Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Big Blue Eyes and Golden Curls

Thirty-eight years ago, a beautiful little girl was born. I was not there, did not participate in that momentous occasion.

 About two years later, her father brought her into my life – all big blue eyes and golden curls. Soon she started calling me Mommy.

And even though her father is no longer in my life, she’s still my little girl. She still calls me Mommy. 

When I remember all those years ago, I think of dance classes, costumes, dress rehearsals, French braided hair.

Blue fingernail polish and Guess jeans. Michael Jackson and Madonna. Cabbage Patch and Strawberry Shortcake.

The olive drab period. The theater. The amazingly beautiful young woman in the purple homecoming dress.

Climbing out the window at midnight to go to Rocky Horror. (Which we probably would have let her go to legitimately if she'd asked)

I remember fighting battles for her and proudly watching her fight her own. I love that she stands up for herself. Maybe I gave that to her.

She’s an amazing mother. A thousand times better than I was when I embarked on the Mommy journey, naïve and ill-equipped to know what to do. 

She is strong and confident, sure of who she is and perfectly capable of handling everything that comes her way – and some really ugly things have come her way.

But she overcomes all of them with grace and courage and a quiet strength I don’t think she realizes she possesses.

Thank you for coming into my life, little girl. Thank you for staying there. 

Thank you for calling me Mommy.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

This Time Tomorrow, and how it began

I remember the moment when I changed from Little Girl to Big Girl. There I was, holding onto Barbie with one hand and a transistor radio with the other. (That’s what we listened to before iTunes, kids,) I was vaguely aware of these Beatle-fellows, and I knew they were from England. That was about it. “She Loves You” was on the Top Forty radio about every fifteen minutes. It was a catchy tune. I liked it. Then came that Sunday evening when instead of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” we switched over to a different channel for “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

There they were. John, Paul, George and Ringo. Clean, neat. Dressed in suits with skinny ties. Looking as if they were just as astonished as we were to see them on TV. The audience was filled with screaming girls about my age. Screaming, did I say? That’s an understatement. Sobbing, tearing hair out, fainting. I can’t say that I went quite that far, but I’ll admit to some squees of delight. 

From that night on, it was a steady stream that became known as The British Invasion. The Dave Clark Five. Gerry and the Pacemakers. Freddie and the Dreamers, The Who, The Zombies. 

 And those bad, bad boys....The Rolling Stones.

But my love for the Fab Four never wavered. Even as I write this, nearly fifty years later. (Can that possibly be right? FIFTY??) I’m listening to Sirius XM radio’s Breakfast with the Beatles. 

I wanted everything to do with the Beatles. I rolled my hair on orange juice cans to make it as straight as Jane Asher’s. I begged my grandmother to make me dresses like the ones I saw in Seventeen magazine that came from Carnaby Street. And she loved me enough to do it. I learned all the words to all the songs, and I knew EXACTLY how many hours I had to baby-sit to buy the next Beatles album every time a new one came out. 

My dreams of actually meeting John (he was my favorite) never came true.  But that never stopped me. A romance writer knows how to create her own happy endings.

In 2007 I was working for a small press – proofreading, editing and writing – when they announced a writer’s contest.  Everyone had to start with the same premise: Our heroine enters a small cottage in England, walks through a garden gate and is thrust back in time to one of three eras. Most publishers don’t want “historical” stories as recent as the Twentieth Century, but this contest offered the “Vintage” period. That’s mid-twentieth century. So I asked myself, what was happening in England in the 1960s?

I can remember smiling as I thought about it. The entire story was born just that easily. As soon as I put my heroine into 1962, she had to run into the pioneers of that music era. It practically wrote itself. And I’ve never been able to say that about any other book that I’ve written. 

Alas, I did not win the contest. But the editors liked it enough to want to publish it anyway. Because I had not won the contest, I had to change the setting slightly. So I took her out of the cottage and put her in a castle. Instead of a garden gate, she goes through a heavy door. Who does she meet in 1962? What happens when they meet? How will she get back home again? 

Ah, you don’t want me to tell you that. It would ruin the story. But you can find out for just 99 cents.  Either here or here. Your choice. Hope you enjoy! 

Remember, all you need is love.



Wednesday, May 2, 2012


It’s been a month since I indulged my bibliophilia at the Library annual sale. What’s happened since? Well, I’ve read four books. If I continue at my present rate, it will take me about three years to read all 141 of my selections. And that doesn’t allow for new offerings by my favorite authors – Stephen King, Sarah Addison Allen, Lawrence Block, Mark Wolfgang. Those I can’t pass up. So I’m set until at least mid-2015.

And what about those four? How were they, you ask? Someone asked. I’m sure I heard a query. Anyone? Anyone?  All right, I’ll tell you.

First up was A FLASH OF GREEN by John D. MacDonald. I picked this because I thought it was a Travis McGee story. Alas, despite the color in the title, it is not. This green refers to the environmental connotation of the word. South Florida. Developers. Corruption. Resistance. Greed. A typical Florida tale. Except this one was written in 1962. Fifty years later, we still have the same problems. I enjoyed A FLASH OF GREEN. It was a really interesting look at life in the early Sixties. 

An aside – I learned recently that JDM originally named his famous detective Dallas McGee, but he changed it when JFK was assassinated in that city. I think Travis is a better choice anyway.

Next, GODS IN ALABAMA by Joshilyn Jackson. Based on a review in a magazine, I picked up Ms. Jackson’s latest, A GROWN UP KIND OF PRETTY, and enjoyed it enough to make JJ one of my new favorite authors. So I quickly snapped up this one when I saw it. (I have one more by her, but I’m waiting a bit to get to it. Anticipation, you know.) So far, the two I’ve read are set in the South with families who appear dysfunctional on the surface but who have a deep and abiding love for each other. If you like really quirky characters with unique plots, this author is for you.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Julia Sugarbaker quotes – “In the South, we do not keep our mentally ill in the attic. We put them right in the living room with everyone else.”

Hard to tell the difference sometimes, isn’t it?

THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES was next. Written in 1916, this is the first published novel by Agatha Christie. In it she introduces us to the inimitable Hercule Poirot and his “little gray cells.” Having watched many episodes of the PBS series, I had no trouble picturing the manor house, the little village, the cast of characters. I thought I knew whodunit only to dismiss that subject until Poirot brought me around again, just as astonished as Hastings. I loved this book and am glad we have more of Ms. Christie to enjoy in the next four years.

The book just finished over the weekend is A FORTUNATE LIFE by Robert Vaughn. Having been obsessed with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the ninth grade, this was a must-read for me. Even though my teen crush was on Ilya, Napoleon was not without his appeal. His early life is very interesting. He talks about growing up the son of actors and about all the amazing people he knew in Hollywood in the Fifties and early Sixties. For example, he dated Natalie Wood. He encouraged Jack Nicholson not to give up before he made it big. And he dated a Kennedy. The second half of the book spent a lot of pages on his political beliefs and endeavors. More than I wanted to know. But it’s his book, isn’t it? He gets to decide what to put in and what to leave out. 

There was no mention of his most recent gig – hawking lawyer services during daytime court shows.  

Too bad he didn’t get a plum role later in life like Ilya did. 

So that was April. What lies in store for May?  So many choices...


Monday, April 2, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time...

We love our public library. There are so many things that I didn’t even know I wanted until I saw them on the shelves.

Recently, I’ve discovered the Modern Scholar Series of lectures on CD. Since my clients are spread all over Wake County – and some far into the next – I’m in my car fairly often at 30 to 45-minute clips. The lecture series is great for trips like that.

First, Steven found The Lost Generation: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s. As you’d expect, that one focused heavily on Hemingway and Fitzgerald. But the professor also talked about Sylvia Beach’s bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. James Joyce almost didn’t get Ulysses published until Sylvia stepped in and took care of it for him. He’d already been turned down by several major publishers who found it too risqué.

We heard a lot about Gertrude Stein and how she held court among the literati of the time. And how Hemingway found her to be a phony. We also heard a good deal about Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. The professor spoke in a friendly, casual manner and made me feel almost as if I were walking along the Seine, or sitting in a café with my writing tablet. Good stuff.

Soon after that, I found a wonderful book called The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It’s a fictional account of the relationship between Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, his first wife.  All of this coming soon after we’d watched Woody  Allen’s Midnight in Paris really had me eager to read all that I could of those great writers.

Now I’m in the middle of another Modern Scholar lecture series called The Detective in Fiction: From the Victorian Sleuth to Modern Day. Wow. It’s so much fun. The woman who’s narrating this one started out with very early murder in fiction, going as far back as Shakespeare and even in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But the first real detective of note is, of course, Sherlock Holmes. She talks at length about him, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life as a doctor before he began writing, through all of the great movies made of the sleuth, all the way up to the TV show House, which is unashamedly based on the Sherlock Holmes character.

Then she talked about Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Wilkie Collins, to name a few from early last century. And she progressed to more current authors such as Sue Grafton, Ed McBain, Dick Francis, to name a few more.

So back to the library. This past weekend, the Wake County Public Library held its annual Book Sale. They do this to purge the shelves of duplicates, slow-movers, and copies that just aren’t as pretty as they used to be. They also get a huge amount of donated books all the time, and they can’t use many of them. So they go on sale. Over 450,000 books.

The first day, the prices are $4 for hardcover and $2 for paperback. On Saturday they lower the prices to $2 and $1. But on Sunday........that’s when the fun begins!

