My son went back to school this week. He’s in the first grade and he’s super cute about it. See?
I know he was a little nervous, especially since his best friend moved over the summer and it was the first “first day” without him since pre-school. Still, he smiled and walked off with an I-got-this look. Never mind he’d only seen the teacher once before or that none of his close friends from last year were in the class. He bought school lunch too, something I always found a little nerve-wracking (still do). I know he wished for more friends around hime, but he seemed confident he would make them. I know he wasn’t sure what kind of work first grade would require, but he told me he was confident in his ability to learn it. And I know he misses his teacher from last year, but he seems so sure he’ll be fine with this new teacher’s way of doing things. It’s not perfect, it’s not what he had before, it’s not even what he knows, and yet with a quick hug, he said, “Bye, Mom.” And off he ran.
It’s disorienting for me, probably much more so than it is for him, to leave him there and come home to…what? I just sent a completed manuscript to my editor. Won’t have edits to do for a while now. There’s housework of course, and believe me I fell into that trap last year (Here’s the terrible secret: It’s never done). No, I’m not really a housewife. I’m a writer. I have to write. It’s not a conventional job, but it is my job just as much as being a first grader is Jackie’s job. And really those jobs feel pretty similar right now.
No one is making me a lunch to take with me or packing my backpack in the morning, but I am meeting new friends. My characters have just barely introduced themselves to me. I don’t even know their last names yet, but I do know we’re going to be working very closely over the next six months or more. What if they don’t want to talk to me? What if I don’t like them as much as I liked my last set of characters? I’m feeling those subtle pains of loneliness for my old friends. Remember how easy things were with them? Well, they weren’t always easy. My first days with them were just as awkward and nervous, but it doesn’t feel that way now.
I’m going into a new classroom of sorts, too, in that I’m working with a new setting. I don’t know all the rules and constraints of the places and spaces I’m writing about. Like my son who has to find a new cubby and new backpack hook, and learn a whole new set of classroom norms, I’m hanging back a little bit. I’m watching, I’m asking questions, and I’m making tentative moves to test the waters. Even with all that, some things will never be perfect, and no one likes to be corrected. Even at 31, I’m nervous about hearing, “You can’t do that,” from an editor or reader instead of a teacher. And sometimes there’s no way of learning but to mess up first.
How do little kids do it? At least I get to pick what I write about. At least this is a job that I chose. At least I can walk away when things bother me too badly. Little Jackie boy and his friends are stuck at school with a teacher they didn’t chose and a set of rules they have no say in. And yet, off he goes into the great unknown, happily smiling, Minion backpack in tow, as he greets his new adventure. And it is a new adventure, for both us, and for all of you following along.
I always thought maybe this guy would grow up to me like me, but maybe it’s just time for me to grow up and be a little more like him.
I’m back from an amazing trip to the UK. It was two weeks full of fish and chips, castles and cricket.
My family and I had so much fun seeing so many wonderful places and meeting some great folks. I won’t make you all sit through the thirty-minute slide show of all our pictures (they’re all on Facebook), but I think the pictures are worth a look. I am biased, though, because they are full of memories for me. I’ve actually been using them as rewards for getting my work done the last few days. Ten pages of editing earns me ten minutes of looking at vacation pictures.I cling to that reward system like a life raft. I’m not sure if that’s because the reentry process is so hard or if it’s the editing that’s killing me. Probably the combination of the two.
I am sure any of you who’s ever been on trip like ours knows about the reentry to real life and the come-down associated with it, but I realize that most readers haven’t been a party to the grueling work of an in-depth self edit. In fact, I’ve met some authors who aren’t familiar with the grueling work of an in-depth self edit, and while I envy them a little bit, I’m not going to lie. I judge them a little bit, too. I know, I know. It’s not Christian to judge, and everyone has her own style. Maybe some people can really write flawlessly the first time out, but I think that’s rare. When I hear an author say she finished a novel and sent it right off to her editors, or gave it a quick read then sent it off, I want to shake them, and I bet their editors want to do worse. I went to an “Editor’s Pet Peeves” panel at GCLS, and every single editor there said that the more authors self-edit their work before sending it in, the more a professional editor can do with a manuscript. If they spend their time fixing obvious flaws that you could have/should have caught, they can’t get to the major nuanced aspects of their craft that you (should!) pay them the big bucks for.
With that in mind, I spend one to two months of full-time work on self edits, and let me tell you, I earned lots of picture breaks along the way, so those of you willing to sit through a detailed recap of that work should get a few pictures along the way, too. Here’s one to go on:
Now for stage one of self edits: The initial read through.
This is pretty much what it says. The first time, I read the entire document from start to finish. I generally try to do this in a couple days, much the same way a reader will (hopefully) read the book. I fix little things I notice and make notes about big-picture issues like dropped threads, inconsistencies, places where the story lags. Then I send it to my beta readers to look for the same types of thing. I do not give them vague instructions like, “Just be brutally honest!” A) Vague much? B) No one wants brutality exacted on their fledging project. I want constructive cricism in very specific areas. Grammar is not one of them. Neither is word choice or personal preference like “I don’t like redheads.” I want to figure out if the story holds a reader’s interest, if the characters are likable. Do you root for them together? Are their motivations clear (even if you don’t agree with them)? Are there any places you get more? Any places you felt like you didn’t get enough of? And I use betas who generally read and like the type of writing I do. I want someone who knows my genre, not someone’s ex-English teacher to fix my dialog punctuation here. Occasionally I’ll use a beta with a specific skillset to give more specific feedback. I had some life coaches take early looks at LoveLife, and Spanish-speakers who read Spanish Heart. Mostly, though, I use readers for big picture feedback.
Stage two: The Read Aloud
Once again, this is just what it sounds like. I read the entire book out loud. This gives me a chance to hear my characters’ voices for the first time. It is the single best way I’ve found to check authenticity of dialog (short of having professional actors read it on stage). This also is the best way to catch sentences that go on too long or sentence structure that gets too repetitive. I also tend to find which long narrative passages work and which ones are just too wordy. And when I find a problem, I fix it right then and there. My manuscript loses several thousand words in this pass, and it takes a full week or more because of all the stopping, tweaking, and rereading. Also, one can only read aloud for so many hours a day before one’s throat starts to hurt.
Stage three: The Writer’s Diet
The writer’s diet test is a tool that takes a sample of your writing and analyizes it for certain types of words that generally signify trouble. It counts “to be” verbs, abstract nouns, prepositions, adverbs, and waste words (it, this, that, etc.) and rates each area in health terms from “Lean” to “Heart Attack.” It’s available for free online, and I don’t know why more writers don’t use it. No, that’s not true. I know why. 1) A lot of people don’t know it exists. 2) It’s tedious and time consuming. Now you know it exists, so that’s no longer an excuse. As for number two, put on your big-girl panties and act like a professional. Do you think YoYo Ma doesn’t practice because it’s time consuming? You think Michael Phelps doesn’t find all the laps he swims to be tedious? If you want to be your best, you have to do the work. And I want to be my best, so I plug my entire 90,000-word manuscript into the tool 1,000 words at a time. Generally, I expect every single thousand-word section to come back as lean. If it doesn’t, then I tweak it until it does. I generally lose another couple thousand words through this process due to that fact that waste words are a real issue for me. “To be” verbs used to be a problem too, but after several years of using the writer’s diet I’m not nearly as dependent on them. Still, this stage can take another week, depending on the length of the manuscript and the state of the writing.
Caveat – This tool is just that, a tool, and as with any tool it can be used poorly. The writer’s diet test should in no way take the place of your common sense or artistic integrity. When writing LoveLife, fir example, my life coach character was often high in “to be” verbs in scenes when she was quietly reflecting. Well. no kidding: a person who is meditating should have a lot of “be” in them. Sex scenes are generally high in prepositions because a lot of things go in and on things. Use the tool as a scalpel, not a blunt instrument, people, but even in those exceptional scenes, nothing should reach a “flabby” level.
Stage Four: The Don’t Make The Same Mistake Again Phase.
I learn something (read “many things”) new with every novel. I’ve worked with some very good editors and received wonderful feedback from readers and reviewers as well. When I learn something while reviewing one manuscript, I write it down for use in all futures ones. I now have a list that’s four pages long of little mistakes I’ve made in the past. Once I’ve done all the major overhauls, I break out that checklist and go one by one down the whole line. One of the first notes I got was about writing out the word Okay instead of OK. So item number one, I do a find-and-replace function for the word “OK.” There are several like this. Then I move on to words I frequently misuse, “lose/loose,” “further/farther,” “peak/peek.” Once again, tedious, but not too hard. Then I move on to contractions. I don’t use them enough, so I run a search function on every single combo (she is, he had, we have, etc.). I scan the entire manuscript over and over checking for these words and deciding on a case-by-case basis if they need to be combined. This is another area that’s gotten easier as the years have gone on because I catch them more and more on my initial read-aloud, but I never catch them all, and that’s my goal.
Then I move on to my commonly over-used words. My list is more than half a page long (Look, smile, take, process, grin, curves, etc.) I don’t know what yours are, and only you can decided how many is too many, but I do a “find all” and highlight them, then go through the entire manuscript to cut them down. The same goes for filler words (Just, that, really, very) the writer’s diet will tell you when you have too many of some of those, but their version of “too many” is too generous for me. Many times they can be removed from a sentence without changing anything else, and if they can, then they should. No mercy: slash them. If they can’t be removed without changing the sentence, then you have the harder task to deciding if that sentence should be changed or not. Only you can make the call, but one thing highlighting does is show you where they are clustered, and if you have whole paragraphs lit up like Christmas trees, you might want to consider cutting the cord to that one. This take can take a week or more depending on the shape the manuscript is in. It’s also one of the grumpiest stages of the process for me. Don’t try to do it so fast your eyes blur, or you lose your will to keep improving. Build in breaks and have chocolate on hand.
Stage 5: Punctuation Purgatory
The worst of the worst for me. This will not be bad or even necessary for those of you are grammar/usage wizards (in which case, I envy you) but I have a mild form of dyslexia, and one of the strategies I developed to cope is whole word/phrase reading. Breaking things down into parts is impossible. I read whole groups of words as one, which makes spelling a weakness. (Thoguh I raed tihngs lkie tihs as fi nthoigns worng). It also means I don’t see punctuation most of the time even though I know most of the rules for using it. If you give me a sentence and tell me where the comma goes, I can tell you, but if you show me a sentence where the commas are misused and tell me to find the mistake, I absolutely cannot. Most people would just say, “Peace out, Girl Scouts,” with something like that and to be honestly for my first five books I did. I had WAY too many other things to worry about. Also I have a wife who has a Ph.D. in English and teaches grammar at the college level, so I’d just hand it over to her. However, this doesn’t help me get better, it doesn’t help my manuscript get better, and quite frankly it doesn’t do much for my marriage either. She actually threatened to take the comma key off my computer because it frustrated her so badly. So I decided that since it was my manuscript, I owed it to myself to give it my best, even if my best will never be perfect.
Now I do a find-all function on every single use of what I like to call “common commas situations” like the words “and” and “but” or quotation marks. Then once the are highlighted, pulling them out of the larger grouping of words, I can examine each instance individually and apply those comma rules I know (mostly) independent of the story. Did you catch that? I take every single “and,” every single “but,” and every single quotation mark in the entire manuscript, highlight it, and check to make sure it’s punctuated properly. Maybe you don’t need to do this. For your sake I hope you don’t, but I’m willing to bet we all have our weak spots, and if I can go that far to overcome mine, I hope you understand my lack of patience when it comes to authors saying they don’t have time or inclination to do the same with their own.
Will I catch every single comma? Every single typo? Every single mistake? Absolutely not! My wife will still proofread the manuscript before it goes out. My editors will still find things. Our final page proofers will still find things. That’s their job, but I want to make damn sure I’ve done my job to the best of my (sometimes limited) ability before I ask the same of anyone else, because at the end of the day it’s my name on the book.
Stage 6: The Final Read Through
Another self-explanatory one. This is my last chance to read the book from start to finish before it goes to my editor. Hopefully it’s in good shape, and this is a fun read with just a bit of polishing, but don’t worry, this isn’t the end, because once your editor gets hold of it, you’ll get to go through this whole process all over again.
