just another day… or not.

I was at Target the other day and in a hurry, which is nothing new. While my daughter had an appointment, I figured I had just enough time to grab a few things, run to another store and grab a few more things, and still have time to hustle back to pick her up too.

While in line at the register, an older lady in front of me was struggling to get her cash tucked safely back into her wallet after completing her purchase. As the cashier watched her fussing, she said something to the woman that really hit me.

“Honey. It’s OK to take your time and put your money away. Everyone here can wait.”

I felt like I’d been hit square in the chest. In my selfish, self-focused moments, I was in a hurry and not paying the least bit of attention to anyone around me as I mentally ticked off how many minutes I’d been in the store already, my list for the next store, and if I would have enough time to pick my daughter up without being late. I didn’t see anyone or anything else.

But the cashier did. And her small kindness was just enough to make me slow down. That woman in front of me needed to hear those words. She didn’t want anyone to fuss over her, she didn’t want to be a bother, so she was trying to hurry to just get out of the way so the other shoppers could get through the line quickly. With encouragement to take her time, she tucked her money away and thanked the cashier before leaving.

The cashier then looked at me and said, “The world is so crazy. I just worry that she’ll go out there and someone will be waiting to rob her of her money, or maybe hurt her. That really bothers me. It’s not a problem to take a few extra seconds, and if anyone here doesn’t like it, well, too bad.”

She really made me smile. She’s so right.

Take care of other people, and look out for them, regardless what others think. And as I learned in this experience, to do this, you first need to SEE other people and stop worrying about yourself so much. What might help someone today when you’re out and about, at the store, at work, or just going about your day?

Even a smile goes a long way to making someone’s day, but imagine what thoughtfulness like this cashier’s words and gesture might do for them? How it might change their perspective and help them to have a nice day instead of ‘just another day’ like all the rest?

I hope you’ll stop and see people and do or say a quick ‘something’ to make them know they matter and are seen. And if anyone on the sidelines doesn’t like it, well, as that wise cashier said, “too bad”.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

Where have you been all my life?

Students who have taken many of my writing classes know I am a huge fan of Syd Field’s book ‘Screenplay’. This foundational work helped me understand storytelling by using films to illustrate the Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 structure. The concepts not only worked in writing screenplays but also translated quite well to novel writing. So well, in fact, I’ve used these lessons many times to teach classes outside film studies, including novel writing.

Recently I stumbled on a book I purchased some time ago but never made the time to read and I realized the holes in Field’s work, at least as far as writing novels is concerned. Author Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel considers many details of storytelling I previously may have known, but am certain I’d not seen articulated before.

In offering details and examples from familiar works (both film and novels), Brody illustrates key methods for writing a successful story. The mind-blowing bits for me include a more specific breakdown of what happens in each Act of a story so, as a writer, I can tell my story in a way that works but isn’t formulaic.

If you’re looking to get started in writing your novel or screenplay, or if you’re stuck in that beast known as Act 2, I’d encourage you to pick up both Syd Field’s Screenplay and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Together, these books will get you through to the end of your story– and I can almost guarantee it will be stronger for it.

I’m excited to test-drive Brody’s ‘Beat Sheet’ as I work on my next novel. If you have a writing book that’s been helpful to you, please share it below. Or, if you’ve used Brody or Field in your process, share what of their work has been most effective and helpful for you.

Happy writing!

Character names

How does one decide what to call a character?

One of the things I actually enjoy about writing is deciding on a character’s name, nickname, and even terms of endearment. It’s a fun way to learn about a character, their background and life, and it helps me connect with them, as well as understand their relationships with other characters. But now that I’ve been writing a while, the process is getting trickier so I’m having to work through some things.

For instance, have I used this name before? If so, when and in what context? If it’s a common name like Dave or Sara and I used it for a secondary character, I don’t mind pulling the name again in a new context for a more prominent character. However, with an increasing catalog of material, both novels and screenplays, remembering what names have been used — and in what combination– is getting tougher.

I don’t like this.

A project I plan to begin this summer before my naming problem gets out in front of me any further, is to create a spreadsheet or other document to easily search what names have been used, in what context, in what specific work, and when it was written. I’m hoping this will head off any weird, awkward issues in future works.

So, that’s one side of naming characters. What other things do I deal with?

Another area of naming that can be a challenge is simply deciding on the name itself. Does it fit the economic and social situation of the character? Is it too close to what I’ve named another character? And based on a recent debate I’ve had with myself about the name Louis (Lou-ie? Lou-is?), reader pronunciation might be an issue because I feel the name should be pronounced one way, but the reader will assume it to be something else. (Sidenote- I changed the name altogether because I started questioning myself. I wanted Louis to be Lou-ie but feared readers would favor Lou-is)

A silly debate? Perhaps. But reality, folks.

Personally, I name characters fully– first, middle, last, and nicknames too. I also consider what they prefer to be called, what others call them, and how they feel about it. Once I get going into the story, I’m usually fine. I believe those are the character names and, like children, they grow into them in a way that often surprises me. Rarely do I need to change a name once the story is being developed, though I have been encouraged by an editor or two to change a name because it started with the same letter as another character’s name and so could be confusing to a reader.

I get it. Still, changing names is never fun if you already feel comfortable with the way the names are used.

When I named Robby Grant (Picking Daisy), his name came to me immediately as just that– Robby Grant. But when I started thinking about the propriety of his full name, a deeper picture was revealed- Robert (a name I envisioned that came from his straight-laced military father), and his middle name, River (a name I envisioned came from his creative, free-spirited fashion-designing mother).

I believe Robby is fine with being seen as Robby- fun, maybe at times immature (or at least forever young in some ways), but he’d never think of himself as ‘Robert’ because it reminds him of all he and his father struggle over– decorum, rules, and maturity.

I could go on for days about why I named characters as I did. Often the answer is simple, I liked that name and it worked for the character. Boom. Done.

Here are some final thoughts:

I use names I personally like. Why should I name a character something I’m not fond of? Meh. No way.

