History in the Making?

I’ve started a new Throwback Thursday segment on Facebook, one where I plan to give a little background behind each one of my books.  Last Thursday, I focused on Tangled Web and I wanted to say a little more here, first because there are probably a few of you who didn’t get a chance to read it and also because I feel like expanding on my thoughts.  And let’s face it.  Facebook doesn’t keep anything forever…but my website does!

In December 2010, I had written my tenth-ish novel.  I’m not sure; I lost count.  Yes, folks, I’ve always been a writer!  Anyway, I had quit smoking a couple years earlier using Chantix, and while that drug made it easy to quit, it also threw me into a severe depression.  It permanently altered my brain.  I’m not telling you that to make you feel sorry for me; I’m just “setting the stage.”  I was having a hard time doing anything other than what I had to, which was working two jobs (one was teaching college classes and the other was as a supervisor for an underpaid government job) and taking my kids to and from school.  Oh, and fulfilling the requirements of two part-time writing gigs I had on the side.  Oh, and a contract job.  I always forget about that one because the hours were limited—just an hour here and there, about ten a week, give or take.

But on with the story.  I was inspired to write another novel.  Let me do a little more stage setting here:  I have always been an avid reader, but I mostly read nonfiction, literary fiction (my job as an English prof demanded it at the time), and what I read for fun (other than nonfiction) included books by John Grisham, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison.  I’d heard of ebooks but hadn’t familiarized myself with the Kindle or Nook…

Yet.

Anyway, I was inspired to write another book—to add to my collection, I suppose, because even though I’d been published, I hadn’t yet had a novel picked up by a publisher.  But the call to write is strong—a compulsion, actually—and I sat down at the computer and wrote the first book I had written in four years.

Writing that damn book pulled me out of my depression.  Suddenly I was writing again.  Really writing.  Sure, I’d been writing articles for websites (and the subject matter varied widely, but often it was about grammar!) and the occasional poem or short story…but I found my big writing mojo again.  That was huge, folks.  It wasn’t difficult for me to bang out an article or a poem or even a flash fiction story, but a novel?  Yeah, that felt great.  Once more, I had the passion burning a fire in my belly so hot that I had to write.  I can’t tell you how good that felt.  But I also felt rusty.  Writing that book was hard.  Getting it from brain to computer took more effort than writing usually did for me.  It didn’t matter, though.  The story had to be told and I was doing it.

Right about that time, I was beta reading for another author friend, Stacy Gail (she has a book in the Inked anthology).  She had just been picked up by a publisher!!!  Stacy is one of those authors who has written hundreds of books and has continually honed and polished her writing.  She never stopped.  I was so excited and happy for her and I started thinking again about the big prize.  See, friends, I had been published in every other way possible (under another name, so don’t even try Googling it)—poetry (scads), short stories, articles (hundreds)—but getting a novel picked up had eluded me time and time again.  I would query publishers and often got “nice” rejections (personal ones, so you know they liked your work—it just wasn’t for them for whatever reason) but they were still rejections nonetheless.  Same with agents.

Well, Ms. Stacy happened to tell me about indie publishing phenom Amanda Hocking.  That young lady just so happened to get recognition and earn a substantial income thanks to this thing called indie publishing.  Hmm…so I started researching.

Let me interrupt here.  It’s not that I think I’m not good enough to be published traditionally.

Nope, that’s not it at all.  But any of you who have tried to go the traditional route know what a pain in the ass it is.  If you’ve ever written a detailed synopsis of your book (one where you have to tell every little thing that happens but condensed enough that a publisher/agent can read through it in five minutes or less and know every plot point of your book) or agonized for days over a query letter (I wish I was kidding), then you know what I’m going to say next.

I want to write fiction…not a sales pitch.  And, essentially, that’s what you’re doing when you’re looking for a publisher or agent.  Add to that one rejection after another (nice or not)…and you feel somewhat discouraged. 

So when I read about Hocking’s success, I decided to go for it, because I just wanted what most writers want:  to be read.  I might have been foolish enough at the time to think that most people would love my writing (I now know that’s not the case!), but how could anyone love it if they hadn’t read it?  And they couldn’t read it if I kept getting stymied by publishers.

Indie publishing, though…that was a way around it.

So, fire ignited once more, I sent my manuscript out to beta-reading friends.  Some of those folks had read my writing before; others hadn’t.  Others had but hadn’t read my, uh, steamy stuff, so they were in for a treat.  I got the FULL STEAM AHEAD message and continued my research.  I had to create a cover (and I could already see it in my mind…so here’s a little trivia for ya—the guitar and, yes, the bra on the cover of Tangled Web belong to me).  I couldn’t get the picture to look exactly the way I wanted, so hubby came to the rescue.  Okay, cover done.

Formatting…I played around with.  I started with Amazon.  I had no idea what the f*ck a mobi file was at the time.  I was quite naïve.  I had no idea how my document would look on a Kindle.  But I learned.  Oh, God, I learned.  Once exposed to ebooks, I began researching via the one-click method…and I learned that way too.  I looked at how other authors formatted their books and then made my own way.  I had no idea at the time that there were folks out there who made covers, who did formatting…none of that.  I didn’t know there were bloggers out there regularly reading and reviewing books.  Hell, I didn’t figure that one out entirely until the success of Bullet exposed me to that world.  No…

This is one you’ve heard from me time and time again—all I knew was that I now had an opportunity to put my baby out there and get it seen.  And I developed the philosophy that if I wrote it, readers would find it.  Eventually.  I had to believe in that, particularly when days were bleak…and, man, were they ever.

So how did it fare out in the land of Amazon?  Well, after clicking Publish, I set up my Facebook page and Twitter account.  I started a blog (not this one—I moved here several months later).  I continued researching and tweaking my book to make it look better.  I started researching other venues and discovered Barnes & Noble and then Smashwords (which I no longer use, although I’ve left several of my books published there).  I kept my eye on the prize, so to speak, because otherwise I might have wanted to hang it all up.

 No, that’s not true, because I didn’t know any better.  All I knew was that a couple of people were buying my book.  How many?  Well, check this out…

I published on April 17 but it went live on Amazon on April 18, 2011.  In April, I sold FIVE copies (oh, and ONE in the UK!)…six copies in all, less than one a day.  But those were six people who had never heard of me.  They were folks willing to spend a buck on an unknown author with no reviews but someone who grabbed their attention.  You six people—THANK YOU!!!  I am grateful for you!

May 2011…eight copies, US sales only.  Yep, after one and a half months, I’d sold fourteen copies total.  But guess what?  I know I’m a good writer, and I knew my audience simply had to find me.  I didn’t (and, arguably, still don’t) know sh*t about marketing, so I had to believe that they would find me.  It wasn’t until June that I began publishing on other venues, but I had no idea that Amazon truly ruled the roost when it comes to ebook sales.  That’s okay, though, because I wanted to expand to potentially be seen by other readers who wouldn’t find me on Amazon!

Sure, 14 copies in six weeks might seem discouraging…and it was, but I was working on other projects and still researching the hell out of indie publishing and learning more and applying that knowledge every damn day.

Anyway, Tangled Web was the book that started it all.  And it got a little boost a few months later when a big blogger (not mentioning names, because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like my writing) read it and gave it an okay review.  I sold 600 copies of Tangled Web in August and September, thanks to her attention.  Found a few haters (you can read the nasty reviews on Goodreads if you like), but my audience—the ones who did like my writing—was slowly finding me. 

I’d like to say the rest is history, but I’m still writing it.  Thank you, friends, for following me on this amazing journey.  Clicking that damn Publish button is not a decision I regret!

If you have never read my first baby, it’s one of my 99 cent reads.  I can hook you up here.  Just pick your poison:

Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/nvcyqun

Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/mmr4yv7

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/lurnglo

iTunes: http://bit.ly/1pl568W

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1C5Hc5o

Smashwords: http://tinyurl.com/mab64yc

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Supporting a Worthy Cause

Friends, I support a lot of charities, ones I feel strongly about. This week, I was challenged to do the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. After much thought and little time available, I have decided to donate to the charity, but I will not be doing the accompanying video nor will I call anyone out. I was going to do something a little rebellious, but anything I would say would likely be misconstrued. Let me just say that I think it’s awesome that so much money is being raised for ALS.

That said, I am currently undergoing my own struggles right now. No, I am not going to talk about them, but suffice it to say that I am having to withdraw from social media a bit. You won’t notice it at first, especially because I am currently promoting the release of Inked.  Speaking of charities and donating, all proceeds from the sales of Inked go to a worthy cause.  If you haven’t seen our statement yet, this is it:

The authors of INKED are proud to announce that all sales from the book will go to benefit women in need of mastectomy tattoos and tattoos that cover scars.  Award-winning, world-renowned tattoo artist Madame Lazonga specializes in tattooing women, particularly in beautifying women who have experienced the scars that surviving cancer can leave behind.

This art is not cheap, but it can be incredibly healing for women.  Madame Lazonga has agreed to use all proceeds from the INKED anthology to benefit women who want these types of tattoos but perhaps cannot afford all or part of the procedure.  Because our anthology revolves around tattoos and women, we couldn’t think of a better cause.

To see some of Madame Lazonga’s work, please visit her website.

In the recent past, I’ve donated to mental health, breast cancer awareness, and many other charities.  This charity, though, is so important to me for many reasons.  This book is not doing as well as I would have hoped.  I had wanted it to earn so much more than it is, so if you can help me get the word out, that would be fantastic!

Buy Links

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1q6aj2i

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1q6apa2

Amazon CA: http://amzn.to/1rr1tzY

Amazon AUS: http://bit.ly/1rr1DY3

Thanks for all your support, my friends!

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Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre Yoooooooooooooou Readddddddddddddy???

Apologies to Korn (oh…who I get to see later this month, by the way!!!).

Anyway, I wasn’t writing today’s post to brag about the next concert I’m going to.  Instead, I want to make sure you’re ready to snatch up your copy of Inked.  It’s an anthology that I’ve headed up, due to be released August 25.  We’re getting close, and I cannot wait for you to read it.  I’m excited for you to read all the stories, but I’m super excited for you to read Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed, my contribution to this collection.  I think you’re going to love it!

To whet your appetite, I want to give you a tiny taste.  Here’s chapter one of Kory and Stone’s story.  Sound like it might be something you want to read?

Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed

Chapter One

Kory McCallister sat on the brown vinyl couch in the air conditioned studio.  She pulled her thumb away from her lip once again, because that nail had already been chewed into oblivion.

So stupid.  Yeah, stupid that she was so nervous, but she couldn’t help it.  She was going to see Stone Bowman soon.  God, that man was her dream guy and he probably had no idea she even existed.

She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves.  No, she wasn’t nervous about getting pierced.  She’d done it plenty of times and, with her fear of needles, she was surprised that she’d been able to do it so many times, but it was because of Stone.  She’d entered this place two years ago and there he’d been—tall, dark, shoulder-length hair, scruff on his face, coal-dark eyes, and holy hell, more tattoos than her eyes could take in.  His neck, arms, chest (although his shirt covered most of it), and heaven knew what else.  His body was a living canvas, and Kory had fallen in love with the guy the first time she’d seen him.  He was a dream.  He was also a calming influence, part of why she thought she’d never be able to be pierced by anyone else on the planet, and she supposed that was why he was so good at his job.

He was also a hell of a tattoo artist, but Kory’s fear of needles had prevented her so many times from getting a tattoo.

No one would have ever guessed she was afraid of having a needle poke her because the girl was pierced all over—multiple eyebrow piercings, nose, lips, and her ears were pincushions.  She also had a belly ring.  She still had plenty of places to pierce, but she didn’t want to have Stone doing the honors on her nipple…not now, anyway.  She definitely didn’t want anyone else doing it, either.

She knew having Stone pierce her was a waste of his supreme talents as a tattoo artist, but he was co-owner of the shop.  She always requested him and he’d never refused.

Kory knew her friends thought she was crazy.  Earlier that day, they’d been shaking their heads at her, asking why another piercing?  Didn’t she have enough holes in her body?  And how would that work with her business major anyway?  They never listened to her counterarguments—that she could remove the piercings whenever she needed to, very little harm done, and it wasn’t like she was getting tattoos.

Of course, that was what she was working up to…but there was that fear of needles stopping her.

Silly, yes, because she was pierced.  A lot.

The needle was quick, though, and it wasn’t like getting a tattoo, where it would take hours of work with a vibrating gun.  No, instead, it was with a—well, yeah, that fucker was a big ass needle, but it was fast…at least the way Stone did it.

That was why she’d gone to get pierced in the first place—to get over that fear.  She had an irrational phobia about needles, and she was tired of saying she was a strong woman when she couldn’t even get her nose pierced.

She had thought about it for weeks and weeks and finally found the courage to march in to the shop called The Iron Maiden.  It was early evening, close to the time the shop was going to close, and she’d told the guy she wanted her nose pierced and wanted it done fast.  He had so many questions, though, and she couldn’t remember their conversation to this day.  All she could remember was his absolute beauty, inside and out, and she credited him with making needles a little less scary.

Since that day two years ago—during the summer after she graduated high school—she’d been back almost every month.  She doubted Stone even remembered who she was from one visit to the next, but his image in Kory’s head had kept her focused for years.

Truthfully, Kory knew she belonged more in that shop than she did in college, majoring in business.  With her background, she was surprised she wanted it too, but she never wanted to have to beg from anyone for anything.  When she left her foster parents’ house after graduation, she knew she had one of two paths—she could be the tough-as-nails, hard ass, bruised and destroyed burnout who worked shitty jobs or maybe became a stripper, but that would be following the path of her egg donor, and there was no way in hell she wanted to be like that woman.  The other path was the one untraveled by people of her kind.  She didn’t want to be beholden to the man, so she would become him.  She was smart enough—street smart, anyway—and her foster parents had helped her see that she had value.  She could learn whatever she needed to, so long as she applied herself.

She heard the door to the back part of the shop open.  They played the same music back there that they did in the front area where they sold the body jewelry and clothing, but hearing the music coming from that area wasn’t what tipped her off to the door opening.  No, it was Stone walking out with a satisfied customer.  Kory tried not to feel jealous, but that customer was tall, thin, and blonde, and Kory was pretty sure the woman had fake boobs to boot.

Stone was smiling and chatting with her as he led her to the counter while continuing to discuss aftercare.  She tittered, revealing overly white teeth, as she handed a silver toned credit card to the guy at the counter.  The guy—a kid named Richie—mentioned to Stone that he had another customer waiting.  Kory looked at her phone, hoping she looked distracted, as though she hadn’t a care in the world, because really she was on pins and needles waiting for him to get his ass over there.

God, he probably thought she just was a stupid kid.  She’d grown her dark hair out since the first time she’d seen him, and she knew she looked more like a woman today than she had back then.  Unlike the busty babe he’d just tatted, though, Kory’s breasts were small.  Of course, they matched her body.  She was small all over, and it just made her self-conscious.  She knew people dismissed her, so she had to make up for it with her voice and gestures.  The problem was that behavior was often at odds with how she felt inside.

She was a mess, a basket of contradictions.  That meant she’d never make a good girlfriend, would never be dating material, would—

“Hey.”  She heard Stone’s voice just a couple of feet away as her brain was considering an exit strategy.

Too late.  Besides, she could feel the butterflies freaking out in her tummy now as an eerie calm washed over her back.  “Hey.”  She looked in his eyes.  Wow.  Yeah.  This guy was the shit.

“Richie said you’re itching for another piercing.”

She swallowed.  “Uh, yeah.”  God, she felt like she could drown in his dark eyes.  She could—and she’d be content breathing in the water, filling her soul with his essence.  Kory so many times felt like she didn’t belong anywhere—nowhere on the planet—but she could see herself finding peace in his eyes.

Now, though, his gaze unnerved her.  It wasn’t like it was in her fantasies.  There they had an easy relationship.  In real life, though, he was just a hot guy and she was merely his customer.  His annoying punctured, slightly stalkerish customer who needed an excuse to be touched by him once more.

