Music Monday, She's Far From Hollywood

Music Monday: “Woman, Amen” (Cole & Bree)

Not only was Dierks Bentley himself an inspiration for Cole Caldwell in She’s Far From Hollywood (hello – have you seen the man?), but his music also filled my playlist while I was writing it. His newest song Woman, Amen instantly found a home on my romance writer’s playlist. I imagine it as the soundtrack for the final scene in the book, when Cole and Bree are in the barn, soaked to the skin from the storm, declaring their…..well, you should really read the book to get the complete picture.

Excerpts, She's Far From Hollywood

A First Kiss – She’s Far From Hollywood

Hollywood Checklist

Over the next few weeks, I’m visiting the First Kiss in each of my novels/novellas.

Sigh….that first kiss. One of my very favorite scenes to read in any romance, and one of my favorites to write, too. The whole story has led to this pivotal moment. The characters’ personalities definitely impact the scene.

In the case of Cole and Bree in She’s Far From Hollywood, they’ve basically hated each other at first sight. Or at least that’s what they tell themselves, but all that heat has nothing to do with hate.

When they finally kiss, it’s explosive!

………………………….
Cole lowered his head until their noses were brushing against each
other. She still hadn’t blinked. “But I’m not feeling very smart right
now…”

Those last words were spoken against her lips. His hands cupped her
face softly and she sighed, her breath blowing across his skin. This
was still a bad idea. But when her hands twisted into his T-shirt, he
was lost.

He wanted to take this slow, to be careful. Really, he did. But that plan
detonated on contact. Her lips were soft and pliant when their mouths
met, and she parted them with a soft moan that went straight to his
core.

Men had been plunging their tongues into women’s mouths for
centuries. Staking their claim. Grabbing the first taste of a woman.
And yes, hinting at that other penetration they had in mind. Kissing like
this, tongue against tongue, was natural. Primal even.

But Cole knew that never in the long history of kissing had there ever
been a kiss like this. Things quickly spun out of control, their heads
turning and their mouths moving against each other aggressively. She
tasted like cognac and toothpaste, and hell if it didn’t hit his nervous
system like crack cocaine.

His hands started to slide up and down her body, fingers grabbing at
every curve. She was trembling in his arms like a tuning fork, like she
was ready to come just from this. Just from kissing like this.

It wouldn’t be Bree’s style to just passively let him kiss her. She gave
as good as she got, tugging, pushing, sucking, biting. She was staking
her own claim, holding his head in place while she devoured him.
Twice their teeth clashed together, and neither of them flinched.

This was Bree, and he damned-well knew her.

Excerpts, Nora's Guy Next Door, Teaser Tuesday, The Writing Life

Teaser Tuesday: Two Days Before Thanksgiving

Nora's Guy Next DoorToday is the exact day my romance novel, Nora’s Guy Next Door, begins – two days before Thanksgiving.

The book opens with Nora (a Southern belle) in a crowded grocery store – you know how crazy they can get, right? I originally come from “Wegmans Country” in the Northeast – if you live anywhere near a Wegmans grocery store, you know how amazing they are (it’s like the Disney version of grocery shopping), and yes, I miss them. I don’t think the little town of Gallant Lake is big enough for a Wegmans, but I did envision their produce section while writing this scene.

I am partying up a storm today over at the Facebook group Coffee, Cupcakes and Contemporaries, with some fun giveaways to celebrate “Two Days Before Thanksgiving” – come join us!

……………………

Nora Lowery Bradford didn’t come close to losing her good Southern manners until the third time someone smacked their grocery cart into hers, nearly toppling a package of fancily frosted cupcakes. She spun on her heel, but the angry words died on her lips. The offender was an elderly lady, even shorter than Nora, pushing a cart loaded to the brim with Thanksgiving fixings.

Bless her heart.

Nora smiled and was about to wish her a happy holiday, but before she could speak, the woman rammed her cart into Nora’s again—on purpose!

“What’re you doin’, sightseeing or something? Move over! Other people got things to do.” With that, the woman pushed on by, scraping her cart along Nora’s to drive home her point.

Nora stood there for a moment with her mouth open, then rolled her eyes and pushed on. With Thanksgiving just two days away, the grocery store in Gallant Lake, New York, was mobbed with people. And the mob was cranky. Maybe she was biased, but people seemed just a bit more genteel back home in Atlanta. Unless, of course, you went grocery shopping on senior discount day—then all bets were off, Southern or not.

The miserable weather wasn’t helping anyone’s attitude. Three inches of snow were on the ground when she arrived in the Catskills yesterday, and she was not happy about it. Oh, sure, the stuff looked like sugar frosting on the rooftops and tree branches, but the air was cold and raw.

The forecast for the week was snow, rain, wind, more rain, then snow again. Her cousin Amanda assured her that was typical for November, which was little comfort. No wonder people were so grumpy here in the North! She’d tried to convince Amanda and her  husband, Blake Randall, to fly south for Thanksgiving with their kids, but they owned a large lakeside resort here and couldn’t be gone during a busy tourist weekend. So the family was gathering at their historic castle-turned-home, Halcyon, located right next door to the resort.

Nora unfolded the store flyer she’d picked up at the door, trying to remember where the produce section was. The only good thing about being in Gallant Lake this week was that her favorite person in the whole world, her daughter Becky, would be arriving later today. Somewhere along the line, Nora had failed as a proper Atlanta mother, because her debutante daughter had inexplicably fallen in love with the Catskills the first time she came here after Amanda and Blake’s wedding. It was disappointing, but not surprising, when Becky hopped the first plane out of Georgia when Vassar offered her a scholarship.

The produce section was even more crowded than the aisles, and Nora slowly worked her way through the veggies, taking in the dramas unfolding around her.

A woman threw a round head of pale lettuce into her cart, glaring at the balding man by her side. “Of course your mother thinks iceberg lettuce is the best. Your mother wouldn’t know a romaine leaf if it bit her in the ass!”

Two men leaned intently over a tomato display nearby. “Derrick, trust me. Vine-ripened tomatoes are better for salad than that monstrosity you picked up.” He gave his partner a wink. “I know you love the word beefsteak honey, but bigger isn’t always better.”

A young woman pushed a cart past Nora with a toddler in the seat and a little boy and girl in tow, all three complaining loudly. The girl stomped her feet.

“I don’t wanna eat turkey! I wanna eat ice cream!”

“You gotta eat turkey on turkey day, dummy.” Her older brother gave her a shove. “And you can’t have ice cream. You gotta eat pie!”

The littlest one, sitting in the cart, started to scream. “No pie! No pie, Mommy! No pie!”

The mother’s face was pinched and tired. Nora reached out, resting her hand on the woman’s arm. “Don’t worry, darlin’, these days will pass. Enjoy these babies while they’re young. Before you know it, they’ll be off to college like mine.”

She got a tight smile in return. “Right now, it feels like that can’t happen soon enough, but thank you.”…

 

A deep voice started cursing behind her as she reached for a bag of lemons. She glanced over her shoulder and spotted a tall, lean man in jeans and a faded flannel shirt. His gray-blue eyes were frosty with anger, but she couldn’t tell where it was directed, since he seemed to be alone.

“Damned idiots. They’re nothing but stupid-ass idiots.” He roughly tossed a bag of apples into his cart, making it rattle, causing a few heads to turn. “Stupid, stupid, stupid…” Another bag of fruit landed in his cart with a bang, and he pushed it closer to hers.

She couldn’t see a Bluetooth device in his ear, so he seemed to be having this conversation with himself. Flat out raging at himself, from the sounds of it. His face was sharp and angled, but the dark stubble along his jaw softened those lines just enough to make him strikingly attractive in a rough-hewn way. Layers of dark brown hair brushed his shoulders, and he reminded her of an aging rock star getting ready to smash a guitar somewhere.

Nora gave herself a mental shake. She hadn’t looked twice at anyone since Paul’s death, much less ogled someone in a small-town grocery store. And this bad-tempered stranger was very much not her type. But still, she couldn’t take her eyes off Hot Produce Guy.

Music Monday, The Writing Life, The Writing Process

Music Monday: Something I’m Good At

I’m going for a more light-hearted look at love with this week’s choice. In fact, I’m thinking I need to write this hero – the lovable goofball whose main talent is that he can always make his girl smile. I’m picturing a guy who just kind of glides through life having a good time, and then he meets a serious girl who knocks him off his feet. What do you think? Sound like a romance you’d read?

Music Monday, The Writing Life

Music Monday – I Met A Girl

Last week I talked about “perfect” love songs and why there are so many. But today I’m going to another favorite type of love song – one that captures a relationship moment beautifully. In “I Met A Girl”, the lyrics capture a romance at its very beginning, and the sweet, uncertain, awe-filled thoughts of a guy who’s falling in love and can’t believe his good fortune. New love is a precious thing, don’t you think?

Excerpts, Nora's Guy Next Door, Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday – Nora’s Guy Next Door

Nora - Enough - DarkIn Nora’s Guy Next Door, Nora’s daughter is having a baby. With Asher’s son. Neither Asher nor Nora are happy about it. And now they’re neighbors. And that’s when things get really complicated. In this scene, she’s just brought lunch to his furniture shop after they shared an evening together. Just an innocent lunch, so they can talk things over. And they’ve decided to take things slow and keep the relationship quiet, because people might talk. Luckily, it’s Asher’s pal, Sheriff Dan, who walks in, and Dan already has a pretty good idea what’s going on….

“Slow works for me. And quiet, too.” Asher’s thumb brushed across her cheek. “When you blush like that, your cheeks turn into little roses, all pink and sweet. It makes me lose my concentration, and all I want to do is this.” He slid off the stool and stepped up to her. She parted her legs to let him come closer, and he pressed his body against hers. Then he kissed her—long and deep, slow and possessive—and she would have slid off her stool into a puddle on the floor if he hadn’t been gripping her shoulders and holding her upright. Good god, this man could kiss!

The jingling of the bell over the shop door pulled them apart abruptly. She felt like a schoolgirl who’d been caught kissing the quarterback behind the bleachers.

Dan Adams stood in the doorway, in uniform, with a wide grin on his face.

“Let me guess—Nora passed out and you decided she needed a little mouth-to-mouth?” Dan snapped his fingers. “No, I know what happened! She has a sore throat and you were checking her tonsils, right?”

The Writing Life

Getting Started on Cover Art!

Happy couple face to face

Things are getting real, folks! We’re taking the first steps toward creating a cover for my first book. My debut contemporary romance novel has now been firmly scheduled for publication by Harlequin Superromance in February 2017. Just in time for Valentine’s Day – yay!!

And what is the first step? Well….Harlequin sends a form to authors to complete that is loaded with detailed questions about the characters, setting, story, themes, etc. And when I say “detailed,” I mean DETAILED! Hair color alone has about thirty options. Along with eye color, hair style, clothing, and on and on. It’s really putting my brain cells to work!

My answers are important, because those answers are what the artists will use to create the cover art. Isn’t it frustrating when the people on the cover of a book don’t look anything at all like how they’re described inside the book? That’s why I really want to get this right. The couple in the photo above? I like them, and paid to use the image for quotes, etc. until we have an official cover, but they’re not quite right. Especially the guy – he’s way too neat and polished for Cole (who wouldn’t wear a white business shirt ever).

