful inside and out. You know nothing about Vivi, what she’s been through, and how special she really is.”

Her focus snapped back to him, that barracuda smile fixed in place. “And you love her.”

“Of course I do,” he said. “She’s my friend.” Craning his neck, he looked past the woman and out toward the lobby to make sure Vivi hadn’t returned from her trip to the ladies room. She might pretend not to care when some skinny know-it-all commented on how pretty she’d be if she only lost a little weight, but Bass knew how much those well-meaning insults belittled her. Silly, really, since, in his eyes, she was pretty much perfect, size-wise and in every other way.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. I’m actually jealous. You love her, despite her weight. If I ballooned up like her, my husband would have ditched me faster.”

Thank God, Vivi still hadn’t returned.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t realize you’re in love with her until now,” Ava announced.

“There’s nothing to realize. We’re friends.”

Under the barracuda’s intense scrutiny, he squirmed. Did he love Vivi? As more than a friend? He liked her. A lot. Just thinking about her warmed his insides faster than a shot of iced vodka. For eight years now, they’d been the best of friends. How many nights had they spent, snuggled together on his couch, watching television and munching popcorn? Like an old married couple. At least three times a week, he popped in to her office to take her to lunch. Like a loving husband would. Whenever he had good news to share, Vivi heard it first and celebrated with him. Like a wife. They had a stronger relationship than most married couples he knew. Except for sex.

For God’s sake, they’d never even kissed. Not a real kiss with passion and promise. How could he be in love with someone he’d never kissed, much less slept with?

“You should tell her.”

“There’s nothing to tell.” Her eyes narrowed, enhancing her disbelief and his discomfort. “Even if there was, Vivi’s not interested in love. With me or anyone else. Her last guy did a real number on her.”

“She’s Cupid, for God’s sake. Of course she’s still interested in love. Besides, I’ve got eyes, you know. She loves you, too. Your so-called friend just needs someone to sweep her off her feet. Don’t you want to be that someone? Or would you prefer her to find somebody else?”

He sat up. What somebody else? The guy in the apartment down the hall from her with the pet monitor lizard he dressed up in doggie sweaters and walked on a leash? Or the dentist she thought had nice eyes but a creepy smile? Jeez, she deserved better than both those losers.

“If you really love her—and I know you do—you’re going to have fight her demons for her.”

Despite his doubts, a spark lit inside him. “How?”

“Give me the next four months. Together, you and I will dupe Cupid into realizing how she feels about you. By the time I’m through, I’ll have the two of you all sewn up in a happily-ever-after quilt.”

Who said he wanted to be all sewn up? With Vivi or anyone? His main concern was that she didn’t wind up with some loser like that Julian bonehead. She deserved a man who appreciated her, who understood how perfect she was, someone who wouldn’t try to change her.

Someone…

…like him. No. Not like him. Him. He loved her. No one else would ever love her the way he did.

 

Adventures in Hair Coloring

I have a confession to make. I’m not a natural redhead. At least, not fully. My natural hair color has always been a bit of a melange: blond, brown, and red. Fearing comparisons to I Love Lucy, for decades, I used to try to tone the red down in my hair. Try as I might, the red always peeked through. See? This was me attempting to be a brunette in the early 90s:

me-and-rosann-october-9612032014

Notice how there’s still plenty of red in those tresses. Finally, one brave salon owner convinced me to embrace the red and after several trials and errors, he and I came up with a color I loved. I’ve been this obnoxious bright red ever since:

gina-at-hamptons-booksigning-crop

My husband claims it makes me look like I’m not 100% human, but I love the richness, how it makes my light blue eyes pop, and most important of all, how I stand out in a crowd.

bbq-beach-bash

I mean seriously, can you find the bright red head in this picture? How long did it take you?

But…

Nowadays, more and  more people are going red. I no longer stand out in the crowd. In fact, I have a doppelganger at many writing events, a woman whose hair is bright red, and who, in passing, has a close enough resemblance to me in build and height to confuse my friends. This will not do.

New year means new changes.

And so, I am on the lookout for a new haircolor that will allow me to look less than 100% human, to stand out in the crowd, and will make my light eyes pop. So far, we’ve experimented with combinations of red and violet and while I like them, I don’t love them.

I have a few more combinations up my sleeve before conference season starts, but I ain’t telling what they are. It’s important I get a jump on those who might want to copy me. And don’t dare suggest I go “natural.” At this stage, I’m probably more gray than anything else and that ain’t happening.

One day, I was on the NYC subway and there was a woman in her early seventies in a gorgeous leather coat, her hair in a sleek cut and a vivid blue-violet hue. I poked my husband, pointed, and said, “I wanna be her when I grow up.” He blanched and then laughed as if I was joking.

I wasn’t. But I’ve got a decade or two before I’m ready to try that. Stay tuned.