Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Books of the Year! (not)

It’s that time of year again …. The time where every newspaper and magazine that covers pop culture comes out with their best books of the year. I’ve seen lists in magazines like Salon, Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly … and even in these diverse periodicals, the books are pretty much the same. And I’ve read half of one of them.

What does it take for a book to be named one of the best of the year, or to get a glowing review from a major publication? From my admittedly jaded viewpoint, these books are either poetic-sounding historical literary fiction with titles like “Breath Forms Clouds of Sunlight,” or a non-fiction tome that could double as a dictionary, usually a biography about some nineteenth century general or cabinet member.

These books may be heavy and important, but they’re usually not fun. And I like fun. I read for fun.

It makes me wonder whether these lists are helpful in getting more people to read, or if the majority react the way I do – that reading these books is a task, something you have to do, like exercise or flossing or getting a colonoscopy.

I fell in love with reading at a very early age. Some of my earliest memories are of my favorite picture books, like “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” In early elementary school, I was addicted to the “Little House” books. A year or so later, my mother introduced me to some of Beverly Cleary’s books about teenagers. Even when I went away to sleep away camp in the mountains, I could usually be found in the library.

In middle school and high school, though, reading became a chore. It’s almost as if reading and English teachers deliberately assign the most obtuse, plodding work available. Rather than getting lost in intriguing stories and characters I could identify with, I was totally lost looking for symbolism and foreshadowing and trying to decipher strange vocabulary.

This is also the period where I got hooked on certain serial TV shows. Coincidence? I think not. It wasn’t until I’d graduated college, got my first fulltime job and needed something to do during those metro commutes that I discovered reading for pleasure again.

My son underwent a similar journey. I read to him from the time he could understand words, and together we went from Curious George to Harry Potter, with Animorphs and private investigators in between. And then the public school system struck. When he brought “Sarah Plain and Tall” home from the first grade, I knew it was all over. And while as a college student he’s become a voracious reader, unfortunately it’s all non-fiction. (although with some of those political books he likes, calling them non-fiction could be a stretch.)

I love women’s fiction. Early Stephen King-style horror. Mysteries with female protagonists, especially if they’re PIs. In other words, nothing you’d see reviewed on the front page of the New York Times book section.

Jennifer Weiner is well-known for speaking out about how female authors who write in her genre aren’t reviewed the way male authors are. Recently Jodi Picoult gave an interview with a similar complaint. Sadly, Jennifer is viewed as “Jennifer Whiner,” as some – including other authors – see her complaints as personally motivated. I don’t doubt her personal situation figures into her feelings somewhat, but the issue is bigger than that, and bigger than one or two authors. When Liane Moriarty can take over the New York Times bestseller list but be ignored for reviews in that same newspaper, it isn’t just about her, or Jennifer, or Jodi. It’s about you and me and every reader (and all these authors have owned the Times’ lists) who enjoys books in this genre. (And don’t get me started on the romance genre. I’m not a reader, but it’s the most popular genre in publishing.) These publications are saying our tastes don’t matter. We don’t matter. If we’re not reading “Blue Butterfly, Black Clouds” then we don’t deserve to have books in our genre evaluated. If it’s good, bad, whatever … we’re on our own.

And it’s also frustrating to me as a writer, because even though the conventional advice is “write what you know/write what you want to read,” when I do that, I hear back that that’s not what publishers think they can sell. Is this related to the review dilemma? I don’t know. I do know that while a positive New York Times review pretty much guarantees bestseller status, there are plenty of bestsellers that don’t get reviewed by any well-known magazines. I’ve even seen a few self-published books on that list. So I think I’m writing what people (at least women like me) want to read, but unfortunately that opinion is not shared by those in charge.

I’m currently about halfway into one of the books that’s been on many of the end-of-year lists. It’s good, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what makes it so special. If this had come to me as one of the manuscripts in the slush pile for the literary agent I work for, I might have told her to pass on it.

But what do I know, anyway? I’m just another average Weiner/Picoult/Moriarty fan, someone who loves Emily Giffin and Sophie Kinsella and her job reviewing books for Chick Lit Central.

Oh, and I’m someone who bought 83 books for her Kindle last year. Eighty three. And 2014 isn’t over yet.

And not one of them was called “The Peculiar Insurrections.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Most Interesting Man in the World

You all know who I’m talking about. Sharks have a week about him. Cuba imports cigars from him. When sailing around the world, he found a shortcut.

And he’s the star of your book.

Okay, the Dos Equis spokesman is not literally the protagonist of your novel. But the point is … your protagonist needs to be the most interesting man in the world. Or at least the most interesting person in your book.

Last week, in talking about back story, I noted that the current action of your novel needs to be about the most important events in your protagonist’s life – which is why some manuscripts that have the most important event occurring in the back story are so problematic. This is a similar rule – your protagonist needs to be the most interesting person in the story.

Many children and YA authors get this instinctively. It’s not “Ron Weasley and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” YA novels are littered with narrators who discover that they are the “chosen ones” for some universe. This can get tiresome if YA is your forte – how many damned chosen ones can there be, anyway – but really, who wants to read about the chosen one’s best friend? “I stared at my phone, willing her to text me back, while I imagined her in the sky, flying around on eagles and trying to kill the last dragon.” Um, no.

And, yes, this is why I don’t write YA.

I’ve read a surprising number of unpublished and self-published manuscripts where the protagonist was not the most interesting person in the room. They stood off to the side, describing their lives in the corner as their sister, or best friend, or ex-lover became a witch, or a movie star, or queen.

The only writer I know who got away with this was F. Scott Fitzgerald, and my English teacher took pains to distinguish Nick Carraway as the narrator but Jay Gatsby was definitely the protagonist. You, dear friend, are not F. Scott Fitzgerald, and you are not writing “The Great Gatsby.” And neither am I. Besides, look how Fitzgerald’s life turned out. Do you want to be him? No.

Movies get this right. Movies always get this right. No one puts Baby in a corner. Luke Skywalker might have been whiny, but he was the chosen one. (Forget what Lucas said about Vader being the protagonist of the series. Lucas lost all credibility with “The Phantom Menace.”) Indiana Jones. Probably the only exception to this rule is the possessed demon child in a horror movie or the serial killer in a slasher flick – they may be the most interesting person in the story, but we are not rooting for them to succeed. Usually. And let’s face it, would “Silence of the Lambs” be as gripping if Clarice hadn’t had those screams in her back story?

If you’re writing a story like this now, please take a deep breath and stop. In some genres – detective fiction, maybe women’s fiction – there are other characters (and sometimes they are real sickos) who will be more complicated and compelling than your protagonist. If you’re working in such a genre, add dramatic back story and character quirks to make your protagonist as complicated as the villain she tracks. But if your protagonist is named Lisa and she’s flirting with a waiter while her sister learns to dance from the camp hunk, think again about who your protagonist should be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It’s All About the Back Story … Except When it Isn't

One of the first pieces of advice writers are given when they embark on a new story is about the importance of back story. We’re told to write elaborate character bios that spell out the events that shape their current personality and choices. We’re advised to create timelines so we can better picture what happened and when. Detail is important. Things that happened in the past matter.

Or not.

I’ve read several manuscripts and self-published novels lately that went overboard on the back story. With advice such as the above, this is easy to do. But writers need to remember that the novel is about the most important thing that happened in the protagonist’s life. If the most important thing happened in the back story, you’re telling the wrong story.

Back story is usually dealt with in one of three major ways:
 Referred to in dialogue or narrative;
 Through flashbacks
 With non-linear storytelling that features chapters and sections with scene work occurring in the past.

Which option is right for your story?

Many writers make the mistake in thinking that their back story is more important than it actually is. They create elaborate flashbacks that show exactly how a long-married couple first met and the issues they had building their house. It’s become important to the writer because they spent so much time writing those character bios and timelines. But it’s probably not important to the present storyline. Unless the husband has died and left the wife a cryptic clue about something buried in the walls of that first house, it’s perfectly fine to deal with this back story in conversation.

Most writers dealing in women’s fiction, romantic comedy, and other stories with straightforward narratives don’t really need much backstory beyond what can easily be explained. I recently reviewed Ann Lewis Hamilton’s novel Expecting for Chick Lit Central. The novel has a subplot about a man reconnecting with a college girlfriend on Facebook. In the hands of a less experienced writer, readers might have been forced to wade through long, elaborate flashbacks of their romance, or, God forbid, whole chapters devoted to their past relationship. Luckily Hamilton recognized that the details of the relationship were unimportant and gave the reader only what she needed to know.

Of course there are stories that call for a more detailed treatment of back story. Writers such as Jojo Meyers and Sarah Jio are well known for weaving together past and present almost seamlessly. Their stories tend to have mysteries at their core, and giving the reader that up close look at what actually happened plays an important role in the enjoyment of the story, and allowing the reader to try to solve the mystery along with the protagonist.

Some writers of literary fiction prefer non-linear narratives, oftentimes creating the feeling that past and present are closely linked. In these types of stories, character motivation is paramount, and chapters that detail the past let readers get to know the characters in ways that a few flashbacks or lines of narrative cannot deliver. Literary fiction tends to be more character-driven than plot-driven, so readers tend to fully immerse themselves in the reading experience without asking how certain scenes relate to the plot.

Every story is different, and back story will always play some role. In a blog post, it’s difficult to advise beyond generalities. But generally speaking, it’s usually not as important as most newbie writers think it is. Most histories can be dealt with in narrative description or in a conversation between characters. It’s something writers should ask their beta readers about: How much is too much? Back story is one area that is rife with babies to kill.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hope Over Experience: Getting on the Querying Merry-Go-Round One More Time

A marriage after divorce is said to be a triumph of hope over experience. So is querying agents with a new novel after previous works have been rejected. Here I go!

