Who’s In Your Backyard?

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Not the Jersey Shore. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I grew up at the Jersey Shore. The shore consists of the hundred fifty miles (roughly) from Perth Amboy to Cape May. That’s a lot of space and many shore towns in there. We had the boardwalk and the pier that housed the famous Haunted Mansion, an arcade, fair style games, and a bar at the end of the pier. Pier Pub. Clever enough name I suppose. I rode my bike to the boardwalk almost every day. I didn’t even realize I lived in a shore town even though after every Labor Day the streets emptied out. The shops closed up. As teens, we didn’t have a lot of places to go besides the movies and the parks to drink. In 1987, the pier burned down and my shore town wasn’t the same for many years.

The Coffee King and I bought our first house two miles from the beach. We sold that house during the housing boom in 2005 for a lot more than we paid and bought another house five miles from the beach. We lived down at the shore for fifteen years.

I loved both of my houses. The second house was in a pretty neighborhood with sidewalks, tree-lined streets, and mailboxes at the end of the driveway. The neighbors took care of their lawns, planted flowers in the spring, and parked in their garages. I never saw them. In fact, the people who lived to my right never said a word to us for the six years we lived there until a large tree that sat right on the property line fell into their yard after Hurricane Irene. Then the wife came running over to see who the tree belonged to. (Here’s a tip sweetheart, in NJ it doesn’t matter where the tree sits. Whose property it falls on has the responsibility to remove it.) We didn’t take that approach. We split the cost with her. You know if we wanted to put a fence up around our property she would have insisted that tree belonged to her and she wouldn’t be able to part with it. And on an aside, I used to wave and say hello to her every chance I had to just to aggravate her. Ha!

That town was what some call a backyard community. Kids didn’t play in the front yard because they were at sport practice, dance class, gymnastics, painting, and science club. No one sat on their front porch to watch the neighborhood spill out onto the streets like an old fashioned game of jacks. Including me. I had a deck and a privacy fence on two sides thanks to the people on my left and behind me. (Oh, the guy behind us was in his seventies and he swam naked. My house sat higher than his so I could stand in my kitchen or on my deck and see over the fence. Not pretty. Let me tell you.)

My readers have told me they like the town of Heritage River in A Second Chance House. (By the way, I came up with that town name because a Heritage River is a tree that grows in Tennessee where my fake town is located.) Someone asked, was there a specific town I had based Heritage River on. The answer – no. I wanted Heritage River to be the opposite of a backyard town.

Isn’t the charm of a small town that you know everyone? Of course, some times that’s not so charming. I wanted Heritage River to be a place where you can knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for sugar. Or where you can fall in love. Where the townspeople have your back. Here’s a tiny spoiler: in book three of this series The Essence Of Whiskey and Tea, the hero, J.T. Davies, isn’t very well liked by the people of Heritage River. He has a reputation he can’t shake even though he’s been gone for twenty-four years. He doesn’t appreciate the charm of the town very much, but he does know it’s a good place to finish raising his daughter and his father recently died so no matter what, Heritage River is home. And of course, there’s Savannah.

Heritage River is a place I could live. To me, it’s an extension of the Savage family. A family I would also like to be a part of. Hey, I kind of get to be a part of that family since I’m writing them. I love what I do. And I love my characters and my little southern town. I hope you will too.

I hope you’ll allow me to share a video with you. I held my Book Launch Concert on March 28 where Patrick’s Pub so graciously allowed me to be a part of the open-mic night and do a reading from A Second Chance House. There’s some noise in the background, but I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

 

 

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If I Had to Do It All Again…

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

You get to a certain age, and you start to think, “If I could go back and start over…” Real life doesn’t give us a “do over,” but it’s nice sometimes to fantasize. I’m at that age, and as wonderful as my life is, sometimes I think about the roads I didn’t take.

I talked about my process for writing A Second Chance House recently. Though my characters started out as two people talking, I had to turn them into characters others would relate to. Otherwise, no one will stick with your story. Think about any movie or book you enjoyed. Part of the reason you liked the characters in that story so much was because you saw a piece of yourself in there. Do you remember the show Roseanne starring Roseanne Barr? Why was that show such a success? Because women everywhere said, “that’s what my house looks and sounds like!” Relatable.

