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Romance and Veterans Day

131111114234-08-veterans-1111-horizontal-galleryIn 1994, I was reviewing books for a romance journal when I discovered Merline Lovelace, who took up romance writing after a long career in the United States Air Force. She’s written historicals, thrillers, contemporary romances, category romances–pretty much every kind of romance you can imagine. Her characters always feel like real people, as if you could bump into them and they’d be like, “Hey.”* Also vivid are her story’s settings. Wanna go to Egypt, the Amazon jungle, the Czech Republic? Not a problem. If you know Merline, you understand her deep love of travel, and in her romances, you get to go places. The best part, for those of us who fear flying, is you don’t actually have to endure the actual hassles of travel because Merline describes her exotic destinations so superbly.

Twenty years later, I found myself reading one of her novellas and feeling that same joy. Just in time for Veterans Day. Thank you to all those who serve our country–and also to those who gladden our hearts with love stories.

*They’d only have time for such small talk after escaping from evil people, hacking their way through the jungle and, after days, finding a raft on which they could make love and return home to live happily ever after.

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My Solo Week or Good Times with Puzzles and Pizza

936645_1460868874172570_7362638582314441128_nI pride myself on being a loner, but I can’t fool myself any longer. I am a loner + 1. “Co-dependence gets a bad rap,” Sam says when I point out that we’re always in the same 1/4 of the apartment. I didn’t think I’d be able to tolerate living with another person. Now, I don’t relish extended periods by myself. So when he planned a trip overseas (one I didn’t want to take at all), I braced myself for the inevitable worrying, bad sleep, and television marathons. For the first twelve hours after his departure, I celebrated madly and relapsed into old habits. Here’s a sampling of my week:

1.The second he left for the airport, I turned on Bachelor in Paradise and stuffed my face full of takeout food–two things I can’t share very much with Sam. He feels both are unhealthy. I feel they’re deliciously toxic–and a nice break from being so perfect! The next morning, though, in my sugar and bikini coma, I began to realize he was on a plane to a place that is not having peaceful times. When I got home from work, I started looking at his Facebook photos and pictures of us. What if he didn’t come back?

2. I noticed the silence after a day. It made me somber, but no worries. This time I didn’t want to cry and play FreeCell all day. Please, I’m sophisticated and instead played Candy Crush for hours. I kept reminding myself that I’d lived alone like this for twenty years, with my own schedule, my own responsibilities. I wondered how I’d react if he didn’t come home. My imagination filled with worst case scenarios. I did not watch the news, but made progress on The Goldfinch.

3. With marriage comes bargaining. Yes, he could go overseas for a week if I could get a kitten. If I used my time wisely, I could get little Cliff or Dolly immediately. But I soon learned that you can’t just drive to a farm and pick up a kitten. In NYC, you have to investigate shelters/pet stores/ASPCA, fill out forms, and get a house visit (all completely understandable). Having lost two cats, I was reluctant to begin the process even though I desperately want a kitten (not an older cat since we just finished caring for one). With my mother’s help, I went to my first “cat truck” and saw several I could have adopted. The truck was too crowded so I left after a few minutes. I’ll try again this Sunday.

4. Sam and I talked via FaceTime, the way we did during our courtship, before we reunited in person (as described in Romance Is My Day Job). It’s heartening to be able to see a loved one who’s so far away.

5. It would have been a good opportunity to catch up with friends, but I went even further underground than usual. There was also some denial that I was alone for the week. Ten years ago, I went out with my friends every Friday. How life has changed. It made me sad. Then I played more Candy Crush.

6. On the weekend, I spent seven hours working on this wild puzzle and watching One Tree Hill (seasons 5-7) and Sex & the City (seasons 1-3). Then I spent seven hours doing the same thing the next day. Needless to say, I felt dizzy afterwards. I was scared that my mother would catch me red-handed (she has a key), though I think she’s aware of my hibernation habits…and where I get the cupcakes.

7. I’v10154130_1420895221503269_7061014535412761438_ne lived in a couple scary places, but NYC hasn’t been one of them. Despite this, I set up booby traps and a chair up against the heavily locked door. Just in case. Getting to sleep was a problem the entire time.

8. The hideous nightwear came out of hiding, especially if if I stayed in the entire day. One time, I did leave the apartment in my nightgown to get a slice of pizza (also something Sam wouldn’t do, unless it’s whole wheat, which I find completely nasty). I was a little embarrassed halfway down the block, but no one noticed. It’s New York.