He tilted his head toward the door to the back, indicating that he was going to lead her behind the glass door.  She stood, her legs a little wobbly, and she couldn’t help but focus on his hand as he grabbed the handle.  Fuck.  Those tattoos all over his hand made her feel warm between her legs.  If he knew what seeing him did to her, he’d be kicking her ass out and filing a restraining order.

Jesus.

She was so absorbed in her warm thoughts that she almost missed what he asked.  She forced herself to focus so she could remember the words that had just come out of his mouth.  Oh, what she wanted pierced.  Yeah.  She gulped again, walking through the door toward the back while he held it open, and said, “Tragus.”

He half smiled and nodded.  “Right or left?”

She hadn’t thought about it, really.  No way would she get them both done—not now.  It would give her another excuse to visit if she only got one.  She turned around, pulling hair behind her ears on both sides.  “I don’t know.  What do you think?”

He shrugged.  “I think it would look okay on either side.”  They stopped near an alcove where a cushioned table butted up against a wall, almost like a doctor’s office.  She knew the drill and hopped up before Stone could say a word.  He opened a drawer and started getting out supplies and set them next to the piece of jewelry Kory had chosen long before he had been involved.  “Do you have a preference?”

No, not really.  She just wanted his hands on her again.  She would never say that, though.  “Hmm.  Maybe balance.  You know—even me out?”

He didn’t even look up from what he was doing.  “So on the right then?”

Wow.  He remembered that she had more holes on the left than the right.  Part of that was because of the industrial she had in the right ear, and she’d never bothered to put other piercings in the gap above where the bar went through.  That was good, though, because it gave her plenty of options for later…until he realized she had a problem and refused to continue piercing her.

She wasn’t a freak, though.  She knew plenty of people who were crazy pierced—the ones who had to have surgery to be pierced through bone, and even some of the extreme ear stretchers, something Kory couldn’t quite get into…those were the ones who had a problem.

Sure, she did too, but it had nothing to do with being addicted to body modification.  It was an addiction for the man doing the work.

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

He turned around and wiped with alcohol the tiny area where the tragus piercing would go.  She couldn’t help but look at his face.  He was right there and he was close, and it was at that moment that Kory realized that she probably trusted this man more than she trusted anyone else.  Why?  Because he had, multiple times, had her well being in his hands and, while piercings stung, he’d never injured her. 

God, he was gorgeous.  Kory loved how the colorful tattoos crept up his neck.  If he would have decided to grow out his beard, it would have covered the tops of them.  More than that, though, she loved the tattoos on his hands.  The ones on his arms crawled down the backs of his hands, and he also had letters on his fingers.  One hand had the letters P-A-I-N on the knuckles and the other had the letters F-U-C-K.  Kory was pretty sure it was a statement—fuck pain—which was appropriate for a guy who tattooed and pierced others for a living.  Kory knew he wasn’t pierced much, at least where her eyes could see.  He had slightly stretched piercings in his ears and Kory could tell he used to have snakebites that he had since allowed to close up.  She bet those had been sexy.

If Kory were the blushing kind, her cheeks would have turned pink when she started wondering if maybe he was pierced in places she could only imagine.

The alcohol felt cool against her skin and he turned away from her to grab his needle.  She bit her lip and looked ahead, swallowing.  “You gonna close your eyes?”

She grinned and glanced up at him.  That meant he did remember her, because she always had to close her eyes.  That was okay, though, because she could feel his body heat close to her, assuring her through the pain that it was going to be all right.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Wanna add the anthology to your Goodreads TBR?  You can here: Inked

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All Good Things Must Come to an End–BUT NOT YET!

It seems as though every time I mention I am working on another Bullet book or when someone is reminiscing about one of the older ones, many readers are surprised.  They have no idea that I have plans for more Bullet books, even though I haven’t kept it secret.  J  I said on Facebook last week in a post that I should probably announce it ad nauseum until people get tired of hearing it.

I think by now most of my closest followers know, but if not, here’s hoping this blog post will be an announcement of sorts.  So, for the record…

THE BULLET SERIES IS NOT DONE.

Nope.  Not by a long shot.  Let me go ahead and let you know what you can look forward to:

4.5 Christmas Stalkings – a novella that will be out late this year as part of an anthology.  The blurb:  Val, Brad, and the kids decide to take a short but needed winter vacation to get away from it all and enjoy each other’s company, but one thing is stopping them from relaxing like they should.  Since fronting her new band Val Hella, Val has discovered the darker side of fame—she has a stalker, one who seems intent upon stepping up his game to get what he wants, and the ruin of their vacation becomes the least of their worries.

5 Slash and Burn – This is going to be Nick’s story.  I had really hoped to write it this year, but time is getting away from me.  I still have three to four other projects I need to finish before getting to this one, and since it’s August already, I’m thinking this one won’t be ready until 2015.  The good news, though, is that you have a little something before then.  If you want a hint about his book, Nick plays drums for Val’s new band Val Hella (both he and Brad are in the band as a side project).  The bassist for the band is a woman who not only plays both sides of the fence but has captured Nick’s heart in a big way.  This one is going to be angsty.  There will be no mistaking the Bullet vibe.

6 Untitled – I still have a story for Zane; I just don’t have a title yet.  Do you remember Jennifer from Bullet, Val’s roommate and Zane’s on-again, off-again girlfriend?  Well, they hook up again, but she has a little secret she’s been keeping from him.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Again, I’m amazed at how many people do not know this news—I will also be writing a Feverish spinoff. Here is what I have planned so far:

1.5 Boiling Point – a novella.  So many readers begged for more Clay and Emily, and so I will be launching this series with a novella about Last Five Seconds on tour.  Emily goes along for the ride and gets to experience the ups and downs of touring life.

2 Untitled – Brian’s story.  So many readers fell in love with his character in Feverish and I’ve been told they want his story first!

3 Untitled – Silver’s story.  He’s the drummer of the band.

Aaaand I’m pretty sure I will be writing a fourth book as well.  Even though Devil (AKA Sam, Last Five Seconds’ lead singer) has had a steady girlfriend doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a story.

So, if you’ve been tempted to tell me how sad you are that the Bullet series is over, don’t.  We have a long way to go.  None of my series have ended yet.  Everything comes to an end eventually, but not yet!  And I’m sorry you’re having to wait, but so many other stories in my head are demanding to be let out.  Just know that these books will get written.  It’s just a matter of when!

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I’m Touched

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—my writing is not for everyone, just as I don’t like everything I read.  What a boring planet this would be if we all liked the same things.  That’s not a bad thing.  I even understand that some folks who like some of my books don’t like all of them, and I experienced a lot of dislike the last two weeks regarding Finger Bang.

That’s okay.  Life goes on.

One thing that I can’t just sit back and listen to, though, is reading comments from readers who seem to think they know everything.  A couple of reviewers commented that the character Kaylee was unrealistic because she had never masturbated.  Well, true to form, I got pissed and ranted on my Facebook page, because, growing up, I was very much like Kaylee.  I grew up in a strict religious household where masturbation and premarital sex were frowned upon.  So guess what?

I didn’t.

And I confessed that on my page, much to my husband’s horror.  ;)   But you know what?  The outpouring of comments from readers was beyond amazing.  It turns out that I was not the only woman who’d never touched herself.  I’m not judging either way, and I hope that’s evident from the first chapter (and more) in the book.  Kaylee’s friends are open, modern women who are more than content to explore their sexuality and even talk about it.

I think (although I have no evidence for it) that the women who find it hard to believe are those who weren’t raised in a religious household where you’ve grown up believing in the very real possibility of hell and that you’ll be going there if you sin.  The problem is that masturbation, while not considered sin outright, is frowned upon because of a perceived lack of control over one’s body “temple,” and it is an unspoken rule that one will not touch oneself.  Premarital sex is a big no-no, but not quite as bad if you’re engaged.  Don’t ask.  So, yes, this environment is conducive to sexual repression and frustration big time.  I often wonder if that’s why I write what I do today.  Maybe it’s the natural outcome of being in that environment.

