This week on Author on the Couch,
I conduct a session with
Marilyn is giving away a digital copy of her book DIRECT DEPOSIT to one lucky person who comments on the blog and a $5.00 Amazon Gift Card to another one! Two chances to win!
Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Marilyn: Divorcing at age 59 after almost 38 years of marriage nearly knocked the socks off me. I had just finished writing my first novel, had finaled in an online pitch contest with a big publishing house and whammo! My own HEA came tumbling down around me. I had married right out of college, so I went from my parents’ home, to a college dorm, to married life. Being a wife and mother was my life. I was still a mother (and a grandmother by then). But who was I going to be now that I wasn’t a wife anymore? Just as every coin had two sides, this experience has two sides. There was the hurt and disappointment and anger surrounding the divorce. I moved from my house to an apartment and started life as a single woman – something I’d never really done before. But thanks to a wonderful divorce recovery program my counselor suggested, I learned about the grieving process and how to work through that. And best of all, I became friends with a group of other women going through later-in-life divorces and we have become the best of friends. A bad experience brought us together, but our determination to survive divorce as stronger women has kept our friendship strong. It also doesn’t hurt that we have so very much in common aside from being divorced.
If we had to pick a theme song for our lives now, it would either be Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” or Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Or maybe it might just be “Uptown Funk.” Hot damn! P.S. The book was rejected but that rejection seemed minor in comparison to what I was going through in my personal life. Funny how circumstances can change your perception of things, isn’t it?
Me: Divorce is hell. It’s one of those earth shattering, life changing, nothing-will-ever-be-the-same events. It takes a while to find a new normal.
“I Will Survive” is such an empowering song! I had to share it!
What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Marilyn: Persistence. I simply refuse to give up. If the scene isn’t working, or the turn of phrase isn’t quite right or my editor points out my heroine has turned into a witch with a capital B, I just won’t stop until I’ve made it right.
Me: What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Marilyn: I tend to be a procrastinator, and that often leads to late nights and 5-Hour energy shots at deadline time, which leads to sleepy afternoons at work. You’d think I’d learn, but nooooooooo. I do it every time. <sigh> It took me five years to finish my first book because I kept putting off getting serious about it. But once I made the decision to finish that book (and I stated it publicly in an RWA chapter meeting so I had witnesses and had to be accountable), the aforementioned persistence got me to “and they lived happily ever after.”
Me: What was your high point as a writer—a time when you were happiest, on cloud nine, flying high? What happened?
Marilyn: In March of 2013, Chris Keeslar of Boroughs Publishing Group came to speak to my RWA chapter (and a big shout out to Heart of Dixie Romance Writers, THE best chapter ever!). He mentioned Boroughs novella contest, which had been announced the previous month. They wanted novellas based on a song. A year before I’d been working on a story about an image consultant who is hired by her college boyfriend’s mother to get him all spiffed up for working in the corporate world. It was titled Seduction with Style. But while brainstorming with a friend, she told me to listen to Kenny Chesney’s “Better as a Memory” because the lyric sounded so much like my hero. I was still getting through the aftermath of the divorce, so the book wasn’t coming along very well, but after hearing Chris talk, and at the urging of a few good friends from my chapter, I decided to make the story a novella instead of a full-length book, finish the darned thing and enter. The contest had several rounds and advancing through them was dependent on votes. So I promoted the contest and my story all over the internet – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, you name it. The winner was to be announced at the RWA conference in Atlanta. No, I didn’t win (the editors picked the final winner), but I did have the most popular votes, and because of that, they would publish my novella AND I was invited to submit a full-length manuscript. I was going to be a published author! And I flew even higher when my editor said she loved the full-length book and offered a contract on that. By the way, that’s the book that took five years to write and was rejected by that big publishing house.
Me: What was your low point as a writer?
Marilyn: The divorce was my low point. I know it sounds like all I can talk about, but it’s a major life change and a huge stress factor. From start to finish, the divorce took about two years and involved my moving from my house to an apartment, another huge stressor. I could hardly write a coherent grocery list, much less a romance novel. What got me over it was the divorce recovery group I mentioned earlier. I learned about the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and that I had to work through those stages in order to come out as a whole person. I did a lot of journaling during that time and took my anger out on the pages of my journal. I spent several years in counseling and am not ashamed to admit it. I believe it’s not a sign of weakness to admit you need help and get it. A weak person wouldn’t seek help. I attended the local divorce recovery program, and then a friend and I drove 200 miles roundtrip every Tuesday for forty weeks to attend an advanced level of this program. I compare grief to the worst roller coaster ride on earth where you have highs and lows, twists and turns and the car zooms past the station and won’t let you off. We both wanted very much to work through the grief and get off that roller coaster. And we did! And I’m writing again and I just sold my 3rd book at the RWA conference in New York City!