Hey friends, I know I’ve been off the blog for a bit, but I’ve been on the road from Louisville to Boston, to Seattle and finally to Portland for the annual Golden Crown Literary Society Conference. The GCLS is the only organization I know of with the sole purpose of preserving and promoting lesbian fiction; therefore, I love them! But there’s more to love than their mission statement. Their annual conference, which took place in Portland this year, is a veritable smorgasbord of treats for lesfic lovers. Here are just a few things I loved about the event:
1. Readers and writers mix fluidly there. The people who are readers one year might be authors the next, and even the most well-published authors still consider themselves readers first. Great friendships are formed across those lines and flourish in the unique environment only GCLS provides. At other events there’s so much more separation between the two groups. At GCLS it’s common to find a table of readers, writers, aspiring authors, and all of the above hanging out and laughing together. Here’s some folks I spent some times with eating lunch and watching the author auction: Rosa Moran, Pennie Hancock, Jane Cuthbertson, and Riley Adair Garret.
I met each one of them at GCLS conferences in the past and now consider each of them a buddy.
2. Workshops, panels, and readings, oh my! There’s something for everyone as part of the GCLS official program. I went to panels on editors’ pet peeves, working with a career team, and researching complex topics. As an author I’m still learning, and I love listening to experts in various areas of this business share their wisdom.
But what if you’re not a writer and don’t want to be one? Or what if, like me, you’re a writer who also likes to play fanboi from time to time? GCLS has a chat for that! There’s a whole series of author chats where a group of authors get together and talk to one another and audience members about whatever comes up. This is a great chance to see what people are working on, how they work, what inspires them, and anything else folks want to know about their favorite. I attended an author chat with Pol Robinson, Ann McMan, Lynn Ames, Dillon Watson, and RJ Samuel. Then I got to moderate an author chat with Pat Cronin, Jessie Chandler, Linda K. Silva, and Andi Marquette. I really like these chats because you get to see so much of the authors’ personality come through, and that always gives me greater insights into their work.
3) Special Speeches. GCLS always brings in two people to address the whole assembly. One is a special speaker, and this year she was pretty darn special indeed. The wonderful Ann Bannon spoke about the historical arc of her career, from a young Philadelphia housewife reading Vin Packer’s Spring Fire to her rise to the role of Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction all the way up to seeing Beebo Brinker on stage. She also shared some great cover work.
This woman is a treasure to our community and I’m so grateful to GCLS for putting her in my world (More on this later).
The keynote address was given by the always affable Lori Lake. She did a brilliant job of tying the historical milestones in lesbian fiction to her own story, and the stories that make up each and every one of our lives. I readily admit I got choked up when she talked about the power of lesbian fiction to shape or even save a life. At times my job can start to feel like a job, and it is, but it’s also much more than that. I’m a small part of a legacy that stretches from Sappho to the thousands of authors still to come, and we are all charged with making our voices heard. I’m glad there are people like Lori out there to chronicle our history and remind us of the importance of carrying our stories out into the world.
4) Authors in abundance! There are a lot of great events out there where lesbian fiction authors gather, but none of them carry the sheer number of writers as the GCLS conference does. The picture below is just the group from Bold Strokes Books. Bella had even more people there. Bedazzaled, Sapphire, Bywater, and many more had contingents, not to mention all the wonderful indie authors.
If you want to get an autograph, a photograph, a hug, or a good laugh from one of your favorite authors, the autograph session is a great place to be. I’m not sure how many authors were in the room come signing time, but the tables filled the room, some times two or three deep. As Lee Lynch once said, “We’ve written so many books now they couldn’t possibly burn them all.” Never is that more evident than at the GCLS autograph event.
5) The awards and dance. The true apex of the conference is the awards and dance. The first is a wonderful celebration of the years’ (and some lifetime) accomplishments in lesbian fiction. Everyone gets gussied up, and we give the best and brightest among us the recognition they deserve for the important work they do. In a world where our youth are still bullied to death, our relationships argued against in our highest courts, our history ignored, and our stories censored, I cannot overstate the need for us to recognize the people and work that shows us a bigger, better vision of who we can be.
Then the real fun begins. With the work and the learning and reflecting all done, everyone flat out cuts loose. There’s music and dancing, laughing and singing, and most of all wonderful people. Playfulness abounds. My favorite pictures generally come from this time because it’s when you get to see readers and authors being completely themselves, and guess what, we generally enjoy each other’s company.
By the end of the end of the evening I’d lost count of the number of laps I’d sat on, the number of people I’d danced with, and the number of women I’d hugged. I do know that Georgia Beers left wearing my tie, as that’s a tradition that’s 6 years running.
6) Colleagues I wouldn’t trade for the world. This business is wonderful and rewarding, but it can also be terribly lonely. We owe so much to our community, but we do the day-to-day to work alone, for weeks, months, and the better part of most years. No matter how empathetic our friends and families are, they don’t really know what it’s like for us to inhabit worlds of our own creation that take up so much of our time and energy. When we finally find people who get it, who live it, we tend to cling to them. We soak up that connection, store that energy, and try to capture that essence. We know we won’t get to drink from this well again for months. Can you really blame us from getting a little drunk off each other when we have the chance?
7) Once in a lifetime opportunities. Finally, the GCLS has given me opportunities I would have never had access to anywhere else, and this year offered the best example of that to date. On the last day of the conference, I had a chance to sit on a panel with Ann Bannon. It’s not hard to say that if not for her books, none of us would be able to live the life and do the work we love. I was beyond giddy to sit next to her. I think I took longer to get ready for that panel than it did for me to dress for my high school prom. I wore a bow tie just for the occasion
Along with Georgia Beers and Melissa Brayden, we talked about writing the girl next door. Lainie Mulligan-Lynch gave us so many great topics to discuss and questions to ponder, but I can only remember thinking, “That’s Ann Bannon sitting next to me!” I read Odd Girl Out sitting on the floor of our college PRIDE cubicle. I remember holding my breath silently begging Beth to get on the train. As Ms. Bannon talked about writing that scene, I was transported back, my heart once again pounding in my chest. It took everything I had not to throw my arms around her and say thank you for making me want to do this this amazing job, because none of the other six points on this list would have ever been possible without women like her writing scenes like that.
