Writing Tips

Pet Peeves…A Few Clichés

editingThis post is coming a little later than I’d planned. I got sidetracked by news of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s impending divorce. And a certain red-haired presidential candidate’s fiery comments about immigration. And how Kourtney and Kids are going to cope sans Scott. Oh, and my latest obsession with Vanilla Kreme donuts. I managed to crawl back into blog mode because a few items jumped out at me while reading romance these past few weeks. Here are some clichés I’ve seen so much, I have to call them pet peeves.

The soon-to-be-reunited exes never had problems in the bedroom. Are you kidding me? In a romance, one sort of has to imply that sex was always hot, but it might be refreshing to try realism — that as the relationship disintegrated, the–ugh–lovemaking* slowed down to ten times a week instead of thirty.

The hero is always raking a hand through his hair when frustrated. Does he ever find leaves? In some ways, it’s cool that guys fuss with their hair too, but the raking of hair in romance is like the jaw clench actors use to denote anger. Can’t he just have steam coming out of his ears? Or, in my family, there’s the exasperated sigh, which conveys severe frustration/disgust. When my husband is angry, he gets this wrinkle between his eyebrows (like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally…). This is a rough one, writers.

He fell for her like a moth to a flame. I’d like to be the flame in this metaphor because being the moth would suck. This phrase, I’m sure, just flows naturally from the fingers. For years, I let  it go, but I’ve been striking it out of manuscripts. What about: He fell for her like Marc Antony fell on his sword after hearing the Cleopatra was dead (I don’t think this is true, but you get the idea). Or He fell for her as one does during a case of vertigo when the barometric pressure changes. (This is why I don’t write romance)

One thing I’ll say–as much as I make fun of clichés, I do sometimes find them comforting. The familiar can be very soothing. At the end of the day*, it’s always good to be aware of clichés and investigate alternatives.

*This word is another pet peeve. Who says this unless perhaps in an editorial meeting, instead of rougher language.

**Another pet peeve. Cannot believe I’m using this so-ten-years-ago phrase!

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Five Tips for Fine-Tuning Your Romantic Voice

17SCANDAL-superJumboAdmit it, you were expecting my Barry White impersonation. No such luck! Instead, after reading a whole pile of submissions, I’ve put together pointers for you as you write that proposal/manuscript/and even that Powerpoint presentation. I swear, I follow these tips when I have to talk to a group. Be thankful that I’m not singing. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Here we go:

1. Create intimacy with your reader. I love it when a writer’s voice invites me into the story, like I’m about to get some juicy insight into a character’s plight. This is the reason why I watch reality TV, as if I’m learning about a secret world–though I don’t always like what I see! Scandal is very good at showing us the scandalous behind-the-scene world of politicians. The more a writer does this–creates a connection, reveals–the more I want to read her book. I want that intimacy with your story. Show me what the characters are hiding.

2. Start in the right place. This is a tip I repeat over and over. Part of what stops me from reading is that the set-up can seem so ordinary. Boy meets girl. They hate each other on sight. Or, girl is intrigued by boy as they are assigned together. Boy goes to destination, meets girl, conflict ensues. Some of these set-ups are necessary, but to lessen the editor yawns, there must be excitement and tension. Take a chance and start your romance in a riskier place. Those too-easy set-ups are sometimes not the most effective.

3. Take time to flesh out a moment. I may be contradicting myself here. As you create the above mentioned excitement, be sure to expand upon those mundane moments. They can please an editor’s senses. I am a big fan of routine, descriptions of a person’s process (code for: food preparation; colorful portraits of nature, which are lacking in NYC; interesting wardrobe choices), and how one lives in everyday life. Show us how the heroine decorates her cupcakes (mmmm, cake!), how a cowboy/girl takes care of a horse, how a spy may agonize over what to pack. These tiny details reveal character. If you loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you must have enjoyed passages about their daily chores. They are the reason I cleaned my room, joyfully did laundry, and enhanced my work ethic. I could have read those chapters on baking, sweeping, and walking to school forever. Don’t deprive the editor of those details! Also, don’t go overboard.

4. End chapters with a bang. One of the reasons why everyone read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code–aside from scintillating content–was because every chapter ended with a bang. You don’t need to give your reader whiplash, but the opening three chapters–and many chapters afterwards–should end with a crucial moment/question that leads the reader to the next page. I like the whole “this is the last thing I wanted” or “do you dare to take on this horrendous yet provocative assignment” type of situation. Also ask, what does your character want to avoid–then, make it unavoidable.

5. Stay focused on the purpose of your story (romance). As I read submissions, I can usually tell when even the writer gets tired of her story and just wants to get it done. It’s important to  find ways to revive your story, invest in it, keep those central themes in mind, believe in your characters. When I devour thrillers, which is often (hello, Harlan Coben), I love how the writers have at least four subplots going to augment the “Oh no” factor. Always remember the reason why you have to write this story.

There, I’ve solved everyone’s problems. Now it’s time to get back to it. I realize many of you are sad that I didn’t sing. I’ll make up for this here.

Romantic Life Lessons

My After Happily Ever After: Vol. I

1504209_1388883841371074_78845019_oA friend told me that I haven’t been married long enough to write about being married. He’s probably right. But a few lessons have been valuable for me on this bridal path. I blame serial dating for twenty-five years, my “little sister” complex, and an inner princess for needing my own way at all times. What a novelty that in a relationship, you have to cooperate with another person. Here are some of my marital takeaways:

  • Being kind and respectful always wins–even when he’s irritating.
  • I’m generally nice to others but very self oriented. Now, I think about little things Sam might like. On my excursions, I’ll pick him up a snack or his favorite newspaper. It goes a long way.
  • I hold grudges, but Sam caves within minutes. He never gives up on people unless they’re truly reprehensible. This shows me how silly it is to stew in self-righteous indignation. We bicker now and then, sometimes really fight, but I’m better at saying I’m sorry.
  • Five years later, everything he does still charms me–how he walks, how his hair sticks up, his obsession with his expensive toothbrush, how fussy he is in the kitchen, even the cadence of his snoring (it changes depending on what he eats and drinks). Someday, I may take this for granted. For now, I stare as much as I can.
  • You have to do things you don’t want to do. I try to gauge what’s important to him. This can be difficult because, like a guy, he shrugs his shoulders and says he doesn’t mind one way or the other. I don’t like eating in restaurants, but he does. Sometimes I suggest we dine out and his eyes light up. His joy is well worth the inconvenience of sitting in a noisy, cramped space and waiting on potentially greasy food (I can be nuts in a restaurant).
  • Men seem to have their monthly cycles, which I find fascinating. I know to stay away certain days of the month.
  • He can’t stand to be within fifty yards of the bickering Housewives. I can still watch my precious Housewives, but I wait until he’s out of the room.
  • I just assume people are there and I don’t reach out to them as much as I should. When you live with someone you love, you can’t assume. I try to check in with him a few times a day. He’s the type who loves hearing from people so I know it’s a big deal. Being with him has made me better about calling my mother, too.

I’m sure I’ll learn more over the years and some days will be more difficult than others. Most of the time, I think how lucky I am.

Uncategorized

Happy Paperback Birthday to Romance Is My Day Job!

IMG_2513So that storm. Yeah. No way could I traverse ankle-high snowbanks on my block, not even in my fiercest worm-stompers. That’s my lame attempt at sarcasm. Can I confess that I was kind of excited for a big, massive pile of snow and totally inconvenient delays and shut-downs? I’m from Upstate New York. It’s in my DNA to crave snow as high as a house. I shouldn’t be disappointed. All I have to do is think of what a nightmare Tropical Storm Sandy was–and how poorly I dealt with losing my first world comforts* for five days.

I digress!

