Redemption

re·demp·tion
rəˈdem(p)SH(ə)n/
noun
  1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

The next book in my Beach Haven series is A Soul Redeemed, so I wanted to take a look at the word “redemption” before I share a little excerpt from the first chapter.

I like the idea that redemption can also mean being saved from error, not just sin or evil. Every single one of us has erred in life in some way, big or small. We’ve all sinned, too, for that matter, but I doubt that most of us can relate to doing anything that is truly evil. In this book, I wanted to explore some of those errors and the regrets that go with them.

In short, I wanted to give a couple of my favorite supporting characters a chance to redeem themselves.

Jacqueline’s need for redemption is pretty obvious in light of her manipulative behavior in Her House Divided. To be perfectly honest, this character has really been bothering me since the end of that book. I’ve been wanting to tell her story, to explain why she does the horrible things she does. I wanted to face the challenge of somehow getting readers to like an unlikable character.

Ben, though, seems like a pretty nice guy, doesn’t he? The kind, easygoing, laid-back attorney has been sort of an understated comic relief character throughout the series. But what if he has a secret? What if he is the one who is truly in need of redemption?

That was my starting point for A Soul Redeemed.  I am tentatively looking at Friday, July 15 as a release date, but that date is not firm yet.

Ready to check out a sneak peek at Chapter one?

*****

A Soul Redeemed

Ben Jacobs took a deep breath and resisted the urge to kick the door of his car. It wasn’t the car’s fault that he was having a bad morning, after all. He tried shifting his briefcase, the box of doughnuts, the bouquet of flowers, and what remained of his coffee – having spilled half of it down the front of his suit on the drive to work – but still couldn’t manage to free one hand so he could shut the door.

Grunting, he put the box of doughnuts on top of the car and tried again. The box slid down the windshield, flipped over, and promptly landed upside-down on the pavement.

He closed his eyes. Bad enough that he had dumped the doughnuts on the ground; no man could be expected to gaze upon the tragedy of a fresh apple fritter destroyed in such a manner. The cruller and the éclair were acceptable losses on a day like today, but not the fritter.

Ben sighed. He set everything down on the ground and closed the car door with exaggerated care, after which he gathered his things and slowly made his way to his office. He half-expected the sky to open and dump buckets of rain on him just to continue with the whole theme of his morning, but the bright blue May sky remained annoyingly clear and cheerful, almost as though the universe itself were trying to get on his last nerve.

His assistant looked up in surprise when he dropped the flowers on her desk. “Happy birthday, Beverly,” he told her. “There were doughnuts, too, but they didn’t make it.”

“Thank you. My birthday is next month.”

“Of course it is.”

“The flowers are lovely, Ben. This was very sweet of you.” Beverly smiled up at him, taking in the rumpled and stained suit in one sweeping glance. “Spilled your coffee again?”

He nodded.

“And the white stuff on your shoulder?”

“Seagull.”

“Again?”

“Again.”

She chuckled. “Welcome back. I’ve put your mail on your desk,” she told him. “Along with your phone messages. Tiffany has already called twice this morning about the dog. And . . . I’m about to ruin your day a little bit more. There’s someone waiting for you in your office. I told her to wait out here, but she insisted. I’m sorry.”

Ben swore. His assistant was a deceptively tiny, middle-aged woman with the iron will of an army drill sergeant, and he knew from experience that there was only one person who refused to be intimidated by her. If that person was waiting for him in his office, his day was definitely going to continue with its downward trend.

He took yet another deep breath, squared his shoulders, and marched into his office. That’s right, he told himself. My office. Mine. This is my territory, my turf, and I am not going to let Jacqueline Davis push me around.

Jacqueline was seated at his desk rather than in one of the plush brown chairs that were intended for his clients. She was impeccably dressed as usual, in a mint-green dress that played up her porcelain skin and shoulder-length blond hair. There was an elegant grace in the way she moved when she leaned forward to rest her chin on one delicate hand, her lips curving into a humorless smile.

“Running a little late this morning, Ben?”

“Why are you here?” he asked. “Don’t you have some orphans to evict or something?”

“That’s on this afternoon’s schedule. I cleared this morning’s schedule so I could meet with you.”

“Fantastic. Beverly already told you that I have no interest in representing you,” he said. “Besides, you have an attorney, and you don’t need me.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong. Please, sit down so we can discuss my situation.”

“You’re . . . in my chair, Jacqueline.”

Her laugh scraped on his nerves. She stood and strolled around to the front of his desk like a spoiled housecat strutting in front of a captive audience, and he couldn’t keep his gaze from sweeping up and down her trim figure and appreciating what he saw.

She was a tall woman, her eyes almost even with his when she stopped directly in front of him. There was a triumphant gleam in her eyes that told him she had noticed exactly where he had been looking.

 

Cover Reveal (sort of)

When I first published Her House Divided, I made my own cover. It was really artsy-fartsy, and I was really proud of it.

Of course,  I realize now that it was awful. Just like my formatting was awful. And my spacing. And some of the punctuation. And the fact that I called my main character by the wrong name every once in a while. And . . . well, let’s just be kind and say that my first foray into self-publishing was a learning experience. And oh, boy, did I have a lot to learn.

People have been really nice about helping me. I just can’t get over the number of wonderful authors, artists, and other publishing professionals who have reached out to offer the kind of guidance I have really needed throughout the process.

One of the first to help me was cover artist Jessica Richardson with CoverBistro. She offered me a great deal and made up a new cover for me that really gave my book a much more professional look. There was no question about my going back to her when I needed a cover for His Heart Aflame — and yes, she will be designing the cover for Their Love Rekindled.

I recently turned to Jessica again with some questions about updating my covers to tie them together and make them look more like a series, and I am thrilled with the results. I want to show them off and get some feedback. Tell me, what do you think of the changes?

Old Cover
Old Cover
New Cover
New Cover

But wait, there’s more!

Old Cover
Old Cover
New cover
New cover

Subtle changes, but gorgeous, right?

Leo

There’s a new guy in my life, and he is amazing. He’s got gorgeous golden hair and big brown eyes that are exactly the color of melted chocolate, and I am just blown away by the utter adoration I see in those eyes whenever he looks at me.

When our eyes meet, it’s almost like he can’t get to me fast enough. He can’t wait to get his paws on me and cover me with wet, eager kisses.  Sometimes, at night, he stands under my bedroom window and calls out to me, forcing me to open the window and hiss at him to hush before he wakes the whole street.

He can never be mine, though. He belongs to another woman. That’s right; I have become something I never thought I could be. I am the Other Woman.

But it’s all right, because Leo is sort of a hound. A real dirty dog.

Actually, more of Golden Retriever mix. Leo is my neighbor’s new dog, and I really don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that he is obsessed with me. He’s been known to jump into my car and perch on the passenger seat with an expectant look on his face, as if to say, “Hey, baby, where’re we going?” He dodges past me and into my home to sit in the middle of my living room, and I swear he looks like he’s saying, “Hi, Honey, I’m home!”

Although his young owner is terribly embarrassed by his behavior, I have to admit that I’m kind of enjoying it. I miss the dog that I left behind with my ex-husband, so it’s always nice to be able to shower a little bit of affection on someone else’s dog once in a while. But more than that, it’s refreshing to have some attention and yes, adoration, from a male of any species at this point in my life.

God, I hate being single.

I was never very good at dating, even when I was younger. I was always self-conscious about something, whether it was my weight or my lack of experience with men or the fact that I am just not a very sophisticated person. I once dated a really, really rich guy and spent every date worrying about whether or not I was using the right fork. He was a very sweet man, but so far out of my league that it could never have worked.

So here I am, single and nearly fifty years old, and I write romance novels.  Could I be any more of a living cliché? Well, maybe if I get a few cats.

I think that’s why I tend to write about average people. The characters in my novels are not billionaires or heiresses or even corporate VIPs, although I enjoy reading books with those type of characters. I write about people like me. People who work as hairdressers and teachers or mechanics and worry about making the mortgage. I write about people who are searching for something in life, but not necessarily love; I try to write about people who are looking for a spot to land, a place to call home, a life that fits. And, of course, since I write romance novels, they always find love while searching for something else.

So far, my characters are also healing, physically or emotionally, because that’s where I’ve been in my own life these past few years.  Whether it was Tara recovering from her car accident, Lisa moving on after her divorce, or Maggie learning to follow through, I’ve tried to write about women who find love because they grow and heal; I don’t ever want to create the kind of female characters who have to be rescued by a man in order to be complete.  The flipside of this is my desire to create male characters that are also in need of healing and/or personal growth. Ethan needs to let go of his bitterness and anger, Sean needs to grow up and make a decision for himself, and Daniel needs to let go of his fantasy woman so he can get to know the real woman he is falling for.

I believe in love. I believe it’s every bit as necessary as food or water or air. I believe I’ll find it again, and that’s why I write romance novels despite my being single.

I think that’s also why I’m struggling so much with Their Love Rekindled. Cassie Garcia is a single mom, a widow trying to repair her life after losing her firefighter husband in Her House Divided. She is a woman with many secrets and a responsibility to protect her dead husband’s reputation in a small town full of whispers and gossip. In this book, I’m trying to show another side of the cozy little town I’ve built in the rest of my series.

I love Cassie. She’s a great character to write.

Her love interest, however, is giving me trouble. He’s her first love, a teenage romance coming home after being gone for too many years.  He’s a soldier and . . . that’s it. I wanted to give him PTSD or some horrible war injuries, but everything I write just comes out clichéd and melodramatic. Overused. Been there, done that, read the book and saw the movie.

So I think my soldier is going to go back overseas for a while, at least until my next book. Cassie’s high school sweetheart is still coming home to rekindle a few things, but his wounds are from a different type of battle. While Cassie has closed off her emotions in order to focus on her goals, Aaron is a lost soul searching for answers to questions he has spent years trying not to ask.

I like Aaron. He’s a good guy, but a bit of an asshole.

My Beach Haven stories have been all about people finding a place to belong in a warm, loving community. It’s about a small town that’s more like a family. Their Love Rekindled is about the uglier side of small-town life, with the gossip and judgment that sometimes come with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. In the end, the question isn’t as much about Cassie and Aaron rekindling their love for one another as it is about rekindling their love for their home town.

