Five for Friday–With A Twist Part II

Five for Friday–With A Twist Part II

No interview this week. I’ve got too many eggs in one Easter basket–too many dishes to prepare for this weekend’s feast! Instead, I’m going to focus on five books, plus one(ish) bonus book, that I read in February in March and share my thoughts on them with you–like I did back in January. It’s like a party, having all these books together like this! In any case, I do owe all these incredible writers formal reviews, but hopefully they can forgive my not getting to it just a bit longer…. Here we go!

daydreamer1. Daydreamer by Brea Brown

I have never met such an adorably flawed, endearingly messed-up heroine in my life. Brea Brown‘s Libby Foster is a bit screwed up from a tragedy in her twenties, addicted to Kit Kats, and also still a virgin. She has some issues connecting with real-life people, and as a result has all these wonderful daydreams involving the office hottie, architect Jude (anyone who knows me knows I have soft spot for architects)… As she lets down her barriers, the chemistry between Libby and Jude is delightful. You’ll want to shake Libby sometimes but you’ll be compelled to cheer for her all the way as she comes to terms with her past and *hopefully* stops letting it impede her chance at happiness. Highly recommended! Buy it now!

viewer2. Viewer Discretion Advised by Cindy Roesel

I want to work in a newsroom. I never wanted to work in a newsroom so much before I read this book, and I am huge fan of the Mary Tyler Moore Show... But Cindy Roesel’s “insider” presentation (did you know Cindy has an Emmy?) of the antics of what goes on behind-the-scenes of the news is eye-opening and highly entertaining. Charley Thomas is a great character, smart and full of depth. And she keeps vodka in the fridge in her office–how can you not like her? With Charley, Cindy Roesel creates a very realistic portrait of a woman torn between what she’s spent her life building, namely her news career, and where her heart and soul truly feel “at home.” Did I mention I fell hard for casual-sex bud Oz? You will not be disappointed with this one! Buy it now!

The Fall of the Misanthrope_Cover_KINDLE3. Diary of a Misanthrope: I Bitch Therefore I Am by Louise Wise

Welcome to the world of “dark chick-lit,” as you get to know Valerie Anthrope in this page-turner by Louise Wise. Valerie’s not the bitch you love to hate, but the bitch you love uncovering reasons to love. Louise has done such a nice job creating not one, but two would-be-despicable characters (Valerie and the player who’s after her…we’re not always sure what about her he’s after…the loveable rogue Lex), by showing us the parts of them they never show to others, and allowing us to love them, flaws and all. It doesn’t hurt that there’s also a kind of “fairy godmother” in the mix. You’ll definitely want to check this one out! Buy it now!

134547884. Kissed in Paris by Juliette Sobanet

I had no idea what was in store for me when I picked up this book. It started so calmly. A string of emails about an about-to-be-bride being sent to Paris against her will by her flu-stricken boss. Then, chapter one begins, and Bam! Right down the rabbit hole you drop! I don’t want to say too much about this book because it seems like every page holds delightful new surprises. The chemistry between Chloe and her savior/captor (we’re never quite sure) Julien will keep you riveted and the twists will compel you to read faster than you’ll want… You know, like when you think you’re just going to “savor” that freshly baked chocolate croissant. I literally devoured this book overnight, and so will you! Buy it now!

160695625. Zombie Attack by Robert Bevan (Yes, a man. No, not a rom-com or anything like it.)

Speaking of rabbit holes… Zombie Attack is not my usual book. I picked it up because it was free. Though I’d be lying if I said this was the main reason. In the ocean of tweets I slog through daily of authors begging people to buy their books, posting reviews and the like, Robert Bevan stood out for me because instead of tweeting “Buy my book!” he grabbed me with: “Show me on the doll where this story touched you” and “It’s like that friend who gives you a kidney… from a hobo… and you didn’t need a kidney.” This delicious subversiveness intrigued me to download and read Zombie Attack, a slice of a larger story that imagines a group of friends finding themselves trapped “in” a role-playing game called “Caverns and Creatures.” Glad to report that the writing lived up to the tweets; I really liked it and I bought another one. That’s working it! Buy it now!

16044957BONUS: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

In my “other” career as a book editor, I have had the pleasure of editing Patti Callahan Henry. Not only does this lady know how to tell a story, I’ve never experienced another writer who can encapsulate the intensity of a moment of emotion in words in quite the same way Patti can. And Then I Found You was inspired by the real-life story of a child in her own family who was given up for adoption then years later reunited with her birth mother, aunts, and cousins via Facebook. Come on, how cool is that?! Patti does such a wonderful job exploring all the elation, anticipation, and fear; the pain of loss and the joy of the “gain.” Pre-order it now!

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(As for the bonus-ish book, Patti did a short called Friend Request which tells the backstory of And Then I Found You and which you should also buy and read now before you pre-order And Then I Found You. I cried my eyes out. But in a good way. So will you. In a good way.) Buy it now!

I’m not going to say too much more about Patti’s books now because I’m blessed to have her as my guest on the blog next week, just days before the release of And Then I Found You!

What are some of the great books you’ve read lately? Leave me a comment with a recommendation, please.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, have a great one!

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How to Celebrate Easter + Passover?

How to Celebrate Easter + Passover?

An excerpt from Rita Hayworth’s Shoes shows how it’s done. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, and Happy Spring everyone!

How Amy and Her Extended Family Celebrated the Holidays

She didn’t know what she had expected to find when the front door of the apartment swung open, but it certainly wasn’t what had greeted her: Zoë outfitted in a quasi-Playboy Bunny getup, wearing a set of oversized bunny ears and an expression that could only be described as humiliated. “No. Not Elijah,” Zoë called back into the room and then added just for Amy: “Only Vashti.”

“Oh, very funny,” Amy smirked, as she leaned over to give Zoë a giant hug and kiss.

“I have to find the humor in all this somehow, Auntie Amy. Do you see what they have me in this year?” she asked.

“What’s wrong? I think you look cute.”

“If I was sixteen and decided to wear this myself, my mother would ground me until I left for college. I mean, look at this,” she said as she turned around to give Amy a look at her perky cotton tail. “Seriously,” she said. Then she looked Amy up and down. “What are you wearing?” she asked.

“Why? What’s wrong?” Amy asked, immediately self-conscious. “It’s just a turtleneck and a jumper.”

“A jumper,” Zoë repeated, in a flat tone.

“A jumper,” Amy replied, wondering what the big deal was. “Auntie Amy,” she shook her little blonde head. “A jumper is a person who’s given up on life. Someone who sits on a ledge or a bridge somewhere ready to say ‘good-bye cruel world’ and take a leap. It isn’t something you wear.” She looked away, ashamed. “It’s dreadful.”

“Zoë!” gasped Jane, who had just come over to welcome the new arrival. “Nice little girls…”

“I know, I know. Nice little girls let their friends walk around looking like bag ladies if that’s what makes them happy.”

“That’s not what I meant, young lady.” Quite the opposite of Amy, Jane wore a gauzy yellow sundress with a white, loosely buttoned cardigan sweater casually tossed over it. New white espadrilles adorned her otherwise bare feet, and showcased a bright peach pedicure. She was perfectly dressed for a spring celebration; Amy, on the other hand, was dressed more along the lines of…

“It’s Urban Amish,” said Zoë.

“Sorry?” both women asked, looking to the girl.

“Urban Amish. I’ve been trying to figure it out for years and now I know,” she said, folding her arms across her chest as she nodded at Amy. “Yep. That’s her look.”

“Zoë, nice little girls…” Jane stammered, embarrassed, yet more than a little bit intrigued.

“Think about it, Mama. When’s the last time you saw Auntie Amy wear any other color but…” she started naming on her fingers, “black, navy blue, beige, gray.” She looked to her mother. “Am I missing one?”

“No. It’s true,” Jane said, looking pained. And then, as though Amy had ruined Zoë in some horrible way and for life, she added, dramatically, “What’s wrong with having a little color in your life?”

“There she is!” came a voice from the living room. “There’s our Amy!” Saved by the rabbi. Joshua Austen-Rabinowitz, along with Lauren, joined the party at the door, and took Amy into his arms. “Come on in,” he said as he hugged her, taking the bottle of wine she’d brought and passing it to Lauren.

“Nice to see you, dear,” said Lauren, as she planted polite air kiss on each of Amy’s cheeks, and took her hand into her own, which was slightly cold and bony. “You over him yet?”

Amy, caught off guard, smiled weakly. “Oh, well. You know how it is. It takes time. I don’t think I’ve ruled out reconciliation and—”

“I think I have the cure,” Lauren cut her off, without emotion. “There’s only one cure for a broken heart, you know.” And then Lauren let out a boozy, uncharacteristically hearty laugh.

Amy didn’t know what she was talking about, but nervously laughed along anyway.

“Come! The egg hunt is about to begin,” Joshua beamed, his eyes on his granddaughter.

“And our little bunny’s done one heck of a job with the hiding this year! Haven’t you, Zoë?”

“Sure,” said Zoë, wincing as she looked down at her barely covered form.

Following an hour-long egg hunt that essentially consisted of Zoë having to find every single egg she had hidden earlier as the adults found the bottoms of their glasses again and again, the family gathered around the large, festively decorated table in the center of the dining room for the much-anticipated annual Easter-Seder feast.

A spectacular spread was laid out before them—one that celebrated both the Jewish and Christian traditions of the varied members of the Austen-Rabinowitz families assembled. There were miles of matzoh and mountains of maror. There was a rack of lamb and asparagus and roasted rosemary red potatoes. There enough brisket to feed an army. There was challah bread with colored eggs baked into it (though there wasn’t a single drop of Italian blood to be accounted for here)—St. Yosef’s bread, as Joshua liked to joke. And, to ensure the evening would be rich in tradition, and loose in inhibition, there were four wineglasses set at every place.

“We’re at the kids’ end,” Zoë said to Amy, as she led them to their seats at the foot of the table. “We get to sit with the Happys again,” she joked. Amy couldn’t help but let a giggle slip, as this could only mean they’d be sharing their end of the table with the gloomiest people she had ever met.

As if the seating order ever changed from event to event, everyone searched out their place cards. Joshua was at the head, with Lauren to his right and Jane to his left. To Jane’s left was Joshua’s younger brother, Morty, who looked to be about ten years older than he. To his left sat Lauren’s ancient Aunt Clarabelle, followed by Amy. On the other side of the table, there was an empty seat next to Lauren, and beyond that sat Joshua’s own ancient aunt, Enid. Next to her sat her long-divorced, morbidly morose son, Grant. And next to him sat his miserable thirteen-year-old daughter, Ava, whom, Zoë had explained to Amy as they walked to their seats, she was expected to entertain. Except not even the bunny suit had sparked even a mocking smile.

The doorbell rang and Zoë cringed. Joshua and Lauren grinned at their granddaughter through a haze of pre-dinner wine and Zoë buried her face in her hands.

“Maybe that’s Elijah!” slurred Aunt Enid.

“Go on and get it!” screamed Clarabelle, with a hint too much enthusiasm.

“But I’m really not into any of this,” Zoë pleaded. “I’m a Buddhist.”

Everyone laughed, charmed as ever by the adorable little girl. Except for Amy, who gave Zoë a supportive little hug. And except for Grant and Ava. Because Grant and Ava never smiled.

Zoë took a deep breath and slid out of her chair. “I wonder who this could be,” she said, monotone as she dragged her feet to the front door and opened it.

“Hi, Zoë,” came a man’s voice from the other side of the door.

“Oh. Hi, Brendan.” Zoë said, bored, as she turned back to the table. “It’s just Brendan.”

Amy didn’t know a Brendan and immediately turned her head toward the front door when she saw how excited the other woman at the table appeared at the mere mention of his name. She nearly choked as he entered, as the man––whom Zoë had dismissed as just Brendan––was the most beautiful man Amy had ever seen. Brad Pitt would have looked like a pile of vomit next to this strapping, sandy- haired, green-eyed Adonis. Amy must have been staring, for when Zoë came back to the table, she leaned over and whispered loudly in Amy’s ear, “Stop staring.” Amy promptly took a sip of water and tried to refocus on the dinner party.

“You can’t fall in love with a body,” Zoë said pointedly to Amy.

Jane quickly jumped up, urging Uncle Mort to take the seat next to Lauren on the other side of the table. “Come. Sit here,” she gushed to the new addition, tapping the seat next to her. “How are you, Brendan?”

Lauren stood. “No, dear. He’ll sit by me,” she said. Jane glared at her mother. “Not for you,” Lauren mouthed, as Jane crossed her arms and sulked and Brendan made his way over to Lauren.

Amy leaned toward Zoë. “Who is he and why haven’t I met him before? I mean, he’s here in your house for the holidays. He must—”

“He’s no one. Believe me,” Zoë said, letting out an exasperated sigh.

“Seriously. He must be someone special. An actor?”

“He’s just a guy Nana found lurking around at Starbucks one day. Some college dropout.” Zoë looked at Brendan, who began schmoozing with the others. “He’s one of those ‘strays’ New York liberals like to bring to these kinds of events. You know, just some loser with no family and nothing else to do.”

“Oh.” Amy looked away, embarrassed.

“Oh, God—I didn’t mean you, Auntie Amy. Of course you’re one of us.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Zoë.”

“Gooble gobble.”

“Huh?”

Before Zoë could explain the reference, Joshua lifted his wineglass and stood. “Now that we are all present and accounted for, we may begin our celebration. The glorious union of centuries-old traditions that could only be possible here.”

“Cheers, everyone,” said Lauren, raising her glass. Everyone drank. And then drank some more as a long, uncomfortable silence followed.

Impatient, Joshua nodded to Zoë. “Come on, child. You should know this cold by now.”

Zoë sighed deeply and then began. “Right. Sorry,” she cleared her tiny throat. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” she said in what had become her trademark monotone this evening.

As the ritual unfolded, Amy tried to sneak a quick inconspicuous glance at Brendan, mortified to find he was staring at her. He waved, throwing her for a bigger loop. She turned her head to make sure no one was standing behind her, causing him to chuckle and shake his head. He waved again and mouthed a small “Hello.” She waved back and quickly looked away as the four questions ended.

“Bon appétit,” said Lauren, and everyone dove in.

“So, Amy,” said Joshua. “Tell everyone how you killed your boss.”

“Joshua!” Lauren gasped.

Clarabelle shouted across the table at Enid. “What did he say?” And then to Morty, “What did he say?” Morty leaned in and whispered to Clarabelle. “She did what?!” Now Clarabelle gasped.

“Dad! Honestly,” said Jane, shaking her head. “Amy didn’t kill anyone. Her boss choked to death on a cookie.”

“How do you choke on a cookie?” asked a puzzled Enid.

“It was a biscotti,” Amy chirped, thinking this would help somehow.

“Oh,” said Enid, as if it had.

“Pappy, come on,” laughed Zoë. “Amy’s not a killer. I mean, seriously. Just look at her outfit.” Now Ava looked Amy up and down, and nodded in agreement when Zoë added,

“Doesn’t exactly scream ‘femme fatale’.”

“Zoë Mary-Alice Austen-Rabinowitz!”

“I kind of dig a chick in a jumper,” said Brendan from across the table. “Seriously,” he said, as if no one believed him.

“I still don’t see how you could choke to death on a cookie,” said Enid, looking worriedly at Grant, who had just taken a large bite of a macaroon. Sensing his mother’s displeasure, he immediately tossed the macaroon back onto his plate. When she turned away, he picked it up again, considered it, and shoved the rest of the cookie into his mouth.

“I’m Brendan,” Brendan waved to Amy. “I think I was invited here to meet you, right?” he asked, now looking around. Lauren pretended to be looking at her fingernails when his eyes fell on her. He smiled again at Amy. “You know, I’ve hated every boss I ever had. So I have to say, it’s especially nice to meet you.”

Amy flushed bright red. “Well, thanks. But I didn’t kill—”

“You never did like that Heimlich, did you?” asked Joshua.

“And those shoes,” said Ava, out of nowhere, and miraculously now smiling at Zoë. “Yes, I see. I think I know exactly what you mean—”

“Speaking of shoes,” said Amy, coughing as she desperately tried to change the subject.

“I had the strangest experience yesterday with a pair of shoes.”

“Really,” said Zoë, now enjoying an audience with Ava. “Because I—”

“Zoë!” shouted Jane.

Amy cleared her throat and continued. “I was walking by Smitty’s—you know, that second-hand store down on the strip?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Clarabelle. “Such bargains. I bought this scarf there and for such a bargain,” she nodded to Enid, who looked crossly at Clarabelle. Clarabelle looked away and absently tugged at the hairs on her chin.

“Right. Well, anyway,” Amy continued. “There were these shoes there, shoes like I’d never seen before. They were red and so shiny and…” she drifted off. “I can’t explain it.”

“Did you buy them?” Ava craned her neck to look under the table.

Zoë joined her. “Those aren’t them, are they?” asked Zoë. “Because you know those aren’t red, right?” Zoë taunted, and Ava actually laughed.

“I don’t get it,” said Brendan.

“What? No.” said Amy, getting annoyed that Zoë was entertaining Ava at her expense.

“Well did you?” asked Grant. “Did you buy them?”

“That’s the ridiculous part,” Amy said. “They were two hundred and fifty dollars. Used. I mean, could you imagine?” she looked around for support from the other women, but not even Jane would look at her. “You don’t think that’s just a little ridiculous?”

“What price can you put on what you’re worth?” asked Morty, seemingly to the air.

Amy was amazed. “That’s so weird,” she said. “That’s kind of what the saleslady said,” and she looked around for a response. She got none. “Anyway, she also said that the shoes had belonged to Rita Hayworth, like that was supposed to decide it.”

“Rita Hayworth,” mused Joshua. “Now that’s a name you never hear anymore. Big in my day, but—”

“Dad, you’re in your sixties,” said Jane. “Were you even born when Gilda came out?”

“Well, in my father’s day maybe. But, oy. What a knockout she was. Hair red as fire. And the most gorgeous set of––”

“Pappy!”

“Sorry. Well… Anyway, tragic story. Tragic girl,” he shook his head. “Started out bad,” he said, draining the wine from the bottom of his glass. “Drunken horrible parents,” he said, and poured himself another. “Ended badly.”

“What happened?” asked Amy.

“Drank herself crazy,” said Clarabelle, grabbing another bottle from the table and filling her glass. “Alzheimer’s and a slow death.”

“Abusive childhood. Bad marriages,” said Joshua. “Divorced five times,” he said, looking right at Grant.

“And here I thought one was a pain in the ass,” Jane smirked.

Grant was not amused. “Sometimes once is enough,” he chortled, and looked as though he would burst into tears at any moment. “It’s like being cut off at the waist. Every day a new struggle. I just don’t—”

“Oh, are you still sensitive about that? Sorry.” Jane said snidely. She collected some dirty plates from the table as Grant glared at her.

“Let me help you with that,” said Brendan. She blushed and as he followed her into the kitchen.

Zoë looked at her grandparents and then back at Amy. And then at her grandparents. And then back at Amy.

Joshua reflected for a moment and stood. “I have to agree. Two hundred and fifty is too much for a pair of shoes,” he said, as Lauren coolly looked the other way. She stood, collected more dirty plates, and headed for the kitchen. Joshua dutifully piled up the plates in front of him and followed.

Zoë waited for her grandparents to be out of earshot before she leaned in and said, “Except he didn’t tell you the important part.”

“What do you mean?” asked Morty.

“The legend,” said Zoë. “About the shoes?”

“I don’t think I know anything about the shoes,” said Enid. Now they all looked to Zoë, as they often did. “Well, from what I read,” she began, and looked around.

Clarabelle leaned over to Morty, “That child is always reading,” she nodded. “She would know.”

“From what I read, Rita Hayworth was kind of plain and boring when she was young,” Zoë said. “A little like you, Auntie Amy.”

“Thanks.”

“But then she made a decision that would change her life. She fell in love with a pair of shoes. A very expensive pair of shoes. And, after passing them in a store window day after day on her way back and forth from her job in a factory during the height of the Great Depression, she decided she just had to have them.”

“But how could she afford—” Grant started to ask.

“She always had to give all her earnings to her father on payday, it’s true—”

“So he could drink it!” growled Enid, in disgust, and then swallowed down the rest of the wine in her glass.

Zoë smiled. “That’s right. But this one week, she decided no. That it was her money and that she would spend it the way she wanted to. So…”

“So?” Ava wanted to know.

“So she stopped in the store and bought the shoes.”

A collective gasp came from the group.

“And her father?” asked Clarabelle. “What did she tell her father?”

“She pretended she got mugged,” said Zoë.

“Did he believe her?” asked Amy.

“Oh, no,” said Zoë.

“Then what?” asked Morty.

Zoë looked around before speaking. “Then he beat her, of course.”

Another gasp.

“But it never mattered again, because after that, everything changed,” said Zoë.

“Margarita, her real name, went out in the shoes the very next day, and she met Darryl Zanuck.”

“You mean the big Hollywood producer?” asked Enid.

“The same,” said Zoë. “He offered her a role in his latest film, and she left for Hollywood two weeks later.”

“I heard that story!” said Clarabelle. “I remember that!”

“I don’t quite remember it like that,” said Morty, looking a little confused.

There was a moment of silent reflection, but only a moment. “Are you going to buy the shoes, Amy?” asked Clarabelle. “They could be the ones!” gushed Enid.

“Buy the shoes, Amy!” urged Ava.

Amy tried to make sense of it all, while trying to pull herself out of the spotlight. “I don’t think I knew any of that, Zoë. Thanks. But two hundred fifty dollars for shoes. I mean, come on.”

“Some people just don’t understand the power of shoes,” Lauren said, catching the end of the conversation.

“Personally, I don’t think all that much of it,” said Zoë. “Yet I can’t scientifically rule it out.”

Brendan returned with Joshua. Jane, looking annoyed, walked a few steps behind them.

“So who’s taking over for Heimlich?” Joshua asked.

“Right now? His classes are being covered by a few of his graduate students and some other members of the department. But going forward––”

“What about you?” Lauren asked. “Are you taking on any of them?”

“Me?” Amy blushed. “Oh, no. I couldn’t possible teach his classes.”

“But don’t you have a Masters degree in English Lit?” asked Lauren.

“All she has to do is defend her dissertation at this point and then it’s PhD all the way.”

“Jane!” said Amy, horrified.

“Well, I’m sorry, Amy. But it’s true. She downplays how far she’s gotten, and how brilliant her paper was. All she needs to do now is defend it.”

All eyes were now on her. “I have a little, uh, stage fright.”

“Perhaps if you had the shoes…” mused Clarabelle.

“What’s that?” asked Joshua.

“Oh nothing, Pappy,” said Zoë. “Don’t worry about it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Buy it now!

Rita Hayworth's ShoesHer magic shoes may have brought new love into her life… But is her new prince really just a frog?

Amy Miller gets dumped on her wedding day and everyone knows it’s for the best her relationship with David had eaten away at her for years. Except for Amy… When her best friend, Jane Austen-Rabinowitz, and Jane’s sagacious six-year-old daughter, Zoe, convince Amy to treat herself to an extravagantly priced, super-cute pair of shoes, which purportedly once belonged to a siren of the silver screen, she balks at first, but their allure soon wears her down.

Once they are hers, her life turns around. She gets refocused on her career and meets a true kindred spirit, the also-jilted English professor, Decklin Thomas. She’s not attracted to Deck at first. But when circumstances lead to them spending more time together, they bond, and Amy starts to believe she may have found her soul mate. But when Deck’s former wife goes missing, again, the perfect romance may not be what it seems… Sparkly and witty as a 1940s screwball comedy, and filled with quirky characters and lots of delightful surprises, Rita Hayworth’s Shoes is a story of bouncing back, a heartwarming and potentially heartbreaking romance, and even a mystery rolled into one fun, hilarious page-turner.

Also by Francine LaSala – The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything

539286_10200439346445319_1446602713_nWho can you trust when you don’t know who you are…

Mina Clark is losing her mind-or maybe it’s already gone. She isn’t quite sure. Feeling displaced in her over-priced McMansion-dotted suburban world, she is grappling not only with deep debt, a mostly absent husband, and her playground-terrorizer 3-year-old Emma, but also with a significant amnesia she can’t shake-a “temporary” condition now going on several years, brought on by a traumatic event she cannot remember, and which everyone around her feels is best forgotten.

When a trip to the dentist leaves Mina with a new gold crown, her whole life changes. Slowly her memory and her mojo return. But when everything begins to crash down around her, she’s not sure if what’s happening is real, of if she’s just now fully losing her mind… especially when she realizes the only person she can trust is the one she fears the most. What’s it all going to cost her in the end?

Buy it now!

There’s More Than One Way To Boil An Egg…

There’s More Than One Way To Boil An Egg…

Great! I knew you’d all be so captivated by the title of this post, you’d just have to crack it open. Like a good hard-boiled egg… And here’s an amazing work of art to keep you here!

North Hempstead-20130323-00385

In all seriousness, I’m doing this post because I reached out on Facebook last week when I planned to color eggs with some kids for Easter, and realized I had no clue what the exact method for boiling an egg was. The response I got was amazing, and the best part of all: There is no exact right method! Anyway, I figured as ’tis the season for boiling eggs, it would be fun to share!

(If you’re believing “hard-boiling eggs” is a euphemism for something else and you’re still reading thinking something cool and hilarious is going to pop out of this post, it’s time to stop reading. It’s okay. I won’t be offended or hurt. I can take it.)

My favorites here:

“I find that exactly 13 minutes in a covered pot removed from the heat is perfect–if you go 17 you get that greenness around the yolks. Martha says so, and I have replicated her results.”
–AKP

“I put the eggs in the pan, add water, and turn on the heat. Even though many people drop the eggs into boiling water, I leave them in there for 20 minutes from beginning to end.”
–JSR

“I eat 6 hard boiled eggs a day…Boil the water…put in eggs….boil 13 minutes…. Run cold water over them and put them in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator.”
–SEB

“I buy pre-hard-boiled eggs from Trader Joe’s so I don’t have to think about it.”
–SJ (Why didn’t I think of that!)

“Here’s a sure proof method. With a needle, prick a whole in the large end of the egg. Lie the eggs horizontally before boiling to guarantee the yolk will be centered. Bring a pot of water to boil on high. Gently lower the eggs into the boiling water. Turn the heat down a bit. Boil for 15 minutes. Pour the hot water out of the pot and run cold water into the pot and let the eggs stand in the cold water for a bit, then peel. The shell will come off easily and you’ll have perfect hard boiled eggs with no gray ring around the yolk. Trust me on this, because I’m the king of making deviled eggs!”
–DH

“Put eggs in pot in COLD water with a small palm full of salt. Cover pot and listen. As soon as you hear eggs rattling TURN OFF HEAT. (If you have an electric stove remove pot from the heat source). Keeping covered 17 minutes. Remove lid and cool immediately with cold running water into pot. No green ring, no over or under cooked eggs. Just perfect!”
–SRK

“Alton Brown method is non smelly and even my clumsy nine-year-old can do it. Place egg in pot filled with cold water. Then place on stovetop under moderate heat. Once water is boiling, turn heat off and cover pot. Set timer for 10 minutes. Once timer goes off, remove hot water from pot and run eggs under cold water. They come out perfect every time.”
–RM

“I bake ’em in the oven.”
–JGD (Another “why didn’t I think of that?!” moment!)

Here’s a tip shared by TSR on how to bake them (looks like there’s lots of Easter fun going on this page if you want to “like” it): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=524347104271405&set=a.183531275019658.37582.177360958970023&type=1&theater

BTW, the other thing I learned this week is that while all kids love to color hard-boiled eggs, few like to eat them. Two for breakfast today and now only 28 more to eat. Anyone know how long these eggs will keep? Do chemicals in the dye help preserve them in any way? Please say they do.

Oh, and here’s what those who stopped reading will be missing:

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Come on, you don’t really believe I had anything to do with these? The same woman who forgot the white vinegar so all the eggs colored pretty much stayed white? Nah! This is from a website that has the best Easter Egg designs you’ve ever seen. Check it out: http://fiz-x.com/easter-egg-designs/

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Solstice, and Happy Anything-Else-You-Celebrate-This-Time-Of-Year! I hope whatever you’re doing is fun and egg-citing! (That for my friend Maria, who I don’t think reads my blog. We’ll see!)

Five For Friday: Libby Mercer (and a Special Surprise!)

Five For Friday: Libby Mercer (and a Special Surprise!)

I’m thrilled to have Libby Mercer in the “Shed” today. The editor in me just can’t help but notice this chick-lit lady’s incredible talent. Her books are so compelling and beautifully paced. Of course as a writer, I can’t help but feel a little jealous of how well she expresses her stories. Reading her definitely makes me want to become a better writer!

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Libby and I share a lot of interests but here’s a fun fact I’m sure she won’t mind I divulge: We both have a passion for nerds. She may be the only other woman around my age I know who also has the hots for George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in It’s A Wonderful Life–something we discovered during a Christmas promotion we did together.

Even if you’re not a nerd (or nerd lover), be sure to stalk Libby on the Web–she loves that kind of thing. Here’s how:

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon author page

You want to know the number 1 reason I’m delighted to host Libby today? She’s sharing an excerpt from her not-yet-released book, and the cover! Now let’s find out more about this fabulous fiction-ista and what makes her tick.

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1. I loved Unmasking Maya (my review here). Can share with us what inspired you to write it?

I got the idea for Unmasking Maya when I first moved to San Francisco as a single gal. I thought it might be a good idea to look for love in Silicon Valley, given the insane amount of intelligent men with great jobs (and very few women working there) but I soon got wise to the fact that a lot of these guys are so brainy that their interpersonal skills are a little underdeveloped. Not all of them of course. Anyway, I got to thinking that this type of guy would make a great love interest in a book and that’s what got the wheels turning.

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2. Can you explain how your story-making process unfolds? And do you have any special rituals when it comes to writing?

Usually I start with a general idea like the romance with a tech guy or the project I’m currently working on – a girl who opens up an ice cream shop. I let the ideas roll around in my mind for a while and figure out who my characters are. Once I’ve come up with an opening scene, I just go for it. I start writing and find out where the story wants to go. I can’t say I have any special rituals, but I do need silence in order to concentrate. I always have a trusty pair of earplugs nearby in case of noise outside.

3. Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what were you doing before you did? And either way, can you remember your “Aha!” moment?

I have always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first story at the age of seven – a picture book entitled “BIG and small.” I still have it and it’s so much fun to look at. Basically I just compared things I observed: “Apartments are big, my dollhouse is small” and “My dad’s hat is big. Mine is only little.” I kept on writing stories all through childhood and my teens and college years too (creative writing major). After college, I worked as a journalist, a shopkeeper and the marketing director of a natural health company. While I was working full-time, I didn’t get much writing done, but I wrote entire novels during periods of unemployment! So no, I don’t have an “Aha!” moment – at least not before I hit the ripe old age of seven.

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4. Writing the book is only part of the equation when it comes to publishing a book. There’s so much more that goes into getting the word out that many new authors may not know. Can you share some of your process when it comes to launching a new book?

You said it, sister! Marketing makes all the difference in the world. After I’ve got a project ready to go (and this is after finishing all the edits and formatting it for e-readers) I write the blurb for the story. And after that’s done, I start contacting book bloggers to see if they’d like to review. Meanwhile, I’m working with an illustrator to come up with the right cover for the book, and I’m also thinking about ideas for guest posts (or writing them). So I’m constantly in contact with bloggers – sending my book out and arranging guest posts. I also try to tweet, post on Facebook and post on my blog in the hopes of generating a little pre-release buzz, but I’m afraid I haven’t been very good about that lately.

5. And speaking of “sharing” and “new”… Can you share anything with us about your WIP? And how about an excerpt? And…cover….?

Funny you should ask, Francine. As it happens, I’ve got another release coming up next month. Like Unmasking Maya, it’s a romance/chick lit hybrid, but the setting is very different. This one takes place at a wellness center in the mountains of Vermont, or as my hero, Adam, would say, “a nuthouse out in the middle of Nowhere, Vermont.” I had loads of fun writing in his point of view! Here’s the cover:

The Karmic Connection Artwork

What is the universe up to?

Guilty of nothing other than working too much – or so they say – Adam Stowe is dumped at a “wellness center” in the middle of nowhere by a couple of concerned colleagues. When he meets Lorraine, the beautiful and bewitching yoga instructor, his spirits start to lift, but once he discovers what a flighty fruitcake she is, they drop back down to subterranean levels.

For Lorraine Jameson, Luna Wellness Center was a beacon of solace when her life was falling apart, and she can’t stand the way Adam’s toxic energy is poisoning the peace. He embodies everything negative about the life she discarded eighteen months ago. Despite being fiercely attracted to the arrogant man, she’s determined not to let Adam Stowe anywhere near her heart.

Adam and Lorraine couldn’t be more unsuitable as a potential couple… so why is the universe so dead set on uniting these two?

The Karmic Connection is a different kind of love story with a cast of quirky characters and a mystical, magical New Age-y flavor.

BONUS QUESTION: Congrats! Unmasking Maya has been optioned to become the next big summer blockbuster rom-com! (Wouldn’t that be the best thing ever?) You get to pick the cast! Who plays who?

That would be so fabulous! I’ve thought a lot about this and for some reason, I can totally see Michelle Williams as Maya. I’ve always thought there was something a bit haunting about her. Now, Derek is a bit more difficult to cast. To be honest, I’d want Jack Dorsey, the guy who created Twitter, to play Derek because there’s this one photo of him that looks exactly like how I pictured the character. As far as I know, this Twitter guy has no acting ambitions, but you never know… For Lin, I’d would bring Zhang Ziyi on board. I know it’s not her type of role (if you don’t know her, she’s the star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha) but I’d love to see her in the role of Lin, the wacky IT girl. And for Maya’s agent, Inez, I’d cast Sofia Vergara. Aside from looking the part, I think she’d really bring a lot of fun to the set.

It was so great chatting with you today, Francine. Thanks for having me!

It was great having you here. Please come again sometime!

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Here’s where to buy Libby’s books:

Unmasking Maya (amazon)

Unmasking Maya (barnes&noble)

Fashioning a Romance (amazon)

Fashioning a Romance (barnes&noble)

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Excerpt from The Karmic Connection 

(The Karmic Connection is coming soon, but you can follow Libby’s release information on Goodreads.)

She walked over and knelt down beside him. “Adam?” she murmured. She touched his shoulder and he lifted his head with a wince. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll be all right.” He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, he gave her a wry smile. “I just sat up too fast.”

She nodded in understanding. “How many cups of coffee do you drink each day?”

“Usually about seven. Or eight.” He lowered his head back to his knees. “I don’t suppose you guys have any aspirin?”

“I’m afraid not.” Lorraine bit down on her bottom lip. He looked so miserable. Her hands burned to stroke his cheek, to kiss away his pain, and she was mortified by her inappropriate desire. In order to prevent herself from doing something unacceptable, she kept talking. “But I can make you a special tea that will help.”

“Tea. Great.” He closed his eyes again.

Serena looked over from where she was rolling up her yoga mat, concern written all over her wise, old face. “Is he okay?” she mouthed.

Lorraine shrugged and then nodded. He would be okay, although she knew how gruesome he must have been feeling at that moment. She’d been there once.

She felt torn. There was something she could do to help (in addition to the special tea) but it would probably complicate her feelings further.

Stop being a baby, Jameson.

In truth, Lorraine really had no choice in the matter, being bound by oath and all…

“Give me your hand, Adam,” she instructed, sitting back on her feet.

He opened his eyes in surprise and then promptly narrowed them in bemusement. “What for?”

Now it was Lorraine’s turn to close her eyes in irritation, but only for a brief moment. She reopened them and said, “Pressure points. Just do it.”

He gave her a skeptical look, but he relented and offered her a hand.

Lorraine did her best not to notice the perfect shape of Adam’s hand, and she tried to ignore the thrilling sensation that shot through her body as she took that smooth, warm hand in hers. She did her best not to notice the way the candlelight gave Adam’s hand a delicious golden glow, as if it had been lightly glazed in butterscotch sauce, and she tried desperately not to fantasize about licking the sweetness off.

Honestly! She needed to get a hold of herself. She took one deep, cleansing breath after another, and then she balled her hand into a fist, jammed it under Adam’s palm, found the fleshy bit between his thumb and forefinger, and she pressed down as hard as she could with her thumb.

One, two, three, four.

“Yikes, Lorraine. You’ve got really strong thumbs,” he said quietly.

“Mm hmm.” She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t. Why wasn’t he being rude? It really helped her when he was being rude. Where was that negative energy when she needed it? He was so close. He was too close. The scent of him was intoxicating. Most of the men she came across these days smelled like patchouli and sandalwood. Adam just smelled clean. Like rain.

Goddess, forgive me. I just want him so much…

Focus, Jameson! Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen.

She tried to slow her breathing, but it was no use. Her body was out of control. It felt like each and every one of her nerve endings was waving a sparkler around and a marching band had set up camp inside her heart. As for her belly, it felt like there were two or maybe two-hundred trapeze artists swinging through the air down there.

What was going on?! Lorraine shook her head and peeled her gaze away from Adam’s hand. The studio buzzed with activity. Frank rolled up his yoga mat. Naomi pulled on a pair of warm, woolen socks. Joel waved to Lorraine before he left the studio, and she nodded back at him, smiling goodbye.

Breathe in… and breathe out. Breathe in… and breathe out.

The deep breathing helped. And it also helped to avoid looking at Adam and his hand. She locked her gaze on the candles flickering from the low wooden bench against the wall and focused on her breathing.

Lorraine was so preoccupied with maintaining control that she completely lost sight of the matter at hand. She tried to figure out how many seconds had gone by. Forty-seven? Sixty-two? Seventy-eight? She had no idea.

A gentle squeeze of her shoulder made her jump. Instinctively, she released her grip on Adam’s pressure point and clutched his hand tightly. Also instinctively (probably) he clutched her hand back just as tightly.

Five For Friday: Eileen Goudge

Five For Friday: Eileen Goudge

What a great honor it is for me to be hosting today’s guest! Not only is New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge an amazing writer, who’s been inspiring me for years with her intricately crafted, deeply moving stories, filled with heart and just the right amount of humor, she’s also a very cool lady! Her success is undeniable, but she’s totally down-to-earth. She takes being edited gracefully (as I well know), and she’s also quite encouraging to emerging talent. She’s also married to WABC movie critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Talk about a cute couple!

Eileen in St 2

I have known Eileen since my first daughter was a baby (she’s now almost eight), when her publisher assigned me to edit Woman in Red. Now Eileen is taking an exciting leap into digital publishing, which means we can expect much more coming from her now–and not just strictly women’s fiction. (You’ll get a taste of her new mystery at the end of this interview!)

Here’s how to connect with Eileen:

Facebook

Twitter

Blog

And now, let’s meet Eileen!

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1. I have had the pleasure of editing several of your books, including Woman in Red, Domestic Affairs, and Once in a Blue Moon, as well as the novella The Diary. I wasn’t able to edit The Replacement Wife, but read it several I times. Your stories are always so richly developed, and your characters just pop off the page and into readers’ hearts, like they’re people we know. So I have to ask: Do your stories sometimes spring from real-life people and events? Or are they all pure imagination?

Thanks for your kind words, Francine! My ex-husband and a few disgruntled family members might see themselves in my novels, but I don’t actually cut characters from whole cloth. More like snippets. A personality trait or interesting quirk here and there. I’d say each of my characters is built of two parts imagination and one part inspiration. I was just tweeting about the character of Eric Sanderson in Thorns of Truth, who is loosely based on my husband Sandy. Except Sandy didn’t accidentally kill a co-worker while driving drunk!

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2. I know a lot of my readers are very interested in your writing process. Does a book come to you–or do you have an idea and pull a book from it? Do you have any special rituals? Does wearing a particular article of clothing help you write–and can you share with us here?

I get random ideas all the time, from life experience or a true story someone’s told me or newspaper articles I’ve read. If it’s meant to become a novel, it grows in my mind like a potted plant on a sunny windowsill. By the time I sit down to write it, I have a rough idea of the plot already mapped out in my mind.

As for rituals, I get up early in the morning to write so I always light a candle on my desk to set the mood. I call it my “Emily Dickinson moment.” That and a cup of tea sets me up just right. By nine o’clock I have to be showered and dressed, though. I have a rule: no p.j.’s or slippers after breakfast.

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3.  What advice can you give aspiring and new novelists about building their writing careers?


I’m asked this question all the time by aspiring writers. The answer is simple: write, write, write. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but without it you’re nowhere. I used to carry a notebook around with me everywhere in the days before laptops and handheld electronic devices. Even if you think what you’re writing is crap, keep going until you get it all down, then you can revise.

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4. You come from a traditional publishing background, but made the choice a couple of years ago to switch gears and dive into digital publishing. We hear about the benefits all the time from here in the trenches (publish what you want, when you want, etc.). How are you finding this “Brave New World” of ebooks, print-on-demand and social media marketing, as compared to the old ways?

It’s exciting! The medium lends itself to far more flexibility when it comes to marketing and promotion. There’s no time limit to how long a book can “sit” on the virtual shelf. In the old days, the time span between when a book landed in stores and when it made its way into the returns pile or to the shredder always seemed frighteningly short. With digital you have a chance to build an audience. I love that. And I love “schmoozing” with readers on Twitter and Facebook.

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5. In addition to being a top-notch writer, you’re also something of a gourmet chef and baker (you’re not just guessing about all those delicious foods and recipes that come up in your novels!). How does the act of cooking and / or baking influence your writing?

I love to bake. In my novel One Last Dance one of the characters, Kitty Seagrave, is the proprietress of a tearoom, which was right in my wheelhouse. I even did a cookbook, titled Something Warm from the Oven. Nothing is more relaxing to me after a hard day at the computer. Whether it’s kneading dough or mixing cake batter. And there’s always something yummy to show for it. I often tell my husband it’s a good thing he has a sweet tooth or I couldn’t have married him!

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BONUS QUESTION: Hey, speaking of food… Your fans are starving for a new book! Can you tell us about new projects you have on the horizon?

I’m working on a mystery set in a fictional Northern California seaside town like the one I used to live in (and where I’m currently visiting). I’m having so much fun with it! The main character, Aggie Ballard, is named after Agatha Christie. That says it all. Needless to say she has the sleuthing gene in her DNA.

Thanks for sharing with us, Eileen! Based on this excerpt and my passion for Eileen’s books in general, I can’t wait to read her latest. How about you? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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And pssst: Please click on any of the book shots or links above to buy Eileen’s books. And now, as a special treat… An excerpt from her WIP. How thrilling is that!? (P.S. Here’s a fun blog post Eileen recently wrote about her characters getting away from her. Click here to enjoy!)

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From BONES AND ROSES:
“What makes you think she was murdered?”

He gives a short, harsh laugh. “Don’t you read the papers?”

“According to the medical examiner, she died of injuries sustained from a fall.”

I see a flicker of some emotion in his shuttered gaze, but his voice is hard.  “Look, I’m sorry for your loss.  I’m sorry for a lot of things.  Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but I loved her too.”

“Really?  Is that why you killed her?  Because you couldn’t have her and you wanted to be sure no one else could?”

His hooded eyes flash at me with the sudden intensity of a lightning bolt whipcracking  from a low cloud cover.  “You got it all wrong,” he growls.  “I loved her, all right.  Just not enough to stick around.  I thought it was what I wanted when she left her old man, then I got cold feet.”

“Are you saying you walked on her?”

He shrugs.  “Guess I wasn’t cut out to be a husband and a dad.”

“No shit.  The love of your life winds up in a footlocker with a broken neck.  That pretty much says it all.”

“Okay, so I’m a grade-A prick.  But I’m no killer.  I never laid a hand on her.”

“Maybe you didn’t mean to,” I continue, ignoring his denial.  “Maybe it wasn’t you that had the change of heart and not her, and when she told you she was going back to her husband, you couldn’t deal with it.  You got mad and pushed her.  Is that how it happened?  Like with that guy you assaulted in Miami?  Oh yeah, I know all about that, too.”  The scenario crystallizes in mind as I voice it.  The anger I felt toward my mom all those years is now directed at Stan.

He shoots me another murderous look.  “It might interest you to know, Miz Ballard, the cops were out here the other day.  I told them everything I know.  And as you can see from the fact that I’m standing here talking to you, they didn’t think they had enough evidence to charge me.”

“Maybe this will convince them.”  I whip out the other item tucked in the pocket of my red O’Neal hoodie along with my Tornado 5 in 1 protective device: a tattered postcard showing a guy wrestling an alligator, from one of those cheesy tourist attractions in Florida.  I read aloud the handwritten message on the back.  “‘Sorry for everything.’  Does that ring a bell, Stan?  Or are you having a senior moment?  Never mind. I’m sure the cops can verify it’s your handwriting.” I return it to my pocket before he can snatch it from me. Though I’ve already made photocopies, for security purposes.  “I don’t know, Stan, it sure sounds to me like a confession.”

It happens so quickly, I’m caught unaware.   A flash of movement, and he’s got me by my collar.  Or rather the hood of my hoodie, which he’s using to drag and pin me to the building’s rough wood siding.  He’s putting all his weight into it, and I feel the pop of a vertebrae repositioning in my neck.  I open my mouth to cry for help but only a small, choked sound emerges.  Not that it’d do any good.  I’m here all alone except for Dirty Harry.  His breath is hot against my face, the spark of emotion I glimpsed earlier in his eyes now a full-blown blaze.  “You don’t know shit!” he snarls.  “Now do what I say and back off.  Before someone else gets hurt.”

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Five For Friday: Susan Buchanan

Five For Friday: Susan Buchanan

I delighted to introduce you to today’s guest, all the way from the UK! The fact that author Susan Buchanan “made the trip” at all to visit with me here at all is an amazing honor, but that she’s here and also 8+ months pregnant is a total testament to just how cool this lady is! (I remember how “friendly” I felt when I was 8 months pregnant…)

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Not only is Susan, or “Sooz” (as those lucky enough to communicate with her often call her) a fantastic writer, she’s also a strong supporter of other authors. She reviews regularly and interviews authors on her blog. She’s also amazing with Twitter, which we’ll get into a bit. You definitely want to follow, like, and subscribe to Sooz. Here’s how:

You’ll also want to buy and read her books. You’ll find an excerpt from The Dating Game at the end of this interview as well as links to buy it and Sign of the Times. Let’s meet her now!

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1. I really enjoyed The Dating Game (here’s my review) and Sign of the Times is on my TBR. Are you stories inspired by events / relationships in your life? If so, how do you change things around. If not, where do your ideas come from?

Sign of the Times is much less of my life than The Dating Game, although The Dating Game doesn’t relate to me much either. Let me explain. Sign of the Times has 12 main characters. Holly, the first, is Sagittarius – I started with Sagittarius, as I am Sagittarius. However, apart from sharing some of my traits, eg: loving travelling and being a bookworm, we don’t have very much in common.

As Sign of the Times is about 12 people whose personalities, careers and attributes are related to their particular star sign, I researched that quite deeply. Some of the places in Sign of the Times, are places I have been and love, eg Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands, which was actually where I met my other half. Bibbiena in Tuscany where Holly goes to research her book is where I went on a villa holiday with seven friends the summer immediately before starting writing Sign of the Times. It had such an impact on me, I chose that as the setting for my travel writer’s exploits. Lucy goes to Lucerne in Switzerland – I also went there and loved it. So the travel detail is taken from my real life, but the rest is fiction. Occasionally, some of the guy stuff I take from anecdotes my other half has shared with me, but it’s harmless stuff like getting drunk and playing ten pin bowling with beer cans.

The Dating Game came about, as a friend of mine had recently joined a dating agency for professional people in Glasgow. None of her experiences are related in the book, but some of the format, eg how she received profiles, the etiquette of turning down dates, was taken from her experience. The travel aspect in Barcelona I took  from my having lived there and also three trips I made in the past 5 years or so, once with my auntie for her 50th and twice with my other half – to visit the wine festival and the Mercè.

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2. There’s travel involved in The Dating Game, and also in Sign of the Times, and also of plenty of delicious food descriptions. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you made a career in “fine living” marketing. (Maybe you could make it a side career!) Have you done a lot of traveling? And if you have, do you consciously weave it into your writing, or does it end up there?

I’ve been very lucky in that I actually used the degree I went to university to study. I worked in European and International Sales for 15 years and travelled extensively for those roles, plus I like to chuck in a holiday or two, including one long-haul destination each year (about to change somewhat I feel with having a soon to be new baby!) I also love food – which I think is pretty apparent! Fine living – that sounds like a great job. Believe me, a lot of it wasn’t glamorous – lots of hotels, meetings, airports. Sometimes I would forget where I was, especially in the US, between connections!

Yes, I’ve visited 45 countries in total so far, ranging from Azerbaijan to Brazil, Romania to Sri Lanka. I love finding out about new cultures and people and traditions. Plus I am quite adventurous with food, although I have had a few bad experiences in Korea and once in Spain! I even had crocodile in Kenya in a white sauce once – won’t be making that mistake again! Bleurgh!

In Sign of the Times, Holly being a travel writer, meant she had to go somewhere, and Bibbiena was the perfect place. I like reading about other countries in books, so it was natural for me to include it.

In The Dating Game, initially there was no Barcelona section, at planning stage, but I had such amazing feedback from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the travel element of Sign of the Times and that they felt transported to the places I wrote about, that I couldn’t not. So that was definitely a much more conscious decision. And in my new book, What If, out hopefully in November, it will feature a Scottish island and also Hong Kong – the latter I’ve been to three times – twice for work, once for vacation.

3. Do you have any special writing quirks you can share? Do you need absolute quiet? A special chair? Do you have a pair of writing socks? An essential pen?

Not really, although I do need no-one to be home, so I can get peace. My pet hate is the TV on – can barely read when the TV is on, never mind write! I also like listening to classical music when writing, although it’s not essential. I find it helpful and unobtrusive. It’s a different case if I am doing rewrites though. I need total silence for that. I need my whiteboard and my Excel spreadsheets to keep track of everything, as well as Word docs for each character!

4. You have an amazing Twitter presence. Do you find you sell a lot of books via Twitter? And what are some tips you can share with others to get a stronger Twitter following?

Thanks –  it’s hard work, though, let me tell you. The funny thing is I didn’t do any social networking before I released my first book less than a year ago. Now I have over 8500 followers. My other half thinks this is hysterical. I would say that the majority of my sales come from Twitter. Unless you are way up those Amazon rankings, eg Top 100 or so, I don’t think you have enough visibility otherwise. I do schedule my promotional tweets via Hootsuite (I also use Tweetdeck). This will be even more important in the future, when I have a young baby to deal with. But I also love to talk about books, in general and spend a lot of time talking to people about books on Twitter, recommending them, telling them what I have recently read and receiving recommendations from them. Sometimes they notice I am an author and end up chatting to me about my books and then buying them.

There is a 80%/20% average of how much promotional stuff you should tweet. I don’t actually adhere to this much. It depends. And of course, I have my blog, which I also tweet about with book reviews and author interviews on it, so I think some people follow for that reason. I also use Tweepi to follow people I think will have similar tastes in books to mine and I use Manageflitter to unfollow some people who don’t follow back. Otherwise, I would get put on following hold!

5. Can you share with us about your current WIP?

What If, due out hopefully in November, as I said above, is the story of Cameron, a 45 year old bachelor who wakes up one day and realises his life is no longer what he wants. He starts to re-examine the choices he made and wonder how the relationships he was in previously would have panned out, if he had stuck with them. Where would he be now? But it’s not just his relationship choices, it’s his career path, his family connections, lots of different aspects of his life. And there’s a HUGE decision he has made which takes everyone aback, but he is determined. So will he manage to change his life to that extent?

I loved writing, again, from a guy’s point of view. There was quite a bit of this in Sign of the Times, which had 5 main male characters, The Dating Game less so, but still Anton, Charlie and the others ‘spoke’ occasionally. What If is quite different in that Cameron is the only protagonist and is male. I will be running some of his chat past my male friends before the release! But I’m told I’m quite often on the money, especially when it comes to Glasgow banter!

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BONUS QUESTION: I’m coming to Glasgow! (Well, not really, but we’re writers so let’s pretend.) We’re getting babysitters and raging all night. Where are we going for girls’ night out?

Hmm, well naturally it would have to start with food, but I suppose we could have a cocktail first! Oh, by the way, I went to great pains to change almost all the names of the real restaurants I’d used in The Dating Game, so as not to be advocating product/restaurant placement, only to realise later, that if you weren’t from Glasgow, you wouldn’t realise they didn’t exist! Oh well!

So, here’s for some real names. Cocktails at Urban Brasserie or the Millennium Hotel (for the record, I am probably not the best person to show you round Glasgow for drinks, as I go out mainly for dinner these days, so there are probably more hip places, but bear with me!) Then dinner, depending on what you like:

Italian – Sartis

Scottish food and seafood – No. 16 or Two Fat Ladies – both tiny but their food packs a punch

Thai food  – Thai Fountain – this was actually Fountain of Siam in The Dating Game but there are loads!

Then we would have to go to The Butterfly and the Pig pub to listen to some music and stand 10 deep to the bar, with no chance of getting served. It’s always absolutely mobbed. (This was Chrysalis in The Dating Game)

And then, in true Glasgow style, we’d have a pub crawl, after a fashion, where we drink one drink in each pub, until we fall down – ahem, I mean, we call it a night. We’d possibly end up in the Merchant City at the Italian centre, if the weather was good – ie above 15C.

I don’t think I could face clubbing, but I’m sure we could find somewhere with a dance floor and after that many drinks, I’m sure we would take over the floor (I have a tendency to do that, inadvertently spilling people’s drinks, doing lots of apologising and then having to buy them new drinks, only to realise I have forgotten what they look like when I return with them!)

And if you are still standing after all that, back to mine for a house party!

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Thanks for having me today, Francine. A real pleasure, and if you do, ever, get to Glasgow, we’ll definitely visit some of those. Sooz

A delight to have you here, Sooz. Thanks for visiting and sharing. And please keep us posted on the status of your latest “creation.” I know you’re going to be a super mom!

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Buy the books!

THE DATING GAME – http://amzn.to/RuSl7Y (UK)  http://amzn.to/WZQtZK (US)

SIGN OF THE TIMES – http://amzn.to/GKqZGd (UK) & http://amzn.to/IYN0Fc (US)
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Excerpt: The Dating Game
Just then, the door opened and she saw Debbie’s short, beige trench coat being shed and handed to the waitress.  Her friend waved at her and Gill stood up to give her a brief hug.
Once seated, the waitress brought Debbie’s vodka and both girls relaxed.
‘Gerry dropped me off.  I’ll get a taxi home later.  So, spill the beans,’ said Debbie excitedly.  Originally against the dating agency idea, since it was now decided upon, she was embracing it wholeheartedly.
‘Where are these profiles?’ Debbie asked, barely able to contain herself.
‘Why don’t we choose our food first, and then we can concentrate on my love life,’ Gill enjoyed keeping the anticipation going for a few minutes longer.
‘OK,’ and Debbie turned her attention to the menus.
After a few minutes they turned to each other and Gill said,
‘I’m going to have the Homemade Pâté and then the Chicken Breast with Dingwall Haggis, with Whisky Sauce.  I can’t see past that.’
Gill was known for her calorific tastes, so Debbie, a bit of a health freak, said,
‘I think I’ll have the Salmon on Herb and Leek Risotto.’  She continued to read from the menu, ‘and for mains, I think I’ll go for Sea Bass Fillet with Scallops.’
‘Sounds fabulous,’ said Gill.  ‘You do realise, Mrs Orr, that there probably isn’t a great difference in calories between your choice and mine tonight?’
‘I’m having fish!’ said Debbie, defending herself.
‘Yes, but with risotto and creamy mash and garlic and herb butter?  Tut tut!’
‘Yes, well, I work it all off, anyway.  Don’t tease me, or I may have dessert, too,’ and she picked up the menu again and said,
‘In fact, Puff Candy Meringue with Honeycomb Ice Cream and Hot Butterscotch Sauce sounds like it might round off the evening quite nicely,’ Debbie smiled sweetly at her friend.
‘Bitch!’ Gill said sotto voce.
Debbie didn’t get the opportunity to add anything else, as their starters arrived.  They tucked in greedily, agreeing by unspoken consensus that their chat would have to wait, whilst they polished off their first course.
The women laid their cutlery vertically across their plates, indicating they were finished.
‘So, am I getting to see these profiles or what?’ asked Debbie impatiently. ‘C’mon, hurry up,’ she tapped her fingers on the table, mimicking a drum roll.
‘All right, all right,’ said Gill, reaching for her bag.  After some deliberation, she had decided to show Debbie the profiles in the order she had received them.  Originally she’d thought it would be best to start with the worst and end with the best, but later decided it might be useful for them both to view the profiles in the same order.  Gill wanted to assess Debbie’s reactions to see how closely they matched her own.
‘Do me a favour,’ Debbie said, ‘Cover up the photo first.  I want to get a feel for them, without the photo.’
‘Oh, OK. I hadn’t thought of that,’ said Gill, feeling almost shallow for having greedily devoured their photos first.  But then, she had been unable to read the profiles, as she had viewed them on her phone and with her poor eyesight, it simply hadn’t been possible to pick out any words.  That was her story anyway.
Gill handed over Charlie’s profile, covering his photo with a coaster.  Debbie slid the A4 sheet towards her and began reading the text.
“Forty four.  That’s good.  Surveyor.  Probably drives a nice car and has a decent job – likely to be reliable,’ she glanced at Gill approvingly.  Lowering her eyes back to the page, she read on.  ‘Tall,’ Debbie waved her hand in the air, giving that attribute a large tick.  ‘Divorced, though, and he has a daughter.  Not a deal-breaker, but something to bear in mind?’ she glanced up again at Gill, who remained silent, waiting for her friend to conclude her assessment and more interested in what Debbie would say when she saw his photo.  ‘Seems compatible with you, interest-wise.  I say, unless he’s pig-ugly, he’s a yes.’  With a questioning glint in her eye at Gill, trying to figure out how her friend felt about Charlie, Debbie withdrew the coaster, to reveal Charlie’s photo.
‘Oh, hello!  He’s bloody gorgeous.  What’s he need to use a dating agency for?’ Debbie said flabbergasted.
‘Ahem,’ said Gill pointedly.
‘Well, yes of course, you’re gorgeous too, but I would kick you out of bed.  I wouldn’t kick him out of bed.  In fact, I might tie him to the bed, so he couldn’t escape!’ confessed Debbie.
Gill laughed.  ‘He’s not that good-looking.’
‘Er, yes, he is,’ said Debbie.
‘Well our tastes really must be different then.  Personally I’d only tie him to the bed if he was Bradley Cooper, Matthew McConaughey or Hugh Dancy gorgeous.’
‘Well he looks a bit like Bradley Cooper, without the facial hair.  Who’s Hugh Dancy?’
‘The boss and Isla Fisher’s boyfriend in Confessions of a Shopaholic.’
‘Ah.  Yes, he is quite tasty.’
‘So, if you had to rate Charlie on looks, what would you give him?’
Debbie debated this for a minute then said, ‘Eight or nine.’
‘OK.  I think seven.’
‘Yes, but your marks are always lower than mine.  Seven is really high for you.’
‘True,’ Gill admitted.  ‘OK, here’s the second candidate,’ and again covering up the photo, she turned the sheet of paper containing Ronald’s details towards Debbie.
‘Forty-nine.  Older man, eh?’
She didn’t know the half of it, thought Gill.
‘He lives up in Loch Lomond.  He might have a house overlooking the loch.  Maybe even his own boat?  Nice place to have lunch in the summer.’
Gill couldn’t deny that.  In Gill’s opinion, when the weather was good, there was no country on earth more beautiful than Scotland, with its diversity of scenery.  The drive up Loch Lomondside was particularly rewarding.  Pity that good weather came when least expected, without warning, and lasted all of two minutes.
‘I’m more bothered by the fact that he smokes than by his three kids.’
Gill stopped her, ‘OK, I’ll think about that.  Move on.’  She had no intention of meeting Ronald, so didn’t want Debbie to linger too long over his profile.  She was more interested in knowing what she thought of Anton.  She liked the name.  Anton, it rolled off the lips nicely – very exotic sounding, a bit like its owner’s looks.
‘Well,’ said Debbie, summing up her thoughts on Ronald, ‘apart from the square name, why not Ronnie, after all, he seems quite interesting.  In fact, are you sure he’s not a bit cultured for you?’
‘What are you trying to say?  I’m some sort of philistine?’ Gill said indignantly.
‘No, but you’re hardly going to start spouting forth on art history, are you?’
Clearly not.  Gill had been to the Uffizi in Florence once, under duress.  She had made the mistake of not booking her ticket in advance and had queued for two hours to get in.  After being blown away by the first five enormous, floor to ceiling, religious paintings, she was fed up and could no longer marvel at how amazing they were.
‘I’m not quite so sure about him, but apart from being perhaps a little posh for you, I think he sounds OK,’ finished Debbie.  She removed the coaster which was covering the photo.
‘Yikes!  Forty-nine.  There’s no way he’s forty-nine.  He looks about sixty-five.  Has he had Botox in reverse?’
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Five for Friday: Alana Stewart

Five for Friday: Alana Stewart

Actress, host, author and spokesperson, Alana Stewart is a very accomplished and cool lady. I know this because as one of my luckier assignments as a book editor, I helped Alana develop her memoir, Rearview Mirror. The most amazing thing about working with Alana on her book is that she wrote every word. I helped her organize the material and focus on bringing out the most important stories, but the words are hers. Needless to say, she worked her butt off–and with very little time given to complete her task. The authenticity really comes through every passage. (You’ll find an excerpt at the end of this interview.)

(From AlanaStewart.com)
(From AlanaStewart.com)

If you don’t know Alana, you might think terms like “charmed life” apply. Nothing could be further from the truth, which you’ll see when you read her book. Alana grew up in utter poverty, with a mother who was either absent or on drugs. Her life took off when she left Texas with dreams of becoming a model, but glamor and glory aside, there was still so much she would endure: heartache, infidelity, divorce, and watching others she loved fall into the same drug addiction trap as her mother. She’s struggled with depression. She lost her best friend, Farrah Fawcett, to cancer. But through it all, she’s managed to stay centered–to not give up. That’s what makes her so inspiring.

So yes, more than just a pretty face and killer bod… Far more. Alana is warm and her wit razor-sharp. She’s highly spiritual and also kind of a perfectionist. Oh yeah, she’s also a pretty kickass writer. For all these reasons, I’m so thrilled she agreed to be interviewed here. But before we get there, here’s how to connect with Alana online:

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Buy Rearview Mirror now!

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1. You had a very colorful childhood, to say the least. An absent mother, who was doped out on drugs when she was around. A string of stepfathers. A life in utter poverty. Can you tell us how this early part of your life equipped you with the tools you needed to face and overcome the trials and tribulations you’ve faced in life?

I think what saved me and helped me get through a lot of challenges in my life was my very early years with my grandmother (whom I called “Mama.”) My mother left me with her when I was fourteen months and I lived with her until I was almost nine. We lived out in the country, on a dirt road, with no car, no television, no indoor plumbing, and an outhouse. We’d live on potato soup sometimes for a week or two until her social security check came in (which was $55 a month).

But she was a very religious, faith-based woman who had old-fashioned Texas values which she imparted to me. I think that bit of stability gave me the foundation I needed to help me get through a lot of tough times to come.

Alana (front) with distant cousins. (From RearviewMirror.com)
Alana (front) with distant cousins. (From RearviewMirror.com)

2. You’ve been married to royalty–Hollywood (George Hamilton) and Rock-n-Roll (Rod Stewart)–about as far away from your early years as can be imagined. What were some of the biggest “culture shocks” you faced in this glamorous new life, and how did you handle them?

By the time I met Rod, I’d already been married and divorced from George and I’d lived in Hollywood for eight years. I’d become quite sophisticated and comfortable in that life. When I met George, I was much more the wide-eyed girl from Texas who was pretty impressed with Hollywood and movie stars. But remember, I had been modeling for over a year in New York and Paris when George and I met. I’d developed a sense of style and taste from being in that world so I wasn’t a total bumpkin. And I always carried myself in a way that way me seem much more comfortable and at ease than I really was. So it was all a gradual growth process with me. And even being in the Hollywood and rock and roll worlds didn’t take away who I was at my core or the values I learned from my grandmother. I’ve always been a pretty down home gal at heart. To this day there’s nothing I like more than fried chicken, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread.

(From AlanaStewart.com)
(From AlanaStewart.com)


3. Many people think they’d like to write their life stories–that it would be a piece of cake! But I don’t think most people understand just how difficult it is. You really pulled off a miracle with the depth you brought to your story and the limited time you had in which to work. Now that you’re on the other side of the memoir-writing process, do you have any advice you can give others?

The hardest part for me was just getting started. It’s such an intimidating undertaking. I started out with an outline, just jotting down each year and what events I could remember. I was fortunate because I’ve kept diaries a lot of my life so I was able to access them, although there were years in which I didn’t have any.

Then I just started writing out my life story, not editing myself. As you know, I could have had three books there was so much! I didn’t try to write eloquently – I just got it down on paper. That’s the best advice I can give anyone. Don’t edit yourself until you’re finished. Just start writing!

Cover for website

4. I learned a lot from you working with you on your story with you, and your strength has really inspired me in getting through some of my own tough times. I even created my “Joy Jar“* group on Facebook from a lesson I learned from you: That focusing on the good, no matter how small, gets you through. What advice can you give women going through trauma?

Don’t go through it on your own. Find some kind of a support group – twelve step programs are great. They helped me immensely. I didn’t feel so alone because I had people who had gone through similar challenges to share with and listen to. Also, going to church helped, so whatever religion one is, I suggest some kind of spiritual support from that area. Prayer is wonderfully helpful as well as reading inspirational books. I think I read every self-help book that had ever been printed!

(From AlanaStewart.com)
(From AlanaStewart.com)

5. I know you’ll KILL me for asking you this… But what are your writing plans for the future? You really have such a great storytelling talent, it would be shame if you don’t keep writing. I know you’ve written scripts as well as another book about your friendship with Farrah. What’s next?

I would like to write another book. Or hopefully, more than one. I’m just not sure what I want to write about. At some point, I’d like to do a book about aging and inner beauty but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten with it. As for story telling, I guess it would have to be a novel since I only have one life and I’ve already written about it! Any ideas?

Alana5-filtered
(From AlanaStewart.com)

BONUS QUESTION: Do you think you might consider a return to acting, and if so, what kind of roles would most interest you–maybe from a book you’ve read recently that made you say, “I’d really like to play that character!” Hey, maybe there’s a character I can write for you… What kind of character would that be?

I certainly would consider more acting roles if they’re offered to me. I’ve always wanted to play a real down-home Southern character – a kind of Tennessee Williams character, like Blanche Dubois from Streetcar. I’d love to play a part that’s very different from me. I played “Sissy” from Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in two different productions a few years back. Cher played the part on Broadway. She was a wonderful small-town Texas character who was very outgoing and brash but harbored a shameful secret. I had a break-down scene which I was so nervous about doing when I accepted the role, but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. So, please, if you have anything in mind, let me know!

You bet I will. Thanks so much, Alana!

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* Just a quick note: The “Joy Jar” Project is an open group on Facebook anyone can join to share life’s joys, great and small. I hope to see you there!

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Learn more about Alana Stewart here!

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Excerpt from Rearview Mirror (from Chapter 5)

That fall, I booked a few more jobs. One was for Cosmopolitan with a well-known photographer named Jérôme Ducrot. I was so excited that I could barely contain myself, but I was also nervous. When I arrived on the set, the photographer’s assistant showed me where to stand. I was inexperienced, so I didn’t really know what to do with my body. I tried striking a couple of poses I’d seen in magazines, but nothing I did pleased him. He made it very obvious that he was not happy. After much whispering on the side, I was told I could get dressed and go. As I was leaving, I saw Lauren Hutton, who was already a very big model, walk in the door. I was crushed and humiliated. I cried all the way home.

When the bookers at Ford sent me over to meet Diana Vreeland at Vogue, my first thought as I walked nervously into her office that October afternoon was that she looked like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, and I was feeling more and more like Alice—the small Alice. She barely looked at me over her peanut butter sandwich and then waved me into a dress that was hanging nearby. I thought this was my big break, that I had been booked for a fashion shoot. But I was only there for a run-through so they could select the clothes they wanted to use for the shoot. After she briefly eyeballed me in each outfit, she’d wave me on to the next one. She clearly was much more interested in her sandwich than she was in me.

Just before Christmas I was trying to hail a cab on Fifth Avenue when a taxi pulled up next to me. A distinguished gray-haired gentleman was already sitting in the backseat. “I’m going downtown,” he said. “You can share this cab with me if you like.” Normally I would not have gotten into a car with a strange man, but it was rush hour and there were no taxis. He didn’t seem like a hatchet murderer or a white slave trader, so I thanked him and hopped in. “Oleg Cassini,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Alana,” I said. “Alana Collins.”

“So nice to meet you, Alana,” he said with a warm smile.

On our way downtown, we chatted.

“Where are you from, Alana,” he asked me.

“Nacog… Houston,” I told him.

“Houston? Really?” he said. “What a coincidence. I’m going to Houston in a few days for my daughter’s Coming Out party.”

“Really?” I said. “Well I’m actually heading back there in a couple of days for Christmas.”

“Well, in that case, I think you should come to the ball with me.”

I was a little surprised. “I’d love to,” I said. “But I don’t think I have anything to wear to a ball.”

“Not to worry,” he said. “I’ll have a gown sent over for you.”

Oleg made good on his promise to have a gown sent, and it was amazing—white and strapless. He picked me up in a limousine, and we went to a fabulous home in River Oaks where his ex-wife, Gene Tierney, the famous movie actress, lived with her new husband.

Everyone, including Oleg’s daughter, who was only a couple years younger than me, was very nice to me.

Naively, I thought he was just being fatherly, but I don’t think Mr. Cassini only had friendship in mind. He told me that he and his brother, Gigi Cassini, had rented a house in Acapulco for the holidays and invited me to come down. I hesitated, but when he told me to please bring a girlfriend and that we would have a room together, I accepted. I was dying to go back to Acapulco.

But first I went to see Mother. After a stay in the state mental institution in Rusk, she had moved into a small, dark apartment in Kilgore, Texas.

On Christmas we drove to Nacogdoches for Christmas dinner with Mama. I was so happy to see her, and she was overjoyed that her “little girl” was home. She cooked her good old Christmas dinner, which I loved—and that I still prepare to this day for my kids: turkey with cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, peas, giblet gravy, and coconut meringue pie. I told her about my new career, but mostly she just wanted to know I was safe in New York.

Every time I visited Mama I’d bring her a pretty new dress, and she’d protest that I shouldn’t be spending money on her. She never wanted to take anything from anyone, and I always admired that about her.

Mama and I rarely if ever talked about Mother’s condition, but I could tell it was wearing on Mama.

“Lana Kaye, I’m sorry. It got so bad, I had no choice. I had to have her committed to Rusk,” she said, shaking her head. “I was terrified she might overdose and die.”

I felt so bad for my grandmother, having to go through that, watching the men in the white coats take Mother away, remembering how terrible it was when I had to go through it myself. I could tell it was heartbreaking for Mama, but she was stoic, as usual.

When Mother and I got back to Kilgore, she went to bed and stayed there, claiming she was “sick with a virus.” It was obvious she was back on the pills. I could hardly wait to get away from there. I felt so helpless and hopeless. I didn’t know how to solve it, so my only option seemed to be, as always, just to escape.

Buy Rearview Mirror now!

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Cover for website

“Alana Stewart is a rare blend of wisdom and glamour. Her tears, her triumphs and her moments of understanding create a fiercely touching memoir. Her story remains with you.”
—Marianne Williamson, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

Alana Stewart has lived what many people would consider a charmed life as an international model, an actress and talk-show host, filmmaker, and bestselling author. But despite her many accomplishments and successes, her life has been rife with abandonment, abject poverty, tragedy, and even violence.

In Rearview Mirror, Alana takes the reader through a mesmerizing journey from her beginnings in poor, rural Texas, her escape to New York to become a Ford model, and finally, her seemingly fairytale, but often heartbreaking life in the glittering world of Hollywood. With compelling openness and honesty, Alana chronicles her unstable, chaotic childhood, her traumatic sexual abuse, and her struggles with bulimia, depression, and self-confidence. She also writes about her marriages and divorces with two iconic stars, actor George Hamilton and singer Rod Stewart, raising three children on her own, the devastating effects of drug addiction in her family, and the tragic deaths of her mother as well as her best friend, Farrah Fawcett.

Rearview Mirror is an inspiring, rags-to-riches story in which Alana also shares the valuable life lessons she has learned from her many challenges and heartaches: unconditional love, faith, gratitude, perseverance, and the importance of finding your higher purpose in life.

http://www.rearviewmirrormemoir.com (There’s another exciting excerpt here!)

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