But I felt the need to share the evidence.  See, those people dogging me are just spouting off at the mouth, assuming knowledge they don’t have.  An article entitled “How Common is Masturbation, Really?” in Psychology Today offers evidence to my argument, stating, “Masturbation is considerably less prevalent than many people believe.”  It also mentions that younger women are less likely to engage in the practice, as well as (surprise, surprise) women from religious backgrounds.

So…I’m not changing what I write any time soon.  I suspect that if you’re on my website reading this, you might be glad to read that.

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A Matter of Perspective

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had readers complain (well, maybe not complain, but voice their opinions) about a specific point of view I’ve used in a book.  For the hell of it, let me tell you a few of those opinions, but then I’ll tell you why I’ve chosen the POVs I have for the books I’ve written.

One reader gave one of the Bullet books a one-star rating because the first book (Bullet) was first person from Valerie’s perspective.  In case you didn’t know, Rock Bottom and Feverish are third person dual perspective and Fully Automatic is third person from Brad’s perspective.  This reader was pissed because, she said, if I wrote the first book in first person, they should all be written in first person, because that was the only kind of book she could get into.  I think she even said that maybe that one-star rating would teach me to stick with first person.  Nope.  ‘Fraid it didn’t.  It just pissed me off that she didn’t give the book a fair chance and then lashed out at me to boot.

Most readers are far more kind.  One reader lamented that Be Careful What You Wish For was first person perspective from Jessica’s POV, and she really wanted to read Kage’s side.  She wanted to know what was going on in his head at this point or that point.  Another reader recently said she’d love (down the road) to know what Sean is thinking in the Nicki books.  I completely understand wanting to know what other characters are dealing with, which is the main reason I chose to write Fully Automatic.

Let’s talk about point of view.  Sometimes I choose a particular point of view because it’s easier for me to get into it as a writer (Then Kiss Me is the perfect example.  I don’t think I could have written that book any other way).  Most times, though, the POV serves the story.  Let me explain a few of my choices, in case you were curious.  It is not something I take lightly, as I feel POV serves the story.

  • Bullet I wrote as first-person perspective, because I wanted readers to feel close to Val.  I wanted them to really feel like they were part of the story, and oftentimes I think first-person perspective accomplishes that mission better than third-person (although close third-person, when done right, can do the same thing).  I don’t think I was one-hundred percent successful, though, because many readers hated Val, thought she made poor choices, didn’t understand why she stayed with Ethan, etc.  I also hoped that her age would explain a lot of that, but…you can’t please everyone, right?  I still stand by my choice, though.  I don’t think Bullet would have been as powerful if told from third person POV.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For.  This book too I wrote from that POV, because I was dealing with very delicate subject matter, one that readers would dismiss and be angry about right off the bat (cheating).  I knew going in that the only way to get readers to be on Jessica’s side was to help them understand first her desperation and second the deep connection she felt for Kage.  Then, once the story is well underway, Jessica feels deep doubts, and she fears that Kage might be cheating on her.  I wanted you as the reader to wonder it too and to have your suspicions.  If you could see inside Kage’s head with dual-person perspective, you would have known exactly what he was thinking and doing and then there would have been no suspense.  Makes sense, right?  I wanted to explore the notion of trust as well as show how history and a little doubt can absolutely poison a relationship.  I don’t think it would have worked as well if you’d known exactly what Kage was thinking and feeling and doing.  I could have, I suppose, written it from third-person POV, sticking solely with Jessica’s perspective, but again—first person just felt right.  I wanted you inside her head, and I think that was a good choice.  I know…not everyone will agree with me.  But know this—“hiding” information from readers can help build tension, doubt, mystery, and intrigue and, many times, that’s why I do it.
  • Fully Automatic I wrote because so many readers begged to know Brad’s story.  What was he thinking?  What was he feeling?  I didn’t want to just write a retelling, though, so I gave a lot of his back story and also focused more on what Brad was doing outside the Bullet story.  You still saw his POV on things that happened in Bullet, of course.  There was no way to avoid that and, really, what the hell kind of book would it have been if none of the story was present in Brad’s POV?  Needless to say, I still got a few complaints.  This time readers said it was merely a retelling of Bullet.  Yeah, I had to bite my tongue a few times.  I need to continue reminding myself that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and not everyone is going to like every book I write.

I will probably never write from various other perspectives simply because I find it confusing as a reader.  For example, I’ve read a couple of books told in first-person but from dual perspectives.  I’ve found that quite confusing.  You all know I have a hard enough time writing from the male perspective anyway.  I don’t dare throw first person into the mix, no matter how compelling it may feel.  I have—in my deep, dark past—written in omniscient third-person POV, but it seems too cold and distant for my type of writing.  Even when I write third-person, I like to hover close to my characters, if that makes any sense.  I want you in their heads and hearts.

And, speaking of, I have a book I need to finish writing.  Happy reading! :)

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Another Milestone

Holy crap!  My Facebook page just hit 8000 Likes.  I am blown away.  What blows me away more, though, is the amazing response I received from my author and blogger friends when I asked for donations to my celebration giveaway.  I am humbled and honored that they would be so generous.

I’ve set this giveaway up a little differently from past ones.  This time I’ve divvied up the prizes into four packs, so there will be four winners of lots of stuff.  Here are all the prizes:

International Prize Pack #1

  • Signed Jade C. Jamison book of winner’s choice
  • Jade C. Jamison swag pack
  • Any five Jade C. Jamison ebooks of winner’s choice
  • Ebook: Giving In (The Shore Series #1) – M.R. Joseph
  • Smashwords copy of CD Gorri’s Wolf Moon and two copies for friends, courtesy of Trina’s Tantilising Tidbits
  • Any Daryl Banner ebook, winner’s choice
  • Ebook:  Her Ride – Rachael Orman
  • Ebook:  On My Knees – Meredith Wild
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of BJ’s Book Blog
  • $5 Amazon (or similar) gift card, courtesy of Lisa Salvary/PR Mktg Sales Blog
  • Ebooks:  Naughty Nookie Series: Fall Into Love and two ebooks for friends, Naughty Nookie Series:  Mona and Naughty Nookie Series:  A Bitch in Time – Serena Akeroyd
  • Ebooks:  Forbidden and Closure – Angela Ford, courtesy of Zee Books Blog
  • Ebook:  Faint Heart – Lizzie Ashworth
  • Ebook:  Forgive Us Our Trespasses – M.L. Steinbrunn
  • $10 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Elizabeth Hayes & Ashlee Taylor
  • Any ebook from Liz Crowe’s backlist, winner’s choice
  • $3.99 ebook of choice, courtesy of author Kathy Coopmans
  • Ebook: Apocalypse Anthology, courtesy of Cynthia Shepp
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Submit and Devour
  • Any 2 ebooks from J.M. Walker’s backlist, winner’s choice
  • Ebook:  Out of the Ashes – S.M. Lynn

International Prize Pack #2

  • Any four Jade C. Jamison ebooks of winner’s choice
  • Ebooks:  The Saving Angels Series (Marigny Street, Red Dirt Road, and Lotus Blossom Lane) – Annie Rose Welch
  • Any Lori L. Clark ebook, winner’s choice
  • Ebook:  Blood Wolf – Helen Hardt
  • Ebooks:  Intentional and Unintentional – MK Harkins
  • Ebook:  Frostbitten World – CS Patra
  • Ebooks:  Marking Her and Marking Him – Elena Reyes
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Panty Dropping Book Blog
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Escape to Bookland
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Rosie’s Book Heaven
  • Erotic Romance Swag Pack, courtesy of Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads
  • Ebook set of Rock Star Romance Trilogy (Sophie’s Turn, Sophie’s Run, and Sophie’s Encore) – Nicky Wells
  • Smashwords copy of CD Gorri’s Wolf Moon and one copy for a friend, courtesy of Trina’s Tantilising Tidbits
  • Ebooks:  Naughty Nookie Series: Marina and ebook for a friend, Naughty Nookie Series:  Mona & Marina – Serena Akeroyd
  • $3.99 ebook of choice, courtesy of author TwinsieTalk Book Blog
  • Ebook: Paranormal Anthology with a Twist, courtesy of Cynthia Shepp
  • Ebook: Wedding Dreams – Savannah Leigh/JA Hensley
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of D.J. Pierson
  • Any Daryl Banner ebook, winner’s choice