9. The giant and urgent pile of work I needed to do got done–including three books to edit, one short story, three revision letters, and two proposals.

10. I cleaned 1/2 of the living room with the Swiffer, but then I ran out of Swiffer strips. Since it’s only going to get dirty again, why bother replenishing? Will clean again when he starts sneezing.

11. Every morning, once more in denial, I made enough coffee for two people. It was wasteful, but I think I will do this for the rest of my life–well, except for the fact that he usually makes the coffee.

12. On the seventh day, I realized that it had been a good week overall–even with the agita, obsessive puzzling and insomnia. Sometimes, you need a week. As I went through my routine, I got excited that there would soon be that vivacious presence I’ve gotten so used to these past five years.

He’s home, I’m relieved and happy. And now it’s time to get serious about that kitten.

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Romance’s First Book Club

Bible Group Reading TogetherThis past week, I attended my first book club for Romance Is My Day Job–and in Manhattan, where so much of the story takes place. If my computer hadn’t crashed the day after, I would have posted the details sooner.  And if I hadn’t been worried about my soon-to-crash computer, I would have thought to take pictures.

You might remember that last Tuesday in NYC, it was painfully humid. I wheezed and sweat buckets all the way to my destination. I met seven intelligent, vibrant women, and we chatted about the book, partook in refreshments, and laughed a lot. After this two-hour book/me/Sam/romance-fest, I knew I wanted to do many more of these. What a total blast!

These readers really discuss their books (for fifteen years now), and with me, didn’t hesitate to ask hard questions about:

1. My family dynamic now

2. Are Sam and I still happy? The realities of happily ever after

3. Why did I write in the present tense? Wouldn’t past tense be more natural?

4. Why did I put that awful event toward the end and not sooner?

5. How did I feel exposing so much about my life?

6. What’s next?

7. The reality of meeting someone in person after “meeting” over a computer

8. What is my responsibility in the string of failed relationships?

9. How Sam feels about The Book (we have a song: thebookthebookthebook…thebookthebookthebook, repeat)

10. As an editor, did I have a hard time being edited? (no, it was awesome!)

11. What is the bigger message?

In addition to the experience of meeting these women, I loved the surprise on their faces when they saw that I’d brought Sam–the hero of my book–along. Having him there allowed them to hear another side of the story. It was such an enjoyable night. Discussing books–all books–is an addiction for me. I love to know what people are reading and make lists upon lists so that I can add to my own ridiculous To Be Read pile.

Thanks, First Book Club (Jackie and friends!).  Now I will back up my computer. Again and again.

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Going Back to High School

Two weekends ago, Sam and I went to our high school for his 30th reunion. There was no pressure for me because I’m still in the bloom of youth (by two years). But to be honest, I always get jitters when I go back–or when I step out of the apartment. Also, as it is for many, my high school years were mixed–yet ones I remember vividly as happy, with great friends, teachers, and a feeling of home (dorms are cool). The campus is still gorgeous with its hills, fields, beaucoup de brick buildings, and what seems to be a thriving community. The teachers don’t seem to age either. Seriously, my math teachers look the same. How is this? I’ll assert that they all drink (or inhale?) a serum that keeps them young. Even the headmaster, who was a teacher in my teens, seems boyishly energetic. It kind pisses me off now that I think about it.

But I digrphoto (4)photo (10)ess (antphoto (7)i-aging makes me do that). Sam pretended that he wasn’t excited to go. Popular people do that, downplay how awesome it is to make a grand entrance, especially when you were/are so cool. Sam was very excited as evidenced by his racing down the highway many hours before we had to be there. At his last reunion, Sam put cucumbers on his eyelids. I wondered what kind of crazy hijinks he’d pull off this time. He and his squeaky clean BFF joked about doing something impish, but I knew very little would happen aside from closing down the hotel bar, maybe with some giggling over throwing a bucket of ice on a sleeping Sam in olden times. Middle age tempers those pranks. Sam did wind up tormenting the alumnae from Westover, who were staying at our hotel. He told the Westover ladies to “Get over it.” Get it? He also tried to keep up with the hotel shuttle to the class dinner, doing some entertaining zig-zags for those on the shuttle (while I turned green).

During the day we strolled around the school. After the parade of classes, we ate a buffet lunch in the revamped cafeteria where Sam and I first danced. As the reminiscing continued, I inhaled a few lemon bars, thinking how nice Sam’s class is. And just as I got lost in more sugar and caffeine, I turned to find two Tafties from Ohio, introducing themselves and telling me that they were reading Romance Is My Day Job for their book club. What a thrill! These two ladies made my weekend extra-special.

