Certain months are just harder than most. February is my dreaded month and my heroine, Katherine Hathaway, agrees. In this scene from my soon-to-be-released novel, Brooklyn Bitters, she foresees the hardest month of her life:
I sipped hot tea, stretched out on a recliner, gazing out my bedroom window. February had arrived with a whimper. The vivid colors of fall were now raked or withered, and gray clouds and misty rain cast their gloom over the city. A few Christmas trees laid decaying on the curb and the neighbor a few doors down begrudgingly leaned an old ladder against his house to remove the holiday lights. All of the tragedies in my life happened in February, twenty-eight days holding my breath and waiting for it to be over.
And here we are, in February. It can’t be a coincidence that February carries such a wallop.
Brooklyn Bitters is a different coming of age story. It covers the two year span of a woman facing middle age. Kate, the heroine, lived a conventional life until a chance meeting with a handsome and mysterious man in New York City. The relationship challenges how she sees her life and forces her to face some difficult truths:
I saw myself in that crowd. Not just now but twenty years from now. It wasn’t that long ago I was a young college student and in a blink had become a forty-year-old woman sitting in my sister’s house with Lindsey asking me why I never got married. It would only take another blink or two, and I’d be a white-haired woman sitting in this exact barstool with my head down after a bland visit with Gunner.
I wonder how many of us get to the point where we look back and wonder where the years went and why we didn’t take a different road. Kate is a different kind of character who embodies our most poignant thoughts.
Brooklyn Bitters is in the hands of my editor, Julia McVey. She’s a talented eagle-eye editor with a creative style.
I’m looking forward to getting Brooklyn Bitters in print. I had fun with the characters and appreciated help from Regina Farmer, my muse for Kate. She knew her, understood what motivated her, and was an inspiration.
I’m now immersed in my next novel, Old Coattails. Of course, the characters of Brooklyn are still with me. The heroine, Kate, visits her late friend and brother-in-law, Glenn, regularly. Over the years, she has developed an unusual attachment to his cemetery.
The English ivy, climbing along the fence, covered the latch on the cemetery gate. The plant gave me a rash every time I touched even the smallest leaf. The vine originated from a nineteenth-century church just outside the graveyard. Nobody maintained the grounds so the ivy took over, suffocating everything in its track. At least, it hadn’t reached beyond the third tree; although it was only a matter of time. Why Stacey chose this cemetery to bury Glenn, I wasn’t sure. She claimed there were fewer visitors so she could visit her husband in private. It didn’t make sense; prior to Glenn’s interment, there had not been anyone laid to rest here in over one-hundred years.
Twenty women were laid to rest in the cemetery. Their headstones only bore their name, date of birth and death. No epitaphs. A tiny cross was engraved in the stone so I assumed they were members of the abandoned church. Twelve of the women were buried next to a family member of the same general age, likely the husband. The remaining eight women were alone and had lived from ten to eighty two years. Long lives. I imagined that someone may have felt like me, going through the motions of life, reaching for more but hindered by duty. Perhaps a woman had reached the age of forty and realized she’d let the years go by without finding a partner.
Brooklyn Bitters, a mystery due to be released soon, has interesting characters including a prominent character who died ten years ago. His death is the source of sorrow and guilt…and a mystery to the heroine, Kate. In this scene, she wonders why visiting the cemetery stirs up so many questions.
I reached the first magnolia tree, turned, and stared back at his resting place. The lavender flowers drooped under the weight of the rain, thrashing in the holder with each wind gust. The sight made me queasy as dread swept over me. I let go of my umbrella and grabbed a low-hanging branch to regain my balance. After a long minute, my thoughts calmed and I looked at the grave again.
I’m waiting for something. I just don’t know what.
There’s always one character that’s easier and fun to write. In Pages in the Wind it was Doctor Lieberman, a lonely, celebrated psychiatrist with a sharp mind and tragic past. In Brooklyn Bitters, it’s Stacey, a self-indulgent narcissistic and sexy homemaker. Two entirely different characters. Why they were my personal favorites, I don’t know. They have nothing in common but just seemed to jump onto the page with ease. Here’s an excerpt of Stacey. Maybe you’ll sense why she was fun to write:
Her hairdresser, Debbie, raised her brows. “Quit yer belly achin’. Told ya we’d be done in forty-five minutes. Ain’t easy covering up your red roots. Why not go back to your natural color? Red’s in now.”
“No way! Men hate redheads. Besides, I was meant to be a blonde. All the beautiful actresses are blondes. You think Farrah Fawcett would have hit it so big as a redhead?”
Debbie shrugged. “Well, stop bugging me unless you want the world to know you’re a redhead.”
“Now, Deb! You know how I fret about these parties. Frank will die if he doesn’t make regional manager soon. He’s done everything to impress his boss. These parties give him a chance to strut his stuff. Plus, after a few martinis, the boss will loosen up.”
“Does the dude have a wife?” asked Debbie.
“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking…and yes, I aim to make her my best friend tonight.”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” she said, waving her brush. “A strapless dress is sure to get her knickers in a knot. Women don’t like sexy blondes sniffin’ around their husbands.”
Stacey giggled. “You might be right. She’s twenty pounds overweight with the sex appeal of an old nun.”
Debbie nodded. “I rest my case.”
Stacey pulled up the spaghetti strap on her purple tank top. “Well, I can’t disappoint Frank. He wouldn’t admit it, but he gets off when men can’t take their eyes off me. After all, he’s the lucky one going home with me. Tell you what…I won’t wear a push-up bra.”
She smirked. “Hell’s bells, you got cleavage in a turtleneck.”
The last draft is done. Done? Well, that’s relative for sure. It’s not easy to set the pen down and say the story is over. The characters have become friends and I hope I did them justice. Writing is gut wrenching and I’m great at second guessing. Some days I read the chapter and was happy and the next day I wanted to keep editing. Letting go is hard.
Brooklyn Bitters is different from my former novel, Pages in the Wind. Pages in the Wind was well received by the critics and I worry about comparisons. I can’t help wonder if sequels are easier, at least you already know the characters.
I love the characters in Brooklyn too, they are just different. They’re not as messed up as Pages so the message is more muted. But Kate, of Brooklyn Bitters, is close to my heart and I love her character. She grows and learns a lot during her journey and I especially appreciate the relationship she has with her mother and friend, Winona. Her sister, Stacey, was fun to write and tried to hyjack the story!
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned during this writing process:
* I need more privacy. When I wrote Pages, I had few interruptions. Now, I have fairly constant interruptions and that makes the writing process harder. I’ve had to go to a hotel a time or two. So, I need to improve my space.
*Beta readers are better during the second draft. For me, the first draft is bare bones and doesn’t reflect well. I prefer to keep the first draft to myself and get beta readers for the second.
*Editors should be reserved for the final. I made that mistake and it turned out to be a stupid thing to do and a waste of time and money.
*Having help for the research was so helpful. I had an amazing all-around brilliant PR expert that listened to my upcoming audio book, did research, and was a reader. She is golden. Thank you, Regina!
*Writing software is so-so. I like grammerly and autocrit but the latter is only effective to a point. It tags a lot of issues that aren’t really issues like passive words in dialogue etc… it’s great for checking repetition though. Pacing? Not so much, for me anyway.
*Reading apps that read the work back are great. Amazing what you can catch with the ear that you can’t catch with the eyes! Some are better than others and some won’t work with your computer. I have “Speak to me” and “Read to me.” The voices are somewhat flat but you have voice choices which helps. I dug the guy with the British accent.
Writer’s block is real. I think the lack of privacy contributed but definitely it’s a fact of life at times. And no fun! For me, I just kept writing. I got stuck on a few chapters and threw a lot away but kept writing until I broke through. I know some writers leave it and go back later, but that didn’t work for me. I prefer to keep writing and live with the frustration. In the long run, it worked out.
Every writer is different, I’m sure, but those are the lessons I’ve learned from this book. Now, on to the next!
Have you ever had a gut feeling that you ignored? In Pages in the Wind, Emily, our heroine, agrees to go on an outing with her father. Sounds good except it isn’t…at seventeen, it is their first time alone. He’s never said a kind word to her. Still, she longs to have a dad and agrees to go. Let’s just say it did not go well:
We stopped at a new red Corvette. The old saying “money can’t buy happiness” didn’t apply to Father. Since retiring from the Navy and inheriting Grandma’s money, he splurged on designer suits, Rolex watches, and now a fancy hot rod.
He swung open the passenger door. “Cool ride, aye?”
“Sure.” I got into the car thinking how his new haircut, suntan, and casual clothes made him appear younger than his fifty years.
He stepped on the gas. “Here we go!”
“Yeah,” I said, cringing at my one-word vocabulary.
He chatted about the car, from the V8 engine, the chrome grill, the convertible top, and the top-of-the-line options. He drove ten miles over the speed limit, which made the cabin roar. I nodded with a steady stream of “wows” and “cools.” If he rattled off car features all night, right down to the top stitching on the seats, that would be perfect because we had nothing in common, and I wouldn’t have to talk much.
He turned down an isolated road. I glanced at him and wondered why he stopped talking. The road had no streetlights. No porch lights. In spite of the unlit street, he did not slow down.
My muscles tensed. The headlights on his sports car beamed like dull flashlights into the darkness. The road was narrow with shadows of vegetation on both sides. No other cars were on the road. Father drove in silence with his eyes straight ahead.
The wind whipped through the ragtop as adrenaline pumped through my body. I had to think fast. Clues I hadn’t thought of before now seemed obvious. He had never taken me anywhere alone before tonight. I’d never seen the car before so he probably rented it. He drove fast. Too fast to survive a fall. He had planned the outing for one reason.
He’s going to murder me.
Brooklyn Bitters, my upcoming book due out this summer, deals with lies, alliances, love, and family loyalty. It’s a character-driven read. In this scene, the main character deals with a range of emotions as she comes face-to-face with her mother’s awakening from a long term coma.
I peered into the darkness for her eyes. Spontaneous whimpers escaped my lips as I held my breath, trying to remain calm and not frighten her. Night had grabbed the light from the room, making it hard to see the outline of her face. But turning on a lamp would splinter the moment and startle her. I don’t know why, but the vision of a newborn seized from a mother’s womb flashed through my mind. The babies always, always cried.