US Only Prize Pack #1

  • Signed Jade C. Jamison book of winner’s choice
  • Jade C. Jamison swag pack
  • Any three Jade C. Jamison ebooks of winner’s choice
  • $5 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Perusing Princesses
  • $2.99 Amazon ebook of choice, courtesy of Crazy Daisy Book Whore
  • Smashwords copy of CD Gorri’s Wolf Moon and two copies for friends, courtesy of Trina’s Tantilising Tidbits
  • Ebook, Kindle only:  Saving Amy – S.M. Harshell
  • Any ebook of winner’s choice, up to $10 value, courtesy of Booze, Bookz, and Bad Boyz
  • Blog and random author swag, courtesy of Livin Simple Promotions
  • Any Daryl Banner ebook of winner’s choice
  • Ebook:  Project Lexi – Lisa Survillas
  • Ebooks:  Naughty Nookie Series: Fall Into Love and two ebooks for friends, Naughty Nookie Series:  Mona and Naughty Nookie Series:  A Bitch in Time – Serena Akeroyd
  • $20 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Ramblings From Beneath the Sheets
  • Signed paperback:  Return To Newport – AL Parks
  • Miscellaneous swag from Austin Book Bash, courtesy of My Smut Hut
  • Ebooks:  Intentional and Unintentional – MK Harkins
  • Ebook: Stalkers: A Collection of Thriller Stories, courtesy of Cynthia Shepp
  • Any ebook, winner’s choice, up to $1.99 value, courtesy of Words Turn Me On

US Only Prize Pack #2

  • Any Jade C. Jamison ebook of winner’s choice
  • $1.99 Amazon ebook of choice, courtesy of Crazy Daisy Book Whore
  • Smashwords copy of CD Gorri’s Wolf Moon and one copy for a friend, courtesy of Trina’s Tantilising Tidbits
  • Ebook, Kindle only:  Saving Amy – S.M. Harshell
  • $20 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Kylie the Bookaholick
  • Any Daryl Banner ebook, winner’s choice
  • Any ebook, winner’s choice, up to $1.99 value, courtesy of Book Worms
  • Ebook:  Forgive Us Our Trespasses – M.L. Steinbrunn
  • Nerd Alert swag pack
  • Ebook:  Out of the Ashes – S.M. Lynn
  • Ebooks:  Intentional and Unintentional – MK Harkins
  • $5 Amazon gift card and Book Bash swag, courtesy of Jennifer’s Book Obsession
  • Ebook:  Frostbitten World – CS Patra
  • Ebooks:  Naughty Nookie Series: Marina and ebook for a friend, Naughty Nookie Series:  Mona & Marina – Serena Akeroyd
  • Signed postcard of The Power of Love – Ada Marie
  • Ebook: Stardust: A Futuristic Romance Collection, courtesy of Cynthia Shepp

The giveaway begins tomorrow night at midnight Eastern time.  Thank you, my friends, for taking this journey with me!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Stop the Madness! No, Don’t!

Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.  I’ve done that this year—big time.  It’s all good, but I’m feeling a little stressed and wonder if I should spend more time marketing myself and less time writing.  The problem is I only want to write.  Yes, I also want to interact with readers, but I absolutely hate the marketing aspect of writing.

Ah, well.  For now, I’m not going to worry about that.  I’m going to write.  And here’s what’s on the horizon…

  • Substitute Boyfriend.  This story will be in the anthology Hot Summer Nights, coming out August 3.  I’m still waiting for beta notes from one more reader, and then after polishing it up, I have to ship it off to the powers that be.  I’m proud to be in this anthology with these other awesome writers:  Abbie St.  Claire, Avery Claire, Courtney Cross, Geri Foster, JW Phillips, Kelly Collins, Kimmie Easley, Lacey Davis, and Rachael Orman.  I’ve truly enjoyed working with these ladies, and I can’t wait for you to read this collection of HOT stories. 

Substitute Boyfriend is the story of Elizabeth Slade, a college English teacher who moonlights as an indie erotica author.  She struggles with writing sex scenes until she finds hot guy Ridley who helps her act them out as her pretend boyfriend.  When she catches him getting cozy with another woman, she turns to her best friend Roman who becomes a substitute for Ridley, and then she finds herself having to choose between the two.

  • Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed is a story that you’ll be able to read in the Inked anthology.  I and four great writer friends (JM Walker, Stacy Gail, K. Pinson, and Scarlett Metal) are all penning stories that center around all things tattooed.  I’m almost halfway through writing this story, and I’m the one who set the deadline of first drafts due July 10.  Let’s see if I can write 30,000 words in four days.  That would be a personal best.  Hell, at this rate, I’ll be very happy if I can get ‘er done in the next seven days.  That would still be close to target, close enough for everything else to fall neatly into place.

Punctured is Kory’s story.  She’s lusted after hot tattoo artist Stone for a while now, and—on a dare—she asks him out on a date.  He’s hiding a secret, but so is she.  Could her secret ruin their relationship before it starts?  Before I began writing this story, I thought it was going to be lighthearted and fun, but HOLY SHIT.  It’s dark.  It’s sweet, sure, but I didn’t know I was going to be wading in dark territory until I got there.

Here’s what’s coming up, and damn…I’d love to be able to do all of this before 2014 is over, but we shall see.  Please cross your fingers for me.

  • Secret Project #1—a short story for a collection for a book signing event.  This one has to be done soon.  You will see this at some point.  It will probably involve characters from Bullet, but I haven’t decided yet.
  • Secret Project #2—a Christmas anthology I’ve been invited to be a part of.  I have no f*cking idea what I’m writing for this yet, but it has to come after, because it’s due early October.
  • Seal All Exits—I’ve got to get this written before someone pulls an Annie Wilkes on me.  It’s Heather and Keifer’s story (Tangled Web #3), and it too is darker than I’d at first anticipated.  I’ve already bought a blog tour package for this baby, so I just need to get my ass in gear and finish writing it!
  • Boiling Point—This is going to be Feverish 1.5, a novella that will launch the Feverish series.  It will focus on Clay and Emily when Last Five Seconds goes on tour.
  • Slash and Burn—This is Nick’s story, Bullet #5, and the plot is entirely hammered out in my head.  I cannot wait to start writing this one.
  • Savage—This is a zombie story.  Yes, a zombie story, but also a story of nostalgia, of regrets, of longing and fear.  This one’s been brewing for a while and I’m still working out all the details, but I think it’s gonna be good.  Yes, there will also be sex, but not sex with zombies.  *Whew*
  • Another story for Pink Shades of Words, volume 2.  I have to get that done late this year too for publication in early 2015.

Yeah…that’s what I want to finish this year.  I’ve already got some things slated for early 2015—Nicki Sosebee #10, Lies, and that too is mostly plotted in my head.  Also another anthology and my story will revolve around a firefighter.  Man, is it getting hot in here?

Okay, so after writing this, I’m thinking I just wasted so much time writing about my plans when I could have been writing a story.  Just kidding.  If you see a little less of me on social networks, that’s why.  I’m feeling the pressure and I have a lot on my plate.  I’ve been known in the past to write about a book a month, so if I can manage that, I might be able to meet all these deadlines.  Please cross your fingers for me.  ;)

Posted in Various Musings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Free Read for You!

Some of you know I contributed a short story to the anthology Pink Shades of Words. I was proud to be part of that. I and sixteen other authors donated to this project to help raise funds for breast cancer research in the name of the Fifty Shades of Pink Avon Breast Cancer Team. It was on sale from February through May 2014, and now the rights to the story have reverted back to me. I might throw it in a collection someday but, for now, for those of you who missed picking up the anthology, here is the story that was my contribution to the cause.

Final Stage

Ruth Manning had always tried to live her life by following all the rules.  She had been, for the most part, a dutiful wife, mother, daughter, and employee.  Save for a few minor slip-ups along the way, she had succeeded, which is why her boss found her behavior so unorthodox that Friday afternoon in October.

Ruth tapped on the big wooden door just enough to get Mr. Potter’s attention.  She heard his baritone voice answer, “Come in,” and she turned the doorknob, entering one slow step at a time.

Mr. Potter was working on some papers at his desk.  His hand, still holding the pen, rested on the side of his head where his hair was starting to thin and his scalp had started peeking through.  Ruth cleared her throat, being as quiet as she could.  Mr. Potter raised his eyebrows, impatiently urging Ruth to speak.

“Mr. Potter, I’d like to take next week off.”

His eyebrows slowly furrowed.  “Ruth, you know company policy states that you must give me one week’s notice before requesting more than a day off.”

“I’m aware of that, sir.  But I really need to take some time…for myself.”

Mr. Potter looked down at his report.  In the twenty years he had known Ruth, she had never made outrageous requests for time off.  He took a deep breath and asked, “Is there something going on that you’d like to talk about?”  He suspected that maybe she was getting a divorce or visiting her daughter out of state who desperately needed her mother.

She pursed her lips.  She knew she should give him a reason, but she wasn’t ready to talk about it.  “I just need some time, sir.”

Mr. Potter knew Ruth had more than two weeks of vacation time saved up.  He sighed.  “All right.  Take the week.”

“Thank you,” she said, handing him the piece of paper recording her request for leave.

Mr. Potter signed the appropriate place on the form and handed it back to Ruth.  “Just be sure to give me more notice next time, and don’t tell anyone else about this.  If it gets out that you receive special favors, then everyone else will expect them.”

She nodded.  “Thank you, Mr. Potter.”  She knew there would be no next time.  She left work at the end of the day, still looking sharp in her professional suit, a slate gray jacket and skirt that she wore with a white blouse and sensible low-heeled shoes.  Today felt like a normal day, but it was not.  Ruth felt grateful that Mr. Potter hadn’t remembered she’d been gone yesterday afternoon for a doctor’s appointment or he might have asked more questions that she wasn’t ready to answer.

At home that weekend, she pretended everything was normal.  It wasn’t difficult because Jim was absorbed in football—both pro and college—constantly flipping channels from one game to the next, occasionally getting up to grab a sandwich, a soda, or go to the bathroom.  She spent most of her time in the sunroom, tending to her plants and trying not to remember.

“Ruth, you have Inflammatory Breast Cancer.”

 The words she tried to ignore echoed in her ears.  Other words like “metastasized” and “stage four” kept the rhythm going, and finally she went for a long walk, hoping to clear her head.  The walk around the neighborhood didn’t help, though, and when she walked in the front door, she simply stared at herself in the mirror near the front door in the entryway.  She looked healthy.  Her blue eyes were still clear and bright; her skin, though it had more lines every year, still looked vibrant and smooth with only a few spots that were easily hidden under her pale foundation; her hair, though gray and wiry, still appeared bright and shiny.  Her mouth drew down into a frown, her nose red from the cool air of the walk. 

She turned away from the mirror, unable to look at herself anymore.  She couldn’t believe the doctor knew what he was talking about.  Surely he had confused her results with someone else’s and his office would call next week, his nurse laughing sheepishly that they had made such a stupid mistake.

* * *

On Monday morning she got out of bed and got ready, even though she wasn’t going to work.  She hadn’t told Jim that she’d taken the week off.  She didn’t want to tell him what the doctor had said.  She wasn’t ready yet.

Their morning routine went just like any other morning.  She arose before he did and took her shower.  By the time he got up, she was already in the kitchen.  They exchanged good morninggreetings and he poured a cup of coffee, then sat at the table, glancing through the newspaper.  She sat next to him, jotting down her regular “to do” list, but her “to dos” today were just for show.  She didn’t really intend to buy milk on the way home or return the shoes she’d bought two weeks ago that didn’t fit properly.  “Hmm,” he muttered.  “Looks like City Council finally authorized the downtown road repair.  You might have to take a different route to work starting next month.”

“Oh,” she nodded, knowing he would need no more response than that.  She finished her coffee and rinsed the cup, placing it in the dishwasher as Jim folded his paper and left it beside his cup on the table.

He rose and kissed her on the cheek.  “See you tonight,” he said and walked out the door.

She took his cup and plate from the table, rinsed and put them in the dishwasher, and sighed.  She turned off the light, grabbed her purse, and walked out the door, locking it as she left.  She watched Jim’s black sedan drive down the street as she got into her blue one and backed out of the driveway.

She started driving her regular route to work, realizing that it would be pretty stupid to eat up a week of vacation; she’d been saving up her time, hoping to talk Jim into taking a Caribbean cruise next summer.  She’d always wanted to be on a big ship in the ocean—she loved the smell of the salty air, the warm breeze, the sun shining brightly without a shadow to cast down on her.  She imagined a week spent doing nothing—traveling to various ports, maybe catching a show, swimming in the afternoon, gambling a little, eating well.  Now, though, she might never have the chance.

It was stupid—she had the maximum amount of sick leave she could accrue—one hundred and fifty days and not an hour more.  But taking sick leave would mean she was sick, and she refused to believe she was.

Instead of turning off the highway and heading toward the drab brick county building as she would have any other workday, she kept driving north, finally taking a turnoff five exits down the road.

“Call me on Monday so we can schedule your chemotherapy and set a potential date for your surgery.”

Surgery?  She’d never had surgery before—not for gall bladder problems (like her mother had), not for appendix problems (like her daughter Mary Anne), not for hernia problems (like Jim); not for a hysterectomy (like her sister); she’d never even had a c-section when her children were born.  But this surgery was just the beginning.

“Ruth, what you have is rare.  It’s treatable, but we’re looking at surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  You’re still young enough and healthy enough to withstand with rigors of…” 

Chemotherapy and radiation would mean it was real.  She wasn’t ready for it to be real.

She’d never gone to the mall during the week, so she wasn’t sure what time the doors opened.  She sat in her car waiting, leaving the engine running with the heater on.  The warmth on her toes helped her relax some, but she gripped the wheel, her face turning down in a grimace.  “How can I be dying when it feels like I haven’t even lived?”  She shook her head and rested it on the steering wheel.

* * *

She and Jim lay quietly in bed.  His larger hand was holding her smaller, seemingly fragile one, and her soft brown hair spread out over his firm chest, her head resting in the crook of his arm.  His voice was soft and gentle.

“Where should we live when we get married?” he asked.

She interlaced her fingers through his and batted her eyelashes, trying to stay awake.  “I thought we would live here, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know.  There aren’t many job opportunities here.  Not much chance of being a stable breadwinner for our family.”

She sighed, stirring under the warm covers but reluctant to sit up.  “Where do you want to live?”

He cleared his throat, and she heard a seriousness in his voice that she hadn’t heard before.  “I was thinking of enlisting in the army.”

Her eyes widened and she sat up, holding the sheet to her chest.  “The army?  Do you want to get yourself killed?”

“People are talking draft, Ruth.  Would you rather I enlist freely or be drafted and sent to Vietnam?”

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, not wanting to look at him.  She loved him so much; she didn’t want to think that he could fly overseas and die.  She felt his warm hands on her shoulders, and she looked over and met his brown eyes.  “I don’t want you to get killed.”

His full lips turned slightly up, almost into a smile.  “I’m not going to have a choice.  And I’ve done my research.  The army will help me care for you and our family.”

She knew she couldn’t argue.  She loved Jim and would marry him, follow him anywhere he took her.

She bent over and picked up her dress off the floor.  Her parents would be expecting her soon.  She hurriedly dressed and let him kiss her sweetly before wrapping up tightly in her wool coat.  “Let me drive you home.”

“Jim, you’d better not.  Then they’d know.”

“They’re going to find out soon enough.”  He grinned, his brown eyes flashing.  “Or would you rather elope?”

She playfully slapped his arm.  “I guess I’d better talk to them.”  She slipped her feet in her shoes.  “You can drop me off a block away from home, okay?”

But she hadn’t noticed until they got outside that the snow had started coming down heavily; her breath flew out of her mouth like smoke, and she realized the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees since she’d come over.  The snow quickly accumulated on her shoulders as she waited for Jim to unlock the car door.  She stepped in, shuddering the whole mile to her house.  Jim had turned the heater on, but it was blowing cold air on her feet.

Jim didn’t stop a block away but pulled right in front of her two-story white house.  All the lights were on.  She knew that meant that everyone else was home from various activities and ready to sit down to dinner.  Jim leaned over toward her in the seat.  “You sure you don’t want me to come in?  No better time than the present to ask your parents…”

Ruth sighed.  He was right.  She’d put it off long enough.  She was a senior in high school and would turn eighteen right before graduating; she would soon be an adult.  Her parents knew she and Jim went out to the movies every weekend.  They just didn’t know she spent a couple of hours with him every afternoon.  “How about on Saturday?  They’ll be expecting you then.”

He nodded and smiled.  “Okay.”

She kissed him one last time before rushing up the sidewalk, sliding, almost skating, so that she wouldn’t slip and fall.  She heard his car slowly pull back onto the street as she walked in the front door.  She hurried to the dining room where her parents, sister, and three brothers sat already eating.  Her mother stood.  “Ruth, I’m glad you’re here.  Why don’t you help me with dessert?”

Ruth, flushed and barely warming up, met downcast eyes from the family except from her father, whose eyes seemed cold but communicated nothing.  Her mother clipped to the kitchen, and Ruth hustled around the table to catch up.  Her mother got some strawberries and whipped topping out of the refrigerator; Ruth grabbed dessert plates out of the cabinet.  She said nothing.

Her mother placed shortcakes on each plate before finally saying, “Ruth, have you been over at Jimmy Manning’s house every day after school this whole year?”

Ruth’s pupils widened.  “Um, yes.”

Her mother cleared her throat, grabbing several spoons from the silverware drawer.  “And what exactly have you been doing for two or three hours every afternoon after school?”

Ruth drew in a deep breath.  She paused, then finally said, “Talking.”

Her mother began spooning the dripping strawberries carefully onto each cake.  “Talking.  About what?”

Ruth felt the muscles in her shoulders tense.  “Marriage.”

Her mother gently laid the spoon back in the strawberry mixture.  She looked at Ruth and inhaled deeply.  “Ruth, you haven’t finished school yet.  What makes you think you’re ready for marriage?”

“I love him, mom.”

Her mother picked up the spoon again.  “How can you be so sure?”

“I just know.”

Her mother finished putting the strawberries on the cakes and reached for the whipped topping.  Ruth saw her jaw clench.  She didn’t look at Ruth as she dropped a large dollop of topping over each cake oozing with strawberries.  She said, “I certainly hope the two of you have not fornicated.  You know what the Good Book says about that.”  Ruth remained silent.  “A sin is a sin, Ruth.”  Her mother set the spoon down and began placing the lids back on the strawberries and topping.  “I suppose if you have, then you’d better marry that boy.  Better than burning in a lake of fire.”

Ruth could barely sleep that night, but she knew she’d made the right decision about marrying Jim.  She would wear white, and no one would know any better….

* * *

The foot traffic in the mall was light and quiet.  Only a few shoppers roamed around, and Ruth walked quietly, listening to the soft clicks of women in heels and jazzy music lilting in the echoing cavern of the mall.  She smelled the faint sweet odor of caramel popcorn and thought of finding the shop peddling it, but she didn’t look very hard.  She wandered in and out of clothing stores, halfheartedly pushing blouses aside but buying nothing.  Finally, she sat on a large carved wooden bench in the middle of the walkway, surrounded by rubber plants.  She looked up at the bright skylight above her as her thoughts drifted back, a tear slowly falling down her cheek.

She remembered raising babies as an army wife while she and Jim slowly drifted apart.  Jim had told her he loved her, but he didn’t seem to like her very much.  He spent a lot of time away, and when Jimmy Jr. and Mary Anne went to high school, Ruth found herself wondering what to do.  She’d never gone to college, never pursued a career.  She felt fairly useless.  Her children no longer needed her help with homework or rides to school; they rarely sought her advice anymore.  Her house could only get so clean.  She felt trapped by her home.  Should she go to school?  Should she find a job?  Should she leave and begin life over?  She shook her head; even though her family had little use for her, she felt obliged to stay.  Her parents would not approve, and how could she live with herself if her children felt abandoned?  She needed something, though, and spent several weeks at the library and Job Service, putting together the first resume of her life.

Eventually, she obtained an entry-level position with the county clerk.  The job was simple enough; other workers filled out forms, and she typed them into the computer.  She’d never seen a computer before, and she loved watching the blinking yellow box respond to her fingers hitting the keys, filling the black screen with the words she typed.  The blanks on the forms corresponded to the blanks in the computer, so the job was easy for her.  She also answered the phones and helped customers on occasion, but her main duty was typing.

She loved the job at first.  She felt fulfilled by having a place to go during the day and earning extra money that she could spend on whatever she felt like.  But most evenings at home she still felt alone—the kids were participating in school activities, and if Jim was home, he was parked in front of the television.  She redecorated the house with her money, but even that didn’t take much time or energy.  She went to church every Sunday but felt like she was just putting in time.  She soon found herself in another unfulfilling rut.

Around that time, Pete Johnson started working in the office.  Pete was about eight years her junior.  Ruth had taken on further job duties and received a promotion, and Mr. Potter hired Pete to take over her old job.  Ruth was in charge of training Pete.  He had light brown hair and green eyes, with a smile that lit up his entire face.  He had a sarcastic sense of humor and managed to make Ruth laugh easily.

Because Ruth and Pete still managed the data-entry part of the job, they spent more time with each other than with any other employees in the office.  They began going to lunch every day, enjoying each other’s company.  One Tuesday afternoon, Pete said, “Hey, Ruthie, there’s a new French restaurant a few blocks away I’ve been wanting to check out.  How’s that sound for lunch?”

They’d usually gone to fast-food places or delis, somewhere they knew they’d be fed in an hour or less, but lunch at a real restaurant sounded pleasant.  “Why not?”

Ruth had never had French food, so she wasn’t sure what to order.  Pete recommended the Coq au Vin, and they sat sipping iced tea while waiting for their order.  “So, Ruth, tell me more about you.  I mean…I’ve heard all about the kids and your husband, but tell me about you.”

She blushed.  “Like what?”

“What are your dreams?  What do you really want to do with your life?”  Ruth felt as though Pete had been looking in her head.  She didn’t know what she wanted to do; she only knew she didn’t feel fully satisfied.  Unlike her husband, Pete seemed to care about Ruth on the inside, what she wanted for herself, rather than what he wanted from her.

“I don’t really know.  I almost feel like I’m starting fresh.”  She took a sip of her tea.  Before a frown formed on her brow, she asked, “What about you?”

He grinned.  “I told you I was saving up for law school, and I’m definitely going to do it.  I think in about a year, I should have enough.”

“Why don’t you take out student loans?”

“Are you kidding?  I just finished paying off the ones from my Bachelor’s degree.  I don’t want to do that again.”

“But wouldn’t you make enough money as a lawyer to pay them off quickly?”

He smiled again, his dimples carving large arcs in his cheeks.  “I guess so.  But then I wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you.”

She blushed again.  If she didn’t know better, Pete was hitting on her.  But she must be imagining it; she was too old for him.  And she was married.  He was young and good-looking and could find any woman he wanted.  She sipped more tea and finally allowed her eyes to meet his again.  They were open and honest.  She was imagining it.  Still, her right finger gently pulled back a lock of her brown hair as she wondered if her new moisturizer was really hiding the fine lines she’d started noticing around her eyes.  She smiled and Pete smiled back.  His eyes drifted to her lips and back to her eyes.  She wasn’t imagining it.  She forced herself to swallow.  “I guess you’re right.”

His smile faded.  “What are you doing after work?”

She felt her smile disappear as goosebumps formed all over her body.  “I was planning to go shopping.”  She inhaled deeply.  “Why?”

“Because I think I’d like to spend more time with you.”

That afternoon at work, she felt young and desirable.  Pete never said what he had in mind, but her imagination ran wild.  She felt guilty, having done nothing, but she decided she would do whatever he suggested.  Thoughts of eternal fire slowly dissolved in her mind as she thought instead of the fire that burned within her, wishing it to be quenched by Pete’s lips.  Jim had had plenty of affairs during their marriage—this much she knew.  So one little indiscretion she could justify in her mind.

Pete came by her desk about an hour before it was time to leave work.  He asked, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.” 

After work, he drove her to a hotel just a few blocks from work and made her feel like she was twenty again.  She could feel what he must have seen.

They continued seeing each other this way for about three months.  After the first week, they started going to Pete’s apartment.  He had a roommate who was never there in the afternoon, and they had the place to themselves.  One afternoon as she lay in his arms, she thought seriously about leaving Jim.  Jimmy Jr. was a senior in high school, Mary Anne had left for college, and she and Jim hardly ever spoke anymore.  She knew she’d be able to carve out a happy niche with Pete.  He made her feel happy and alive.  She rested her head on her arm, ready to tell him what she was thinking.

Before she could speak, though, he lifted his hand and pushed her hair to the side.  “I want to tell you something,” he said.  She took a deep breath, not liking the sound of his voice.  “I was accepted into law school.  I’ll be leaving next month.”

Her heart felt as though he had taken it into his hand and crushed it.  “Oh.”  But maybe… “Where is it?”

“It’s in New York.”

Ruth looked down at his sparsely hairy chest.  “Would you want some company?”

Pete smiled.  “My nose will be buried in books.”  He saw something in her eyes, and his smiled faded.  “Ruthie, you can’t leave your family.  You and I both know that.”

She didn’t know that, but she knew she was being rejected.  “I guess I can’t.”  She slowly slid out of bed and quietly got dressed.

“We’ve had fun, haven’t we?”

She nodded, not wanting him to know that tears were streaming down her face.  She took a deep breath and whispered, “Yes.”  But now she was wondering why she had done it in the first place.  The thought of going back to Jim’s cold bed made her shudder.

* * *

Later, she sat on a picnic bench, eating a chocolate ice cream cone and watching the crisp brown leaves drift past her feet, hearing an occasional one scrape across the sidewalk as though it was reluctant to leave the park.  The sun still shone high over the treetops; it was cool outside but pleasant enough that her sweater kept her warm.  She barely tasted or even felt the creamy glide of the ice cream as it slid down her throat.  After a while, she grew irritated with the breeze.  The leaves started blowing into her lap, her hair.  She threw the bottom part of the soggy cone into the trash and felt warm tears streaming down her face.

“Ruth, I don’t want you to give up hope.  This cancer does have a high mortality rate, but you have a chance.  You’ll have to undergo chemotherapy first.  We have to kill the cancer before we go in surgically…”

She reached into her purse and found the picture of her grandson, a fine young man who would be going to high school himself in about a year.  Time had simply refused to stop, and she looked at the picture of him when he was three years old, the one she’d had in her wallet for more than a decade.  The colors had faded slightly, but nothing could remove the feeling she got every time she looked at Charlie’s picture.  He had a bit of the devil in his eyes just like his daddy, Jim Jr.  But Charlie touched a spot in Ruth’s heart that her children never did.  Her own children, though she’d loved them and through no fault of their own, made her feel anxious and inadequate.  Charlie made Ruth feel loved simply because of who she was, made her feel appreciated.  She saw in his eyes the unconditional love of a child she’d expected but been unable to find as a young mother.  She felt relaxed and happy with Charlie.  Charlie, though young, seemed to understand her more than anyone else on the planet.

* * *

“Grandma, how come your cookies taste so good?”

Ruth looked down at little Charlie.  She sat in the chair and stroked his cheek.  “Didn’t you know it’s because I made them with all the love in the world?”

Charlie grinned.  “But mom makes cookies with love, too.”

She smiled back.  “Yes, but grandma’s love is always extra special.”  She couldn’t explain it to him but knew she didn’t need to when he wrapped his small stick-like arms around her waist.  She hugged him tightly, breathing in the smell of his hair.  She kissed him on the forehead.  “Do you want another?”

He nodded.  “And then let’s go watch cartoons.”

She stood up, reaching for another cookie.  “It’s a deal.”

* * *

She walked to the car and reached for a tissue, rubbing it under her eyes.  She realized that Charlie wasn’t the only person who had ever loved her completely in her life.  Ruth had simply been at a point in her life, when Charlie had come along, where she could accept that sort of love, could recognize that it was love.  She’d felt, as a mother, that her children’s love was based on a fulfillment of needs like food and shelter.  She hadn’t realized that children are so dependent upon their mother that they tell her they love her when she’s giving them a baloney sandwich or tucking them in bed at night.  It’s not that they loved her because of those acts, but because those acts had defined her as that person not only in the children’s minds, but in her own as well.  Looking back, Ruth realized that Charlie was merely her realization of letting go, of finally accepting herself, good and bad. 

And maybe she needed to forgive Jim, too.  He had spent the last several decades trying to be a good husband, to earn a solid living, to give her what she needed.  He’d just forgotten that she needed him most.  And maybe she needed to tell him rather than feel alone.  He would be home from work soon.  She would tell him now—first, that she loved him, that she needed him; second, that she needed him especially now.

She turned the key in the ignition and slowly eased the car into the dimly lit street back toward the freeway.  She was going to call the family together for a large dinner this weekend.  She had a lot to share with them.  But first she wanted to hug her husband and mend what she could—then she’d do the same with her children.

She pulled in the driveway and parked next to Jim’s car.  She felt her heart swell as she stepped out and walked toward the front door.  The doctor had said she might die, but for the first time in a long time, Ruth Manning believed that she might really live.

Posted in Book Excerpts, Various Musings | Tagged | 4 Comments

Secrets

When you get down to it, I write about secrets…things people are afraid of saying, because they think it makes them vulnerable. Things people are afraid of admitting, because they think it shows their weaknesses. Really, that’s what my writing focuses on. Think about it. If my characters could admit that they loved each other as soon as they knew it, a lot of the conflict and angst could be avoided.

Granted, it doesn’t always work that way. In my upcoming book Finger Bang, there is no question that Kaylee and Blaze like each other, once they’ve made it past the initial awkward phase. There are other obstacles they have to face, and in this case, Kaylee’s keeping more secrets from her family than from Blaze.

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this one from me, but I’m trying to figure out the secret to creating my next breakthrough novel. I’ve started calling Bullet my “magic book,” because it really has been. Not only did it surpass my expectations when I first released it, but I put it on sale this week and it has sold more this month than any of my other books this month (even my newer ones). It continues to blow me away. So I ask that damn book to tell me its secrets. I’d thought (erroneously maybe) that if I was “discovered” from one book, it would mean readers would want more. Some do. I have some faithful readers, and I am so grateful for them (you, yes, you, because I know you’re reading this!), but I won’t be able to write exclusively if I can’t break through the next level. I’ve been trying–believe me, I’ve been trying.

So I’m asking you, my readers. You have a different perspective from me. I’ve asked bloggers and other readers, and I often get the answer that the market is “oversaturated” right now, so no one’s selling anything. I wish I could believe that’s true, but I see plenty of other authors selling lots of copies just fine. I can’t figure out what they’re doing, and I haven’t asked them, because I don’t know that they’re willing to give up their secrets. Maybe too they’re like I am–they think they’ve figured it out, but maybe they haven’t either.

That’s why I’m asking you. When you see a top indie writer and then you see me, can you tell the difference? Can you pinpoint what it is that I’m not doing? If you know, feel free to tell me. I am all ears…unless you want to keep it a secret. :)

Posted in Various Musings | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments