Teen Romance Indie Novelist

Whew!

I’m thrilled to report that–finally!!!–I’ve finished the first draft of my new novel! The title and blurb are still a work-in-progress, but, as promised, I’m going to share a sneak preview (Chapter 1 & part of Chapter 2) with you today. Like most of my other works, the novel is a romantic comedy with a heart. Unlike my other works, the book has an adult protagonist (though I hope teens, especially older ones, will enjoy it too!).

As always, this draft is subject to change.  Enjoy the show …

[Note: rated R for language. Read at your own risk. :) ]

Chapter One

“Okay . . . begin,” instructs the human-resources assistant—a clever-looking brunette with sculpted calves and a knee-strangling pencil skirt—a stopwatch the size of Manhattan cupped in her palm. With a click of her thumb, she gets the meter running.

Fifteen minutes. This is how much time my fellow applicants and I have to devour a mystery meal, judge its palatability, and draft a thoughtful critique worthy of printing in the Arts & Leisure section of the Boston Sunday Times. In my case, the task must be accomplished while holding my breath to the point of asphyxiation, thanks to the (very) little black dress I’ve worn for the occasion.

Before putting fork to plate, I scan the competition. There are six of us hunched around a conference table in a sterile, windowless room. We are the cream of the crop, the last men (four) and women (two) standing, the swimsuit portion of the competition complete, our fates resting on the interview.

Good thing this isn’t a beauty pageant, I think. Or we’d be in a shitload of trouble.

As a newly minted graduate of Boston University, I am the youngest contender by far. The other woman is midfortyish, with an I’ve-given-up-caring aura. The men have outlasted my father by a solid decade, at minimum.

I draw the deepest breath I can manage and concentrate on the plate in front of me, silverware clanging as my competitors get to work.

Hmm . . . which of the three gummy masses shall I sample first?

The greenish-yellow lump looks interesting, in a regurgitated baby food sort of way. Or maybe the neon-orange glob would taste better. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve ingested nuclear waste.

In the end, the beige mound prevails, its neutrality screaming: I will not send you to the emergency room at 3 a.m. with gut-twisting stomach pains.

The assistant excuses herself, leaving the stopwatch face-up on the table, the seconds sneering as they zoom by. Focus, Em, I tell myself, dipping the tines of the fork into a foodstuff (suddenly, I understand that word: foodstuff equals not quite food) resembling chunky wallpaper paste. You’ve got this. I mean, sure, you’re no gourmet connoisseur. Heck, you’re a New York mile away from being a foodie, even. Come to think of it, your favorite meal is SpaghettiOs with hot dogs and, to jazz things up, extra hot dogs. But at least you’ve got that English degree to fall back on, and—

Shut the fuck up, self! I must taste! Think! Write!

The fork is halfway to my lips when, out of the corner of my eye, I spot the spindly guy next to me fiddling with something under the table. Please, God, don’t let him be a sex pervert who gets aroused by pureed squash (I’m guessing that’s what the neon-orange glob is) and creamed spinach.

He is not a sex pervert, however—as far as I can tell, anyway. He’s something worse. Much worse.

“Ahem,” I say out of the side of my mouth, shocked at what is going on in the man’s lap, “what do you think you’re doing?”

Unbelievably, he doesn’t look up.

“Psst,” I try, drawing a hairy eyeball from the woman, who is slumped in the uncomfortable plastic chair across from me, “we’re not allowed to . . .”

The leggy assistant was quite clear on this point: no electronic devices, i.e. NO CHEATING!!!

The man pulls a confused face. “Huh?”

He’s kidding, right? I can clearly see that he’s accessed the New York Times’ restaurant reviews on his phone. It can only be a matter of moments before he starts lifting passages verbatim in an attempt to steal this job out from under my inexperienced fingertips.

I seethe with rage, but a glance at the stopwatch throws a wet blanket over me. I shake my head and, after a mouth-readying gulp, insert the first forkful of . . .

Mmm.

Beige is delicious, as it turns out. Much tastier than greenish-yellow (or so I suspect). Delicious what, though? I can hardly pontificate on the merits of beige without specifying the food source from whence it sprang.

Chicken, I think. Or duck. Maybe rabbit. Whatever it is, it’s bathed in the most heavenly gravy ever to grace a ladle.

Aha! I’ll use that in the critique: The succulent chicken/duck/rabbit was bathed in the most heavenly gravy ever to grace a ladle! If I do say so myself, it’s a good enough line to leave Cheater Dude’s New York Times drivel in the dust.

Okay, back to work.

As much as I’d like another taste of the beige chicken (I’m now convinced it is chicken and not duck or rabbit), I have no choice but to forge ahead. And with only eleven minutes left on the clock, I’m going to have to move quickly.

The youngest of the four men, a stalker type with a crudely dyed beard, severe corrective lenses, and a concave chin, picks up his pencil and starts scribbling away. Of course, Cheater Dude is right behind him.

A huff/sigh squeezes out of my pursed lips. With effort, I refocus, giving both the greenish-yellow and the neon-orange blobs a chance to wow me.

They don’t.

Nine and a half minutes to go.  

IneedthisjobIneedthisjobIneedthisjob. I mean, otherwise, what am I going to do? Sprout roots in Aunt GiGi’s shagarific basement? The offer’s always there, Mom tells me once a week, to ease her guilt over the fact that she and Dad can’t put me up anymore, what would’ve been my room in their new brownstone occupied by my baby sister, Angeline. Mom’s own baby sister, GiGi, lives alone twenty miles outside the city, in a decrepit little bungalow she pried away from her ex-con husband in their rancorous divorce.

Ooh, rancorous! There must be a way to squeeze that into a sentence: The creamed spinach was a rancorous addition to the otherwise sublime mélange of earthy butternut squash and drool-inducing chicken piccata.

The stopwatch ticks below the eight-minute mark and someone—the woman, I’m guessing, or maybe No-Chin Man—starts tapping their foot in a distracting fashion. “Do you mind?” I mumble, glaring across the table. “People are trying to think here.” I wait for someone to back me up, but instead I get shushed—SHUSHED!!!—by the cheater beside me.

Brilliant.

The rat-a-tat-tat continues like some sort of Chinese water torture. What I wouldn’t give for the grungy pink earbuds that are rolling around under the passenger seat of my new boyfriend Trent’s Lexus.

I bet he’ll dump me if I don’t get this job, I think. Not because he’s an asshole (I’m almost sure he isn’t), but because a hotshot real estate mogul—which he’s on track to becoming in the next few years, thanks to a generous five million dollar investment (ahem, gift) from his billionaire grandfather—cannot, in good conscience, hitch his star to the wagon of a woman who doesn’t own so much as a matching pair of socks.

Cheater Dude gulps down the last of the water in his Dixie cup and promptly goes into a coughing fit. If he turns blue, I’ll intervene—or at least get someone else to, my emergency medical skills a bit on the rusty side. Otherwise, I must concentrate.

And concentrate, I do. In the sevenish minutes remaining, I hammer out the first few paragraphs—they can’t expect the critique to be finished, can they?—of what is sure to be the winning submission. I mean, I used the words lugubrious, quiescent, feckless, and jejune! All in the same sentence! Surely, no one has managed that before!

The woman, who has beaten me to the finish line by a mere thirty seconds (I know this because she slammed her pencil down to emphasize her temporal superiority), eyes me with contempt while I carefully—and quietly, like a normal person—place my number two on the table, parallel to the junior-size legal pad on which I’ve recorded my masterpiece. I give her a smile that, I hope, conveys the message: I am sorry that you are alone. Disappointed. A mere feline or two away from full-blown cat-lady nirvana. But don’t expect me to roll over and hand you this job, because I am a human being too, and I have needs, and my needs are as valid as yours, and . . .

The door swings open and in struts the human-resources assistant, a minute past “time.” Luckily, Cheater Dude has failed to disgorge a lung, and everyone else is on their night-before-Christmas behavior. “So,” she says, already scooping up the notepads, “how was it?”

“Great!” I blurt, getting the jump on the competition where it counts: with the secretarial staff. “Was that food from Utopia? It tasted very familiar.” Dropping the name of Boston’s trendiest restaurant can’t hurt, I figure, even if I’d have to add a few zeroes to my net worth to afford a meal there.

Cat Lady rolls her eyes.

“I couldn’t tell you if it was,” the assistant says with a laugh, “but the budget for all of this”—she flails an arm through the air—“was a hundred bucks. Take from that what you will.”

One of the two quiet guys, who look enough alike in their plaid button-downs and wire-rimmed glasses to be brothers, speaks up. “When will we hear back?”

The assistant tucks the notepads under her arm and finishes piling up the dishes, which she cradles unevenly to her chest. “Oh, we’re not done yet,” she says, sounding gleeful. “There are two more screenings: a language-mechanics test and a personality inventory. The editors should be done with your critiques by then.”

They’re going to put us out of our misery today? “You mean, we’ll know before we leave?” I ask, trying to tamp down the jitter in my voice.

She stops dead to inspect me, her pupils cutting through my sixty-dollar haircut (thanks, Mom), the fancy makeup job I’ve cribbed off YouTube, and, of course, the aforementioned little black dress. “The column’s due Thursday,” she explains, “so the opening really is as ‘immediate’ as the ad professed.”

Today is Tuesday. If my mouth weren’t as dry as the Mojave, I’d gulp.

With a perky shrug, the assistant exits to deliver our creative lambs to the editorial slaughter. While she’s gone, I think about using a Jedi mind trick to encourage my competitors to au revoir right along with her.

Instead, I settle on a different tack.

“This is such an amazing opportunity!” I gush to no one in particular. “I mean, can you imagine? Being the food critic for the Boston Sunday Times?  I’ve dreamed of this job since I was five years old.” I scan the faces around me for evidence of pity but find only steely masks of indifference. “And it would mean so much—so much—to Uncle Phil, if he could live long enough to see me make it.” I drop my voice to a whisper. “He’s being eaten alive by a blood-borne pathogen. Ridiculosis, it’s called. Nasty stuff.”

Of course, there is no Uncle Phil. And ridiculosis is as dire as it sounds. But I’m feeling so upbeat about my fabrications—you have quite the imagination, Em, I hear my father’s proud voice exclaiming—that, should the food-critic job fall through, I might just spit shine that novel I’ve been penning since the seventh grade.

“She’s coming,” Cheater Dude warns.

My heart leaps into my throat.

The assistant bounces back through the doorway. “Okay, here we go,” she says, her sharp, clear voice competing with the muffled clack of her high heels on the carpet. She hands out the tests and, without bothering to go over the instructions, abandons us once again.

The six of us hunker down, the language-mechanics exam a pleasant surprise (to me, anyway) with its fill-in-the-blank homonyms, multiple-choice vocabulary, and open-ended sentence corrections. I am elated to be the first one done.

The personality inventory is another story, however. I mean, how should I know which adjectives people would use to describe me? And should I really run screaming to the nearest loony bin with a toothbrush in one hand and a comb in the other, just because I see myself as shy while others might label me as outgoing?

Pull it together, Em, I think, hoping to coach myself out of a panic attack that is poised to turn me into the puddle of crazy the personality inventory wants me to be.

I power through the last few questions and, with a literal sigh of relief, drop my head in my hands. Whatever happens next is . . .

Idiotic.

And terrifying.

“Emmaline Waters?” a disembodied man’s voice calls from the hallway.

For no explicable reason, it escapes me that I am Emmaline Waters and, as such, I should respond.

I don’t.

“Emmaline?” the voice tries again, starting to sound stressed. “Miss Waters?”

A confused look volleys around the conference table. “What?” I say, feeling the heat of five simultaneous stare downs.

“Isn’t that you?” asks Plaid #1.

How would he know?

In a last-ditch-effort tone, the hallway voice pleads, “Miss Emmaline Waters?”

I spring to my feet and rush the door, coming out of a shoe in the process. A flash of uncertainty freezes me: Should I backtrack and retrieve my footwear, or press on unishoed? “Coming!” I yell, opting to salvage what remains of my dignity. When they inform me later that they’ve chosen to “go in another direction” with the food-critic position, at least I’ll be able to walk out of here fully shoed, with my head held high.

I grab the shoe out of Plaid #2’s hand (thank you very much, kind sir), pop it on and lurch for the hallway, where I lay eyes on the owner of the voice, an attractive male specimen with dark, brooding eyes, the physique of a gladiator, and the fashion sense of . . . well, whoever is considered fashionable nowadays. “Emmaline?” he says one last time, his eyes landing bracingly on mine.

What is it with this place and the penetrating peepers? “Uh, yeah.” I extend a hand. “I’m Em. Nice to meet you.”

His grip is firm. “So you prefer Em?” he asks, jotting a note on his legal pad.

“Yes,” I answer. “No one calls me Emmaline—except, well, my aunt GiGi.” I laugh nervously. “She never got the memo, I guess.”

“I’m Lance,” he says, taking off down the dingy corridor.

Of course, he is. “Hi, Lance.” I hurry after him, but even with two shoes, I struggle to keep up as he snakes around one corner, then another, and another still. Finally, he rears to a stop outside a glass-doored office. On the face of the door, in bold black letters with a hint of gold outlining, are decaled the words: Mitchell Heywood, Editor-in-Chief.

Is this where dreams go to die? “Excuse me, but . . .” I’m saying as Lance twists the knob and pushes the door open.

“Go ahead,” he says, bobbing his head toward an enormous antique desk (the scrollwork on this thing could give Louis XVI’s bathtub a run for its money). “Mr. Heywood wants to meet you.” I’m about to register a weak protest when he adds, “Thanks for coming in today.”

Thanks for coming in today? If that isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is. “Sure” is all I get out before Lance does an about-face and marches off, leaving me loitering hesitantly at the cusp of Mr. Heywood’s office.

Now what?

Within a second or two, a booming voice orders, “Come in! Come in!”

Apparently, Mr. Heywood is concealed somewhere in this mysterious lair, which, I note as I proceed cautiously inside, is adjoined by two other rooms—one on each side—to form a commanding editorial suite.

Nice.

The main office is empty, so I take a seat in an emerald-green leather armchair and wait with my back strait, my hair meticulously smoothed—well done, Pantene!—and my eyes . . . ready to fall out of my head over what I see teetering across the keyboard of an open laptop computer: my critique, zealously marked up with red pen, including several spots where the underlining—or crossing out, it’s hard to tell—has gone so awry it’s torn through the page, leaving feathery-looking holes behind. And don’t get me started on the exclamation points! Even the second coming of Christ wouldn’t elicit this many!

I push aside a mountain of disorganized paperwork and grab the critique, which I’m about to shove into my purse, when . . .

The unmistakable sound of footsteps.

I hasten the critique back into place and brace myself for humiliation. I mean, what made me think I was qualified—much less skilled enough—for a job like this? I should be happy to sling rum shooters (in another life, I’m a bartender), scribble down a bad poem every now and then, and pray that news of my incompetence falls short of reaching BU, lest they repossess the English degree that swelled my head in the first place.

The footsteps stop. I don’t dare look up.

“Emmaline Waters?”

“Um, yeah,” I mumble, folding in on myself.

A man’s hand reaches into my peripheral vision. “Mitch Heywood. Good to meet you.”

I give a limp, clammy shake, my gaze glued to his belt, a sturdy woven number that is partly obscured by a potbelly hangover. “Hi.”

His hand twirls excitedly through the air, as if he’s whipping up a cyclone (though, apparently, he’s only summoning a colleague to join us). Another set of footsteps clip-clops our way. I shift my focus sideways eight inches, to where someone—a woman, judging by the polka-dotted blouse and pin-tucked skirt—has assumed a Wonder Woman stance. “Oh my God, this is her?” she asks, sounding dumbstruck.

My stomach boils with nausea. I have been at the newspaper no more than ninety minutes, and already tales of my ineptitude are legendary?

Mr. Heywood reaches for my critique, and I make a command decision: I will look him in the eyes while he crushes me.

“Honestly, I don’t know where to start,” he says.

My gaze crawls up his discount-bin maroon-and-gray-striped shirt, skips over his scruffy chin and comes to rest on the puffy bags under his eyes.

The woman, who hasn’t bothered introducing herself (probably because we’ll be in each other’s rear view mirrors soon enough), pipes up with: “We’ve hired three food critics in the last year”—they have?—“and we’ve never seen anything like this before.” She stabs a purple-polished fingernail at my critique, just so it’s clear what—or who—she’s maligning.

“How on earth did you come up with this?” Mr. Heywood asks, leaning conspiratorially close to Wonder Woman. They share an inside look that says: Can you believe the amateur bullshit this flake tried to pass off as journalism?

Wonder Woman takes my critique and starts reading it aloud, her voice like dull razor blades on my eardrums. My hearing goes in and out, catching only snatches of the performance, which unfolds between bouts of wild laughter from both Wonder Woman and Mr. Heywood.

I want to die.

“Listen, uh, this was all very last minute,” I say, unsure which version of “the dog ate my homework” to pull out. “I should’ve worn something different—I know I should have—because my dress is too tight, and I can barely breathe! And that stopwatch! It was like a bomb ticking down!” I puff my cheeks full of air and simulate an explosion. “You can’t expect people to work under that kind of pressure! Then the guy next to me starts choking on his tongue, which was probably some kind of cosmic payback for all the cheating he was doing! I mean, the assistant specifically told us to PUT AWAY ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES!!! She couldn’t’ve been clearer, really, so . . .”

Instead of calming down and apologizing, my tormentors roar even louder.

“I’m sorry,” I hear myself saying, even though they don’t deserve it. “But I have to . . .” I grab my purse, swing it over my shoulder and dart for the door.

The cackling follows me into the hallway, but my tormentors’ spasming lungs are no match for my fully shoed feet, which take me to the Boston Sunday Times’ reception area, posthaste. I’m about to storm out the door in jilted-lover fashion when I remember that I’ve parked in the garage at a cost of ten bucks an hour. For the nearly two hours I’ve been here, I’ll owe a cool twenty I don’t have to spare—unless, of course, I reduce myself to groveling for parking validation.

I fish the parking stub out of my purse and slap it down on the graffiti-laden counter. “Excuse me,” I say to the receptionist, a rotund man with greasy blond hair and a pencil tucked comically—I mean, how cliché!—behind his ear. “Can you stamp this?”

He grumbles as he bats around in search of whatever office supply is required to save me from living off Ramen noodles and tap water for the next two weeks; meanwhile, I stare out the window, the sidewalk busy with pedestrians rushing to and from jobs more meaningful than anything I am ever likely to do. What is taking this guy so long? I wonder, the receptionist digging around with such determination that, if he’s not careful, he might just unearth Jimmy Hoffa. I go back to staring at the street, where a tow truck is backing up to a flaming-red BMW. Douchemobile, I think, imagining the fake-tanned, hair-plugged, capped-teeth jerk who’d drive such a hideous, look-at-me symbol of materialism.

The receptionist clears his throat. “Here,” he says, thrusting the parking stub at my palm.

It’s none of my business, but . . . “Whoever owns that midlife crisis on wheels out there might want to move it.”

“The Beemer?”

“That’s the one,” I confirm, forcing a smile. “It’s about to be towed.”

He scrambles for the phone. “Shit.”

As much as I’d like to stick around and witness the douchebag melting down (the tow truck has already winched the car off the pavement, making a reversal of fortune unlikely), I have to be to work.

“See ya,” I say to the receptionist.

He’s too busy babbling into the phone to reply.

Chapter Two

Despite the dismal state of my postcollege existence, I got lucky with one thing: my apartment, the cozy space above a two-car garage in a leafy neighborhood of wide streets, joggers, and recycling bins. My landlord is a cardiac surgeon who adorns his lab coat with a sheriff’s badge—he’s some sort of eccentric genius, apparently—and works up the street at Beth Israel Deaconess. The apartment I share with a grad student named Jung Lee, who spends nearly twenty-four hours a day rotating among the various MIT libraries and/or slaving over research studies for her PhD.

I tuck my reliable little Chevy Prizm—twelve years old and still humming—into its spot between the garage and the stockade fence and, with my purse clamped under my elbow, shimmy out, my dress acquiring a lovely coat of grime as I hug the clapboard siding on my way to the mailbox.

Why do I even bother? I wonder as I sift through a stack of bills, credit card offers—yeah, right!—and a record number of scientific journals to which Jung subscribes in supplementation of her microbiology course load. Truth be told, I thought about grad school myself, but when I couldn’t muster the energy to fill out the application, it seemed smarter to wait out my undergrad burnout by getting some on-the-job experience . . . if anyone would sink low enough to hire me, that is.

It’s not exactly true that I’m unemployed, though. In fact, I’m stuck in a spectacular state of being known as underemployment, loosely defined as working a shit job (at a dive bar, in my case) for peanuts, while the student-loan police billy club your door down for the five hundred bucks a month you must now bleed out of your eyeballs to pay off that sparkly new degree you just HAD TO HAVE TO GET A DECENT JOB NOWADAYS!!!

I unlock the garage and plod upstairs to the second-floor landing, a four-by-four alcove with a generous window and a scraggly geranium (thanks again, Mom) I have resurrected too many times to count.

I nudge my way inside, drop the mail in our “incoming” basket and kick off my shoes. I’m just about to shuffle into the kitchen, when . . .

Eeeek!!!

The ticklish feel of insect (or—oh, no!—arachnid) legs skips across my bare shoulder and, before I can react, scurries down my cleavage.

Holy mother of GodJesusMaryJoseph . . . SOMEONE, please help me!!!

Blindly, I slap at my stomach, my arms, my chest, hoping to head the critter off before it starts circling my belly button like it’s a shower drain. Please, oh please, don’t let this disgusting creature sink its fangs into my terrified abdomen—or worse: my bikini line.

I throw an arm behind my back and start tugging at the zipper of my dress, getting it momentarily stuck. Eventually, the teeth cooperate, allowing me to unzip to waist level and wiggle out, not a moment too soon.

SPIDER!!!

This is not happening. I am not standing—or, more accurately, hopping around—in the living room of my apartment in my bra and underwear, my feet bare, my hundred-dollar interview dress crumpled in a ball on the floor, its fabric smeared with filth and a GIGANTIC SPIDER scoping it out as a new home.

Of course, this is when my cell phone chooses to start ringing.

Kill me now.

I take a few steps backward, keeping one eye on the spider, my other eye roving for just the right annihilation device. Too bad the only things within reach are a pen, a pad of sticky notes, and a basketful of mail—unless I crouch down and reach ever-so-slightly around the corner, to where one of my high heels has landed. As ludicrous as I must look, I have no choice but to do it.

But now what? I mean, the smashing surface of a high heel is minimal. And a rough glance tells me it would only take five or six of these Incredible Hulk-size spiders to overwhelm my shoe-weapon.

Shit! The spider is on the move! IT’S MOOOVING!!!

I do a little freak-out dance, emit a scream only dogs can hear, and then . . . smash!

I miss completely.

The spider scuttles dangerously close to my toes, then swings around the leg of a mosaic table I snagged a few months ago at Goodwill.

I have no idea where my purse ended up, but I wish it would smother that goddamn incessantly ringing phone! I take a breath and chase the spider along the baseboard toward the kitchen, because the only thing worse than a steroidal arachnid in your dress is one loose in your home sweet home, plotting and scheming against you.

Slam!

Miss!

Slam!

Miss!

Slam!

Miss!

Motherfucker, why won’t this bastard die?!

We’re at a crossroads: either I splatter the thing before it hits the stove, or it will be forever lost, the cracks and crevices around our French-style cabinets the perfect spot for an army of diabolical spider-warriors to entrench.

I summon my courage and wait. And wait some more. I’ll lumber around the apartment in my underwear all night if I have to, for the opportunity to squash this beast dead.

Luckily, I don’t have to, because soon the spider abandons its tricky course behind our wobbly dining set in favor of a wide-open expanse of linoleum.

Jackpot!

I tiptoe in and, with a little mental geometry, figure the exact spot (based on the spider’s current direction, the crumb distribution on the floor, and the inevitable reverberations of my footsteps) to strike. When the beast wanders into “the zone,” my arm is already in motion.

Bam!

IT’S A HIT!!!

IT’S!!!

A!!!

HIT!!!

Oh, fuck.

As I bring the shoe back up, dozens of baby spiders scatter. If I had the time to think—which I don’t, if I’ve any hope of escaping Spidergeddon—I’d question whether that creamed spinach was laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms.

I drop the shoe and sprint for the bathroom, where, if need be, I can subsist for days on strawberry-flavored lip balm until Jung finally sees the need for a shower.

Huh, that’s weird. The bathroom door is closed.

Without a moment to spare, I fling the door open and lurch inside. I’m irrationally shoving the hook through the eye latch when the shower curtain ripples open.

Oh. My. God.

“Wha— Wha—” I stammer, the impending spider doom erased from my mind at the sight of my slippery, sudsy neighbor, Dex, who is STARK RAVING NAKED IN MY SHOWER!!!

He grabs a handful of rubber-ducky-printed fabric (the shower curtain was here when I moved in, I swear) and covers his—how do the Brits say it?—naughty bits. “Oh, Em, what are you doing here?”

I need a cigarette.

###

Copyright © 2014 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.

It’s been a while …

… so I thought I’d update the ol’ blog with some news on my work-in-progress (apparently I promised to do this a few weeks ago and forgot!).

Anyway, the new novel, which I’ve been working on since early-September, is at the 160 pg. (+/-) mark. I’d hoped to have it done by Christmas, but (obviously!) that didn’t pan out. I’m now thinking that the first draft will be complete in late-January to mid-February, followed by weeks of intense editing. March 1st is looking more realistic for a release date.

So what’s this novel called? And what’s it about?

Funny you should ask, because I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to name this sucker and summarize it in a few short-but-intriguing sentences. (If you ask me, good titles are harder to write than entire novels. Blurbs are a close second.)

Here are two potential titles (neither of which I’m in love with) that I’ve been tossing around as possibilities:

Love in the Mix

OR

Emmaline’s Not-So-Secret Recipe for Getting a Life

And here’s a rough blurb:

Recent college grad Emmaline Waters’s real life is shaping up to be a bit too real.

Instead of a plum journalism job (or whatever bottom-rung drudgery in the news business she can drum up to get her too-tight dress through the door), she’s slinging cocktails to tipsy construction workers at Boston’s finest dive bar.

Instead of a sexy husband-in-training who worships the ground her wobbly heels clack upon, she’s muddling through a new relationship with a mildly self-absorbed boyfriend who screens her calls and disappears at a moment’s notice for impromptu “business meetings.”

Instead of a luxurious, big-city address with a jovial doorman and expansive water views, she’s biding her time in the cramped loft above a genius cardiologist’s garage with a mousy PhD-candidate roommate who might as well be a ghost.

So when Emmaline lands an interview for a food critic job at the Boston Sunday Times, she’s sure she has (finally!) stumbled onto the road to success. But soon an unexpected detour—in the form of Mark Loffel, her high school one-night stand—(re)appears, sending Emmaline’s life spinning in a whole new direction.

When the dust settles, will Emmaline have the life of her dreams? Or will she be happy just to get a life?

Here’s my take on where we’re at with the blurb:

This blurb has a few hiccups, in my opinion. First, it’s too flippant. It makes the MC, Emmaline, sound as if she’s a prime candidate for the cast of Desperate Housewives 2.0. (She’s not, btw. She’s got actual problems–explored comically, of course–that are the driving force of the novel. I like to think of the book as the American Bridget Jones with Complications.) In essence, the tone of the blurb  is off.

Plus, in an effort to avoid spoilers, there’s a major plot twist I’ve withheld (no, I’m not going to reveal it here!) that, because it’s a bit more serious, makes the blurb seem misleading. I don’t want readers picking up the novel thinking they’re getting pure, unadulterated brain candy and finding out that–egads!!!–it has a plot. And some (albeit lighthearted) depth.

That’s my conundrum in a nutshell. Suggestions, anyone?

And the titles … 

The titles are OKAY, I guess. But I’d really like something more memorable/attention grabbing/in sync with the story. Ideally, a play on words/pun would work, if only I was smart enough to hatch the right one!

Help me, pretty, pretty please! I’ll owe you forever! :) (Warning: if your title is right for the book, I just might steal use it! No takesies backsies!)

[Note: at some point, I will post actual excerpts of the novel. For now, though, we'll have to make do with the bits and pieces we've got. It ain't pretty, but it's something.]

Winners, Winners!

The giveaway for one (1) of two (2) signed proof copies of my latest novel, Love Over Matter, has ended! A big thank you to everyone who entered! :)

Without further ado–drum roll, please–I give you the winners:

Amy L.

and

Megan B.

Notification emails will be going out to the winners later today. Congrats to them, and thanks again to all who entered!

[P.S. I am roughly halfway through writing a new novel (untitled, as of yet) with an older protag (early 20s) who is struggling to get her life off the ground after college. It's a light romantic comedy with a heart. Look for excerpts here in early December!]

I’m Thinking of a Number …

 

… and that number is 2!

As promised, I am giving away 2 signed paperback proof copies of my new YA novel, Love Over Matter! The giveaway will be hosted by Rafflecopter (link below) and the winners will be chosen at random on October 31, 2013. (Happy Halloween!)

To enter:

Follow the link provided and log in to Rafflecopter with Facebook or by entering your name + email address.

Click “+1″ beside “invent your own option.”

Type the word “love” in the empty box.

Hit “enter.”

Congratulations, you’re done!

Here’s a look at the cover of the novel winners will be receiving:

LoveOverMatter_print_Final

And here’s the giveaway link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here are the Terms & Conditions:

This contest is open to residents of the United States and the United Kingdom only. Two (2) winners will each receive one (1) signed paperback proof copy of Love Over Matter. You may enter to win at the link provided above. Rafflecopter is solely responsible for the administration of this giveaway. Any technical difficulties with entries should be directed at them. At the time of entry, you must provide a valid email address (entrants who choose to log in using Facebook should make sure their Facebook profiles contain a valid, active email address). Winners will be selected at random and notified by email, at which time they must also provide a valid shipping address in the US or the UK. If a winner fails to provide a valid US or UK shipping address, an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck & thanks for entering! I hope you win. :)

Cover Nirvana!

Being an indie author has lots of pluses (and some minuses too, but that’s a post for another day). The best thing about going it alone in this brave new publishing world is the level of control you maintain over your work. I develop the concepts for my novels, write them, edit them (with help from some lovely beta readers), format them for e-book and print, coordinate the marketing (blurbs, giveaways, etc.), and, last but not least, work with designers to produce attractive covers. (Despite the old adage, books are absolutely judged by their covers. Ignore them at your peril.)

This brings me to the reason for today’s post: after much searching, I found a fantastic cover designer for my latest novel, Love Over Matter. She is so fantastic that she was booked solid with freelance work for nearly three months. But I waited patiently, counting down the days until my baby would get the shiny new coat of paint that would allow her to  sit proudly on any bookstore shelf.

Today is that day!

To say that I am ecstatic would be like saying the sun is hot. It’s true, but it doesn’t quite capture the intensity. So thank you Karri Klawiter for being so awesome (and for charging a reasonable fee, so indies like me can afford such outstanding work!). Rest assured, I will be banging down your door again in the near future. :)

Without further adieu, behold:

LoveOverMatter_print_Final

The good news for readers? Once I finalize the interior formatting of the print book, I will be giving away a number of autographed copies! Visit me here in 2-3 weeks for details on how to win one! As always, thanks for reading …

So I wrote a tragicomic teen romance/adventure/mystery with a paranormal twist! Now what?

I’m happy to report that I have wrapped up editing on my new YA novel, Love Over Matter, and pressed the publish button! The book is currently FREE at Smashwords in multiple e-book formats! The paperback will follow in a few months, when my cover artist is finished with the design work.

Here’s the blurb for the book, for those who may wish to download:

George is dead. Now Cassie must learn to live without him.

Sixteen-year-old Cassie McCoy would do anything to contact George—her best friend and secret crush—beyond the grave, including dabbling in dark magic. But her “powers” are stuck in neutral. Everyone is on her case to move on with her life. And there’s a lot she never knew about George—or so says a mysterious, familiar-looking stranger who may not only be the key to George’s hidden past but, if the storm clouds align just right, the means of delivering Cassie’s bittersweet goodbye.

And the e-book cover …

frontCREATELOM

As always, I hope you enjoy reading! Reviews are also welcome.

Thanks for stopping by. :)

The Time Has Come…

…for another installment of my work-in-progress.

Before we blast off, though, I hereby beg the writing gods to pick up the pace on this manuscript. I mean, I’m not Methuselah here. :) Time’s a-tickin’.

That said, I hope you enjoy.

Copyright 2012 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.

chapter 4 (First Draft)

Opal Madden lives in a converted church (formerly Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian) with her golf-pro stepfather and fragile (often intoxicated) mother, a washed-up soap opera actress.

“You’re lucky it’s Monday,” I tell Haley as we coast to a stop in Mom’s Prius, my lack of a driver’s license endowing me with a paranoid eye-twitch, “and the restaurant’s closed.” I pop the shifter into park. “If we get caught,” I add, channeling a last-minute surge of adrenaline, “your head’s on the chopping block, not mine.”

Haley wiggles a hand under her cape (on top of everything else, she’s in Dracula mode) and withdraws a small bottle of clear liquid. I don’t recognize it until she spins it around, revealing the half-peeled bourbon label. “Here you go,” she says, tossing the holy water into my lap. “I thought this might help.”

I power the car down. “How did you…?”

She smirks. “I have powers too, you know.”

“Ha-ha.”

“Remember when you used that stuff on Dad?” she asks with a twirl of her dye-damaged split ends. “And he thought the coffee maker was on the fritz?”

I fight a smile. “That was pretty funny,” I say. “But it got him in for a physical, didn’t it? And once his lab work came back, Mom stopped moping around about the possibility of him dying. So it was a win-win.”

“That’s true,” Haley allows, her gaze locked on the inconspicuous front door of Madden’s House of Worship.

I sense something moving inside and –sure enough—Opal’s svelte, pale face appears, framed in a stained glass-bordered window as if she’s a religious icon or one of the living portraits from Harry Potter.

“Action!” I spout, a performance on the horizon (at least on the part of Opal’s mother).

Haley unbuckles, and I stifle a laugh; my sister is a knot of contradictions: head-banger music and death gear, safety belts and white-light altruism.

We traipse up to the church’s entrance, Opal’s knobby arm—followed by her slim-to-nonexistent profile—slipping out to greet us. “Sorry,” she begins, her eyes sandpapered- and puffy-looking, “but I didn’t know who else to call.” She gives a faint snort-sniffle.

“Where is she?” I inquire, as if I’m an old-timey doctor making a house call, which I sort of am.

“The bathtub,” she says with a resigned shake of her head.

“Anyone else home?”

“Nope.”

“What’re you gonna do?” wonders Haley.

“Fix her,” I say, surprised by the certainty in my voice.

Opal kicks the base of the door to nudge it open. “Come on in.”

The interior of the Madden house is the demented love child of a souvenir shop, a disco, and a bag of cotton candy (think psychedelic pastel colors, swarms of fringe and beads, and herds of ceramic elephants, poised to stampede).

I step over a pile of tattered People magazines and trail Opal and Haley into the bathroom, a voluminous space with two stalls (left over from the Saint Andrew’s days) and, behind a translucent screen, a Jacuzzi tub. “Mom?” Opal says softly as we approach. “You up?”

A garbled string of nonsense fills the air, the best translation of which, by my ear, is: What do you want? Just go away.

“I brought someone to see you,” coos Opal. She gives Haley and me the stop sign with her palm, then slinks behind the screen.

More gurgled syllables: Get out of here. I hate you.

I clear my throat. “Mrs. Madden? It’s me, Cassandra McCoy. Can I come in? I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”

Opal’s mother and I (and George, too) worked on an Easter production of Alice in Wonderland at the Milford Community Theater three years ago. George did set design and construction; I was in the wardrobe department; Mrs. Madden played the Queen of Hearts (I even sewed the skirt for one of her costumes!) “Stupid people, always botherin’ me,” her slurred voice snipes.

Geez, and I thought she’d taken a shine to me.

Mom,” whines Opal, her voice veering into panicked territory, “you don’t feel good. Cassie’s going to help you.”

I elbow Haley and mouth: Is she naked?

My sister shrugs, wrinkles her face in disgust: I don’t know.

I clutch her shoulders and deliver an encouraging little shove. “Check for me.”

She skids to a stop, shoots me a glare and whispers, “Jerk.”

“Just do it,” I reply, even softer. I flick my wrist to shoo her off.

She shakes her head and sighs, twists around the edge of the screen with her eyelids pinched to slits. Her torso freezes, as if she’s stopped breathing.

“So…?” I murmur.

“Ick.”

“Is it that bad?” I ask, tiptoeing up behind her.

“See for yourself.” She whips backwards and heads for one of the stalls. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

I don’t really have much of a choice. As my head rounds the screen, a noxious whiff of…decay overwhelms me. “What’s that smell?” I can’t help muttering, even though the question is ultra-rude.

Before anyone answers, I glimpse the source of the stench for myself: three days’ worth (give or take) of rotten, half-eaten snack foods—melted cookie-dough ice cream, oozing out of a bloated container; a bouquet of disposable cups, each holding an inch of spoiled milk and the remains of a nibbled peanut butter cup or peppermint patty; a brick of Swiss cheese, hacked off at weird angles and balanced—exposed—on the edge of the tub, gobs of dried body wash (or shampoo) acting as support beams.

Inside the tub—which is dry, thank God—Mrs. Madden is scrunched in a ball, her mouth gaping and a muffled snore pulsing through her airways.

Opal recognizes the disgust on my face and, once again, says, “Sorry.”

I pat her arm and smile. “Don’t worry about it. The Moondancer looks like this every night.” (Not really, but it does get pretty messy sometimes. And if it makes Opal feel better…)

“Wake up,” Opals says, poking delicately at her mother’s shoulder.

Mrs. Madden’s lips clamp together and she bolts upright, a dazed look clouding her eyes. “Erm..ur…grrm…”

In the distance, a sloppy spitting sound is followed by the whooshing flush of a toilet. I chance two small steps toward the Jacuzzi, where I hover a few feet over Mrs. Madden’s head and observe her aura, which is a striking combination of black and gold—and the black is winning, a fact that doesn’t surprise me given the state of this bathroom (not to mention Mrs. Madden’s hair, which is snarled into such a bleached-blond nest that a family of sparrows could take up permanent residence). “Hey there,” I say in a smooth, breathy voice.

She hangs both arms sloppily over the side of the tub. “What do you want?”

Mom!” squeals Opal. “Cut it out!”

My vision is dazzled by a machine-gun spray of gold in Mrs. Madden’s darkening aura. I blink away ghostly spots from behind my eyelids and fix my gaze on her papery-looking fingers, which are cracked and red, raw to the point of bleeding. “I heard you were sad,” I say, the statement a lie only in the strictest sense, “and that you needed someone to talk to.”

“He left me!” she declares in her on-camera Hollywood voice. “And he ain’t never comin’ back!”

Opal gives a dismissive shake of her head. “It’s a fight, that’s all. Happens once a week.”

I argued with George too, I think. The brother-sister kind of needling. What I wouldn’t give to have a real grown-up fight with him right now.

“Would you guys mind, uh, leaving us alone?” I ask Haley (who’s a little shaky post-retch) and Opal.

Mrs. Madden grimaces. “I don’t know you.”

“Yes, you do. I made your costumes for Alice in Wonderland.

From the corner of my eye, I notice Haley grabbing Opal’s forearm and tugging her out the door. Under her breath, my sister mutters, “Luck o’ the Irish to ya.”

I squat beside the tub, my feet sinking into a mound of damp, musty towels. For maybe a whole minute, I don’t say a word. Instead, I study the worry lines—deep, sorry furrows—that crack Mrs. Madden’s face like faults through an earthquake zone. “How long have you been in here?” I ask eventually, my gaze stuck on the flowy arms of her sheer housedress, which resembles a cross between a genie’s costume and an angel’s robe.

She shifts to a kneeling position and drops back against the tub surround, a tendril of stray hair matted to her lipstick-caked mouth. “What time is it?” she asks with a squint.

I search the walls for a clock but come up empty. “Three-thirty?”

“Saturday?”

“Uh-uh.” I give a nonchalant shrug. “Monday.”

“Oh.” She peels the hair away from her mouth. “So what do I have to do to get rid of you?”

I flash my cheerleader smile (though, sadly, I’ve never shaken a pom-pom in my life). “Come out of there,” I say, extending a hand to help her over the side of the tub.

Clumsily, she latches on to me, her bony fingertips (thank God her nails are stubby and ragged, or I’d be donating blood) poking into my bicep. “Good,” I say, once she’s steadied on her feet beside me.

She loosens her grip on my arm but doesn’t let go. “You’re Cassandra McCoy,” she says, studying me with violet eyes that have suddenly gone clear.

I baby-step to the scalloped mother-of-pearl sink. “The one and only.”

An encore of the cheerleader grin.

“He feels bad about it, you know,” she tells me, a mystic, far-off tone to her otherwise scratchy voice.

I locate a plastic cup that’s as close to clean as we’re going to get, rinse it under the tap and fill it with cool water. “Where did he go?” I ask, trying to take an interest in Mr. Madden’s Houdini act.

“The astral plane.”

“Huh?” I hold the cup out, to suggest she should take a drink, but she stares right through it.

“Limbo,” she says. “The space between.”

Why am I here again? Oh, yeah. “Okay…uh, do you have a phone number? Maybe I can call him and…?”

She releases my arm, takes the cup and sets it back on the sink, amongst the spent toilet paper rolls, crumpled tissues and tipped-over bottles of makeup. Below a whisper, she intones, “Guilt is toxic.”

I finger the bourbon bottle in my pocket, work out how I’m going to get the holy water into that cup—and then into her. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”

She jerks out a wild cackle. “Forgive me?

“I just mean that…well, everyone makes mistakes. You shouldn’t feel bad. It’ll probably blow over by tomorrow.” I sneak the nip bottle into my palm and carefully uncap it. When she’s not looking: drip, drip, drip—right into the cup.

“There’s no such thing as time in the astral plane.” A dizzy, fuzzy look comes over her.

I give the cup another try. “Aren’t you thirsty?”

She lets me slip the cup into her hand, then takes a long, slow gulp. “Suppose I was.”

I have no proof of this, but holy water seems to mellow people out, smooth their rough edges (at least that’s what it did for my dad). “Drink it all,” I prod. “In case you’re dehydrated.”

“He loves you,” she tells me, as the cup swings back toward her garishly outlined lips.

“Mr. Madden?”

“Of course not.” She shakes her head, he gaze floating toward the ceiling. “It’s the boy,” she mumbles. “George.”

“You’re gonna have to drive,” I tell Haley as we hustle to the Prius after an unsettling tea party with Opal and her mother. I toss the keys in my sister’s direction, but she lets them drop into the street, where they clatter across a manhole cover and skid under the car.

She looks at me like I’ve suggested sacrificing a goat. “Are you crazy?

I hold my arms out, zombie-style. “You trust me?” I ask, watching my chipped blue fingernails tremble.

She crouches for the keys, fishes them out and gives them a doubtful stare-down. “Why don’t we just call Dad?”

It’s not a bad idea, since our father is the understanding—and forgiving—type. If Mom finds out we’ve kidnapped her baby (I swear sometimes that she loves this eco-friendly cruiser more than she does us) we’ll be headed for the guillotine. I check my cell phone for the time. “I doubt they’re back,” I say, referencing our parents’ weekly jaunt to Boston to nab supplies for the restaurant.

“Well, I’m not getting behind the wheel,” declares Haley, “and you can’t make me.”

Did she really just say that, or was it an echo from 2002? I wrench the keys from her hand. “Fine. If you’re going to be so…immature.

Neither of us bothers speaking until the Prius hums into our garage at home, the ride an empty blur (which proves I had no business warming the driver’s seat in the first place). “Does this look right?” I ask as we exit the car, a wave of panic washing over me.

Haley studies the way I’ve parked, checks the concrete for chalk marks we’ve left behind as a guide. “You’re off by six inches,” she tells me flatly.

“Should I fix it?” I spin back toward the car. “I should fix it.”

“Lighten up,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “You’ll never get it perfect.” She snatches a whisk broom from a utility bench, where our father has stashed a jug of motor oil in hopes of becoming a do-it-yourself mechanic. “There,” she says, brushing away the first mark. “Good as new.” She taps me on the shoulder with the broom.

“She knew about George,” I mutter as I whisk the next chalk line out of existence. “Weird things. Personal things. Things she had no way of…”

“Is that why you’re acting so freaky?”

I guess she assumed I was rattled from the intervention, which went off swimmingly, all things considered. “Why won’t he talk to me?” I ask, not expecting an answer. “I was…” I finish the cover-up and return the broom to its slot. “We were…”

“You should have told him.”

A dagger to my heart. “Now you’re a relationship guru? How many boyfriends have you had?”

She grins. “Maybe I don’t like boys. Maybe I have a different preference.

Touché.” I give her a snappy nod. “Do you? Like boys, I mean?”

“They’re all right. Some of ‘em, anyway.”

“There’s none like George,” I say. “Not that I’ve seen.”

Haley shakes her head, a look of pity coloring her face. “Don’t you think it’s time,” she says gently, “to let it go?”

I am so sick of this conversation. For two years, I’ve heard nothing but: It’s not your fault, Cassie. George wouldn’t blame you. Remember the good times. Celebrate his life by living yours.

Ad nauseam.

It’s not like I don’t want to move on; I do. But I can’t. Not without George. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say. “Message received. Again.” I duck into the Prius for my English books (we’re simultaneously reading 1984 and Brave New World—sort of a compare and contrast assignment), which have been absorbing space in the backseat all weekend. As I wiggle the Orwell text—which has somehow become lodged in the seat crevice—to liberation, a startling sight catches my eye. “Haley, come here!” I shout, my voice shrill with alarm as it rebounds off my eardrums. She’s not moving fast enough. “Haley! Help!”

I sense her behind me. “What?”

All I can do is point.

“Oh…my…God,” she drawls, three measly syllables stretching the length of the alphabet song. She pushes in front of me and stares at the seat cushion, where, tied into a compact little knot, lies an empty Funyuns bag. “Omigod, omigod, omigod,” she spouts, shifting to staccato rhythm.

I poke absently at her spine. “When did Mom get this car?”

She shrugs.

“Think!” I demand. She goes for the chip bag, which, to any normal person, would look like trash. But we know better. “Don’t,” I warn. “Don’t touch it.” Disturbing this relic would be akin to defacing George’s grave.

Haley shimmies back out of the car, her face ashen. “It can’t be…” she says warily. “Can it?”

“When did Mom get this car?” I repeat, doing some mental math—although it’s all but impossible that the Funyuns bag has been kicking around the Prius since before George died.

Haley nibbles her lip. “July, I think. Or Maybe August.” She stares me dead in the eyes. “But it was definitely after seventh grade. I remember, because Mom and Dad had the station wagon when they took us to Six Flags.”

My sister is right, which leaves only one explanation: the hungry ghost of George Alfred Brooks has been noshing on delicious onion-flavored snacks, twisting the empty wrappers into his trademark bowtie knots (when he was alive, he claimed the packaging took up less space in landfills this way), and planting the evidence for me to find.

I want to say something, but my jaw just drops and hangs there, slack and dopey-looking.

“What’re you gonna do?” asks Haley.

There is no protocol for how to act when the dead best friend you secretly loved suddenly resurfaces—or at least his garbage does. “I don’t know.”


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