I sent out my first query letter in 1992. That was before the internet, so everything was snail mail and enclosed SASEs for a response. This was a murder mystery in which a college student was the main suspect. I got a few requests for the first ten pages and some nice feedback after entering a contest. I heard a lot of, “No one reads about college students so there’s no market for this.” It was twenty years before the New Adult category was formed. I think I still have that manuscript somewhere … I should pull it out and take a look … (luckily I printed the whole thing out because I’m pretty sure it ended up being saved to a floppy disk somewhere. Remember floppy disks? Remember disks?)

A few years later, I started writing screenplays, so those queries went more to production companies and managers. Got a lot of really nice rejections. I wrote scripts for about ten years; long enough to meet some other terrific writers and watch as they planned to make their own movies. At the same time, self-publishing began to get hot. I thought if I wrote a novel and couldn’t get an agent, self-publishing would be much easier than making my own movie. Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, for after sending out about 70 queries to agents, I did end up self-publishing KEEPING SCORE. And the publishing part was easy. It’s the marketing that makes me want to tear my hair out ….

I may end up self-publishing my vampire novel THE TIES THAT BLEED. This novel was based on a screenplay I wrote back in 2002, and won a few awards with. I got a few requests for fulls, and again these rejections were really nice – the book was good, but since it was in a cold genre, it had to be amazing, and it wasn’t quite there. I’ve got it out to a few small publishers, but in the back of my mind I’m picturing cover art and wondering how to market this one.

And now THE SEESAW EFFECT. I’ve posted a few excerpts from this one -- it’s about a Democrat married to a Republican who becomes the next Rush Limbaugh. Since tone-wise, it’s similar to KEEPING SCORE, I contacted all the agents who’d requested to read KEEPING SCORE. And I got a few requests … one of which already warned me, “This is going to be a tough sell.”

And I know that. It’s got politics, and apparently no one wants touch politics. But I wrote the story I wanted to write, and if I end up self-publishing this one too, so be it. But I’d really like to get an agent out of this. I’ve been dreaming about being published since I was a child, and despite the explosion in self-publishing, it isn’t the same as being traditionally published.

I’ve learned a lot since I sent out that first query in 1992 – mainly because I’ve been working for a literary agent for the past year and a half, so I read several queries sent to her a week. (But only the ones that result in manuscript requests.) One detail I try to keep in mind is that a well-written query can feature a good story and still get rejected because it’s not something the agent is interested in, or it’s a genre that doesn’t sell, or it’s a genre that’s completely flooded. Rejections at this stage in the game are the easiest for me to handle, because I know they aren’t based on my project. The ones that come after the request for a full …. Those are tough.

Hope springs eternal, but I’m bracing myself for rejection. If I don’t get an agent for this project, I’ll look for small independent publishers before taking the self-published route again. And I’ve started my next book – a murder mystery that I’m hoping is more marketable than a book about politics. So please wish me luck!

In case you’re interested, my query letter is below:

Dear Ms. XXXX,

A lot of Democrats lost their jobs this Election Day … but not many are married to the next Rush Limbaugh! That’s the dilemma facing Erin Murphy, heroine of my light women’s fiction novel, THE SEESAW EFFECT.

When it comes to the work/life seesaw, Erin is a balancing-act expert. True, she works for Democrats while her husband Jack is a spokesman for Republicans, but at home they’re in sync. Their jobs stay at the office. Their children -- 13-year-old animal-nut Jessica and 8-year-old Batman-obsessed Michael – come first. And her career is just as important as his.

But on Election Day, everything changes. Suddenly, Erin is out of a job … and Jack is the new star of The Right Choice TV network! As Erin searches frantically for her next position, Jack begins to practice what he preaches. Their house turns into a battlefield: What’s wrong with saying “Merry Christmas” to their Jewish neighbors? How can there be global warming when it’s cold outside? Jessica takes her mother’s side (her father is a “disgusting planet murderer”), while Michael just thinks it’s cool that Dad’s on TV and he’s making a million dollars.

And Michael’s not the only one impressed with the family’s new money: Who are all these new people floating around Jack, and what do they want? As Erin’s friends take sides about what she should do with Jack 2.0, the only person who understands is a fellow stay-at-home parent: Scott. Scott is easy to look at, and just as frustrated with his marriage as Erin is…

But the biggest battle is Erin’s alone: Should she keep pounding the pavement? Or become a perfect trophy wife and mother that Jack now wants her to be? Without a title and a salary, how can Erin figure out who she really is?

THE SEESAW EFFECT is complete at 87,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Jane Porter (ODD MOM OUT), Jennifer Weiner (ALL FALL DOWN), Helen Fielding (BRIDGET JONES: MAD ABOUT THE BOY), and anyone who enjoys stories about life, love and parenting in the upscale suburbs. While many “momlit” books focus on mothers with babies, THE SEESAW EFFECT stands out by featuring a protagonist with teen and pre-teen children who have strong, vocal opinions about their parents.

Last year, I self-published a women’s fiction novel with a similar tone, KEEPING SCORE. KEEPING SCORE appeared on e-book bestseller lists several times, and has a 5-star average rating with 55 reviews on Amazon. Last fall, it reached number six on Amazon’s women’s fiction humor list, and number three on Barnes & Noble’s chick lit list. Before I started writing novels, I wrote screenplays for ten years (winning awards for some of them), and worked in marketing and public relations in Washington, D.C.

Along with my own writing, I’m also an editorial consultant and reader for the XXXX Agency in New York City, and an associate reviewer for the popular book web site, Chick Lit Central ( My own opinions are found at and @JamiDeise.

Per the guidelines on your website, I’ve pasted below my sig line my synopsis and first two chapters.

All the best,

Jami Deise

Monday, November 17, 2014

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby – Stupid Movie, Serious Messages

This post is part of Deb Nam-Krane’s blog hop on stupid movies we love…

If there were a lifetime achievement award given to the movie actor who has made the most stupid movies, Will Ferrell would be a shoe-in. Everyone has their favorite: My son loves “Stepbrothers;” “Elf” has become a holiday classic. My favorite is “Talladega Nights” – not because it’s funnier than the others, (and despite all the annoying product placement) but because it relies on the standard sports movie tropes, emphasizing their truths in the process.

As a sports mom, I am particularly interested in these kinds of messages, messages that emphasize the lessons my husband and I tried to impart to our son when he struggled. Many sports movies, however, hit viewers over the head with those messages, becoming preachy and less entertaining.

It is very entertaining watching a man try to drive a car with a cougar in the back seat.

Talladega Nights’ hero, Ricky Bobby, was introduced to speed when his father hit dizzying heights driving his laboring mother to the hospital. Unfortunately, his father, Reese, left a few years later, but not before giving his son these words of wisdom: If you ain’t first, you’re last. The memory of those words and Ricky Bobby’s love for speed drove his racing career. He was at the top until an accident at the track left him with psychosomatic paralysis. In short order, his wife left him for his best friend Cal, his racing company fired him, and even after a knife to the leg proved he wasn’t “so paralyzed,” he was forced to move back in with his mother and two feral sons, and take a job delivering pizza. Eventually, though, thanks to the cougar, help from his mom, and a pep talk from his former assistant Susan, Ricky put together his own driving team for Talladega. He doesn’t win – he gets into an accident with his French rival, and they cross the finish line on foot, while gives Cal first place – but he learns all those important lessons that sports movies teach:

Winning isn’t everything.
 Losing isn’t everything.
 Don’t let success go to your head.
 Don’t listen to people who tell you you’re not good enough.
 Get back on the horse.
 Learn who you can trust, and who has their own agenda.
 Be open-minded toward those who are different.
 The brainy girl who gets you is a better bet that the self-centered hottie.

Did you miss the fact that universal lessons were being taught as you laughed at Ricky Bobby’s ridiculous dialogue and crazy situations? Probably. The jokes are hysterical. I could watch on a continuous loop Ricky Bobby running from the invisible fire while praying to every god known to modern man. (Okay, Tom Cruise is no longer a god.) And the list of funny quotes on IMDB is probably ten pages long.

But the reason why this movie resonates with audiences beyond teenage boys and men who love fart jokes is because Americans grow up on sports movies, and the lessons they teach are ones that we use in our daily lives, even if the only sports we’re involved in are the ones that entail sitting on the couch and watching other people play.

Next up: My very good friend Melissa Amster. I’m dying to see what movie she picked!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

THE SEESAW EFFECT -- Election Day excerpt

Another excerpt from my almost done work-in-progress, THE SEESAW EFFECT, about what happens when a Democrat married to a Republican has to watch him become the next Rush Limbaugh. Progress on this work has taken a while... I started it during NaNoWriMo two years ago. As in, right when Obama got re-elected.

This morning sucks for Democrats, but it's no different than 2006. I saw this coming two years ago -- everyone should have. Things will get better. Remember what Martin Luther King Jr. said: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

* * *

Jessica opened her mouth to protest, but then the camera closed in on Jack, and we were on our way.

“Good evening, America,” he said. “Tonight’s the night we’ve been waiting for for the past two years. Tonight’s the night we take back our country.”

I felt dread in my stomach as I looked at my husband’s eyes. He seemed to believe what he was saying.

In the end, it was as bad as I’d feared. Republicans took every close seat, and I spent the evening sending out press releases while watching Jack gloat on TV. Whenever a Democrat went down, he played the chorus from “Another One Bites the Dust.”

“Dad’s acting like an asshole,” Jessica complained.

“That’s what they’re paying him to do.”

Michael thought his dad being on TV was the coolest thing ever. He laughed at everything Jack said, even when he wasn’t trying to make a joke. And he gave me a hard time when I insisted that he go to bed at his normal bed time.

“But Dad –“

“I’m DVRing it,” I assured him. “You’ll be able to watch the whole thing again tomorrow if you want. You can watch it again every day for the rest of your life if you want.”

“What. Ever,” he said. At the next commercial, he trudged off to bed.

“I don’t get it, Mom,” Jessica said. “How could all those Republicans win? I don’t even know any Republicans, except Dad. And most of the time I think he’s faking.”

“Republicans are good at scaring the crap out of people. And scared people are more likely to vote than people who are content.”

“Then why aren’t you scaring the crap out of people?” she demanded. “The entire planet is going to melt because of global warming. You’re supposed to be getting people elected to stop that. But you didn’t!”

There’s nothing like having your teenage daughter blame you for the destruction of the entire planet to really put your failures into perspective.

Right at 11pm, Jack gleefully called the final contested races on the west coast. I sent out the last of my press releases, and Jessica headed off to bed. When TRC replaced “You Vote, We Report” with a repeat of their headline show “Tempest in a Teacup,” I texted Jack: “Great job. When do you think you’ll be coming home?”

I cleaned up the kitchen, brushed my teeth, changed into my pajamas and set the alarm. By the time I fell asleep, I still hadn’t heard back from him.

Chapter Five

When my alarm blared at 6, I rolled over, but Jack still wasn’t there. I grabbed my phone – he had texted me around 2:00am:

“Party still going on. Staying at hotel tonight.”

Fabulous. I guess I should be grateful he had at least bothered to text me.

I dragged the kids out of bed and made sure they were getting ready. Mercedes took over at 7:00am, and I left for work.

The sun was shining and everything seemed normal – the stop lights still worked, although traffic itself was light. Walking down the sidewalk to my office, I noticed a feeling of gloom in the air. Everyone I passed had slumped shoulders and a dazed look on their face. It wasn’t surprising – at its heart, Washington D.C. is a Democratic town. Sure, there are plenty of Republican congressional staffers and lobbyists, but mostly the idealists who move here to change the world tend to vote blue.

At the office, there was a huge spread of donuts, coffee and bagels in the conference room. My colleagues were chowing down, but Ken was nowhere in sight.

“This is a surprise,” I told Robyn as I eyed the donuts. “A celebration after we got the shit kicked out of us last night?”

“The chocolate glazed ones are filled with vanilla cream,” she said. “I think I’m going to eat every single one of them.”

“The powdered white ones have chocolate cream in them,” I said. “Don’t ask me how I know that.”

“I’ll just have one of each.” She snatched several onto a plate.

What the hell. I grabbed a glazed one. Didn’t Weight Watchers say donuts had the same amount of points as bagels?

“How’s your resume looking?” Robyn asked.

“I … what… the election was yesterday!”

“You’re right. We should have started looking months ago.”

I crammed the donut into my mouth. And then I grabbed another one.

About ten minutes later, Ken walked in, trying to swallow a smirk. Ordinarily a happy boss would be a good thing, but I didn’t trust Ken. He wasn’t one of us, and every so often he’d let us know it.

“Is everyone here?” he asked, clapping his hands together.

Mike looked around. “Everyone but Randi. She’s on the phones.”

“Have her set it to voice mail and come join us,” Ken instructed.

I felt a pit in my stomach that had nothing to do with those donuts. Mike brought in Randi, who looked as pale as one of the white powdered ones.

Ken motioned for us to sit down. Robyn shoved another donut in her mouth.

“There’s no easy way to say this,” Ken said. “I just got off the phone with the chairman of the board. Considering the results of last night’s elections, they feel our organization is, as he put it, ‘a pointless waste of money.’”

There were several indignant gasps around the table.

“As such,” Ken continued, “they’ve pulled all our funding, effective immediately.”

No one said anything for several moments. Then Randi raised her hand and asked, “What exactly does that mean?”

“It means we’re done,” Robyn snapped. “This organization no longer exists.”

“We have until five o’clock today to clean everything out,” Ken said. “Everyone is getting two weeks’ severance pay and one free counseling session with a job counseling service. I am not sure about your health benefits. I don’t believe COBRA is in effect when an organization folds. But thank God for Obamacare, right?

“I am terribly sorry. You are all wonderful workers and I don’t think any of you will have a problem finding another job. Of course I’ll be happy to provide a reference.

“Please, take your time getting everything together. If you have a company laptop, I’ll need you to turn it in before you leave. And, oh -- have as many donuts as you’d like.”

He left, closing the door behind him. Several of my now ex-colleagues burst into tears.

Robyn just looked mad. “So he doesn’t think any of us will have any trouble finding a job? Does he have any idea how many Democrats are losing their jobs today? There aren’t going to be any jobs out there for any of us!” She shoved several donuts into her purse and stormed out.

My entire body went numb. I stood frozen for several minutes as everyone else cried or ate donuts, or both. My heart pounded throughout my entire body, right down to my feet. My chest heaved in and out. When I realized I was hyperventilating, I forced myself to sit down and breathe deeply.

It was only a job.

I’d get another one.

Jack had a good job.

We were going to be fine.

I took a deep breath and got back up.

All the donuts were gone.

I spent the rest of the morning getting files off my laptop, packing up the few personal items I had in the office, and trying to reach Jack. His phone must have died – my calls were
going straight to voice mail and my text messages weren’t being marked as “delivered.”

I was beyond annoyed.

Since it only took two hours to pack up everything I had done in the past three years, I spent some time revising my resume and sending out emails. I had a sinking feeling that a lot of my contacts were in the same position I was. That would make a bad situation even worse – there would be a lot of competition for the few jobs available for professional Democrats.

After exchanging goodbye hugs and contact information with everyone else, I headed to Robyn’s office. She hadn’t packed up anything. Her space always looked like she was auditioning for a business version of the “Hoarders” TV show, and all her little piles were still in place.

“Do you want me to bring you a trash can?” I joked.

She didn’t seem to think it was funny. “All of that stuff’s important. I’m taking it with me.”

“Did you rent a truck? Because you’re not going to be able to get all that stuff on the Metro.”

Robyn sighed. She looked around her office like Sophie regarding her children.

“Bring it,” she mumbled.

I came back with the biggest trash can I could find. Robyn began tossing in her piles of paper without even looking at what she was throwing away.

“What’s the point? This job is over. There’s nothing here I’ll ever need again.”

“If I hear of anything…” I started.

“I’m thinking about going out on my own,” she said.

“Wow.” I couldn’t imagine doing that; being that brave.

“By the way, Jack was really funny last night. He looked pretty good, too. I bet he’s pretty full of himself today.

“But how can you be married to someone who thinks that way?”

“He doesn’t really,” I assured her. “It’s the job. And last night, he was playing a part.”

“Then he should get an Emmy.”

I got home a little after 1:00pm. Mercedes was sprawled out on our white leather couch, watching a soap opera and eating Cheez Doodles.

“Mrs. Murphy!” she cried, dropping the bag and spilling the curls all over the sofa. “I was not expecting you so early! And with so many boxes!”

Thank God I hadn’t caught her with a sex toy.

I helped her clean up the mess, then broke the news: “I lost my job.”

“Oh no,” she gasped, her hand to her mouth. Her orange-dust-covered hand. “But you work so hard. You do such a good job.”

The only thing she knew about my hard work was how often I came home late, but I was desperate for compliments, so I took them.

“It wasn’t just me. It was the whole office. We’re being shut down.”

She pushed the bag of Cheez Doodles at me. Despite all the donuts I’d had this morning, I took a generous handful. Then another. After all, I hadn’t had lunch.

Mercedes helped me carry the boxes upstairs to the office that Jack and I shared. It wasn’t that big to begin with, and by the time we were done, all the boxes on the floor made it look that much smaller.

“You want me to help you unpack?” Mercedes asked.

I shook my head. “I’m not quite ready to deal with any of this now.”

“I’m sure you’ll find another job real soon.”

Then it hit me. What I had to do. I washed the Cheez Doodle dust off my hands and face. When I went back downstairs, Mercedes was in the kitchen, surveying the contents of the refrigerator.

“What you want for dinner?” she asked.

“You know, Mercedes… I think I can handle making dinner on my own now.”


A long silence, and then she asked, “You probably can handle children on your own now too?”

“I think so, Mercedes. At least until I find another job.”

“I wait for you, then.”

“Mercedes… no. You need to look for another job. If I find one first, I can hire you back. But right now… without my salary, I can’t afford to pay you. You understand, right?”

She nodded, smiling, but her eyes were filled with tears.

I gave her my severance check. After all, she was going to need it more than we would.

After Mercedes left, I went back into the office and unpacked my boxes. Funny how what seemed important at work didn’t seem all that necessary here at home. I looked through my old press clippings, press releases, newsletters. Was any of this stuff going to help me get another job?

Around 3, I heard Jessica bounding up the stairs. “Mom? Are you here?”

“I’m in the office.”

She poked her head in. “What are you doing here? And where’s Mercedes?”

I stood up and brushed the dirt off my skirt. I should have changed when I got home. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t be wearing business clothes for a while.

“My office closed.”

“For the election? You got a day off?”

“No… I mean, for good. I don’t have a job anymore.”

“What! Why? You were doing something important!”

“Apparently, the board didn’t think so. We lost the election so dramatically, they don’t think the country cares about environmental issues anymore.”