Characters become like real people to me, so I try to use names for films that ‘sound’ great coming out of other characters’ mouths, and in novels, ones that ‘look’ pretty and appropriate on the page.

Finally, I do consider nicknames and shortened forms of names. While there is much to be said for a character named ‘Reginald’ being called such all the time and by everyone, there is also something in how he will respond to a new person in his life referring to him as ‘Reggie’.

What do you think about character names? Any favorites from my books that you’d like to hear more about? Drop a comment below!

I say this entirely too often, but I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while…

I suppose I’m not much for blogging, or I just don’t care enough about it to make it a priority.

That said, I swear, I’m trying. And I apologize for not being more faithful to this endeavor.

I haven’t written since January, so I’ll blame the pandemic. (It’s not the pandemic’s fault). And I could also blame work (I could honestly have made time to blog if I wanted to). Or, I could just tell you the truth: I changed course on this blog so many times that I’m not even sure what to write about anymore.

But let me be even more transparent than that. The pandemic was bad, yes, and work is busy– that’s also very true. But in all fairness, I survived two years of trauma before the pandemic, got no time to heal from it, and then was thrust into a situation no one could have predicted with a pandemic. Come on, life. That’s just nuts.

To say my focus has been a little (a lot) off is an understatement. Writing a blog with no focus instead of jumping back into my novel-writing, a place where I can escape the expectations of life, just didn’t seem tempting to me. So, while I’d think of this blog occasionally, I found no desire or interest in coming over here to say anything.

Heck, even now, I’m not sure I’m really saying anything.

But I do plan to try – yet again – to dig back into this. If for no other reason than to maintain a consistent writing schedule and to show my students I struggle to write sometimes too, this will be worth it.

So, meh. Here we go. Isn’t this excitement palpable?

I have a choice…

While I’m not in the business of selling other authors’ work, I do feel a need to share great stuff when I find it.

This book is (so far) pretty great, which is why I’m sharing it with you.

The takeaway (for now) is the mantra that “I have a choice” in how I respond to my thoughts, what thoughts I entertain and maybe I’m taking liberties, but I also have a choice with what I let in, what I put out, and how I perceive others.

In this crazy world, I can think of worse things to consider.

Last week I responded to a post on a public forum with what I thought was a positive comment. In seconds, people I didn’t know were brow-beating me (as only online, faceless, “brave” warriors can) about my comment. I have studied writing long enough to know how to craft a message. Or, so I thought. The tone and intent this first person (and others as well) read into my words shocked and surprised, and dare I admit– also hurt me.

I immediately began to reply to correct, as kindly as possible, the misperception of my statement.

But the floodgates had opened and more people were saying things- some positive, some negative. I left the computer to regroup.

As I walked around my neighborhood, breathing in fresh air and saying safe, socially-distant hellos to neighbors and their dogs (who doesn’t love a sweet puppy?!) I realized there was no point in any response I could give. It, too, would be read into, misunderstood, and useless in changing anyone’s mind.

Social media, as I determined years ago, is a soapbox and a megaphone whereby no one listens– or wants to– using the platforms instead to broadcast their ideas and perspectives. Whether you like it or not.

So, I had a choice.

I removed my original comment and swore to stay away from such things again. My focus now would be on positive, helpful posts and comments. When something made me feel any other emotion, I’d ask, ‘what are my choices’?

Because real conversation happens in person, not online. You have a choice. I choose kindness and helping. So, I challenge everyone else to try this too. Before you respond or post, ask, is this helping? Also, in life, ask, what can I do to make things better?

You might be shocked by what you find. We all have power to change things. My little contribution now is to maintain an online ‘cafe’ where my students know that at certain times in the week they can stop by for group conferencing that has NO AGENDA. So far we mainly talk food, pets, and pop culture. Will this change the world? Maybe. But I know one thing it will do for certain. It will make my students aware that someone cares about them. It’s a small thing for me– an investment of time, but it might make a difference.

You have a choice. Will you find a way to make a difference- big or small- in your sphere of influence?

Let us know in the comments what you came up with and how it’s going. Together I think we can make little changes that could make a big difference in your neighborhood, community, workplace, or maybe the world. Choose to do something, choose to say something, choose to think about something that will help. Choose to move on from anger, upset, and all the rest and take steps to good.

Looking forward to hearing your positive thoughts!

The makings of great character

I’m editing a new novel (my thirteenth! woohoo!) and realizing something I’ve always known intuitively, but until now haven’t openly articulated.

I love characters.

I love everything about building a history, a past, a fleshed-out and complete life for these fictional people I’ll live with and be frustrated by for months, and sometimes years. I suppose this all stems from my enjoyment of interpersonal relationships. People fascinate me.

I knew it when I waitressed in high school and college, and most certainly, as a novelist, writing teacher, and generally observant human, I am aware of it now.

So, what makes people tick? We’re all at once predictable and shocking– and no one can stop us from being so. Even someone you’ve known your entire life will come at you with an insight, comment, or action that sends you reeling.

Why shouldn’t characters be the same?

So, after the first solid draft is done, I am doing what I love most. Editing. (Yes, some writers would say I’m really weird for this one)

Editing allows me to dig deep into the characters to make sure they are consistent and unpredictable at the same time. Just like real people. This, for me, is where the magic happens. In real life people say one thing and do another- either out of fear, a lack of self-awareness, or who knows what else. But it’s fun to figure it out.

Currently my characters are a second-chance-romance story who are fun because they’re both strong and sassy. But, as with any strong and sassy character, they also lack confidence in some ways too– and this will be the catalyst for the problems they face.

Because characters are usually (maybe even always) the cause of their own problems. And in order to make big problems that seem insurmountable, which keeps the reader reading, the characters and their motivations (and reasons for not having what they want already) must be known. Who, but the author, can have this information?

Such a list of fun things to keep in mind as I edit this thirteenth novel today! Characters, motivation, backstory, familiarity, predictability, and surprise all at once. It’s a lot for an author to manage, but I love it all!