On Sunday you can buy a box crammed as full as you can cram it with books for FIVE DOLLARS!!! For the whole box! Five dollars! Amazing.

The doors open at ten. We arrived at about 9:40. I was completely unprepared for what I saw. The line stretched all the way out the door, down the length of the next building, around the corner, down the sidewalk, across the grass, into the parking get the idea, the line was LONG!
I fretted that by the time we got there, all the books would be gone. 

Silly me!

There were still thousands upon thousands of books to choose from. This took place at the State Fair Grounds in the largest exhibition building. Long tables were set up row after row. Books were stacked spine-up  about six deep. They were carefully divided into genre, but other than that, there was no rhyme nor reason to their arrangement. You might find two books by the same author side by side, but that was rare
We started in General Fiction, then switched to Mystery, then back to General, then back to Mystery with brief forays into Crafts and Cookbooks. Oh, the treasures we found!

Here are just a few of the authors we grabbed:
Robert B. Parker, John D. MacDonald, PD James, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Amy Tan, Tom Robbins, O. Henry, John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Wally Lamb,  Elizabeth George.....

We filled up three boxes with 141 books total. That’s just over ten cents each. Book prices haven’t been that low in probably a hundred years.

I could go on and on, but while I’m writing this, I’m not reading!

What would you buy if the prices were that cheap? What authors have you been wanting to check out?

If you’re really, really nice, I’ll let you borrow my hard cover copy of Robert Vaughn’s autobiography. I’m expecting at least one early picture of Ducky in there.

Now go read something!
And report back.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why They Don't Live Happily Ever After

A friend and I were discussing fictional romantic relationships and why they are so bad on television. Specifically, he was talking about Castle and Beckett, and how the writers seem to have pulled out every contrived romantic plot device from their grandmother’s attic to keep this couple apart.

Why?  Why, on one of the best-written, snappiest, most popular shows on TV, do the writers resort to stuff that would get anyone laughed out of Harelquin’s senior offices in a heartbeat. 

Maybe it’s this:
Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. When you go to see Two Weeks' Notice, you know that as soon as Hugh Grant figures out that he can’t live without Sandra Bullock, then you better be finished with your popcorn because we’re done. Sleepless in Seattle – once they meet on top of the Empire State Building, what else do we need to know? 

Romantic comedies are a short-term commitment. We fall in love with the characters just as they do. We sit through the conflict. We figure it all out for them. Then, when they see it too, it’s over. Our 90 minutes are up, and we go out humming the pop song that ran over the credits. We might even buy the soundtrack. But we don’t care what happens to them next. We were invested; they paid off. And now we’re on our way to Johnny Rockets for a milkshake.

The same is true of books. When we buy a romance novel, we know what we’re getting. They are going to meet. They are going to fall in love. Some plausible conflict is going to keep them apart, but they are going to grow and change and overcome it. Then the book is finished. 

Prince Charming puts the slipper on Cinderella’s foot, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

The Prince wakes up Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

No one, from Hans Christian Anderson to Nora Roberts, tells us what happens after that. We don’t care. We got our reward and we’re done.

Not so for television. The people who make TV programs don’t want them to end. They want them to go on and on for decades, earning money for the network, the writers, the actors, the sponsors. There is no Happily Ever After in television.

So they can’t put the happy couple together. Because once they do, what’s left?  You wind up having House drive a car through Cuddy’s living room because.....well, what else can they do with him? They certainly can’t have Dr. Gregory House live happily ever after. That’s ridiculous by anyone’s standards. Ask Sherlock Holmes. He’ll tell you.

Dave and Maddie. How many episodes of Moonlighting did you watch after they hooked up?

There wasn’t a single resident of Stars Hollow who didn’t know that Luke and Lorelei belonged together. But the writers knew they couldn’t let it happen, so they went for the oldest trick in the romance writer’s book – the secret baby. And it didn’t work for them. You find me a tried and true Gilmore Girls fan who didn’t stand up and cheer when April Nardini moved to Arizona. Or wherever it was. Who cares? We just wanted her gone because her existence didn’t make sense.

And when did Luke and Lorelei finally get together for good? On the very last episode of the show. Thank you. THAT’S the way to end a show. And they lived happily ever after.

But back to Castle and Beckett. We like the show. We love Castle. He really is ruggedly handsome. We were sorry to see Firefly cancelled, but we’re glad we still get to see Nathan Fillion every week. And as much as we know he needs Beckett and Beckett needs him, I BEG the writers not to let it happen. Don’t jump that shark! 

You can give us sexual tension. We eat that with a spoon. Throw them together and then break them apart. But do it with style. Do it smart. Do it in a way that the characters deserve.

Because that’s what keeps us coming back. 

For really good conflict, resolved in a way that makes sense, click on one of the links over on the right. A LOTUS-COVERED DOOR for a quick read, BLAME IT ON THE GHOST for paranormal intervention, or TOUGHER THAN DIAMONDS for island-hopping, bullet-dodging, diamond-chasing adventure served hot and fresh with your romance. 

No contrived conflict to be found
And they lived happily ever after. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why There is no DOOR on the Cover of A Lotus-Covered Door

During the many years that my Prince courted me, he often tried to lure me with music. A tactic which worked, by the way. From Nat King Cole to Rachmaninoff, the man knew how to get to me. 

Steven went to grad school at the University of Hawaii . During that time, he became very well acquainted with Hawaii’s popular music of the 80s. Thinking Don Ho? Don’t. Of the great Hawaiian music going on at that time, two groups were huge. One was Cecilio and Kapono. The other, The Peter Moon Band. 

He first introduced me to PMB with their classic album, Cane Fire. And on that album is a song called “On a Little Street in Singapore.”  The PMB version is great, but it’s by no means the original.  The song was written by Peter De Rose and Billy Hill. The first recording I know of is in the 1930s by Harry James and this new young singer – some guy named Frank something-or-other. Oh, yeah. Sinatra. 

 The song’s also been covered by Dave Brubeck, Glenn Miller and Manhattan Transfer. But The Peter Moon Band does it best, in my opinion.

 I first had it on cassette. I believe the tape finally gave up from having been rewound and rewound and rewound. Thank goodness for digital media. My iPod doesn’t care how many times in a row I play the song. 

Why do I love it so much? Probably because it tells a story. I couldn’t listen to it without thinking about the story. Who lives on the street in Singapore? How long has it been since he’s seen her? Why? Where has he been? Why has he come back? My writer’s mind couldn’t leave it alone. I started writing, and pretty soon I had the story going. They lyrics of the song were easily weaving their way into the story. “On a little street in Singapore, we meet beside a lotus-covered door...” The stuff that romances are made of.

In my mind, Lila (my heroine) lived in the little house on the little street in Singapore. Robb (my hero) had been gone and had come back for her. I could see him standing in front of the lotus-covered door, flowers trailing all around him, running up the side of the door frame, across the top, back down the other side. It was beautiful! 

There was one problem. 

The lotus only grows in water.

There went my vision of flowers winding their way up one side of the door and down the other. Maybe the lyricist should have gone with Jasmine-covered door. That would work. But lotus it is, and lotus it must be. So I made the door wooden with lotus blossoms carved into the heavy wood. Not the effect I originally planned, but who am I to argue with the source of my inspiration? 

Listen to the song. And when you read the story, see if you can spot snippets of the lyrics. It will be like a treasure hunt, with words as your prize. And isn’t that why we read anyway?

Enjoy the door. And the lotus.
Only 99 cents for Kindle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On the Loss of a Great Man

The NFL, the University of South Florida, and the entire Tampa community lost a great man this weekend with the passing of Lee Roy Selmon. Having been the first draft pick of the first year, he was the original Buc. And being the only player in the NFL Hall of Fame who spent more than one year as a Buc, he is arguably the BEST Buccaneer. Ever.

Two memories of Mr. Selmon stand out in my mind. My family’s business, which I headed in the 90s and early 2000s, was nominated for “Most Family Friendly Business.” We didn’t win, but as they say, it’s an honor to be nominated. Lee Roy Selmon spoke at the event. He began by saying that if anyone was late because of traffic on the Crosstown, please don’t blame him. He referred to the expressway that was named in his honor.

But what impressed me most was the way he spoke of family – his own and families in general. It wasn’t the words he said that were memorable, it was the light in his eyes and the emotion in the timbre of his voice when he spoke of his mother and his brothers, his wife and his children that made me know this man believed in the sanctity of family. I had no doubt his family was first in his life.

One Saturday afternoon, I was in Buccaneer Heaven picking out a new shirt to wear to the next day’s game. It was early in the season, and the store was crowded. We’d won the SuperBowl the year before. We were optimistic. The energy in the store was electric and fun. Suddenly the cheerful noise ceased, little by little, replaced by whispers. “Lee Roy.”

Through the front door came our Hall of Famer, pushing a handcart loaded with cases of his Barbecue sauce. Here was a man who made his own deliveries to each little mom-and-pop location that sold his sauce. Like when Moses approached the Red Sea, the crowd parted to let him through. If this was Buccaneer Heaven, then surely Jesus had just walked into the room.

The crowd of shoppers stood in silent awe as he shook hands with the manager, picked up his paperwork and emptied his cart. A few brave souls said hello to him as he passed back out the front door. He nodded and smiled, and went on about his quiet business. But we all knew we had just been in the presence of greatness.

Football is just a game. Certainly other things in life are far more important. Like Family. This weekend we lost a man who loved both. And we deeply feel that loss.