Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chapter 34 of Water Signs and the Daunting Task of Writing a Tasteful, Compelling Love Scene

Or, as my lovable smart-aleck writer-friend Don calls it, Chapter Fornication. He kids of course, being one of the book's staunchest fans as well as someone who understands the novel's underlying themes and ultimate championing of traditional values. Having been raised with similar values as an Evangelical Christian, Don (like so many other readers) relates to the struggles my characters endure while endeavoring to honor their upbringing. And though just about everyone who's provided feedback on Water Signs expresses their delight at finally meeting fictional characters who share their world-view and experiences -- while simultaneously appreciating the (ahem!) celebration of God-given desires in the context of a committed relationship -- I wanted to post a few of my own thoughts on the evolution of Chapter 34, the scene in which Ken and Maddy finally consummate their star-crossed, 16-year relationship.

As an author, it was a bit of a challenge to unapologetically champion the worthiness of my characters' ingrained moral and spiritual beliefs, while at the same time sympathetically present the challenges that inevitably arise when putting these mores into practice in the contemporary world. The last thing I wanted was for readers to misinterpret Maddy's internal conflict between her desire to be with Ken in the Biblical sense and her unfailing belief that such carnal knowledge must not be revealed until marriage vows were taken in front of God and witnesses as some sort of parental "repression" based on the teachings of the "patriarchal" Catholic Church.

Not only do I stand by the values with which I was raised, I am eternally grateful to have been brought up in a traditional home, with a mother and a father who cared about imparting morality to their children, in addition to love, discipline and an appreciation for the United States. Part of my motivation for writing the book was to counteract the negative influences of a pop-culture gone crazy, and to appeal to an audience I instinctively knew was hungry for a story that would reflect their own experiences.

Nowhere in pop culture (except perhaps in Christian literature) had I seen an honest, respectful portrayal of the clash between normal human longings and Godly virtue. In most cases -- whether in daytime soap operas (as anyone who remembers the early 80s character of Annie Logan on General Hospital can attest) or in a Lifetime movie (We Were The Mulvaneys, for example) -- Christians who strive to live up to their moral foundations are presented as victims of an out-of-touch, oppressive religion whose time has long since passed.

So my challenge in penning Water Signs was to paint a sympathetic portrayal of characters with human flaws and weaknesses while also honoring their Christian sense of morality. Yes, the values imposed by God in The Ten Commandments and espoused by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament are more often than not difficult to adhere to on this earthly plane -- which is a validation of their inherent worthiness, not a scathing rebuke of their irrelevance. If anything, the current state of our culture should be a glaring example of the dire consequences of trashing the principles that helped shape America into a strong and prosperous nation.

I've noted previously that my novel is about the journey, not the outcome. Thus, in the Prologue, readers discover right away that -- no matter what happens over the next 435 pages -- Ken and Madeline eventually get married "at the end of a long, arduous and oftentimes broken road".

When writing about their long-awaited physical union that took place only after they'd fully reacquainted on a spiritual, emotional and mental level, I debated a few important points: Should the consummation take place following Maddy's acceptance of Ken's marriage proposal, or after they finally say "I do"? How descriptive should it be? Is it even necessary to write such a scene in the first place?

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my readers deserved some sort of reward for suffering through 16 years of the moral struggles, miscommunication and heartbreak that characterized the relationship between the novel's two main characters. Further, since 1.) Ken and Madeline are into their early 40s by the time they find their way back to each other; 2.) They take some time to reconnect in every other way before even getting physical; and 3.) Readers already know they end up as husband and wife, I decided to cap off a romantic proposal scene with an even more romantic consummation scene.

Thus, Ken remains patient until the very end, even as passionate desire rages on internally, spurred on by the knowledge that the one he's loved for so long has declared her intention to surrender to her new fiancé as they embrace in the Penthouse among soft candlelight and fragrant roses. He's also cognizant of the fact that in spite of tremendous personal growth, Maddy's still has a few lingering insecurities:

"Hey!" he spoke in a comforting, yet firm tone. When she still didn't look up, he cupped her chin in his hands and brought them face to face again. "Madeline, you are the most beautiful woman in the entire world to me.Everything about you is exquisite. Don't you see that? Don't you see what you do to me?"

Ken goes on to place her hand upon his rapidly beating heart, as if to prove his sincerity. Thus assured, Madeline finally allows the desires of her heart, soul and body to take over, secure in his unconditional love and commitment.

Even in describing the events that follow, I did my best to keep the scene more romantic than sexual, more tasteful than explicit. We're all adults who understand what it means to give yourself fully to the one you love; there was no need to degenerate into Harlequin romance territory. Water Signs is not a romance novel in the sense that some meaningless, marginal plot exists simply to break the monotony between one descriptive, bodice-ripping episode after another. Rather, it is a tale of first love and second chances, and of becoming better people as a direct result of hardship and tribulation. In Water Signs, sex is the icing on the cake, a long-anticipated end to a literal and metaphysical journey.

That said, it was tough to reconcile the fact that, once I'd written the chapter, it would be read by people who know me, most notable among them, family members (Hi, Mom!). And as I've mentioned in Fun Facts about Water Signs, the Chapter 34 that made the cut is slightly different from the original version. I'd decided to remove one paragraph and a few lines of dialogue after coming to the conclusion that what is implied can be much more effective than what is actually stated. Suffice it to say, even in the final version, we understand that Maddy's love for Ken and desire to please him is a thousand times stronger than her previous insecurities and inhibitions. She knows he loves her unconditionally, just as she loves him. And in Chapter 34, she tells him so in word and action.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Water Signs' Real Life Back Story: Six Degrees of Separation

After the LinkedIn incident, I decided to leave well-enough alone. Thanks to another social media site, I'd figured out who'd been responsible, and though I was tempted to follow up my email to "Ken" with a phone call, better judgment prevailed. But a curious thing did take place soon after.

Before I get into that, I want to back up to June of 2008, and an interesting photography session. A good friend of mine -- a professional photographer -- spent an entire Saturday at my home, creating images that would eventually be employed for book promotion, including the back cover head shot of Water Signs. For the purposes of this story, it's not necessary or even advisable to reveal her name, but I will mention that she's one of my oldest and dearest friends in South Florida. In fact, the character of Isabella is partially based on this friend, along with another woman I used to know.

Although I absolutely hate posing for formal pictures, my friend and I had so much fun that day changing venues, outfits and poses. The community in which I live is rife with beautiful, outdoor scenery and locations, so we'd alternate indoor shots in my home with others out in front of the garden, with the palm fronds swaying behind me.

Since we were together for a while that afternoon, I filled my friend in on the back story behind Water Signs, since -- much like my close friend "Elyse" (Theresa), she'd known nothing about "Ken" -- notwithstanding our 12-year friendship. As I've noted, the mind and will are powerful forces.

Anyway, as I relayed the information, something clicked with her, something pertaining to "Erin". Seemed she had a friend who'd written a cookbook and sought out "Erin's" professional services pertaining to web design and marketing. To be sure, she called her friend, who upon hearing the real name, confirmed it to be true. To say that this woman had not been happy with the customer service she'd received would be an understatement.

My photographer friend had already known of her dissatisfaction, since she'd helped her locate another designer to complete the cookbook website -- which happened to revolve around the state of Pennsylvania and its traditions (another ironic twist), including the Amish Country. This woman relayed several fascinating tidbits, such as never being allowed inside "Erin's" house (site of her office). Whenever she needed to drop something off to the designer, she was immediately greeted just outside the front door or in the driveway; never once was she invited in.

As a customer, this woman found her hired designer to be quite rude, with a "basic" personality, lacking in depth and character. If I recall correctly, the last forms of communication they'd had via email (once the woman had secured a new person to finish the project), had been very terse. According to the friend of my friend, "Erin" was a typical "Philly Girl" -- a phenomenon with which she was familiar, having been raised in the area.

So when the LinkedIn thing happened much later that same year, I can't say I was surprised when I finally unraveled the mystery and discovered the real culprit.

About a week or so later, I attended a Boca Raton Meetup for entrepreneurs presented by Jay Berkowitz. The information I gathered that evening proved to be invaluable, but the most memorable aspect of the event occurred long before Jay took to the podium. As is the case with most of these gatherings, every person in attendance was given a minute to introduce themselves and explain their business in brief. When it was my turn, I mentioned that I was an author as well as a web content writer, editor and blogger.

After all had introduced themselves, we were allowed some time to simply mingle before the formal presentation. And that was when a very nice woman, a financial planner, came right up to me and asked, "Do you know "Erin Lockheart"?

Oh, you mean the woman who while pretending to be her husband, asked me to recommend his "big johnson" via the LinkedIn social media site? That Erin Lockheart? Yes, I'm afraid I do know her.

While I wish I could've replied that way, I somehow managed to hide my surprise, stating something to the effect of "I've heard the name". After which the woman insisted on taking one of my business cards (which were in my hands, thus eliminating the excuse, "Oh, I am so sorry I must've run out of them") because she was pretty darned sure that as a web designer, "Erin" might have a need for good content writers from time to time. Bless her heart, that lady was such a great networker. And I must admit, I got a chuckle out of imagining the whole scenario of this woman presenting Erin with my business card and glowing praise.

Yes, in Boca Raton there are definitely six degrees of separation. And this was only one of many forthcoming incidents to prove it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Water Signs' Real Life Back Story: LinkedIn Deception

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and to a much lesser extent, LinkedIn, have mostly proven an invaluable resource for me, not simply for promoting my book, but also for political activism, networking and even hosting internet radio programs like Conservative Republican Republican Forum (which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary) and The Liberty Belle Hour (still on hiatus until August).

But as I've learned in the political realm, social media -- when employed by unscrupulous people -- can also wreak havoc and damage innocent reputations, if left unchecked. And if I had a nickel for every time I've had to block a Ron Paul freak on Facebook, I'd be able to donate large sums of money to every conservative candidate of my choice.

On a personal note, before I parlayed my grassroots activism into an online revolutionary presence (along with countless other like-minded Americans), I experienced the downside of this new medium. In December of 2008, Water Signs had been on the market just three months, and I was busy finding new and creative ways to advertise it in cyberspace and in the real world. I hadn't heard from "Ken" since our Labor Day chat, and other than knowing he'd created a free log-in on the website (which enables readers to sample five chapters), I had no idea if he'd even read the entire book -- and if so -- whether he loved or hated it.

Then one day in early December, I got a very strange request via the LinkedIn website, allegedly from "Ken", who at the time was one of my connections (though for obvious reasons, no longer). Although I don't spend much time at all on this site, never having developed a real liking for it, back then I utilized it quite a bit. And since I'd received many previous requests via LinkedIn for recommendations before, I was well-acquainted with their official style and format, versus a "fake" made to appear as if it's coming from their site.

Anyway, this request for recommendation from "Kenneth Lockheart" looked like all of the others when I opened it up in my email account. However, when I read the personalized message, I knew immediately something was definitely off:

Dear Daria,

I am sending this to ask you for a brief recommendation of my work that I can include in my LinkedIn profile. If you have any questions, let me know. Responsible, professional, thorough...big johnson...what have you...haha...basically make something up.

Thanks in advance for helping me out. I will do the same. Let's get creative.

First, for anyone who might not be aware, "johnson" is a colloquial term for a guy's manhood, the equivalent of "gonads" or as Michelle Malkin once famously referred to them, "gumballs". For all of his faults, the "Ken" I knew never disrespected me, nor did he ever use any sort of colorful language around me, even when angry. So for him to throw in the line about a "big johnson" was completely out of the norm. In fact, the moment I read the email, my intuition sounded the alarm that this ridiculous request did not in fact originate with "Ken", but with his wife.

Secondly, other than the little he'd shared with me on the phone, I didn't know much about "Ken's" professional life, and was therefore unqualified to make a recommendation in the first place. I wasn't a client who could testify to his excellent follow-up and pervasive knowledge of his product. I was just someone who remembered him as having a stellar work ethic, which is evident through my description of his character in Water Signs.

Lastly, the request came from out of the blue. As I mentioned, we'd not spoken in three months, during which time I'd published the book. If he didn't think enough of the novel -- in which a character based on him plays a dominant role -- to email or call me with some kind of reaction, what on earth would compel him to suddenly ask for a reference via LinkedIn?

None of it made sense. And though I knew in my heart who the responsible party was, I am not one to throw out unfounded accusations. I needed some proof.

For a few weeks, I did nothing, as the hectic Christmas Season unfolded and I busied myself with the usual activities that characterize that time of year. However, during a visit to Philly later that month, my cousin encouraged me to email him to get to the truth. I regret that I refused to give him the benefit of the doubt when crafting my correspondence -- per Annie's protective instincts. I also regret that I allowed her to talk me into using "WTF" as the subject line. But my biggest mistake by far was failing to initially forward the original request to him, complete with the official LinkedIn header.

Instead, in a new email, I wrote:

Hey Ken,

Just had a minute to review my inbox again as I am extremely busy promoting my book. Quite honestly, your email had me very perplexed, thus explaining the subject line of this response. I am not sure exactly why you are asking for a recommendation since I've never been a client and haven't been a part of your life in any meaningful way in quite a long time. As for the "johnson" comment, well...I obviously wouldn't know anything about that. :)

Regarding the recommendation, I only give those out for people whose work I am familiar with.

Sorry I couldn't help you,


I don't know if he's constantly plugged in via computer or BlackBerry, but his response was almost instantaneous, incredibly terse, definitely rude and -- as you will note, lacking in proper punctuation:

recommendation? not sure what happened as I don't need any... sorry. good luck with the book. hope your readers enjoy.. adios

That prompted me to dig through my emails to retrieve the original LinkedIn request and send it back to him, along with the subject line, "Maybe this will refresh your memory. Happy New Year!"

It would be nearly a year before I'd hear anything from him again.

However, a few weeks later the mystery was solved when sent me a link to a list of people who'd recently check out my profile (which I promptly deleted from that site). Surprise, surprise..."Erin" had been one of them. Moreover, she'd looked me up on December 9, and I'd received the LinkedIn request shortly thereafter. My gut instinct had been correct, it had been her all along. But rather than follow-up with "Ken", I decided to let the matter drop.

This led me to conclude that both "Ken" and "Erin" had not only read Water Signs, but that it had opened up a torrent of emotion. What else would explain her deception in logging into a social media site with her husband's credentials and falsely requesting a work recommendation from me?

But what exactly did she hope to gain? If she suspected her husband was being unfaithful, did she really think this was a viable method of catching him in the act? I suppose in the age of social media, such antiquated notions like hiring a private detective have gone the way of the beeper.

This is all very ironic as well, considering the fact that I haven't even been in the same room with "Ken" since the mid-90s. If he'd in fact cheated on her, it certainly hadn't been with me.

I don't know what went through "Ken's" mind when he saw the original LinkedIn email I forwarded, but I do know how hurt and angry I'd felt after he basically told me to go to hell. Come to think of it, that was quite an overreaction; was he really that offended by "WTF"? Hard to imagine.

Anyway, in January of 2009 -- concurrent with discovering Erin's LinkedIn deception, I attended a marketing seminar in Boca Raton, where the expression "six degrees of separation" would take on new and personal meaning.

More on that in my next post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Water Signs: More Real Life Intrigue

A few weeks after Labor Day 2008, and the conversation I described with "Ken" in my last post, I finally published Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal. A while back, I discussed the evolution of the novel in great detail, explaining the unexpected event in early 2008 that ignited the creative process, but also the vision I'd had of a book I knew I'd one day write, back in 1994. Even all those years ago, I had the title in mind: Water Signs. Somewhere in the four-month frenzy of pounding away at the keyboard every weeknight and and every weekend, the subtitle, A Story of Love and Renewal, popped into my head.

Ultimately, the novel is a literal and metaphorical journey for my two main characters, who are renewed physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally at the end of 16 long, grueling years. The word "love" applies not just to their feelings for each other, but also love of God, family and country. As my Facebook ad reads:

In this tale of first love and second chances, author Daria DiGiovanni takes readers on an inspiring journey of faith and soul renewal.