I’ll tell you a little secret. I have a hard time writing women. A strong female lead has to be, well…strong, independent, smart, tough, vulnerable, wounded (otherwise there’s no character arc,) emotional, but not whiny, she can have insecurities, but she can’t be too desperate. That’s a tall order, and it takes me more than one pass through to get my heroine right. (Personally, I don’t like the unreliable protagonist so in books like The Girl on the Train, I just get mad at her repeated poor choices.)

How did I make Grace relatable? It wasn’t easy. In the first draft, when we first meet her she’s in the library crying her eyes out. Ugh.

But Grace became relatable because as I got to know her, she fantasized about a fresh start. Grace gets one, at the exact moment she needs it. Not that she knows that at first. In fact, she doesn’t know she wants a fresh start at all until she realizes she’s a walking cliche and all her planning, following the rules, playing it safe has backfired in her face. She’s also a little stubborn. She wants to prove everyone who told her she couldn’t renovate a house in a town she didn’t know – wrong! Yay for Grace! It’s a good feeling to tell the nay sayers in our lives to shove it. We can relate to that too.

I put Grace in my age bracket because it is in the middle of our lives with as much time behind us as ahead that we start to wonder if this is all there is. It’s also during the middle of our lives when people act out on those what ifs. We’ve seen a lot of bald, paunchy men in red sports cars, no? Just saying. I can relate to women my age, and why shouldn’t women in their forties be the heroines of a love story? They fall in love too. Love the second or third time around is a different love than the first one. I wanted to read about a woman my age who’d been married, had children, wondered what if. I figured other women did too.

So, I now have a middle-aged woman faced with the tough choice to start over or not. She isn’t a risk taker. I’m setting up the conflict for her. Go or stay? She goes. Brava! But when she gets there, she gets more than she’s bargained for. More conflict. And when she meets the sexy neighbor, he is the exact opposite of who she is. What is she supposed to do about that?

What’s great about writing books is I get to control the ending. I can’t control much of anything in real life, but believe me I try. When we sit down and take the journey with Grace, she gets to do the things that maybe we can’t. We don’t always get a second chance to start over. And we can’t predict the ending of our love story. But we root for Grace to achieve her goals and fall in love.

Will the woman who never takes a risk, risk it all – and possibly fall in love? If given the chance, would you be that person?

Music is so important to me and my hero, Blaise Savage. I’m having a book launch concert at Patrick’s Pub, Neptune, NJ, March 28th 7 pm. I’ll be signing books and doing a reading. And right along side me will be fantastic bands playing awesome music. (I won’t be singing. Don’t worry.) If you’re in the area, stop by and say hi.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Arell Rivers, I’ll be taking over Arell’s Angels (she’s a wonderful author. Check out her stuff.) on Facebook. April 15th, from 6 -8 pm to celebrate the release of A Second Chance House. Stop by for games and prizes, and to talk about writing, or whatever else you fancy.  We had a blast at the last Facebook party. If you missed it, here’s another chance for some fun.

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Music Mean To You?

In 1982, I discovered Van Halen. As far as music was concerned, I never looked back. I knew the words to every song on every album. I could drum solo right along with Alex. I studied everything I could get my hands on about them. (Oh, how the helpful the internet would’ve been.) I stayed up until all hours of the night listening to radio interviews. In my high school year book senior year, we had to list what we would be in ten years. I wrote married to Alex Van Halen. I was obsessed.  (The video above is “Respect the Wind” by Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Enjoy!)

As the years passed, and logic and reasoning formed in my brain (thankfully) some of the obsession died down. (I have seen every American tour since 1984.) I still enjoy their music, but mostly the stuff with David Lee Roth singing lead. Sorry, Sammy Hagar. He seems like a cool person to hang out with. I prefer the harder sound with Dave.

Growing up music made me believe anything was possible. Music sat right beside me while I wrote my first novel at twelve, and every novel since. (I have play lists for all my women’s fiction books.) Music soothed my heart the first time someone broke it. No one understands the broken heart better than a musician. Except maybe a romance novelist. Music makes me dance any place any time. Music transports me. Every time I hear AC/DC’s Hells Bells I’m at the start of a high school football game. High school was a long time ago.

I don’t play any instruments, but 2018 is the year I change that. I can’t sing, but I dream of being on stage in front of thousands singing my heart out. (Possibly in leather pants. And I’d love to do a duet with Jennifer Nettles. I love the quality of her voice.) If I had to go back and do it all again, I’d study how to play music. I love writing, and I wouldn’t change being an author for anything. (Though I’d like to make more than a cup of coffee for doing it.) But I also love the sound of an orchestra. And much to my son’s dismay, I love soundtrack music. The music in a soundtrack evokes emotion often times because the dialogue and the actor’s facial expressions can’t. Being in an orchestra is my kind of team sport.