Speaking of first world comforts, on my book birthday, I’m afraid I didn’t go to B&N because in dutiful editor fashion, I was glued to an overdue manuscript (and it was cold out). Friday is the day I will stalk myself on bookshelves** and celebrate this achievement once again. To tide me over until Friday, my Q&A with Biographile is live!

By the end of the day, I started watching Friday Night Lights, which has rendered me worthless for the rest of the night. Coach Taylor is a role model. His pep talks inspire me to begin anew, every 43 minutes. I will kick some butt. I won’t ever quit. Not on this field. And I can kick a field goal 46 yards (totally can).

*Easy Internets, ice cream, trustworthy sandwiches, light in bathroom, candy as evil sin and not only food that is fresh.

**Narcissism is okay if you can back it up!

Writing Tips

Monday’s Pet Peeves (Which Never Include Julia)

article-1095106-007B725B00000258-365_468x287With the horrific events of the last week (my heart is with you, France), I had a difficult time coming up with a blog post. How can I think of romance when atrocities keep happening? Finally, I shut off the television and refocused my synapses. I have some new pet peeves that have irked me in recent months.

The heroine can’t stop crying: I used to believe that if I wept, I’d be even more of a romantic heroine, especially if in front of a boy! Sadly, the weepies creeped out my swains. As a reader, I enjoy a well-placed cry-fest, but those stories where the heroine keeps gushing and gushing over past travails, well, I wanna tell her to get some Kleenex and good meds. Is that heartless? Maybe, but I like it when a heroine can keep her marbles together. That said, it takes very little for me to ugly cry (I’m looking at you, end of Notting Hill).

Writing too young: I’m guilty of this in real life–trying to be 20 instead of 46 (thank you for pointing this out, nieces). In romance, sometimes you can tell when the twenty-five-year-old heroine is actually fifty. Slang from the 80s might slip out along with well-placed millennial idioms. Or her joints bother her when it rains. Or the sexy scenes seem inauthentic and derivative of recent blockbuster books. Just an issue to watch as you’re writing.

Ignoring editorial suggestions: I’m not fond of times when after I spend days of reading and marking down revision notes, a writer will just refute every one of my points. The pregnant heroine doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until two minutes before she gives birth and never sees a doctor before or after, just because. Or the heroine faints a lot and that’s just what happens. Or the hero has no reason to be mean and never changes–but that’s just how he is and the reader will understand. Yish. I vacillate between letting the writer shoot herself in the foot and remembering my integrity. I try to land somewhere in the middle leaning toward the latter.

And now with these peeves in mind, let’s get back to writing strong stories! Happy Monday to you.

Writing Tips

Working That Sagging Middle — Body and Scroll

trainingThe “sagging middle” is a grim reality once you hit George* territory. Diet, stress and sedentary habits can settle in the gut. In a novel, the sagging middle can cripple your story, as well. Editors encounter it so often that you can almost hear us putting down the e-reader around chapter three. The sagging middle is more than just a dopey comment after too many donuts, so I’m going to tackle abs and a flabby manuscript all in one blog post. Disclaimer: Don’t take my exercise suggestions too seriously since I injure myself regularly. And for the sake of laziness, let’s call the sagging middle “SM.”

To understand SM, I delved into why it happens in a manuscript. A writer works so hard on the beginning–because that’s what the editor sees first, unless the editor is crazy and skips to the middle (guilty). It’s hard to keep up that intensity for 250+ pages. Why not just work on the beginning–since that’s most important–and not worry about the middle until you get an editor interested? The reader can’t be hooked every second, can she? This kind of thinking is all wrong, by the way. It’s right around the third chapter that I need a boost because I’m getting deeper into the story. Every page is important. If sagging weighs down chapter three, I know what’s about to happen later: not a whole lot. The sagging gets saggier. For the editor, life is too short and the pile of reading too high. For the writer, it’s time to work out the SM.

You hear similar things about strengthening your “core.” Since my husband took up Pilates (he says it was invented to rehabilitate injured soldiers, thus is manly exercise) and I am trying it, I sense how important it is to build up the stomach area, which holds so many emotions, stressors, and for me at least, croissants. My SM troubles began circa 1973. Newly Parisian, I fell in love with food and stuffed as much French candy into my mouth as possible. Because I was five, I ignored my health and went for new and flashier pastries. Whatever I could find, I ate–often regretting my gorging. Confection looks great on the outside, though doesn’t always feel so delicious an hour later. Regardless, my belly grew into a giant balloon (please bear in mind, I was still cute). Since I didn’t care about boys or modeling, I kept up my eating marathon for a few more years. Then kids really started making fun of me. That’s when I started doing sit-ups, the old-fashioned ones where you lie down and sit all the way up and back down again. I began with 10, then 50, then 100. They were a pain in my gut, but I could tell they worked. The balloon deflated.

So how do you fix the sagging, out-of-control middle in a manuscript? As with your core, there are steps to fix the problem. You just have to follow them, be relentless, and keep going until your manuscript shimmers with excitement and health.

1. Ask yourself if you’ve started the story in the wrong place. Several years ago, an author told me that her beginning wound up being chapter 9. This explained why I gasped in the middle of her story. No sagging there. You may not have this problem–the wrong beginning–but the path to solution opens with a question, a tough one. Be brave enough to consider re-arranging your book.

2. When I was toiling over a story, finding myself on the sagging middle to nowhere, a friend explained that the protagonist should have a main problem with an even bigger problem working against him/her. Plotting is like physics to me, i.e. I don’t get it, but this simple advice made sense to me. Reading up on story structure can help beef up a novel. As with an ab workout or plot revitalization, consult experts. Check out those books, watch exercise videos, talk to trainers. You will eventually get what you need to succeed.

3. Don’t let the reader rest for too long. There’s that moment where a writer may think, Ah, the excitement’s over for now. Let’s just have the characters picnic in the grass and wax poetic about the breath-taking landscape.  Show off ability to describe beautiful scenery! Isn’t it fun to just sit and behold? In a romance, those scenes should be short and incredibly meaningful or else they sag. Too much of a good thing (relaxation and picnic fried chicken/potato salad) can bring on the ZZZZZZs, much like the dreaded food coma. The second I started sitting and reading (with snacking) for a living, I noticed certain physical changes and energy drainage. After enjoying 10 years of an “eat anything” metabolism, I suddenly gained weight just looking at cupcakes–even more when I ate them. Exercising less had been my mantra until I became an editor and had to buy new clothes. And since entering George and Demi territory, I must exert myself even more to keep from doing what I hate so much: shopping for new clothes in an actual store. Don’t rest too long is my new mantra–true in life, true in romance.

4. You want the story to escalate, not reach a plateau. With romantic suspense, a writer must juggle two difficult elements. There is ebb and flow in romance and suspense. How do you make them work together? I would start with how best to torture your characters further. For me in real life, that torture is a push-up. I can’t do one. Because I’ve mastered my situps and run/walk so that I can still eat a cupcake, I neglected upper body strength, putting it off until my bones crack in half later in life. But when I couldn’t open a jar of peanut butter (for evil midnight dining purposes, of course), I realized I had to torture myself a little more by adding weights and pushups to the mix (I did rewatch Rocky for that inspirational training montage). Putting your characters through more pain than they expect will up the ante as you race through that middle part.

5. Maybe your character isn’t with the right person. Gasp! A few months ago, I was reading a story where the heroine fell in love with the hero. The entire time, I thought she was with the wrong man. And–gasp again–I encountered a SM and put down the book.  As with nutrition and exercise, it’s a matter of exploring what will test you the most and, in the end, be the most beneficial. Boy do I love sugar, but it turns me into a jerk, goes straight to the gut and was my original Achilles heel in France. It’s the reason I do situps, so it can’t be my hero. Now, I have a shaky but growing relationship with brown rice.

6. Prolong the romance even more. Though I don’t recommend waiting until the very end for the kiss, Sixteen Candles has this remarkable way of sustaining conflict for two hours. Sure, it’s an ensemble cast, but even a simple love story can create those goosebumps. Think of your favorite stories and how the writer/movie kept the conflict building to an exciting end. I can think of no clever nutrition/exercise parallel except to wait five minutes before getting that bag of Fritos (my lunch weakness). 70% of the time, I still indulge, but I like to believe I’m building willpower.

7. Resist the temptation to keep working on the beginning. Carve out time to work on the middle–a lot of time. Since SM is such a problem area, why not focus the most on this area? If you pull a muscle in your calf from running (as I do), do you then nurture your arm? Usually it’s the area you want to ignore most that requires the most attention…or else the problem will keep growing, like my love for French pastries circa 1973.

I wish I had more answers to the mystery of how you bring a romance or body to its most perfect form. With those pesky abs, I just want to feel good and, sometimes, that involves a corner piece of vanilla cake or 100 situps. With a manuscript, it’s that feeling that I’ve done everything I could with no niggling thought saying, Well, you kinda phoned in the middle. If that happens, I just go back to these steps and repeat. The torture is worth it.

*Usually, one might write Demi since she somehow became the poster girl for over 40. I’m changing it to George Clooney since he’s way over 40, and even over 50!

Romantic Life Lessons, Shameless Promotion

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.

Writing Tips

Today’s Romance Writing Pet Peeves

imagesHappy Monday! To start off the week, I’m disclosing a few more things that drive me crazy in manuscripts. I judge harshly but with the knowledge that writing can be refined–always.

1. Using a foreign language when you don’t really know it. Your sweet heroine is sitting at a café in Paris. Sipping her café au lait, she waits impatiently for Monsieur Ooh-la-la to come along. Just when she feels all hope is perdu, a  gorgeous artiste wearing a horizonally-striped shirt and black beret approaches her. He says the equivalent of “How you doin?” à la Joey from Friends. Except in the manuscript this delicious pick-up line is written as “Comment vous faire?” which is the kind of trash you get when you use those straight translation programs. This slip-up might land on e-reader of an editor who is fluent in French. Make sure you consult someone who speaks the language.

2. Announcing intention before showing it. I’m nitpicky about this and I’m going to tell you what I mean. Oh wait. I just did what I hate. Let me explain in a more practical way:

Hannah was shocked that Trevor complained about the overcooked carrots. She was going to tell him so. “I’m shocked you’re complaining, Trevor.” Did you catch that she’s telling us three times? I don’t blame her. I’d be really upset if Trevor didn’t like my cooking. This repetition is an easy crime to commit. It might be part of one’s speedy train of thought, but it reads as lazy filler and I cut, cut, cut. Editing these ineffective sentences will make an editor happy. Go back over what you’ve written a few times, put in a more interesting sentence. Hannah could secretly decide to put the carrots in Trevor’s breakfast smoothie the next day.

3. Predictability. With so many stories being told, my pet peeve is a cliché. Being new and different is not new and different anymore. As an editor of romantic suspense, I can smell the hero-arriving-at-the-right-time-to-defeat-the-villain-who’s-holding-her-hostage at around p. 10. Readers may like this kind of ending, but for some, it doesn’t make the story worth reading after the 20th version. Recently, I was editing a tale that was proceeding at a nice pace, good romance, lots of bells and whistles. Then the author really shocked me in a way that left me gasping. The story became more precious to me, with a happily ever after I wasn’t quite expecting. This is pure gold–happens but rarely for me. It’s difficult to write an unpredictable plot, but still I challenge writers to find a way to surprise the reader.

That is all…

Romantic Life Lessons, Shameless Promotion

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.

Romantic Life Lessons, Shameless Promotion

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.

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