Happy reading, friends!

A new novel!

My new novel- find it on Amazon.com
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08PS1BVFJ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

If you liked Picking Daisy or Pushing Robby, check this one out! It revisits some of the same characters like Robby and Daisy, but lets you into the lives of new characters like Bo and Marilyn– two people who get under each others’ skin but somehow find their way through the chaos to peace, and even love.

To whet your appetite, I’ll share the first chapter below. Enjoy, friends and fans! Happy reading!

Marilyn Darby stared at the gas gauge, doing the weak mental calculation of a person who’d never been adept at story problems. She had no idea how to figure whether she could make it to work based on an estimate of how many miles she had to go versus how much gas she had versus how much money remained in her miniscule bank account.

An embarrassing number of minutes and finger-counting passed before she jammed the ornery vehicle into drive, grateful her mother didn’t witness the ‘wing and a prayer’ life she lived.

As if on cue, Marilyn’s cell phone rang. With a glance at the display she found the very woman she’d just been thinking of calling, yet again.

“Hey, Mom.” Marilyn clicked the radio down a notch. Her mother would have a conniption if she heard her daughter listening to hip hop, rock, or anything else that might, unbidden, come blaring out if she wasn’t careful.

“Marilyn. Where are you? Why did it take so many calls to finally get you to pick up? I do not like that one bit.”

Marilyn paused at a stop sign, looked both ways, and started driving again. “I’m sure you don’t. Sorry. I’ve been really busy with work.”

Grace didn’t appreciate that her daughter worked three jobs, sometimes more, to make ends meet. She struggled to understand how Marilyn could be almost twenty-three and still without a degree, husband, or a nine-to-five position her parents could brag about to their friends.

“I need to know if you’ll be attending your sister’s engagement party.” She cleared her throat. “And whether you’ll be bringing a plus one.”

Rosemary’s engagement party. To Mr. Perfect himself. A NASA engineer. It wasn’t bad enough that Rosemary had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to end human trafficking, she had to also go and marry Mr. Perfect.

The family made it impossible for Marilyn to ever feel good about her own accomplishments, few though they might be.

Marilyn snorted. “I’m not sure, Ma. That’s probably why I never sent in the RSVP.”

“I worried you’d lost it.”

While that would be something Marilyn might do, that didn’t keep her from bristling at the accusation.

“I didn’t lose it,” she snapped. But for a moment she did wonder where she left the dumb thing. Oh, that’s right. She used it as a bookmark in a dance magazine. She’d been in the midst of reading an article about shin splints and…

“Well, it’s not an impossible question.” Grace continued. “Yes? Or no?”

Marilyn pulled her car over short of her destination, wondering how to answer. She dumped her boyfriend ages ago and decided she wouldn’t date again until or unless she found someone worth her time.

And by worth her time, Marilyn meant someone who shared her faith, someone with a stable job, and someone who would unequivocally support her still-floundering career aspirations. And most of all, someone who only had eyes for her—and would dance with her whether he enjoyed dancing or not.

That man, the superhero unicorn saint he would need to be, probably didn’t exist. Still, Marilyn would wait, holding out for her impossible dream. She wouldn’t be distracted by shiny things like a good attitude or musky cologne. Or glasses. Definitely not glasses, no matter how weak a man in glasses made her knees.

“I have an audition coming up, Mom. If I get the role, I can’t say I’ll be able to make it to the party because we’ll be starting into rehearsals.”

“So, you’re saying no? When you haven’t been home in so long?”

Marilyn beat her head on the steering wheel, praying to knock herself unconscious. Conversations with her brain surgeon mother always went like this.

Sadly, that wasn’t a joke. Grace Darby actually made her living as a world-renowned brain surgeon while her embarrassment of a daughter struggled to start her car and keep it full of gas.

“OK, Mom. I’ll find a way to make it. And go ahead and be wild and put me down for a plus one too.” Why did she say that? What poor schmuck could she drag along to this painful event?

Might as well go for broke.

“I can hardly wait. Now, I need to go—I’m almost to work.”

Marilyn hung up before her mom could say another word.

Now, she only needed to find a way out of going home. Again.

**

Bo Sutton descended the winding staircase, mentally ticking off all his day would entail. He worked as a personal assistant to songwriter Daisy Grant, who kept everyone on their toes, including her rock legend husband, Robby.

A year earlier Robby hired Bo as security for Daisy, who’d survived a car accident that left her in a wheelchair well before the couple even met. Now, as a songwriter to nearly every popular, successful musician in the business, in addition of course to being Robby’s precious wife, the rocker would not take any chance of putting Daisy in harm’s way just because of their fame. Their love story captivated the nation and culminated in a wedding like no other, where Daisy even mastered a standing wheelchair to out-rock-star her own husband.

While Bo hadn’t been there himself, he’d seen the pictures and the videos. And now, knowing Daisy and Robby, he couldn’t imagine two people more suited to one another. He could only hope one day to find the same kind of relationship for himself.

Fat chance given his terrible, pathetic history.

Still, one thing remained sure—Bo didn’t doubt for a moment his ability to do the job he’d been hired for. With his training and experience working with disabled veterans and athletes, not only could he keep her safe, but he also intended to lead her in workouts too per her request.

Already the original job morphed into so much more. And with every addition to his daily tasks, Bo’s love for his work only increased.

Today’s agenda: breakfast, prepare the gym for Daisy’s dance class, take care of the Grant’s baby, Nicolette. After that, per Robby’s specific instruction, Bo would make sure the bad-boy flirt Titus Black behaved while he worked with Daisy on a new song.

Having lived in the power couple’s mansion for the better part of a year, Bo no longer noticed the gold and platinum records lining the walls of the foyer. His eye did, however, catch the crystal chandelier as he hustled under it. It would be cleaned next week. He made a mental note to call and confirm that appointment.

Bo’s attention returned to the sweet baby in his arms, the one he promised to take care of overnight and through the morning until Daisy and Robby decided to get out of bed. The couple enjoyed a long date the night before—their first date without their youngest daughter, a one-and-a-half-month-old tiger who kept him up nearly all night with her fussing.