And . . . now I’m excited about it again. Someday, I may write about a billionaire who comes in to rescue the damsel in distress. I may write a historical romance set in the old Wild West. I don’t know where I’m going or what kind of things I may write someday, and I’ll never say never about any kind of topic or character. But for right now, I’m happy writing about men and women in a small town; I’m happy writing about average people like me, people who have a lot of growing and healing to do on the way to finding love.

And one of those characters, somewhere along the line, is going to have a dog named Leo.

Dream a Little Dream

A funny thing happened on the way to my next novel.

It took me three years to write my first book.  I self-published it before it was ready, and had to spend the next several months playing a game of Learn-As-You-Go as I scrambled to fix all of my mistakes.  My second book took a year to write, but I was much more prepared when I self-published that one.  My third is now in progress, tentatively heading toward a June release, which means it will only take me about six months to write when all is said and done.

And that’s where the wheels fall off the wagon.

First, I wanted to name my heroine Bobbie. I like that name, and it would have worked very well for the character.  However, I work with a woman named Bobbie, and that could become really awkward, really fast when I start writing a sex scene. So I asked Bobbie if she would mind my using her name for this book, as long as I promised that the character was not based on her in any way.

She gave her permission to use her name, but with the stipulation that she wanted the Bobbie in my book to be a villain.  Evil. A terrible, horrible, simply awful creature.

Well, crap. Since my first two books contain a beautiful but cruel female antagonist, I really wanted to avoid doing that again.  So the idea of “Evil Bobbie” had to be shelved for a while, and I went back to finding just the right name for my heroine.

A few nights later, I had a really vivid dream. I dreamed out the entire plot of a new story that was so realistic, so detailed, that it was like watching a movie.  It was the story of a divorcee who has spent the past year living in a sort of a fog, unable to move on from her divorce.  Her children go off to spend a month with their father over summer vacation, and she is at a loss about what to do during an entire month by herself.  Of course, she has a guy friend.  And since this is a romance novel, the guy friend is one hot and sexy studmuffin. Mr. Studmuffin convinces the heroine to make a list of things she’s never done before, and they spend the month working their way through the list as their friendship gradually grows into something more. The big question is whether or not she is ready to let herself take a chance on love, and I think the ending may come as a bit of a surprise.

I woke up and wrote it down.  I even found a place for “Evil Bobbie,” although she’s not so much evil as just unpleasant, and her name lost a letter somewhere along the line.

Some of you know that I’ve gone through my own divorce in the past year, so you may be wondering how much of myself I’ve put into this one.  Rest assured, the story is a work of fiction.  However, in the same way that Her House Divided is a piece of fiction that contains my real car accident and injuries, Love’s Little List is a piece of fiction that contains a few real emotions. Divorce sucks, even an amicable one like mine, and it felt really good to dig down deep and exorcise a few personal demons.

list

If that makes any sense at all.

I am very proud of Love’s Little List.  It turned out to be an 18,000-word mini-novel that may possibly be the most personal thing I’ve ever written, even though it is completely fictional.  I feel like I hit just the perfect tone with this one, somewhere in between the usual serious tone of my romance novels and the lighter tone of my blog. It’s not quite a romantic comedy, but it has a lot more humor than I’ve ever put into a novel before.  It’s not technically a part of my Beach Haven series, although it is set in the same town and even contains a few minor characters from the series.

I’m nervous about this one, especially since I released it with no fanfare, no publicity. I’m afraid I may have made a huge mistake by publishing it as-is instead of trying to flesh it out into a full-length novel, but time will have to tell if I did the right thing or not. This story basically wrote itself; who am I to tell it to grow to 50,000 words?

And just for the record, if there is a real Mr. Studmuffin out there looking for a middle-aged, overweight, divorced mother of three, would he please step out of the romance novel and give me a call?

Sneak Peek: His Heart Aflame

When published my first book ten months ago, I had very little idea what I was doing.  It was definitely an impulsive decision to self-publish through Amazon rather than submit it to a traditional publisher.  And let’s be honest; I was aiming for Harlequin but sort of got in a huff after participating in their So You Think You Can Write contest.  I wasn’t sure whether to be mad at them or disappointed in myself, so instead I self-published with absolutely no plans for marketing or promotion.

I’ve learned an awful lot during those ten months, but the next few days are going to show whether I’ve learned enough to make a difference or not.  My newest effort is scheduled for release in five days, and I am so keyed up about it that I may not sleep between now and then.

I’m pretty much guaranteed to eat mass quantities of chocolate.

There will probably be wine involved as well.

Aw, hell, forget the “probably.”  We all know there’s going to be wine involved.

At any rate, His Heart Aflame will be available on Saturday, December 20 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, CreateSpace, and iBooks.  It’s available for pre-order right now, and Her House Divided, Book #1 in my Beach Haven series, is now available at all of those same outlets.

Just to tempt you all just a little bit (and maybe to pat myself on the back just a tad), I’d like to share Chapter One right here in my blog.  Please enjoy!

Chapter One

Sean Jackson knew better than to drive in this condition. He was an experienced First Responder who had worked more than his fair share of accident scenes created by idiots who didn’t think they were too tired to drive. He knew first-hand that driving tired could be just as dangerous as driving drunk, but here he was, tired beyond all belief, driving his exhausted self home down a dark stretch of road and calling himself every name in the book.

