Introducing...Ms. Bojangled Nerves

Sitting here on the eve of the Kindle release of As it Seems, an absolute jangled mess of nerves, I ask myself one question: Why do I write? Why publish my thoughts for everyone to read? (Okay, that's two!) The simple answer is: I have something to say and this is how I express myself. But it's not easy, especially for someone who takes criticism to heart. I dread the moment I bump into someone I know has read my book...and they say nothing. Ouch! It stings. I'd rather they said, "nice try" than nothing! 

I can't help but wonder how this novel will be received by readers of my first book. Will they love it or hate it? Will they be disappointed with my sophomore effort? I don't know. I want to say 'and I don't care!' but that would be a lie. In my last blog post, I said 'I wrote this book for me and if my readers like it, that's the icing on the cake.' Well, I want a big ass cake made only with icing, inside and out!

Believe me when I say it's not pleasant to read a nasty review about something I put my heart and soul into. My books are my babies; the characters, my family. Imagine someone criticizing your child in a very public way? Doesn't feel good. Publishing a book is like dropping your little ones off at school for the first time ever, praying the other kids won't pick on them, that they are accepted for who they are. But...we know deep down not everyone will love them as we do. Our hope is the good outweighs the bad. The same goes for my baby, As it Seems. Not everyone will love it. All I can do is set it free and hope for the best.

My new book comes with a few disclaimers: 

One, the setting is primarily in Rhode Island but I created two fictitious towns. Why? Because Rhode Island is a small state and I believe the social underpinnings explored in this book could be Anytown, USA. I'm not pointing fingers, though if you know RI well enough you may have some idea where I got my inspiration. For my New England friends who love to read about home, not all locations are fictitious. A lot happens in Providence, Boston and Nantucket, with a few mentions of Bristol and Newport. 

Two, this book tackles difficult topics such as adultery and depression. An unfortunate fact of life is most people have experienced adultery in one form or another, or know someone who has. The same goes for depression, whether mild and fleeting or severe and lasting. It's been called 'a page turner with plenty of action', but 'could trigger some painful emotions or memories'. You've been warned!

Three, there are intimate scenes in this book. No big surprise to anyone who read my first novel! That said, you will never find gratuitous sex in any of my books. If I include this type of scene, there's a purpose. It's meant to capture an emotion that drives the story forward, whether it's love or hate, desire or despair. According to readers, the scenes depicted in my first book were 'full of love.' In my second book, the emotions are more complex and the reasons for these scenes more complicated as a result. Some are heartwarming, others are not. 

Four, because of the subjects addressed, I don't recommend this book to anyone under 17. Not because the intimate scenes are more graphic than my first novel, but because I don't think teenagers can understand or appreciate the stage of life I've depicted here. This is written from the perspective of people in their forties, not their twenties as in What if I Fly? This isn't about the first flush of love. As it Seems is about what happens once that flush fades and how love grows and changes. 

Disclaimers aside, this story is not doom and gloom, I promise. By the time you reach the last page, you will have a smile on your face, and a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart. 
 

A Happy Ending?

I'm a sucker for a happy ending. I hate when I get to the last page of a book and wonder 'what the hell happens next?' Ambiguity makes me crazy!!! I'm a straight-forward kind of gal. Tell me what happens! Don't make me guess.

That's why when I wrote my first book, I added an epilogue. I let the reader know that I was seriously committed to those two characters living happily ever after. Some people don't need that. Some people like to use their imaginations and create their own endings. Not my style. I want to close a book and feel sincerely happy, or utterly devastated. One extreme or the other.

As I wrote the last pages of my second novel, I wondered what would constitute a happy ending for these characters? 'Happily ever after' means different things to different people. When you delve into the romance genre, 'happily ever after' tends to mean the girl gets the guy, or vice versa.

But what if there are two important men in her life?

Does she make it work with the man she's in a complex relationship with, but still loves flaws and all? That would be one version of a happy ending. Probably the most difficult but realistic, and I do love realism.

Or does she leave the complicated relationship and go off into the sunset with the other man, someone she also cares about deeply? Another viable happy ending, with its own set of complications (what relationship is complication free?).

What if she ditches them both and concentrates on her own career and needs? To hell with the men in her life! I have to say, the feminist in me is screaming for that version of a happy ending.

I struggled with the 'happily ever after' in this book. So many choices. I knew the ending of What if I Fly? before I completed the first chapter. This one? I was completely in the dark until I reached the end, forcing myself to make a choice for the character I had created. I'm glad that's over! And I am very satisfied with the outcome.

Will everyone be satisfied by the choice I made? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on what 'happily ever after' means to you.

My second novel, tentatively titled 'As it Seems' will be available...sometime in the next two months...

The Sophomore

I've been working on my second novel, my 'sophomore' effort. It's a much different experience in some ways...exactly the same in others. The main difference is this little thing called expectation.  When I wrote What if I Fly, I didn't have any expectations (other than to finish the damned thing!) and never once considered the expectations of others. I didn't know if there would ever be others reading it, so I put it out of my mind and wrote it purely for my own enjoyment.

The feedback was trickling in at first, a steady, peaceful stream. Now it's an avalanche of well wishes and praise, with everyone asking me the same question, over and over again...

WHEN IS YOUR NEXT BOOK COMING OUT?

No pressure! I'm working on it, and I'm enjoying the process just as much, trying to ignore that pesky voice in my head asking 'is it good enough?' 'will my readers like it?'. Then I remind myself... I'm doing this for me. If I'm always thinking about what everyone else wants, I'll never write an original word again.

The new book is not a sequel, and is tentatively called "As it Seems". It's about two couples who live next door to one another in Barrington, (an affluent community ten minutes south of Providence, RI), the challenges they face and sacrifices made to keep marriage together once the sparkle fizzles and life gets in the way of their relationships. In five words, this book is about love, betrayal, loss, hope, redemption (not in that order!).

Here's a little taste, pulled from the middle of the first chapter. Remember this is the FIRST DRAFT and forgive the formatting! I can't figure out how to fix it!

Excerpt from Chapter One:

When Libby met Ted, he was a political consultant at a firm in Boston. She was a graphic artist working in the art department at a big advertising agency in the Back Bay. As a rule, Libby avoids networking events like the plague, truly despises them, and still does. The purpose of going is to make new business contacts, but they are really meat markets for people looking to hook up. It would be one thing if the men were single, but in her experience, the majority are married men looking to get a little side action. She feels awkward enough in a room full of strangers, never mind being put on display for a roomful of horny men.

On this particular occasion, Libby caved to the pressure of her co-workers. She was going to be in Cambridge that night anyways, and could stop at The Meat Market (as she not-so-affectionately refers to these events) before heading to The Middle East, a nearby club. She’d been on a couple of dates with one of the musicians in the band playing the club that evening, and had plans to meet him later that night. At the time, she’d been going on a lot of first dates, but until she met Geoff, none of the men she went out with warranted a second one. She was twenty-five years old and not interested in wasting her time with someone who bored her, and figured her youth afforded her the luxury of being selective about the people she dated.

After the long hours she puts in at work, and the complete absence of a ticking maternal clock, she’d rather curl up on her couch with a cup of tea and a good book than make small talk with a stranger. Geoff was interesting and the dichotomy of his life intrigued her; stock broker by day, drummer by night. An unusual combination. She wouldn’t mind getting to know him a little better.

She arrived at the networking event with her colleagues but quickly found herself alone at the bar, sipping her vodka gimlet when she first saw Ted. He was holding court across the room, surrounded by a crowd of men and women who were enthralled by whatever tale he was in the midst of telling. Ted is the kind of man who is hard to miss. At six feet four, two hundred and ten pounds, his size commands attention, but his personality demands it. He is one hundred percent Irish, with thick wavy auburn hair and emerald green eyes. Born and bred in South Boston, he’s a natural storyteller with a voice that penetrates the din of any crowded room. That night he was weaving yarns that captivated his audience and had them peeling with laughter. Libby kept her distance, nursing her drink, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of him.

Halfway through one of his stories he locked eyes with Libby and smiled. She doesn’t know if she smiled back, but she certainly kept looking. When he finished his tale he excused himself from the crowd and walked over to the bar, leaning against the wood railing beside her. Libby felt her cheeks blazing with heat and stared into her drink, swirling the tiny black straw in circles. His voice took on a more natural tone than the one she overheard him use for storytelling as he introduced himself.

“Hi. Ted Sullivan.”

He extended his hand toward her and grinned. She looked into his brilliant green eyes and gave him a tentative smile. He wasn’t the best looking man in the room, but he literally oozed confidence, something Libby had in short supply. She nodded and shook his hand, then took another sip of her gimlet, noticing the leggy blond who had sidled up beside him and the gorgeous brunette behind him, both anxious to make their move on Ted.

He laughed, apparently waiting for her to offer up her name, and realizing it wasn’t forthcoming asked, “And you are…?”

The mob seemed to gravitate toward him, the empty spaces around them quickly filling in until a semi-circle was formed, five people deep. Ted didn’t appear to notice the growing crowd encircling them, which meant he was either oblivious to his magnetism, or so used to the attention it didn’t phase him. Either way, she found it unnerving. He’s one of those rare species of men that appeals to both sexes, men want to be his friend and women want to sleep with him. Libby identified this quality in him immediately.

“Libby Taylor. Nice to meet you.”

“You’re not much of a talker are you, Libby?”

“Conversation seems to be your specialty.” She gave him a sideways glance and raised an eyebrow, “I’m willing to bet you could carry one on right here without my input at all.”

Ted burst out laughing.

“I probably could, but where’s the fun in that?”

“Maybe not for you, but it would be fun for me,” Libby countered.

Ted gazed at her, one corner of his mouth turned up with amusement. She watched his eyes brazenly move up and down her body.

“Are you checking me out?”

Again he chuckled and nodded.

“Yes, I am. Three words pop into my head. Smart. Sassy. Beautiful.”

She took a sip of her drink, observing him over the brim of the glass, then placed it on the little square napkin in front of her.

“Ah, now there’s a line,” she sighed.

“I’ve got tons of them,” he grinned.

Libby nodded, looking him over, “I’m sure you do.”

The eavesdropping blond with the short skirt and the mile long legs must have realized she was about to miss her opportunity, and grasped Ted’s arm, turning him toward her.

“Sully! So great to see you again!” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. Ted smiled and introduced Libby to Siena.

“Pleased to meet you,” Siena smiled, her eyes glued to Ted’s face.

Libby sat on the stool, feeling extremely awkward as Siena draped her arm around his waist and they became engaged in a lively conversation about the upcoming election and the campaign he was working for. Turning away from them, she checked her watch, then gathered her coat and bag, getting ready to leave. She found him incredibly sexy, but wasn’t interested in competing for his attention.

As she rose and pulled on her coat, Ted placed his hand on the small of her back and leaned in close, startling her.

“You’re not leaving yet!” he frowned. 

“I’m afraid I am,” she said, buttoning her coat and shrugging her bag over her shoulder.  

He took her hand and whispered close to her ear, “Not without me.”

Libby stared into his eyes and he leaned down and kissed her, his lips soft against hers. A delicious tingling spread throughout her body. A moment later she opened her eyes and slowly shook her head back and forth, a smile spreading across her face. No, not without you. Ted grabbed his coat and without saying goodbye to Siena or the rest of his admirers, walked into the cool night air, Libby’s hand in his.

The Middle East and the dichotomous drummer all but forgotten.

 

Fact vs. Fiction

People have started to read the book, and the feedback is trickling in. All positive so far, though I suppose if they didn't like it they wouldn't tell me! I'd read their bad review on Amazon or Goodreads! I've received a lot of questions about what's real and what's not.  Someone even asked if that was a picture of me on the cover. I WISH! My body hasn't looked like that in a decade! Let me state again, this is a work of fiction. However, there are always kernels of truth in any fictitious work. 

I went to a Wally Lamb book signing last summer, and he summed it up pretty well.  We write what we know. It doesn't mean we know it well, but there is some basis of truth in everything we write. My plot is fiction based on little nuggets of truth from my life, my characters are fictitious, but are comprised of an amalgamation of traits from different people I've met over the course of my life. Imagine a silo.  At the bottom are a dozen itty, bitty kernels of truth and the silo is filled to the top with piles of fiction.

So, here are a few truths...

Is Julia me? No. Do we have some similarities? Yes. We both have dark curly hair. We both love history. We both went to school in NYC. We both did summer theater. We both grew up in Bristol, RI. My parents are also divorced. I am a teacher. I have traveled around Europe. I did go to a society wedding with a guy and that bathroom scene really happened (those b**ches!).  I don't want to give the plot away so I'll keep the other similarities to myself, but these little factoids are what I built a fictitious story around. 

Is Will real? Hell, no! I know people from his world, but his character is a whole lot of men I've met rolled into one. I'll be honest, I've never met a society guy who has ever followed an unconventional path. Does that mean a man like Will doesn't exist? No. There might be, I've just never met him. The men I've met from that social sphere have all lived the life expected of them. That doesn't make them bad people, or ignorant, or whipped, or any other word that pops into your head. With the exception of maybe two men, the life set out for them is the life that makes them happy. My character Peter is one of those guys.

Ellie.  I know foul-mouthed butt-in-skis with the best of hearts and intentions. Me included. But no one from that world, which is what I think makes her a more interesting character. I like the idea of a society woman, someone raised in a somewhat oppressive world, who bucks convention and lets it all hang out, doesn't keep her mouth shut and does whatever the f**k she wants to do.

Gabby. She started off based on my best friend, and went in a totally different direction with each revision.  The only similarity remaining between my friend and this character is she's not afraid to say what's on her mind, and she'd (at least in theory) kick the ass of anyone who hurt me.

Julia's parents and step-parents. The circumstances of my parents divorce are not at all similar to what happened in the book.  Julia's relationship with her father is complicated, as was mine when I was her age, but that's where it ends. Well, my dad does like recliners and sports, and lives in a raised ranch...but yeah, that's about the sum total of their similarities. I had to dramatize their relationship, and the one between Julia and her mother and stepmother to make the story more interesting. My life is pretty boring! Have to spice things up!

The people of Poppasquash. Yes, I babysat for a family on Poppasquash for many years. It's true, we are from different tribes, no doubt about it. Poppasquash is a different world from the one I grew up in, BUT the family I described in the book IS NOT the family I babysat for. They are kind people. I was always treated with the utmost respect and would never, ever want to hurt their feelings. The kids are all grown up now and I don't know much about their lives anymore, but if they're anything like their parents, they're amazing people. 

Gram.  She's real.  I wrote a character based on my real grandmother, Mae. She was loving and kind, religiously watched soap operas and made the best meatballs.  She loved Joe Montana, the Red Sox and her family more than anything. She's been gone for almost seven years and I miss her terribly. I didn't want to leave my other grandma out, so I combined them a bit, adding some character traits of Grace's, as well.  She worked in the lace factory and sewed up a storm. Gracie taught me about birds and nature and art and rhinestones. She died when I was in college and it was when she died that I had 'the dream'.

Places and Events. 

Bristol's 4th of July (post) Parade. The crowds disburse. The arrow points to Hope Diner.

Bristol's 4th of July (post) Parade. The crowds disburse. The arrow points to Hope Diner.

The Hope Diner is real.  I forgot to change its name before I submitted my final draft.  Oops!  So hopefully this is some good publicity for them! Great place. I'm not at all close to the owners or waitstaff, but you MUST order the chourico and grilled Portuguese sweetbread if you go. Delicious!

Bristol 4th of July Celebration.  True, all true, except now the concerts are held at Independence Park. If you've never been, you must experience it once in your life! Bucket list item.

Letters left outside Juliet's House in Verona

Letters left outside Juliet's House in Verona

Casa de Giulietta, Juliet's Secretaries. All true, except I was never one of her secretaries! Gorgeous place to visit whether you're a Shakespeare fan or not. A must see.

Statue of Juliet, Verona Italy

Statue of Juliet, Verona Italy

Christmas Pasta. Yes, every Christmas Eve my family eats spaghetti with black olives and anchovies. It's a tradition passed down for generations. Of course, the secret ingredient was kept under wraps until I was a teenager, when I was already hooked. It's salty but good!

September 11th.  The day everything changed, not just for me but for our country. The way Julia found out is the way I found out. In my classroom, teaching the Elements of Culture. But I was teaching full-time and we didn't dismiss the children. As a matter of fact, we weren't allowed to say anything to the kids, so I had to pretend like nothing was wrong as we went about our day. To say that was difficult would be an understatement.

Hope I didn't give too much away!  Off to continue writing my second book, As it Seems (as in... nothing is as it seems). It's a much different story than What if I Fly, NOT a sequel. Once you finish the first book, you'll see there's no need for a follow up.

Happy trails!