Me: How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Marilyn: I was late getting into romance novels. I didn’t pick up my first one until 2001, but once I did, I was hooked! I’d done some non-fiction writing years before, but nothing serious or aimed toward publication. And I had written some fanfiction about a TV show from the 90’s. Once I started reading romance, I decided to stop writing about someone else’s characters and start creating characters of my own. If Linda Howard and Roxanne St. Claire and Leanne Banks and all those other romance writers could write a book, so could I!
Me: How many books have you written?
Marilyn: I have completed (and published) a short story, a novella and two full-length novels. But I’ve also sold over forty short stories to the confessions and romance magazines. How long does it take? That first one took five years. The second one was a NaNoWriMo project and I had a really dirty first draft in thirty days. After I finish this third book, which I’m just starting, I’ll tell you what the typical length of time is. <grin>
Me: What’s the most painful part of the writing process for you?
Marilyn: The most painful part for me is figuring out what happens after the cute meet. I can have a premise for a story and have my hero and heroine meet, but then what? That’s where a good brainstorming session comes in handy, and I had an amazing one with my editor at the conference in NYC.
Me: What’s your life motto? Why does that motto speak to you?
Marilyn: Here we go again with the divorce stuff, but at the beginning of it, my sister sent me a magnet with this saying: Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end. That spoke to me because it gave me hope. I knew the ride would be bumpy and would take a lot of work on my part. But knowing there was an end gave me the strength to work through problems and sometimes find new and different ways to deal with them. And this spills over into my new single life too. I recently bought my very first all-my-own home – a two-bedroom condo. I had to juggle my apartment lease, the closing on my condo, the mortgage application process, packing, moving AND revising a book. And yes, it was all OK in the end.
Me: Tell me about your book PICTURE THIS.
When it comes to relationships, Tess Callahan is gun-shy. An ambitious Atlanta divorce attorney, she’s seen the aftermath of relationships gone bad, which is why she has no time in her life for any man except for Nick Russo. Handsome and exciting, he’s the perfect choice to give her all she desires—including the fact he’s never around long enough for things to get complicated. Until suddenly they do.
Nick Russo has the world. His job as a photographer takes him everywhere, and he wouldn’t give that life up for anyone, not even the beautiful and brilliant Tess Callahan. Or so he thinks. An unexpected pregnancy is about to bring everything into focus, a brighter and more colorful world than he ever thought to imagine. The possibilities are endless, and they’re something he can capture not just on film but in reality.
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from your newest release.
Marilyn: I love this scene because of the playful banter between Tess and Nick. I love old movies, especially those with Tracy and Hepburn or Cary Grant. They are full of back and forth dialogue, and I wanted to recreate that in this scene and others in the book. My editor and I went through a couple sets of revisions, and with each set I’d read her notes, have a primal scream session and then buckle down and write. Thank you, Spencer and Kate and Cary, for your inspiration!
Let me set things up a bit. My hero and heroine have been friends with benefits for a couple years. He travels frequently as a magazine photographer. He returns from a long assignment and runs into her quite by accident at a home improvement store to discover (1) she’s pregnant and (2) she’s possibly in early labor. The doctor puts her on forced bedrest and she has hired a woman named Wendy as a home health aide.
“Your lunch is in the fridge, but first I have some good news and some bad news,” he announced. “Which do you want first?”
Oh hell, what now? Had Wendy the Wonder Maid replaced all her dishes with paper plates so she wouldn’t have to wash them? Or had all her matching red KitchenAid appliances disappeared along with Wendy? Or worse yet, had Wendy followed through on her threat to have her brother-in-law Garland get rid of the cat?
“Let’s go ahead and get the bad news over with.” She released a resigned sigh. Her life had been nothing but bad news lately.
“Now just take a deep breath and relax. I don’t want you having a repeat performance of—”
“Just tell me,” she ground out through clenched teeth.
“I fired Wendy.”
For a moment, Tess wondered how this could be bad given the woman’s multitude of flaws and annoying behavior. But then she remembered she would have no one to help her.
“Who died and made you head of personnel? Are you crazy?” she exclaimed with irritation. “What am I going to do now? You heard the doctor as clearly as I did. I have to stay off my feet as much as possible. Granted Wendy isn’t the world’s greatest home care aide.”
“And that is the world’s biggest understatement.”
“I’ve been trying to look for someone else to take her place. I called a few more agencies this morning, but it will take time to do another round of interviews and what am I supposed to do in the meantime? You had no right to fire her, Nick.”
“It just made good sense. The flower bed below the back deck is nearly covered in cigarette butts.”
Nothing in her life made good sense anymore, but that didn’t solve her dilemma. “That’s because I won’t let her smoke in the house.”
“But does she have to litter the yard? Hasn’t she ever heard of an ashtray?”
“Will you please buy one and put it on the deck and beg her to come back?”
“The woman is incompetent and lazy,” Nick continued. “I came in and found her spraying your towels with freshener and tossing them in the dryer instead of washing them. She was, however, bringing her personal laundry here and using your washer and dryer. She was also drinking on the job. I found beer cans in the garbage can outside when I cleaned up the flower bed.”
Tess found herself speechless. Nick’s revelation took Wendy’s incompetence to a new level.
“Besides, she called me Mr. Callahan.”
Tess stifled a laugh, then became serious. “So what’s the good news?”
“I thought you’d never ask. I found you a great replacement.” Nick’s mouth curved into a wide smile.
Tess didn’t like that smile. It was the sort of smile someone gave before they handed you a salt shaker with the cap unscrewed or slipped a whoopee cushion into your chair.
“Should I be worried?” Tess asked, her voice filled with apprehension.
“Not at all. This person comes highly recommended by my mother and works for much less than that bleached blonde nicotine-addicted grammar school dropout who called herself a home health aide.”
“If she’s so good, why does she charge less?” A worried look furrowed Tess’s brow. “This doesn’t sound right, Nick. Is she in the country illegally or something? Who is she?”
“She’s not illegal,” Nick reassured her. “As a matter of fact, she’s not a she at all.”
“Not a she?” He had hired a man to come into her home and work?
Tess opened and closed her mouth like a landed fish. “You?” she asked, irked by his gall. “What do you know about being a home health aide?”
“A hell of a lot more than the one I just fired. I told you, Tess, it made sense to let her go, and it makes sense for me to move back in until the baby arrives. I work for free, and I’ll feed you decent meals and make sure you follow doctor’s orders. Didn’t you say you were going to get a nanny? By the time you have the baby, you’ll have Mary Poppins all lined up and I’ll go back to my place.”
He did make sense, though she’d be damned if she told him she agreed. Letting him take over for Wendy would be de facto agreement, and she would have to live with that.
“We have to have some rules, though. Some boundaries.”
“Like what?” Nick fixed his sights on her, a move she viewed as a challenge.
What indeed? Telling him not to walk around in his underwear? She had seen him in less than that. Leaving the toilet seat up? Putting the cap back on the toothpaste? He wouldn’t share her bathroom so those were pointless.
“Well, no funny business,” she finally said, boldly meeting his gaze.
He smothered a laugh and stared at her abdomen. “I think we’ve already done the funny business.”
His disregard for the gravity of her circumstances infuriated her. “You know what I mean.”
His expression sobered and he shook his head in agreement.
“I should put this in the form of a legal contract.”
“If that’s what you want, I’ll be happy to sign it.”
“Then I can sue your ass off if you breach it.”
“Me? Breach an anti-funny business contract?” He clutched his chest dramatically. “You wound me, Tess.”
“I’m not going to bother though. I’d have to type it and you’d just fuss at me for working.” She held out her hand. “We can shake on it. And understand that oral agreements have been held up in court.”
He shook her hand and then kissed the palm. “Got it,” he said, ticking off on his fingers. “Oral and funny business.” The bed shook with his laughter.
“Out.” She pointed to the door. “Now.”
Nick pushed up from the bed and sauntered to the doorway, still laughing. He paused, then looked back over his shoulder at her. He smiled at her again and waggled his eyebrows. “I believe it’s going to be fun being your new chief cook and bottle washer.”
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Abbie Roads writes dark emotional books featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. Her first book will be out Summer 2016.