The Day Bailey Devlin Was Born (or the story of a long, painful, labor of love)

BD_Horoscope_Final_Digital By the time you read this, I will have published the Bailey Devlin Series. These three books were written over the course of six grueling months. It is a miracle that I am still married and that my children still speak to me. Pretty much, about three months into the process, I morphed into a walking nerve and stayed that way until I typed ‘the end’. Conversations around our house kind of went like this:

Husband: “What do you want for dinner?”

Me:             “I don’t think these books are funny. They’re supposed to be funny. I’m not sure

they are funny. People have to laugh. Or at least smile when they read them.”

Husband:   I’m sure they’re fine.”

Me:  “I want a taco.”

Husband:   “Sounds good. I’ll go to. . .”

Me:   “You don’t think it will be fine, do you? I can hear it in your voice. You’re just being nice. You don’t think they’re funny, I can tell. I don’t think I can eat.”

Husband:  “I’m sure they’re funny. You’re funny. . . (pause). . . you were funny. Before. . .”

He mumbles something as he goes upstairs and closes the bedroom door. No dinner.

I yell up the stairs: “What do you think? About the books, I mean? Being funny?”

I recall having conversations like this when I was pregnant – just substitute fat for funny. The only difference is that I got tacos when I was pregnant. To be exact, I got giant burritos. I ate a giant burrito and a waddled around the block the day I went into labor. At three in the morning I thought my labor pains were indigestion. Neither was pleasant.

I swore off burritos.

I had one more baby then I swore off babies.

Now that the Bailey Devlin series is launched, my literary hormones have settled, I am ready to tell you the truth. The truth is that being an indie author – one who has gone rogue and written outside her normal thriller genre – is just like childbirth and here’s why.

1) Conception: Fun, exciting, and takes place in a burst of extraordinary passion. That’s what it was like conceiving Bailey Devlin. My mother asked for some books-with-out-bodies. Not that she didn’t like my thrillers, it’s just that she wanted to see if I could actually put more than three sentences together without killing a character. I heard that wistful tone in her voice. It sounded like ‘will I ever be the grandmother to a book-baby that makes me smile?” Her 91st birthday was in September and Bailey Devlin was her present. It took a few tries, it took some restraint not to kill Bailey off, but eventually the seed was planted; Bailey Devlin was more than a twinkle in my eye.

2) Gestation: No morning sickness, no sleepless nights, no discomfort. The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True came trippingly off the keyboard. Piece of cake. The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny took a little longer and by the time The Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came In, mine had sailed, leaving me adrift in a sea of doubt. Were these books as funny as I thought? Would anyone really care about Bailey? Was she ever going to pass the bar and find happiness? Who did she really love? Would she have my eyes but her father’s feet? Can’t they give me something for the pain? Oh, sorry, keep getting these two events confused. We’re talking books not childbirth.

3) Labor: It never goes as smoothly as you think it will. No matter how often you’re coached, you forget to breathe. I knew there would be the mind numbing pain but I didn’t realize I would be the one inflicting it. My very patient editor* was not fooled by the fake smiley faces at the end of each email asking, WELL? HAVE YOU READ IT? The poor cover designer* has probably decided that selling insurance would be more fulfilling than ever working with the nit-picking me again. And then there were the frantic emails in the middle of the night begging the formatter* to revise the files because I’d found yet another typo. Think breach birth on that one. I kept wondering if these files would ever turn around and come out the right way.

4) Delivery: I delivered triplets; three books published on the same day. By this point, I was goofy with getting them written, formatted, covered and published, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I went on vacation and left them with grandma.

Now readers are visiting my offspring. I hope they love the covers and adore Bailey Devlin and her crew. I hope they laugh and cry because the stories are sweet in a sexy world. They are inspired by people I know and love. Bailey Devlin is me and I think she is every woman. Like an anxious mom, I’m waiting for someone to chuck me under the chin, and tell me I did good, and that they really like my babies.

Happy Birthday Bailey Devlin. It was worth every minute.

Thanks to my birthing team:

*Jenny Jensen -editorial

*Paul Ziomek – covers

*Steff McDaid – formatting

*Robin Blakely – PR/marketing

*Tod Damotte – Bailey mini-movie

6 Things You Should Know About Being STUMPED

FullSizeRenderThe other day I came home to find the men we hired to build my patio sitting in my backyard looking at a stump. This was not a normal stump. This was a giant, Paul Bunyan, Big John stump. I sat down with them and I, too, considered the stump.

“George had to get his chain saw for that sucker,” one of them finally said.

“Took two hours to get it out,” another offered.

“I think it broke George’s saw,” the first chimed in.

“Why didn’t you leave it in the ground,” I asked. “You know, pour the cement over it?”

“We thought about it,” the third admitted, ” but it wouldn’t have been right.” Continue Reading →

LASHING OUT

images

I just got back from the grocery store where I bought kale and Peeps. Yes, kale and Peeps, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that I went to the grocery store. It had been a long day, and I couldn’t wait to get home. As I took the bags from the cart and put them in my car, I saw the Maybelline Volum’Express The Rocket Mascara (yep, that’s the name of it) stuck in the little place where kids sit. Any normal person would do one of three things if they saw this. They would: 1) toss the mascara in the bag and go home figuring if the store didn’t catch the mistake it was their bad, 2) go back inside and pay for it 3) pretend they didn’t see it, leave it in the cart, and go home.

I, it seems, am not a normal person. In the blink of an eye, the following went through my head complete with sound and images:

Oh, look. The mascara is stuck in the cart. . .

I didn’t pay for the mascara. . .

I am tired. . .

I don’t want to walk back to the store. . .

No one would know if I didn’t return the unpaid for mascara. . .

I would know. . .

What would happen if I didn’t return it . . .

Someone from the store would come get me. . .

No. No one would come get me. . .

I would go home because the grocery store doesn’t know where I live. . .

Eventually, I would open the mascara and use it. . .

If I did that, the cosmos would make me poke myself in the eye because I didn’t pay for the mascara. . .

If I poked myself in the eye I would probably get an infection . . .

If I got an infection I wouldn’t be able to see my computer. . .

If I couldn’t see my computer I wouldn’t be able to write. . .

If I couldn’t write, well, that would be awful because that’s what I do everyday and I would be unhappy. . .

If I was very unhappy I would be mean to my husband. . .

If I was mean to my husband he would go in the other room and ignore me. . .

If he went in the other room, it wouldn’t matter if I was wearing mascara because he couldn’t see me, and he was ignoring me, and not paying for the mascara in the first place would have gotten me nowhere. . .

Not to mention, I would feel so guilty I wouldn’t sleep a wink.

I walked back to the store and paid for the mascara. When I got home I was too tired to put it on, too upset that I had even thought of not paying for it in the first place, and my husband had to work late so there is no one here to see if my lashes are Rocket long anyway.

It can be exhausting going to the grocery store.

&. . .

In the back of the house, my office was a jumble of writing stuff, girl stuff, and stuff that I swear elves put in there while I was sleeping. This stuff included: a sewing machine, giant posters of my book covers from the days of bookstore signings, two sweaters my grandmother knitted, reams of paper in rainbow colors left over from my children’s grammar school/craft days (they are now 27 and 30 respectively), office supplies, pictures, the first dollar I ever made writing and, well, stuff.

We remodeled my ‘office’ because a pipe broke in the wall. If you have ever read When You Give a Mouse a Cookie you know what happened once we tore through that one wall. If you have never read When You Give a Mouse a Cookie, do so after you finish reading this.

The room now sports a large screen television and a new couch. My husband suggested that I move my office to a lovely small room in the front of the house (the better for him to nap in front of the television). It has bookshelves, a fireplace and lots of light. I love that room, but it is much smaller than my old office. It is the first room people see when they walk into my home. My new office would have to be neat and tidy at all times, and that meant I couldn’t take all that ‘stuff’ with me. I had to decide what was essential to my professional well-being. Surprisingly, there were only four things and they are also essential to the well-being of my heart and mind. They are. . . Continue Reading →

Stephen Hawking, The New Year, & Me

images

A few months ago I had a glass of wine with a new acquaintance, a young woman in the book business.