Not that Bo minded. No, he adored the baby and his ability to calm her when no one else could. He cradled her in one arm and carried her bouncy seat in the other as he entered the kitchen, not surprised to find Robby’s teenaged daughter, Alice, at the table with three friends waiting for him.

“What took you so long?” she demanded, jumping to her feet to steal the baby.

As usual, Bo didn’t miss a beat. “She didn’t like the first outfit.” He’d already become so fond of Alice that he could scarcely imagine his life without the teen in it. Most days he took her to school and picked her up, and lately he helped with her homework nearly every night.

Being needed satisfied Bo as nothing else could. Secretly, he read a book every week or two and loved learning. Helping Alice with her homework meant he got to revisit the lessons he forgot from high school that at the time seemed so pointless but now he realized were actually important.

Alice’s friends stared at him as he set the seat on the counter and tied on his apron. “You ladies need some snacks?”

The girls giggled, which didn’t surprise him. A man who stood nearly six-five didn’t usually nanny for a rock star couple, he usually didn’t cook, and he definitely didn’t wear frilly aprons designed for women. One day he’d find an appropriate apron. Or maybe he could make one.

Bo didn’t care. He’d never been much for convention.

Alice didn’t lift her eyes from the baby as she spoke, the girls now leaning over to look at Nicolette too.

“What do you want? Bo makes everything.”

“How about crepes?” one of the girls asked.

Bo winked. “Crepes it is.” He got to work tugging everything he needed from the cabinets and tossing it across the counter.

“Who’s having crepes?” Robby’s voice boomed as he entered the kitchen, followed closely by his wife.

“Move it, Robby, I need my baby.” Daisy swatted him out of her way and stopped beside Alice, peering with the girls at the sweet, sleeping infant.

The teens turned in Robby’s direction, jaws dropped. They moved silently away from Daisy, eyes wide. Neither the husband nor wife appeared to notice the impact of their arrival on their guests.

Bo continued working on the snack. Over the last year he got used to people’s reactions to his employers who, truth be told, still intimidated and fascinated him too sometimes, regardless how normal they actually were.

For his fans, Robby Grant embodied swagger and a supremely cocky attitude. And at just over six feet two inches tall, he stood as a formidable presence of wild hair, piercings, and tattoos. All of that did nothing to diminish his musical genius. So far, Bo had seen him play the piano, shred a guitar, and even beat around on the drums a time or two, not to mention of course that gravelly, sultry voice of his. No wonder women swooned.

In private, the man himself could still be cocky, demanding, and confident, but he also spent a lot of time in Bible study, insisted on weekly dates with his bride, and had become an amazing stepfather to Alice. Bo liked and respected him, even if there were times Robby deliberately pushed the bodyguard’s buttons for his own strange entertainment.

The musician pecked his stunning wife’s head before resting one arm around Alice’s shoulders as he gazed down at his baby. “How’re my girls?”

Alice looked up at him, eyes softening in admiration and love. How quickly she and Robby went from strangers to an easy companionship of father-daughter. Years ago, at a time when Robby struggled with his own demons that included the stereotypical manifestations in partying, drinking, and otherwise making a menace of himself, he agreed to help one of his stylists, Mindy, by claiming her baby as his own.

So, when Mindy died just after Robby and Daisy’s wedding, Alice appeared at the couple’s mansion door. As a newlywed intent on building a life with his wife, Robby didn’t want to take responsibility for the teen, but Daisy brought everyone together and helped them form a patchwork family of friends and relations tighter than most bound by blood.

“Better introduce us before their eyes bug out.” Robby scooped Nicolette out of Alice’s arms and cradled her against him. “Didn’t tell your friends I’m so handsome, huh?”

Alice whacked him playfully before engaging in all the introductions, ending with, “And that’s Daisy.”

Daisy moved her wheelchair to the center of the group to greet the girls, warm and welcoming as always. “I’m so glad you could come today. Alice has been itching to invite you over since school started.”

As the kids talked, Robby made his way into the living room, still fussing over the baby.

Bo finished the crepes and set them on plates around the kitchen island as Daisy turned to him.

“Did Nicolette keep you up long?”

Bo chuckled. He understood Daisy’s concerns, and that they heightened because Nicolette didn’t take kindly to most people. Bo, of course, would be an exception. “No longer than usual. No longer than she does anyone else.” He minimized the truth of the matter. Nicolette only stopped fussing for him, Daisy, and sometimes Robby. Otherwise, a person had their work cut out getting the baby to calm.

Daisy watched the girls giggle their way out of the room carrying their plates.

“Do not drop crumbs everywhere!”

“We won’t!” Alice’s words were barely out before a door slammed and they likely headed outside to the enormous patio.

“What’s the week look like?”

Bo set a crepe near Daisy and began cleaning up. “I synced it to your phone.”

She took a bite of breakfast. “Excellent.”

Robby entered the room, leaning down to kiss his wife’s head before placing their daughter in her arms.

“Dang, you’re gorgeous. And I adore you.” His lips found hers this time. Bo turned his back on them. While their behavior no longer shocked him, it didn’t make him less uncomfortable. He gave up on finding a spouse years ago, but that didn’t mean the desire fizzled out completely.

Bo reminded himself to be grateful for what he had. This job was a lifeline, and he wouldn’t forget it.

“You’re a lucky man. I adore you too.” The love in Daisy’s voice couldn’t be missed.

Bo tossed the last of the dishes into the dishwasher and headed over to Daisy with the baby carrier. “Want me to take her?”

Reluctantly, Daisy pressed her lips to Nicolette’s soft head again and Bo set her back in her seat.

“I’ll make sure the gym’s ready.” Bo started for the door to give the couple privacy before their busy days took over.

“You’re the best, Bo.”

Robby grunted. “That’s all I hire, babe.”

The couple started bantering as Bo made his way out the door. He’d need to be quick in this next job if he wanted to avoid running into his least favorite person on the planet,

Daisy’s dancing instructor and his nemesis, the one and only Marilyn Darby.

**

Marilyn shoved out of her car and slammed its temperamental door. She stared up at the mansion belonging to Robby and Daisy Grant, still in awe that she got to come here a few times a week to teach Daisy how to dance again. While Marilyn hadn’t yet been inside the sprawling estate, she wondered if the tour came with maps, or if every so often there might be a ‘you are here’ arrow on a kiosk to keep guests from getting lost.

The dance teacher let herself into the gym, tossed her bag aside, and slipped her light sweatshirt off, leaving her in tights, workout shorts, and a shirt with ‘Dance!’ blaring across it in colorful, capital letters. She kicked off her shoes and rolled her neck from side to side. Only minutes remained before Daisy would come through the doors, and Marilyn intended to be ready to hit the ground running.

After completing her stretches, Marilyn plugged her phone into the sound system and began to dance to the playlist she prepared specifically with Daisy in mind.

The movement and emotion came easily and made the dancer free again. As she neared the end of her for-fun practice routine, Marilyn leapt through the air, right as the music abruptly halted. Shocked, she barely managed to right herself and land without incident.

Cheeks flaming, she turned toward the offender, already certain of who it would be.

Bo Sutton. All two-hundred and fifty pounds of muscle, attitude, and those comments that made her crazy.

The only good thing about her hiatus from teaching Daisy while she took time off to have her baby, was that Marilyn hadn’t had to contend with Bo or his ridiculous insinuations and judgements for her brief relationship with Zeke Fullerton, a man she’d not seen or heard from in over a year.

Good riddance to the last relationship she intended to have for a while. Zeke convinced the naïve twenty-year-old he would be the man she needed, when in reality all he wanted were things she refused to give, which meant he dumped her unceremoniously in the middle of a date, forcing her to walk nearly two miles home in the middle of New York.

Idiot.

Bo didn’t know any of it, nor did he care. He assumed Marilyn to be beneath him, a woman looking to take Zeke for whatever she could, because apparently those were the women he cheated on Marilyn with, the ones who liked his money and attention, the ones who crowded the gym looking for him. Bo didn’t care that Marilyn had pride, a work ethic, and enough confidence to move on from all of it.

And she never asked Zeke for a thing because she honestly cared for him, or at one time she thought she did.

While the break-up meant the loss of the gym space Zeke promised her for a dance studio, and a depleted bank account as she tried to make ends meet while finding a new job and apartment far away from him, Marilyn didn’t care. She survived, and by God’s good grace she realized she could get along without help from anyone, especially a man who’d only want her innocence in return.

Things finally started looking up when Robby’s agent Lily found Marilyn teaching at a small dance studio. As these things often go, a friend of a friend recommended her. Once Lily met Marilyn, she hired her on the spot.

Weeks later the dancer discovered Bo’s place in the Grant hierarchy. While it turned her stomach, she refused to lose out on the first good thing to happen to her in months.

She and Bo, the bodyguard/ assistant, and now manny, would never be friends. And the more time she spent with him, the more certain Marilyn became of her dislike for Bo Sutton.

Her eyes narrowed as she drank him in, folding her arms over her chest to remind him she couldn’t care less about his clout in Daisy’s life. She knew the songwriter liked her too and would never fire her just because Bo couldn’t stand her.

In fact, Daisy appeared to be amused by the two of them fighting all the time.

Bo frowned, his legs spread wide, arms folded over his chest as if to remind her of his power position. So what? Marilyn refused to be intimidated.

Bo’s almost-black hair looked shorter than she remembered, and his dark eyes glittered, not in amusement, but in complete, utter annoyance.

Getting under his skin was entirely too easy. Did it make her a sadist to enjoy it so much? One thing seemed sure, Marilyn shoved aside her Christian upbringing in the way she treated Bo.

She ignored that convicting thought as she waited for his first snip of the day.

“You would dance to this garbage.” Bo’s deep voice grated on the dancer’s last, weak nerve. She wanted to sucker punch him.

But she would be an adult if at all possible.

Did adults stick their tongues out at one another?

Marilyn narrowed her eyes. “Every day, Beauregard. Why? Want to join me?”

He didn’t turn the music back on. “That’s not my name. And no. I’m never dancing with you. No telling what I’d catch.”

“You say that like you believe I’d really want to touch you. No thanks.” She rolled her neck again, trying to ignore his dark eyes and even worse, those blasted shoulders. He could lift her easily.

Bo raised one eyebrow. “Daisy said to tell you she’ll be over in a few minutes.”

Marilyn paused in stretching her quad as her gaze fell on the baby he carried in a car seat. She’d been so focused on those stupid shoulders and irritating attitude that she never even mentioned the baby!

She went to him, eyes focused on the tiny bundle who probably looked even smaller because her seat dangled from his monstrous hand.

“Oh… she’s precious!” she cooed.

Bo shifted so the baby moved farther away from her prying eyes. “Don’t breathe on her. She’ll get your germs.”

Marilyn put her hands on her hips as she rose to her full height to challenge him. “I’m not germy, you freak.” She elbowed him in the gut, causing him to heave a low groan.

“Unless you count cooties.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I definitely got some girl-cooties.”

Bo remained stoic. “What are you? Ten?” He focused on the baby as he continued. “Besides, I could already make a fair guess of what cooties you caught from Fullerton.”

Marilyn stared up at him, a crick forming in her neck from the effort this took. “You delivered your message, manny-cake. Now get back to the kitchen.”

He sneered. “Gone.”

Bo started for the door, pausing as he turned back. “Beauregard means handsome and highly regarded.” His forehead wrinkled as he appeared to be thinking this over.

Marilyn gagged. “Probably only to your mother.” Without her cell phone to google it, she had no idea if he might be right. She allowed herself the pleasure of studying him because she could tell it made him uncomfortable.

As if on cue, he squirmed, one shaking hand reaching for the door.

Marilyn grinned. “You ever dance?”

Bo shifted the baby carrier. “Heck no. Why would I do that?” He nudged the door with his elbow as if intent on an escape.

Marilyn couldn’t help herself. She went to him, took the baby, and set her gently on the floor nearby. The door closed with a soft click, so she grabbed his hand before he could protest, put it on her waist, and slowly lifted to her toes, which left her woefully, and a bit surprisingly, short of looking straight into his eyes.

Standing so close to him for the first time left Marilyn tingling and breathless as she inhaled his musky cologne. “See? No cooties yet, you big oaf.”

She would have tried to meet his gaze, but his eyes were trained somewhere on the wall behind her, his cheeks flaming red. His lips in a firm line, in complete defiance of her hostile takeover.

Marilyn ignored all of that and clung to her spontaneous nature as well as the mantra that she could teach anyone to dance.

Even ornery old Bo Sutton. And even if he had no intention of playing nice or making an effort to try dancing with her, let alone treating her as an equal.

“You can pretend I’m wearing heels.” She started swaying, closing her eyes and humming a sweet tune she imagined would be perfect for a waltz. Eventually she would get him into swing dancing, but with someone like this, Marilyn would need to start slowly, carefully so she didn’t scare him off.

And beyond that, so she could convince him to help her prepare for her upcoming audition. The idea took wonderful root as she swayed in an effort to get his body in sync with hers.

Had she lost her mind? Probably. But it wouldn’t be the first or last time Marilyn acted before thinking.

Bo didn’t even shift his feet, a mountain unmoved.

Marilyn kept swaying anyway, dreaming of a beautiful, choreographed partner dance with someone who actually might enjoy the experience.

“This would be easier if you left the music on, Bo.”

His feet must be broken because they were like chunks of cement stuck to the floor. Marilyn stepped back reluctantly, her hands still in place on him as she looked down between their bodies and back up at him again.

“Don’t be scared. We can start off slow and eventually you’ll be lifting me over your head—like in Dirty Dancing. You know, ‘nobody puts Baby in a corner’?” She cackled at her own joke. “Boy, would Daisy be impressed!”

Bo tried to shrug her away from him. “Knock it off!” he grumbled, finally disentangling himself and stepping free.

Marilyn giggled again. “We’d be a perfect team. Come on. Think what a ladies’ man you could be if you could dance. Women love a man who can dance, Buford.”

His cheeks grew impossibly darker. “I don’t need a woman.”

She stifled a victorious smirk as he grabbed the baby and yanked the door open.

“And I don’t dance. I already told you that.”

Marilyn went to her phone and turned the music back on. “Funny how you’re always over here like you want to. Or maybe you like me and need a friend.” She winked. “Gimme a call if you change your mind. I’d teach you. For free even. Because I’m nice like that.”

Bo held the door open with his backside as he faced her. Marilyn didn’t think she imagined the steam coming out of his ears.

“Do you actually try to annoy me?” he snapped. “I don’t need a friend—and if I did, it wouldn’t be you.” Bo exhaled on a groan. “There hasn’t been one time yet since we met that you’ve done anything but drive me nuts.”

Marilyn pressed her hand to her chest, feigning innocence. “I’m playing you like a violin.” She winked. “I guess big tough guys make the easiest targets.” She pointed to her heart. “You got a big, fat, red circle right here. Bull’s eye!”

Bo squinted and shook his head before slamming the door closed so hard, she wondered how he didn’t shatter the glass.

**

Bo stalked toward the house, nearly steamrolling Daisy on the sidewalk as he passed, intent on getting as far as possible from that infuriating woman and her electric touch and mentions of his lifting her over his head as they danced together.

Unfortunately, as soon as she mentioned that famous dance scene, Bo easily imagined it all. He never before had such an inclination. She was stark, raving mad!

And he, sadly, must be too.
Normally, Bo epitomized calm, cool, and collected any

other day of the week. But when Marilyn Darby appeared, he went completely off the rails and became someone he hardly recognized.

Bo rubbed his free hand on his pants as if to remove any remnants of that woman’s cooties.

If only getting rid of that sunshine she oozed could be as easy. Being in Marilyn’s presence made things rise to the surface of Bo’s consciousness. Strange, uninvited, annoying things.

Things that reeked of interest, dating, handholding, and lips made for… Bo squelched this ridiculous line of thinking. He did not want to date Marilyn Darby.

The woman represented everything he never wanted. He saw the way she laughed with that disgusting Zeke as they planned to take his section of the gym—the space he worked for months to clear to start Pilates and weight training for veterans.

But Marilyn waltzed in and poof! Zeke said she needed the space and gave it right over.

Then he made Bo listen to all the ways he’d encourage her to thank him for it later.

No. Bo did not want to be with a woman like her.

“Hey!” Daisy squeaked. “What’s wrong?”

The bodyguard inhaled and exhaled, balling a fist as he turned to her.

“That woman is certifiable. There must be another dance teacher we could hire. Just say the word and she’s good as gone.” Bo pointed toward the gym, grateful that from this vantage point there’d be no way Marilyn could sense his frustration and pounce. He didn’t want her to get the pleasure of watching him squirm beyond what he’d done already.

He blushed when she touched him. He would never look at her again.

He’d been on battlefields across the world, trained some of the toughest athletes, and now he worked for arguably the most famous couple in the United States and he blushed at a brief moment of contact with some annoying dancer who deliberately and insultingly pushed his buttons at every turn?

He needed to call his mom.

“Marilyn?” Daisy’s features softened. She peered into the carrier and made faces at the baby before looking up at him again. “Really, Bo.” She looked him over. “She’s all of five foot three and a hundred pounds. What could she possibly do that makes you so crazy?”

“She exists.” He didn’t need to elaborate any further. Daisy already enjoyed this too much. “Buzz me when you’re ready for our workout. I’m taking Nicolette for a run so we both get some fresh air. That way she’ll go down for her nap easier and I won’t need to worry about escorting old Twinkle Toes over there off the premises.”

He turned and started for the house.

“Bo!”

The bodyguard inhaled again, closing his eyes momentarily as he pivoted to look back.

“I can put in a good word for you.” Daisy winked. “Maybe write you two a song to dance to at your wedding. That would get her to lighten up.”

Bo growled and stomped away, unamused at his boss’s idea of humor.

**

Marilyn grinned as she watched Bo’s receding back when he stomped out of the gym, likely to tattle on her. What did she care? Daisy wouldn’t fire her because her bodyguard acted as mature as a three-year-old and had no sense of humor. At least Marilyn hoped she wouldn’t get fired for giving Bo a hard time. Besides, she rather enjoyed getting the man all riled up. He made it so darn easy, how could she stop herself?

She turned the music back up and started dancing, thinking of all the neat things she and Daisy would accomplish.

The sound of the door closing alerted her to her student’s arrival. Marilyn slowed and turned.

“Yea! I missed you!” she exclaimed, hustling over to Daisy. The women hugged.

“I missed you too!” Daisy exclaimed. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be back here. It felt like forever before the doctor cleared me.”

Marilyn flopped onto a weight bench. “I can imagine. So, how hard are we going to go? Do you remember where we left off? I figured we’d review first.”

“That sounds perfect.” Daisy moved to the center of the space. “But first, what on earth happened before I got here? Bo’s the most mild-mannered person in the entire world, except when it comes to you. I’ve never seen anything like it. Either he really can’t stand you or he’s going to toss you over his shoulder and run away with you.”

Marilyn howled. “Pretty sure it’s not the last one. I’m not sure a man has ever been so turned off by yours truly.”

Daisy already knew Marilyn’s side of the history between her and Bo, but the fact that his anger toward her held firm remained curious. Sure, she nearly stole his precious gym space, but he must have gotten it back when Zeke dumped her! You’d think he’d revel in her humiliation, not continue holding it against her.

Marilyn wouldn’t bring it up or it might seem like she wanted to be friends.

Teasing him and keeping him angry seemed a better plan than rehashing the past.

“I’m harmless, Daisy, I swear.”

Daisy fell into a fit of her own laughter. “I trust you.” She paused. “But do you think he’s into you?” Her eyes sparkled as if this idea brought untold piles of joy.

Careful to keep her smile intact despite the unsettled feeling in her stomach, Marilyn turned the music off. “I doubt that.”

She never considered it before, even if she’d need to be blind not to notice the man’s strong, chiseled jaw or his deep, soulful eyes. And if he might by some miracle be interested in her, that didn’t mean the feeling was at all mutual.

Not by a mile. He couldn’t possibly meet her recently-established criteria for dating. Besides, Marilyn refused to be side-tracked on her quest of owning her own studio. She socked away nearly three thousand dollars already from her various jobs and meant to use that as a solid down-payment when the right studio space became available.

Daisy began stretching her neck, followed by her arms. “I hate to admit I don’t really know a thing about Bo’s personal life. He works like a dog for us but never says much about himself. Doesn’t even leave the house much, honestly. It’s a wonder he doesn’t get sick of us.”

Marilyn snorted. “He’s probably a gigolo in his spare time. Or he’s got some dirty secret like he’s into mixed martial arts at night.” She paused, trying to remain serious. “Does he get unexplained cuts on his face? Black eyes?”

This sent Daisy into a fresh fit of laughter. “I’m pretty sure that’s not it. He’s worked here a year and hasn’t taken even one day off. And Carli Cross took one look at him and has been begging ever since to get him in one of her videos. He wants nothing to do with it.”

Since singer Carli Cross represented the epitome of most men’s dreams, Marilyn struggled to imagine Bo telling her no.

“Really? Well, maybe he’s not into the spotlight. Or beautiful women. Or maybe relationships?”

Daisy shrugged. “Maybe shy. He tries to avoid pictures and paparazzi like the plague.”

“Ever look at him from the side? Maybe he has a hunchback.”

Daisy snickered. “All right, enough speculation. Let’s get started so I don’t waste your time. Then we’ll make manny bring the baby over so you can officially meet her.”

“Yeah… Bo’s too ornery to share her with me.” Marilyn groaned. “He didn’t want me breathing on her.”

“Oh goodness. He gets really weird about germs.” Daisy rolled her eyes as Marilyn messed with the music and finally settled on a fun dance tune.

“I realized you don’t talk much about your personal life either. You’re not dating anyone, are you? Where do you work when you aren’t here with me? Tell me everything!”

Marilyn snickered. “You must be spending too much time alone with the baby or something. I’m not that interesting. No boyfriend—black sheep of the family, yada yada. I waitress at an Italian restaurant when I’m not here, and I teach dance classes for some friends a few times a week in between auditions.”

She shrugged, finding it unnecessary to get into too many specifics and so waste Daisy’s time. “I’m boring.” She paused. “But I do have a pretty big audition coming up. I’m hoping I can kill this one and finally get a good role.”

Daisy glanced around the space. “Well, if you ever need someplace to rehearse, we don’t mind you coming here. It’s no problem.”

Marilyn stood straighter, surprised. “Really? I might take you up on that.”

“Good.” Daisy lifted her eyebrows. “And if you do decide you’re looking for love, I can recommend a lot of eligible guys. You can take me up on that too.”

Marilyn stifled any sign of her interest. “Probably not a great time for me to get involved with anyone.”

Daisy nodded. “Fair enough.” She winked. “But in case—what’s your type?”

Marilyn coughed, covering her embarrassment with a half-hearted cackle. “Bookish. Glasses. I like a guy in glasses. Fun and funny. Someone who likes to dance.” She would do anything to get her student away from her current line of thinking.

Bo Sutton would never be boyfriend material. Except even as she tried convincing herself of this, she wondered what it would be like to date someone like him. He was handsome and intriguing for sure. She never dated anyone that tall and muscular before either.

Thank goodness he didn’t wear glasses, or she might be in real trouble.

Daisy’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “Sure.”

Marilyn might as well put an end to this before it even started. “I’ll keep picking on Bo for amusement, and going home to my tiny apartment, working my tail off, and eventually—hopefully—starting my own studio.”

Daisy grinned. “Well, that sounds like a fine plan to me. But if you ever change your mind- let me know. I really do know a lot of solid guys you might be interested in.”

Marilyn wished she wasn’t curious about this list and who Daisy might pair her with. She reminded herself of her goal.

Eyes on the prize, Darby.

“I’ll remember that.”

“OK, let’s dance before Nicolette needs me, or worse, Titus shows up and that will be the end of it. He’s impatient.”

Marilyn’s eyes lit up at the mention of the musician’s name. She’d seen him several times at the Grant house, but they’d not officially been introduced yet.

“Do you think he would help me? Or better yet go with me to my sister’s engagement party? That promises to be an event in desperate need of a rock star’s interruption.” Marilyn couldn’t imagine meeting rock’s latest superstar, but she wouldn’t be intimidated by him either if she got the chance.

Daisy howled. “I doubt Titus is the kind of guy you want to take home to mom, and yet, somehow, I’m kind of sure he’d go. Watch yourself. He’s a bigger flirt than Robby. And I can’t even imagine him serious—as in what he’d be like if he settled down with someone.”

This surprised Marilyn. “I can’t imagine anyone being a bigger flirt than Robby.”

Daisy moved to the center of the space. “He’s terrible—it drives Bo nuts too. He can’t stand him.”

“As if Bo can stand anyone.” Marilyn snickered. “No worries, sweetie. I’m a flirt too—and Bo can’t stand me either. So, maybe I will keep old Titus Black in mind. After all, someone besides me needs to drive my mom crazy for a while.”

I don’t feel like writing this

The painfully honest, pitiful musings of a romance writer

Everyone says it’s critical for authors to have newsletters and blogs and websites and author pages and more.

Lions and tigers and bears– Oh My!

Who is ‘everyone’ anyway? I kept this blog faithfully for a year and no one read it. Not even my mom. I mean, seriously. Is it something I said? Something I didn’t say?

So, if I’m honest, coming back to this with a better attitude is tough. Will anyone read it? Why should I bother?

But enough naysaying. I’m going to do this. I’m just curious on the ‘how’ (see my last post- I want this darn thing to matter!)- How will I make this thing fun for me, worthwhile for my readers, and not a waste of everyone’s time?

I’m guessing that I’m going to do one of two things.

1- pretend I’m going to do this and then fail to follow through.

2- break all the rules of blogging that I teach my students and not have a cohesive theme for the blog because, hey, the musings of a romance writer are all over the place most of the time.

But as Danny says in Grease, “Hey that’s cool, baby, you know how it is, rockin’ and rollin’ and what not.” So it’s entirely possible my blog will be a little more on the side of rockin’ and rollin’ and what not. Meh.

I’m also open to suggestions. Is there something you want me to write about? Something you’ve wondered about the glamorous (not so much) life of a novelist? I’m happy to share and be transparent with you if that’s your bag, baby.

Or maybe I’ll just write about whatever I want, with some film and pop culture references sprinkled in. I mean, this is MY blog after all. Let’s make this fun for all of us.

Leave your topic suggestions in the comments, or tell me your biggest frustration about blogs. I’m open.

Happy reading, happy writing, friends!

Happy New Year! (the obligatory post, with a twist)

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

It appears we’ve finally, mercifully reached the end of a rather trying year. For many, it was frustrating, a year of loss and worry, never knowing what craziness would come next.

For others, it was a year of amazing hope and joy– discovering that in these tough times, we were stronger than we ever could have imagined, and we’re blessed beyond belief too.

Now, as we move into 2021, some might be asking– what now? What next? These are completely reasonable questions and concerns. But, please allow me to challenge you to ask– How now, how next?

You see, my takeaway from 2020 was that I have a place in the conversation, and I have a choice to make with how I use my voice, my talents, my time. So, my approach to 2021 is ‘how’- How can I help? How can I change? How can I encourage? In my tiny little sphere of influence, how can I do better?

In 2020 many of us felt overwhelmed, and maybe even powerless to change anything. But, friends, I encourage you. We have an incredible amount of power. If we look closely, we impact lives every day. The words we choose to speak, or maybe to write on social media, can have a lasting impact far beyond that conversation or post. Use them wisely.

The places where we spend money will thrive or fail. The time we invest will be wasted or fruitful. The things we learn will be useless in the grand scheme, or will help us improve our lives or those of others.

So, how will you use your time, your resources, your life this year? You have so many choices to make, all of them having incredible impact. Choose wisely, friends. Make this year the year of dreaming, the year of doing, the year of growing.

Use the question to do more, be better, give, serve, and love. Just ask, how?

*Share your ‘how’ in the comments and encourage others!

Hip waders

I’m so sorry for the long absence. I will admit that I’ve struggled to find motivation to write this blog, once kept so faithfully and now a responsibility pushed so far to the back of my mind, I rarely think of it anymore.

Why?

Well, probably because even after consistently writing each week, I didn’t see it going anywhere or getting much of a response. I figured the problem to be one of a few options- no one was interested, I needed to crystalize my audience and write more directly to them, or perhaps it was something else entirely I just couldn’t see.

Whatever the issue, I am coming to the end of another semester which was in-person/ hybrid, and now has moved online (per the original plan at this point in the term). This means I’m grading finals and thinking about what else I’ll be doing during “break”- a term I use loosely since I’ll be teaching one online class while I’m “off”.

As I was mulling over some options, a thought came to mind. Perhaps I should try again at this blog– this time reinventing to an audience of readers, and if I’m hopeful- fans of my novels, who might wonder what goes on in the mind of a romance writer?

I’m telling you, it’s a scary place but if you want to dive into the muck, who am I to judge you? Put on your hip waders and jump in!

I’m going to do my best to get back to writing at least once a month, so if there’s anything you’ve ever been curious about when it comes to romance writing, drop a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks for reading!