And of course, out of love springs forgiveness -- something we all need as fallen human beings -- which allows for the renewal of the important relationships in the book including Ken and Madeline, Ken and his father Carl, Madeline and her mother Monica, and Madeline and her first boyfriend, Jake (though for her, it's a forgive and move on kind of experience -- not an event that leads to regular communication).

When I excitedly published the finished product on the internet, I'd hoped my first novel's many intricately woven themes, lovable characters and heart-wrenching events would resonate with my readers. I also chose a happy ending for Ken and Madeline because I wanted Water Signs to stand as a testament to the power of love, faith and belief. At the same time, I knew I was going to write a sequel and I wanted to pick up with Ken and Madeline as a newlywed couple who, although very much in love, would face even more formidable obstacles, but this time as a united front -- not as individuals acting as catalysts in each other's personal and spiritual development.

That Labor Day weekend conversation was the last one I've had to date with "Ken", and as of this very moment, we've never discussed or mentioned Water Signs, post-publication (not even via email, though as I will explain, there have been a few of those). I can only assume he obtained the book and read it, after all of the build-up I'd given it. Speaking for myself, if I knew a writer had immortalized me in fiction, I'd sure as heck get a copy of the work as soon as it was available. And knowing he was "flattered" by the whole concept, I have no doubt he's read it.

However, as per one of my primary motivations for contacting him, I'd hoped if he'd gone online and purchased a copy, he'd had it mailed to his office and not his home. I tried to impress upon him the fact that there were aspects of the book that would not go over well with members of his family, especially his wife -- and not simply the fact that Ken divorces Erin and eventually marries Madeline.

I've noted that Erin is mostly based on a stereotype, not so much a real person, though an actual woman provided the initial inspiration for the character. However, in the opening chapters of Part Two, there are many factual elements put forth that -- shall we say -- would not go over too well with "Ken's" spouse (and without an understanding of my motivation for turning the character into a self-absorbed princess, the Boca Babe thing wouldn't exactly be welcome, either).

For example, in Chapter 19, Ken surprises Madeline at her apartment one Saturday morning to share some significant news, a scene that is faithful to the way it all went down in real life:

She’d just finished applying her make-up and pulling her long hair into a ponytail when a knock on the door startled her. It was only 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday. Who on earth would be stopping by so early? A moment later that question was answered dramatically when she opened the door of her Boca Del Mar residence to find Ken standing before her, dressed in his work attire; his typical smile betrayed a trace of nervousness. Maddy nearly fainted at the sight of him, though she maintained a façade of nonchalance.

“Ken! What are you doing here?”

“Hey, I’ve been wanting to talk to you. I have some news to tell you but I wanted to do it in person.”

“You’re engaged,” she stated matter-of-factly as she closed the door behind him and offered him a seat on the couch.

“Yes!” he replied, awestruck. How did she know? And why was she so calm?

Utterly defeated, Maddy nevertheless kept a sunny expression on her face while her stomach began to churn in distress. She willed it back into submission as he went on, barely able to look into her deep, brown eyes.

“Um, I finally decided that I didn’t want to live in sin any longer than I had to,” he explained. “She didn’t either, so we got engaged back in September. We went up north to share the news with our families. My parents were happy, her parents were happy. But right now she and I are having a little problem. See, she’s a bit insecure because she’s an older woman—well, not older, but she’s a few years older than me.

“Anyway, it all started on Valentine’s Day. I had to work both jobs so we never got to spend any time real time together and—Madeline I am just not good at relationships!”

Hoping his admission would act as an entrée into a profound conversation about the two of them, Ken was disappointed when his plaintive sigh was met with silence. As usual, Maddy was at a loss for words at a critical juncture. She couldn’t determine if he was seeking counsel from her as his newly minted “buddy” or trying to convey something more significant. Either way, she wasn’t willing to oblige.

“To make matters worse,” he went on, “She wasn’t happy with what I bought her. I got her a pair of rollerblades—”

Oh, I learned how to do that!” Madeline exclaimed. “My friends from the dance studio taught me; we have the best time at the park in Pompano. It’s actually much easier than I expected. I love it!” She was hoping to take the discussion in a new direction to remove the image of Ken pledging his love and fidelity to another woman in front of God and witnesses from her mind. Besides, it was the truth. Rollerblading was second only to dancing and swimming now on her list of preferred recreation.

“Good for you,” he complimented, puzzled by her reaction. “It is fun, isn’t it?”

“And it’s great exercise,” she added. Then for effect, “Gosh I’d be thrilled with a new pair of rollerblades, whether for Valentine’s Day or any other occasion!”

She recalled the beautiful sweater she’d purchased for him on Valentine’s two years back—a gift she’d given to her brother Greg after he stood her up for their ski date. A comment Ken had made sometime prior to that about Valentine’s Day being a “Hallmark Holiday” suddenly came to mind. Slowly, anger began to replace heartbreak, though she continued to listen politely.

“Yeah well unfortunately, Erin didn’t think rollerblades were a good choice. She accused me of not caring for her, of not having time for her. Anyway, we’re just going through a tough time right now, but I’m sure we’ll be alright.”

“Yes, you will,” Maddy affirmed while the voice inside her head kept repeating the mantra, I am a tower of strength, I am a tower of strength, over and over again. Then he hit her with an unexpected query. “Now how do you feel?” he asked nervously.

How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?

Granted, this all happened in 1995, but still, if she'd had no knowledge of her husband's conversation with me previously -- one in which he'd confided such personal details of their relationship -- would it make her angry?

"We didn't want to live in sin anymore" as a primary factor for getting married, not "I am madly in love with this woman and I can't wait to marry her"? Wouldn't make me feel too good.

How about this:

“She kind of depends on me,” he explained. “She has a good job and everything, but most of the people in the office have kids so they’re busy with their families. And of course, most of them live in Miami anyway. But I know you two would get along so well. You could go out shopping, go to the beach or just do whatever girls do when they get together.”

Believe me, I was sick inside just listening to him ramble on that day about the possibility of Erin and I becoming great friends, and I did my best to convey that via Madeline's reaction. But "survival mode" had already kicked in, so I'd put on the performance of my life, pretending to be happy for him (something I'd finally admitted to him during one of our phone conversations...more on that later).

In Chapter 23, Maddy has a very real and altogether heart-shattering dream about Kenny breaking off his engagement, which is also straight out of real life:

Suddenly, a knock on the door startled her. After throwing on a short robe, she answered it to see Kenny’s smiling face. “Can I come in Maddy?” he asked. “I really have to talk to you!”

“Ken, come on now, you shouldn’t be here!” she admonished him forcefully.“Please, sweetheart? I have something really important to share with you!” His sparkling blue eyes pleaded with her earnestly.

“Oh, ok,” she agreed. “But please, make it quick; I have a busy day tomorrow.” He entered the living room and sat down on the couch before motioning for her to join him. Against her better judgment, she sat down, tightening the belt of her robe as she did so.

“Maddy I wanted you to be the first to know I broke off my engagement to Erin. There was no way I could marry her when I am in love with someone else.” Her heart jumped to her throat as she struggled to digest this shocking but welcome news. For a moment, she was speechless. That’s when Ken took her hand in his and leaned in close to her.

“I love you, Madeline Rose. You’re the woman I want. No one else comes close to you. Please forgive me for hurting you! I am so very sorry.”

“Kenny, of course I forgive you,” she cried, throwing her arms around him. “I love you, too, so much!”

“Oh my God!” he laughed. “I am the luckiest man alive! And in the very near future, I am going to make you my bride, just like I’ve always promised!”

“Oh, Kenny, I can’t wait to be your wife,” she sighed, before they melted into a passionate kiss.

And just as it happened for real back in 1995, a few days later Ken shows up again unexpectedly at her apartment door:

By the time early afternoon rolled around, she’d finished her chores and had changed into her bathing suit and cover-up. She was busily placing a towel, a magazine and a few bottles of water into her canvas tote bag when a knock at the door took her by surprise. Her heart lurched when she opened it to find Kenny standing before her, smiling in his typical fashion, dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. It bothered her that in spite of all the pain he’d inflicted, her body still tingled at the mere sight of him. Suddenly, she remembered the dream she’d recently had about him breaking off his engagement.