“What do you read for fun?” I asked her.

“I liked a Brief History of Time. You know, Stephen Hawking’s book?” she said, smiling broadly and obviously eager for a discussion of the book.

“Gee. Physics. Hmmm,” I answered. “I actually haven’t read it.”

What followed was a spirited explanation of loopy time, a promise that we each see the movie The Theory of Everything and a story about my own brush with the great Stephen Hawking.

Continue Reading →

Dear Santa: A letter about letters

The other day I was cleaning out my office. Well, it isn’t so much an office as it is a ‘girl room’ in a house full of men. There is a desk, a sewing machine, the ironing board, wind-up toys, snapshots of people I love hanging from the shutters and cluttering every available countertop. There used to be an apricot colored sofa in that room, but it broke. I was very proud of that sofa because it was the only thing that wasn’t ‘boy beige’ in my whole house.

I digress.

I was cleaning out my office and came upon a box of letters. There were probably a hundred or so and soon I was surrounded by paper: pretty stationery, notebook pages and postcards. My oldest son arrived and lounged in the doorway since there was no more apricot colored sofa to sit on.

“What are those?” he asked Continue Reading →

Albanian Diaries #6: My Shqip* (ship) has sailed

imagesI woke up this morning at 4:30 am. and slipped quietly out of bed so I wouldn’t wake my husband. I’ve been doing this for this last thirty-seven days so that I could go to the window of our small apartment to watch the day come to Tirana, Albania.

But this morning I didn’t see the dark apartments in the highrises a stone’s throw from mine. I didn’t see yesterday’s wash hanging from balconies or laid out on drying racks on terraces waiting for the lady of the house to collect her families clothes. I didn’t see the headlights of the dawn-drivers in cars careening around the traffic circle on King Zog II Avenue or the silhouette of the massive statue of Skanderbeg that takes my breath away. I did not see the mists and clouds over the stone mountains. I did not see the sky turning 50 shades of Albanian grey as the minutes past. I did not open the window to feel the cool breeze that would give way to a hot day. I did not smell the scent of baking bread from the little shop downstairs where the baker had been working since 2 in the morning.

I saw and felt and smelled none of this because, this morning, I am home.

Twenty-two hours in transit brought me back to Palos Verdes and a house that now seems palatial given where I have been living. I hear an owl. And silence. My family is sleeping. My town is sleeping. I look out my glass doors and see a fenced in yard, not a wonderful, imperfect, lively, marvelous city lying at my feet, and I am sad. I will miss so much about Albania.

I will miss:

-Emi and her pastries and her laugh. Evisa and Nada, law professors who are both brilliant and beautiful. The Byrek man and the baker and the women at the market who sell yellow butter fresh from the churn and tomatoes the size of baseballs.

-The hard sidewalks full of potholes and loose stones and broken concrete. It was as if each day I was being challenged to remember how to safely walk the road of my life while enjoying the adventure. I managed rather well. I may have tripped but I never fell.

-The crazy traffic, the people who drive as if the city is one big bumper car track.

-The bronze statues. Massive discarded statues of Lenin and Stalin kept to remember a time when Albania was not free. Even bigger statues that speak to the amazing strength and honor of the Albanian people – Skanderbeg, Rosafa, Prishtina. Smaller but no less important the statues reflecting their friendship with America – Wilson and Clinton and Bush.

-The food. The food. The food. I have never had such food in all my travels.

-The hospitality.

-The conversations with everyone that inevitably turned to discussions of how Albania can come into the modern world after 5 decades of brutal communist rule. Each citizen no matter what their station was concerned for their country and engaged in its political life.

-Friends Book Store. There has never been a business so aptly named. When I left, I thanked Lati , the owner who loves books and authors, his wife Eda, the young men who served me my tea in the Library Room or my sandwich on the coffee patio. I wish I had been able to thank them each a thousand more times. I’ll send them some of my books and a little part of me will always be in the library of Friends Book Store. But I should have found a way to go back. Just once more. To say thank you.

-The stray dogs. Especially ‘Benji’.

I will miss all that and more. To be fair, though, there are some things I won’t miss. But I’ll get back to you on that.

Faleminderit, Albania. Faleminderit, my friends.

*Shqip is the language of Albania. I learned ten words well while I was there. I managled many more. Albanians call their country Shqiperia and themselves Shqiptare.

Albanian Diaries #5: Traveling Companions

2014-10-08 23.34.17I may have been sitting beside my husband on the 22 hours we were in transit to Albania but he is only one of the people I traveled with. I brought along a number of friends in the form of books. I never travel without a full Kindle. Yet, it wasn’t until I was standing in the small street outside my apartment at three in the morning, a cool mist swirling at the end of  the dark street, and a big, black car waiting to take me to the airport, that I realized I had come on this journey with more people than I knew. Those friends are authors who, like me, ply our craft alone in rooms, in a digital world but who are fascinated, intrigued and inspired by the real one.

So that morning, looking at that car and the waiting driver, I thought of Brian Drake author of the marvelous Steve Dane novels that are reminiscent of Ian Flemings work. I could almost hear Brian writing the dialogue for that moment:

“Don’t get in the car. You’ll never get out again.”

Me, picking up my bag, adjusting my fictional fur coat, and answering as Dane’s girlfriend, Nina, might:

“Don’t be ridiculous. I can take care of myself.”

“Pity,” Dane would say.

“Why?” Nina would ask.

“Because It’s more fun if I help.”

I love Steve Dane. I love that Brian Drake could make a whole book out of standing in a dark street in Tirana.

I did get in the car and the only thing that happened was that I made it to the airport in time to catch a flight to Rome for the weekend. (I know, how cool is it to be able to say that?) The Piazza Navona, one of my favorite places, was one of the first places I stopped. It was a bright sunny day and the piazza was busy: a woman played her acoustical violin, artists showed their wares, tourists sat for pictures on the beautiful, ancient fountains, restaurants lined each side of the huge square. People ate and drank and talked to one another. Children ran across the cobblestones and the blue-suited police wandered in front of me with their hands clasped behind their back. Now it was Rick Bard, action and adventure author, standing beside me, telling me that the next book in the Brainrush Series was going to be set right there. “Perfect place for a chase, don’t you think?” I would say, of course. In his hands the chase would be exciting and elegant and oh-so-much-fun in the Piazza Navona.

In Dubrovnik, I walked through the fabulous walled city and just before I went through the gate I heard the sound of two dogs snapping and growling. I turned in time to see two handsome young men restraining their big hounds. In that millisecond they were crouched in fighting position and frozen. A beautiful young woman with a little white dog walked between them in her tight jeans, her oversized sweater, and her long hair  pinned atop her head. She and her dog seemed uninterested in the two man and their pets. But if my romance writer friends had been there, everything would have changed. The woman would have chanced a glance. One or both of the men would have followed her. Something romantically magical would have happened. Mindy Neff, Sandra Paul, Angie Ray – what they could have done with that scene! I had the strange feeling that if I turned around they would be there, plotting the happy ending just before inviting me to lunch.

There are a hundred more authors who have come with me on this. The quirky and fascinating Conrad Johnson whose work Clean Kill is so reminiscent of John Fowles. He would love the broken down buildings, the legless man playing dance tunes, the blind man selling books by the river. Richard Bunning who pulls you into another dimension of time and space would be fascinated by the coffee shops where people speak in all he languages of the world. For me, the inspiration is Albania with its ancient laws and contemporary politics and energy and anxiety. It is the perfect place for Josie to confront her sense of justice and Hannah to paint and Archer to watch their backs.

Sometimes new authors say that they are afraid to talk about their ideas because someone might steal them. I say, those who write have no need to steal anything. A hundred different authors could stand in the Piazza Navona or on a deserted Tirana street at 3a.m., or in the walled city of Dubrovnik and the result would be a hundred different stories. That is the magic.  Authors will write, readers will read, and the traveler – at least this traveler –  will never be alone.

 

 

 

Albanian Diaries #4: Going Down the Toilet

imagesUnlike Where in the World is Waldo, if I am lost when we travel my family doesn’t have to look far to find me. I will be locked in a bathroom. In my defense, we have been to some rather exotic places starting in 1982 when I was sent to China on business and had my first encounter with a Turkish toilet – more commonly known as a hole in the ground. I understand that there are western facilities even at the Great Wall now, but back then I learned quickly that wearing a skirt made the call of nature a whole lot easier to handle when faced with a Turkish toilet.

I’ve been a lot of places since that first trip to China. The world has changed but not the fascinating world of bathrooms. Here in Albania, I was actually prepared to encounter Turkish toilets once more. We were in the north three years ago and our son’s apartment was equipped with an extraordinarily efficient bathroom. The showerhead was above the hole in the ground and there were no doors to lock.  But we are in Tirana now, a bustling and cosmopolitan city. Still, Turkish toilets are to be found as my husband informed me after his first day at work. More common, though are western toilets without seats, shared facilities, and door locks that are as unique as they are inventive.

I have to say, though, the bathrooms here are, for the most part, clean and lovely. It is just odd to walk through a door and find that the men’s and women’s toilets share the same space. No one thinks a thing of it, so I pretend I don’t either. Which is a lie but I think I pull it off rather well. I also think that my skills as a mystery writer have been sharpened given the challenges of figuring out how to deal with what lies behind the door marked toilet. After years of sleuthing, I have finally discovered sure fire ways to master the toilet issue on my travels.

– Light: Immediately determine where the switch is – if there is one. Do not give up. Often logic doesn’t dictate the placement.  It could be inside the stall, outside, on the outside wall of   the restaurant or even the building not exist (look to see if there is a bulb or fixture). Exhaust all possibilities before locking yourself in a small dark room in a country where you don’t speak the language.

– Windows: If there is a window quickly assess the height of it and its proximity to any structures, outdoor markets or pedestrian traffic. Look up; someone may be looking down. Pay close attention as to whether it is opaque. Stopping at a gas station on the road from Dubrovnik I noted the facility’s door was made of glass – see-through glass.  We drove on.

-Toilet paper: Never go anywhere without Kleenex or napkins. Period.

-Toilette seats: do not expect one.

-Sinks: Plentiful. In good hotels and restaurants there are sinks in the toilet room and more sinks outside. Sinks everywhere. My favorite sink was in a lean-to in Rome. You worked the water with foot peddles like an old time sewing machine. Red for hot; blue for cold. Totally fun.*

-Company: Compose yourself before opening the door. Men, women, kids – you never know who is going to come out of the stall next to you.

– Technology: Be prepared for anything because technology has come to toilets. In Germany I actually paid three times to go back into a restroom just so I could flush and watch the seat rise and rotate under a stream of water and then be blown dry. It was fascinating and, I imagine, dangerous, if you flushed too soon.

-Locks: Door locks are as creative as the actual toilets. I have been flummoxed by keys that work to get you in but not when you want out, hidden buttons (I missed a wonderful flambé in Italy because I was looking for a hidden button on the door handle), sticks on strings, the age-old doorstop, a family member (yours, restaurant owner’s or anyone passing by) guarding the entrance, etc.

Important and final reminder for travelers:

– Before you leave a dinner table, look your traveling companion in the eye and say, “I am going to the bathroom. If I’m not out in ten, come get me.” If said companion has a bottle of wine in front of him/her, repeat as necessary.If you think he/she still might not remember, take the bottle of wine with you. You may need it if you’re evening literally goes down the toilet.**

*This little place was on a square in the shadow of St. Peter’s. I had so much fun working those foot peddles I dropped the key, had to root around to get it and finally, wet and feeling none too clean, tried to leave. The key stuck. Had to be rescued.

**2012. First trip to Albania. Locked in toilet for fifteen minutes while my husband and two sons finished their bottle of wine and ordered another. Had to be rescued.