Circle of Friends

Oxford Languages defines a friend as “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.” Whether they are portrayed as the long-suffering sidekick, the compassionate care-giver or even the rival for a new job or love interest, friendships are frequently on display in television and film. Where would Lucy be without Ethel? Thelma without Louise?  Mary without Rhoda? 

In literature, the bonds of friendship are often the primary or underlying theme of the story. Well-known friendships between women  include Lila and Elena in My Brilliant Friend, sisters Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple, Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice and of course, Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. 

Dialogue between fictional friends can reveal hidden secrets, fears, hopes and dreams, without the need for a load of inner dialog, which let’s face it, can get pretty boring. A well-written friendship also gives the writer a chance to show how compassionate or kind or, at times, delusional the main character is. Crotchety or quirky characters are somewhat transformed, or at least made more likable, when a best friend is part of the story.

I am a writer working on my 6th novel. My main characters are all women of different ages and backgrounds, some educated, some not. Some are mothers, others are not. Married, single, divorced and widowed- on the surface, my characters appear to have nothing in common. But there is at least one thing that unites them- they are all privileged to enjoy the benefits of close friends. 

My historical novel Landscape of a Marriage will be published on July 29th. My main character is Mary Perkins Olmsted, wife of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.  Although Mary was very much in love with her husband during the 44 years of their marriage, I invented a fictional best friend for her. Anne is the wife of Fred’s business partner and frequently provides a shoulder for Mary to cry on, a heart for Mary to take comfort in and an ear to make certain that Mary is heard.

Anne serves as both the devil’s advocate when Mary is venturing down the wrong path and the cheerleader when she needs to believe more in herself. At one point in the story, Mary implores her husband to repair a riff with Anne’s husband. “Not for the  sake of the business”, she begs him.  “But for the sake of my friendship with Anne.”

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is just how much I value my friends. Gone (for now) are the coffees in the cafes, the bi-weekly lunches and the weekends highlighted by a dinner party or potluck supper. In their place are phone calls, FaceTime sessions and Zoom get-togethers. Early on last spring, my friend Sandi suggested a weekly phone call every Thursday at 1pm and despite our schedules, which can still get crazy at times, more often than not we honor that appointment. We talk about our jobs, our families, friends in common, books we have read and  shows we have binged on. I usually end each call by thanking Sandi for prioritizing our friendship. We schedule other things that are important, so why not a phone call with a dear friend? My friend Lisa and I talk the last Monday of every month at 7pm. I block off my evening, knowing that we will spend 2-3 hours discussing our lives and, at least in our minds, solving all of the problems in the world. We make time to chat and text in between these marathon talk-fests, but those nights are sacred. 

If you’re a fiction writer, be sure to give your characters the gift of friendship. If you are a reader, look for cues into the protagonist’s character by seeing how they treat their friends. And most of all, reach out by phone, text, email or snail mail and tell your friends far and wide just how much you love them. It will make all of the difference in the world.

19th century novelist Charles Dicken probably said it best. “Friendship? Yes, please.”

Then & Now

Then & Now

By way of introduction, I am a writer of contemporary fiction with a new book in the historical genre. In thinking about how I made the ‘switch’, I would like to share a few thoughts with you. 

First and foremost- in my experience, writing a novel set 150 years ago is not all that different from writing one based in modern times.  In my first four contemporary novels, my main characters were women on a journey in search of more meaning in their lives, a happy ever after if you will. My latest- Landscape of a Marriage is the story of Mary’s journey- from lonely widow with three small children to wife and partner of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted as he strives to transform the American landscape forever. Despite the vastly different time period, the challenges Mary faced are remarkably similar to what she might have dealt with today- how to balance her needs with those of her family? How to pursue what she values in order to be fulfilled- as a mother, a wife and a woman? The importance she places on friendships to keep her grounded and feeling treasured? In my mind, these themes are universal, timeless.