Fortunately, I already have an overflowing Pinterest folder for Hide-Away , so I can share those photos with Harlequin (and with you). Some of the images are just for fun, some might be just for clothing or mood shots, but they’re all part of the process of creating a setting and characters that feel real.

Some writers “cast” their books with real-world performers. They picture Chris Evans as their hero, and that’s that. I tend to have “types” rather than specific real-life people. In my mind, my characters are unique individuals, not clones of someone else. That makes my descriptions even more important, as I want the reader to visualize the same person I’m seeing – or at least as close to it as possible.

So when I say Cole is a “Scott Eastwood type” I’m not picturing Scott exactly. I’m picturing Cole, who looks similar to Scott, but also a lot like this guy . Does that make any sense? Yeah, I know – writers are weird.

And Bree? She looks a lot like Sarah Rafferty. Not exactly, but pretty darned close. And the setting? Well, the setting is a small town North Carolina farm. And one of my favorite scenes happens on a tractor. But there’s also a hot (in every way you can imagine!) scene that takes place in the hayloft.

Hmmmm – I wonder which scene they’ll use? Stay tuned – we should find out in the next few months……..

IMPORTANT NEWS! Welcome, welcome, welcome to all my new followers from the wonderful Facebook party last week: Romance Writers Gone Wild! I’m so glad you’re all here, and I hope you’ll hang around as I get ready to have my first contemporary romance published. And CONGRATULATIONS to the winner of the random drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card: Tracy Fowler! Thanks so much for the follows, everyone.

The Writing Life, The Writing Process

Editing: Finding the Hidden Oak Tree…

When we bought our house almost six years ago, there was an odd little holly bush/tree thing planted right smack in the middle of the backyard. It was a weird location, but it wasn’t hurting anything, so we pretty much ignored it. Despite Himself’s attempts to keep it trimmed, it kind of got away from us, and gradually became unruly and not very attractive.

Tree Before

I made a passing comment to Himself a month or so ago that it was getting downright ugly, but that in the middle of that clump of trunks and spiky greenery, there was actually an oak tree growing tall right through it. It was as if the ugly shrub had protected that oak, and now it was flourishing.

You can imagine my surprise on Mother’s Day when Himself dragged me away from my desk (I was on a deadline!!!) and showed me his gift to me. He had cut away all the ugly stuff and left the beautiful oak tree standing alone. It was as if he gifted me a brand new twelve-foot oak tree, and I loved it (and him)!

Tree After

Every time I look into our yard now, I think of how that beautiful tree was buried in the chaotic mess of holly and vines. It’s a lesson for several things in life, including editing. As writers, we tend to go big and messy on our first drafts. In fact, we’re supposed to! We throw everything in there, including the kitchen sink. We may fall in love with scenes and sentences, but those treasures are often being choked and hidden by all the other “stuff” we’ve filled our pages with in that first draft.

When we head back in for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or whatever drafts, that’s when we start hacking away at all the messy chaos in an attempt to find the hidden treasure of a story that works. And if we’re determined enough, and willing to chop away a few of our darlings in the process (favorite scenes that just don’t work for that particular story), sometimes we end up discovering a strong, nurtured, beautiful oak tree growing right there in front of us that we never saw before.

So, fellow writers, don’t be afraid to take the hedge clippers (or maybe even an ax!) to your first draft – just be careful not to chop down the buried treasure in the process.

And for everyone else – – – what part of your life might need a little pruning to let the treasure shine through?

My Life

She-Who-Kills-Plants Tries Again

Every spring, I get the fever. The fever to plant and bring forth green and flowered life from the earth. There’s only one problem.

I can’t grow stuff.

Seriously – I am the world’s worst at plant care. I finally gave up on houseplants completely. If I get a plant as a gift, I immediately re-gift it to someone less likely to kill it.  Which would be anyone, really.