He opened the window to let in the fresh air and a few drops of rain, and turned up the volume of the vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd he always played when he was exhausted after a fire call. Just a few more miles, and he’d be home safely. A few more miles, and he’d be able to take a long, hot shower and fall into his nice soft bed for at least a few hours.

Until it was time to go to work, or until some idiot started another grass fire.

He groaned out loud. Normally, he could handle the pressure of a full-time job and his work as a volunteer firefighter. But there had been a rash of grass fires over the past few weeks that had pushed him to the point where he just wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue doing both. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept more than two or three hours at a stretch.

Sean wished he had a cup of coffee in the truck with him. He was beyond the point where caffeine was going to do him any good, but at least the warmth and steam would help keep his eyes open. He blinked rapidly and cleared his throat, ready to start singing along with Gimme Three Steps until he realized that he was too tired to remember the words.

He was just going to have to pull over on the shoulder and sleep it off right there in the front seat. That was all there was to it. He was just too damned exhausted to drive those last few miles. All he had to do was round the curve on County Road 388, where the shoulder widened out and gave a nice smooth spot to park and—

The woman came out of nowhere.

He had a split second to take in the fact that she wore something white that seemed to glow in his headlights. He caught a glimpse of a pale face and wide terrified eyes, and then he was spinning out of control on the wet pavement as he jerked the wheel to the left. He pumped the brakes and swore, not sure if he was angrier at himself for driving when his reflexes were this slow, or at that stupid woman for running down a dark country road at four o’clock in the morning.

He wasn’t sleepy any more.

He finally fought the truck to a stop on the wrong side of the road, facing the opposite direction. He sat there for a moment, breathing deeply.

There had been no thud. He hadn’t hit the woman. At least, he didn’t think he had. Sean jumped out and ran around front to examine the front of his truck. No new dents, no blood, no sign of any kind of impact. He hadn’t hurt anyone.

But where was she? He reached under the seat for his flashlight and Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Pulling the hat brim down low to keep the rain out of his eyes, he ventured into the darkness and aimed the light towards the woods.

“Miss?” he called. “Are you hurt? Do you need help?”

Silence.

“I can help you. I’m with the Beach Haven Fire Department. Miss?”

He thought he heard something behind him, but it was just the metallic clang of raindrops hitting his truck. Really could have used this rain an hour ago to help put out the grass fire, he thought. Not doing me much good now.

He crossed the road and peered intently into the trees. He did not want to go in there. It wasn’t exactly a jungle wilderness full of dangerous beasts, but he didn’t care to come up against beasts of the non-dangerous sort in the wee hours of the morning on a lonely country road. Still, it was his responsibility to look for the woman, damn it.

The very stupid woman who enjoyed running out in front of moving vehicles on dark rainy nights. He had a few choice words for her when he found her.

If he found her. “Come on, help a guy out here,” he shouted. “It’s wet and I’m tired and I just want to go home. I’m not in the mood for Hide and Seek.” The smell of smoke and sweat arose from his clothes as the rain soaked through to his skin, and the tap-tap-tap of his headache was quickly becoming more of a bang-bang-bang against the inside of his skull.

He skidded down the slight incline from the shoulder of the road into the trees. Damn, it was dark. No moon, no stars, just heavy clouds and too many trees bursting with an abundance of late-spring leaves. The flashlight beam seemed pitifully insignificant, swallowed up by the night.

Ahead of him, a pair of tiny yellow eyes glittered his light. He swallowed and forced himself to take another step, nearly jumping out of his skin when his shirt caught on a tree branch.

Sean took a deep breath and told himself to calm down. You’ve been in the woods in the dark before, he scolded himself. Camping, hunting — hell, the whole department was out here just a couple months ago looking for body parts after that train/pedestrian accident. This is nothing compared to that. Man up.

Determined, he pushed aside a pine branch, only to have it slip out of his grasp and give him a wet slap in the face.

Okay, time to re-think this. He was basically getting his butt handed to him by the wet, dark woods, and he was armed with a flashlight and a lifelong familiarity with the area. Was it really possible that a woman in a big, bulky dress was slipping around silently in these same woods without a light? He shined the light around again, looking for flashes of white or pieces of fabric caught on the same kind of branches that had torn his t-shirt, but saw nothing. He then stood perfectly still and listened.

Nothing but rain hitting the leaves with increasing intensity.

There is no one else out here, he realized.

Which meant one of two things: Either the mystery woman had vanished into thin air, or he had imagined her. Neither answer really appealed to him, but he decided that he’d rather solve the mystery from somewhere safe and warm. And preferably dry. He turned and slogged his way back through the trees and scrambled back up the incline to the road.

He was surprised to see the tailgate of his truck hanging open. That was strange; he remembered shoving his gear bag in there under the tonneau cover when they’d cleared the scene, but he could have sworn he’d latched it. He shined the light inside to satisfy himself that his things were still there, nodding when he saw the vague outlines of his belongings, and slammed it shut before climbing back into the seat.

Damn, he was tired. So tired that he’d driven all this way with his tailgate hanging open, which could have cost him his all of the gear and tools he kept stowed in the back of his truck. So tired that he had imagined seeing a strange woman in white running down a lonely country road in the middle of the night.