I floated thereafter, both on the compliments and instant gaining of body mass, and did as Dr. Oz would do, walk it off and explore (my own rare prescription). The main building entrance looked exactly the same: same tile, walls, offices, which was comforting. I rejoined Sam outside, and he reminded me to wear my sunblock. At one point, Sam’s other BFF lay down on the grass. Sam did the same. They held hands. Students strolled by, probably wondering who were these crazy old guys? Hijink accomplished.

Along with others from Sam’s class, I stood in line at the school store, eager to buy a Taft tote bag (because I don’t have enough of them from romance writers conferences). In front of me were much younger alumni, saying “oh my god, I need like need this coffee mug. Don’t you need a coffee mug? I need a coffee mug…” over and over. Even with this, I stuck it out in line for a good twenty minutes. Others bailed. I got my tote bag.

We went to a memorial service for Sam’s classmates who left us way too soon. My own class has lost too many and thinking about them made me grateful to have known them, and to have the life I have right now.

I took lots of pictures–of where Sam and I first danced, my dorm, the basement where one could easily sneak away from a dance, the Latin classrooms, and of course, my favorite couple.

photo (2)

 

Romantic Life Lessons, Shameless Promotion

My First Book Truths

10152008_687069621331318_7133920326405154149_nNow that some time has gone by since Romance Is My Day Job came out, I made a list of what I learned. Since age nineteen, I’d always wanted to publish a book, many books. Was it all that I’d thought it would be? Yes and no. The best parts were the process of writing/editing, holding the hardcover in my hands and seeing my loved ones at my B&N reading. The hardest part was wrestling with change, my ego, and the voices in my head. Luckily, I had so much help throughout the process, to the extent that my book publishing experience was a happy one and I dealt with exceptional professionals who carried me the whole way there and beyond. But for next time, and I think there will be a next time, I will know better the following*:

  • Not everyone is obsessing about your book. You start to feel stupid for bringing it up in every conversation. But it’s all you can think about. Make an effort to understand that other issues need your full attention.
  • Just because your dream came true, your problems won’t magically disappear. In some ways, you develop even bigger or new problems.
  • Great milestones reveal who your real friends are. They are happy for you and show it. People you’d least suspect might shock you with their unflagging support. It puts relationships into perspective.
  • You spend money on crap because you think you have a little more, until you realize the massive check you have to write to the IRS. If you write a book, your taxes are seriously screwed forever. But it’s not about the money. It shouldn’t be. No big deal if you can’t have daily trips to Anthropologie. Maybe one a week.
  • The people who contact you out of the blue will surprise you–and even lift you very high. Some stick around and become real friends. This is such a joy.
  • Getting reader mail is a blast! You want readers to smile and feel good. It’s one of the main reasons you wrote the book. Making these connections brings more happiness into the world.
  • You will be canceled on, postponed, ignored, forgotten, with hopes raised and deflated. Others will follow through. All of this happens even without a book.
  • Those who treat you like garbage will still treat you like garbage even though you’ve written a book. Conversely, your champions will cheer you on from beginning to end. Remember to champion your champions, too.
  • Your loved ones might see you as this sparkling human for a day or two until they realize that you’re the same lazy butt playing Candy Crush on the couch. And this is awesome because, to paraphrase Popeye, you are who you are.
  • The voice in your head that says everyone hates you gets a little louder when you put yourself out there.
  • But you shut it down faster because you wrote a book. Who cares what people think?
  • Did I mention the paranoia? With a memoir, airing your dirty laundry, you continue to watch your back everywhere you go. By the way, this is author self-absorption since your rational mind understands you’re a speck in the cosmos and did not write The Satanic Verses.
  • You have to deal with reviews and they all love, feel meh, or hate different parts of your book. There’s nothing you can do and if it doesn’t benefit your future writing, why not just read the glowing reviews? You can decipher those from the publicist’s emails (bless her) and file away the rest. Respect free speech, the effort made by critics, and that life is dull without opposition. But there are enough bad reviews in your head.
  • You have wasted days tracking sales, thinking of ways to increase sales. You react with either manic strategizing or total paralysis. Everyone has a product these days, so you feel silly adding to the heap. Next time, don’t look at numbers for a few months and just go, go, go, publicize even if you’re sick of yourself.
  • Plan indulgent events for the two months after the book’s release. There will be a crash.
  • The weight of that second book looms, you have several ideas but no Frankie Avalon to tell you what to do. After working so hard on one book, you might feel depleted, which means the short moment in the sun is gone. No manager is whispering in your ear. There’s the reality that writers need to develop their own ideas. What a concept! Start a new project ASAP.
  • Enjoy the wild ride and whatever gifts it brings. Not everyone can write a book. With hard work and creativity, you can do it again. You really should.sam