I want to thank the GCLS and their all volunteer board, for the amazing amount of time and dedication they give to make this event and these memories possible. I can’t possible thank you enough for all you do for our community, but I can promise that, G-d willing, I’ll see you all in New Orleans next year.
So this is the once a year blog where I get ultra spiritual. I usually stick to book stuff here, but my faith is a central part of my life. I wouldn’t be me without it, especially right now. I get that some of you don’t feel the same way about spirituality, and you don’t love to hear about mine either. If you’re one of those people please stop reading now. One of the most powerful aspects of my faith is my solid belief in free will and I will never condemn anyone for choosing a different path any more than I will be pushed into abandoning mine. If, on the other hand, you are someone who wrestles with the mysteries and the teachings like I do, please read on.
I’ve spent the last 40 days trying to prepare myself for Holy Week and Easter. This Lent I gave up credit cards in an attempt to focus on being thankful for what I have in my life instead of coveting things that are out of my reach at the moment. I also spent an hour technology free every day where my family and I turned off the T.V./Computers/Phones etc and spent some quality time talking and playing with one another. Both of the disciplines went really well and put me in a better place than I was on Ash Wednesday in both areas of my life I set out to alter. I have also worked hard to study the entire Gospel of Matthew. Surprisingly, this had been a bigger challenge than anything I’ve done in quite awhile as I’m finding it to be the hardest Gospel.
I’m realizing I’ve glossed over a lot of Jesus’s sharper edges in favor of the ‘Sermon On The Mount” Jesus. I’ve always focused on the ‘love your neighbor’ Jesus, and don’t get me wrong that too is revolutionarily challenging at times, but I’d skimmed past the parts where Jesus doesn’t let people off the hook. I’d conveniently forgotten all the times Jesus expresses anger and frustration at people who don’t listen, at people who hold on to earth when they should look to heaven, at people who put their own desires above their responsibility to their Creator. I think I’m a pretty good person, but I find when I really read the book of Matthew I’m coming up short in more ways than I care to admit, and that’s not fun reading. It’s not comforting, it asks me to let go of thing I want to hold tightly to, and it doesn’t tell me it’ll all be okay if I don’t. I spent more than a few nights over the last few weeks shifting in my seat uneasily as I realize just how often I take the easy way out, or make excuses when I am really being called to radically reexamine the very foundations of my life. I didn’t want to do that work. I like my life just fine, thank you very much. Or at least I did.
You see, as with the story of Holy Week itself everything in my personal journey that started off so nice and clean and happy last Sunday had devolved into a mess of fear and anger and sadness as my week has gone on. I won’t go into details because ultimately they aren’t important here. What matters is that I, like the disciples, feel tired and confused and unworthy in the Gethsemane. Like Peter I want to protest that I will not fall away, that I will stay this course and walk the path God sets before me, but honestly I don’t even know where the path is right now. I have no idea what is coming and the night that just begun already seems so long. I ache for rest, for peace, for the familiar, for the miracles. I want to lash out. I want to be strong. I want to cry. I want to draw my sword and fight. I want to run. I want to many things for so many reasons. Mostly though I want to know what is up ahead and what I am supposed to do about it.
Those answers aren’t coming though. Not right now anyway. Not this night. Not tomorrow either. There will be no resurrection until there is first a death. This is not the easy road into Jerusalem. This is not Palm Sunday. This is not the Passover. This cup will not pass.
This is the part of the story where Jesus finishes the work He started, as dark and sad and terrifying as it may be, because only He can see the other side. I am helpless except to pray that in my confusion, hurt, and uncertainty I remain lost enough to let myself me led through the darkness. This is not an easy time, but if my study of the gospel of Matthew has taught me anything over the last six weeks it’s that this is not an easy faith.
It’s funny how that works out, isn’t it? The message I’d struggled against all Lent long is the one I need most right now. It’s almost as if there was a plan in place long before I knew I needed it. Even in the dark Gethsemane there’s evidence that while I must walk the coming path full of fear and sadness, I do not have to walk it alone.
This is one of my favorite songs on all time, it’s complex and emotional, and perfectly fitting for this week both in my life and in my faith. I hope is resonates with some of you as well.
First of all, Happy Passover to those of you who celebrate. My family and I will be sitting down around the seder plate with friends this evening and my stomach is already growling in anticipation. I hope your holiday is full of laughter, light, and love.
Today I’m also celebrating a lesser known holiday known as the official shelf date of Timeless! That means you should now be able to buy it wherever fine books are sold. That also means the Kindle version is live for you who are died in the wool Kindle users. And of course you can always get my books directly from Bold Strokes Books in print or just about any ebook format you’d like.
To celebrate the wide release I sat down with Cheri and Andy at Cocktail Hour to have a virtual Conversation at the bar. The event was recorded live with video and questions from viewers in the chat area. We had a blast! I also did a reading from Timeless that followed up on the excerpts I’ve been posting here for the last few weeks. If you missed the live event for some reason you can (and I think you should) check it out at http://cocktailhour.us/archives/746 or on Youtube here:
The reading I did live will be the last excerpt of Timeless I share, but really if you haven’t gone to get it yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. No, really, what are you waiting for? Go get it! :)
Hey friends, have I told you lately how awesome you all are? Well you are! You’ve been with me faithfully from the moment I announced BSB’s signing of Timeless. You were here through the cover reveal and setting blogs, the character building and excerpts, right up to the release date. So many of you have written to tell me that you ordered/read/liked the book, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me as a writer. Sitting alone in my office day after day can get so isolating, but getting to interact with all of you even a little bit is such a huge boost. I absolutely love getting to read your comments here or on Facebook or by email. Still, I wish I could have more give and take with you, which is why I am very excited to announce that the great team at Cocktail Hour (Hi Cheri and Andy) have arranged for that to happen.
This coming Saturday at 4:30 Eastern, we are going to host a live chat. I’ll be there with a video feed so you can see me and hear me. There will also be a very cool chat function where you can send in questions or comment and I’ll answer them in real time. It’s not quite as great as a face-to-face conversation, but it’s pretty darn close. You can RSVP for the event on Google plus here, then the day of the event you just log in. This is where you’ll get that live reading of Timeless I’ve been promising. If you have questions or comments about the book or anything else for that matter, you’ll be able to enter them in the chat function, and anyone who does so will be entered for a chance to win a free book!
If you want to see what an event like this looks like, you can check out the recording check of this fun video chat with Lynn Ames and the Cocktail Hour crew from a few weeks ago. Then be sure to RSVP for my event this Saturday and come chat with us at 4:30 Eastern.
I can’t wait to chat with you all!
No April Fools joke here, friends. Timeless is available now from Bold Strokes Books. You can order it in print or ebook right here! I know I’ve spent months telling you all how excited I am about this release but it’s worth repeating. This one is different from anything I’ve ever tried before. Big surprises ahead. I’m not going to spoil anything yet, but I will say things like this can’t be kept under wraps for long so if you’re even remotely interested (and you’re here, so I assume you are) you’re going to want to read this one early.
In order to keep piquing your interest and help speed up the reading process I’m going to share one final print excerpt from Timeless. This will lead us up to a special treat for you next week, so you’ll want to be caught up before then. In case you’re new to the blog you’ll want to read the previous excerpts before going on. Scene one, scene two, scene three/four. If you’ve been following along from the beginning then please, read on!
Dinner passed easily enough. Edmond and Rory took turns holding court from their end of the table while Beth and Miles made cheerful conversation at ours, occasionally stopping to ask my opinion or explain an inside joke. They never left me out, but I had plenty of time to steal little glances at Jody. I couldn’t say she hadn’t aged in the last decade, but the signs of time were minimal. If I didn’t know she had a few years on me, I would’ve placed her in her mid-twenties. Something about her face…maybe the slight upturn at the end of her slender nose, or the sparkle in her eyes, or the way her grin hinted at something mischievous just often enough to catch me off guard. But whatever the cause, she carried an air of perpetual youth.
I pulled my gaze away to see Beth eyeing me sympathetically. Could everyone in the room tell I hadn’t been on a date in three months?
“We’d better call it a night,” Miles said, pushing back from the table. We’ve got some work to do at the house if we’re going to get it on the market this spring.”
“You have a house here?” I asked, eager for a diversion.
“Yes, I worked at the college until about two months ago, when I transferred to the admissions office at DePaul University.” He smiled sweetly. “I wanted to be closer to Edmond.”
“We miss him terribly,” Beth said. “And we hold Edmond personally responsible for cutting our gay and lesbian group by one fifth.”
“It’s not my fault you had only five gays in the village,” Edmond teased her. “Surely you could recruit some more.”
The table went quiet, and Jody seemed suddenly interested in folding her napkin until Edmond realized even though he was among friends, Darlington wasn’t the best place to publicly joke about recruitment, especially with teachers at the table. Despite the fact that Rory and Beth had clearly been granted some level of acceptance, wariness and a level of caution permeated my senses here. That awareness of my surroundings had been born from years of watching, testing, and observing what types of behaviors were rewarded, which were tolerated, and which were met with rebuke, silent or otherwise. Those lessons had guided me through my youth and stayed with me always. Rory, on the other hand, seemed quicker to move on as she rose and extended her arm to Edmond, saying, “Ladies, shall we adjourn?”
“We shall,” Edmond answered cheerfully and, looping his arm through hers, headed toward the parking lot.
We all said good-bye to Edmond, who hugged me again, and to Miles, who thankfully did not, but as we turned to go, Jody lingered.
“So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” I asked, wishing I’d come up with something more impressive or charming or at least a question I didn’t already know the answer to.
“Yes, of course. I look forward to it, but I won’t be free before the assembly. I have a class until ten o’clock, and after that we won’t have much time to do anything but lead you to the stage.”
I didn’t know what bothered me more, the thought of the stage or the reminder I wouldn’t get another chance to talk with her. Say something, anything. My brain begged my mouth to keep the conversation going, but I managed only to say, “It’s okay, I understand.”
Jody nodded. “So you have everything you need for tomorrow?”
“Yes.” I started to back away. Who was I kidding, wishing for more time with her? I’d likely make a fool of myself, and on the off chance I didn’t, what would it matter? I’d be around for only twenty-six more hours. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, thanks.”
I took another step back and bumped into Beth. She steadied me with a gentle hand on my shoulder before saying, “I’m sure you’re tired, but it might be better for you two to run by the high school tonight. You know, to go over the itinerary and walk through the setup for the assembly.”
“Honey,” Rory interjected. “They’re both professionals. I’m sure they don’t need a dry run on something this straightforward.”
“I didn’t mean to imply they couldn’t handle it,” Beth said, her tone understanding but her gaze purposefully angling from Rory back to me. “But not everyone loves to just jump up on the stage. Having all the information ahead of time might put their minds at ease.”
“Well, I don’t want to keep Stevie out too late, but it might not be a bad idea to check things out tonight. If we do need to make any changes, tomorrow will be too late,” Jody said tentatively, her smile shy but hopeful as she turned to address me directly. “That is, if Stevie doesn’t mind.”
“No, it’s fine with me.” I might have been tired, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I lost another chance to talk to Jody.
“Good,” Beth said. “It’s best to be prepared.”
Rory wrapped her arm around Beth’s waist and kissed her quickly on the temple. “That’s my little librarian for you. Why don’t we just follow you to the school, Jody?”
“We don’t need to go.” Beth subtly steered Rory toward their car. “I’m sure Jody can handle things.”
“We’re Stevie’s ride,” Rory said.
“Jody can drop her off when they are done. Can’t you, Jody?”
“Sure.” Jody’s voice carried a hint of the awareness that warmed my cheeks even in the cold February evening. Beth had arranged for us to be alone together. Why didn’t it surprise me that the darling of Darlington liked to play matchmaker? I didn’t know if I should trip her or hug her, so instead I shrugged my acceptance.
There you have it, friends, your final print excerpt from Timeless. I hope you’ll check out the full book and stay tuned for more updates and adventures between the pages in the weeks to come.
Friends, we only have one week until you can have my new release, Timeless, in your hands! If you order from the Bold Strokes Books website, it will ship on or before April 1st. I know I’m biased, but I think you’ll want to read this one early. I’m going to be discussing the big surprises in this one a lot at various events over the next few months, and you won’t want any spoilers in your way, right?
So with that in mind I’m giving you a little bit of a head start on the novel by slowly releasing the first chapter in the weeks leading up to the official launch of Timeless. I’ve already shared the first scene here, and the second scene here, but since the next scene is a short one, I am giving you two scenes today. TWO SCENES in one week. See how generous I am? No, really, I just love these characters and want to share them with you. I hope along the way you start to fall a little bit in love with them too.
Scene Three and Four
Rory knocked on the door of my bedroom at five o’clock sharp. I felt weird staying at her farmhouse on the edge of town. We’d never been friends in high school. She was older and infinitely cooler. I’d known Beth a little better, but while she was friendly with the whole town, we’d never actually been friends. Maybe I should’ve opted to stay in a hotel, but there wasn’t really one in town, just a motel, and maybe even that term was too generous for the set of rooms for rent in a concrete building by the railroad tracks. Rory and Beth’s home clearly offered the better option, even if the setup meant more social contact than I would’ve preferred.
“Hey, we need to get going soon, but I wanted to make sure you have everything you need.”
Beth had left out two extra blankets, two extra pillows, three towels, two washcloths, and enough magazines to fill a dentist’s waiting room. I held up one of the bottles of water I’d found on the bedside table. “I’m sure I could survive the zombie apocalypse in here.”
Rory laughed, shaking a wisp of chestnut-colored hair from her forehead. “Beth is nothing if not a diligent hostess.”
“She’s great and so are you. Thanks for putting me up. I hope I’m not too much of a bother.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ve been here over two hours and we haven’t even heard you yet. The cat has made more noise than you have.”
I’d hidden in my room with the dual purpose of passing the time calmly and staying out of Rory and Beth’s way, but maybe I’d been unintentionally rude. I should’ve napped. I tried, but everything felt too surreal, so I settled for some quiet time staring out the window at a vast, vacant cornfield. Should I have stayed downstairs and chatted with my hosts? I already feared my ability to make small talk during dinner tonight, and breakfast tomorrow, and at the awards assembly. I hadn’t planned on downtime too.
“Are you nervous about tonight?” Rory asked casually, but I clearly read the concern in her expressive eyes. Her worry amplified my own.
“Um, no, I mean maybe a little, but I—”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to explain. My first week back in town I didn’t leave my room once. I wouldn’t even go to the grocery store until Beth dragged me there.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry. I’ll go to dinner of my own free will. I’ve got nothing against Darlington. It’s just fine by me. Not the place for me to live, but who am I to judge, right?”
“Good for you. It took me months to leave the past in the past and start to move forward,” Rory said. “You’re a much stronger woman than I.”
“Not at all.” If I’d been strong in the face of my publicist I wouldn’t even be here now. “You had a lot more to overcome. I’ve never had a hard time letting go of the past because it never mattered in the first place. I guess I’ve just been lucky that way.”
Rory’s expression turned introspective, causing her dimples to fade.
“Oh, I don’t know. My past was certainly complicated, but even the bad parts helped make me who I am. Without facing those struggles I wouldn’t have learned the things I learned about myself, about the people I love. I wouldn’t trade any of it.”
Damn, I admired her. We’d been raised in the same town, gone to the same schools, chosen similar career paths, and we were both gay. How had she turned out so strong, so reflective, so self-assured? Then again she’d always been that way. A born leader. I, on the other hand, had wallflower written all over my DNA. “We’re really different people.”
Rory slung one arm around my shoulder and said, “Maybe, but we’ve both ended up in the same place tonight, and who knows where we’ll go from here.”
“Rory! Stevie!” Edmond burst into the restaurant, and his presence in Darlington accosted my senses like the stiff February wind blowing through the still-open door. Rory immediately jumped into his embrace while I took an involuntary step back. Reaching out with one arm, he caught me by the shoulder and pulled me into an awkward group hug. “Look at this, both my little Midwest lezzies together in the spot where it all began. I’m so proud.”
He released me just far enough to hold me at arm’s length, the bright paisley pattern of his shirt dizzying me into submission. “How are you holding up, cupcake?”
“I’m fine,” I said, mortified, then in an attempt to preempt any more embarrassing questions added, “Everything’s great.”
“Damn right. This is a Kodak moment.” He pulled a camera out of the pocket of his skinny jeans but gave me little time to wonder how he’d squeezed himself into pants that tight, much less added a camera before he handed it to an attractive man just stepping in from the cold. “Get a picture of us all together, babe?”
I had no time to protest before he’d rearranged himself between Rory and me so we all faced the camera. I summoned my photo smile automatically, and the flashbulb temporarily blinded me. Everything happened so fast. I barely had time to consider what this blur of activity would look like to the other restaurant patrons, but as Edmond turned his attention to Beth, simultaneously hugging her and complimenting her hair, I took the chance to glance around.
The Highlands was the nicest restaurant in Darlington, which was about like saying it was the biggest shrimp in a salad. The carpet, a small step above the indoor/outdoor variety, reminded me of a patio or putting green. The tablecloths shone a shade off from white under the fluorescent light, and the walls held paintings of woodsy scenes or placid lakes. The dinner crowd leaned toward the older side of fifty, and while some glanced our way, most of them seemed perfectly content to focus on the huge slabs of meat or piles of carbs on their plates. Best of all, I didn’t see anyone who appeared to recognize me. The longer I lasted without having to chat with some casual acquaintance of my parents, the better.
“Apparently if I wait for my darling boyfriend to make introductions, I’ll be standing here all night.” The man who’d taken our picture extended his hand. “So, hi. I’m Miles.”
Very handsome and only slightly less polished than Edmond, he wore a less garish blue oxford shirt and standard gray slacks, but both were fashionable and fit like they were made for him. “I’m Stevie.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Edmond talks about you all the time.”
I glanced over at Edmond in time to see Rory give him a playful shove and felt a stab of envy at their easy camaraderie. “I’m sorry. He’s probably exasperated with me on a regular basis.”
“Not at all. He admires you, and yes, sometimes he wishes you’d cooperate more, but only because he’s so proud of you and wants to show you off.”
I didn’t know what to say, or if I should even try to say anything around the little catch of emotion in my throat. Miles had no reason to lie. Then again, maybe he simply loved Edmond and wanted to play the role of supportive business spouse. Still, I appreciated his attempt to include me, and his kind brown eyes soothed my insecurities. “Thank you.”
A young hostess led us to a large table in the back corner of the restaurant. While still in the main dining room, the position shielded us a little from the other patrons, and I dared to hope I could pass the evening without drawing any attention to myself. I’d have to make plenty of small talk at the awards ceremony, but why deal with today what I could put off until tomorrow? At least at dinner I knew everyone and how they related to each other. I allowed myself to relax a little in my seat next to Miles and across from Beth while Rory and Edmond chatted easily about news from Chicago. Perhaps this evening out in Darlington could be like any other night out with a group of friends. After all, we were in the Midwest, where people weren’t prone to scenes or drama. Though pettiness and gossip always flowed in the undercurrents of small towns, stoicism reigned here, and unlike in New York City, politeness generally overruled curiosity.
The waitress brought menus and water, conversations went on amicably around me, and I contented myself to wonder if the subtle highlights in Miles’s hair were natural or if he had a truly gifted stylist.
Then, from across the room, a woman drew my attention. To the casual observer she would’ve merely been another patron entering a busy restaurant on a weeknight. There was nothing unusual about the way she smoothed her hair, so blond it was almost white, as she untangled the delicate strands from the scarf she slowly unwrapped from her neck. No one would likely note anything out of the ordinary in the way her long camel coat hung open down the front, revealing a green V-neck sweater and khaki dress slacks. And nothing stood out about the pink flush that tinged her pale skin either from the cold or excitement. No one else in the room even seemed to notice her arrival or the fact that I seemed to have captivated her attention in the same consuming way she had mine.
She appeared to realize she’d been caught staring the same moment I did, and we both looked away, then immediately back at one another before grinning sheepishly. As she threaded a path between tables and waitresses carrying trays laden with food, I rose to greet her. Stepping forward to initiate a social interaction for the first time all day, I extended my hand while she was still several steps away. “Hi, I’m not sure if you recognize me, but—”
“Stevie. Of course I recognize you. Even if your pictures weren’t on the back of your books, I’d still know you anywhere. Welcome home.”
I tried not to grimace. I didn’t consider Darlington home, though I didn’t think of New York that way either. The concept of home eluded me, but then again at the moment everything eluded me. Everything but the dazzling blue of her eyes.
My eyes are blue, but not at all like hers, not so engaging or so complicated a mix of shades and hues, and not with the pure lightness that shone through them. My writer’s brain searched fruitlessly for a natural comparison—the Colorado sky? a sun-soaked sea? a robin’s egg? They all fell short, and I was staring again.
“It’s very nice to see you, Miss Hadland,” I finally managed to say. Then I just couldn’t help myself from asking, “It’s still Miss Hadland, right?”
She smiled a sweet but knowing smile. “Only to my students. Please call me Jody.”
“Classroom habits die hard.”
“Really? It’s been over ten years. Surely you don’t still think of all your teachers as perpetually in a position of authority?”
“No, honestly I don’t think of most of my teachers at all, much less as having authority in my life, but you never had any heavy authority to begin with. Student teachers rank below substitutes in the high-school food chain.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m glad to know I left such a strong impression.”
“No, I didn’t mean that.” It was hard to make myself clear with my foot in my mouth and my head full of clouds. “I meant to say I’ll always think of you as a teacher because you were such a good one.”
Jody’s smile grew from one of politeness to genuine pleasure. “Nice recovery.”
“I mean it. Your theater class my senior year is still my favorite of all the classes I’ve ever taken, even in college.”
“Really? Why have I never seen you on a stage then?”
“Oh, me? Never.” I hoped my nausea didn’t show. “Exposing myself on paper is nerve-racking enough. I could never lay myself bare in front of an audience. But I pulled heavily from your teachings while writing my play.”
“You’ve written a play?”
“I have…I mean it’s still unproduced. It’s not much really, just a first attempt.”
“Damn it, Stevie, stop doing that,” Edmond called loudly from the other end of the table. Both Jody and I turned toward him. I’d forgotten he was there, which is exceedingly hard to do with Edmond. “Her play is amazing. It’s very Wendy Wasserstein mixed with…I don’t know…some other smart, independent woman. And even if it wasn’t, we’re trying to sell the rights, Stevie, so telling people it’s ‘not much’ isn’t helpful.”
“Right. I’m not good at publicity,” I said, embarrassed both to be caught entranced by Jody and to be called out publicly. “This is Edmond, by the way, my booking agent, publicist, and the all-around boss of me.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jody,” Edmond said graciously. “Now sit down and tell me lots of embarrassing high-school stories about Stevie so I have something to blackmail her with the next time she won’t listen to me.”
Jody looked at me expectantly, clearly deferring her decision to my wishes. I wanted her to sit by me more than I’d wanted anything in a long time, but I wouldn’t overrule the loudest person at the table. Suddenly I wasn’t grateful to him for keeping the conversation going. I wanted him to stay out of it altogether, but I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t just stand there either. Everyone stared at me now. “Yeah, go ahead. I’m sure you two have a lot in common. You should get to know each other.”
Jody’s smile faded back into one of courtesy, and I watched in disappointment as she acquiesced and took the seat next to him. It was for the best. They probably did have a lot in common, and he’d have no trouble holding up his end of the conversation.
As I returned to my place and tried to steady my buzzing nerves, I caught a look of understanding, perhaps tinged with amusement, pass between Beth and Rory. Had I been too obvious in my favorable appraisal of Jody? I wasn’t surprised my admiration showed through. I’d meant everything I’d said about her influences on my work. She’d introduced me to theater, helped foster a love of literature, and taught me the true power of language. She deserved praise, but she didn’t deserve to be ogled by a grown woman as if I were a cross between a love-struck schoolboy and a salivating animal. So much for going unnoticed. Of all the ways I’d considered embarrassing myself, revealing a crush on a former teacher hadn’t been one of them.
I was leaving in less than thirty hours and couldn’t imagine returning to Darlington in the foreseeable future, but for some reason that fact seemed less comforting than it had in the past. At least my embarrassment would be short-lived, but I also felt a subtle pang of regret that I likely wouldn’t get another chance to talk with Jody.
Hey friends. We’re down to two weeks until the release of Timeless. Can you tell I am so super excited? As many of you know from last week’s blog, I just can’t wait to share this story. I actually gave you the first scene to read here. If you haven’t read that first scene yet, you should do so before going on. For those of you who have read the first scene and still want more, here is second scene for your reading enjoyment and general interest piquing.
Timeless Scene Two
“Hey, Stevie,” someone called.
I scanned the crowd at St. Louis’s Lambert Airport until I saw a sign that read Geller. Cringing at the blatant display of attention, I forced myself not to grab the sign out of Rory’s hands and toss it into the nearest trashcan. Instead I jammed my hands into the pockets of my olive-green cargo pants and said, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but—”
“Of course I remember you.” Rory laughed easily. She was even more magnetic than she’d been in high school, and that was saying a lot. “Beth made the sign. She loves cutesy little things like that and I…well, I love her.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the silly grin on Rory’s face. Who would’ve thought the mere mention of a plain Midwestern farmer’s daughter could turn such a formidable warrior into mush. A hint of longing tapped at my own heart, but I shrugged it off and grabbed my bag. “Thanks for picking me up.”
“No worries. Beth and I enjoyed the chance to spend a morning in the Central West End. She’s in the car. We couldn’t find a place to park.” Rory nodded toward the luggage carousel. “Do you have any more bags?”
“No, just the one. I’m only here overnight.”
Rory nodded sympathetically as we headed toward the parking lot. “Are you silently thanking God for that now?”
“What? No,” I lied. I’d been counting the hours until my return flight would touch down at JFK tomorrow night. I’d actually started counting before I left as I lay awake trying to calculate how many hours of sleep I could get if I fell asleep right that instant. Of course I didn’t fall asleep right then. With all the thoughts of my return to Darlington, the pressure to drum up good publicity, and the fear of a public appearance I didn’t sleep at all, so as the sun began to peek above the crowded New York skyline, I shifted my countdown to reflect the number of hours until I’d be back in my own bed once more. Only thirty-four to go.
“It’s okay. I was in your shoes not long ago, which is why I appreciate your coming back. It’s important for the kids around here to see success stories like yours. It shows them there’s life out there, you know?”
I didn’t know, really. I’d never considered myself a success story, and certainly not a role model. Sure, I’d published a few books, but I wasn’t what most people would call famous. I still had so much more to accomplish, which of course was the only reason I’d agreed to this trip in the first place.
As we stepped outside, a blue Prius pulled to a stop and Beth Deveroux got out. I might not have recognized her if I hadn’t been expecting her. She’d grown out of her teenage awkwardness and into an hourglass frame. Her form-fitting blue jeans and a light-blue V-neck sweater made it a little clearer why Rory went all romantic at just the mention of her. I’d last seen her at her parents’ funeral eleven years ago, and she looked like a new woman now. Not just older and happier, but also beautiful. “Hi, Stevie.”
“Hi, Beth.” I tried to stick out my hand, but Beth drew me into a hug. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been hugged. Not a real hug anyway. People in New York often did that shoulder-grab-and-lean-in sort of greeting, but Beth chose a full-on arm wrap and body press.
“Are you hungry?” Beth asked, stepping back.
“No, I’m good.”
“Okay, let’s get on the road then.” Beth handed the keys to Rory with a sweet kiss, then said, “Stevie, why don’t you ride up front? You’ve got longer legs than I do.”
“Thanks.” Normally I’d refuse so I could try to avoid making conversation, but after being on a plane for two hours, I did feel a little cramped. Or maybe the stress of my responsibilities and my past had started to weigh me down as we headed away from the city and toward the great expanse of farmland along Interstate 55.
“When was the last time you came home?” Beth asked.
“About five years ago, for my parents’ retirement party. I haven’t had a reason to visit since they moved to Boca Raton. I don’t have any other family in the area.”
“Is there anyone you want to see while you’re in Darlington?” Rory asked. “You’re welcome to use one of our cars while you’re here.”
“I haven’t kept in touch with anyone since graduation. You know how busy life gets.”
“Sure.” Rory only glanced from the road to search my expression with those trademark emerald eyes for a second. “Well, Edmond and Miles will get in around five o’clock tonight, and then we’re all going out to dinner with Jody.”
“Jody Hadland, my co-chair for the arts committee. She teaches at the high school.”
“Miss Hadland? The student teacher?” Memories flooded my mind and caused my heart to beat faster. We all have that first crush, the one that confirms those nagging suspicions about our own sexuality. For me, that crush was Miss Hadland.
“You had her when she was a student teacher? She never told me that,” Rory said.
“She probably doesn’t remember me.”
“Oh no, she does. She said you were one of her most talented students. I just didn’t know it was before she got hired full-time.”
“She really called me one of her best students?” The compliment sent a flush of warmth to my cheeks. I’d had her for two classes my senior year, and while they’d been my favorites, I’d spent both of them huddled quietly in the back corner trying not to get called on or caught staring at her legs.
“Yeah. She’s the one who suggested we have you back.”
Under other circumstances I would’ve been disappointed Rory wasn’t the driving force behind the award, but the fact that Miss Hadland remembered me enough to follow my career gave me a thrill I didn’t care to examine too closely.
“She’s made all the arrangements, which reminds me. I need to call my dean at the college tonight and make sure she remembers the assembly tomorrow.”
Rory continued to ramble, but I allowed my mind to wander. The city faded into suburbs, then to farmland, but the insecurities I’d expected to suffocate me were sublimated by the pleasant memories of my first and only schoolgirl crush. Miss Hadland had shown me a peek of the type of woman I’d later come to recognize as my type, the perfect mix of smart and beautiful I still found irresistible.
There you have it folks, a little hint of things to come. If you want to find out more about what happens to Stevie, you can pre-order Timeless here. Ordering from the Bold Strokes Website assures that your book will ship two weeks before it becomes available from anywhere else. You can also subscribe to this blog for further updates and maybe even a live reading from yours truly in the coming weeks!