I wouldn’t be this tired if I did this full-time, he thought. Sure, the pros worked several days in a row, but they got to go off-duty afterward. They didn’t have to work two jobs, either. And full-time professional firefighters seemed to earn a certain degree of respect that volunteers just didn’t get. Sean thought about the interview he’d gone to earlier in the week in a Grand Rapids suburb and wondered for the hundredth time what he would do if they actually offered him the job.

One thing he knew for sure: no full-time fire department was going to hire him if they knew he was seeing imaginary women on rainy country roads.

He had to have imagined her. He so wiped out that he was hallucinating. That was the only possible explanation. It certainly made more sense than some crazy lady running around in a white dress in the middle of the night and then disappearing without a trace. It made more sense, but it wasn’t comforting to realize that he had almost wrecked his truck over a fatigue-induced hallucination.

Get a grip, Jackson. Go home, get some rest, and don’t ever mention this to anyone.

Right. He put the truck in gear, turned it around, and cranked up the volume just as Sweet Home Alabama started. It was enough to get him home, where he pulled into his attached garage and stumbled toward the door to his home. He knew he should hang his wet gear and make a few phone calls to let people know he was going to be late for work, but he just didn’t care.

He stepped out of his boots on his way through the door and started shucking wet clothes on his way to the bedroom. All thoughts of taking a shower were gone, replaced by visions of a soft pillow and a comfortable bed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a little voice was trying to remind him that he stunk, and that his bedding was going to stink, too; he firmly told the annoying little voice to shut the hell up and collapsed face-down on top of the quilted comforter.

Sure was a pretty hallucination, he thought, and then he was out.

Counting Down the Days

I thought it would get easier.

I always believed that all I had to do was write that first book.  Get the first one done, and the next one would be easier.  Less fear each time, less details to worry about, more fun once I knew what to expect. Sort of like losing my virginity, only without any cheesy Michael Bolton ballads playing in the background.

That’s not how it’s working out for me.  His Heart Aflame has been a bit of a bear to write.  I feel like a kid throwing homework excuses at the teacher, but here’s why I’ve struggled with my second book:

  • I’ve learned so much from self-publishing my first book. I can see things that I did wrong with Her House Divided, and I don’t want to make those same mistakes this time.
  • Along those same lines, I realize that my first book was pretty simple. I want this one to be more complex, with a couple of subplots and more well-defined characters.  Threw in a couple of burning buildings and an extremely energetic sex scene on the beach, just to spice things up a tad.  I’m scared I’m not up to challenge.
  • My first book was drawn from my own experiences, created out of a bunch of “what ifs” as I recovered from a broken neck. It was a work of fiction, but it was also a huge part of my healing process.   My second book is drawn completely from my imagination.  Made from scratch, you could say.
  • I designed my own cover the first time around, and it sucked. The amazing and incredibly talented Jessica Richardson took pity on me and provided a much better cover.  I hired her this time (and will for every book I write in the future as well), which meant I had to take the time to select a cover, work with her, and stress about whether I could afford her or not.  This time around, the e-book and paperback will have the same cover, thanks to Jessica.
  • For a long time, I just didn’t like my heroine, Maggie. I wanted her to be sort of clumsy and hapless and unlucky, but I felt like I wasn’t getting to “know” her well enough to write about her.  Then my sister suggested the name “Maeve” for Maggie’s alter-ego in the subplot, and everything fell into place.
  • I wrote my first romance novel as a married woman. Sure, I knew my marriage was going through a rough patch; I just didn’t realize it was ending.  I’ve written this second romance novel as a middle-aged divorcee who has lost her faith in Happily Ever After.  I keep wanting to re-write the ending to send Sean and Maggie off in separate ways with a handshake and an agreement to behave like adults.
  • I didn’t tell anyone I was going to self-publish my first book. I just sort of threw it at the world and ran the other direction.  If I failed, I failed.  I’ve got to be honest – I never really thought anyone outside of my friends and family would buy it.  Now, people are waiting for the sequel.  Asking about it.  Looking forward to it.  Good Lord, I’m an author now, not just an unemployed hairdresser tapping away at the keyboard.   That’s scary as hell.
  • I’m at a different place in my life from a religious standpoint. This one is a biggie.  God has always been so important to me, but I have really felt His hand guiding me in recent months.  I find myself questioning whether or not I’m okay including sex scenes in my books, or if I need to take a shot at writing something more “squeaky clean.”  Maybe it’s time to write something more spiritual.  I’m so confused.

Despite the excuses difficulties, I have finally finished His Heart Aflame.  Three days after I reached this point with my first book, my husband and I decided to get a divorce.  After that, I couldn’t stand to look at the book again, and I rushed into self-publishing without any further edits.  And it showed.

I won’t make that mistake this time.  My second book is going out later this week to two trusted friends – trusted friends who are both smart and brutally honest.   My final round of edits will take place after I get their feedback, so I’m hoping to release His Heart Aflame some time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  I wish I could narrow down the exact date, but I just don’t want to promise anything that I may not deliver.

In the meantime, I plan on sharing the first chapter here in my blog, just to build some excitement.    I’ve temporarily dropped my price on Her House Divided to get it out into more hands.  And now, just because I can, I’m also going to do a little cover reveal.

His Heart Aflame 1
Well? Hot enough for ya?

Squirrel!

One of the hardest things about writing is making myself write the right things. I am easily distracted anyway; most of the time I am like the squirrel-crazed dogs in the movie Up.  But when it comes to finishing my next book, it’s a completely different kind of distraction.

I love chatting with other writers in the KDP forums.  I enjoy working with my friends at Fanfiction.net, and on a writers’ page on Facebook.  Writers are so much fun to play with!  Of course, we are also sensitive and creative people, so there is always drama.  Always.  Whether arguing about the idiot writer who called a reviewer at home and then had the audacity to accuse the reviewer of stalking, or lambasting the moron who uses a writer’s forum to whine about how hard her personal life is, there is always something going on to keep the blood pumping and the fingers flying across the keyboard.

There is my blog, which has been far more fun than I ever expected it to be.  I really never thought anyone would care about my random musings on life, the universe and Toblerone.   But every “like” is like a pat on the head, and getting my blog Freshly Pressed again has made me realize just exactly how much of an attention-whore I really am.  In some ways, I have come to enjoy blogging even more than I enjoy creating my fictional characters and stories!

But the strangest distraction is the unexplainable surge of story ideas exploding in my brain right now.  It’s as if the more I write, the more I have to write about, and I struggle every day to narrow my focus down to the one project I really have to finish.

His Heart Aflame 1 print

His Heart Aflame is the sequel to Her House Divided, and it is kicking my butt.  So many people asked about the character of Sean Jackson that I just knew he had to get his own story.  He was my favorite character anyway, and often threatened to take over Her House Divided.  I really didn’t have a choice.  In His Heart Aflame, he’s naked by Chapter Two, and rolling around on the beach with Maggie by Chapter Nine, although he does put clothes on between the two chapters.  I adore these characters, and I just can’t type fast enough to tell their story.

But somewhere in the back of my mind . . .

I still want to write a Young Adult series someday, something along the lines of The Three Investigators or Trixie Belden.  Teenagers solving mysteries and facing dangerous adventures, solving puzzles and capturing bad guys.  Something for young readers that doesn’t involve dystopian societies or vampire lovers with glittery butts.

Suddenly, I have this great idea for a mystery involving a lost family treasure and an antique pump organ like the one I inherited from my grandfather.   I look at the empty, overgrown house next door to my new home, and I just know I have to write about kids figuring out why it’s been empty all these years.  I watch a group of local kids depart for the annual bicycle trip to Mackinac Island, and almost lose my mind thinking about all of the wonderful adventures I could write about kids on a similar trip!

I think about the time-travel story I’ve wanted to write for years, or the missing-child story that popped into my brain, fully-formed, the first time I heard Peter Case wail Walk in The Woods.

There’s another project I’ve been dying to work on.  I want to write about my car accident, but with an upbeat twist to it.  I don’t want to focus on the accident itself, but on the humor that got me through the months and years that followed.  Instead of yammering on about pain and nightmares, I want to talk about taking victory laps around the living room on my walker to celebrate every time I managed to pee alone.  I want it to be inspirational, but most of all, I want it to make people smile.

A few weeks ago, I weeded through a year and a half’s worth of blogs and picked out all of the posts that I thought were the funniest.  All of the ones that made me smile when I wrote them and then again when I read them.  I put them all together into a collection and called it Have a Goode One, and put it on Amazon, where I sold exactly two copies.

One to my sister.

The other to my friend Christina.

Thanks, girls.

Last week, I formatted it for CreateSpace and sent it out into the world as a paperback.

And  . . . now, I have to tell the rest of my ideas to shut up and wait their turn.  I left Sean and Maggie naked on the beach, but he doesn’t know her secret yet.  There’s an arsonist in Beach Haven, and poor Sean still has to make the biggest decision of his life.  I just can’t leave them hanging like that.

Somewhere amidst all of that chaos, I have a job to go to, kids to take care of, a house to maintain, Toblerone to eat. Some days, I really thank God for my esspresso machine and steady supply of high-powered caffeine.

Most days, I just thank Him for this incredible chance to live the life I’ve always dreamed of.  Oh, not the part where I’m fat and divorced, with neck pain and aching feet, and bills I can’t pay.  The other part.

The part where people ask, “what do you do?” and I say, “I’m a writer.” That part.

Now, excuse me; I’ve got to get back to Sean and Maggie.

Time Flies

Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets.  You can only afford one.  Which of these do you buy, and why?

 

A time machine, of course.  No question.

I’d love to say I would be altruistic and use a time machine for the good of the world:  Save the Titanic.  Unload the Eastland before she tipped over.   Kill Hitler before he gained power.  Tell E.L. James to get out of fanfiction and write her own damn book.

You know, the kind of actions that could prevent untold human suffering.

But I’ve read enough Science Fiction to understand that altering the past like that could have terrible consequences. Besides, I think I’ve established here in my blog that I’m basically a pretty selfish person at times, so let’s just accept that I would use a time machine for my own selfish purposes.

I’d go back to Woodland Elementary and pants a little boy named Tripper.  Totally humiliate the little bastard and warn him to leave my six-year-old self alone.  While there, I might also warn Leroy Butler to stay off the monkey bars in order to avoid shattering his jaw during recess, and I’d have a nice sit-down discussion with my mother about sending me to school in home-made “Stretch-N-Sew” polyester clothes.

I’d go back and tell my high school self to stop worrying about being fat and unpopular and just enjoy herself.  I’d tell her to give up the crush on a boy named Bucky, because in thirty years he will still be with the same perky little blonde — who will still be perky and blonde (and much nicer than I ever gave her credit for).  I’d point out the skinny, geeky science nerds and hint at all of the wonderful things puberty is going to do for some of them in a few years.

I’d tell her to savor the moments with Dee, Dawn, Aaron, Dale and all the others who are going to be gone too soon.

A time machine would give me a chance to go back and tell my college-aged self that dropping out of college is the stupidest thing she will ever do in her life.  I wouldn’t tell her just how many other stupid things she is going to do, but she should know that her future will be a mess if she doesn’t get that degree.

I’d tell the young, starry-eyed bride at my wedding to dance with Dad. It’s just one song, for God’s sake.  Not for him; for her.  She needs to understand that he is a good man who did the best he could, and that he never stopped loving his daughters.  She needs to forgive him, and she needs to realize that he doesn’t have much time left.

I’d tell that same bride to keep a closer watch on her marriage and recognize when things start going bad.    Get out sooner, before they hurt each other as much.

On the subject of hurting people, I’d tell myself to name the jerky ex-boyfriend character in Her House Divided  “Lester” instead of “Randy.”  Trust me on this one.  Sorry, Randy.

I’d let the air out of all of the tires of both of our cars on June 21, 2011, so that my kids couldn’t go to Christian Fellowship that night.  Better yet, I’d make a call to the Van Buren County Road Commission a week earlier and tell them to cut down a certain half-dead maple tree on County Road 388 before it falls in a storm and hurts someone.

I’d go back and tell Doug Adams to stay off the treadmill and see a cardiologist.  Beg Kurt Vonnegut for just one more story.  Tell Jim Henson it’s not the flu; go see a doctor.

I’d tell myself to gossip less, laugh more.  Say “I love you” as much as possible, even when no one says it back.  Tell my sisters I love them, no matter what.  Both of them.  Read more books from unknown authors.  Eat less, exercise more, and don’t lose touch with old friends.  Don’t wait for the universe to drop a tree on my head to make me understand that I am loved and I matter to a lot of people.

Of course, if I did all of those things, I wouldn’t have the chance to gain wisdom from the experiences, and my present-day self wouldn’t know what to do with the time machine.  Wouldn’t have the advice and warnings to give . . . which means nothing would change.  Or everything would change. . .

I think I just understood the theory of a Moebius Strip, but only for a second.  Then it was gone and now my head hurts and I suddenly remember why I don’t write Science Fiction.

So let’s just say I would use my time machine to travel back to 1973 so I throw myself at Randolph Mantooth.  Then again, I’d be old enough to be his mother then, and I’m not sure I could pull off being a cougar.  And now my head hurts again.

Screw the electronics store.  I’ll spend my money on Toblerone and Diet Coke.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/pick-your-gadget/

Everything Has Changed

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“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.” – Goldie Hawn

 

I always wanted to be a writer. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first hero. I felt that God had given me something special; I was sure I had a gift that was going to make me a great writer someday.

I thought it was Fate.

Meant to be.

Then I grew up and realized that Fate wasn’t going to pay my bills. I took a detour that became a bigger detour, and then an even bigger detour. I got married, started a career, had a family, and decided that writing was a pipe dream. A cute little hobby. Something I might do again someday when I retired.

I barely missed it.

But Fate can be a real Bitch sometimes.

In my blog, I refer to my husband as The Big Guy because he is a tall, broad-shouldered man with a big heart and a capacity for greatness. When he became a volunteer firefighter in our small community, we very quickly became a part of the fire department family. He rose up through the ranks by doing the job well, not by campaigning or maneuvering for promotions.

So he was blindsided when small-town politics forced him to step down. He was hurt, as he should have been; those men and women were his brothers and sisters, and he felt betrayed. And while he is good at many things, forgiveness is not something he has ever mastered.

It was a bad time for everyone. We lost our friends, our extended family. He lost his sense of purpose, and I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. And in a town this small, there are always going to be rumors and ugliness when something like that happens.

Which is why I believe it was Fate that my car accident happened when and where it happened. One more mile, and I would have been in the next township. One more mile, and my life would have been in the hands of strangers, not his former “brothers.”

From underneath the maple tree, I recognized the chief’s voice right away, despite my head injury and pain. Of course I knew his voice. He’d gone through training with my husband, and they had served together for over a decade. He sounded calm, efficient, professional. The perfect chief.

When I called him by name, he got a funny look on his face.   He didn’t recognize me.

That was my first clue that it was bad.

“It’s Amy,” I told him. “Ken’s wife.”

His face changed then. He closed his eyes and lowered his head and said a few choice words that I don’t think I was supposed to hear. The calm, efficient professional fire chief was gone for a split second, and our friend –our family member – fought for control.

That was my first clue that it was really bad.

I learned later that when he turned away from me after that, he gathered his men and told them, “Everything has changed. It’s family.”