Next, all good stories require good characters- well developed, flawed, lovable and fully formed. Before I even begin to write, I dig deep in order to understand who my main characters are- their physical appearance, their manner of speech, of dress. Their fears, hopes, dreams, goals, likes and dislikes. I often found myself thinking- ‘no, Mary would never do that’… or ‘how is Mary feeling right now’  or ‘how would Mary respond to whatever was going on?’ Getting into your character’s head is key, whether they write with a quill pen or send text messages, the work has to be done in order to get a true sense of your characters.

Finally, a plot that keeps readers interested; one that tells an interesting story, reveals the goals and motivations of the characters and presents a realistic backdrop from which to tell the tale is critical. Landscape is set in the second half of the 19th century in the United States. The country was at war, the nation was divided and women were fighting for their rights. Was what they faced really all that different from what we are experiencing today?

I will say that writing a novel set in an earlier time period did require much more research than one of my contemporary works. Although it is fiction, authenticity is critical in order to tell a story properly. Everything from what Mary would wear- a taffeta gown with a fitted bodice and a floor-skimming skirt worn over a chemise, drawers, and a corset; what she would serve for dinner- a joint of beef, a platter of roasted vegetables and a berry trifle; and what book she might be reading- Little Women or Around the World in Eighty Days when reading to her children had to be carefully researched. I admit that prior to working on Landscape, I was never much of a history buff. All I recall of classes that I was required to take while growing up was the need to memorize dates and the names of key battles in the Civil War. I literally don’t remember a thing from all that cramming and memorization. I grew to enjoy history more recently as I researched the lifestyles of my characters and how the events of the day impacted their thoughts, choices and lives. You could say that history came more alive for me and I hope for my readers as well. 

Overall, creating characters who are interesting and memorable should be the focus when writing in any genre. One phrase I do recall from my high school French classes seems appropriate here. 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What’s Age Got To Do With It?

“It’s just a number” “Age doesn’t matter” “You’re only as young as you feel”

You hear comments like this all the time.

But when it comes to two people in a romantic relationship, apparently age does matter. Specifically the difference in ages between the two people in the relationship. According to a recent study by Emory University in Atlanta, the wider the age gap in partners, the lower their chances are of relationship success. They polled 3000 married and recently divorced couples and found that a one year discrepancy in a couple’s ages makes them 3% more likely to divorce when compared to their same-aged counterparts. A five-year age gap makes them 18% more likely to split up. A ten-year difference makes them 39% more likely and when the gap is over ten years, the odds of divorce are huge! Uh-oh…In my latest contemporary romance Second Guessing, songwriter Jill is fourteen years older than boyband singer turned solo artist Ben. Despite the sizzling hot chemistry between them, did I set their romance up for failure? In my ‘happy ever after’ view, I pictured them together forever.

What about in real life? My oldest friend was married to a man thirteen years younger than her. Note that the marriage is in the past tense. According to her, age was not a factor in their breakup, but when you really start to think about it, issues like whether or not to have children, how to balance and manage careers and figuring out finances would seem to be even more challenging when there is a wide gap in age. A 30 year old might not be in a hurry to start a family or a retirement fund, but what about their 45 year old partner? Our needs and priorities change over time. Is it reasonable to assume that we’ll be in sync with our partner if we are in truly different stages in our lives?

Emory University didn’t indicate if same sex couples were included in the study or if the majority of the couples with the wide gap tended to be of the older man/younger woman variety. Society appears to continue to have a double standard when it comes to a difference in age between romantic partners. It seems perfectly acceptable for an older man to date and marry younger women, but the reverse? Not so much. Otherwise the term ‘cougar’ wouldn’t exist. I mean what do you call a man who dates younger women, besides ‘lucky’ that is?

In my wild twenties, I dated a few men significantly older than me but married a man born just 3 ½ years before me. It’s been 35 years, so I’m thinking that we’ve beaten the odds. How about you? Do you think a gap is an issue or not? Would love to hear your comments. The best responses will win a free kindle copy of Second Guessing.

What Would I Do if I Wasn’t a Writer?

I became a writer relatively late in life. Although I always knew that I had at least one book in me that would need to be written at some point, it wasn’t until five or six years ago that I got serious about writing. It was a story that I had been thinking about for years. A family trip to Sedona, AZ led me to ponder what a perfect place it would be for anyone looking for a do-over, a second chance at a happy ever after. I finally decided that I would sit down and put it on paper. Once I got into it, JEEP TOUR just about wrote itself. Since then, I have written three more books: Guessing at Normal exposed my life-long fascination with rock stars, Driving on the Left, a sequel of sorts to JEEP TOUR, allowed me to explore the all important mother-daughter dynamic while vacationing in Ireland, and most recently, Second Guessing. This time I was able to combine my two favorite topics: rock stars and mother-daughter relationships into a ‘second chance’ contemporary romance. Next up is a possible foray into historical fiction. I am clearly hooked. This ‘writing thing’ isn’t going away anytime soon.

Since I began my writing career, I have spent countless hours writing, editing, publishing and marketing my works. As a college professor, I have summers off and depending on my course load each semester, frequently have a few extra hours each day to devote to my literary career. It’s become a huge part of who I am.

I recently got to thinking…how would I spend my time if it weren’t for writing? What would I do? I decided to ask my friends and family and here are some of their suggestions.

1) Get in Shape

Ouch, this one hurt, but it was the number one suggestion overall. I actually think I’m in pretty good shape, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that if I dedicated even a portion of the time I spend on my writing to physical fitness, I would probably live longer and feel better. Hours spent slumped over my MacBook while slugging coffee isn’t the healthiest of pursuits, I will grant you that. I will have to look into getting one of those standing desks or a treadmill with a large work surface. Or I can walk to the post office to mail books to contest winners and then jog back home. Okay, that’s a definite maybe.

2) Travel

Hmmm… this suggestion has some merit. I do enjoy traveling but since writing is very portable (all I need is my MacBook, a notebook and a pen) I can’t honestly say that I turn down opportunities to travel very often, at least not because of writing. So, no to travel in lieu of writing. I can do both.

3) Learn to Cook

Again, ouch! I can cook and I’m pretty good at it, but unless I’m preparing a holiday meal or throwing a dinner party, most of the food I make is pretty uninspired. But if I cooked more, wouldn’t I eat more and therefore defeat my efforts for getting into shape? No, I predict more bowls of cereal in my future.

4) Volunteer

Do more for others? Give of my time, talents and treasure? Well, I teach at a community college and advise and mentor countless students each year. It’s my job, but shouldn’t that count for something? I also donate to various charities, participate in book drives and am putting together a free event this spring for aspiring writers… Okay, I get it. Seek out more volunteer opportunities.

5) Relax

This was actually a combination of suggestions that I spend more time with my friends and family, hang out, sleep in, shop, read, watch movies, go for coffee, etc. But seriously? I already do all of those things quite a bit, except maybe sleep in. I’m way too wired for that, perhaps because I spend so much time going out for coffee. But I’ll commit to more quality time with my loved ones. Be careful of what you wish for!!

So in conclusion, I appreciate the feedback and I plan to take some of these suggestions to heart. Next time you see me, I’ll no doubt be walking briskly to the post office and picking up trash along the way, while monitoring my heart rate and chatting on my phone, catching up with loved ones. But seriously? I really enjoy the time I spend writing. I have made new friends and connected with old ones and I have learned so much about my craft and myself. I wake up raring to go and eager to see what each new day brings.

And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

#writerlife  #roanepublishing

I’m ‘In’ to my Writing, But Should I Re-Think Being ‘Out’?

 

I recently saw a Facebook posting in one of my writing groups. The question posed to romance and chicklit authors was: are you ‘out’ to friends, family and co-workers? The overall responses from the group were mixed, with many of the authors admitting that only a few close family members knew of their literary pursuits.

My first reaction was, “Well of course!” My friends, family and co-workers are my biggest fans, my early readers. I’m proud to be an author and I love the feedback and support I get from people I know. But the more that I’m thinking about it, I have to admit that I’ve had some fairly awkward reactions to my writing over the last few years. For example…

Shortly before the end of the semester a couple of years ago, a student of mine asked if I taught summer classes. I replied that I didn’t teach in the summer, but that I was writing a book. “Oh, like a textbook?” was his response as he followed me down the hall. “No,” I told him. It’s a novel. Actually, it’s a romance novel.” I watched him struggle to hide his surprise. “Seriously? Romance?” The unspoken message was clear. Ewwww. Gross. You’re so old and you’re a teacher. Oh well, he wasn’t my target demographic anyway.

I sent a close family member a copy of JEEP TOUR when it was first published back in 2014. She acknowledged receiving it and said that she was looking forward to reading it, but then I never heard any more from her on the topic. When Guessing at Normal was published the following year, I sent her a copy. Again, silence. Living thousands of miles apart, we rarely get to spend much time together, but we did meet up later that year at a family function. I was nervously waiting for her to mention either of the books, but it wasn’t until we were saying goodbye before she brought it up. “Oh, I read Guessing at Normal,” she told me. “What did you think?” I asked all casual-like. “I loved it,” she gushed. “It was soooo much better than that first book.” How do you respond to that? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Another family member offered to post a rating on Goodreads for one of my books, but admitted that she didn’t know how. Assuming that it would be a positive review, I filled her in on the process and waited anxiously for it to post. Early in the week, I saw the rating. 1 star, yeah, a lousy single star! Trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, my husband remarked that maybe she thought that the ratings were reversed, that ‘1 star’ was excellent. Fuming, I sent her a text. I didn’t even try to be subtle. “What’s up with the crappy rating?” I asked. It didn’t take long to get her response. “I hated it. Really, hated it.” The sad-faced emoji that accompanied the text did nothing to soften the blow. Family dinners remain awkward to this day.

A co-worker once asked if I was regretting not going with a pen name to hide my real identity. Another asked me if I was going to ‘keep writing those books of yours’. A friend remarked that she was disappointed my books weren’t racier (her term). She said, “Knowing you, I thought they’d be all-Fifty Shades”. Seriously? A neighbor told me that she would buy one of my books, but probably not read it. “It would be awkward if I hated it,” she admitted. My writing has been referred to as ‘cute’ and a ‘fun hobby’. If I had a dollar for every person who has told me that they would ‘just love to write a book too’, I could buy enough of my own books to seriously improve my rankings.

And I get so many questions!

“How long does it take you to write one of these?” A lot longer than you would think

“How much money have you made?” Not nearly enough

“How many books have you sold?” None of your freakingNot nearly enough

“Do you pay your publisher to print your books?” Um, no. They pay me. But not nearly enough

“If you’re so successful, why don’t you quit your day job?” Uh, I love my day job and when did you ever hear me brag about being so successful?

Hmmm… on second thought, is it too late to come up with a pen name?

 

Kinsey, Stephanie & Harry

I read with great sadness of the author Sue Grafton’s recent passing. Thirty-five years ago, Grafton created the iconic character Kinsey Millhone, a quirky private investigator with a penchant for both junk food and jogging and a deep-rooted desire to remain unattached. Kinsey is the main character in the alphabet mystery series of twenty-five books (A-Y) and while I have to admit pausing at around “S” or “T”, Grafton managed to keep Kinsey’s character memorable until the end. The anticipated “Z” book is sadly not going to be written, according to Grafton’s daughter. I will, of course, add the books in the series that I have missed to my TBR pile immediately. I just assumed that Kinsey would be there for me when I needed her and now, I do.

I am generally not a big fan of literary series, but two other fictional characters that I have enjoyed over the years are Janet Evanovich’s wacky bounty hunter Stephanie Plum (twenty-eight books) and Michael Connelly’s crusty LAPD detective Harry Bosch (twenty books). I’m not sure exactly certain what it is about Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry that I love so much, but I have attempted to analyze what makes them stand out from countless other ‘me-too’ characters.

  • They are each, in their own way, completely authentic. Their private lives, careers, interests and relationships are totally in keeping with who they are. Love ‘em or not, you can’t read a chapter of any of these books without recognizing, “that’s just so Harry” or reflecting, “Damn, Kinsey. Stop being so you!!” Not that they haven’t evolved over the years, because they certainly have, but they remain true to their core and we understand them, flaws and all.
  • They are totally obsessed with their jobs. It is no wonder that they are usually single, despite a couple of marriages or significant relationships for each of them. Most of us wouldn’t want to be too closely involved, romantically or not, with Kinsey, Stephanie or Harry. They would stand you up, keep you waiting, let you down and shut down emotionally, but you would have no choice but to love them and put up with all the turmoil, even when they forget your birthday or how you take your coffee.
  • They are each employed in the field of law enforcement. I don’t believe that this is a coincidence. Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry have lives that are exciting to read about, but are often filled with dangerous situations that cause them to go days without sleep, get shot at, kidnapped or have their cars blown up. “Seriously, Stephanie. You actually thought you could drive the same car two days in a row?”
  • They each have a slew of ex-spouses and lovers (see #2 above) due to death, divorce or disillusionment but each has at least one relationship that is long-lasting and keeps them grounded. Kinsey has Harry, her octogenarian landlord, Stephanie has Grandma Mazur and Lulu, her ‘ho-turned assistant’ and Harry has his daughter Maddie. These relationships let us know that despite quirky, wacky or crusty exteriors, Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry are each, in their own way, good people who are lovable and deserving of happiness.

I am an author of four contemporary romances. The 1st and 3rd books feature Jackie Sullivan, a wise and witty woman searching for and holding on to her ‘happy ever after’ life. In my 2nd and 4th books, Jill Griffin navigates her way through marriage to a hard partying rock star before she meets the true love of her life. I adore both Jackie and Jill, but there is not the slightest chance in the world that I will ever write another novel featuring either of them. They are very much alive, at least in my mind, but I believe that I have written all there is to write about them. It is a testament to the superior skills of Grafton, Evanovich and Connelly that they have been able to create and maintain characters who have stood the test of time and kept us so well entertained. RIP Sue Grafton. You and Kinsey will be missed.

Who is your favorite character in a long-running series? Leave your comments below.

Pirates, Trolls & Thieves, Oh My!

Stealing is just wrong. I don’t steal. I wish no one felt the need to. I’m talking about a person or business that makes money from someone else’s work. Money that doesn’t belong to them. They didn’t earn it. Someone else worked very hard for it.

I have not worked harder at anything in my whole life than I do on my books. Honestly. Love or hate ’em, but they were written with love and sweat and all the passion I can muster. And nearly every week, I come across another pirate site offering free downloads of MY BOOKS. Or some troll who gets ARCs- Advance Reader Copies of books donated for review purposes and SELLS THEM! Yeah, I know you’re thinking- they’ve got them and can do whatever they want with them. But the people they steal from are some of the best, hardest-working people you will ever meet. It’s not fair.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Your parents told you that and it’s still true today. Don’t patronize scumbags or bogus shell companies who sell products they have no right to just to save a couple of bucks. Seriously. Unless the author or a legit publisher is offering a free copy or free download of a book, assume it’s a pirate copy. I literally make pennies on every book I sell. But I deserve those pennies.

If you do get a book for free, pass it on to a friend or donate it to a library. Just don’t sell it. On behalf of authors around the world, thank you!!

 

Libraries Rock!

If you are like me, you may feel that every week is National Library Week, but alas, that is not the case. It’s just this week: April 9th-15th!

My love affair with libraries began soon after I learned to read. I grew up in a fairly rural community and the only day my mother could ‘borrow’ my dad’s car to grocery shop or take me to the library was Thursday. Proudly carrying my official library card, I would sign out whatever the maximum # of titles was at the time- 7 maybe? Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. By the following Thursday, I was tingling with anticipation and couldn’t wait to get more.

When I was nine, we moved to a nearby town (with sidewalks!) and I was able to walk or bike to my new library as often as I wanted. I became a regular. It was HEAVEN!

I admit that for a period of time in high school, college and grad school, going to the library for anything other than completing assignments wasn’t one of my priorities. But the lure of the shelves eventually won out and I happily began visiting the library and reading for pleasure once again.

I fondly recall bringing my kids to read-aloud programs and crawling around on the library floor scouting out titles for them on the lower shelves. Ironic how my own mom (and she was an excellent one, believe me) assumed I could do all that on my own!

As a college professor, I frequent my school’s library often and am always thrilled to see how many students I see accessing computers, reviewing periodicals and reference materials and videos and even (gasp) reading a book!

My husband and I moved recently and during one of my first solo outings in our new community, I found the local library. Within a half hour, I had acquired a library card and several new titles, made a few acquaintances, joined a reading group and signed up for yoga classes which were held on-site. I was home!

Now I’m an author of three contemporary novels, and strive to sell as many books as I can, but I’m perfectly fine with the notion that my titles can be borrowed and shared as well. Readers are readers and I welcome them all!

Please join me in celebrating National Library Week this week. Locate your card or obtain a new one and pay a visit to your local library. Who knows what (or whom) you’ll find?

What’s Up with Rock Stars?

 

He was so young.

Oh my God, I used to love him.

I must have played that album a million times.

But I just heard him on the radio.

These comments are all too familiar to many of us. Music legends are dying at what seems like an unprecedented rate lately. For us Baby Boomers, I guess, it’s inevitable, as the performers on the soundtrack to our lives are getting up there in years. Neil Young’s opinion was that “it’s better to burn out than fade away,” but many of the musicians that we grew up with are still shining bright with no signs of slowing down, while others, sadly, have left us with nothing but our memories and all that amazing music.

They are only human after all, these music legends. Super human maybe, but why is it so difficult to say goodbye to them? Maybe it’s because they remind us of how we were when we were younger; full of life and possibility, boundless energy and willing to take on the world and it’s challenges. We were so certain back then that we would never turn into our parents, so old, so settled. But most of us did grow up and generally we’re fine with the way our lives have evolved. But in our minds, our music heroes are still the same as before- young and sexy with voices still pure and beautiful. So when the news spreads that one of our favorites has died, we’re in shock. How? Why? He was so young. This is so tragic. We just can’t believe it.

When John Lennon was gunned down in NYC in 1980 at the age of 40, I remember exactly where I was when I heard. I was getting ready to go out to dinner with my then boyfriend and randomly turned on the news. The shocking report brought me to my knees. It just couldn’t be true, but it was. The ‘smart’ Beatle was gone. Years earlier, Buddy Holly’s plane went down and for many, that truly was the day the music died. Gun violence results in the loss of thousands of lives and planes do, on occasion, crash. Every human life has value, but let’s be honest. Aren’t the lives of music legends just a little more important?

Iconic performer Prince died yesterday at the age of 57. 100 million records sold, 7 Grammy awards, a Golden Globe, an Oscar and a lifetime of memorable songs and performances. RIP Purple Prince. You will be missed. A few months ago, Glen Frey’s death left me in tears. My first thought when I heard the news was: Oh no, I loved him. My second? Thank God we finally got to see The Eagles perform last year. And right before that, the amazing David Bowie died from cancer. Do the deaths of famous people really come in threes? If so, can we please be done for a while?

One study done in Australia actually proves that rock stars really do die young. Researchers found, on average, that musicians die 25 years younger than the rest of us and have higher rates of death by accidents, suicide and homicide. The average musician today is expected to live to their late 50’s or early 60’s, way younger than the general population. Is it because the music industry has been guilty of celebrating the bad behavior and destructive lifestyles with its’ cornerstones of sex, drugs and rock and roll? Are those drawn to performing actually suffering and more likely to self-medicate? Look at the members of the 27 Club: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Cass Elliot, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. All lived troubled lives and had issues with alcohol and/or drugs. But thankfully, their music lives on.

I don’t mean to depress you with all these references to death. Instead, celebrate life and relive some of those memories. Reach back into your music library and rock out to Mick and the boys or Eric Clapton or Jackson Browne. Do it tonight. Your kids will laugh at you or roll their eyes, but so what? If you don’t embarrass them on a regular basis, you’re just not trying hard enough. Take some of your hard earned money and go see that band or performer that you’ve always wanted to. Ticket prices are crazy. Two tickets to the Eagles last year cost about the same as my first car. Of course, it’s a ripoff. But those songs that you know every word to, even if you haven’t heard them in a long time, are calling to you. Turn off the TV, turn up the music. At least for tonight.

Smart Romance

I have done some amazingly foolish things in the name of love. Unprintable, unspeakable, cringe-worthy things. Haven’t we all? In my younger days, I compromised way more than I should have, put up with some exceedingly bad behavior and exhibited my share of it as well, accepted way less than I deserved, told lies, mostly but not entirely little white ones and accepted the lies of others. I sat by the phone, back when the phone sat in the middle of my house. I cancelled plans with family and dear friends in order to be available for the man of the moment and I have fallen in and out of love, or at least what I assumed was love, more times than I can count. Although I’ve been happily married and very much in love for over 30 years, I can still recall just how crazy love could make me. But I survived it and the whole experience made me stronger and smarter. I value what I have today, in part, because I didn’t always have it.

I use the term ‘smart romance’ on my website and on my business cards. It’s part of my brand, if you will. But is ‘smart romance’ really anything more than an oxymoron? Is all romance fiction? Something that Hallmark created in order to sell some cards?Let’s look at the facts. Half of all marriages apparently end in divorce and 100% of all divorces started out as a marriage. With odds like that, is it unreasonable to believe in lasting love? Think about it. We fall in love. The use of the term “fall” implies that the process is somewhat uncontrollable, dangerous – as in “falling ill” or “falling into a trap” – and that love makes the lover somehow vulnerable. Is vulnerability why our heart breaks when a romance ends? Does love make us weak? But maybe it’s not our fault. Can we really help who we fall in love with? It causes chemical reactions, love does. Measurable increases in oxytocin and vasopressin. One medical expert suggests that “when we fall in love, we are falling into a stream of naturally occurring amphetamines running through the emotional centers of our brains.” Yikes. Maybe we’re all just a bunch of love junkies out there looking for a fix. We’re suckers for a good love story. Perhaps that’s why ‘love’ is such a popular theme in film, music and books. Romance, women’s fiction, chick-lit- however you want to label it, these stories celebrate love in all of its’ glory. But in modern romance, it’s usually not all about surrender or falling, it’s more about choices and soaring. The majority of stories focus on relationships that are truly win-win, where both parties ultimately triumph.

I’m in the process of writing my fourth novel. All in the same genre- contemporary women’s fiction with a strong dose of romantic love. My main characters always fall in love and don’t always act rationally, but does the presence of love require an absence of rational thought? I don’t think so. I think smart romance is alive and well, and I think believing in love and romance is smart. In my first novel JEEP TOUR, Jackie reboots her whole life after a chance meeting with a sexy stranger. Maybe she would have moved cross-country even if she hadn’t met Rick, but I doubt it. She was willing to take a leap of faith in the hope that she would find her happy ever after. What she actually finds is something she never could have imagined.

In Guessing at Normal, Jill joins a rock and roll band on the road after a one night stand with the bad boy lead singer. To be fair, their one night stand actually lasted almost three whole days, but what kind of loony tunes would give up the security of a crappy job, a lousy apartment and the very conditional love of her very dysfunctional family to follow some sexy rockstar? A smart woman? Hmmm. Maybe. And in Driving on the Left (coming soon- this summer) Becca’s fling with a strapping Irish tour guide leads her into a series of decisions that some would view as crazy, but only time will tell. Sometimes you just don’t know, until you do. I haven’t gotten too far on my 4th book, but trust me. There will be smart women making foolish choices and figuring things out along the way.