“Ken! I must say, this is an unexpected surprise!” She endeavored to remain cordial and calm, while keeping her hopes in check.

“Hey, how are you doing, Maddy? Can I come in?”

“Uh, I guess there’s no harm in that,” she replied lightly, offering him a seat and a cold bottle of water.Was it her imagination or did he possess the unmistakable aura of a defeated man?

There was no sparkle, no luster in his aquamarine eyes, which appeared to be lost in thought as he stared off into the distance. And as he held the bottle of Zephyrhills in his hands, he leaned forward on the couch as if grappling with an unspoken, internal conflict.

“Is everything ok?” she inquired, settling in at a safe distance beside him. “You seem a bit preoccupied.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, everything’s fine. It’s just that—well I guess I’ve turned into my father after all,” he sighed. Madeline wasn’t quite sure what to make of that statement, though it hardly coalesced with the profile of a happily engaged man eager to exchange vows with his beloved. What exactly was he trying to convey?

“Oh,” she responded softly, recalling the difficulties he and his dad had endured in the course of their relationship. Though they’d seemed to patch things up that New Year’s Day at her house in Pennsylvania, Maddy had no idea where things stood with them at this point.

“Well is that such a bad thing?” she asked.

Kenny turned to face her, staring deeply into her amber eyes, nearly causing her to tumble to the floor.

“I hope the excitement comes back after Erin and I are married,” he confessed.

Yes, the lines posted here are the same ones the real guy spoke to me way back when, while I remained guarded and unable to express my genuine feelings. I couldn't believe he was admitting to a lack of excitement in his relationship with Erin to me, although something deep inside told me that "Ken" was hell-bent and determined to go through with the wedding as planned.

One thing I'm pretty sure of is that "Erin" had no knowledge of this conversation, which was yet another reason why I tried to encourage him not to share the novel with his wife. I wasn't out to harm their marriage; just cooperating in a creative process that would not be denied.

In any case, I am certain anyone reading this post understands why -- with just the few examples I've cited -- flesh-and-blood Erin would be furious should she ever obtain a copy of Water Signs. And as with her husband, I can't state with 100% accuracy that she did -- though some very interesting things took place in December of that same year that would seem to confirm this to be so.

I just never thought she'd log onto her husband's LinkedIn account, pretend to be him and ask me for a "reference".

More intrigue to come involving "big johnsons", Pennsylvania cookbooks and a photography session!

Water Signs' Real Life Back Story: "Ken's" Question

For someone who's been in the habit of journaling for nearly all of my life, it's strange I did not take the time to write about the emotional phone conversations I shared with "Ken" in the months preceding the release of Water Signs. Perhaps because I was so busy channeling all of the energy and feeling into a fictionalized version of events, I didn't believe it necessary. Besides, there is no way I'd ever forget them, no matter how hard I tried. For good or ill, the selective amnesia phase of my life is definitely over.

And given the personal, surprising nature of what I am about to share in this post, it would be damned near impossible to force myself to forget.

Sometime in July of 2008 -- two months before the book was on the market -- "Ken" and I made plans to meet for coffee one night after work, against my better judgment. While my heart wanted nothing more than to see him in person for the first time in approximately 13 years, my head kept telling me this was not such a great idea. In fact, it was a reallybad one. Keep in mind, unlike the novel, "Ken" was still very much a married man.

And although as I'd admonished him "I hadn't lost my moral compass" or my steadfast belief in right and wrong (to nip any erroneous notion of my motive for contacting him/writing the book in the bud, i.e. the desire for an affair), I still didn't see any good reason to put myself in a potentially gut-wrenching and/or tempting situation. After all, I was not superhuman -- I was a flawed human being, a woman who was just beginning to understand and appreciate the magnitude of my feelings for this man and the depths of the sorrow we'd inflicted upon each other (though he has me beat in this area; I never pretended my fiancé was my "platonic" roommate, knowing full well someone was relocating their entire life to be with me).

Still, I did sincerely apologize for the hurtful "Dear John" letter I'd mailed him all those years ago, under duress to end the relationship by a well-meaning, but nevertheless misguided parent. It tore me up when during one phone conversation, he described in great detail exactly where he'd been when he'd read it; his anguish was palpable as he relived the memory of standing in his living room in absolute pain, hurt and anger.

And all I could do was say I was sorry. I count this episode among one of the very few things I'd change if God allowed us to travel back in time. Regrets, I've had a few -- and this is definitely one of them. But I've also forgiven the naive, confused 25-year old young woman who'd written that letter because she no longer wished to be the cause of discord between her parents. For that matter, I've long forgiven my mom, too.

This aspect of real life is explored in Chapter 13:

“No thanks, I’m not hungry,” she informed her mother, before rolling over to face Lori’s closet. Wasn’t it enough that she’d caved into unreasonable demands and broken Kenny’s heart? She was also expected to carry on as if he’d never existed? Here it was, the night before Thanksgiving and all she wanted to do was crawl under the covers, crying over what might have been; for all she knew, she could’ve been spending the long weekend with Kenny’s family in Ventnor, or driving and laughing with him in the car as they toured suburban Philadelphia on rambling, country roads. Instead here she was, lonely, frustrated, sad and angry—mostly at herself.

After all, Dad, Lori and Greg had all taken her side, offering complete support and encouraging her to follow her heart. Dad had even stressed on more than one occasion that Maddy could always talk to him whenever she felt the need. There was no question that, had she proceeded with the relationship, Mom would’ve accepted it eventually. But Maddy was self-aware enough to acknowledge the truth—she’d used her mother’s disapproval as an escape route when her own intense feelings for Ken had become too frightening to handle.

Looking down at the gold Pisces pendant in her hand, Maddy thought back to that beautiful weekend, and their romantic dinner at The Ship Inn. He had such an incredible way of making her feel as if she was the only woman in a room; being with him had been so easy. No pangs of inadequacy, borne out of some misguided notion of failing to live up to the accomplishments of her ambitious family. Ken saw her as that rare and complete woman—smart, beautiful, principled and sweet. She was everything he never thought he’d find. And towards the end, he’d nearly accomplished the impossible by edging Maddy ever so closer to seeing what had been clear to him from day one.

Anyway, when the idea of an after-work get-together presented itself, an internal battle raged within (should I or shouldn't I?), though I ultimately agreed to it. Later that same night, "Ken" even emailed his confirmation on the date, place and time; he'd also been very forthcoming about his busy life as a sales executive with days that typically started at 8 a.m. and didn't end until 8 p.m.

About two days before our scheduled coffee date, I received another email expressing his regret that -- due to the fact that some corporate bigwig was flying into Fort Lauderdale the same day we'd arranged our little soirée -- he'd have to cancel. That his weekly Happy Hour ritual with local management had now transformed into a mandatory dinner with the big boss. And while this explanation seemed plausible, even probable, I knew instinctively it was not the real reason for his cold feet: based on our heart-tugging telephone correspondences I surmised that the real, raw emotion we'd mutually dredged up was also a significant factor, maybe even the only one.

Trust me, I was relieved. There was no good reason to break my heart all over again, and I knew that laying eyes on him once more in person -- with his piercing blue eyes; beautiful smile; masculine build; and deep, baritone voice -- would only make me sadder about what might have been. It was one thing to verbally clear out past issues; quite another to stare at each other awkwardly over cappuccino in a local cafe. Then there was the not-so-insignificant matter of someone seeing us in a town where there are six degrees of separation. Innocent or not, given our history this meeting would've been highly inappropriate.

Six weeks went by with no word from "Ken". In my return email, I'd never mentioned anything about rescheduling; I simply wished him luck with his business obligations. On the Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend (just weeks before the novel's release), I'd just arrived home from work when my cell phone rang. The conversation went something like this:

"Ken": "Daria, I needed to talk to you, to tell you the real reason why I canceled our meeting."

Me: "Do I need to sit down for this?"

"Ken": "I've been having these very real, very explicit, passionate dreams about you, and it's really freaking me out."

Me: (heart in my throat) "Oh."

"Ken": "And the thing is, I don't even remember you being that attracted to me. I mean, I was the 25 year-old guy with raging hormones and you -- well, you just never seemed that into me. And yet in these dreams I'm having, you --"

Me: "Ok Ken, I get the picture."

"Ken": "So, I just can't see you right now; I am just not ready to revisit that idea".

Me: "To be honest with you, I'm not either. I was kind of glad when you canceled -- not that I don't want to see you, just that I see no reason to put myself through that. And one of us is married, so it's not right."

From there it evolved into another emotional exchange with "Ken" telling me how wonderful I was, how much he's missed me, etc. At one point he asked if he could call me again, to which I replied:

"It's a free country, Ken, and I can't stop you from calling me. However, I can't guarantee that when you do call, I will pick up the phone. I have to think about myself, too. And this is beginning to feel like emotional adultery. I'm glad we got to clear the air, but as long as you're committed to another woman, we really shouldn't speak to each other."

To which he responded by saying, "That's what makes you so cool." (Yeah, that's me. A real cool cat!)

I should also mention that my heart was pounding furiously throughout the duration of this little exchange, which ended abruptly when he started to get choked up, before mumbling something about driving in traffic and hanging up the phone.

Still reeling, I took out the trash, retrieved my mail and tried to regain my composure. That's when I noticed a voice mail message on my cell phone:

"Daria, it's me again. Please call me back -- I have one more question to ask you and it's the most difficult question of all. Don't worry, it' s not about getting together. Like I said, I am not ready to revisit that concept just yet (muffled laugh). Just please call me."

And here, dear readers, is where we have another convergence of fact and fiction.

In Chapter 18, Ken, now a recently relocated resident of South Florida, dials Maddy's number to initiate yet another dialogue about the wonders of his new state and the possibility of her joining him in his excellent adventure. Over a year has passed since they've seen each other, and Ken has a very pressing matter on his mind:

“Thank God I’m not the only one,” he replied softly. “Maddy, can I ask you something; please don’t get mad at me, but it’s just something I need to know.”

“What?” She braced for the query.

“Are you still a virgin?”

“Kenny! I can’t believe you’re asking me that!” For a moment, she thought about sharing all of her dating horror stories, but quickly decided against it; she wasn’t ready to give him the satisfaction of knowing he still ruled her heart.

“C’mon, Maddy, it’s me you’re talking to here; please just tell me.” His voice remained steady and calm.

“Fine—yes, if you must know! Yes, I am still a virgin! Does that make you happy?”

“Yes, because I still want to be your first—and only,” he confirmed softly. That led to another long silence as Maddy contemplated this simultaneously uplifting and confusing piece of information.

“Kenny,” she finally said, “I-I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Say you want it to,” he pleaded.

“I do, but it’s just not that easy,” she sighed.

While for dramatic purposes, I embellished and altered this real-life exchange in the interest of more compelling fiction, the virginity question was indeed posed by both flesh-and-blood Ken and character Ken.

Almost 15 years after he'd made the original query, "Ken" called me back on that Labor Day weekend afternoon specifically to repeat the question. Bear in mind, we'd already disconnected the call amid a wave of overwhelming emotion, so for him to redial my number strictly for this purpose was a little unsettling. It was also deja vue, only this time we were both living in The Sunshine State.

I'd like to say I acted coyly, or simply announced with some indignation that my sexual status was none of his concern, but after first nervously laughing in reaction (and remembering the "first time" he'd asked me years ago), I was so taken off-guard that I gave a much more detailed answer than was necessary or prudent.

I did however, ask why it was so important to him -- being a married man and all. To this day, I am not sure if I am buying his response, but it went something like:

"Sex is such a great part of life and you're such a wonderful woman I just wanted to make sure you're not missing out."

Coming on the heels of canceling our coffee date due to "passionate dreams" about me, admitting he's not ready to see me in person and having the audacity to inquire about my love life, this just didn't come across as an honest answer. It also confirmed that, as long as "Ken" was choosing to remain united in the bonds of marriage with another woman, this had to be the absolute last time we'd ever speak. One thing I knew for certain: if I was a married woman, I would not be too happy if I knew my husband was participating in such intimate conversations with an old flame.

But in the age of the internet, there's always email -- and social media. And I would soon discover that "Ken's" spouse was not above using a little LinkedIn deception to make a little mischief of her own.

More intrigue to come in another post.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Water Signs' Real Life Back Story: Serendipity and the Psychic, Continued

Halloween 2008: Me as VP Candidate Sarah Palin and Tre as a Muslim Secret Service Agent.

Aside from a devoted family, there is nothing quite so precious as a loyal, trusted friend. I've heard the saying many times, that if you have one good friend, you are truly blessed; I have been blessed infinitely in this area, since I have many dear, loyal friends whom I know have my best interests at heart. One of them is the real-life inspiration behind the character of Elyse Lombard, my beautiful, blonde "adopted sister", Theresa.

Being the fiercely protective Mama Grizzly (or perhaps more accurately, Big Sista Grizzly) she is, Tre wasn't shy about expressing her disapproval with my plan to contact the real Ken to apprise him of the nature of the book I was getting close to releasing on the internet. In fact, she was pretty adamant about not going there, offering some pretty compelling reasons to back up her assertion.

And being the strong-willed woman I am, I listened patiently and then determined in my mind to make the call anyway for reasons I mentioned in my last post. This led to a series of emotionally charged conversations, punctuated with a few serendipitous revelations.

After checking out the Water Signs website (which I'd given him on the first call), I received a voice mail message from Ken, who appeared to be rather flattered, surprised and even a bit shocked by what he'd read in the synopsis on the home page:

Madeline Rose is a sweet, sheltered and eternally youthful young woman of 25-the youngest child of a prominent Philadelphia neurosurgeon. Despite the unending support of a loving, close family, she battles formidable insecurities, thanks to a recent, bitter break-up with her first real boyfriend and a turbulent adolescence characterized by a few extra pounds. Unsure of her future, she struggles to live up to her potential as well as her highly educated pedigree, given her fortunate placement in an impressive ancestral heritage.

Still adjusting to civilian life after four years in the United States Navy, handsome, affable and ambitious Ken Lockheart has two goals in life: to rise above his blue-collar Shore town roots and to marry his true love. Though the epitome of the classic, all-American male with his boyish good looks, six-foot frame and broad, muscular body, he retains a basic humility borne of a relentless work ethic and an inner drive to succeed.

When a chance encounter in a Somers Point nightclub initiates an unexpected relationship, neither one of them is prepared for the ensuing odyssey of heartbreak, personal growth and spiritual development that fuels their individual life lessons and leads them full-circle to a Divinely guided conclusion.

Although at that point in time the nearly complete, unpublished manuscript was still in a Word doc in my laptop and on a securely hidden CD, the synopsis description alone was enough to affect "Ken" fairly deeply; when we actually spoke, he noted how accurate my description of him had been, how I'd captured the essence of who he was and what he was trying to accomplish in his life.

I can't recall if it had been that same conversation or one that followed shortly thereafter, but during one particularly heart-wrenching discussion, a few interesting things were revealed -- things that seemed to confirm my intuition when crafting dialogue for the characters and/or expressing their thoughts and feelings.

For example, in Chapter 30, as a newly reunited Ken and Madeline are enjoying a cookout in Ken's new house, they reminisce about past events and resolve previously unsettled matters. Of particular import is Maddy's memory of a significant holiday they'd spent together:

“That was the best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had in my entire life,” she confessed softly, thinking back to all of the fun they’d had dancing and joking around with her siblings and their dates at The Media Inn.

And as an author, I invoked creative license to have Ken respond with, "Me, too."

I had no way of knowing if the character's human counterpart felt the same way; in fact, I was pretty certain that after 16 long years, he'd probably experienced at least a few New Year's Eve's celebrations that far outshone the one we'd spent in a little town in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. After all, in South Florida there's no shortage of glamorous locales from which to pop the bubbly and make out at midnight. Perhaps he and his wife had once taken a luxury cruise or a trip to the Caribbean to welcome Baby New Year?

Interestingly enough, I'd just completed this chapter when the real Ken and I had this particular phone exchange, prompting me to test the validity of character Ken's response to Madeline's statement. Keep in mind, the book was still unpublished at the time; there was absolutely no way he could've read this chapter -- or any portion of the book, other than what was posted on the website. And that consisted merely of a synopsis, testimonials and an author bio -- I hadn't even gotten to the point of loading selected chapters for preview yet.

So I decided to conduct a little "test" to see if my creativity had unknowingly contained a kernel of truth by telling the real Ken (quite sincerely) that our New Year's Eve was the best one I ever had. I think I might have even prefaced it by admitting, "As pathetic as it sounds..."

And without missing a beat, flesh-and-blood Ken replied, "It was for me, too." Which -- needless to say -- sent shivers up and down my spine, for a myriad of reasons.

Did he actually mean it?

In that moment, I believe he did, although there's always the possibility he was simply affirming what he thought I wanted to hear. In any case, the fact that he hadn't read any portion of the book, yet repeated a line attributed to his character verbatim did leave an impression.

Another interesting enlightenment came when I shared my bout with panic and anxiety disorder, only to discover that he'd also experienced the same problem, concurrent with me. He even related a story about driving down I-95 on his way to make a big corporate presentation, when all of a sudden, overcome with an acute attack of sheer terror (pounding heart, etc), he had to pull over to avoid an accident. I listened with empathy as he noted (paraphrasing), "Here I was, this blue-collar kid from New Jersey about to stand in front of a bunch of corporate bigwigs, feeling I had no right to be there. Who did I think I was?"

"Ken" seemed a bit rattled (as was I) by this entire exchange, during which he'd also noted "We're a lot alike, you and I" and announced that he didn't even think I was that attracted to him, since I tried to avoid being alone with him and maintained some strict boundaries when we were. As a 25-year old young man with "raging hormones" my behavior had been a bit perplexing.

But knowing my family, he understood when one of the many reasons I offered for keeping him at arms' length was my absolute terror about accidentally becoming pregnant and bringing dishonor to my parents. As I told him, it was probably the most disgraceful, hurtful thing I could ever do, though they would've forgiven me (us) eventually. However, with this kind of mood-killing mindset, there's no way I could've simply relaxed and enjoyed it, even if we'd used every type of contraception on the market.

"Can you imagine their reaction if I'd gotten pregnant?" I asked.

"Yeah, your dad would've taken me out back with a shotgun," he laughed.

Which is probably an accurate statement, though I've often thought my father would've been the calmer parent in this scenario. I could be wrong, of course. And to this day, even at my age (assuming it could still happen), I'd never want to test my theory. ;)

More intrigue to come in my next post.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Water Signs' Real Life Back Story: Serendipity and the Psychic

Picking up from my last post, once I'd made the decision to fully explain the concept of Water Signs and the significance of its main male character to his living, breathing human inspiration, there was no talking me out of it. While "Elyse" (my dear friend Theresa, who just like her character, regards me as her little sister) meant well and had only my best interests in mind in attempting to discourage me, I had very compelling reasons for proceeding as planned.

For one thing, as I mentioned, the guy had admitted to Googling me, and chances were pretty high he'd do so again since I did inform him during our conversation that I was writing a novel. For another, while pouring my heart and soul into a fictional tale was indeed, therapeutic, I also realized that I'd now had an opportunity to finally verbalize thoughts and feelings I'd held back in the past. Further, all those years of self-imposed, selective amnesia had contributed in large part to my bout with panic and anxiety disorder (which I'd thankfully overcome), teaching me the importance of working through feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal -- rather than simply burying them.

I do find it rather odd that I'd been free of the emotional disorder for over 10 years by the time "Elyse" and I visited our intuitive friend in early 2008 -- and that I'd been "cured" without having to relive even one memory of "Ken" or what had transpired between us (including my life-altering move to Florida). At that point, I was still in a state of blissful ignorance where he was concerned -- accomplished by a powerful mind and will determined to do anything necessary to survive.

Yet that significant day in early 2008, prompted by an intuitive woman's use of the man's proper name, a tidal wave of repressed memories overpowered me until I had no choice but to do something meaningful with the "new" revelations. But was its purpose simply to be a catalyst for me to write my first novel? Or was it also a chance to finally express the previously unexpressed thoughts and feelings I'd pent up inside all the years I'd been in "survival mode"?

I deduced that since "Ken" was still alive and kickin' I therefore had the opportunity to clear out some misunderstandings from the past with him directly -- even if none of it mattered to him at all (which was also a very real possibility, hence Theresa/Elyse's sisterly concern for my emotional wellbeing).

When I think back to the day of that reading, I am still amazed. In all the years I'd known my friend Tre, and as close as the two of us had become (more like family, especially in the wake of her little nephew's untimely illness and death -- an event that's mentioned in the novel) I'd never once confided in her about "Ken", for the reasons stated above.

And when his proper first name initially came up in the reading, I honestly had no idea who it was; in fact, I assumed the woman was referring to a member of my extended family -- until she clarified quite emphatically that no, it was not a family member, but a romantic interest from my past. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, although I didn't pursue it further with her. I didn't want to go down that path. Hadn't I worked hard enough to "kill him off" in my mind? Why open up this Pandora's Box now?

But it was too late.

On the ride home in the car with Tre, I finally gave in to pent-up emotion and apprised her of the entire, heart-breaking tale, memories of which immediately began to overpower me in the aftermath of my reading. She listened with empathy, rather stunned that in the course of a such a close, familial-like friendship wherein each of us had confided so many intensely personal secrets -- including relationships with men -- I'd never once mentioned "Kenneth", the man indirectly responsible for the fact that I even knew her (or any of my good friends in South Florida).

That day marked the beginning of the evolution of Water Signs, a book I'd complete in just under four months.

More to come in my next post.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Random Thoughts on the Writing Process

In my last post, I started to delve a little deeper into the fusion of fact and fiction, and some of the literary techniques I employed in penning Water Signs. There's also a bit of personal intrigue intertwined in the entire experience -- things I haven't previously shared on my blog.

First though, I want to take up where I last left off, namely the reconnection via letter and telephone between the two main characters after a 13-year absence. In the novel, as in real life, the guy made the call upon learning from his mother that a letter had arrived for him at her house -- before he'd even had it in his possession. Neither Madeline, nor I had signed a name above the return address on the envelope, but the address alone is (was) apparently enough information for the recipient to know exactly who'd been trying to reach him.

That first night back from Disney, as Maddy listens to the sound of Ken's familiar voice, even she is taken aback by her reaction:

Nothing could have prepared Madeline for the fireworks that erupted within at the mere sound of Ken’s voice. As if afraid of her thoughts displaying on some sort of celestial cloud for the whole world to see, she moved to the recliner chair in her sitting area, which was located at the extreme front of her home. After listening to his message a few times, she pressed “2” to save it in the archives, and then jotted down Ken’s cell phone number.

“It’s all yours, Mom,” she said as calmly as she could, handing over the cordless before taking her cell and retreating to the privacy of her bedroom.

She's also cautiously optimistic and admirably pragmatic:

Here it was, nearly 11 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. He’d mentioned specifically that the cell number he’d given her was a business line. Did she dare dial the number now? After a brief internal debate, Maddy decided to go for it. After all, she’d been searching for him long enough. It was high time to just get on with it, knowing that whatever might transpire, she could handle the outcome well. Having successfully overcome truly horrific problems in the past—the most formidable of which had been panic and anxiety disorder, Madeline could now effectively cope with anything else life threw at her. She’d been thoroughly tested and proven incredibly stronger for the experience.

This is another area where real life differs from the novel. Because right after Maddy returns Ken's voice mail with one of her own, the scene changes to Ken's bedroom, where he's lost in thought over the woman he'd first met as a much younger man at the Jersey Shore -- and wondering if she's aware of the fact that he's now officially divorced. It's also an example of the novel's recurring theme of reconciliation:

Yes, he understood the purpose of her card, and it touched him deeply that she felt the need to apologize for past transgressions. And at the same time, he acknowledged that he himself was also guilty of inflicting pain on her. In many ways, he should’ve been the one sending a letter.

Strange also that this particular year had brought her so much clarity; he’d just signed his divorce papers the previous fall. Did Maddy somehow know that? If she had been aware of his marital status, she offered no indication in her correspondence. His last recent search of public records had revealed no information whatsoever, which was understandable, given that his attorney had advised him it could take up to a year for such records to be updated on Internet databases. With no mutual friends or acquaintances to spread the word, Maddy was most likely in the dark. And that made her gesture even more impressive.

Of course, Madeline really has no proof and no reason to believe he's a single man once again, her psychic friend Ann Claire's prediction notwithstanding. And to keep the suspense going for the character (unlike the reader), I purposely kept any mention of it out of their conversation the next morning -- which is based on the very same one I had with "Ken":

Neither one of them dared mentioned children, spouses or even possible boyfriends, though Ken had the benefit of near-certainty of her single status, which had been implicitly stated in her letter. Still, he hesitated to ruin the joy of this reconnection by speaking of Erin, even for the express purpose of revealing his divorce. Why remind either one of them of the pain of the past? For now, he’d simply savor this long-overdue conversation with Madeline; he could fill her in on the details of his marital break-up when they finally met face-to-face again.

However, he couldn’t resist “confessing” to Googling her and feeling frustrated when his searches came up empty. His admission sent shivers of excitement down her spine, proving Ann right on yet another point—Ken had ardentlywanted Maddy to contact him. The psychic had been adamant about so many things, not the least of which was Ken and Madeline’s ability to “recreate the relationship,” now that he was out of his marriage. And though Ann’s track record had been nearly flawless over the years, Madeline still yearned to hear him speak the words as she held the phone to her ear and paced around her bedroom.

In real life, this was a very warm, friendly and welcome conversation. Like the novel, it did end with a request to get together, though it had been more of a vague "Hey we should meet up for coffee sometime" kind of deal. Unlike the novel, the invitation thankfully never did result in an in-person meeting, for reasons I will share later. In terms of the book, however, to keep up a good pace and heighten the drama, Chapter 29 picks up with a nervous Maddy hastily applying lipstick in the ladies room of her corporate office building.

At this time in my life, I was working as a content writer in downtown Fort Lauderdale for a large financial firm, which provided plenty of inspiration in terms of settings for Madeline and Ken's long-anticipated reunion. My co-workers and I used to frequent a nice restaurant called The Samba Room, which is actually a popular chain in South Florida. The real Ken at the time was working in Fort Lauderdale also, though not anywhere near downtown. So that gave me the idea of arranging a lunch date for my characters in a place I'd frequently shared good food with work friends. And it's here where Maddy finally finds the strength and courage to forthrightly ask about his marital status:

That was Maddy’s cue to finally end the suspense. Folding her menu, she set it aside and, leaning slightly forward, politely but firmly demanded the truth. “Kenny, I need you to level with me, please. Look, nothing will ever change the way I feel about you. No matter what you tell me, I will always be thankful for this opportunity to reconnect. It’sso good to see you; especially since there was a time I thought I never would ever again—at least not in person.

“But for my own sake, I want to know right here and now exactly where things stand. Is there a woman in your life whose world would be torn apart if she knew you were looking at me this way? Is it really appropriate for you to say these things, knowing how much I—”

“Madeline Rose! Do you honestly believe I would toy with you like that?” Maddy’s heart leapt in her chest as he went on. “Sweetheart, I told you on the phone I’d been trying to find you. That wasn’t just because I missed an old friend; it was because I realized how much I missed my one true love. Once my marriage ended, I knew I had to at least look for you, though I also knew I was risking a huge disappointment. I mean, for someone like you to still be available—I just didn’t think it was possible. Surely some guy would’ve scooped you up by now.”

Here's where I couldn't resist adding a commentary on the dating rituals of this tropical paradise, something about which Ken himself is lacking in experience:

“Obviously, you are completely unfamiliar with the South Florida dating scene,” she smiled as a rush of excitement coursed through her body.

This leads to a renewal of their relationship in every way -- emotionally, spiritually, mentally and, eventually -- physically (following her acceptance of his marriage proposal in Chapter 33).

But I am getting ahead of myself.

This scene is purely fictional, a product of my imagination, based on real people and places. However as I mentioned in another post, some serendipitous things did occur in real life on the way to getting Water Signs published.

After that initial conversation, nothing much happened for a while. I kept writing my book and nearing its conclusion. And though I'd mentioned it in passing to "Ken" during our initial conversation, as the website began to take shape and I started to mobilize social media marketing efforts, I felt he should know the extent to which he was featured in the novel. That there wasn't simply a character based on him -- there was a character based on him who was the hero of the story. And that the story culminates with his character divorcing his first wife and eventually marrying my fictional counterpart.

In my mind, if he'd already admitted to "Googling" me, what would prevent him from doing it again, knowing I was working on my first book? He'd seemed pretty excited to hear that news -- and understanding that certain contents might not go over too well with members of his family (particularly his wife), I figured I'd nip any potential unpleasantness in the bud.

This is where my friend "Elyse" disagreed with my decision, but true to form, I followed my instincts.

More to come in the next post.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Writing Process

A good Facebook friend and aspiring author/writer recently asked for my advice regarding the length of chapters. Is it something predetermined before even putting thoughts to paper (or keyboard to monitor)? Or is it advisable to just write and see how it all plays out?

An excellent question for sure, and one for which I am not entirely certain there is a correct answer. As I've noted many times, the process by which I wrote Water Signs was highly unusual and most likely, unrepeatable. In another post, I described the circumstances that opened the floodgate of memories that led to the steady stream of consciousness that ultimately resulted in a 435-page novel. The words literally came through me from a higher place, and in most cases, I didn't have to consciously or deliberately think about the mundane mechanics of the work itself. I intuitively knew when to end one chapter and begin another -- though most ended up being 20 pages or so in length.

With Sea To Shining Sea, I am attempting quite deliberately to maintain that 20-page chapter limit, since it was very effective the first time around. But there's a little more to it than that. For example, one of the literary techniques I employed successfully in Water Signs was flashback -- whether to an event long-ago or in the recent past. So I would in effect, finish a chapter -- leading the reader to believe they knew everything there was to know about the events contained therein, only to discover some new insights about the same event(s) in the next chapter. This helped to create a little more intrigue and drama.

Keep in mind also that I am a creative type who knew from the start I wasn't going to follow the traditional publishing path, i.e. jump through all kinds of hoops to entice a literary agent, including conducting research on my genre at a book store. With the advent of Print-on-Demand and social media, I realized that a new and wondrous vehicle to reach my audience and achieve success awaited me. So I was pretty much unconcerned with "trivial" things like chapter length, outline, competing titles and authors within my category, market research and all of the other things publishing houses obsess over (and demand that their potential authors research on their own time, with no guarantee of getting the contract anyway).

So put me in the "just write it" camp. You can always go back and edit later. Write from the heart and get 'er done. That's my advice.

While we're on the topic, some other fascinating things occurred during the evolution of Water Signs -- and here's where the fusion of fact and fiction was at its most enjoyable. When I determined (somewhere around Chapter Eight) that this book was actually going to come into being very soon, I decided to take a proactive approach and search for the person who inspired Ken. For the record, my best friend (on whom the character of Elyse is based, and the same one who was there when I had the reading that ended my selective amnesia about this guy) thought it was a terribleidea. In fact, she tried her best to talk me out of it. Ironically, she's bumped into "Erin" unexpectedly a few times this year at business functions -- something that had never happened before in all of her 25 years of living in Boca Raton. But I will discuss that at length when I explore the female friendships of Water Signs.

I am not sure if stubbornness is also a Pisces trait, or merely a personality foible, but I am the kind of person who -- once I make a decision about something -- cannot be convinced otherwise. For good or bad, I'm in.

So just like Madeline in Chapter 27 (after having a reading similar to the real ones I experienced, though altered a bit for dramatic purposes) sits down and pens a letter to Ken, I did the same with "Ken". Though taken from real life, the one readers discover is a little more flowery and poetic than the one I wrote:

Dear Ken,

How are you? I can’t even imagine how you might feel right now, holding this letter in your hand. I mean, how long has it been? About a million years? And yet in so many ways, it feels like yesterday.

I don’t know what it is about 2008, but ever since this year began, I have had a palpable feeling that everything was coming full circle somehow. It took me a few months to realize exactly what that meant, but now I have no doubt it involves you—and some important things I’d left undone and unsaid. Things you really need to know.

It’s strange that you would be on my mind now; I can’t explain why this is suddenly the case since I hadn’t thought about you much at all over the years. For my own survival, I’d willfully blocked you out of my thoughts to the point where it was as if you never existed in the first place. There was just no way I could’ve been your friend, not in any sort of active way, at least. It was just too painful to see you with another woman, so I did the only thing I could do. You made your choice; I made mine. I even concocted a story to tell people whenever they would ask me why I moved to Florida. And the mind is such a powerful thing that I actually believed it myself.

Look, I know it is ancient history, but I am so very sorry for everything I ever said or did to hurt you. You were so good to me, so kind and caring. If I had a time machine, I am certain I would go back and make very different decisions where you were concerned. If I could go back with the knowledge I have now, I would understand just what I’d had in you. In many ways, you were so much more mature. You saw qualities within me that I was unable or unwilling to see for myself. And I never truly appreciated that.

You once told me that I inspired you; but the truth is you inspired me, too. I never realized just what a catalyst you have been in my life. These last fourteen years have been an incredible personal and spiritual growth journey, one that would not have been possible without you. While I’ve endured some pretty traumatic experiences (along with good ones), I can see now how every seemingly insurmountable obstacle, every hour of darkness, every tear shed in moments of anguish, have all contributed to making me the mature, self-adjusted woman I am today.

There are absolutely incredible people in my life that I am blessed to call friends, my writing career is finally in full swing and my health is excellent (warm weather definitely agrees with me). Perhaps most significantly, my faith is stronger than it has ever been in my entire life. I owe all of this to you. Ken, you opened my eyes. You made me realize that the world—my world—was more expansive and wonderful than I’d ever imagined.

This may or may not be appropriate, but I want you to know that no man before or after you has ever treated me with the same amount of respect, affection and concern. Sadly, at 25, I didn’t know what I had. You were everything I didn’t know I wanted. Yes, hindsight, as they say, really is 20/20. And no matter where you are or what you are doing, I hope it makes you feel good to know just how much you have positively impacted my life. At least, that is the intention of this letter.

Anyway, I am sure you are an awesome father, and I pray that you are well and happy. Take care of yourself and God bless!


In this same chapter, I employed the literary technique of juxtaposition, to create more intrigue throughout the sections following the letter, which is where it also becomes a fusion of fact and fiction. Just like Maddy, I believed it safer to mail the letter to the home of the guy's parents, who happen to live in the same town. But since I had no way of knowing how it all went down from there, I had to use my imagination. Thus, in the very next scene, Ken's mother Paula Lockheart is engaged in an active power-walk in her neighborhood, while musing about all of the recent events in her son's life. This is also where we learn of Paula's deep-seated affection and love for her son:

Paula Lockheart looked at her pedometer and picked up the pace as she conducted her customary late-morning power walk. An attractive woman in her late-60’s, she was diligent about remaining active and eating right to maintain good health. After all, she had two adorable grandchildren to see into adulthood. And now that her youngest son had endured a bitter custody battle and an acrimonious divorce, she was more determined than ever to support him and his offspring.

She’d always been so proud of Ken; from the time he was a little boy, he’d been her most affectionate and devoted son. Even as a newborn, she’d noticed something different—and wonderful—about her “baby.” His soulful blue eyes showcased a natural exuberance and passion for life. And despite their modest means, she knew from the very beginning that her fourth and last child was destined to be a success in every sense of the word.

So when she bumps into her mailman and enters her air-conditioned home with a stack of mail, she's intrigued by the pink envelope addressed to her son, conspicuously missing the name of the sender, although bearing a return address. By this time, we've also discovered that Paula is an intuitive mother who nevertheless makes it a practice to refrain from interfering in her children's lives. Using more flashback, I have the character reminisce about Ken's heart-wrenching dilemma many years prior when "the girl from Media" shocked him by actually relocating to Florida. Engaged to another woman, we learn that Ken had met his mother at the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier to talk things out. And true to her nature, a sympathetic Paula listens but does not offer any advice other than to follow his heart.

All of this, dear readers, is a product of my imagination, conjured up at this particular juncture of the story to flesh out the character of Paula Lockheart (whom we'd only known through Ken up to this point), and clue readers in to some other previously unknown events that had taken place.

However, Ken's reaction to the news, and Madeline's concurrent visit to Disney World with her mother is a blend of fact and fiction. In real life, my mom and I took a few days to head to Orlando during one of her visits here to South Florida. We'd left on a Sunday and came back on a Wednesday night, making the 2 1/2 hour trip via car. And the night we got back, I listened to my voice mail and discovered a message from "Ken", recorded on the Sunday of our departure (so I must've just missed him) and apprising me of his mom's calling to inform him of the letter.

But the little fantasy he plays out in his mind while waiting to leave the voicemail is an example of creative license on the part of the author:

Ken felt his heart pound in his chest as he listened to the familiar ring tone and eagerly anticipated hearing the sounds of her sweet voice again. A few moments later he did, though it was via voicemail, and not the live version: Hi, this is Madeline Rose. I can’t take your call right now, but it is really important to me. Please leave me a message and I promise to return your call just as soon as I can. Talk to you soon and have a great day!

As her outgoing message played, he felt for the first time in over fifteen years the welcome bolt of electricity igniting his soul and coursing through his body; suddenly, it was 1992 again, and he and Maddy were making out on his waterbed, while the moonlight filtered through the skylight above them.

His hands caressed her face as he gazed into her expressive amber eyes. Nestled beneath his body, he could feel her heart beating fast while he placed his lips tenderly on hers, and then eventually tasted the sweetness of her mouth with his soft, subtle tongue. Maddy sighed, returning his advances with equal amounts of passion and fervor. In the background, the sensual sounds of their favorite music amplified their desires, steadily leading them on a mesmerizing path of fulfillment for body, mind and soul.

“Kenny?” Her voice was a mere whisper as he nibbled at her ear. He brought his face close to hers.

“Yes?” Her fingers traced the waves of his blond hair as she made her request.

“I want you to make love to me.”

Happily stunned, but wanting to confirm the words he’d been longing to hear ever since meeting her, he studied her face for a moment before asking, “You sure, sweetheart? ‘Cause you know I’d like nothing better than to make passionate love to you all night. I just need to know it’s what you really want, too. Otherwise, it won’t—”

Madeline answered him with a kiss that left him breathless as he proceeded to slowly unbutton her blouse to reveal her delicate, porcelain skin and the black lace of her bra. He began to trace kisses down her neck, working his way down to the curve of her breasts as he gently moved his hands over her. In the next moment, he carefully slid the garment off of her body and shifted her on top of him as he moved onto his back in one smooth move.

With her auburn hair cascading past her shoulders and her fair skin gleaming in the soft light, she far exceeded any vision of beauty he’d previously held in mind, both as an adolescent and a young man sailing around the world. He reached around her back to unhook the last trace of clothing from her chest, barely able to contain his excitement as delicious thoughts of finally seeing and experiencing every inch of her petite, curvy body conflicted with genuine concern for this being her very first time, and his desire to make it as beautiful for her as possible.

The whole concept of the "first time" is one that weaves its way throughout the entire novel because it is inextricably intertwined with the traditional values the characters espouse -- which are simultaneously a cause of tension and heartbreak via Ken and Madeline's inability to communicate effectively with each other.

Back to the voicemail.

The one Ken records in the novel is almost identical to the one "Ken" left for me. And the conversation the characters have the next morning -- the first in several years -- is faithful to the actual event.

Coming Soon: More on the fusion of fact and fiction.

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