“What does it matter what the country cares about! This country is full of stupid people who watch TV every night and vote for the best singer or the best dancer and think Election Day is the same thing! The planet is going to die! It’s going to die and no one is doing anything to stop it!”

Jessica started crying. I couldn’t believe it. She cared more about my job than I did.

“I did the best I could,” I said. “We all did.”

She dragged her palms down her face to wipe the tears away. “Where’s Mercedes?”

“She went home.”

“Is she coming back tomorrow?”

“No, Jess… she’s going to be looking for a new job, just like I am. And she’ll probably find one a lot quicker than me. Nannies are always in demand.” Maybe I should become a nanny.

“So I’m never going to see her again?”

“I told her if I found a job before she did, I’d hire her back in a heartbeat.”

“That’s not going to happen! You just said, everyone needs babysitters!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d get so upset.”

“Why not? The woman practically raised me, I’ll probably never see her again, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Why on earth would I be upset?”

Jessica ran into her room, slamming the bedroom door behind her.

Practically raised her? Those words hurt. Sure, Mercedes was there for the day-to-day stuff, but I was there …. At night! Mostly. I was the one who took her to the doctor and the dentist. I was the one she told her problems to.

Maybe she told them to Mercedes, as well.

Maybe the day-to-day stuff was more important than I’d thought.

Luckily, I didn’t get the same kind of freak out from Michael.

“If you lost your job, does that mean you can take me to the soccer try-out tomorrow?”

“Oh my god,” Jessica shrieked from her room. “Why is it always about you?”

“I guess so,” I said. “It doesn’t look like I’ve got anything else planned.”

Michael literally jumped for joy. “This is the best day in my entire life!” He threw his arms around my waist.

At least one child appreciated me.

Jack still wasn’t picking up. I even called the office line a few times, but the receptionist couldn’t find him either, although she assured me he’d made it in that morning. A more concerned wife might have worried that her husband had been in an accident and was bleeding anonymously in a hospital somewhere. I just wondered which blunt instrument I’d use to kill him when he finally got home.

With time on my hands for the first time in years, I thought I’d cook a real meal for dinner. Kids Taxi came to take the kids to their respective practices, so I had the house all to myself again. It echoed, and felt kind of lonely.

I pulled out my favorite chicken recipes and went through the ingredients. Unfortunately, most of the recipes called for fresh herbs or vegetables that I didn’t have. I thought about making a quick run to Giant, but even a quick run would cost me an hour. Instead, I pulled out a few cans of condensed soup and poured it over chicken.

Mommy fail.

The kids reappeared around 6, sticky and sweaty. Jack still wasn’t home, and I was starting to get worried.

“Run upstairs and take showers,” I told them. “Dinner will be on the table when you’re done.”

“Why?” Michael whined. “You never made us take showers before dinner before!”

“I was never home before you before,” I said. “Now get hopping.”

“I hope you find a job fast,” Jessica said.

“That makes two of us.”

The kids were still upstairs when Jack finally rolled through the door. He was wearing yesterday’s clothes, but the suit didn’t look nearly as good as it did when he’d first put it on. He looked like he’d spent the entire day celebrating.

“Your team won,” I said. “I get it. Time to get back to earth. You could have charged your phone. Or checked your messages.”

“Oh, you’re not cooking, are you? I wanted to take everyone out to celebrate.”

“The celebration’s over. Of the four people in this family, two are very upset about the election, one doesn’t care, and then there’s you. Who’s obviously done enough celebrating.”

“I’m not talking about the election. And how did you get home early?”

I took a deep breath. “The board closed us down. I lost my job.”

I’d been expecting a lot of different reactions, but not this. Jack burst into laughter. Crazy, maniacal laughter.

“What the hell is so funny about unemployment? I thought things were supposed to get better with Republicans in control.”

Tears streamed down Jack’s face. He ran into the bathroom – presumably to keep from peeing in his pants. He came back just as I pulled the chicken out.

“That’s what we’re having tonight? Ugh. Hey, why don’t I take us all out to Ruth Chris.”

Jessica and Michael padded in time to hear the offer.

“I don’t want to go to some fancy restaurant,” Michael said.

“I don’t eat red meat,” Jessica added.

“Then maybe you two bozos can stay here and your mom and I can go out.”

“She’s not watching me!” Michael shrieked.

“Sure I will. For twenty bucks an hour.”

“I just want to stay home tonight,” I said. “It’s already past six, and I’m hungry, and everyone else is ready to eat. Jessica, can you set the table?”

“Whatever.” She opened the cabinet and pulled out plates.

“So Jack,” I said, “maybe you can tell me why you thought it was so funny that I lost my job today.”
“It’s just one of those bizarre coincidences. I lost my job too.”

My stomach dropped to the floor. This wasn’t possible. Jack’s party had won. Why would they fire him? Because of something he said on TV? How would we survive? We had savings but it wouldn’t last us two months.

Then I realized Jack was grinning. And he had said he wanted to celebrate.

“How did you lose your job?” I asked.

Jack pulled a folded set of papers out of his suit jacket. “The American Business Association refused to match the offer that TRC made me.”

“What offer was that?”

The grin ate his face. “A million dollars to host my own TV show.”

“A million dollars!” Michael screamed. “We’re going to be millionaires!”

“You wouldn’t believe the calls they got last night,” Jack bragged. “America wants me. America loves me.”

“Well, the white, angry disgruntled America that watches TRC,” I said.

“Thanks, Erin. I really appreciate the support.”

“And I appreciate being the last person you told about this. Thanks a lot, Jack. Were you worried I might try to talk you out of it?”

“No, babe. I wanted to tell you in person. I wanted to see the look on your face when I said, ‘a million dollars.’ Guess I should have just called.”

I was too ashamed and hurt to say anything else. The kids stared at us, waiting to see who would hurl the next verbal lightning bolt.

“I’m going to go take a shower,” Jack finally said. “Get started on dinner without me.”

So we did.

While we ate, I could hear Jack’s cell phone go off repeatedly, and the sound of his voice. He was happy, taking congratulations.

“We really should move to L.A.,” Jessica said. “That would be best for Daddy’s career.”

“I’m pretty sure Daddy’s show tapes right here in D.C.”

“Maybe they’d change it. If we asked really nicely. And then maybe one of those Disney shows would be looking for girls like me…”

“No one wants to see you on TV,” Michael grumbled. “You’re not cute enough. You have to be little and cute. Or hot.”

“Hey,” I snapped, “Don’t talk to your sister like that.”

“No, he’s right,” Jessica said. “I’m too old to be cute. So I have to work on being hot.”

When Jack finally came down, his chicken was cold. He poured himself a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

“What did your friends think about me being on TV last night?” Jack asked the kids.

“My friends don’t watch TRC,” Jessica said.

“My friends weren’t watching the election,” Michael added.

“I think my friends might have been impressed,” I said, “But they were too upset about losing their jobs.”

“When does your show start, Daddy?” Jessica asked.

“December first,” Jack said as he shoveled cereal in his mouth. “It’s called ‘The Business of America.’ It’s all about where business and politics intersect. I’m going to be talking with business leaders and politicians with a business background.”

“Oh my god, that sounds so boring,” Jessica complained. “No one’s going to watch it.”

“You’re not exactly my target audience.”

“Why can’t you interview superheroes or athletes or movie stars?” Michael asked.

“Maybe I will,” Jack said. “If they’re Republicans.”

“They’re not,” I said. “What time does the show air?”

“Six o’clock, five nights a week. Not prime time, but not two a.m. either.”

“So you’re never going to be here for dinner ever again?” Michael asked.

“The show tapes at three. But apparently taping can take up to three hours. So, yeah, looks like you’re going to be on your own for dinner for a while.”

“Did you think about that,” Jessica asked quietly, “before you took the job?”

“Hey, your father’s going to be on TV,” Jack snapped. “That’s pretty cool. Why don’t you think about that. And here’s another thing you can think about – a million dollars. That’s pretty cool, too.”

Jessica’s eyes filled with tears. I grabbed her hand under the kitchen table and squeezed it.

“And another thing,” Jack added. “A million dollars means your mom doesn’t have to work. So she’ll be here for every dinner, every basketball game, every school play. How does that sound?”

“Terrific!” Michael shouted.

“Horrible,” Jessica screamed. She dropped my hand and ran out, tears streaming down her face. “We don’t even do plays!”

After he wolfed down his cereal, Jack retreated into the living room, where he proceeded to make and return more congratulatory calls. It was like one big happy circle jerk Republican love fest. Michael went into the family room to do his homework, and I stayed in the kitchen and cleaned up. Ordinarily on the rare nights when I cook, Jack does the dishes without being prodded, but there was nothing ordinary about tonight.
His happy voice was booming and loud and giving me a headache. I wanted to be a good, helpful, supportive spouse. But I couldn’t help the jealousy that was coursing through my body. Jack got the job of a lifetime, and the paycheck to boot. And I got canned. It sucked.

When I finished cleaning up the kitchen, I went upstairs to check on Jessica. She was lying on her bed, cell phone in hand. The tears were gone, but her face was still streaked.

“Why does he have to be so mean?” she asked.

I sat down next to her and stroked her back. “He is very excited about his new job. He wanted us to be just as excited.”

“It is exciting. But he didn’t seem to care that you lost your job, or that he wouldn’t see us at nights anymore.”

“He will. Once things calm down. He’ll go back to normal.”

She put down her cell phone and looked at me.

“Are you really going to be a stay-at-home mom?”

“Well, I won’t be going back to work tomorrow!”

“Really, Mom. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet, Jess. But I am going to get another job. I can tell you that much.”
Jessica smiled. “That’s good. You’re too important to stay at home.”

I shut her bedroom door and headed into the office. The boxes were where I’d left them – the detritus of my career.

I had always worked. From my first internship at Ketchum Public Relations while I was at Georgetown, a few years as a press secretary on the Hill, back to another public relations firm, then to the world of non-profits and associations, I’d always had a job. I’d never been laid off; I’d only quit when I had a better opportunity. I took a week off for my honeymoon (Jack and I met in a bar on Capitol Hill; how appropriate) and six weeks with each baby. And that maternity leave was in name only; I was on the phone and sending out emails within hours of being sewn up.

I went from being a striving young Hill staffer with a boyfriend and plenty of friends, to a married woman who double-dated with other married co-workers, to a working mom who spent coffee hours commiserating with other women in the same situation. One by one -- usually after the birth of the second child -- these women would drop out of the labor force. Their stories were all quite similar. Their bosses were understanding about the constant doctors’ appointments, late nannies, and snow days, but not that understanding. And their husbands’ jobs had exploded, with travel every week, promotions and huge paychecks. And then there was a nanny crisis or a sick baby and it just made sense that Lisa, or Kristine, or Vicki be the one to quit her job so their children would have a parent they could rely on.

It hadn’t happened to me. Jack had always been supportive at home and flexible at work. He married me for my brain, and he loved our pillow talk, sharing the gossip we’d heard that day. Who was running. Who was sleeping with whom. Who was about to get fired.

Without a job, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who my marriage was.

I had to find something, and fast.

Jack crawled into bed hours after me, but I was still awake, staring at the ceiling. He kissed my shoulder, and put his head on my chest.

“Do both my girls hate me?”

“Hate is a very strong word. One is upset that she won’t see as much of you, and the other is jealous as hell.”

“Maybe I can get The Right Choice to hire you, too,” Jack suggested. “Kind of a point/counter point thing. Like that old SNL skit with Jane Curtain.”

“They’d make me look like an idiot. They made Alan Dershowitz look like an idiot. The magic of editing and cut-aways.”

“Alan Dershowitz is –“

“Don’t go there!”

“Okay.” He kissed the back of my hand. “This is going to be good for us, Erin. For all of us. You’ll see.”

I didn’t know about all of us. But it would certainly be good for him.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween! A Halloween Excerpt from THE SEESAW EFFECT

In honor of everyone’s favorite dress up and get candy holiday, here’s an excerpt from my latest women’s fiction novel, THE SEESAW EFFECT. With an election coming up, how does professional Democrat Erin balance work, home and politics?

Jessica popped her head in. “God, what’s the spoiled little brat screaming about this time?”

My jaw dropped. Jessica was wearing her Halloween costume. She’d borrowed a friend’s old Catholic school uniform that was three years’ too tight. With an exposed midriff and more make-up on her face than an entire Sephora store, she looked like a brunette, pre-baby Britney Spears.

Michael didn’t blink. “Mom’s not coming to my soccer game.”

“Oh, your poor little baby, is that all? I thought maybe she said you couldn’t go trick-or-treating or something.”

“That’s what I’m about to tell you,” I said.

“Mom.” Jessica rolled her eyes and gave the word ten syllables. “You know I’m not going out begging for candy. This is for Emily Andrews’ Halloween party.”

“Emily Andrews’ mother isn’t going to let you in the house wearing that.”

Jessica snorted. “You want to see what Emily’s wearing?” She handed me her cell phone. The screen was filled with a picture of blonde, busty Emily in the smallest bikini I’d ever seen. She had a halo pinned to her hair and a sun drawn around her belly button.

“I hate to ask, but what’s she supposed to be?”

“A sun goddess. Duh.”

Michael grabbed the phone out of my hand. He stared at the picture for a few seconds. “Can I go to the party instead of trick-or-treating?”

“No!” Jessica and I said together.

“And stop giving Mom a hard time,” Jessica continued. “She’s going to your stupid Halloween parade. She can’t do both. She has an important job. She’s not like some of your friends’ moms that go to the gym all day and drive their kids around all afternoon. She actually counts.”

My daughter was proud of me. I felt a glow all over my body, like I had just drunk a brandy on a cold day.

“Thank you, sweetie. That really means a lot to me.”

“No problem.” She grinned. “So I can wear this costume, right?”

She had me. She had won. “I guess I should be glad it’s not a bikini.”

“Maybe next year. When I have boobs.”

When she was gone, I glanced down at my own chest. Had Jessica done better in biology, she might have realized there was a good chance she’d never get them.

On Friday, naturally, all hell broke loose. Maybe because it was Halloween, or maybe because the universe likes to laugh at you when you decide you’re leaving early. My plan was to get out at noon so I could stop by my house, change clothes, grab something to eat and be at the school early. Instead, right at 11:45, Twitter exploded with the news that New Jersey House Republican Todd Porter had been accused of hoarding child pornography. A staff member found it on a laptop. Porter was screaming that the aide was a Democrat plant who had downloaded the pictures herself.

It was one of our races, and it took a while to craft a release that had just the right tone. Innocent before being proven guilty, of course. Want to make sure the citizens of New Jersey have the best possible representation, not someone who’ll be distracted with personal and possibly criminal issues. And of course, Democrat Paula Devane would be an outstanding representative for the people of New Jersey, and the planet as a whole.

By the time I got the release okayed and transmitted, it was already 1:30. I ran – as much as I could run in high heels – to the parking garage, then peeled out.

Wisconsin Avenue was a mess, of course. Everyone was getting home to help their kids get ready. I was stuck at light after light after light. Finally, I hit River Road and traffic eased up a bit. It’s a 45 mph limit, but I was going sixty.

It was only 2:10 when I got to Michael’s school, Keynes Elementary, but there was no parking nearby. I ended up in front of someone’s house about half a mile away. I took off my heels and ran, in my pantyhosed feet, to the school.

I was just in time to see the last of the fifth graders march back inside.

I knew I hadn’t missed much – about 600 kids in costume marching in a circle around the school – but I was disappointed just the same. And I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of Michael anxiously scanning the crowd, wondering where I was.

Since the kids marched in chronological order, the third graders were all back in their classrooms by now, and the parties should have gotten started. Their classrooms were all the way at the back of the building, near the stairs. The last time I had been there was Back-to-School night in early September. I put my shoes back on and hoped that Michael wouldn’t notice me casually slipping in through the door.

But instead of Mrs. Beckenstein’s third graders, the room was filled with construction workers and big, noisy power tools. I stood gaping for several seconds until one of them noticed me.

“Big leak in the ceiling last month,” he said. “Had to move the kids into a portable.”

Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things?

Of course, there was always the possibility that I had been told; I just hadn’t been paying attention.

I hurried out the back door and surveyed the dozen portables that dotted the grass between the school and the blacktop. Portables are what happens when test scores get published and every upper middle class parent moves to the best district they can afford. Keynes was built in 1965 and it showed. It’s supposed to get completely renovated the year Michael graduates from high school.

Stephen Kaplan emerged from one of the portables. He was dressed as a zombie, covered in fake blood and carrying a decapitated head. It was an elaborate costume that Christine must have spent weeks making.
“You look great, Stephen,” I told him.

He grinned. Half his teeth had been painted black. The front ones, anyway.

“My mom wanted me to be Spiderman, but I said if I got an A in math she had to make me this zombie costume, and I did.”

“Don’t you always get As in math?”

“Yeah, but now I’m in sixth grade math, and it’s a little harder.”

Sixth grade math. I couldn’t even do third grade math.

“Do you watch the Walking Dead?” he asked. “It’s my favorite show.”

“I’m surprised your mom lets you watch that.”

“She said if I got an A in English…”

I didn’t need to hear the rest. I waved Stephen off to the bathroom and went inside.

The party was in full swing. There were about ten parents there – six moms, four dads – and they’d divided the kids up into small groups. Some of them were bobbing for apples. A few wore blindfolds and had their hands in bowls of peeled grapes and cooked spaghetti. Other kids were eating candy and cupcakes, while the remaining kids were working on arts projects. The arts project kids did not look happy. Christine Kaplan was leading that group. I wondered if she had them drawing zombies.

Michael was in the blindfolded group. I watched as he slimed his way through the disgusting food, tossing a few grapes in his mouth for good measure. “That wasn’t scary at all,” he scoffed.

He tossed off the blindfold, saw me in the doorway, and rushed over. “Did you see me?” he demanded. “Did you see what I did?”

“You… ate an eyeball?” I guessed.

“During the parade. Did you see what I did during the parade?”

What the hell could he have done? All they do is march in a circle!

“You marched really well,” I said. “Really nice… high knees.”

He scowled. “You didn’t see. You weren’t there.”

“Michael, I was standing in one spot. I couldn’t very well follow you all the way around the building.”

“So where were you?”

“In the back. Near… near the basketball net.”

“Okay.” He seemed satisfied. “Can we get a cupcake now?”

Michael led me to his desk, and I sat next to him in one of those impossibly tiny chairs. We drank orange flavored punch and munched on black and orange cupcakes.

“These are really good,” I said. “I didn’t know Giant went so gourmet.”

“They aren’t Giant,” Michael told me. “Stephen’s mom went to Georgetown Cupcake.”

Of course she did.

“So what did you do?” I asked. “What did I miss, standing underneath the basketball net?”

“I used my cape to lasso Julia Greenburg. It was so funny!”

“Did Julia think it was funny?”

“She fell down and started crying, but after that, she laughed.”

It was a good thing I hadn’t seen that.