An artist puts his or her mark on the world. The way rockers played guitar changed because Eddie Van Halen hit the scene. He revolutionized the way guitars were made too. I often hope with my books that I can leave my mark. I had a beta reader say to me recently, “I’m sobbing.” My words moved her. What an honor and a thrill to be able to touch someone deeply. Now I have to find more readers like her otherwise my mark is just one. That’s no easy job.

If I could go back to 1982, I think I’d sit myself down and say, “don’t give up. Don’t listen to what other people say. Deep inside you is a talent and a passion. Sing. Dance. Play. Write. I’ll be waiting for you.”

What does music mean to you?

What passion burns inside you to come out?

Who influenced you the most?

A Second Chance House is available for pre-order in digital format. The print version will become available March 7th from all major online retailers, and here on the website.

I’m hosting a Facebook party on March 7th from 7 – 9 pm in honor of the release. There will be games and prizes.

And since music is so important to me and my hero, Blaise Savage, I’m having a book launch concert at Patrick’s Pub, Neptune, NJ, March 28th 7 pm. I’ll be signing books and doing a reading. And right along side me will be fantastic bands playing awesome music. (I won’t be singing. Don’t worry.)

 

Release Day – Two Weeks Away

The Second Chance House will be released in print and digital formats on March 7, 2018. That’s only two weeks away! It will be available from all major online retailers, and on my website.

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Sorry about the picture of me sitting in Panera. I’m trying to mess with the Facebook algorithms.

There are so many moving parts in getting a book out into the world. I could write a blog post every day for a month and still not hit on all the things an author has to do to get a book into the hands of her readers.

A friend of mine recently suggested I talk about my process for writing the book. So you can blame Sean for this one. Wink! And then when you’re done here today, jump over to Sean’s blog and read about writing (he has a great book coming out if he’ll ever stop editing it. Joking.), movies, and his nostalgia for New York City. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

Come sit beside me as we talk about writing. I have my tea. You? Great. paneracup

In 2015, in the midst of finishing the third book in my middle grade series, Welcome To Skull Mountain, two characters began talking to each other in my head. Non-stop. No matter what I was doing, they’d show up. They drove me crazy. That’s good stuff for an author. I started putting their story down on paper.

Problem was I had to finish that third book first, and then my daughter became sick. It took a little while before I could really figure out who these two people were. Thankfully, they kept talking to me.

I believe all stories are character driven. In my world, people talk about plot driven stories and character driven stories. In my humble opinion, you could have the best story in the world, but if your characters don’t actually make choices on every page then who cares about your plot? Characters are what stay with us long after the book ends. Characters make me laugh and make me cry. Plot is just an accessory. The most important, like a pace maker, but plot can’t do diddly without character. I’m sure someone else will have a different opinion.

The first thing I have to do when I write a book is get to know my characters. I don’t do character interviews, though that’s a popular technique. I start asking myself questions about what their wounds are. The ugly stuff we hide from Facebook. I need to know what happened to them in their past that makes them the way they are when my reader meets them. I come up with stuff you’ll probably never see, but that’s okay. The better I know my characters the more real they’ll be to you.

We’ll pick on Grace for a minute. Grace Starr is the heroine in A Second Chance House. I like Grace. I can relate to her. She’s middle-aged, has a teenage daughter she can’t communicate with, and a husband who left her for a younger woman. (I can’t relate to the husband part. Good thing for the Coffee King. Otherwise he’d be coffee grounds. Ba-da-bump.) She’s a control freak, and she’s been following the rules her whole life. When you meet Grace, she wants a new life.

First question for Grace is what happened to you that made you this way? I start to build her backstory. Her father left her when she was too little to remember him. Her childhood was filled with chaos. For some people, in order for them to handle chaos in their lives they like to control things. That’s Grace.

So, who would be the worst kind of match for her? Well, a rock star might be a good place to start. We’ve all heard wild stories about rock ‘n roll. I have a vivid imagination. Enter, Blaise Savage. Just his name alone should have Grace shaking in her boots. In more ways than one. Ha! Sorry, Grace.

I’ve sat through countless workshops and seminars on the craft of writing. I learned pretty early on if you want a romance to sizzle on the page you need to pair opposites. The analogy often used is if your hero is a fire fighter then your heroine better be an arsonist. Follow?

Once I know who my characters are I need to know what they want. They must want something they can touch, and they must want something internally. Love, family, a second chance. Those things Grace wants have to be connected in some way to the things Blaise wants. And as often as I can work it in each scene, Grace has to stop Blaise from getting what he wants and Blaise has to stop Grace from getting what she wants. So, if Blaise wants to kiss Grace, it can’t happen. If I can’t get Grace to control herself, (because let’s face it, Blaise is a damn good kisser) then I bring in another character to break up the moment. I know, that’s so mean! Trust me, makes for a page turner.

Now I can build the plot. I won’t go into the details about inciting incident, plot points, black moments, point of view, show don’t tell, etc. Unless you’re a new writer and need to learn it, all that stuff will just pull the curtain back too far. Readers need to be mesmerized by the smoke and mirrors. If you are a new writer, and have questions email me. I’ll get you going in the right direction.

I write the first draft. A Second Chance House is 99,000 words. That’s about 380 pages. I edit that draft with the help of my critique partners. I ask questions, they give me suggestions. I let them read the first fifty or so pages because they understand all the technical stuff and they can tell me if I’m hitting my stride in the right places.

After the third or fourth time through the book can go to my editor. ASCH is published traditionally so the publisher has its own process I will follow at this point. Indie or self-pubbed books follow a slightly different path. But either way, a lot more editing happens over the next several months. Right, Sean?

By the time you read the book it’s been polished to a high shine and in it’s best Sunday clothes.

I am eternally grateful for all the people who help me along the way. My critique partners: M. Kate Quinn, Shari Nichols, and K.M. Fawcett. My editor on this book, Roseann A., is the master editor. I owe her big time. Also have beta readers who I bring in at different stages for help. They read the book all the way through as readers. Readers read like readers. Writers read like writers. My betas give me invaluable feedback so I can fix whatever else might need fixing. Thank you, Robin and Betsy. Love you tons.

I’m hosting a Facebook party on March 7, 2018 from 7 – 9 pm to celebrate the release. We’ll be playing games, there will be prizes, and we’ll be chatting about writing, publishing, and whatever else you want. Hope to see you there.

I’ll be having a Book Launch Concert on March 28, 2018 in Neptune, NJ at Patrick’s Pub. 7 pm. Patrick’s hosts an open-mic night every Wednesday with wonderful bands playing some great music. They were kind enough to allow me to tag along because my hero is a drummer in a rock band. I’ll have books to sign, and I’ll be doing a reading. If you live in the area, please stop by and say hi. We’ll have a good time.

Book Launch Concert March 28, 2018

Some people describe the ’80s as the decade of excess. Big hair. Big music. Big concerts. Big shoulder pads. Van Halen landed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1984 for making the most money at one show.  Now, that’s big.

I was about fourteen when I decided going on tour with a rock band would be cool. I never did, but I still feel that way. I love to sing, which I can’t do, but that doesn’t stop me. Just ask the Noodges and the Coffee King. An item on my bucket list is to sing on stage in front of thousands of people. Might be helpful to learn to sing first.

So, it’s not all that surprising that the hero in my contemporary women’s fiction novel, A Second Chance House, is a drummer in a washed up rock band. When I started thinking about promotion for this book, I thought rock concert! Problem was pulling it off.

I found the solution thanks to my friend and author colleague, Karen Victoria. She sings (lucky woman) and knows lots of bands. Karen put in a good word for me, and my rock concert became a reality. I can’t thank her enough.

Because of Karen, Carol Barbieri with Patrick’s Pub in Neptune, NJ kindly agreed to allow me to be a part of their open-mic night on March 28, 2018 at 7 pm. (I won’t be singing, so you’re safe.)

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This is Carol. She’s the Queen of the open-mic night. Isn’t she adorable? Thanks, Carol!

But I will be doing a reading from A Second Chance House, and I will be signing books. And there will be fantastic bands made up of some very talented musicians. If you’re in the area, please drop on by for a night of big bands, big music, and little ol’ me.

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Singing at Patrick’s. The woman on the left in the red is Karen. Thanks, Karen!

Signing and Singing

Patrick’s Pub

116 3rd Avenue Rt. 35

Neptune City Shopping Plaza

March 28, 2018

7 pm.