In the meantime, go back to your normal life, which is a pretty charmed one since you like what you do, writing is fun, and, best of all, you get to look at this sweet mug every day.

 

*Here’s another list by author Matt Haig, with some similar points.

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The Birthday Wish Candle

Do you keep things? I cerphoto (37)tainly do. It’s a little much. I keep a penny from every year I’ve been on this earth. I’ve saved the embarrassing diaries, sentimental poetry, pictures from every cringeworthy phase, and, yes, all my ticket stubs from Jersey Boys. I still have the shoes I wore all over France in the 80s–they fit but are more a museum piece–and I can’t seem to throw away the notes Sam leaves me, even if they’re scrawled on Post-its. When I clean, I go through these items and cherish fond memories…and my clutter grows.

Speaking of clutter and fond memories, in my book, I describe a birthday wish made during a moment of jadedness. At 41, I had decided to stop dating–but perhaps amp up my romance reading pace. Real-life dating just wasn’t fun anymore. I was dead tired after twenty-five years of dating and heartbreak. Of course, this was when I dared myself to jump even though I was afraid of heights. My birthday wish was that I’d wind up engaged within a year. Talk about fantasy-land! The idea of my settling down seemed ludicrous so I felt comfortable making this wish. Of course, I pocketed the candle then went about my business. As a single gal, I had found the path to Happy–in my own moody way–but what transpired three weeks after the birthday wish only broadened the scope of that happiness. I’m incredibly grateful Sam showed up.

During my spring cleaning–and a little sentimental journey through my wedding album–I found said candle taped inside with a note to myself. I’m learning to let go of some items (like my ticket stub to Anchorman 2), but I’m really glad I kept this candle!

 

Ps. Up until last year, I’d kept all my baby and wisdom teeth, but Sam happened upon them and they’re now gone. (I think)

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Vanishers and Resurfacers

Young man congratulates his girlfriendThis topic isn’t at all pertinent to my work. In fact, it is the anti-thesis of romance. I only bring it up because some readers have relayed similar “vanishing” and “resurfacing” stories. In Romance Is My Day Job, I discuss my experience with Vanishers and Resurfacers, those love interests that disappear without warning and months later show up again to throw you back into a tizzy. This happens a lot with dating in Manhattan–and I’m sure everywhere else!

Vanishers are so common and easier to get over because they’re just…gone (Berger on Sex and the City–big Vanisher). Sometimes, your Vanisher will vanish even before that first getting-to-know-you coffee date. My favorite Vanisher was Mr. Spinach. He seemed really nice, took a long train ride in for our first date in the city. During dinner, I made the mistake of telling him that he had spinach in his teeth. Gone like the wind! The most preposterous Vanisher had to cancel our first date twice. Then, on the third attempt, his car broke down on the way into Manhattan. I said to my Vanisher, “This isn’t happening.” He protested a little but then vanished. No tears were shed.

Resurfacers were always the most confounding to me because I never knew when an ex would resurface or which ex it would be–The Wordsmith, The Finance Guy or An Old Flame I’d Forgotten About. For a good twenty years, I was deeply flattered by resurfacing flames (there weren’t many, Mom–I swear). Resurfacing resembled a reunion romance, in how the hero has second thoughts and really does want you. But Resurfacers really, usually don’t want you back–they’re just bored. Yes, I spent many hours consulting my older brother, my girlfriends and my Tarot cards over this silliness. I tracked Resurfacers’ reappearances, calculating that they tended to bing* between October and January 1st–time better spent buying not-lame presents for my relatives. As the years passed, I could almost predict the email a week before Thanksgiving, when one might feel sentimental about the past: What’s up, Paysh?  This effortless reaching out would make me as giddy as flashing Christmas lights, bring me back to that sad cycle of high expectations and inevitable deflation. Sadly, I’ve been guilty of both vanishing and resurfacing, which is why when the favor was returned, it really stung. I knew it all meant nothing.

In the 80s, with a lot of time on my hands, I resurfaced through letter-writing, an ancient form of texting–with a 0% success rate. In the 90s, because I had a car, I could accidentally show up where he was–50% success rate depending on whether he was onto my devious “surprise run-in” plan. Even better in its subtlety, with old email systems, I’d “forget” to remove him from my distribution list when I wanted to send around what is now a Buzzfeed quiz or Someecard snarky quote. New email correspondence would ensue, back together, and then realize it’s the same old pits. Moving to Manhattan and discovering the dating scene put V&R into overdrive. With advanced technology, V&R-ing can happen at the press of a button (though Googling exes never makes you feel better). It is now such a tidy, fast way to enter and exit a person’s life without fuss, just to see if there’s hope for a quick fix before another adieu. Finally, in my late thirties, I grew absolutely tired of Vanishers and Resurfacers and had no desire to reconnect with the past…or anyone who wasn’t fantastic. The delete button has been my good friend ever since.

Now that I’m married, this whole issue is moot, but I do get the occasional email: Hey, Freckles. Whatcha up to? And then I tell Sam about it–and then I tell the Resurfacer about Sam. Usually, this causes immediate flight, and I feel sad, only because I know the feelings behind resurfacing (loneliness, boredom). One guy came up to me and said, “I just resurfaced the other day! I don’t know why. I just did it. I wrote to her out of the blue, ‘Hey baby, what’s up?’ I’m a total Resurfacer!”

Looking back, I see my efforts as a big waste of a brain and heart. Instead of reaching out or entertaining a DOA reunion romance, I should have read more books, worked harder, taken up crocheting. But, what can I do? I’m just grateful that I don’t care about any of this now!

*an official term my friend Joe and I use to mean “surprise visit.”

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Romance Is My Day Job in the New York Post

Romance novel editor found her love story after ditching datingHere’s the picture and link that goes along with the article in today’s New York Post. We are tickled. Though now am rethinking the background. My obsession with puzzles and knickknacks is far too evident! Also behind me are many untouched cookbooks. And a little Herodotus, which I only bought because he’s mentioned so much in The English Patient. This goes well with John Taylor’s autobiography In the Pleasure Groove and Montaigne.

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Losing Track of Time

Infinity time spiralI’m starting to say things and act the way I’d see “old” people (you know, people, like, in their 40s) do decades ago, but it feels like common sense (and old). On the way to work, I wrap myself up to stay warm. In my twenties, I avoided hats since they’d mess up my hair. In addition to wearing sensible shoes, I watch where I walk for fear of tripping; bones are not so resilient (I’ve never broken one–knock knock knock). A tub of vitamins follows me from meal to meal, though I’m not sure they’re so necessary. I take them anyway and so does Sam*. The memory is fading just a touch, which is why I write and overwrite things down. I think about eating vegetables, too–which are not my go-to anything.

As for time, it’s slipping away and becoming less important. I think I blogged, or maybe that was yesterday. I can’t make sense of the dates on this blog either, but I did accomplish a great deal today–worked at my desk for 8 hours (7.40), ran off to appointments, one of which was as a guest at a fun class on publishing and an engaging interview with Bill Kenower’s Author2Author program for Author magazine. Somehow, I managed to watch last night’s “The Women Tell All” on The Bachelor**. That’s enough inventory for me.

And now to cleanse my palate, I’m mainlining Piers Morgan’s coverage on the strife in Ukraine (not THE Ukraine, officially). My parents and grandparents always retreated in this fashion….

*He likes to torment me about taking Zinc on an empty stomach. Vitamin taker, you know what can happen if you do this. Trust me, our household (by “household” I mean Sam) has tested this out. If you’ve read my book, you understand that this is completely in character.

**I don’t think this season will end well. Juan Pablo is a cutie, but doesn’t seem to be gaga for anyone or ready to settle down. But who am I to say?

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Looking Forward to a Lost Weekend

photo (25)My more fun and better half is away for a boys’ weekend, which will no doubt resemble Animal House and Old School (please let there be embarrassing pictures). It makes me sad when he goes, but within minutes, I am horizontal on the couch, indulging in nerdy girl hibernation and catching up on my stories, especially last night’s Scandal. Speaking of which, can anyone name the actor from last night’s episode, the one who makes an appearance in Romance Is My Day Job?

And now back to the items in this picture. Any guesses where I got this DVD of The King’s Speech? It isn’t mine.