Everything has changed.

They would have saved anyone as efficiently as they saved me that night. They did their job, and they did it well. But I was their family. I was one of them, and I could see it on their faces.

One of the other guys, a Paramedic, told me later that he had been on a leave from the department while he debated quitting, but something told him to respond that night. When he saw my van with the tree on it, his first thought was, “Nobody survived that.” Then he noticed my skin tone and thought, “She’s nearly gone.” Then he looked at my face and thought, “Okay, God, I get it. I won’t quit.”

Everything has changed.

In the months following the accident, I tried to hug and thank every one of the men that responded that night. It was harder than you might think; it was nearly impossible for me to find a balance between thanking them for saving me and remembering that they hurt my husband. I didn’t want to betray him by letting them off the hook when he still hadn’t. Couldn’t.

While I healed, I started writing again. I wanted to write about what I had gone through, exorcise some of the fear and pain and sadness by using my God-given writing skills, but I just couldn’t.  Everything sounded melodramatic and overwrought. I tried to go back to my original dream of writing a Young Adult mystery series. I ended up writing fanfictions in which I put my favorite TV characters in cars and dropped trees on them.   I wrote poetry. I joined an online critic’s group and tried to feel like a writer.

Everything has changed.

I began to write a romance novel. The first thing I did was drop a tree on my heroine’s head and break her neck.

I started blogging. At first, I told funny, superficial stories about living in the country. Then I shared some more personal bits about myself. I talked about my accident, and my kids, and about losing my parents; I shared advice I had gotten from my Aunt Marian, and I even found a way to work in the phrase “whippoorwill’s ass.” I made people laugh and cry, and somewhere along the line, I started having fun again.

In an ironic twist of Fate, the Big Guy and I were falling out of love while the characters in my book were falling into love. He asked me for a divorce exactly three days after I typed “the end.”

Everything has changed.

“Her House Divided” is a dream come true for me. It is the culmination of my life’s dream of becoming a writer.  I did it; I wrote a book. I am proud of everything I put into it.

I can say that I am a writer.

And until yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to write next.   So of course, Fate just had to step in again.

Yesterday, at a time and place when I least expected it, I ended up face-to-face with the one firefighter I had not yet thanked. I hugged him, and he hugged me, and he told me about the chief’s words to his men that night: Everything has changed.

You know what?

He’s right.

Everything has changed.

I’m still a single mother and scared to death that I’m going to screw it up. I am still sad that my marriage failed, and I miss my husband. I’m scared of maple trees and thunderstorms, and I sometimes wake up screaming because I’ve seen the tree falling again in a dream.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But there are a few things I do know: I am a survivor. I am loved. I am stronger than I ever realized.

I know what to write next.

I have a story to tell, and I know how to tell it.

I’m ready to start the next chapter.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/prompt-que-sera-sera/

Kindling

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I may have just done something really stupid and impulsive.  Or something courageous and bold.  I’m not certain just yet.

Blame it on my ADHD and the poor impulse control that goes along with it.  Or blame it on my impatience or over-inflated writer’s ego.  Perhaps I just thought I needed one more thing to stress about in my already stressed-to-the-max life.

I just self-published my book through Amazon.

Let me explain.  You see, I always believed that self-publishing was a last resort for writers who weren’t good enough to publish through traditional channels.  And let’s be honest:  there are a lot of really bad self-published e-books out there that support this theory.  Books with poor plotting, clichéd characters, bad grammar and zero proofreading.  Books that make me want to weep for the literary future of our world.

But after a few glasses of wine and way too much time alone with the internet on a Saturday night, I started rationalizing.  After all, John Grisham started out by self-publishing.  So did Beatrix Potter.  No one can deny their talent, right?

Some of today’s most successful writers are self-published, I reasoned.  And while I’m no fan of E.L. James or Cassandra Clare, I have to agree that it obviously worked out very well for them.

So I poured another glass of Piesporter and read a bit more about how to publish through Kindle Direct Publishing.

I thought about one of the first bloggers I followed when I started here on WordPress.  He is undeniably talented; his books have really taken off through Amazon.   But he posted multiple updates on his blog every day, telling us about reviews and sales ranking and free promotional deals and so on until I finally stopped following him.  I was getting totally stressed out about his books.

As I moved on from Piesporter to my $4.00 bottle of Arbor Mist last Saturday night, I wondered if it would be possible to publish through Amazon and talk about it here in my blog without chasing away of any of my followers.  After all, I started blogging because I wanted to reach the point where I can make a steady living as a writer.  Isn’t my blog supposed to be part of my “platform”?

So, long story short, I played around with my computer and managed to overcome my considerable computer-ese shortcomings, and uploaded Her House Divided as a self-published Romance novel available on Kindle.  I’ve done no marketing yet, so I don’t expect huge sales.  I don’t know anything about reviews or Goodreads or any of those avenues for publicity, but I will soon.  At this point, I am still doing this as a learning experience.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working out a marketing strategy to boost sales of my book.  For right now, however, I am still trying to figure out a few formatting issues while I learn the ropes of self-publishing.

Whether I succeed or not, I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun so far.  Pretty cool seeing my name on the cover of a book.

Pretty cool, indeed.