Compounding my inability is the fact that the few plants I do like and don’t kill are considered “deer crack” here in our neighborhood where the deer population is pretty much equal to the human one. Seriously – my first spring in North Carolina I planted three flats of pansies (one of my favorite flowers) in the small garden around the flag pole. Three flats, all carefully arranged by color for the prettiest arrangement. The very next morning, every single blossom was gone. Just leaves and stems sticking up. They quickly died. If there was any doubt who the culprits were, the deep hoof imprint in the soil solved it.

So Himself and I have come to an agreement. The lawn is his, and I can play with the containers and the flag garden. That’s it. Although, when he wasn’t looking, I added a small perennial bed behind the house last year. He allowed it to stay, with the admonition that it was mine to care for (don’t worry, despite his bluster he often waters it for me – probably out of pity for the plants).

Forever optimistic, I have planted flowers again this spring. In the flag garden, I’m changing things up and planting perennials that are supposedly not deer candy. Coreopsis and lantana (with a few geraniums as filler). They’ve survived two nights so far, but we’ll see….

The planters are supposed to be a mass of pinks – geraniums and petunias. Even I should be able to keep those alive. Right?

Hmmmm. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Writing Process

Falling in Love With Your Words

Halcyon Faded Stupid Story        For a writer, there really is nothing quite like the feeling of falling in love….with the book you’re writing. That moment when it moves from being a good concept to a good book is pure magic. All of a sudden the characters are behaving themselves and are doing and saying the things they should be. And not doing the things they shouldn’t be.
        In this case, I’m falling back in love with a book (Halcyon) that needed a heavy revision, including a brand new beginning. The new beginning was a challenge for me, but when editor and agent BOTH say a change is necessary, a smart writer gets busy rewriting the beginning. Knitting that new beginning into the existing story was hard, hard work. I flailed and floundered until I finally (just last week!) found the authentic voices for Blake and Amanda again.
        Let’s be realistic – Blake would never answer the door in Chapter 4 and smile at Amanda. That’s ridiculous. He’s guarding his heart and fighting his attraction to this woman, and he wants to discuss a business proposition with her. Smiling, or any other warm/fuzzy reaction, would be all wrong.
        Revised scene: he’s in the midst of an angry phone conversation with his father (yeah, they’re not close…at all) when he opens the door to Amanda after summoning her to Halcyon. She gets to hear him all snarly on the phone, with barely a hint of warmth, even after he ends the call and tells her they need to talk. Yup. That’s just the tension level they need.
        And Amanda wouldn’t be all chummy and jokey with the construction workers, even if it is in a toss-away scene. She’s a traumatized woman, for crying out loud! She needs to maintain a distance from them. Otherwise, it’s just confusing.
        Multiply those two minor changes by a few hundred, and the entire tone of the book changes. It’s genuine. The characters become compelling, and the reader actually cares about what happens to them. The story moves forward with the proper amount of tension, because the characters are doing things that are believable for them.
        Once I have characters properly formed, I can see their motivations and habits and defense mechanisms. I see their hearts. Not only do I know how they’d react in any situation; I also know why they’d react that way. And the reader can see it, even when the characters can’t.
        So ‘all I have to do now’ (that was sarcasm, by the way) is finish going through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph, and ask myself over and over and over: is this really what should/would happen? It’s a piece of cake (more sarcasm).
        Now that I have a full understanding of the characters with this new beginning, it’s a lot more fun. Take the first example mentioned above, a scene that has been written and edited for several weeks. All of a sudden I can see it playing out as if it was on film. When I’m immersed in the book that deep, it’s easy to say “Whoa – why the hell is he smiling?” Once that quick correction was made, the rest of the scene was easy to revise, and it ended up being SOOOO much better. Yeah, it’s still work. But instead of beating my head on my desk and spinning my wheels, I’m making forward progress.
         And I’m falling back in love with my favorite book and characters. YAY!
        Why should you care? Well, when an author loves the story, it’s a lot more likely the reader will love it, too. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to do just that later this year.
        Stay tuned!