Libby Snyder, dressed in the same Snow White costume she’d worn for the past three years, slid into the seat next to us. Since she’s female, she and Michael don’t have play dates anymore, but she lives two streets away from us, and her mother was a good friend.

“Did you see my mom?” Libby asked me wistfully. “My mom was supposed to come.”

“I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” I said, patting her on the hand. “The traffic coming from downtown was awful.”

Libby’s mother, Shelby Williamson, was a lawyer for a big firm that did a lot more lobbying than legal work. She was “part time,” which, in lawyer-speak, meant she only worked 45 hours a week. She must have worked late every night this week to get the time off to come to the party. All for nothing. Why did schools have to do this to us? Why did they make it so important for parents to attend every party, every Thanksgiving play, every holiday concert? Didn’t they know how hard it was just to get through a regular day? Why give us a ticking time bomb almost every week?

Shelby showed up just as clean-up started. She burst into the room and threw her arms around Libby.

“I am so sorry,” she said. “My boss scheduled a meeting and I just couldn’t get out of it.”

“Who schedules meetings on Halloween?” I asked.

“The bitter divorced woman with no kids,” Shelby answered.

But Libby was in full blown punishment mode. “It’s okay. I didn’t really think you’d show up anyway.” She walked over to Christine and picked up some of the art supplies.

Shelby’s face fell. I patted her on the arm.

“She’s right,” Shelby said. “I never show up to these things.”

“Neither does Mark,” I argued. Mark was her husband.

“No one expects him to.”

“Hey,” I assured her. “I was late, too. I missed the parade, and then I lied to Michael about it.”

That got a small smile. “Alright. You’re worse than me.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that…”

Christine, arms filled with art supplies, came over, trailed by Michael and Stephen.

“Erin, you didn’t need to leave work early. I could have taken Michael back to your place to pick up his stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“His pajamas and soccer uniform.”


“He didn’t tell you? The boys decided last night they want to trick-or-treat in my neighborhood. Then Michael’s spending the night at our place. Since you’re working, I’ll just take him to the soccer game. You don’t have to thank me. Really, it’s no problem.”

I forced a smile. “I’ll take him home with me now, and I’ll drop him off at your house after dinner.”

“But the boys –“

“I would like to have some time with my son, thank you. Oh, and Christine … no zombies tonight, please. We do have rules about what Michael is allowed to watch.”

That shut her up. Christine shrugged and walked out, dragging Stephen behind her.

“Christine is so helpful,” Shelby remarked sarcastically. “What would you do without her?”

“Don’t remind me,” I said. Then I realized, “I don’t have any kids tonight. It’s Halloween and both my children are going to be at other people’s houses.”

“You can come over to mine and hand out candy with me,” Shelby suggested.

“What are you giving out?”

“Twix bars.”

“I’ll be there after dinner.”

After dinner turned out to be way after dinner. Jack “offered” to hand out candy while I dropped off Stephen and Jessica at their respective homes. Jessica had also been invited to spend the night after the party, but I’d still have to pick her up early to take her to her horseback riding lesson before I went to Virginia. Not to mention take care of the baby bird who was recovering in her room until we could take him to Second Chance on Monday.

When I was a kid, weekends were a two-day relaxing respite. I’d sleep late, do some chores around the house, and then go to the mall or the movies with a friend. But that was two or three generations ago. Kids today were expected to have at least two sporting events a day, along with birthday parties, tutoring and music lessons. All this and we were still falling behind the kids in China. What’s worse was that every kid in Montgomery County was competing with each other for spots in expensive, selective colleges. We’d all moved here for the great public schools and now those public schools were killing us. I’d heard rumors that some families were moving into the city in order to send their kids to crappy D.C. public schools. That way their child, who was solidly in the middle of his class in Walt Whitman High, would be valedictorian at Woodrow Wilson.

This Saturday was no different. Jessica had horseback riding at 9; then volunteering at the wildlife rescue at 10:30. Michael just had the 10:00am soccer game, but that was only because baseball had just ended and his basketball season didn’t start for another two weeks. Jack would have to do everything but the riding lesson drop-off because I had to canvass, but he never complained. He’d put me in the same boat several times. Our schedule was light compared to some of our friends. Their children also took music lessons, or competed in “select” sports, which had twice as many games and practices, plus travel to out-of-state tournaments.

As I waited at the bottom of the stairs for my kids, I was grateful that neither of them had ever shown any real talent in anything.

“You look weird,” Michael told Jessica, who had rolled her shirt up even higher than she originally had it. “No one goes to school looking like that.”

“That’s the point, bug,” she snapped.

“Enough,” I said. “Everyone has pajamas? Soccer uniforms? Riding clothes? Basketball?”

“Let’s just go,” Jessica whined. “We’re already late.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of being fashionably late?”

There was already a small band of children making their way around our cul-de-sac. I backed up carefully, fearful of hitting them.

Michael jumped out of the car and dashed into the Kaplans’ house as soon as we pulled into the driveway. But when we pulled up to the Andrews’ house, Jessica just sat there.

“You’re not going to believe this…. Emily just texted me that her mom wants every parent to walk her kid up to the door and search their bag.”


“I know, right?”

“No, I mean, good for Emily’s mother. She sounds like a DEA agent. Though I can’t believe a DEA agent would let her daughter wear a bikini for Halloween.”

I turned off the car, and we trudged up the driveway to the front door. Emily and her mother were waiting for us. And she wasn’t wearing that bikini. Instead, she was dressed like Princess Leia from Star Wars – not the gold bikini version, but all long white flowing gown and bun heads.

“Wow,” I said. “That hairstyle must have taken forever.”

Emily shrugged. “Hey, Jessica. Glad you could come.”

“Let’s open up,” Emily’s mother said in a clipped tone.

Jessica looked at me.

“Hey, it’s okay,” I told her. “I have to do this every time I have a meeting on the Hill.”

“You work on the Hill?” Emily’s mom asked while she pulled out all my daughter’s personal things.

“Yes. Do you work for TSA?”

She didn’t answer, although I thought it was pretty clever. She took out Jessica’s helmet and breeches, then pulled out her riding crop. “What the hell is this? What is this for?”

That thing was genuine leather and cost nearly a hundred bucks. I snatched it out of the woman’s hands.

“Jessica has a riding lesson tomorrow.”

“Then why don’t you take it home and bring it back then. I shudder to think what the kids would do with that.”

“They wouldn’t know she had it if you hadn’t pulled it out of her bag.”

By now, there was a small line of kids and parents behind us. I heard someone ask if they should take off their shoes and belts.

Finally, Mrs. Andrews was satisfied. And poor Emily looked absolutely mortified.

“I apologize for the inconvenience,” Mrs. Andrews said stiffly. “But we were not be held legally liable if a child smuggles in drugs or alcohol and there were an accident.”

“Actually, you’d only be held legally liable if you’d supplied the drugs or alcohol yourself. But, thanks for hosting the party, and happy Halloween. I’ll be by at 8:30 to pick up Jessica.”

Jessica grabbed her bag, but Mrs. Andrews stopped her at the door. “I’ll need you to unroll your shirt first, of course. And I believe that skirt could be brought down a few inches.”

Jessica turned bright red, but she did what she was told.

“Try to have a good time,” I whispered.

She made a face. “Take care of my bird,” she whispered back before she slipped inside.

When I regaled this story to Shelby later over wine and chocolate, Shelby thought there had to be something behind it. “Does she have a kid who died of an overdose or something?”

I shrugged. “When Jessica first started hanging out with Emily, I asked her about her new friend, not the mother.”

“Well, look at it this way. You’re looking better by comparison.”

“Yeah, I’m the one who let my daughter dress like a slut and carry a riding crop. I’ll probably be banned from the next PTA meeting.”

“You don’t go to PTA meetings,” Shelby pointed out.

I unraveled a Twix bar. “I would if I had the time.”

“Only the stay-at-home moms go,” she said. “It makes them feel like there’s something more important in their lives than just driving carpools.”

I nodded, even though I was thinking about the crushed look on Libby’s face when her mother wasn’t at the party.

The front door opened. Mark, Shelby’s husband, pushed Libby inside.

“But I’m not done yet,” Libby protested. “We didn’t go down Ashley’s street, or Colby’s, or Vanessa’s…”

“There’s an emergency at work,” Mark said. “I’m sorry, but you know how important my job is. If you still want more candy, your mom can take you out.”

“I was going to go trick-or-treating with Colby, but you said no. You said you wanted to take me yourself. And now you’re going back to work. That’s not fair!”

“Life isn’t fair. And if I don’t do my job, I’ll get fired, and we won’t have any money.”

“Mommy makes money,” Libby pointed out.

Mark didn’t answer. He walked upstairs; we heard the door shut.

“I’ll take you, sweetie,” Shelby said.

“But then who’ll pass out the candy?”

“I’ll leave it on the front stoop.”

“People will steal it!” Libby protested.

“Do you want to go, or not?” Shelby asked.

“I have to go to the bathroom first.”

Libby dashed off. Shelby sighed.

“I should have known it was too good to be true. Mark taking her out tonight.”

“I don’t remember his job being this bad,” I said.

“It wasn’t. But he got passed over for partner. So now he’s working twice as hard, and I got the short end of the seesaw effect.”

“Seesaw effect?”

“When you’re in a balanced marriage, it’s like being on a seesaw,” Shelby explained. “You each take turns going up and down. The seesaw effect is when one partner stops taking turns. He just gets off the seesaw all together, and bam. You go flying to the ground, and boy does it hurt when you hit.”

From upstairs, Mark’s angry voice echoed through the house. I squeezed Shelby’s hand goodbye and thanked God for Jack.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Confessions of a Kindle Addict

Hello, my name is Jami and I am … an e-book addict.

It started slowly, as these addictions often do. Marketing my own book, KEEPING SCORE, I was referred to BookBub. Ah, Bookbub. Home of the free, the 99 cent, the dollar 99 download. I bought one book. Maybe two. They all sounded so good! For instance, zombies on the Titanic. I love zombies and I love Titanic so it’s like it was pretty much written for me!

Of course the problem is Bookbub issues a newsletter every day. They don’t even take off weekends. And then there’s the Fussy Librarian, Kindle Books and Tips, and many, many others.

The result? According to my Kindle, I have 257 books. Of these, I’ve read maybe 50.

That leaves over 200 books I’m dying to read. TWO HUNDRED.

And every time I turn on my Kindle, it helpfully tells me on the bottom row about other wonderful books I’ve missed.

It takes about 3 hours to read your average 85K word book. I don’t have a spare 600 hours. And that’s not even counting the manuscripts I read for the literary agency I work for, or the private editing and consulting I do, or the 37 books on my "TBDR" list (that's "to be downloaded and read ... I don't even have them yet!).

I really want to read these books. I may not finish them what’s I’ve started – I really need to get pulled in if I’ve only spent pennies on it – but I want to give each of them a try.

But when? Should I give myself 90 minutes a day no matter what to get through these novels? Should I forbid myself from buying anything new? Should I quit watching the Walking Dead and Shondaland shows, and devote that time to reading?

How many unread books are in your Kindle? Do you have a strategy to get through them? Do you delete them when you’re done reading them?

Monday, October 20, 2014

10 Truths for Baseball Travel Ball Parents

Authors are often asked about their interactions with the protagonists of their books. Would they be friends in real life? How autobiographical are the details of the protagonist’s life? What advice would they give to them?

My book, KEEPING SCORE, is a bit autobiographical – my protagonist, Shannon Stevens, is the mother of a 9-year-old boy playing travel baseball for the first summer, and she gets completely caught up in it. That was me 10 years ago. With years of hindsight, I would like to offer Shannon and all other travel ball parents of kids in the 8-10 year old range the things I’ve learned since then:

Winning isn’t anything. It’s been said that winning isn’t everything, and while that’s undoubtedly true, at this age it means very little. Travel ball is a step or two above Little League and other “rec” baseball programs because it offers more practices and more games. The more practices and games a kid plays in, the better he/she’ll get. Of course it’s a lot more fun to win games than to lose them, but there’s always another game tomorrow, and you can use what you learned from the loss to win next time.

Being on the best travel team doesn’t mean that much. So your son’s travel team won ten tournaments when he was 9. Do you think that will mean anything when he’s trying to play college ball? No. It won’t even matter when he’s trying out for his high school team. The only thing that matters is skills. Yes, there’s a chance that winning all those tournaments developed your son immeasurably, but there’s also a chance his team played weak competition, or he was sitting on the bench for most games. Enjoy those trophies but know they’re not worth the plastic they’re made out of.

Since winning isn’t anything, and being on the best travel team doesn’t mean much, pick the team where you and your son are the happiest. He gets a lot of playing time. He’s learning and improving. The coach knows his stuff. The other kids act like teammates. The other parents are fun to be around. They win enough to keep it fun but not so much than winning becomes the most important thing.

It is better to get a lot of playing time on a mediocre team than to sit on the bench of a championship team. Bragging rights do not trump time on the field.

How good a player your son is at 10 has no bearing on how good a player he’ll be at 15. Or 20. Many kids who dominate at age 10 are just closer to puberty than their peers. Or they’re short and fast and comfortable in their bodies, which will betray them when the hormones kick in. Or for some reason they never make the transition to the “big field” – the 90 foot diamond, which comes into play in the 7th or 8th grade. The best kid on your son’s 9U team could be completely out of the game by the time high school rolls around, and the bench warmer could end up a varsity star.

It’s okay to join another team. He’s 10. Travel ball is supposed to be a happy, fun experience. If it’s not, and his objections are valid, find him another team. There are plenty out there.

Arm health is sacrosanct. Conventional wisdom says a boy shouldn’t throw a curve ball until he needs to shave, although some pitching experts claim there are “safe” curve balls for the younger set. What isn’t up for argument is the importance of pitch counts. While some organizations count innings, a pitcher could presumably throw only 3 pitches in an inning, or dozens. Parents need to keep track of the number of pitches their kid throws, especially if the coach likes to use him a lot, or if he’s on more than one baseball team. It’s wonderful to pitch in the winning game in a championship tournament when you’re 10, but if it means not playing high school ball because you needed labrum surgery at 15, was it really worth it?

It’s okay to miss a few games. Tell the coach first, of course. But it’s more important to take a family vacation, go to your cousin’s wedding, or just take a weekend off and stay home than to make every single tournament! He’s nine! Travel ball tournaments can be important, fun family time, but they can easily take over your life. Many teams play every single weekend in May, June and July, take two weeks off in August, and then begin practicing for the fall. Make travel baseball part of your life at this age … not your whole life.

Use the travel ball experience to teach your child about responsibility. He needs to show to practices and games early (and you need to get him there). He needs to pack and carry his own bag. He needs to communicate with his coach directly when he knows he’ll have to miss a game. He needs to speak up when he needs more work with a specific skill.

Have fun, and take lots of pictures. Whether or not your son continues to play baseball, these years will be some of the most memorable in his and your life.

I hope Sam continues to play baseball and Shannon gets a chance to learn these lessons. My son Alex played on three different travel teams before high school – his father was the coach for the last one. But that’s a whole different story…

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Featuring Darlene Fredette's new book Law of Attraction!

Were you devastated when they killed off Will on “The Good Wife?” Are you hoping for a love connection on “How to Get Away with Murder?” If lawyers in love get your heart racing, please check out the new release from my friend Darlene Fredette: Law of Attraction.

Determined to win back Christina, Steven will take the law into his own hands...even if he has to play dirty.

Lawyer Christina Crawford has a successful career and stable financial future, but is it enough? Her world is disrupted when a routine divorce case means working with a man she never expected—or wanted—to see again. During their first meeting, she can't deny a connection still exists. Her head warns her to run, but her heart yearns to stay.

Steven Mitchell is ruthless in the court room, but outside those doors, his easy charm, good looks and unlimited stream of female companions gives him an unscrupulous reputation. Six years ago Christina saw beyond his fa├žade, but the emotions she evoked scared him and he pushed her away. Now he wants a second chance and he is determined to get her back...even if he has to play dirty.

Here’s an excerpt:
Heart pounding in her chest, she closed the door behind him. Wearing her best business face, she returned to this disastrous meeting and sat. Christina drew in a deep breath, and a measure of control was restored. She picked up her pen and flipped open the case file. “So, according to these documents, your client is contesting the divorce?”

Steven reached across the table and snatched the pen from her hand. “What’s the rush, Christina? We haven’t seen each other in years. There’s a lot of catching up to do.”
She clenched her teeth together, barely parting her lips as she spoke. “We have nothing but this case to discuss.”

“Come on, don’t be like that.” He leaned back in his chair, frowning. “You’re not still holding a grudge, are you? What happened was so long ago. I hoped we could start fresh, as friends.”

“Are you freaking serious?” She glared an icy stare. Forget a slow death by high heel. She’d get more pleasure strangling him with her bare hands. “You accused me of misconduct, had me fired, and now you want to be friends?” Her heart thumped a rapid beat in her ears. “You’re out of your mind.”

About Darlene
An avid reader since childhood, Darlene loved to put a pencil to paper and plot out stories of her own. She writes heartwarming contemporary romances with a focus on plot-driven page-turners. When Darlene isn’t writing, editing, or reading, she enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, and Yellow Lab.

Contact links:
Web Blog:
The Wild Rose Press Purchase Link:

Be sure to drop by Darlene’s web site during the month of October to enter an awesome giveaway to celebrate the release of Law of Attraction!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Let's Go, O's!

It’s such an exciting time to be a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. Having spent seasons in the basement of the American League East, unable to compete with perennial powerhouses the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, most Septembers had found the O’s playing the role of spoiler. The last time the Orioles were in the American League Championship Series, Bill Clinton was in the White House and had not yet uttered that famous phrase: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

With its blue-collar work ethic and a history that goes past 50 years, Orioles fandom is something that is passed down generation to generation among born-and-bred Marylanders. While fans do not have the “Woe is I” feeling of negative destiny that haunts supporters of ball clubs such as the Cubs, they also don’t enjoy the “this year is our year” that many others open with each April. We love the Bird, Camden Yards, Boog’s ribs, and big hot salty pretzels, and we love the O’s whether they win or lose. We don’t love the many Yankees and Red Sox fans that come down and cheer lustily for our baseball enemies (though please spend your money here with us). We fully expect to turn our attention completely to the Ravens once October hits.

So this year feels miraculous. The Yankees and the Red Sox out of it. Winning the AL East by a stunning 12 games. Sweeping the Detroit Tigers, who were picked by many experts to win the World Series. They have three Cy Young award winners on their pitching staff. And their season is over.

Shannon Stevens and her son Sam are most definitely fans of the Baltimore Orioles. They are Marylanders who prefer the American League to the National League, fans of crabs and “hun” and goin’ down ne Oshun. And right now they are out of their minds with joy. Sam is sleeping in his Orioles jersey every night.

To celebrate, I’m putting Shannon and Sam’s story, KEEPING SCORE, on sale for 99 cents as long as the Orioles remain the hunt. I’m hoping it’s for another whole month. Here’s the synopsis:

When her 9-year-old son wanted to play summer travel baseball, Shannon had no idea the toughest competition was off the field…

When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it’ll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it’s the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon’s life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn’t fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon’s best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town’s best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there’s no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints.

And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints’ coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn’t think her son was good enough for his team … especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon’s ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it’s not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game… it’s all about KEEPING SCORE.

For simplicity’s sake, the sale is only on Amazon. Here’s the link to buy the book:

Thanks, and let’s go, O’s!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Introducing …. Affordable Editorial!

As a writer, reviewer ( and reader/editorial consultant for an NYC-based literary agent, I read several self-published and unpublished manuscripts a month. Almost all of them have problems, and many of them are fixable. (Scroll down my blog, as I address many of these issues in my posts and offer ways to fix them.) But by the time a book or manuscript gets to me, they should be problem-free. It’s frustrating to have to pass on a writer because of issues that should have been caught and fixed before publication or submission.

And as a self-published writer myself, I know that most writers have very little money to spare. What money there is goes into cover design and marketing. The thought of spending over a thousand dollars for editing – no matter how strong the editor’s credentials – is overwhelming.

For those two reasons, I’ve created Affordable Editorial. With a menu of cost-effective editorial options, I offer writers solutions they can afford:

Manuscript Evaluation: $350
Manuscript evaluation takes a broad, wide look at your overall story, structure, and characters. I’ll provide a report that details the novel’s issues, along with a list of suggestions on how to fix those problems. Generally, this report runs five to seven pages long. The manuscript will be read twice and marked up with notes on areas that need improvement. Turn-around on manuscript evaluation is generally two weeks.

Copy Editing: $0.50-$2.00 per page
Copy editing looks at the structure of each sentence and scene and suggests improvements. It does not opine on story or character issues. It will catch minor issues with point-of-view (also known as “head-hopping”), awkward writing, clunky dialogue, rough transitions, and other problems within a scene. I’ll evaluate the first fifty pages in order to determine how much editing needs to be done – a rougher manuscript will result in a higher per-page price. This is the most time-consuming level of editorial work, and as such may take a month or six weeks to deliver.

Proofreading -- $0.25 per page
Proofreading is solely concerned with typos, spelling, and grammatical issues. Proofreading should only be purchased after the writer has written many drafts, and has had many readers go over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. A proofreader will not tell you that a character you killed on page 20 reappeared on page 200, and wasn’t even a zombie. The best proofreaders pay so close attention to individual words, they have no comprehension for the actual story. Again, I’ll evaluate the first fifty pages to determine whether the manuscript is really at the proofreading stage, or whether the story needs more work. Turn-around on proofreading services is generally two weeks.

If interested, please email me at with a synopsis of your novel (it doesn’t have to be pretty), the services you’re interested in, and the first 50 pages as a Word attachment. In most cases, I’ll be able to get back to you within three business days with a proposal.

I look forward to reading your stories and helping you take them to the next level!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Character Blog Hop!

Meet Shannon Stevens from KEEPING SCORE!

Thanks so much to Deb Nam-Krane for tagging me in this character blog hop! My book, KEEPING SCORE, has been out for over a year now, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about Shannon. Some people have said she’s a pushover; others that she’s too much of a helicopter parent. I’m excited to let Shannon get a chance to speak for herself!

What is the name of your character? Is s/he fictional/historical? Shannon Stevens. She is fictional, but some of her experiences are loosely based on my experiences from the first and second summers that my son played travel baseball.

When and where is the story set? Persimmon, Maryland, which is a stand-in for Potomac, Maryland. It’s a well-to-do suburb of Washington, D.C. where my family and I lived for 12 years.

What should we know about your character? Shannon is very much a Generation X type parent. She got four copies of Dr. Sears “The Baby Book” at her baby shower. Even though she went back to work when Sam was eight weeks old, she slept with him, nursed on demand, and carried him in a sling. She still feels guilty about not being able to make her marriage work, making Sam the product of a broken home. She has bought in completely to the current parenting mentality, which stresses giving your child access to all kinds of experiences and opportunities. Sam has taken art classes, singing lessons, and even did a drama camp a few years ago. But he and his friends gravitated toward sports, so Shannon made sure he got a chance to play every sport he wanted to try.

The second thing that Gen X parents are taught is to make nice with the ex no matter what. This generation came of age in the 70s – Kramer vs. Kramer. They listened to their parents fight about them and over them, and told themselves they would never do that to their own kids. When Gen X parents get divorced, the well-being of their children comes first. Rule number one: Never badmouth the other parent to your child. So even while she’s gritting her teeth, Shannon believes that helping out David will help Sam.

What is your character's goal? A happy kid. Sam tells her right around page 10 that he wants to play travel baseball. He wants to be on a team where he’ll have his name on the back of a jersey. So his goal is her goal. When he gets on the team but things don’t go smoothly, Shannon does what she can to help Sam. But at the same time, she does realize that going through these ups and downs and sticking with it can help him build character.

What is screwing up your character's life (main conflict in writerly speak)? Baseball being a game of winners and losers, there are other people who don’t want Sam to succeed, because they see his success coming at their son’s failure. Specifically, Jennifer and Scott. Jennifer was once Shannon’s best friend, and Scott was Sam’s “rec” baseball coach. Because Sam was a better baseball player than their son Matthew, watching Sam play is painful for them. They do what they can to keep Sam off of Matthew’s new baseball team.

What is the title? KEEPING SCORE

Where is the book available? Paperback and Kindle:
Barnes & Noble
Apple iBooks

blurb for KEEPING SCORE….

When her 9-year-old son wanted to play summer travel baseball, Shannon had no idea the toughest competition was off the field….

When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it’ll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it’s the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon’s life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn’t fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon’s best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town’s best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there’s no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints.

And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints’ coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn’t think her son was good enough for his team … especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon’s ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it’s not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game… it’s all about KEEPING SCORE.

Thanks again to Deb for tagging me! Here’s her character blog post:

And next week Caroline and Monique are on...

It’s Just a Little Crush by Caroline Fardig:

The sleepy town of Liberty hasn’t seen murder in…well…ever. Residents are stunned when the body of a young woman is found strangled, and reporters at the Liberty Chronicle are thrilled, rather disturbingly, over the biggest news story to hit town this century.

Lizzie Hart has even bigger problems. Lately, she can’t seem to concentrate on her job as copy editor at the Chronicle with the new hunky investigative reporter, Blake Morgan, swaggering around the office. How can a girl work when she’s using all of her energy combating Blake-induced hot flashes and struggling to repress the giggly inner schoolgirl that’s constantly rearing her dorky head? It’s a good thing that Blake barely knows Lizzie exists.

After an odd string of events, however, Lizzie begins to wonder if Blake is really as fabulous as she has fantasized. When Lizzie and Blake find a co-worker dead, Blake’s personality changes completely—and not in a good way. Even though the police rule the death as an accident, Lizzie immediately suspects foul play and senses a connection to the recent murder. She is determined to bring the killer to justice, but is having some trouble getting her Nancy Drew on thanks to the pesky stalker she’s picked up—Blake Morgan. Wait, didn’t she want him to follow her around and pay attention to her? Not like this. Blake has turned from cool and smooth to cold and downright scary, making Lizzie wonder if he should be next on her suspect list.

About Caroline

CAROLINE FARDIG was born and raised in a small town in Indiana. Her working career has been rather eclectic thus far, with occupations including schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom. Finally realizing that she wants to be a writer when she grows up, Caroline has released her bestselling debut novel, IT'S JUST A LITTLE CRUSH. She is currently hard at work churning out more novels in the LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series and in the JAVA JIVE MYSTERIES series. She still lives in that same small town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

Anyway You Slice It, An Upper Crust Novella
By Monique McDonell

Piper Adams has one month to find a husband, and get a green card, or be kicked out of the country just when her chain of Aussie Pie trucks is about to start making some serious money.

Aaron is an ambitious lawyer keen to make partner but his Boston law firm only promotes lawyers who are married.

A marriage of convenience could solve both their problems if they keep it strictly business but convincing everyone else that this is true love while trying to convince themselves that it isn’t is a sure recipe for trouble. All the kissing and touching to prove that this is a true love sets the heat rising faster than the pies in Piper’s kitchen.

While Aaron is happy to be friends with benefits, Piper knows better than to mix business with pleasure, despite the undeniable chemistry. Getting married to save her business is one thing, but falling in love would mean risking her heart. Any way you slice it she’s getting more than she bargained for.

A little bit like a cross between Grease and The Proposal, Any Way You Slice It is sure to captivate readers who love romantic comedy and chicklit.

This is the first book in The Upper Crust Series.

About the author – Monique McDonell

I am an Australian author who writes contemporary women's fiction including chick lit and romance. I live on Sydney's Northern Beaches with my husband and daughter, and despite my dog phobia, with a dog called Skip.

I have written all my life especially as a child when I loved to write short stories and poetry. At University I studied Creative Writing as part of my Communication degree. Afterwards I was busy working in public relations I didn't write for pleasure for quite a few years although I wrote many media releases, brochures and newsletters. (And I still do in my day-job!) When I began to write again I noticed a trend - writing dark unhappy stories made me unhappy. So I made a decision to write a novel with a happy ending and I have been writing happy stories ever since.

I have been a member of the writing group The Writer’s Dozen for eight years. Our anthology Better Than Chocolate raised over $10,000 for the charity Room to Read and helped build a library in South East Asia. I am also a member of the Romance Writers of Australia.

I have written five stand-alone romantic comedies. Any Way You Slice It, is the first book in my new Upper Crust series.

To learn more about Monique McDonell and her upcoming books please visit her web site: