Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

Purchase Production Values

Excerpt from Latent Infection (continued) – Short Story

You can read the first part here.

The first floor had a living room with furniture covered in sheets, the perfect hiding place if Cora had been ten years younger.  When Tom pulled open the heavy dark green drapes covering the large front window that overlooked the front lawn of weeds and overgrown grass, dust particles swarmed in the air for several seconds, causing the family to erupt in fits of coughing.

Marcy glared at her husband as she fanned the air in front of her face.  “It smells like something died in here.”

Tom chuckled.  “Probably just mice…or rats…maybe something larger.”

“Something larger?”  Marcy glanced toward the front door after her eyes shifted about the room.

“We’ll call an exterminator.  Pest removal.  It’s not the end of the world, darlin’.”

Cora rolled her eyes and walked over to the winding staircase.  Spilling out into the front entrance, the wooden balustrade ended with the head of a lion with its mouth open, its canine teeth like vampiric fangs.  She brought a finger tip to one of the teeth and smiled, marvelling at the decor.  Cora swung her head upward to gaze upon a chandelier hanging from the second storey ceiling.  In another time, it would have been beautiful with its thousands of crystal prisms, each an icicle reflecting the artificial light.  She tried the light switch.  Nothing.  

With no interest in exploring the first floor with her annoying parents, Cora took the first step.  The wood shifted and moaned.  With every step, she kept her left hand on the smooth surface of the rail, a security her subconscious desired.  When Cora reached the second floor, she glanced down the steps from the balcony.  The drop was at least fifteen feet — the perfect place for the desperate degenerate to end it all.

The hallway afforded little light, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon.  When Cora flicked the switch, she was awarded with the faint buzz of the old bulbs in the cobweb-laden sconces lining the walls.  Even then, only about half of the sconces worked, their lights flickering, as if protesting having to do the work of illuminating a stale corridor.  

“So the electricity isn’t completely out in this oversized shack,” Cora murmured.

As she walked down the hall, her right hand trailed along the raised contours of the wallpaper — some hideous floral design from at least eighty years earlier.  She stopped when she arrived at the first door.  An easy turn of the tea house doorknob revealed a stagnant room filled with crates.  Cora’s nose wrinkled at the mustiness as she clicked the door shut.  That room would definitely not be hers.  A vision of peering into an off-limits room at the funeral parlor when she was eight surfaced — boxes of bodies.

She tried the next door and discovered the bathroom, which could be rendered charming if cleaned and restored.  A claw foot bathtub sat opposite the door in the oblong room with black and white tiles on the floor.  A pull chain toilet and a pedestal sink covered the wall to the right, both ringed with grime.

Cora left the bathroom door open and proceeded farther down the hall.  She found her room — plenty of space for her bed and dressers.  No leftovers from previous owners and two large windows that let in light.  She could watch the sunset.

Every footstep reverberated across the floorboards and up the walls in Cora’s new bedroom.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Cora stomped on the floor with her sneaker three times just to hear the sound again.  After the echo faded, in the silence of this closed up house, she heard it…

Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.

Barely there, like an imprint.  A faded picture.  A vague memory.

Cora’s heart skipped a beat and then sped up.  

She shook her head.  “No,” she whispered.  “Don’t be stupid.”

Yet she dared not stomp her foot again.

Book Review of Finding Kate by Pamela Humphrey

Kate Westfall thought she was done with her family’s secrets.  Think again.

Finding Kate is the second in the Texas Hill County series by Pamela Humphrey.  It immediately follows the first book, Finding Claire, which I highly recommend you read before diving into Finding Kate.  Otherwise, Finding Kate won’t make much sense!

You can read my review of Finding Claire here.

Kate, after discovering the truth about her background and identity, including her real family, decides to move from Denver to Schatzenburg, Texas.  In the first book, she met Alex Ramirez, a lonely widower, and they spent a lot of time together under dire circumstances.  Alex and Kate developed feelings that were more than just the friendship-type, and at the beginning of this book, they are still sorting those feelings out.

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The beginning of Finding Kate seems a bit slow.  The reader feels like the dust has settled for Kate and Alex after how Finding Claire ended with such a bang, and now it’s just a matter of them figuring out their lives going forward.  Kate moving to Texas to be closer to her father and Alex, in addition to moving into the home she inherited, is the focus at first.  Alex comes with Kate to Denver to meet her friends and help her pack up her apartment.  Putting things in boxes and harmless talk feel mundane after what they have just been through a few days ago, but that’s part of getting back to real life.

Kate’s neighbor, Keith, stops by and is surprised she is leaving.  I detect jealousy in Keith, as he seems to like her and doesn’t care for Alex, who is hanging around the apartment.  The neighbor feels out of place, but maybe he’s just a weirdo.  Kate and Alex hit the road for Texas, and then things start to unravel when Jeff, the husband of Kate’s best friend (LeAnn), gets kidnapped, and it’s tied to Kate.

Poor Kate just can’t seem to get a break.  In addition to this new kidnapper who wants something from her, Kate starts to feel like things have moved too quickly between her and Alex.  She wonders if their attachment is simply the result of being forced together and going through stressful circumstances.  Whenever Alex tries to physically get close to Kate, she pulls away, and the reader starts to get the sense that there’s something else in her past that’s haunting her.

No place is safe for Kate or Alex — neither his cabin nor her new house (dubbed “the castle”), as they gave Alex’s address as the forwarding address for Kate when she moved away, and Schatzenburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.  The news of Kate’s family history has spread like wildfire in the small town, and everyone knows who she is, including someone who is following her and wants something from her.

Interwoven with the narrative are old letters written to Kate’s aunt Beth from a mysterious woman named “M.”  M and “Sticks” (who we later find out is Scott Bentley, Kate’s uncle) are the parents of a little boy named “Scooter.”  Sticks had an affair with M, and Scooter was the result.  When Sticks disappeared from Scooter’s life, the young boy became pent up with resentment and anger.

How do these letters tie into Kate’s story?  Who is following her?  What do they want?

And can Kate move past whatever it is that’s bothering her, so she can be happy with Alex?

19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_nSo many questions, and I know the answers…but that would be spoiling the book for you!  Suffice it to say that as I got further into Finding Kate, I was definitely drawn into the story more and more, needing to know the resolution to these questions…and more!

The book has a satisfying ending and doesn’t leave any loose ends.  I would recommend this book to lovers of romance and suspense.

Four out of five stars.

 

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” -Tuesdays with Morrie

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My great aunt Alma and my grandma, Emma, circa 1931

Today, I am going to share something very special to me, something close to my heart.  Below is the true story that inspired my first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow:

When I was fifteen years old, my grandmother was terminally ill. Months earlier, she had had a sarcoma removed from her leg and had undergone radiation therapy. She was given a clean bill of health in February of that year (1995). Shortly thereafter, she went to the hospital because she had fluid in her lungs, and when they did a scan, they found a spot: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs in a matter of months. Although given two to six months to live, her time on Earth would be much shorter than that.

The day she was released from the hospital and placed under Hospice care, I wrote a letter to her, telling her all that she meant to me, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I expressed my heartfelt admiration of her courage to face what lay ahead. And I asked her to send me a sign once she reached Heaven, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t go there, but because I needed the comfort.

Two weeks later, she came to our house. It was the week before Easter, and she was to spend the time with us, and her sister from California was to come in as well. On the night she arrived, she was still walking and talking. Although thin and weak, she was still herself for the most part. I remember her eating an orange in the family room as I talked to my best friend on the phone.

The next morning, she never got out of bed. The day was gloomy and overcast with thick clouds of early April showers. We thought it might just be the weather or the fact that she had been transported the night before. I overheard my dad speaking to his brother on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than 24 hours. In denial, I refused to believe such nonsense. All I had ever known was a life that had my grandma as part of it; to imagine otherwise was unthinkable!

The pastor from her church came that afternoon to visit, and while doing math homework in my bedroom, adjacent to the room she was in, I heard his voice through the walls, uttering the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She was asleep most of the day, and the couple of times I approached the darkened room where she lay so still on the bed, I think I was afraid. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way, but I think now it was because I couldn’t reconcile the figure I saw in that bed with the figure I knew of her warm smile, cheery eyes, and rosy cheeks.

Some relatives came to visit in the mid-afternoon, and she seemed to brighten some, even laugh at a few jokes. My family was originally planning on attending a concert at the high school that evening, but due to my grandma’s condition, my parents remained home with her, and my brother and I attended by ourselves.

A couple of hours later when we returned home, it was dark and still raining slightly. We parked on the street because there were a couple of other cars in our driveway, and I felt my heart skip a beat as I rushed up the driveway and into the house, not wanting to believe the worst. The first sight that greeted me was my mom walking toward me, her face lined with tears, and she was shaking her head. I knew without having to ask. To this day, over 20 years later, the events of that entire day as are clear as if they happened yesterday.

Standing in the kitchen were my uncle, my dad, and the pastor. We held hands and formed a circle as the pastor said a prayer. I left the kitchen to go to the spot where Grandma had been, but she was already gone from the bed. I saw the men from the funeral home carrying her out, covered in a sheet.

She was truly gone. That night, I dreamt that my mom died, too. While my parents were away the next day taking care of everything, I was at home in the company of my best friend, and it continued to rain. I found it in me to laugh some, finding a pair of checkered pants that was so hideously out of style, but my grandma wore them, anyway. I pulled them over my own clothes and just laughed, mostly because my best friend could always make me laugh. We were visited by a cousin and her husband, who had brought over dinner, and the four of us laughed some more. There was something therapeutic in this, although it was also a brief escape from the reality of the situation.

The wake was two days later, followed the next day by the funeral. It rained in all the days between my grandma never leaving the bed and on the day of the funeral. My letter to my grandma was read at her funeral by the pastor. The Lord’s Prayer was sang by the co-pastors, a husband and wife team. My grandma’s favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord,” was played. As the family followed the casket down the aisle, I was a sobbing mess, and my brother, who was walking alongside me, put his arm around me. I remember briefly trying not to laugh, as we had this weird thing about never touching each other as teenagers, so hugs were forbidden.

Much of the graveside service was a blur, but we stood under a tent as the rain continued. A dinner was served, and then it was over. We were on our way home. That evening, the rain finally stopped. I was in my room when I heard my mom exclaim, “Cyndi, come here!”

I ran into the front window and looked outside. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow! I smiled and knew this was my grandma’s sign to me! There was no doubting that, and to explain this away as mere coincidence is an insult to her, her memory, and to our Lord of miracles. My mom and I turned away for just a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone. To catch such a brief moment in time when that rainbow appeared was not coincidence in the least. Only my mom and I saw that rainbow; it was meant for us.

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My grandparents, Howard and Emma Grundman, circa 1942

I had the idea for the story back in October 2006.  I woke in the middle of the night with the name “Hannah Rechthart” on my mind.  “Hannah” means ”favor” or “grace.”  “Rechthart” means “right heart.”  I started writing down character names and researching.  Many details from early in Hannah’s life were taken from an autobiography my grandma wrote in high school and another she and her younger sister, Ida (whom Irma is based on), wrote later in life about growing up, called “The Billhardts of Fuller Avenue.”  I also spoke extensively with my mom and had my own memories to work with for Hannah’s later years.

I composed four chapters between October 2006 and January 2009.  Then I had my first child and my second, and the story sat for years, until I started writing in earnest in March 2015.  It may have taken a decade to finally sit down and write it all out, but only by God’s grace and my grandma’s legacy was that inspiration possible.

It’s been over twenty years since my grandma passed away, but in writing this story, I hope I was able to convey with the love I’ve always had for her that she was a wonderful person.  

May you see many rainbows in your life, wherever you go.

The Letter I Wrote to Grandma:

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Excerpt from WIP Arianna

Read Chapter One 

Chapter Two

Ping!  I raced into my bedroom, still dripping from the shower, trying to keep the towel pulled up around me.  My hands fumbled as I grabbed the phone off the bed, nearly dropping it on the hardwood floor.  It wouldn’t do to break another phone.  If I were smart, I’d invest in a phone case, but that was me — too cheap to buy something practical.  Better to waste my money on hair dye or another piercing, right, Mom?

I slid my index finger across the screen and tapped the notification.  Up popped a message from Brad: Hey babe, whats up?

Relief and annoyance flooded through me in equal parts.  Hey yourself.  Y didnt u txt earlier?

I glared at the screen for the next minute, willing it to give an answer.  It’s crazy how long sixty seconds can feel when you’re doing nothing but waiting and watching the clock.  When no reply came, I sighed and tossed the phone back onto my bed.  It was late — after eleven.  Nana had gone to bed two hours ago and would be up before the rooster — if there were a rooster around here.  

I returned to the bathroom, towel-dried my hair, swept it up in a messy bun, and put on an oversized T-shirt.  Hope at hearing from my nearly nonexistent boyfriend died when the screen remained blank of notifications, so I turned the thing to silent and got into bed.  I was done with today.

I woke to the smell of herbal tea and Nana’s yoga video in the living room.  Groaning, I sat up in bed, and like the slave-to-my-phone that I was, I reached for the infernal thing, only to come away disappointed that there was no message from Brad.  Maybe he was sleeping in.  It was a Sunday, after all, and Sunday morning meant —

“Ari, are you up yet?” came Nana’s chipper voice up the stairs.

“Yeah, I’m up, Nana.”

“Are you coming to church?”

I groaned again.  This habit was becoming old fast.  In only four weeks, it was amazing in a bad way how predictable Sunday mornings had grown.

“No, Nana.  I have to work today, remember?”  And I wasn’t interested in sitting in some hard pew and listening about how God was still at work in the world today.  Church was all fine and dandy for Christmas Eve and Easter, but that was about it.

“Well, all right.  I still don’t like it that the mall is open on Sundays.  When I was your age–”

“Yes, Nana, I know.”  I stepped out into the hallway to find my nana dressed in workout clothes.  Despite her age, she was remarkably flexible and in good shape.  “When you were young, nothing was open on Sundays.”

Nana smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “Well, I’d better finish up and get ready for church if I’m to be on time.  There’s some turkey bacon and egg whites on the stove if you want.  I got them for you.”

“Thanks.”  I sighed as I slid into another pair of black pants and a simple black top.  While we didn’t have uniforms for work, we pretty much had to wear all black.  Accessorizing was the only way around it, but with my hair and my jewelry, I didn’t need to add anything else to my look, whatever I was going for.

I checked my phone again.  Nothing.  

The thought of Nana’s health food turned my stomach, so I did my makeup, went downstairs, and poured a bowl of bran flakes and — ugh — soy milk.  She’d been kind to buy food she thought I’d eat, as she was vegan, but I wanted real bacon and the yolks.  I brewed my own coffee, hoping again that Nana would invest in single-serve machine.  She was only into herbal teas, claiming that caffeine was the antiChrist or something equally ridiculous and dramatic.  I wondered what she would say if she knew I used to smoke until two years ago.  That was one good thing about Brad — he’d convinced me to stop smoking, but it was only because he said it made my breath smell.

The phone followed me wherever I went.  So when it pinged and vibrated as it sat on the kitchen table, I nearly jumped out of my seat.

Sorry babe, was busy with the fam ya no?  N-e-way im back now if ya wanna catch up.  2nite?

I bit my lip.  OK, 2nite works.  Time?

Can u come here?  8ish?

Yeah sure, 8 it is.  C u then.

It was pathetic that I did whatever Brad asked.  Come here, babe.  Okay, let me bend over backwards and do ten flips like an Olympic gymnast.  You want sex 24/7?  Sure, that’s what I’m made for, Brad.  You want real Belgian chocolate from Belgium?  Yep, I’ll just hop on a plane and get you some.

Plane.  I sighed and pushed most of the uneaten cereal away.  Standing, I tossed my phone into my overflowing purse, dumped the cereal down the drain, and left the bowl in the sink.

“Bye, Nana!” I called and was out the door because she could reply.

In the driveway sat my ten-year-old Focus.  I dropped into the driver’s seat and turned the car on, cranked up the radio, and rolled the windows all the way down.  On the drive to work, I mentally bemoaned my broken air conditioning, but every penny earned as the salon receptionist was supposed to go toward beauty school.  Well, wait — the payout.  I could afford to fix the AC after all.  That was something, but I digress.  I was only three months in with both my job and beauty school.  If I stopped and was honest with myself for one minute, I would have to say the future of doing hair was looking less appealing by the day.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I sighed.  Plenty of time to figure out my life, right?  Lots of young people still lived at home or were in college.

The sun was already beating down on me as I left the car in the mostly empty lot and crossed the asphalt to the side entrance.  The mall wouldn’t be opening for another half hour, so at least I could avoid the crowds.  A few elderly people walked the inside of the mall before it opened.  I nodded and smiled politely at a few.  I liked old people.  Most of them were kind like Nana, but even the ones who were grumpy had a certain sort of charm.  I figured they could act however they wanted because they’d lived long enough and had been through enough to do whatever they wished.

When I reached the salon, Gwen scowled at me as she stood behind the desk.  Her eyes shifted to the clock.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re two minutes late.”

“Really?  You care about two freaking minutes?” I wanted to ask.  Instead, I painted on a plastic smile like many of the workers and said, “My apologies, Gwen.  It won’t happen again.”

As I walked past her to punch in, she said, “It better not.  And I had better not see you on your phone again, either, Arianna.”

Or what?  You’ll fire me?

In the back room, I exchanged hellos with a few of the beauticians.  Kelly, a girl about my age, with platinum blonde hair and trendy glasses, said, “Hey, Arianna.  Some of us are thinking of going out for drinks after work.  You wanna join us?”

Kelly was nice, the sort of person who tried to make friends with everyone.  When I gazed at the other girls and the two guys standing around her, I knew I wouldn’t be welcome.  I didn’t fit in with their idea of beauty.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I’ve got a date tonight.”  That wasn’t completely untrue, if you could call going to Brad’s house a date.

“Maybe another time.”  Kelly smiled and looked at the girl next to her — Brandy, I think.

“Yeah, maybe.  I gotta get to the desk.  Gwen, you know…”

Kelly laughed.  “Yeah, don’t I know it.”

As I walked away, I heard the murmurings of the crowd as the door shut.  I took up my place at the front desk and turned on the computer, looking over the appointments for the day.  Summertime and weekends were busy for the salon.  Every hairdresser was booked.  The spa was also packed to the brim.  That didn’t bode well for walk-ins.  I wanted to take down the sign that claimed “Walk-ins Welcome.”  How many times did I need to hear, “What do you mean you can’t fit me in?” or “Why do you say ‘walk-ins welcome’ if it isn’t true?” or  “All I want is a lip wax.  That’ll take five minutes.”

No point in belaboring the reality of the situation.  I pulled out my compact and checked over my makeup and hair.  It wouldn’t do to frighten the customers too much.

Gwen was upon me again.  “You know, Arianna, while we do encourage creativity and differences in style here, I must say that your facial piercings are, shall we say, distracting.”

“Why?  Has somebody complained?”

“Not as such, no, but this alternative look you’ve got going isn’t really the image we wish to project.  I would prefer you remove them.”

“I can’t.  Well, at least not some of them.  They’re too new.  The holes will close up.”

“Are you saying you’re planning on keeping those– those things?”

“So what if I am?”

Gwen leaned on the desk and lowered her voice.  “Look, I know you’ve, um, been through a lot recently, and I’m not entirely unsympathetic, but you can’t keep that face of metal.”

“I thought you just preferred I remove them?”

“This isn’t coming from me.  I don’t care one way or the other if you want to look like a pincushion, but Jeanine herself said it wasn’t appropriate.”

“I see.  And if I don’t remove them?”

“That isn’t up for discussion.”

Gwen turned away, leaving a chilly breeze in her wake.  I glared at the back of her too-perfect figure.  Then the first customer came in, and I had to do my job.  Before I knew it, I was busy checking people in and out, making reminder calls, and answering the phone.  I worked until 5:00 and was glad to be back in the stifling heat in my car a few minutes later.

I turned on the car and down went the windows.  As much as I wanted to sit there and just mentally detox for the next hour, I couldn’t.  Nana would be expecting me for dinner.  Ever since moving in with her, I think she liked having someone to cook for besides herself.  While her tofu creations and endless vegetables weren’t my first choice, I forced the food down every evening.

On the drive home, I passed McDonald’s and Taco Bell.  Both sounded better than whatever tasteless meal was waiting for me at home.  

When I arrived home, Nana was upon me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “How was work, Ari?”

I waved her off.  “Fine.”

“Anything exciting happen?”

“Not really.”

“You know, talking to you most of the time is like talking to your mother when she was a teenager.  I was lucky to get one or two words out of her whenever she came home from school.”

The words were out of her mouth before she must have realized what she said.  One look at my face, and Nana’s face softened.  “I’m sorry.  Ari, you do look like your mother, though.”

“Do you need any help?”  Distractions worked wonders.

“No, everything’s on the table.”

I dropped into my usual seat.  “You know, Nana, maybe I could do your hair one day soon.  I’m getting decent at dyes.”

Nana chuckled.  “Thanks, but no thanks, dear.  I’ll stick to my natural color.”

I wondered if she thought she would come out with bright red hair like mine, but didn’t push it.  “Well, let me know if you change your mind.”

Nana laughed more.  “I will be sure to do that, but I don’t imagine I’ll be changing my mind, Ari.  Do you have any big plans for tonight?”

“I thought I’d head over to Brad’s house.  He’s back from vacation.”

“Oh?  Where did they go again?”

“Florida.  Some west coast beach.  You know his dad owns that company and goes on a trip every year.  They take the sales guys who had the most sales last year, but Mr. Watson always takes the whole family.”

“Well, tell Bradley I said hello and not to be a stranger.  I wouldn’t mind having him over for more than five minutes.  All I ever see of that boy is the back of his head as he goes out the door or waits outside for you.”

“I’ll do that, Nana.”  

The sad truth was that Brad wanted about as much to do with my nana and her house as a mouse does with a cat.  He hated that she called him “Bradley.”  He certainly wouldn’t touch her cooking.  

We finished up dinner, and I helped Nana clean up.  Once the dishwasher was loaded, I went to my room to change out of my stinky work clothes.  I slipped into a pair of faded jean shorts and a dark red tank top.  Nana was sitting in the living room watching the evening news as I slid into my sandals and kissed her goodbye.

“Don’t wait up for me,” I called and was out the door.

Five minutes later, I pulled into Brad’s driveway — well, his parents’ driveway.  While Nana lived in the same cozy bungalow her mom and dad had owned, Brad’s neighborhood boasted mansions in the true sense.  I parked my dented up, old car in their wrap-around driveway and stepped out to the sound of the fountain spray.  Every bit of landscaping was sculpted and the lawn perfectly manicured.  I guessed if Nana could afford to have someone do her yard, it would look just as nice.  Nice was all it was.  I couldn’t call it beautiful, for it was too perfect.  Just like everything on the outside of that three-storey brick house was too perfect. The mansion hailed back three generations of Watson men.  Brad was supposed to be in the process of being groomed to be the next Mr. Bradley W. Watson and taking over his dad’s company when he retired.  They made golf equipment.

I pushed the doorbell.  Voices inside were arguing, but they were muffled.  Heavy footsteps mixed with lighter, faster ones.  A minute later, one of Brad’s younger sisters, Dora, answered the door.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Hi, Dora.  It’s me, Arianna.  Is Brad around?”

“Arianna?  Wait.”  Dora, who could have been Mandy Snyder’s twin, studied me in the dying sunlight.  “I didn’t recognize you.  What’s up with your hair?”

“Change, Dora.  Change is good.  Now, is Brad there?”

Brad appeared at Dora’s side a second later and bumped her out of the way with his side.  “Move it or lose it, sis.”

Dora scoffed and rolled her eyes.  “Whatever.”  She walked away.

“Sorry about her,” he said, looking at me.

I half-smiled.  “Sure.  Um, can I come in?”

“I thought we’d walk outside.  It’s a nice night.”  Before I could say anything, Brad stepped outside and closed the door.

“Okay,” I said, drawn-out.  

One of the things that annoyed me about Brad was that he made almost all the decisions in our relationship.  He didn’t run anything past me and just assumed I’d be okay with whatever he picked.  I didn’t mind at first, but after two years of this, it was getting tiresome.

I also had a strong hunch that Brad’s family was fighting — with words, but fighting nonetheless.  Sitting in his house wasn’t so perfect.  Most of the time, his two younger sisters, parents, and Brad hardly said two words to each other.  Family meals were uncomfortable affairs whenever I attended.  They had someone to cook for them and serve the food and then clean it up, but I didn’t think anyone could clean up their family’s problems.  Everyone was too busy staring at their phones, or his dad was on a conference call or the computer, usually locked away in his home office.  Mrs. Watson often holed up in her bedroom, where she chain-smoked and binge-watched Netflix.  If she wasn’t in her room, she was out spending the Watson fortune on more stuff they didn’t need.

When the family did interact, voices raised by the decibel within seconds of starting.  I wondered if the only reason Brad’s parents were still married was because of Mr. Watson’s empire and fat checkbook.

“So, uh, how was your trip?” I asked.

Brad snorted.  “Oh, a blast.  Mom pretty much spent the time drinking with the sales guys’ wives or girlfriends while Dad did likewise with his employees.  My sisters laid out on the beach for hours and flirted with a bunch of idiot college guys.”

“What did you do?”

“Had to go with the old man to some of the dinners, just to keep up appearances, you know.  The drinks aren’t bad, but those guys all have their heads so far up my father’s ass, each one’s nose is browner than the one before.”

“Sounds like a good time.”

“My dad’s an idiot.  He thinks I’m gonna follow in his footsteps.”

“You aren’t?”

“Hell no.  Why should I?”

“So, what do you wanna do?”

“I dunno.  We’re young, right?  We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, Arianna.”

Our whole lives, exactly.  And what was Brad doing with his but milking his parents?  He barely finished college this past spring, taking two extra years to get his degree in business.  He had yet to hold down any sort of job for more than a few weeks.  Most of the time, he just lazed about his house and played games on his phone.  Then, again look at me.  I wasn’t exactly the role model for finishing school with a superior grade point average and taking on the world as a young professional-something or other.  The thing was, I wanted something better with my life, but Brad didn’t seem to care.  It was easy to throw away time and effort when you had all the money in the world.  Yet again, I now had money from the payout from the crash and from my inheritance, but I didn’t know what to do with it.  Brad had been raised with riches.  I was all new money.  But going back to video games…

“You’re a genius when it comes to designing video games, Brad.  Why don’t you do something with that?”

“My parents think it’s a waste of time.  Yeah, maybe I’ll do that, but I’m happy to live at home right now.”

“Really?  You’re happy to live with your family arguing?”

“Well, not really happy about that, but I’ve got a big enough room and my own bathroom.  I can tune them out whenever I wish.  Just slip on my headphones and boom, there ya go.”

“Hmm, well, it seems like it can’t last forever.”

If we were more romantic, we might have been strolling through the Watson gardens holding hands.  Instead, we’d just spent the past few minutes standing next to my car.  Brad’s arms hung loosely at his sides, and mine were crossed over my less than impressive chest.  

“I’m not saying it will.”  Brad looked at me.  I mean, really look at me for the first time since stepping outside.  “What’s the matter?”

I dropped my pretense as a long sigh brought my arms to my sides.  “Why didn’t you text, Brad?  Or call?  It would’ve been nice to hear your voice for maybe five minutes this past week.”

Brad shrugged.  “Busy, you know?  I told you–”

“Yeah, I got the part about having to hang out with Daddy and all his cronies, but what were you doing that was so important that you couldn’t take, I dunno, five seconds to text me a simple ‘Hi, how are you?’”

Now I’d gone and done it.  Brad’s mouth twisted as he narrowed his eyes.  I’d seen that look a hundred times whenever he started up with one of his family members.  I knew what was coming.

“Arianna, what the hell?  I told you I was busy.  It was a week, a lousy, frickin’ week.  What, do you need to keep tabs on me like one of those possessive girlfriends?  You know I hate that.”

“Brad, I never said that.  Don’t put words in my mouth.  But now that you bring it up, I do have to wonder.  You said your sisters were all over a bunch of guys in Florida.  What’s to say you didn’t find some hot girl of your own while you were down there?”

“What?  You’re serious?”  Brad scoffed.  “You’re paranoid, you know that?  Delusional.”

“Actually, I think it’s a completely reasonable thing.  What are we doing here, Brad?  Because I sure the hell don’t know anymore.  It feels like all we ever do is start fighting if I speak up to you.  You want everything your way.  You’ve got your family eating off your pinky finger, and you don’t care at all about what you’re doing to them or with your life.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Brad’s face was turning red, aided by the setting sun.

“What it means is, haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said this past month?  You turned me conveniently off when you went on your trip because you didn’t wanna hear it.  I just lost my parents, Brad!  Have you been living with your head in a hole?”

“God, Arianna, I’m sorry, okay?  What do you want me to do, hold you and let you cry your eyes out?”

“Yes, actually, if that’s what I need.”

“Do you?”

“Well, no, but maybe I did.”

“I went to the funeral.  I was there.”

“Yeah, you were there, but you weren’t there for me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You complained that you had to miss that stupid NBA draft because the funeral fell on the same day, and then you turned your nose up at the food at the dinner afterward.  You kept checking your phone for updates on the draft the whole time.  It was like my parents dying was a freaking inconvenience to you.”

“Jeez, sorry!”  Brad held his hands up.  “I’m not good at that sorta stuff.  You know that.  I hate funerals.”

“Well, no one likes them, but you go to pay your respect.  You show up to support those you care about.  Do you care at all about us anymore?  Because I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t know the last time we even said ‘I love you’ to each other.”

“Is this because I didn’t send you a freakin’ text?”

I groaned, caught between wanting to hit myself in the head or deck Brad.  “It’s more than that, much more.  You’re clueless if you think you have all the time in the world, Bradley.  The way you treat your parents, the way you’re wasting your life — you’re lucky to be able to have parents, to have the time to waste.  You know what it took me to realize that I was throwing my life away?  My parents died, Brad.  They aren’t coming back.  And now I think I’m finally realizing that I can’t just keep going on like I’ve been.  Because…because if I do, I’m gonna die, too.”

“You suicidal or something?”

Tears of frustration leaked from my eyes.  “I’m sorry, Brad, but I just can’t do this anymore.  I didn’t come here tonight thinking it was over, but standing here in front of you now, I know it is.  Whatever girl you date next, be better to her than you were to me.  Don’t just expect her to come running to you whenever you wanna get some.  Take her to the freaking beach to see the sunset.  Buy her cheesy cards and cheap flowers.  Just don’t take her for granted.”

“You breaking up with me?”  Brad sounded incredulous, not the least bit heartbroken.

“Yes, Bradley Watson.  I’m saying goodbye.  You know, Dora noticed my hair.  You didn’t say a word.  You never did, though, did you?  You never noticed me.”

I got into my car and left Brad standing there without looking back.  As I drove away, I hated every tear that fell.  Why was I crying over this?  Brad was no loss.  I had chosen this.  Finally, I had taken control in a relationship that had been falling apart for months.  That should’ve felt liberating, and yet, as I drove away, all I hoped was that Brad felt a tenth of the brokenness I was.

Excerpt from Mile Marker 139

Today I’m sharing with you chapter three of Mile Marker 139.

Read chapter one here and chapter two here.

Chapter Three: Russ Jacobs

His eyelids are growing heavy.  He’s used to lengthy stretches of road and long hours.  When it’s been nearly eleven hours of driving with only two thirty-minute breaks, Russ knows it’s time to turn in.  It doesn’t help that it’s taken him longer than usual to drive the route from New York City.  Between holiday traffic and road construction, it’s added a couple of hours to his route.  He’s always pushing the limits of what’s allowed, but balancing what’s permitted by regulations and getting to his next destination on schedule is an act Russ has been managing for the past fifteen years.

He squints at the road sign.  Twenty-some miles till the next rest stop.  He knows he ought to fit in an eye exam some time between all the road trips, but it’s starting to snow as well.  Visibility would be compromised for anyone.  Damn, he was hoping to beat the snow before stopping.  Every report on the radio stations and chatter from other drivers ahead of him on the road over the CB radio warned him a storm was coming.  He really should know better by now.  

Just stop sooner, Russ.  It’s not that hard, you old idiot.

Russ reaches for the long-cold mug of coffee in the holder, careful to keep his other hand on the wheel.  The truck lurches slightly.  Damn black ice.  Still, he needs something to keep him awake.  The jerking of the cabin is more effective than the ounce of caffeinated beverage left.

As he plants both hands firmly on the wheel, he wonders if he really does have a death wish.  

Concentrate.  You’ll be taking a break for good if you get in an accident and die.

His boss would get on his case if he knew he was driving like this.  On the back of every Todamax Freight truck reads: “How am I driving?  Please call 1-555-TODAMAX.”  

Russ knows he’s got deadlines to make, and the weather isn’t helping.  He wants to push through, but his thirty-nine-year-old body is failing.  He grimaces, thinking about his age.  Brandy is insisting on throwing a party for him.  As much as he loves his younger sister, he hates the idea of that “over the hill” logic that “it’s all downhill from here.”

“You’re halfway to death,” Russ’s lifelong buddy, Ed, joked last time they were together.

If Brandy doesn’t throw the damn party, Ed and his pals will.  Being born on New Year’s Eve is everyone’s excuse to celebrate your birthday.  

Maybe I really do have a death wish, he thinks wryly.  I’m no spring chicken.  Mom always said I had a morbid sense of humor.

Lost in his thoughts, those twenty miles pass like an eighteen-wheeler running over roadkill: easy.  So Russ almost misses his stop.  Snapping out of his woe-is-me-I’m-becoming-an-old-man mentality, Russ takes the exit to the rest area.  As he applies pressure to the brake, the truck slides and wavers on the slush and ice.  Where are the damn road crews when you need them?  Just as he’s about to stop, he sees her too late.  He swears and wills the truck to please stop in time.  It halts.  He releases his white-knuckled grip on the wheel and is out of his cabin in a second.

Expecting to find a body on the ground, Russ breathes a sigh of relief when he sees her standing not five feet from the front of the truck.

“Hey, what the hell do you think you were doin’, lady?” he shouts.  He doesn’t mean to frighten her, but he’s shaken up.

So is she, clearly.  “I-I’m s-sorry,” she mumbles and takes a step, only to lose her balance and fall into the slush.

Russ swears under his breath and comes to her aide.  “It’s not safe out here, lady.  C’mon, in the truck.”

As he helps her us, she tries to pull away.  “No, I’m fine.  Sorry, I–”

“At least let me get you somewhere safe.”  Russ is a big guy — six foot three and two hundred twenty pounds of pure muscle.  He is as gentle as he can be with this waif of a woman, but insistent that she come with him.  As he guides her to the truck, he says, “Don’t worry, lady.  I ain’t gonna hurt you or abduct you if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He opens the passenger door and helps her step up into the cab.  After slamming it shut, Russ gets back in and manoeuvres the semi to the truck rest area in the back.  Once he turns off the engine, he looks her up and down.  Sure that she’s homeless, he asks, “Where are you headed?”

“Nowhere.”

It’s as he suspected.  She’s probably trying to sleep inside the rest stop.  It’s open 24-7 after all, is warm, and has bathrooms.

The snow picks up outside.  

“I’m Russ.”

“And I need to go.”  She tries to open the door, but Russ stills her hand.  

“Wait, are you crazy?  There’s a blizzard out there.  Look, I swear on my grandma’s grave I ain’t gonna hurt you.  I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, not only ‘cause of the weather, but I’m due for a break.  A long break.  At least ten hours, lady.  And in case you’re worried, look around you.  We ain’t exactly alone.”  He motions toward trucks parked on either side of him.

“Well, you could still–”  She shrinks back in her seat, pressed against the window.  “How would they know you aren’t, um, doing something to me in here?”

“Guess you’ll just have to trust me then, lady.  I nearly hit you and am damn glad I didn’t.  What makes you think the first thing I’d do is turn around and rape the woman I practically saved from bein’ made flat as a pancake on the asphalt?”

The woman winces and claws at the handle to open the door.  Russ sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.  “Look, lady, at least tell me your name.  I’m tired and cranky.  Been a long day, and, look, sorry about my tone.  Like I said, long day.”

“I’m, um, Shelley.”  Her voice is scratchy and quiet, like she hardly uses it.  Shelley’s haunted eyes roam the interior of the cabin.  “Won’t it get cold just sitting in here?” she finally asks.

Russ chuckles.  “Nope.  Auxiliary power keeps the cab heated when the engine’s off.”

“It’s, uh…nicer than I’d expect in here.”

Russ can’t help but be amused by her fascination.  He takes off his cap and runs his hands through his thick, dark hair, and replaces it.  “Most don’t really know much about cabs, but it’s fine for what it is.  I spend plenty of time in here.  The bed’s not the same of mine back in New York, but I’m used to it.  Got a fridge, microwave, TV, and Internet.  No bad for a few square feet.”

Shelley seems to relax a bit as she looks around the cabin.  “Do you, um, spend lots of time on the road?”

Russ smiles, then yawns.  “Pretty much my life.  Hey, sorry…just ready to go to sleep.  This storm doesn’t look like it’s gonna let up anytime soon.  You can wait it out in here if you like.”

“Thanks, but I can go inside the center.”

“You kidding me? You’re not even wearing a hat, gloves, nothing.  You’ll freeze out there.”

“It’s not a far walk.”

Russ scrutinizes her.  “You weren’t headed for the building, were you?”

Shelley avoids his gaze, stares at her thin fingers as she picks at a hole in her jeans.

“Sorry.  But you” — he yawns — “you weren’t headed in that direction when I damn near hit you.  You were crossin’ from the car lot to the open area.”

“What’s it matter?”

“It’s after 3:00 in the morning.  There’s a blizzard outside, and you’re hardly dressed to be out in even forty degree weather.  Something don’t add up.”

Shelley frowns, glares.  “I thought you were tired.”

Russ can’t help the big yawn that follows.  “Yeah, I am.  Anyone in their right mind would be beat at this hour.”  He gives her a meaningful look as he takes off his hat and moves to the bed.  Russ lies down, turns on his side away from her.  “Fine.  Do what you want, but I’m getting some shuteye.  Close the door on your way out if you’re crazy enough to leave.”

As sleep claims Russ, his worn-out mind knows Shelley is either insane or dead depressed.  No one roams around outside at this time of night in a snowstorm at a rest stop.

When he wakes at daybreak, Shelley is gone.  But the door is closed.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new excerpt every Saturday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

Where Do I Get My Writing Ideas From?

This is one of the questions writers often get asked.  For some writers, they have a dream that inspires a novel.  For others, it’s music.  They hear a song that gets their mind churning, and bam, a story evolves.  Yet for others still, the book comes from personal experience, from real life events that are fictionalized.  There’s really no limit to where a writer gets their material from.

For me, my first bouts of inspiration came from other people’s stories.  I was a writer of fan fiction for many years before writing original stories, so I played with other people’s characters in their worlds, only adding my twists to things.  That was good practice, all fine and dandy for honing my writing and getting people to read my stuff, but it was never going to amount to making a living out of being an author.  No one should profit off of someone else’s creations, unless, of course, the original author gives permission or the stuff is public domain.

But let me get to the point of where I get my ideas from when it comes to writing my original stories.  My first original story, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is based off of my late grandma’s life, so that answers that question easily.  I will go into more detail regarding the creation of my first novel in July’s blog post, since I feel this story deserves its own telling.

When I was writing Hannah’s Rainbow, I honestly didn’t know if I’d write more books.  Of course, I wanted to do so, but I didn’t know if I actually had any more stories in me to tell.  Shortly after finishing Hannah’s Rainbow, while my beta-readers were going through it, the comments from one of the women in particular struck me.  She really liked Harry, who is Hannah’s brother.  In the book, Harry and Hannah develop a close friendship once they reach young adulthood, despite not being on good terms when they were children.  They share an understanding of each being in the shadow of an older sibling of the same sex as them, and Harry and Hannah are only two years apart.  Harry’s character has an important role in part of Hannah’s story, but since it is Hannah’s story, as Hannah gets older, Harry is cast to the sidelines.  Although he makes a few appearances later in the book, Hannah now has her own family: a husband and kids, and eventually grandchildren.

pablo (1)But Harry…what was his story?  One of my readers wanted to know more.  Harry is an alcoholic whose actions result in severe consequences for him because of something terrible he does at age 21.  He doesn’t see his family for years.  What happens during that time?  When he returns to his family in Hannah’s Rainbow, he tells them some of what happened, but this was an opportunity for me to really explore Harry’s story.  So a spin-off evolved.  Harry’s story is called A Laughing Matter of Pain, and not only does it explain what happens during his absence from his family, but some of his adolescence is covered, explaining how he becomes the man he is.

I began to write Harry’s story in earnest a year ago (June 2016), but would you believe that about three weeks in, another story idea struck me?  I have Hannah’s Rainbow to sort of thank for it again, but it’s more my husband whom I should thank.  There is a part in Hannah’s Rainbow where Hannah has just moved into a new house and has a young daughter, but her husband has been drafted during World War II.  That part lagged when I was writing, and when talking with my husband, he suggested giving Hannah an eccentric next door neighbor.  We joked about the neighbor being obsessed with rocks and talking about them incessantly (based off someone we know in real life who does this sometimes).  I imagined a young woman moving into a house by herself and having such an odd next door neighbor, but what if, instead of him talking about rocks, his yard is covered in rocks?  Nothing living there as far as plants go.  Why is there nothing living?  He is a widower.  He seems a little crazy.  This young lady is alone.  Why?  I started fleshing out these characters and created Lorna and Tristan for my story, Lorna versus Laura.  I began writing that story in tandem with Harry’s story, and guess what?  Lorna’s story began demanding more of my attention.  Her story just flowed out of me, so Harry’s story took a backseat for a few months while I finished the first draft of Lorna’s story.pablo (3)

I have since finished both Lorna versus Laura and A Laughing Matter of Pain, but they are not yet published.  I am currently working on books four and five, Arianna and Mile Marker 139.  Both of these books were born out of conversations I had with others.  

For Arianna, a good friend and I were discussing telemarketers one day.  We wondered what the job must be like when a customer wants to talk the ear off of the agent who’s calling, or maybe the agent is used to being a type of therapist to lonely customers.  That got me to thinking about using that for a book, but as I fleshed out the story of Arianna, the book became less and less about her new job as a telemarketer and much more about her trying to reinvent herself after her parents’ deaths.  A common theme among my stories has become broken characters who are trying to rebuild their lives and those in their lives who are along for the journey.  Romance is involved, although that is not usually the primary genre of my stories.

milemarkerIn Mile Marker 139, for the title, you can probably guess that this story involves a highway.  Mile marker 139 is a real place along the Ohio Turnpike, and there is a rest area there.  My husband has a fascination with rest areas, thinking that they would be neat places to people watch, to just drive to on some lonely night, sit, and look around.  That conversation about rest areas got the gears in my head turning.  What if there is a mysterious lady who shows up at a rest area every night at the same time?  Most people don’t notice her.  They’re just passing by, but there are people who work at the rest area.  They would see her.  The story revolves around three characters, a janitor, a barista, and a trucker, and how their interactions with this strange woman echo truths in their own lives.  As the story unfolds, the truth about Shelley (the mysterious woman) comes out.

What’s in store beyond that?  Book six will be a modern-day adaptation of Jane Eyre, which is my favorite book.  Book seven will be based off of a recent dream I had about a woman in the early twentieth century who is a writer, but her passion is discouraged because of her sex and her low class association.  

As you can see, my ideas come from all over the place!  I guess I am not the most organized writer in the world, but my chaos somehow works for me.

If you’re a writer and you’re having a hard time finding inspiration, here are my suggestions:

 

  • Take a walk in the woods
  • People watch
  • Write a short story or even just a page with dialogue between two characters
  • Pretend to interview a character
  • Take an interest of yours and think about how you could make it into a story
  • If you love music, create a soundtrack for a story and go from there
  • Write a poem
  • Just journal about what’s on your mind
  • Read lots of books
  • Get a full night’s sleep and try again tomorrow
  • Invest ten minutes a day to sit down and just write

 

This list isn’t exhaustive, and I’m sure you can find other suggestions on the net.  There are people who are much more qualified than me to give suggestions on where to find ideas for writing a story, but this is just my little list.  

I’ve shared with you my crazy sources of ideas.  Maybe it helped spark something for you?  Or maybe you’re a writing fool and don’t need my help.  Whatever your situation, I wish you the best in finding inspiration, keeping it, and writing it down.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog at the end of every month and a book review blog the 15th of every month.

Please note: Since the last day of June falls on a Friday, I’m posting this in place of my usual character profile on Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available FREE on July 1 & 2 or for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful