While I was at it: Distractions of Spring by A. Y. Stratton
Right after breakfast, directly after I finished my cereal with raspberries and took my vitamins and brushed my teeth, I sat down at my computer to write. (Notice I did not read the entire newspaper.) Wasn’t I the good girl?
I edited what I had written the day before, sent some copy to the fellow who is redesigning my website, and… Well, I was getting warm. The sun cast a seductive glimmer across my desk. And just beyond that same window, there’s this gorgeous plant blooming its head off. Did I mention I was getting hot, and needed some fresh air?
All I did was open the back door and then open the front door, to get some air circulation. That’s all I did.
But the storm insert was still on the front door. So I got my screw driver (from my own screw driver set, thanks to my gadget-crazed father) and removed it. My usual next step is to clean the storm window and put it away in the garage. So I got a rag and wood cleaner and polished it up, outside, of course, in the lovely sunshine. Next I had to dig out the front door screen from behind my husband’s piles of things he should have thrown away five years ago (maybe ten). One look at the screen told me I should clean that before putting it on the door.
The front door looked really good, but you know what? The doorstep was gunked up from the snow and salt we put on the sidewalk. So I got the broom and another rag, cleaned the steps and the railing too, while I was at it.
I must have decided the new shoots coming up in the back yard would need watering, because the next thing I did was drag out the hoses. The muddy, heavy hoses. And the clay pots. And the bird baths. Because it was really nice outside, perfect in fact. And who knew when the next gorgeous day would get trapped in my back yard?
And that’s why I’m writing this blog, because it’s SPRING!
by A. Y. Stratton
No two writers have the same routine. Some plot out every scene, every emotion, every kiss. Many “plotters” go through magazines in search of photos they can use to picture their characters, the house someone lives in, the car the hero drives, the horse the villain rides, or the weapon the bad guy carries in his pocket.
None of the above works for pantsers like me. Once I know all those details, the fun fizzles. It’s like reading the last chapter before you start a book. I need a bit of intrigue as I write. Of course I know the two lovers will be together at the end of the story, but when I set up the complications, the conflicts and the big black moment, I am testing myself to get my characters out of their messes.
I began Buried Secrets a couple of summers ago. I wanted to use an action scene to introduce my primary characters, Nathan and Kate. I pictured Kate sneaking into the home of a stranger. Then I thought what fun it would be if my hero, Nathan, had sneaked in just ahead of Kate in order to investigate the owner of the home.
This was a romance, not a crime story, so my heroine couldn’t be a thief. I confess it took me awhile to come up with an honorable motive for Kate. For some time I’ve wanted to feature a piece of furniture with a hidden drawer. This was my opportunity. I decided Kate would have a grandmother who was old and ill and had recently moved to an assisted living residence. Her home had been sold, along with most of her furniture, including a cabinet with secret drawers, drawers that still held hidden papers, twenty-year-old evidence that might incriminate an important person and shame her own family.
Okay so far. But what was Nathan looking for? I decided he was a lawyer with a grudge against the dishonest man who owns the house.
And then, while Kate and Nathan collide and are compelled to get on with their work, the worst thing happens…
Even before I started to write Buried Secrets, I had the perfect house for this story—the one that belonged to my in-laws. After I finished a couple of chapters, I ran into my sister-n-law and I said, “I just killed someone in your bedroom.” She looked confused, so I added, “In a story, in my new story.”
She laughed and said, “Is it anyone I know?”
My Valentine by A. Y. Stratton
Why I fell in love with my husband:
- He made me laugh. We were matched up at a party, and he spent most of the time drawing pictures on the Etch-a-Sketch.
- We didn’t have a first real date until we’d known each other for a while.
- He didn’t try to kiss me on that first date. Or the second one. I got to thinking we were just friends, friends who made each other laugh.
- When he kissed me, he got my attention.
- While I was on one U.S. coast and he was on the other, he wrote me every day.
- He denies #5. He claims he wrote two or three letters at once and mailed one every day. I think that counts.
- His sister was already a friend of mine. That hurdle was never a hurdle.
- I got hooked on those letters. Of course I saved them. They are in the basement right next to the ones I wrote him. (To our children: do not throw them out or publish them. Keep them in your basement.)
- He never quite got around to asking me to marry him. One night he took me out to dinner and said, (and I quote): “If we get married, who would you choose for your bridesmaids?” I remember exactly where I was sitting. I remember being speechless, a rare event for me. I finally came up with a few names, and he began writing them on the placemat, next to his list of ushers.
- He still makes me laugh.
- He’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
Approaching O. A.*
by A. Y. Stratton
It all began when one of my daughters advised me to brush my hair upside down. “Upside down?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“Bend over and brush away from your scalp for five minutes—at least. Your hair will look shinier, thicker, healthier.” She patted me on the back and flounced out of the room.
I have two grown daughters. They have taught me everything I know about lip liner, eye shadow, lip gloss, blush, shampoo, hairspray, night cream, day cream, shaving my legs, and which items of my wardrobe have been out of style for at least two years.
The education continues. When I happen to wear something that draws their approval, I feel as if I’ve won an Academy Award. “Your blouse is perfect with your jacket, Mom.” “Great boots, Mom. Where’d you get them?” “Hey, I’d love a bag like that.” Heady stuff.
So one night I grab my brush, bend over in front of the mirror in the bathroom so I can see what’s happening, and I brush and brush, and...
I am horrified. Frightened out of my skull. I squeal. I’m alone, luckily. The upside-down face in that mirror is not ME! It’s some woman whose cheeks have shifted into her eyes, whose neck has crumpled into her chin. I spring up and heave a sigh. There I am again, skin restored to its rightful zone.
And suddenly I realize I look just like my mother. She’s been gone for more than a decade, but there she is. Well, actually it’s her neck I see. I wasn’t supposed to get her neck.
I slide into a funk. I’m old. That’s it. Wrinkled, saggy. I call my pal, a woman I’ve known since 4th grade, my friend whose been divorced and has had a few male friends. She laughs. Hard. Doesn’t stop the giggle I’ve known since fourth grade. “It’s about time,” she says. “That’s why women our age don’t want to be on top.”
“On top?” What’s she talking about? And then I get it. And blush.
I adjust, sort of.
One day I am in my favorite seat at the baseball stadium. My Milwaukee Brewers are playing. The roof is open. It’s a glorious day. I look at the giant screen and see myself. I’m on TV! Just me. I wave. I’m wearing a T-shirt. My hand is waving one way and my upper arm is flapping the other way. My upper arm. MY upper arm.
I watch myself grab my upper arm and pull it down to my side. The camera moves on.
I don’t move on. How could this have happened to my upper arm? I lift weights. I swim. I’m in great shape.
My skin has outgrown me. And I can’t blame my mother.
A Testimony to the town where I grew up, Milwaukee, Minnesota
By Anne Stratton
A few years ago, my husband and I spent three days at a lodge in the wilds of the Florida Keys. Tastefully linked condos formed two-thirds of a peninsula around us. On the other third was the sparkling spit of water between the U. S. and Fidel Castro.
While the other guests were catching fish, we were busy eating the catch and catching the ultra-violets. One afternoon we were up to our ears in the whirling, steaming waters of the lodge’s hot tub, all alone, until Mr. and Mrs. Texas ambled down the steps and into the tub. Mrs. was stuffed into a bikini, her extra flesh settling wherever it wished. Mr. Texas had a friendly face and more hair on his upper lip than on his head. He didn’t bother to extinguish his cigar as he lowered himself into the tub, his paunch displacing quite a bit of the water. He settled back to make a call on his cell phone, his drawl loud and strong as he placed an order with his stock broker. Once he clicked off his phone, he eyed us. “Been here before?” “Caught any fish?” “Like your condo?” He was loaded with questions.
We took turns responding. When the big guy finally advanced to “Where’re you from?” we answered in duet, “Milwaukee.”
“So,” he nodded, flicking the ash from his cigar, “How’s the weather been up there in Minnesota?”
In Minnesota? I admit that wasn’t the first time I’d heard that gaff, so I muttered, “I don’t know. You see, Milwaukee isn’t in Minnesota.”
The fella was from down south. Why should he be expected to know anything about places in the middle of the country? I suppose it's natural to learn the names and locations of nearby states and then shrug off the rest as unnecessary info. It’s also possible people mix up cities that begin with the same letter, like Minneapolis and Milwaukee.
That incident wasn’t the first time I’d given a quick geography seminar. It turns out lots of people think my hometown is in Minnesota: Milwaukee, Minnesota. Apparently even published authors make this mistake. My husband collects books on architecture. One of them showed plans and photos of the “Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, Minnesota.” (Paul Heyer’s 1966 Architects on Architecture, New York: Walker & Co.) No editor caught that one.
I attended college in New York state with lots of intelligent, educated people. Nevertheless, some of them had only a fuzzy grasp of the territory between New England and Los Angeles, which is why the New Yorker Magazine’s cartoon map of the U.S. isn’t really an exaggeration. Many easterners know just enough. The Great Lakes are out there somewhere. There are five of them (or is it four?). And they must be pretty nice, or they wouldn’t be called “great.” As long as you can pinpoint Chicago and keep moving west, the details don’t matter.
Quite a few years ago a national meeting of garden clubs was held in Milwaukee. One of the officers from a tiny New England state left a lovely note for her hostess, raving about her enjoyable “three days in Minnesota.” That story always leads to another. One of the members staying at a home overlooking Lake Michigan admired the view and asked what lake that was.
After Bank One became part of Chase Bank, the New York Times wrote up the transaction and included a map showing the locations of all the Bank One sites. The map highlighted Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Close, but no cigars. The state identified as Wisconsin was actually Minnesota.
The gaffe which triggered this rant occurred last summer. (I coddle rants for months.) USA Today has a column entitled “Across the USA” listing one news item from each state. Here’s the listing for Friday, June 1, 2012: “Wisconsin: Minneapolis—An engineering company linked to an interstate bridge collapse in 2007 continues to work for the city, receiving more than two dozen contracts in the past five years…” (BTW, the bridge that collapsed stretched across the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River meanders along Wisconsin’s border. However, it happens to be nowhere near the aforementioned Milwaukee.)
In case the bumbling USA Today author simply transposed the city names, I also checked the June 1 listing for Minnesota. It read: “Minnesota: St. Paul.” Finally I noticed an entry that made me smile. “Oregon: Milwaukie.” The west coast version of my hometown may be spelled differently, but I bet no one thinks THAT city is in Minnesota.
End of Rant. For now…
I was ten years old, on a mission, flying on my bike along the sidewalks, feeling free and bold and very grown up. I couldn’t believe I’d talked Mom into letting me have the white buck loafers I’d been eyeing for weeks. But after I wore them to school a few times, they were smudged. (Mom had warned me that would be a problem with white shoes.) Luckily I had saved just enough of my allowance to buy the special polish they needed. Rugen’s Store was half a mile from my house, down four blocks, over five blocks, and just the other side of the railroad tracks.
I’d been warned a zillion times about crossing those tracks. “Cross at the signals where the gates go down. Never cross at the station. It’s not safe.” Mom’s words echoed in my head as I took the short cut. I saved a block by crossing at the train station.
The shoe department didn’t have the polish, but the hardware section did. I pulled out my wallet, handed over my stash of change from my allowance and carried the package to my bike. Immediately, I realized I had a problem. The polish was in a squat glass container that barely fit into my hand. My bike had hand-breaks, but no basket. If I dropped the package, the container would break. I’d better not have to slow down for anything.
Clutching the bag with the polish and barely gripping the handlebars, I pedaled toward home. I had to choose my route quickly—Mom’s way or the short cut? Mom’s way or the short cut? My hand was cramping.
I chose the short cut. Focusing on the polish, I rode right up to the tracks and got off to walk the bike. My front wheel rolled onto the track. I looked up. On the other side of the tracks two boys were grinning at me and pointing, making fun of me with my package.
That's when I heard the whistle. And the dinging of the crossing gates. I glanced to my left, down the tracks. There it was, the large black engine! Thundering along. Right at me.
I didn’t move. Couldn’t move. Was the train on the same track I was?
The boys were laughing. I saw them. Laughing. They were thinking I was going to die right there in front of them. One of the boys was my friend DeeDee’s big brother. He and his buddy must have been carving their names in the wooden chairs. Still frozen on the track I thought how naughty they were.
I looked down the track again, grabbed my bike, and yanked it. At that moment I remembered something my big brother had read in his science magazine, how the force of a moving train can pull things beneath its wheels. Still gripping my bike, I leaned away from the tracks.
The train whistle howled. The monster engine screamed past. Past me, past my bike, past my shoe polish. And was gone, a fading monster heading north.
Arms gripped me. I looked up at a man in a blue uniform. Deafened by the locomotive, I was stunned and amazed.
I was still alive.
“Are you okay?” The man in the uniform frowned at me and squeezed my arm too tightly. “Didn’t you hear the whistle? Is your foot all right? I thought,” he stuttered. “I thought your foot fell beneath the wheels.”
I started to cry. The station master, such a nice man, put his arm around me and walked me to a bench to rest. He dashed away and returned with a cup of water. “Here, drink this, and I’ll sit here with you.”
Across the tracks the boys weren’t laughing. Their mouths hung open.
The station master was stern. I should never use that crossing, he said. Ever. I put down my polish and sipped the water. He kept asking me if I was okay. I told him I wanted to go home.
He helped steer my bicycle across the tracks. As I passed the boys I noticed their shocked faces. “You almost died, you know?” one boy said with a sneer. “That train almost hit you.”
I walked my bike all the way home, holding in my tears. When I stepped into the house and saw Mom, I sobbed and dove into her arms. She pulled me into her lap, as if I was a tiny girl again, and listened to my story, cooing how happy she was that I was safe.
Whenever I recall that day, I remember the smiling face of that boy. I still want to understand--why was he smiling?
Trains by A. Y. Stratton
Last week I took the train from Milwaukee to Chicago to visit college friends. Whenever I take that trip, I make sure to look out the window as we pass through Glenview, Illinois, where I lived until I was fourteen. I have many fond memories of growing up there.
After our gathering broke up, I headed back to the station in plenty of time to catch the late afternoon train for home. It was Friday. The train cars were at capacity, but I managed to get a window seat. I read my magazine, chatted a bit with the young woman who sat next to me (a recent college grad with a real job), made sure I watched as we flew past Glenview, checked my emails, and dozed.
Just north of the Wisconsin border, our train came to a stop without announcing the station. Though we sat in mid track for a few minutes, I didn’t worry about the delay, until I looked at my watch. My plan was to meet my husband at the Milwaukee station and drive to the 7:05 Brewers game. The train was definitely going to be late.
Eventually the train attendant announced there was an “incident” ahead of us on the tracks, repeating several times that there was no danger to us. A red flag flickered in my head. The next time the attendant came through the car, she repeated the message verbatim, adding the kicker: we would be delayed on the track for at least two more hours. At least. She apologized and added she was not able to give us any more information.
In unison the passengers reached for their cells, scrambling to reach their relatives and friends. Eventually a conclusion rippled through the three cars: a train ahead of us must have had hit something. Or someone. I didn’t want to hear that. Or picture it.
People pestered the attendant, asking why we couldn’t just get off right where we were. That was impossible, the attendant explained. Because we weren’t in a station, there was no safe way for us to even climb down from the train, much less scramble down the bank. We were shanghaied.
My stomach reacted. I was hungry. Dinner was hours away. I wasn’t alone. The snack seller became very popular. I bet he had a record day. Though a candy bar and chips weren’t on my normal diet, they had to do. My seatmate announced she intended to get drunk and settled for two mini bottles of vodka.
Eventually we heard good news. Our train had been cleared to move on to the next station. Grateful (and in my case, still famished) we streamed off and scrambled to get rides to our cars. My husband zoomed down to rescue me.
We got home around ten p.m. and checked the internet to see what had caused our “situation.” Dark news: a young woman had crossed the tracks in front of a south bound train and died instantly. The death was ruled accidental or suicide.
That night, safe in bed next to my husband, I was haunted by an incident near another train station on another day long ago. I will post the rest of the story in a few days. Stayed tuned.
My Mother Always Said By A. Y. Stratton
Even though my mother died years ago from complications of Parkinson’s Disease, I still think of May as her month. First, of course, there’s Mother’s Day, and then two weeks later is her birthday.
Mom’s greatest gift to my big brother and me was telling us she loved us every day. In addition, however, she enjoyed spouting bits of philosophy to teach us about REAL LIFE. Invariably she authenticated her wise sayings by beginning with the phrase, “My mother always said.”
As my kids grew up, Mom’s aphorisms magically spilled out of my mouth, word for word, including the “my mother always said” part. When our oldest child became a mother herself, she encouraged me to collect the sayings. Appropriately, the first one that comes to mind acknowledges the inevitable fallibility of parenting: My mother always said, “If you don’t punish the child right the first time, you’ll get another chance.” That always makes me laugh, because it’s so true. (It also offers tolerance for our inadequacies in the parenting role.)
Though this next saying has never been proven by a scientist and was obviously cooked up by a parent desperate for sleep, deep down I still believe it. (As a result I’ve been tired all my life.) “MMAS (my mother always said) the sleep you get before midnight is the most important.” Try thinking of that at three a.m. before your Physics exam, as you lie in your rumpled college bed, worrying about flunking out of college.
Here’s another bogus one I fell for. Despite my wish for loafers or patent leather party shoes, I spent my childhood in tie shoes and so did my kids, as I dutifully followed Mom’s rule: “MMAS if you wear sensible shoes when you’re young you’ll be able to wear the highest high heels when you’re grown.” Today I love wearing high heels, even when my bunions yearn for sensible shoes.
I admit I used this one more than all the others. It wasn't magical, but it felt right, especially when the sweet eleven-year-old begged to wear make-up or attend a rock concert: “MMAS there’s a time for everything and everything in its time.” Mom even had advice for anyone who happens to spy a kid being naughty in a harmless way, like tossing toilet paper over the neighbor’s trees. “Remember, God gave you eyelids as well as eyes.”
Mom summed up the erratic nature of a high school girl’s social life, and believe me, I heard it echo in my head a lot: “When it rains, it pours.” Or put another way: “With men it’s feast or famine.”
With the exception of eating chocolate, I try to live by this motto: “The key to a good life is moderation in all things.” Then there are times when I echo Mom's weekly rant: “Everyone’s crazy but you and me, and sometimes I wonder about you.”
All the folks who no longer speak to their neighbors or uncles, thanks to some business deal gone bad, could have learned from Mom. MMAS “never do business with friends or relatives.” Mom’s warning for both personal and business situations was this harsh version of the Golden Rule: "Be kind to everyone you meet on the way up. You never know who you’ll meet on the way down.”
Here’s an adage that might be tattooed in my brain, since I heard it whenever I wished for something I couldn’t have: MMAS, “Nobody can afford to buy everything they want, dear, even the Rockefellers.” I was certain the Rockefellers, whoever the heck they were, had a really cool bike and all the dolls ever made by Madame Alexander.
Each saying reminds me of the sweet woman who thought her children were the most wonderful treasures in the world.
Mom always said that part of her would be with me forever.
“Recipe for Maximalization of Potentialities in Re:
by Cousin Joan, Cousin Lyn and Me
Isn’t that an impressive title? What brilliant people the authors must be to incorporate so many multi-syllabic words in one short line! Why, there was even a word that contains the syllable “ize.”
Never mind that the sentences don’t mean anything. Not a thing!
A while ago, quite a while ago (back when my neck still was taut and I still had kids living at home), my cousins and I drove from Milwaukee to Glenview, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) to have lunch with relatives. During the hour and a half drive home, we hit a topic that irked us all: the fact that Americans no longer spoke good English. I blamed TV and radio announcers for using mangled tenses and phrases so often that the words sounded correct to our communal ears.
We agreed our big peeve was the way people attempted to sound intellectual by adding “ize” to a word, inflating its meaning. (Or “inflatizing” its meaning.)
With fifty miles to go before our exit off highway I-94, we began to write our own impressive document. A few magnificent sentences became several luscious paragraphs, and our giggles exploded with each enhancement. (Enhancetizement?) After we got home, I entered it on my computer and voila!
Well, there was really no “voila” moment, mainly because we shared it with a limited audience, our husbands. But guess what! I just found our magna carta, safely stored on my computer (which, by the way, needs to be replaced).
And here it is, verbatimized:
“Communicating the goals attendant to the process of maximized potential must be a hierarchical system of prioritization. For example, in a voluntary situation, vis-a-vis the community, one would hopefully utilize techniques gained by first-hand personal experience. It would be too simplistic to accredit one's success in today's world to minimal planning but in-depth focus. Value clarification must precede analysis and diagnosis.
The viability of one's potential can be readily seen in the progress from beginning to end. 40% of volunteers achieving maximized potential have made annual reassessments of their training needs and capabilities. Most importantly, they have deemphasized the negativity of their life styles and clarified their career paths.
Moreover, the input (output) from the special uniqueness of one's personal and public commitment will serve to collectivize responsibility for self, home, family, community, nation, world, etc. The actualizing of self-discovery will enhance one's contribution in tomorrow's world and enable one to effectively interact and qualitatively communicate.”
A. Y. Stratton’s Top Ten Favorite Books Read in 2011, in alphabetical order:
Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
Hot Rocks by Nora Roberts
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
My hands-down favorite was The Art of Fielding, for lots of reasons (baseball theme, compelling and complicated characters, humorous and emotional coming of age/romance story). Next would be Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It was such fun to root for the unlikely hero and heroine! Of course Jane’s books are an annual ritual. And I’ve been addicted to Connelly for some time now. (He’s not exactly a romance writer, is he?) I hope to see a sequel to the Baker Street Letters. Natually I laughed out loud at Bossypants!
Published in 1939, Address Unknown is a tiny book of fiction composed of letters written in the mid 1930s between a Jew in America and his close friend and business associate who moved back to Germany after World War I. The rise of Hitler sets the chilling theme and the tragic ending. A friend passed the leather bound book to me while we were sitting in our theater seats waiting for a play to begin. It still contained fragile end pages with due date stamps going back to the forties.
“Trending Now” is the headline I spotted a few days ago when I clicked on my email. In case you aren’t as up to date as I am, let me share who and what are clustered among the top trends:
and Kristen Wiig.
I had to consult Wikipedia to find out who Kris, Vanessa, Mila and Kristen are. Be assured they are a trend unto themselves, and their trendship will last about as long as this sentence takes to write.
I had hoped my husband and I might make the list. In order to increase our chances for a future listing, we’ve lined up some sure-fire gigs. At our church Christmas pageant, one of us will have a wardrobe malfunction. During the utility company board dinner, a bus boy will snag the microphone and confess he’s been cooking meals for me in secret for years. I will deny it and then breakdown, insisting I may have had at least one extra-culinary incident. My husband will agree to speak to the press, promising to stand by me, no matter how bad the food gets.
Or I might get into photo cards, run for president of something, or occupy a place that’s not already occupied.
Here’s my Trending Now list:
thinking outside the box is so common, it’s actually inside the box;
neck movements that sound like tiny kernels of corn popping;
strategies for preventing body parts from sagging even lower;
wrapping holiday gifts;
getting my husband to put the lights on the Christmas tree;
The Muppet Movie.
Are you sitting down? Because this one is going to knock you off your feet.
Today's hottest, sexiest trend is BUNIONS.
What’s on your very own Trending Now list?
Please check out this event at Romance Reviews...
I am very excited to be a part of a wonderful author event at Romance Reviews. The purpose is to promote BOOKS, of course. This one is so clever everyone will have fun discovering new authors and winning prizes, including my first published novel, Buried Heart by A. Y. Stratton.
Check out http://www.theromancereviews.com/event.php, read and enjoy. If you drop down the page to the contest questions, you’ll find a question about Buried Heart (question #8). There will be more questions throughout the month. Good luck! (And please let me know what you win!) An
The dim lighting painted the parking garage a creepy
yellow. Lauren seemed to be the only one around.
A shiver rippled down her neck. Just the week
before two students had been robbed at gunpoint
and another was raped in an alley not far from
She picked up her pace and rounded the next
loop, listening to the clacking of her high-heeled
boots. The blue Neon was nowhere in sight.
Below her two men laughed, harsh, staccato
barks that reverberated through the cold
concrete. Lauren’s heartbeat blipped in her
throat. She could hardly swallow. If she didn’t
spot her car soon, her toes would be completely
She heard footsteps and looked around. No
one was in sight. Of course, there was nothing to
be afraid of, as long as she remembered what
she’d learned in her self-defense class: keep
aware of the surroundings, keep the keys in
hand, and proceed quickly to the vehicle. If she
could find the damn thing.
With a wash of relief, Lauren spotted the front
end of the Neon. Beyond it, a man in a leather
jacket banged through the exit door. Lauren
sprang back and dropped the car keys. Instantly
two men in black knit hats exploded from
nowhere and toppled the guy in the leather
Lauren snatched up her keys and scurried
between two cars, fear thudding in her chest.
Shouts careened off the walls. A fist smacked
against skin. Someone swore in Spanish.
Punches and expletives jammed the air.
Lauren peeked around a bumper and reached
in her pocket for her cell phone, but it wasn’t
there. In the dim glow, she watched the victim,
still on his feet, slam his elbow into one guy’s
nose, then whirl, and smack the other guy in the
neck. With a howl of pain, one attacker rammed
his head into the victim’s belly while the other
one jumped on his back and all three collapsed to
the concrete floor.
Abruptly the noise stopped. Lauren snuck
another look. The attackers held the victim face
down across the hood of a car with his arms
stretched behind him. They asked him where
something was, tesoro, treasure, and then
smashed his face into the hood of the car.
Lauren’s knees shook, and she clutched the
door handle of a salt-smudged Honda to keep
from falling. The poor guy getting bashed up
looked familiar. Was it that archeology professor
who was talking to Enid? She had to get help, but
her Neon was still at least ten slots away with her
cell phone in it.
“Come on, primo, tell us, where is it?” a man
growled. Something metal glinted in his hand.
Was it a gun?
If Lauren interfered, she could get hurt, but
no way was she going to stand around like a
pathetic jerk and let someone die if she could
prevent it. She took a deep breath, stamped her
feet as loudly as she could, and hoped the echo
would magnify the impact.
“Hey, Chuck, Jerry, here’s the car!” she
shrieked. “I told you it wasn’t down there!” She
stamped until her feet stung. “Hey, you guys, up
here! I can see it. Listen!” She pressed her car’s
panic button, and the blare ricocheted like a
Lauren watched the attackers clatter down
the stairway, and a wave of triumph washed over
her. Her idea had worked. She’d scared them off!
The poor victim was still alive. As her car alarm
blared on, a car started on the level below and
“You all right?” When the man didn’t answer,
Lauren hurried over and found him leaning
against the door of an old Jeep Cherokee with his
hands over his face. He stood up for a second and
staggered. It was the professor, and he looked
To celebrate the anniversary of my first published novel I will be giving away copies of Buried Heart on The Romance Reviews, an internet magazine. Here's one of my favorite scenes, where the plot thickens--in more ways than one!
Buried Heart by A. Y. Stratton, 2009 from The Wild Rose Press
Excerpt, pages 30-33
Setting: January evening, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lauren Richmond’s apartment, the day after she has rescued Professor Luis Hernandez from muggers
“As I said last night, I was lucky someone like you showed up, someone with guts.” He lifted one eyebrow and glanced at her sideways. “You’re a nice surprise.”
“I didn’t, uh, expect you to look so, um—.” His knee began to bounce, and he glanced over at the fireplace.
“You have to finish that sentence. You didn’t expect me to look so what?”
He faced her and stroked the bristles on his chin. “Last night you were a mystery of contrasts. All I could see was a gorgeous pair of legs beneath a giant coat and a pair of big eyes peaking through a huge wooly thing wrapped around your head.” His eyelashes lowered as he grinned. “Brave and beautiful—that’s the surprise.”
Lauren had to look away from his admiring eyes. The jolt of power she’d felt in the parking garage filled her chest once more. “Thank you,” she said, as if men always showered her with such compliments.
She wished she could touch his wrist right where the hairs began on his arm. She also wished she could feel the muscle of his forearm and wondered whether his eyebrows were stiff or soft. If he didn’t start talking again soon, she’d have to fill the vacuum. “Um, I um, last night?” She looked up as Luis resettled himself closer to her. “Last night I heard you talk about your search for a mysterious codex. It sounded pretty exciting.”
Luis nodded and jiggled his foot. “It is.”
Lauren noticed his bootlaces had been broken and knotted in several places as she waited for him to say more, while he watched her with a hint of a smile.
“I think you said a codex is a primitive sort of book?”
The smile faded as he nodded. “Actually codex is the term for any ancient manuscript. The Mayans, my ancestors by the way, made paper from fig bark or deer hide and then they coated it with stucco. Instead of binding sheets together like our books, they folded the long pieces of bark like an accordion.” He demonstrated by opening his palm to the ceiling and then to the floor. “They used the paper to record their history and their scientific discoveries, particularly astronomy.” His voice took on the tone of the teacher. “Unfortunately for us, the Spanish burned most of them.”
“You mean the Conquistadors?”
Luis’s dark eyes came alive. “They’re the ones.”
“We never studied that in school. What did the writing look like?”
Luis ran his fingers back and forth through his hair, making some clumps stand up and matting the rest. “They used symbols, glyphs, drawings of animals, both real and imaginary in bright colors.” He waved his hand toward the fireplace where Lauren had hung her mother’s painting of an orange and red sunset. “Colors even brighter than those. To the Sixteenth Century Conquistadores it looked like the work of the devil.” His eyebrows slid up, and he shot a sideways grin at her. “I have to admit the first time I saw markings like them they gave me the creeps.”
“But the Spaniards tried to burn them all?”
He nodded. “And nearly succeeded.” The words shot out like bullets, and Lauren jumped. A muscle flexed in his jaw. “King Philip the Second ordered the extermination of the so-called ‘heresy’ in his realm. In the mid-sixteenth century the Bishop of Yucatan ordered his men to burn all Mayan records.” Luis’s voice faded away like the first rumble of a thunderstorm as he touched her elbow. “Imagine how you’d feel watching invaders burn all the books from the Library of Congress.”
“But some were saved?”
“In the eighteenth century three Mayan codices turned up in the collections of European royalty, souvenirs Cortez gave out to whichever power would support him in his exploration. Everything they’ve found since has been a forgery or an indecipherable mess.”
“Yet you think there’s another one?”
“I do.” Luis licked his lips as his eyes drifted away from Lauren’s face to her neck, then to her hands and back again. “Are you sure there’s no kissing here?”
You have to promise not to tell any of my friends what I’m about to confess. Promise?
First I should explain I have never aimed very high in the area they call “domestic arts.” In fact, when we got married eons ago, I took very little pride in cooking, baking, needle-pointing, knitting, decoupage, etc. I barely knew how to fry an egg, had never made brownies, and had never done a whole load of wash. I blushed when people said “she doesn’t even know how to boil water.” Frankly, I wondered why anyone would need to boil water.
The first time I decided to bake something, I was stumped by the line in my brand-new Betty Crocker cookbook: “cream the butter.” They don’t bother to define that term in the cookbook. And there was no verb “to cream” in my dictionary. (Don't ask how those brownies turned out.)
Given all of the above, I somehow managed to make enough spaghetti, chili, hot dogs, hamburgers, fish sticks, green salads, vegetables, lamb chops, roast beef, stuffed turkey, tacos, beef stews and tuna casseroles to raise three kids and keep one husband for, as I said before, eons.
Over the years when the topic of recipes cropped up (or was ‘stirred’ up), I was silent. When friend after friend, after extremely thoughtful and hopeful friend suggested I join a cooking class with them, my response was ‘no thanks.’ When they pressed, I beefed up my refusal with, “Are you kidding? Can you picture me cooking all day long?”
My reputation was fixed. Whenever I’m invited to the tennis group or book club pot luck, my assigned contribution is something like “two kinds of lettuce for salad, “two boxes of Girl Scout cookies,” or “three cheeses.”
But, here’s the part that you mustn’t tell. I like to iron. My favorite thing to iron is bedding, particularly pillow cases. Does that make sense? Of course not.
When we were first married, eons ago, everything was cotton. I ironed our two sheets. I ironed my blouses. I ironed my husband’s shirts. I even ironed his boxer shorts.
Yes. His boxer shorts. Eons ago.
After child number one was born, we slept on wrinkled sheets. Once child number two was born, well, let’s say the boxers were neglected. I can’t remember what went pfluey after kid number three arrived, but by then along came permapress and voila! (Or as we say in Mequon, WI, “viola!”) And my ironing days were over.
When the kids flew the coop, one of my darling daughters pointed out there were nicer, softer sheets in this world. It didn’t take long for me to covet them. I admit it’s silly and extravagant. After all, most of the time you’re in bed you’re asleep, so what difference does it make if the sheets feel like a cool, drifting cloud or a bath towel that went stiff in the dryer?
I invested in one set of creamy, heavenly sheets, and I was hooked. Even my husband (who is not quite eons old) noticed and liked the feel. It seemed like a crime to put them back on our bed after the dryer had scrunched them. I decided to iron them for old time’s sake.
That’s when it happened. The smell of fresh sheets and pillow cases being ironed wafted me back to my childhood. I inhaled and I could picture my mother zipping her ancient iron back and forth over endless layers of spritzed cottons. Her hands were strong, quick, and sure. I even heard the creak of the wooden ironing board as she leaned her weight onto the doily, or into my father’s shirt sleeve, or along the hem of one of her dresses.
I pictured our kitchen, with the tiny old Frigidaire in one corner, the chewed up wooden dog bed just in front of it, the painted wooden drop-leaf table next to the back door, the metal canisters along the sink counter. On the counter is the giant radio. Jack Brickhouse is narrating the Cubs game.
Watching Mom iron was a comfort. She was home, chatting with me, finding out about my school day.
Just remembering the ironing scene brings me peace.
She lodged her car where she could watch.
The motel lights were dim.
Her hands were cold, her head ablaze.
What did she see in him?
He’d never break it off with her.
He didn’t have the guts.
Why did he have to chase them all—
Such a bunch of sluts?
She’d craved him with her body,
Worshipped in her mind.
Though love sparked brightly off his lips,
His heart and soul were blind.
In arcs of light, a triangle,
He paused, his tie half-done.
She inched herself out of the car,
Two hands wrapped round the gun.
He frowned, astonished, as he spied
His woman drawing close.
She raised the gun, then blew a kiss
And aimed it at his nose.
Calmly now she ogled as
His ribcage blew apart.
She finally got a peek at it,
His cruel, cheating heart.
*Author’s note about this “romantic” piece: I found this recenlty, while I was cleaning my desk. I wrote it in 1998 and never could figure out what to do with it. I have to chuckle when I think that a nice “girl” like me could concoct such a scene.
New York City, July 2011
Every time I visit The Big Apple, America’s signature mega-city, I am both intimidated and thrilled. Right there, in that humming city, lit agents hold court, manuscripts become books.
Once I registered at the hotel overlooking Times Square and unpacked, I jumped into the dizzying chaos of two thousand attendees, signing books, spotting friends in the bar, connecting with complete strangers at meals, and restocking their pen and gizmo supplies in the Goody Room. Choosing which workshops to attend is always tough, but locating the rooms where they meet proved to be a test too.
I am sharing some of the notes I took at the lunches, workshops and lectures. Since I recorded my jottings in a VERY casual manner, I am unable to attribute each idea to its author. Instead, I must THANK all the eminent speakers who shared their experience and advice.
During the Opening Session, I enjoyed the camaraderie among three best-selling authors, Tess Gerritsen, Dianna Gabaldon and Steve Berry. Candid and funny, each shared tips for honing the craft and building a story.
“There are 3 kinds of characters: the onion with layers to peel; the mushroom that pops up uninvited; and the hard nut that is so hard to crack it has to sit in your head for awhile.”
Marketing idea: “Each day on Facebook, plant a line from your work in progress.”
Another marketing idea: “Visit libraries—you know there are people there who read books.”
“Giving away books helps sales— a bit like the drug trade.”
“Spy stories are back.”
Rules for a writer: “1. Read a lot. Analyze what makes a book good. 2. Write. 3. Don’t stop writing.”
A Few Notes From Madeline Hunter’s emotional and inspiring Luncheon Speech
“We can’t control this world, but we can control the one we create in our heads.
We’re all a little crazy. We invest years mastering an art that may never materialize. We set ourselves up for repeated rejections. We willingly expose our world views, our pain, and our inner voice to strangers.”
I've attended Mr. Hauge's two-hour workshops twice and come away with a head full of great tips. No way would I miss a chance to attend another “Identity to Essence” class. Though simple, his lessons always zing me like a lightening bolt. Using movie plots as examples, he explains how the author (or screen writer) must know and SHOW what each character sees in the other, loves about the other--a quality that no one else recognizes. Later in the story the author must show how this awareness changes both the lover and the loved one. If the author can depict this evolution, the story will sing in a reader’s heart.
Notes from the Building Sexual Tension Workshop
To understand how to build sexual tension, read other authors’ love scenes, from the chaste kiss on the hand to the sweaty roll in the hay, and pick out the power words.
Make sure the reader sees what is at stake for each of the lovers: physical release, revenge, solace, affirmation of life, nurturing, ownership, risk, self respect, heart, freedom, control, illusions about effect on opposite sex, regret. In each sex scene who is in control? Show how that changes as the relationship grows. In a sex scene use the POV (point of view) of the one who has most to lose, or to hide. The hero often thinks less about sex going into the scene and more about sex coming out of one. Suggestion: use heroine’s POV going in and hero’s POV coming out of the sex scene. And don’t forget to use dialog to increase intimacy.
Random notes with no hint of a source
Success equals commitment without compromise. (Ugh. That sounds like one of my father’s Saturday morning commands.)
Be sure to cover all four story arcs: the heroine’s arc, the hero’s arc, their romantic arc, the external arc.
Don’t forget all three parts of GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). What keeps your lovers apart?
Klout.com measures the market level of a social media hit, for example “Smart Bitches” versus “Harlequin.”
Collaboration with other authors increases your impact on Social Media.
Mainstream suspense continues to be strong.
Best advice I got in one small blast: “Writing makes me sane. STAY OFF THE LOOP!”
There’s more, of course, but that’s plenty to digest for one day.
P.S. I am tempted to drop in on my email, but am cowed by the aforementioned advice.
When my brother was transferred with his family to Venezuela, then England and Germany, my childhood dreams of seeing the world began to come true. Eventually, I got to go along on some of my husband’s business trips as well, and I was hooked. I loved seeing Big Ben and Parliament, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, the Parthenon and the Sphinx, the Great Wall of China and the Roman Forum. Even now my list of places I hope to visit never seems to shrink.
In each country I discovered shopping for souvenirs could be easy, once I had brushed up on basic vocabulary and had memorized the exchange rate for each country. (The Euro now makes this simpler.) After my early successes, I began to brag I could shop in any language.
A few years ago (before the euro), my husband’s company hosted a meeting in Seville, Spain, which included the spouses. I was thrilled. During our tour to Cordoba, the capital of El-Andalus in its glory years, we visited the magnificent mosque that had been converted into a cathedral.
As we strolled through a cluster of souvenir stands along the narrow lanes outside the mosque, I noticed some silk shawls and checked the prices. In Spain the simple formula everyone used to calculate the US price was to eliminate the last three digits. All the shawls were priced around 100,000 pesetas, or $100 US, about right for my souvenir. But the bus was waiting, and I obediently hopped on. During our five-day visit, I found no down time for shopping in between the group lunches, dinners and bus trips.
Finally on the last day, I noticed a gap in our schedule between breakfast and the group photo and headed for the nearest shops. Within minutes I’d found a lovely creamy white shawl with long fringe, just what I’d hoped for. The price was 150,000 pesetas. I eliminated the three zeros and decided $150 US was a bargain. In my best shopper’s Spanish I said I’d take it, produced my credit card, and careened back to our hotel in triumph, with moments to spare before the photo.
The rest of the day was filled with a visit to a bull-training ranch, lunch, product demonstrations, and the farewell dinner. By the time I finished packing and climbed in bed to write in my travel diary, my husband was sound asleep.
So he missed what happened when I opened the receipt from the shawl and read the amount. And counted the zeros. And counted them again. And couldn’t breathe.
There was one too many. Just one. Like Mercutio’s wound, it wasn’t as big as a church door, but it was big enough.
I assume by now you have figured out that I spent $1500 on the shawl, not $150. In my initial panic, I nearly stuck my finger in my husband’s ribs to broadcast my idiocy, but stopped myself. Waking him to confess was nearly as big a mistake as the one I’d made at the store.
The next day we left at dawn to take a train to Madrid, so there was no way I could return the shawl. The sooner I came clean with my husband, the better. Once we were settled on the train, I began my announcement with, “I did a really dumb thing yesterday.”
Because he’d heard that sort of introduction before in our marriage, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “What?” he said, slumping in defeat like one of the poor bulls we’d seen the day before.
I gave him the blow by blow and waited for him to growl, “Didn’t you even LOOK at the receipt before you signed it? Didn’t it seem like too small a price for a big silk thing? You do realize it’s going to cost even more with the duty you’ll have to pay?”
But all he murmured was, “I can see how that would happen.”
My husband the bill checker, the man who began his career as an accountant, was telling a very generous, very sweet fib.
The expensive incident soon grew to legend. Whenever I wear the shawl, which is quite gorgeous (as it should be), and someone compliments me, I tell the tale. Wives who hear the story drag their husbands over to hear it too. The wives are delighted with me, since I have done something vastly more foolish than they ever have. The husbands are equally entertained, since it wasn’t their wife who missed the important zero.
These days my husband says the price of the shawl was worth it, just in story value alone.
You got to love a guy like that.
Do the Contents of Your Car
I’m getting a new car tomorrow! Very exciting, especially since it will have one of those gadgets that beep when the car is about to hit something. Too bad I didn’t have one right after we installed the new post for the basketball hoop. Or the time I left the yard gate open—wide open. For me backing out of the garage has always been the most impactful operation for me.
I promised my cute husband I would empty the car before we make the exchange. So I just did. What I found was revealing. Maybe too revealing.
Starting clockwise around the car, in the glove compartment I found no gloves, just music tapes. Quaint, eh? The car has an actual tape player, so I could trundle through the world singing along with my oldies, but goodies. Fifteen of them. Several featured the Carpenters, as in, “We’ve only just begun to live…”
And lots of CDs. (Pretty advanced of me to have both modes of electronics.) Only one featured the Carpenters, as in, “Sharing horizons that are new to us…”
In the passenger door pockets were 53 Trivial Pursuit cards, two plastic spoons (unused), two sets of napkins, an ice scraper, sunglasses that fall off my nose, a pad of note paper, a map of southeastern Wisconsin, an emergency service pamphlet from AAA, a copy of the labyrinth at our church, and a map of where my parents are buried at Wisconsin Memorial Park.
In the pocket behind the front passenger seat were two books for two- to three-year-olds, purchased ten years ago, when our first grandchildren were born, and beloved by those that came along behind.
The trunk contained the vital stuff: a Brewers blanket, two knit hats, five autographed copies of Buried Heart , three Sendiks red plastic shopping bags, a Brewers fleece sweatshirt, a raincoat, a pair of mittens, a Packer hat, a large umbrella, a protective seat cover for carrying plants, and two Packer flags for the car window. (Clamped to the car window is the Brewers flag. I rotate, according to the season.)
In the pocket behind the driver’s seat was a map of Wisconsin. In the driver’s door pocket, I found more sunscreen, three packets of tissue, a tire gauge (oh, what an optimist my husband is!), as well as the necklace I wore several weeks ago.
Snuggled into the console were my MOST VALUABLE ITEMS: one dollar and forty-seven cents in change, a claim ticket to heaven knows what, two water bottles, four lipsticks (I wondered where my Bobbi Brown creamy lip rose petal went!), a James Tayhlor CD, a Roy Orbison CD, three pens, a sunscreen stick, a charger for my cell phone, and the watch I can’t remember to take to the jeweler.
Missing from every crevice and corner was the cell phone that vanished five weeks ago.
Deadline by A. Y. Stratton
An exciting thing happened yesterday. At the bottom of the last chapter of my latest romantic suspense story I wrote the words “The End.”
I am going to repeat that really loudly:
“I WROTE THE WORDS “THE END” AFTER THE LAST CHAPTER OF THE STORY I’VE BEEN WRITING FOR EONS!”
Not really eons. A tad more than a year ago, this idea fluttered in the back of my bean. While I was struggling over some chapters my new editor had said needed help, I got to thinking what fun it would be to have a man and a woman fall in love over a dead body.
That’s the kind of concentration I have. The editor kept telling me to work a bit more on the first three chapters. I did that, but she was still dissatisfied. I gave her another effort. And another. The chapters were getting longer, but not better.
I began to wonder why a man and woman would be hiding in a closet. Suddenly I had an answer. Obviously, they each broke into the same house on the same night. Since my work on the “less than excellent chapters” continued to flounder, I focused on the next question. Were both of my intruders thieves?
Of course not. Romances about jewel thieves haven’t been hot for some time now. However, it’s possible that could change if vampires actually stayed dead for awhile.
Okay, so my characters weren’t thieves. And of course they weren’t murderers. And I was not going to make them crazy.
The next part was quite fun. In order to create characters sympathetic to my potential readers (and to my editor, of course), I had to cook up legitimate, as in legal, reasons for Nathan and Kate to sneak into the home of a wealthy criminal lawyer. Within moments of their unfriendly confrontation, Kate and Nathan hear someone else arrive at the house. The nearest hiding place is the master bedroom closet.
I pictured Nathan as a man on a mission of justice, while Kate was a loyal woman on a crazy errand for her aging grandmother. There they were, trembling in the closet, nose to nose, chest to chest, surrounded by plastic-covered ball gowns and fur coats. Correction: she trembled; he was stalwart.
And then I made sure a gun exploded in the next room. Bloody, deadly, and oh, so romantic. Talk about the ideal way to meet your mate!
Back to my deadline problem. How do all those OTHER authors do it? People actually complete two books, three books, even five per year. I’ve been to lots of workshop sessions on how it’s done--the daily word target, the story arc charts, the crack of dawn creative moments, the middle of the night schedules, the ability to block out all distractions. I should repeat that last one: the ability to block out all distractions.
(Was that a rose-breasted grosbeak that just flew by my window? The phone just rang. It’s my sister-in-law. I wonder how my baseball team is doing. I should check.)
My real life intrudes, but that’s where I get some great quotes. No, I did not get my “fall in love over a dead body” idea from real life. But now that I think of it, funerals are probably a great place to pick up a date, depending on how old you are, of course.
Hmm. Maybe my next story will begin with two people falling in love at a funeral. I could call it “Dying for a Date,” “Plotting for Love,” or how about “His or Hearse?”
Or maybe I should just call it “Deadline.”
One day a few years ago, a new sign appeared along our road. Apparently aimed at interlopers, it announces: “Clean up after your dog.”
The sign reminded me of Mycroft and Kirk, two of the most wonderful Golden Retrievers that ever deposited a pile in a neighbor’s driveway, on the path to the school bus or under the kids’ swing set.
When our children were growing up, nearly every house along our winding, narrow lane had a dog. Most of us took care of their needs the same way: we opened the door and let them out--by themselves with no pooper scooper, no leash and no fence, invisible or otherwise. After all, we lived in the country where animals ran free.
The neighborhood dog population was as mixed as the owners. Tiger, the huge Golden who lived two blocks from us, guarded our main intersection by waggling up to lick kids on their way to the bus stop. Digby, a Wheaten Terrier, was a car-chaser who enjoyed biting tires, which proved to be his doom one slippery winter day. At two in the morning, a mixed lab named Star loved to stand in our yard and howl at the moon, or what she thought was the moon, but may have been our landscape lights. During my carpool duty, a collie-style mutt named Molly, often threw herself into my car and refused to leave.
One summer evening I drove down the street to pick up a baby sitter just as Peter, aged twelve or so, stood in a neighbor’s driveway and threw a ball for Jamie, his fuzzy Scottish terrier. The ball whizzed in front of my car. I braked, but Jamie didn’t. The image of Peter carrying off his beloved pet will always be with me.
When we took Mycroft on long hikes, Digby trotted along as if we’d invited him. One neighbor told me she enjoyed walking her dog past our house, because Kirk, the sweet Golden who replaced Mycroft, always bounded over and induced her to throw his gooey ball.
We were oblivious of nearby Bayside’s leash law until the Bayside police literally collared Mycroft at the home of one of his spring flings. However, even that didn’t change our habits for long. To us, Bayside, Wisconsin, was a citified suburb, while Mequon, Wisconsin, was country.
A few years later my doorbell rang on a Saturday morning, and there was a Mequon policeman standing on the stoop.
“Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” he said, “but I want to warn you to keep your dog on a leash or on your property.”
“My dog?” I said as I leaned out the door and spotted Kirk curled up on the grass in the sun. “He’s right there in the yard, sir.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “I just followed him down the street and into your driveway.”
After that we lived pretty much as scofflaws, until the final incident. It was February, and we’d had a lot of snow followed by a sudden thaw. I got a call from Sarah next door. With little introductory chatter, she announced she and her husband John were having guests for lunch, and he was out cleaning up the patio.
I had a bad feeling about the direction of the conversation when Sarah went on to say how much they enjoyed seeing Kirk during his daily morning visits. He was so friendly, she said, and they missed their old dog.
Kirk liked to eat the bread they put out for the birds, she added, and then finished with a flourish. After he ate the bread, he always left a pile right there on the patio.
“A pile?” I asked. How could my sweet Kirk do such a thing? “Every day?”
“This morning John counted seventeen piles,” she said.
Seventeen piles convinced us to invest in an invisible fence, and Kirk’s roaming days were over.
It’s no surprise times have changed in the neighborhood. Today Mycroft and Kirk, as well as Ashley the cat, are settled more or less permanently beneath our birch tree along the ravine. Now when we go for a walk the only dogs we see are out of our reach on someone’s leash or barking at us from within their invisible barrier. Not one of the dogs has a ball for us to throw. Not one waggles up to flop over, charm us with a sweet face or beg to be petted.
P.S. I fondly remember Digby’s replacement, Sheena, the Golden Retriever who lived across the street. She died soon after Kirk did, but her presence that year eased our loss. We were putting on an addition to our house, and every morning at seven a.m. the workmen showed up. Every morning at 7:05 a.m. Sheena trotted up our driveway to join them. She spent most of her day in our yard, but especially savored the ten-thirty sandwich break, when the workmen sat in a row along the garage wall. She wagged and wiggled from one to the other, cadging food scraps and love, as if she had entered a heavenly cafeteria line. She gained a bit of weight in her 13th year before she died, but what a way to go!
A few evenings ago while my husband and I were out to dinner with a group of people, I happened to eavesdrop on a tiny bit of conversation between a woman and her nearly-thirty-year-old son. The topic was marriage.
Without craning my neck across the young man’s back, I couldn’t catch every word, but I managed to hear him say, “I don’t see what difference it makes whether you’re married or not.”
His mother answered, “Marriage is a promise.”
I glanced down the table at my husband, the man I promised to love. After so many years I don’t remember the words we said in our marriage, but cherish must have been in there somewhere.
A lush, romantic, vivid, active verb, “cherish” stems from the French word, “cher,” meaning dear. Here’s how my Webster’s Dictionary defines cherish: “To hold dear; feel or show affection for; to keep or cultivate with care and affection: nurture, to entertain or harbor in the mind deeply and resolutely.” Hold dear, show affection, keep with care, nurture, harbor in the mind resolutely: there you have the perfect vows.
I cherish my husband. He’s the rock that doesn’t budge, the guy who holds me when bad, sad, or just plain annoying things happen. The guy I can talk to about anything. The one who forgives and/or tolerates my temper and my impatience. The man who thinks I am beautiful, even after my skin has somehow sprung loose from my body and my neck has transposed into a twin of my mother’s. Here’s the bonus: my man laughs at my jokes. Added bonus: he makes me laugh too.
Perhaps God works a bit like a romance writer. In the stories I write, I try to show how love can grow between two people. Maybe God begins the way I do. “Hey,” God muses, “There’s this young woman who thinks she’s doing fine without a man in her life. And over here there’s this guy who doesn’t have time to waste on a woman, a man who doesn’t believe in love. Why don’t I just plunk them together and see what happens to their hearts?”
At our wedding my husband and I promised to hold each other dear, to show and cultivate affection, to entertain and harbor each other in our minds deeply and resolutely. Moving in with someone, sharing furniture, rent, insurance, and even a car, doesn’t quite build the same foundation.
That cherish part? That’s the real deal.
February 15, 2:00 pm
Northwest Regional Library
February 22, 11:30
Guest Speaker, Anne Stratton (A. Y. Stratton)
Women of Trinity Luncheon
Naples, Florida 34102
March 12, 10:00 to noon
Writers’ Workshop and Lunch
With Joyce Wells
Quail Run Golf Club, Naples, FL
Information, 239 540-3588
12th Annual Reading Festival
March 19, 2011
10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Harborside Event Center
And Centennial Park
Fort Myers, FL
This is the easiest assignment I’ve had all week! Here’s another snippet from Buried Heart, my romantic suspense novel that eventually winds up on a Mayan ruin.
The scene set-up: Lauren, my protagonist, has just arrived in Mexico City with a group of students headed eventually for a dig site in the Yucatan Peninsula. They tour the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, where Lauren scrambles up the treacherous ribbon of narrow steps to the top of the Temple of the Sun and meets a stranger who seems to know her. He looms between her and the sun asks her if she feels the ghosts.
The stranger’s yellow teeth, bushy mustache and stone black eyes made her shiver.
“The ghosts of those chosen for sacrifice. Think, Senorita, if you had been up here on this temple one thousand five hundred years ago, you would have been one of them.” He squatted suddenly, and the sun blinded her.
“And people say they miss the good old days.” Lauren tried to laugh, but the man’s face loomed uncomfortably near, his breath hotter than the air and stinking of tobacco.
“The priest would place you in the center there.” He crowded her to the edge of the step and pointed his calloused finger. “With your lovely neck exposed, he would have the honor of draining some blood before lifting out your heart.”
Okay, I admit it was impossible to limit that quote to seven sentences. Consider the extra three as a bonus.
If you visit http://suspenseful7ss.blogspot.com/ you can read more SSSentences from of other authors who follow rules better than I do.
I am excited to participate in Elaina Lee’s web site action, called “Seven Suspenceful Sentences". She has collected a batch of romantic suspense authors (including me) to select a passage from our books that fits the category. She also asked us to include a seven word bio.
So I went to work, found about five passages from Buried Heart (which you can purchase in paperback or ebook from www.amazon.com and several other websites) and picked one.
Do visit her website to follow the other authors’ suspenseful sentences. You can find them at: http://suspenseful7ss.blogspot.com/ And, you can even add your own suspenseful sentences!
First, here’s my seven-word bio: Raised with love. Married the right man.
The 7 Suspenseful Sentences from page 288 of Buried Heart, Wild Rose Press, Oct 2009, by A. Y. Stratton:
Lauren tried not to think about being buried alive, about being stuck in that airless shaft, lost and alone, like the boys Luis had known. How long before her air ran out? Still she forced herself to inch her body forward. When her fingers broke through the stony muck, she wanted to cheer, but she had no breath. Her shoulders were wedged in the narrowest part of the passage.
She rested her head on the stones for a moment to listen for Luis and heard nothing but dripping water. “Please be okay,” she begged, but there was no answer.
Instead of blogging during the holidays, I was busy hugging relatives. The extended family was all in one place (Milwaukee, WI) including my kids, their spouses and THE GRANDCHILDREN, which was glorious. My husband’s sister and brother gathered their descendants too, all but my handsome nephew, a Navy Seal in Afghanistan.
We ate. We caroled. We exchanged presents. We cooked. We cleaned up. We laughed. We even played Christmas songs on kazoos! Believe or not, no one had a cold or the flu. Get this: I did not see one little runny nose the whole time!
This morning I happened to read the label on the container of the hair spray that I use after every shampoo and discovered that it promised to “volumize” my hair. The truth is, my hair has always needed volumizing. Somehow the genes that helped to grow thick hair on my father’s chest, legs and back did not find their way into the roots on my head.
In the midst of the volumization project, I got to thinking about the words and phrases that pop up in ads, on talk shows and in the mouths of politicians.
And in the chatter of sports announcers. I have a major problem with one of the guys who works the mike before and after baseball games in my town. Here is an example: “Prince Fielder, he’s the toughest competitor you’ll ever see.” Or this: “Brett Favre, he’s got an arm you can’t believe. And the coach, he’s just dying out there.” And Anne Stratton, she’s thinking of strangling the radio guy who is teaching every young sports fan to talk the same way.
Duplicating the subject is fine for occasional emphasis or as a contrast, as in, “Julie has bright blue eyes, but her brother Jim, he has the darkest brown eyes you ever saw.”
A few years ago I wrote the sportscaster a letter. I asked him to set a better example. And the guy, he never wrote back to me.
The phrase “as we go forward” distracts me every time I hear it, and I hear it a lot. I’m guessing politicians have trademarked it, possibly because it sounds so professorish, so much more cultured than saying “next year” or “someday soon.”
Listen the next time you hear an interview with a politician of any ilk (love that word ilk). He or she is likely to begin a sentence this way: “As we go forward, we will find a way to (insert whatever you wish for here) end the war, end world hunger, fly to Mars, get along with the members of the other party, lower the cost of health care, raise taxes, lower taxes, and give every member of Congress a chance to perform on “Dancing with the Stars.”
I wonder where else we might go--backward?
Time For Others to Vent
Now it’s your turn to vent. Please leave a comment telling me about your grammar pet peeve.
... or What do Kitchen Supplies, Mammograms and Snakes have to do with Romantic Suspense?
Early last spring, after a flurry of book signings and appearances for my debut novel, Buried Heart, I contacted a producer of “The Morning Blend,” a Milwaukee talk show that airs live on weekday mornings right after the “NBC Today Show.” In my email I included a brief synopsis and a blurb from the book, and mentioned that I would enjoy talking about it on the show.
The producer responded by saying he’d forward my information to the show’s executive producer.
In mid-August I got a phone message from Kim Buchanan, executive producer of The Morning Blend. She said she’d read my Milwaukee Brewers blog where I had mentioned my occasional lapse into superstition during baseball games and invited me to be a member of a panel discussion on Friday, the thirteenth of August. When I told her I was going to be out of town that day, she said she’d invite me on the show another time to talk about my book. I was flattered and crossed my fingers that Kim would contact me again.
And then she did! I got an email message from her on a Friday, inviting me to come on the show either the following Tuesday or Wednesday. I responded by saying, YES, I was available either day!
On Monday, when I hadn’t heard which day she wanted me, I assumed she had found others to fill the time. I was mad at myself for not getting the message to her immediately by phone. I debated whether or not to call her and then did. After I got her auto answer, I assumed a wonderful opportunity to plug my book had evaporated into the digital atmosphere.
While I was still kicking myself (not literally), my phone rang. Katie Pinkowski, producer of The Morning Blend, said she was following up for Kim. Yes, they were expecting me to be on the show on Tuesday, August 24, and would email me the info, including where and when to show up and how the show works.
After the call, I was propelled into outer space (not literally), fidgety with excitement and edging toward pure panic. The information they had sent me was thorough and very helpful, especially the part where I was encouraged to submit questions I hoped they would ask me.
What a great idea! Asking me the kind of questions about my book that I like to answer just might improve my chances of responding without stammering or going blank!
By dinnertime my stomach was rumbling like Mount Etna (literally). My heart was beating so fast I could read my pulse without touching my wrist (not literally). How would I manage to show up bright and irresistibly charming if I didn’t get any sleep?
Fearing highway backups, I left the house ridiculously early and arrived more than a half hour ahead of the producer’s suggested time.
Two pleasant female interns met me in the studio lobby and led me down a long hall to the “green room.” One of the interns gave me directions to the restrooms (always a reassuring piece of knowledge), pointed out the water cooler, and told me I was slotted to be the third guest on the show that day, so I might as well sit down and relax (yeah, right) and watch the show. The show began with the hostesses, Molly and Tiffany, debating when a woman should question her boyfriend about his marriage plans.
Right about then, a naturalist from Schlitz Audubon Nature Center arrived. One of the interns scurried in to ask him if he would show her the snake he’d brought for the show. The guy stood no more than three feet from me, pulled a pillowcase from his backpack, lifted out a skinny, coiled-up, two-foot snake and cupped it, encouraging us to pet him. The intern did, eagerly. Not wanting to be the wuss in the room, I took the tip of my finger and boldly brushed the skin of the little constrictor. I did not even shiver.
The next guest to arrive was a physician from Columbia St. Mary’s Van Dyck-Haebler Center for Mammography. His topics, he said, were the importance of annual mammograms and the cutting-edge technology offered at the center.
A regular on the show, Kathy Boelter of Boelter Superstore, arrived last. When she was called to the set first, I glanced over at the other two guests and said, “Nervous?” They shrugged and shook their heads.
Well, I sure was.
Soon the physician was ushered down the hall to the studio, leaving the snake man and me to watch Kathy, Molly and Tiffany chatting on the TV screen about some nifty kitchen pans and supplies. Then I was summoned.
Down the hall I followed the intern, around a few corners, through a wide double doorway and into a dark room with black walls, lots of electrical cables and huge, looming equipment. One of the interns reminded me to be silent when the camera lights were on and to step carefully over the cables that meandered across the floor. A few minutes later a man appeared out of the darkness, asked if I was Anne and attached a microphone to my blouse.
During an ad break, the Boelter Superstore demonstration table was wheeled away, and the physician tip-toed around the cables and sat on the couch to the left of the two hostesses. That was what I was supposed to do --- next.
Can’t say that I can remember much of the doctor’s conversation. In what seemed like three seconds, someone nodded at me and waved me over to the set.
I settled into the couch and introduced myself to Molly Fay and Tiffany Ogle. In seconds, their friendly chit-chat magically set me at ease. I saw my face on the monitors, followed by a photo of my book cover. Molly read the blurb I had sent them and made my book sound really great. And then…
Well, I don’t remember what came next, but it all went by quickly. By the time I realized I was enjoying our conversation, my stint had ended, and I was picking my way numbly across the cables again. Just as I got to my car, my husband called my cell phone to tell me I had been “Great!”
Later, watching the show my son recorded on his DVR, I was relieved and exhilarated. Oh, sure, I wished I’d said a few things differently, but overall I was quite pleased. If I get another chance to go on the show, I will know what fun it can be and I won’t be nervous (literally).
P.S. That was my second appearance on an NBC morning show. The first was when I was in college, and Dave Garroway was the host, but that’s another story.
Here's a link to my latest blog post on the MilwaukeeBrewers.com:
On Tuesday, I went on Channel 4's The Morning Blend to talk about Buried Heart.
Visit the WTMJ Morning Blend Website to see the video:
Battling the Sink Hole, Donald Maas, Twelve Steps to Intimacy and The Amazing Nora.Battling the Sink Hole, Donald Maas, Twelve Steps to Intimacy and The Amazing Nora.
I returned from the Romance Writers of America’s Thirtieth Annual Conference with a pocketful of business cards, a bag full of free books, a stomach full of chocolate, a notebook full of tips and quotes, a suitcase full of damp clothes and a page full of opening hooks.
Oh, and a heart full of hope that I can make my next story fast-paced, tight, exciting, funny, romantic and even more successful than my first published novel.
After I unloaded the suitcase and filled the washing machine, I sat down at my computer and was swallowed up by a sink hole.
Inside the muck surrounding me was a tiny voice. “You didn’t notice 2000 other people sitting in that giant ballroom listening to Nora Roberts?” the voice said. “You didn’t hear all those VERY CLEVER opening lines other people wrote in Leslie Wainger’s terrific presentation on great beginnings? You didn’t see ALL the REALLY TALENTED people marching in ranks to their Editor/Agent appointments?
“Do you actually imagine that you can write a better book than any of them?” Exercise beats back the voice. Rereading my reviews boosts the ego. Reading my notes from the conference helps too, along with sharing some of them on this blog.
Master of Craft
Every time I hear Donald Maas speak, I have at least one ‘AHA!’ moment. It happened again at the first workshop I attended. On the topic of using our own experiences to build a good story with realistic characters, Maas asked “What great injustice makes you furious? Use that. What does your character really, really want? Give her the opposite. Name six things that only your heroine notices.” I began making notes about the heroine in my new manuscript and missed the rest of that session.
Twelve Steps that Have Nothing to Do with AA
Because I heard Linda Howard speak last year, I was determined not to miss her this year. I am still chuckling at the tale of her brother and sister-in-law who each had to have surgery on a vital appendage (a leg, hip or foot) and got the idea they should travel around the neighborhood via a tractor pulling a wagon. Their neighborhood is hilly, very hilly. Linda’s description of the consequences of that outing made me laugh so hard I cried.
Though sprinkled with humor, Linda’s lecture on the Twelve Steps of Intimacy proved to be more academic. Linda outlined the role of sex in the development of a “pair bond.” She began by explaining the evolution of human anatomy and the importance to our species of protecting the helpless human infant. She went on to detail the actual steps (beginning with that “old feeling”) that bring one man and one woman together.
It was fascinating. I will definitely use the information when I introduce my two protagonists. And maybe in real life too.
The Amazing Nora
The prolific and talented Nora Roberts joined RWA thirty years ago, the year the organization was born. Since then she has published 147 books. That is not a misprint. One hundred and forty-seven books.
She’s also very good at giving inspirational speeches. I can’t include some of her quotes in my G-rated blog, but I can tell this story: when Nora arrived to speak at a nursing home, one of the male residents was quite upset. It turned out he was expecting Oral Roberts, not Norah Roberts.
According to Ms. Roberts, now and then a few would-be authors tell her that it’s much harder to get published today than it was when she started--not exactly the sort of comment a woman like Norah would ignore. On her fingers she counted the hassles of carbon paper, typewriters and white-out, and, of course, snail mail—pre-computer-age factors that made a writer’s job a challenge.
“It’s always been hard to write good books,” Nora concluded. “Hard is what makes it special. Fighting through hard is what makes it fulfilling. Your book was rejected? Write another one. Nobody can put the words on the paper the way you can!” Sink hole whisperer, did you hear that?
PS This morning I finished one of the free books from the conference, The Perfect Poison, by Amanda Quick, also known as Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle. (BTW, Ms. Quick-Krentz-Castle gave a wonderful, inspirational and entertaining speech at the Awards Luncheon.)
I didn’t think I liked historical paranormals, but I was wrong! Oh, so wrong!
As usual we spent the holiday week on vacation in Northern Wisconsin. This year the whole family joined us, our kids, their spouses and their adorable, angelic, tidy, polite, sweet, never-ever grumpy or whiny children!
We kicked off the celebration before breakfast by playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on my ipod. Soon the little kids were marching in circles around the living room couch waving their arms, a preview for the parade in downtown Cable (population 846, according to the 2000 census).
Later that morning dark clouds loomed as we climbed into our cars to head for town. A few drops splattered the windshield, but halted by the time we neared the main drag. Instead of sweltering as we watched the parade, as usual, we enjoyed the gift a scudding cloud cover and a gentle wind.
Before the parade began, folks from the local bookstore, Redbery Books, handed out red balloons, to the delight of my little ones. (I expected at least one of them would lose his to the sky, but they all made it back to the house!)
Our young parade reviewers enjoyed the ten-foot tall Uncle Sam (actually the local dry-wall expert on his stilts); the Nature Center float featuring a dozen kids dressed as squirrels, fish, bears, foxes, birds and deer; a troop of proud marching veterans from the American Legion Post; dancing waiters from the Brick House Restaurant; and a dozen or so beautifully-preserved antique cars.
People on the floats tossed enough candies to give every kid in town a stomach-ache. Strolling alongside the parade, a half-dozen women passed out tiny American flags on sticks, which my angels eagerly waved with delight.
During a lull in the parade, my daughter nudged me and pointed at the black ink smudge on the stick of her flag. “Look,” she said, frowning with curiosity. “I wonder what was printed under the ink.” Then she burst into a smile. “Made in China,” she said with a giggle. “The American flags were made in China! Somebody worked hard to cover that up!”
Just as the Fire Department trucks’ sirens blared the parade’s finale, the clouds finally released their burden, and we all dashed for our cars.
On the way home, while the mothers warned their children not to eat any more tootsie rolls or lollipops or they’d spoil their lunch, I got to thinking about all the Fourth of July parades I had seen in my life, beginning with the one a few blocks from my grandmother’s house in Evanston, Illinois. One year I actually saw the stars of the Mickey Mouse club marching along next to Mickey himself.
I hoped that other parents and grandparents felt the same pride I did with every passing band, cluster of clowns or phalanx of veterans. Our country was born, built and defended by people from all over the world who hoped for a new life free from the fear of despots. Our flag is a symbol of our unity, our diversity, our strength and our growth, even if it is made in China.
My new 'Anne in the Stands' blog post is up - all about Superstitions...
My appearance on WUWM's (our local NPR station) Lake Effect:
For a good time, visit a fantabulous review of Buried Heart at http://www.theromancestudio.com/reviews/reviews/buriedheartstratton.htm
What a weekend! I had a lot planned, and I did it all, but now I’m paying for it.
On Friday afternoon I packed up my notebook, pens and a few copies of Buried Heart and drove to the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Conference (WisRWA for short).
For about than ten years, I’ve been a member of that wonderful organization and am always impressed with their camaraderie. It’s an amazingly supportive group of woman (plus a couple of men).
Lately the annual conference has been held in Green Bay (not far from Lambeau field…insert a choral response here), but this year we met at a hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin, not far from the site of the Blue Mound Drive-in Theater, a site that’s featured in many stories (both invented and actual) from my high school years.
On Buck night a bunch of my Brookfield High girl pals would pile into some mom’s car, pop a few more buddies in the trunk, and get into the double feature for one dollar. Since we couldn’t all sit comfortably in the car, we spent some of the time scrambling from car to car in the dark, hunting for friends who were there with a date, and then heckle them.
Ah, such innocent times!
My sophomore year I was flattered when a senior invited me to go with him to the drive-in. Expecting to double with another couple, I agreed.
But it was just us. I was nervous. What could I think of to say to this mature guy? Turned out he wasn’t all that interested in me saying anything. Before the previews were over, however, he’d already put his arm around me. Once the first movie began, he started chatting a bit. That was fine with me, but we were sitting so close together, every time I turned to answer his questions, bam, he’d make his move and plant a kiss.
As a confirmed goody-goody, I hadn’t anticipated this maneuver; nor had I developed counter moves of any sort. I am proud to remember that I learned on the job, so to speak. When I spoke to him, I kept my face pointed at the screen, hoping, I suppose, some of my friends would come heckle us. Ahhh, that date seemed really long!
Back to the Conference
The speakers at the conference were terrific, including writers Mary Jo Putney, J.A. Konrath, Cathy Maxwell and Lori Handeland. Like most writers’ conferences, a highlight was the opportunity to meet with editors and agents. Tessa Woodward represented HarperCollins and Victoria Curran was there from Harlequin. Agents Natalie Fischer (Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency) and Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency discussed what kind of stories they each were looking for. All four of them spent a whole day listening to authors pitch their stories. Each was full of helpful information, as well as interesting, charming and approachable.
By the time I departed Sunday morning, my head was jammed with good advice, my stomach was plumped with chocolate and my throat was tight and hoarse—from talking, I thought. But I wasn’t going home to bed. No, that day had just begun.
Next I attended our youngest granddaughter’s first birthday party. Her big brother (age 3) was so wound up over the decorations and the arrival of his big cousins, he was ricocheting around like a pogo stick. The birthday girl was most enchanted by the balloons tied to her high chair.
Still chugging along, my husband I left that gathering and headed to our nephew’s high school graduation. The speaker’s presentation was so moving, I didn’t even fall asleep! From there we headed to the family gathering for the nephew. AND from there to Miller Park, where we watched my beloved Brewers get pummeled by the Phillies.
I did it all. And now my cold has blossomed into my forehead, my ears, my nose, my throat and my neck. I am waiting to find out where else it has decided to migrate. I am not sure I can keep writing, which is good because this is a very long blog.
Oh!!! Did I forget to mention that my book, Buried Heart, was voted one of the top three best books in the single title category of the Write Touch Contest? I’m proud my book came in third behind two wonderful, well-written love stories.
Soon after I joined Romance Writers of America, I read about contests hosted by RWA chapters all across the country. All I had to do was spiff up ten to fifteen pages of my work in progress and mail the pages along with a check and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
In a few weeks, I would receive the judges’ grades and comments, letting me know where I had done well and where I needed to improve.
I might even win, I whispered to myself.
The first contest I chose was sponsored by a group out west.
For a long time, I had been writing mysteries, submitting them to various magazines and publishers and being rejected, or worse, ignored.
My critique partners had similar ego-shattering experiences. We sat around bemoaning the fact that although we each enjoyed the others’ work, no one else seemed to.
The next time we met Marion took a bite of her chicken salad on flat bread and announced to Marjorie and me that she had a plan. Since we couldn’t get published without a literary agent, and we couldn’t seem to get a literary agent’s attention unless we were already published, we should write romance novels.
Why? Because Marion had read that some romance publishers accepted, read and actually published stories submitted by authors themselves.
I drove home grumbling, my salad undigested in my alimentary canal.
I liked writing mysteries. I enjoyed setting the scene of the crime, figuring out how to bump off bad guys, propelling my heroine through a maze of deceit, so she could discover that the son born to Mr. Smith’s ex-wife, conceived in an affair with Mr. Smith’s best friend, was innocent. I got vicarious thrills showing how my heroine proved her powers to the world (or at least to her husband and a police detective), by unmasking the true villain.
I didn’t write romances.
That night after hearing Marion’s crazy idea, my husband and I attended the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
My sophomore year in college was the highlight of my four years as an English major. Three times a week I sat in Professor Mace’s class while we discussed, studied, wrote essays about, quoted and read the works of William Shakespeare.
On the way home after the Rep play, I got to thinking how much I had enjoyed a mistaken-identity love story titled Twelfth Night. Was the plot believable? No. Was the love story satisfying? Yes.
Ignoring the fact that Willy S. could write love couplets like no one else who had lived in the last three centuries, I thought, heck, I could write romance too.
My entry in that very first RWA contest was a modern day version of Twelfth Night, with cross-dressing, mistaken identity AND a bit of suspense as well.
I was delighted when I heard my entry came in third! I am certain my chest puffed out. This was easy! I was on my way! Surely one of the editors judging the final winners would request my manuscript.
Obviously, I still had lots to learn. That first romance was rejected by countless agents and editors. (Countless, because I have a policy against tabulating bad news.)
I continued to submit entries in RWA Chapter contests, and each time I learned a lot about the craft.
Two years ago one of my entries was listed as a finalist again. Again I tasted the sort of triumph a writer needs now and then to recommit to an elusive goal.
I pictured a donkey plodding along behind a dangling carrot attached to a stick that is harnessed to the animal’s collar.
Would I ever get a bite?
When I finally did get published, that carrot tasted great. Of course, now I want more.
Early this year I entered by debut novel, Buried Heart, in a contest for published fiction, The Write Touch. Last week I received a thrilling phone call, announcing my book was listed among the finalists!
Imagine me as a donkey doing cartwheels.
Just wanted you to know my first column of the season is on the Brewers web site. Baseball season is HERE! Anne
I enjoy reading articles about the publishing industry gathered from a variety of sources in the online Romance Writers Report.
Now that I am (FINALLY) a published author, I find the latest book sales statistics fascinating. I am curious about the growing popularity and the astonishing variety of paranormal genres.
The most recent edition included an article from the Yale Herald, titled “In defense of romance: Proving the stereotypes Wrong,” by Katherine Orazem.
I can’t seem to get that article out of my head.
The topic of romance writing was introduced at Yale University, when two authors, Andrea DaRif and Lauren Willig, both alums, returned to campus to teach a seminar called “Reading the Historical Romance.”
Orazem got to her point quickly by describing the 15 books reviewed one Sunday in the New York Times, and then pointing out that the only place a romance novel was named anywhere in that section was on the Best Seller List. I repeat, ON THE BEST SELLER LIST.
Orazem brought up these statistics that most of us romance authors have known for awhile: at least ten of the twenty most purchased paperback books in any week are romances; and romance fiction has the largest market share of all the genres.
Willig went on to ask a question that had never occurred to me: “Why are romances met with such resounding silence by the mainstream press?”
The easy answer is that all romance novels are poorly written, boring and/or a waste of anyone’s time.
Another possible answer is, the New York Times doesn’t review books that have happy endings and are purchased by females.
Thanks to Marilyn Stasio’s monthly column in the Sunday Times, I have encountered and gobbled up the works of many of my favorite authors. Like romance, the mystery genre has not always been held in esteem by the literati. There may even have been a time when those books weren’t reviewed either.
A Modest Proposal by A. Y. Stratton
Hey, guys over there in that august periodical, I propose that you reserve a half-page of copy (every so often) to review the best romances. If you look, you will find them. Along the way you might even attract a new supply of faithful readers.
Southwest Florida Romance book signing event:
When: March 13, 2010 from 10am till noon.
Where: Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Ft Myers.
(click to enlarge)
From Long and Short Reviews:
"Whether in the snowy cold of Wisconsin or in the steamy rain forest of Mexico, Lauren Richman and Luiz Hernandez make BURIED HEART sizzle with their sexual attraction to each other."
And from Kari's Korner:
"BURIED HEART is a Romantic Suspense taking place in the mysterious, beautiful world of the Mayans. Lauren is a Public Relations expert and doesn't believe much in true love. That is, until she rescues a handsome stranger, Archeology Professor Luis, and becomes involved in his quest for a rare document. Their adventure takes them into danger and intrigue, deep into the Mexican rain forest. Filled with non stop action, a suspenseful plot and a mystery to be solved before it's too late, this is a book readers will surely be asking the author for more story, especially about the secondary characters."
On January 31, 2010, the New York Times Book Review posted The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Shaffer and Barrows, as number eight on the Trade Fiction list of best sellers.
Olive Kitteridge, the debut novel by Elizabeth Strout, sat two slots above “Guernsey” at number six.
In third place was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stief Larsson, (a book that had me hooked from page one). Each novel had been on the NYT list for more than thirty weeks.
Meanwhile, back in my home town of Mequon, Wisconsin, Next Chapter Book Shop keeps track of its own list of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. For Christmas I had given my grandchildren gift certificates to Next Chapter, knowing how much the little ones loved to make their own book choices.
When my daughter and grandaughters arrived at the shop last week, they had an extra surprise. “Look,” my daughter said to the girls, “There’s a sign about Nana’s book!”
Bless her, she took a photo of the arrangement, proof that Guernsey was in second place. Olive Kitteridge was in third place. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was in fourth place. And, Nana’s Book was in FIRST PLACE!
Can’t keep the smile off my face.
THANKS, MEQUON BOOK BUYERS! THANKS, NEXT CHAPTER BOOKSHOP!
This published author gig keeps on going, and I LOVE it!
Another opportunity knocked one November afternoon while I was in line at the grocery store in Mequon, Wisconsin. Mary Kuester, whom I know from various volunteer activities, was checking out behind me and asked if I would speak to her book club in Naples, Florida. Of course I said yes.
A few weeks ago the group of ten or so women and I gathered in a lovely condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. They were curious about my research for the setting of Buried Heart and also asked how I thought of the plot and the characters. I appreciated their enthusiasm and hospitality. I have to mention that the sweets served afterwards were A-plus, particularly the carrot cake.
On February 6 I’ll be attending the Southwest Florida Romance Writers’ Workshop at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, FL. The hands-on workshop, “Getting into Character,” will be presented by Toni Andrews, a “book doctor” and author of many novels.
February 28, from 10 am to noon, I will be signing Buried Heart as part of the Fort Meyers’ Barnes & Noble “Author Celebration Weekend.” I will eagerly welcome friends, neighbors, relatives, perfect strangers and even imperfect strangers.
I picture hoards of people squealing with delight and begging me to autograph my book for them. (Barnes & Noble, 13751 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers, Florida, 33912)
P.S. Truth is, I’ll be delighted if you just drop in and say hi.
March 13, from 10 am to 12 noon, members of the Southwest Florida Romance Writers, Linda Bilodeau, Karna Small Bodman, Renée Gardner, Lynette Hallberg, Anna Schmidt, A.Y. Stratton, Joyce Wells, and Tina Wainscott (writing as Jaime Rush), will be selling and signing our books as part of an event hosted by the Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers, Florida.
Here’s your chance to meet women who write romances that thrill us, scare us, warm our hearts, make us cry and finally show us how to celebrate true love.
March 15 (AKA Julius Caesar’s no good, very bad day) I get to meet with Salli Peterson’s book club in Naples, Florida. They would like to hear about the process of getting a book published. Of course I’ll have to begin with the first step, in other words what it takes to be rejected, to rewrite (again and again) and to fire off that manuscript to another agent or publisher.
As I love to say, I am multiply-rejected, but poised to be an overnight success!
I was scrolling through the writers’ loop last week and came across an email from a woman name Tina Gayle. She was looking for other authors who might post an excerpt of their latest book on their web sites, and in exchange she would post theirs.
Hmm, I said to myself. Now there’s a clever way to reach a few more potential readers, i.e. book-buyers.
If I find a few others to exchange with next month, I think I’ll call them “Love Notes.”
To find my excerpt, visit Tina’s site at www.tinagayle.net on February 18.
Mating Rituals by Tina Gayle
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Book Length: Novel
Heat Level: Spicy
Find at www.amirapress.com
Staring straight ahead, Marohka Taunton avoided eye contact with every man she passed. Moving along the edge of the dance floor, she wove her way back and forth across the assigned path. Her steps, jerky and clumsy, she hid her natural smooth gait. No man, in his right mind, craved an ungraceful wife. At least, she hoped not.
With the stairs a few steps ahead, she tasted victory and allowed herself a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness."
A masculine voice in front of her chuckled. "It’s not over yet, princess."
Marohka paused to inspect the stranger. The laughter reflected in his warm brown eyes—surprised, the intelligent focus—intrigued, and the dark spark of interest—captivated.
A foreign response slithered through her chest. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Her heartbeat rang in her ears. Her hands turned clammy. Awareness of the man claimed her senses.
His face, framed by dark brown hair, showed rough lines of strength and fortitude. A crooked nose, a square jaw, and a chiseled chin marked his unique personality. Added together, the sum indicated the man rarely backed down from a fight. He’d stand up for his beliefs and defeat his opponents. His lopsided grin with a dimple at the corner of his mouth teased her.
A silly feature on such a stern face. The little mark claimed her heart and spoke of a rare sense of humor, a trait absent in most men.
A tingle ran down her spine. Her toes curled. Either as an appealing partner or a worthy adversary, the man presented a dangerous combination. Right then, without question, Marohka decided never to cross paths with him again.
"It is for me," she responded to his comment. She lifted her chin a little higher and repaired the chip in her armor with a sassy comeback. "But you’re welcome to any of the girls behind me. I’m sure they’ll enjoy your charm."
Marohka lifted her skirt and swept up the stairs. The sound of his laughter spoiled her intended snub.
Dec 9 I will be reviewing my debut novel Buried Heart to a book club in Mequon, WI.
On Dec 15 I'll be speaking about Buried Heart, at a luncheon at the University Club. (There's still plenty of time to sign up.)
That same evening, I am proud to announce that Casey Clifford, author of Black Ribbon Affair (aka Mary Jo Scheible), and I will be at BORDERS BOOKS in Fox Point (7805 N. Port Washington Road), 7 P.M., for a book-signing event. Casey is sure to keep everyone laughing, so please join us!
On December 16 I will be reviewing my book for another great group of book club members.
On December 17 at 11 a.m., I'll be a guest on a radio show called WRITE ON RADIO that airs on station KFAI, 90.3 fm in Minneapolis and 106.7 fm in St. Paul. Since we don't happen to live in either of the Twin Cities, we can go to the KFAI web site and access the interview by clicking on Write on Radio.
PS I am loving my new job as a debut author!!!
Last week I had a wonderful chat with a friend who had stayed up late the night before to finish my debut novel. ("Debut novel!" Love that phrase.)
She said it was my fault she was groggy when she left for work that morning, because she stayed up so late reading my book.
How wonderful is that? She thought my book was so suspenseful that she couldn’t put it down. Of course I meant the book to read that way, but couldn’t be sure of the result until someone could actually buy Buried Heart and experience the peril and the adventure.
She said she was enjoying the romance between Luis and Lauren, but wanted to know why I had one of the characters do something that might hurt the other.
I felt guilty as charged. How could I let my dear character make such a mistake? How could I plan for that character to do something I myself would never do?
My defense was that an author isn’t supposed to fall so in love with her characters that she makes life easy for them. If everything goes well and the people in my story make no mistakes, there’s no conflict, no suffering the consequences, no discovery. No growth. No story.
My character made a serious mistake, discovered he or she had been fooling herself or himself and hurting another, and then paid for it.
After our discussion I realized something that surprised me. The characters who have been living secretly and privately in my head for a long time are now out in public. Other people know them too. Others have seen and felt Luis and Lauren when they kiss, tease and challenge each other; when they nearly get killed; and as they are falling in love.
I have to get used to sharing them.
Appearance on Monday, October 19:
Click the "P" to play the streaming MP3.
On Tuesday boxes of Buried Heart arrived at the local book store where I will have my first book talk and book-signing event. I am thrilled. Over the moon. Over the stars. Over the satellites and the black hole beyond.
How cool is that>
I admit I had my doubts that this would never really happen. I thought the publisher might change her mind. Silly me, I worried The Wild Rose Press might drop the romantic suspense category. With the economy so bad, I even imagined the company could go out of business, leaving me with lovely dreams.
What lovely dreams they are! Friends, relatives and even people I don’t know very well are excited for me, which makes me feel incredibly fortunate.
Oh, how I wish I could call my parents and my brother right now and tell them all about it.
Purchase Buried Heart from Wild Rose Press:
Amazon link coming soon.
A prolific writer friend of mine invited me to be her guest blogger on Friday, August 14.
Her favorite topic this season has been how different authors do the research for their books. Please drop in to read, comment if you feel like it, and enjoy.
After dinner together one evening, a bunch of us from the Wisconsin branch of RWA were strolling back to the hotel, when somebody noticed Linda Howard, bless her heart, walking toward us. Of course, I had to shake her hand and thank her for making us laugh until we cried. She thanked me back and said every story she told was true.
Besides the scheduled sessions and my two appointments, I attended a casual gathering of other authors who have books published by The Wild Rose Press. TWRP Editor-in-Chief, Rhonda Penders, rounded us up so we could meet each other and share questions and comments about the book market, about the latest TWRP news and (of course) about our own books. Together we made up a happy bouquet of Roses.
Since it’s mid-July, and summer is poised to heat up, I’m heading for Washington, D.C. to attend the National Conference of the Romance Writers of America this week. This just has to be the right time to share a clip from my very first published novel, due out in October, 2009.
Buried Heart by A. Y. Stratton
Prologue: A village in the Yucatan, 1562
Deep inside the cave, Brother Guillermo stumbled on shards of clay and collapsed against the bottom step of the Temple of the Serpent. He let his eyes adjust from the unceasing glare of noon to the flickering light of smoking torches, glanced around him at the vast, conical chamber and shivered. The niche Guillermo sought must be high and out of sight. He must hurry, or his absence from the fires would be noted. Death would catch him.
With his dangerous prize tucked beneath his arm, he gripped the first ledge and clambered past the eyeless stone warrior with the bulbous lips and clenched teeth. Righteous fury drove him up the next wedge of stone past the blood-red fangs of the serpent and higher into the darkness, sweat blurring his eyes, torch smoke stinging his throat, decay polluting his lungs. He scaled the third stone step and paused to listen. Bats whirred and dipped at his head. That was all.
After a year of living so far from his home in Seville, Spain, Guillermo had befriended a local priest who helped him learn the native language. In secret, the priest had also shown Guillermo sacred documents. As Guillermo’s new friend narrated, the strange symbols painted on folds of tree bark disclosed astonishing scientific discoveries and violent, bloody battles.
The sessions ended abruptly after Bishop de Landa, representative of His Holiness the Pope, decreed the blasphemous works destroyed. Earlier that morning Guillermo had followed orders, flinging manuscripts into the torrid flames, his mind an angry sea. Was it the devil that made Guillermo’s hands rescue a scroll from the pile? No matter. Once he had slipped it beneath his cloak, his path was set. Perhaps his fate was too.
Feigning illness, he limped back to his cell and then veered toward the caves where the natives had worshipped their gods long before Spain arrived from across the sea.
A shout nearly caused Guillermo’s sweaty hand to slip off the ledge. His pounding heart muffled all sound as he shrank behind the mammoth head of a feathered monster and fumbled along the rough walls for an opening large enough to hold the precious folds of paper.
His fingers detected a cavity below the serpent’s claws, and Guillermo whispered his prayer. “Lord, help me do your will!” The folded parchment slid in so perfectly he knew the Lord had answered.
Below him, howls of fear ricocheted off cavern walls. Guillermo flattened himself against the temple step to keep from falling. Hosts of natives burst through the narrow passageway and spilled into the courtyard below. Behind them soldiers exploded into the cavern. Armor clanking and swords slashing, they skewered bodies and hacked off arms and legs, hands and heads, painting the ground with blood.
The soldiers roared into the next passageway. In the sickening silence, Guillermo sobbed and asked God to bless the dead and forgive his compatriots.
(Written the second week of May in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Have you ever noticed how seldom you hold still when you’re outside? I mean really still, so you can listen?
This soft, sunny morning I took a detour on my way to the mail box to get the newspaper. The grass looked as green as the paper stuffed in a kid’s Easter basket. Uncut since last fall, it had suddenly grown long and lush and glistened with dew, luring me to make an inspection circuit of our yard.
The peonies are up two feet, the hollyhocks even more. The hosta spikes and lilies of the valley are still furled, and the iris leaves are thick and thriving. My various ground covers are mingling with each other and invading new territories. Already leafy red and green bushes, most of the roses seemed to have survived the ice and snow.
Oh! As I wrote that last sentence, a turkey just ambled, geek-like, across the rose bed and is now pecking at something under the window beyond to my desk! I can tell he’s a young Tom by the tassel hanging from his neck, and by the blend of subtle browns of his back feathers.
When I stood to ogle him better, he scurried toward the neighbor’s thicket, his head jerking forward and backward, his boat-shaped body balancing gracefully on those stick legs, reminding me of a woman in spike heels I saw at the airport.
Back to my backyard inspection—
As I walked through the brush beneath the half-naked trees, a movement caught my eye and I stopped. About ten feet away, a squirrel sat on a fallen birch limb and scratched his ear with his back foot, just like a dog. In an instant the squirrel stopped scratching and disappeared into the brush.
For the first time in all my squirrel watching I noticed how the graceful arc of the squirrel’s tail matches the flowing leap of his body, over and over like waves as he covers the ground. He stopped again and scratched his side violently with that tiny back foot, his tail jerking and swirling with each jab.
What, I wondered, would make a squirrel itch? An insect? A thistle? A sliver from a tree?
I continued to stand still, and soon new sounds reached my ears. A chickadee called from below me in the ravine that borders our property. Another answered, and then completed his jerky flight to my bird feeder.
I watched him and three other chickadees take turns looping between a nearby tree branch and the feeder. I wondered which of them had been born in the tiny bird house I place in a tree each spring and reminded myself to retrieve it from the garage.
Who taught the chickadees, I wondered, not to bully each other over the seeds? Who taught them the timing and coordination of each flight, each takeoff and landing?
I shifted my gaze in time to spy a bee the size of my thumbnail tasting forsythia blooms next to the house. Just then a gust of wind lifted my hair. I inhaled the dampness and wondered how far the air had traveled to my nose. Had it hovered over Lake Michigan? Why not from farther away, like the Pacific Ocean, the Panama Canal or the Nile?
I inhaled again and realized I’d been standing still for a long time, enjoying the action around me, letting the world go by, and appreciating God’s wonders.
P.S. Let me know if you find out what makes a squirrel scratch.
I confess I’ve never loved to cook. This fault may very well be genetic, since the kitchen muse never kissed my mom or her mom either, but they did it anyway, of course. We all have done it anyway, day in, day out. Otherwise our families would starve.
Since I’ve never been shy about my lack of enthusiasm for thinking up, shopping for or actually preparing meals, my pals assume (rightly) that I’m not interested in cooking classes. I should pay to spend six hours straight, on my feet, barricaded in a kitchen with nothing to do but mix, simmer, boil, reduce, blend, freeze, melt or whip fluids and solids? (Did I forget sautee?)
When these pals get to chatting about fish coddling, lamb braising, chicken stock storage and (my favorite) the correct hammer for flattening filets, I try to pay attention for a little while, nodding as if that new tomato knife were the most stimulating thing I’ve thought about since I saw the movie trailer for Australia.
I finally figured out how to end the discussion: I say two words.
“Tuna Casserole.” Then I add, “Don’t you just love that timeless favorite?” I beam at them. “A dietary delight. Cuisine that enhances your palate.” Tolerant smiles quiver on my friends’ lips. “Where would I be without cream of mushroom soup?” I offer, confidently closing out the food topic.
It turns out that if you don’t learn to cook at your mother’s knee, you miss a lot. For example, the first time I tried to bake cookies from scratch, I was a newly-wed, my husband was out of town and it was late in the evening--well past the hour when you can call a trusty friend and ask a stupid question, like, “What does ‘cream the butter’ mean?” Cream as a verb, wasn’t listed in my dictionary, and Google didn’t exist back in those deep dark ages.
So I melted it and mixed it with the other ingredients. If I’d known what cookie dough was supposed to look like, I might have halted my project right then.
The result? Anorexic amoebas that tasted like singed toast.
It turns out there are a few other things you don’t understand if you haven’t learned to cook at your mother’s knee, like when to throw things out.
One summer afternoon, I was making my kids some sandwiches (PB and J, of course) and pulled out a stack of bread. “Hey, kids,” I announced as I gazed at the bread, “Is this St. Patrick’s Day?” All three of them looked at me as if I was crazy. “No!”
“Then why,” I asked with a giggle, “Is this bread green?”
(My kids are really good at yelling “EEEEUUU!” after I hold up a shimmering green slice of bread.)
Ever notice how you can’t scrutinize canned parmesan cheese until you shake it out? The St. Patrick’s Day comment works well in that situation too. “Hey, guys,” I say as I point at my pasta, “Look at these lovely bits of Ireland!”
These experiences help explain why my husband has assumed the role of “the-use-before- date inspector.”
His primary targets are eggs, frozen foods and even beer left after a party (long after a party).
We have this regular exchange:
He: Are these eggs still good?
He: But it says December 10, and this is January 15.”
Me, shifting into defensive mode: That’s not even a month past. Eggs last six weeks, at least.
He: It’s a ‘use by’ deadline.
Me: It’s a ‘recommended’ date.
He, searching for further evidence of my cavalier attitude (which is to say “neglect”): How long have we had this sour cream?
Me: Are you planning to have sour cream right now?
He shakes head.
Me, in retaliation mode: Your jar of salsa’s been on the bottom shelf since Labor Day weekend.
He who loves his tacos: Salsa keeps.
He returns to the kitchen table and his newspaper.
Of course my husband is correct, as I eventually learned from Peg Bracken (R.I.P.), the very funny lady who wrote my all-time favorite, I Hate to Cook Book. “When in doubt, throw it out.”
If you happen to think of it.
I grew up in Glenview, Illinois, in a family that loved books and baseball. My father, a mechanical engineer, was a salesman who traveled a lot, but when he was home he’d read to me and my big brother Billy before we went to bed.
Dad also made up stories featuring a talking cloud who stopped by the bedroom window of two children named Anne and Billy at night and flew them to places like Alaska or the Amazon, where they had exciting and dangerous adventures.
Just as Billy and Anne were about to be captured by a pirate, by the guardian of an Egyptian temple or by a charging bull, the “Cloud Car” would appear and glide them back home to bed.
In the morning Billy and Anne would wake up thinking they’d had a dream, until they discovered a remnant from their trip, like a pair of Alaskan mukluks or a carving of an Egyptian asp.
My father, a lifelong subscriber to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, was also the one who got me started reading mysteries, which led to writing them.
In the first short story I ever put on paper, a man has been convicted of a serious crime and condemned to death in the electric chair. On the day he’s to be electrocuted, he expects to have his innocence proven and his conviction overturned. In his cell he hears footsteps and the clank of the prison doors.
Hopeful that the footsteps are the messenger’s who will arrive with the release order, but fearful that the visitor might be the guard who will lead him to the death chamber, the prisoner decides to wash his hands and face to keep cool. With his dripping hand he reaches for the light switch, and ZAP! He is electrocuted.
Pretty harsh plotting for a skinny little pre-teen. I can honestly say it’s the only short story I have written that has not been rejected by someone somewhere—because I never submitted it to anyone but my father.
I have NEWS! My very first published novel, BURIED HEART, will be released by The Wild Rose Press on October 16, 2009.
In the mean time you can check out the list of all the latest books on TWRP’s website at
(By the way, a “Pub Date,” in this case, has nothing to do with going to a bar with someone.)
I’m planning to attend the Romance Writers of America Conference this summer, because it’s the perfect opportunity to learn from dozens of talented writers, publishers and literary agents. (And, OF COURSE, because I will have a new attachment on my nametag: “published author.”)
This time I am hoping to avoid the “little incident” that occurred at the conference I attended a few years ago in Atlanta.
In the late afternoon of my third day there, my legs grew twitchy and my eyelids drooped, so I picked up a slice of pizza and an unnecessarily large bottle of Diet Coke and baled to my quiet room at the dead-end of a corridor.
After my evening snack, I steamed my achy limbs in the tub, slipped into my nightie and lounged on the bed to read about the next day’s sessions.
By then my half-full bottle of Coke was getting warm. I didn’t have a fridge to stick it in, and I hated to waste it. I figured I could fill the ice bucket and then be able to keep the bottle cold until the next day.
I hadn’t packed a robe, and with the ice machine barely ten steps from my door, I shrugged off the thought of getting dressed as a bother. I grabbed my keycard and the plastic liner for the ice bucket and stepped into the empty hall.
Women’s voices bubbled up from the open atrium below. By the magnitude of the cacophony, I realized I must be the only one going to bed early.
Right away I had a problem. With the keycard in one hand, I couldn’t hold the ice bag wide enough to catch the cubes as they tumbled out.
I adjusted my keycard hand so I could brace the bag better and tried again. Again cubes bounced off the edge of the bag and onto the grill.
And then---so did my keycard.
Stunned, I watched it slip through the grill and out of sight.
I did not panic. I want everyone who knows me to try to picture me NOT PANICKING. Instead, I stood there in my nightie, limp bag in hand, and considered my options.
Option one: Take the elevator to the lobby, where all the people who weren’t going to bed were gathering, and wait in line to speak to a clerk about a new room key.
Option two: Wait in the hall outside my door until someone appeared on my floor, and then beg for help.
I chose option 3. I shoved my hand into the grill of the ice machine as far as it would go. To my surprise, I felt the card beneath my fingers. Millimeter by millimeter, I shifted the card until I could grasp it.
But if I grasped tightly, I couldn’t retract my hand from the grill. I released it slightly, and the card slipped out of my fingers.
I shoved my hand deeper into the grill, letting my fingers do the walking, until they gripped the keycard again.
By then my hand was numb, cold and stuck. I pictured the first person to come across my almost-naked body, collapsed awkwardly on the carpet, feet angled toward the soda machine, one hand wedged in the ice machine’s grasp, the other still clutching the ice bag.
Dressed in her elegant black dinner dress, flushed with champagne and the knowledge she’d just sold her thirtieth book, my rescuer would muffle her guffaw at my predicament as she punched the number for the hotel security on her cell phone.
And then I tugged my hand free.
To complete my mission, I gripped the keycard safely between my knees, clutched the ice bag in two hands, punched the button and watched the ice clunk into the bag.
I realize now that I may have missed a chance for fame that night. Below me was a truly star-studded audience. Just think, if I had managed to appear in the hotel lobby that evening, just as Nora Roberts and Linda Howard were going out with their publishers, they’d always remember me in a very special way.
Public relations expert Lauren Richmond believes her family has been jinxed in the love department. To avoid the chaos she suffered as a child, she has built a grammatically-perfect, passion-free life, which crumbles shortly after she rescues a man from muggers. The victim is Luis Hernandez, an ambitious, yet unconventional archeology professor who is on a quest to locate a Mayan document that survived the Spanish Inquisition. When strange men threaten Lauren, sweet and seductive Luis insists the mysterious map he inherited from his grandfather has nothing to do with the incidents. Deep in the Mexican rain forest at a Mayan dig site, Luis and Lauren must outsmart ruthless grave robbers and battle phantoms from their past to rescue a treasure that could destroy their love.
Lauren felt her cheeks flush. “I couldn’t remember where I parked. I was wandering around furious at myself for being an airhead. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me swearing.”
“You can go now—the light’s green. I thought you were drunk. Wait a minute. Who were you talking to?”
“Nobody. I pretended there was a whole crowd of us to scare off those ruffians. Shoot! I almost went through the stoplight.” She braked, and the car lurched.
“Ruffians?” He turned to look at her, and his crooked smile showed off his full lips and his white teeth. “It worked,” he said as the smile spread. “I never would have thought of it.”
“When I was a kid I used to imagine I could save someone. I can’t believe I actually did it. It was horrible watching them beat you up. God, my hands are still shaking.”
“Whoa, turn here! This is my building. You can let me off at the next corner.”
She stopped the car in front of a fire hydrant.
“Thanks,” he said as his huge hand engulfed hers. His thick fingers were surprisingly warm. “I’m extremely glad you showed up.” His eyes sparkled in the glow from the streetlights.
“I hope to find a way to show my appreciation,” he said, still cradling her hand.
The smile was intimate, as if he had been saving it just for her. Before she could react, he touched his lips to hers. Astonished, she didn’t think to push him away, and the kiss went on, sweet and soft like summertime on the beach. No pressure, simply a waft of pleasure radiating from her lips all the way through her body. Stopping her breath. Stopping time.
“Merry Christmas, Lauren,” he whispered to her cheek. “Thanks for scaring off the bad guys.”
In September an editor from The Wild Rose Press sent me an email announcing she would like to publish the romantic suspense novel I had sent her in July. Zowee! I exploded, hooting and yelping. (I never learned to whistle.) This was it! Unless I messed things up, I was finally going to have one of my ten or so manuscripts magically become a book, something I had dreamed about since I was a kid. (My first dream was to become a cowboy, but that fizzled after I discovered horses were scary, there wasn't much work for cowboys in the suburbs of Chicago, and, of course, because I was a girl, I would have to be a cowgirl, one of those useless people on television who never were allowed to rescue anyone.)
This morning my email was full of congratulations from friends, cousins, classmates from high school and college buddies. They all said they were excited to read my romantic suspense story, Buried Heart. Just writing this makes me laugh out loud. I wonder if I'll ever get used to being a published author.
I really like the cover with the pyramid in the background and the man and woman in the foreground, their lips poised for a kiss. The lighting suggests mystery and danger, and there's plenty of that in the story.
I got hooked on ancient ruins the moment I stood among the spirits of the sacrificed virgins at the top of the pyramid at Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Eventually, my husband and I visited Mayan ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, where I conceived the idea for Buried Heart. I had thought the people who were already living in the Americas when Columbus and Cortez arrived had no written documents, besides the glyphs on their monuments. However, a professor from Yale University who was our resource in the Yucatan, told us about codices, or codexes, that survived the fires of the Inquisition.
Codexes? Fires of the inquisition? I'd never studied that in history class. Then I recalled a book I loved in sixth or seventh grade, Captain From Castile, about a young man who joins Cortez to avoid being punished by the Inquisition for crimes he didn't commit.
In Buried Heart, archeology professor Luis Hernandez (handsome, sexy, sweet, but elusive), hopes to locate a legendary codex, a remnant that might have survived the fires of the Conquistadores. He hopes the mysterious map he inherited from his Mexican grandfather might lead him to it, but so far he's had no luck. Others try to steal the map, and frighten, kidnap and kill a few people before they succeed.
The story begins as two muggers get the drop on Luis in a parking garage. In a rare moment of audacity, Lauren Richmond (funny, feisty, quietly lovely) frightens them off. Before they part, Luis astonishes her with a kiss, as if he's tossing a cigarette into a dry forest, igniting her heart and demolishing her plan to avoid even a spark of love.
Besides romance, I also write about baseball, my favorite sport, for the Milwaukee Brewers. You can read my columns at http://milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/mil/news/anne_in_the_stands.jsp
Thanks for dropping by,
A. Y. Stratton