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Writer Wednesday Welcomes: Lynn Steward!!!

About five years ago, I labeled a personal file as “Act Three,” and filled it with creative ideas for a new work-interest. I first enjoyed an exciting career in New York’s fashion industry, then later, via a circuitous route on the way to opening my own boutique Shop for Pappagallo, I established a successful real estate business in Chicago. But I always enjoyed business-related writing and thought a non-fiction self-help book, with life-lessons I learned along the way, was something to explore during this next phase.

But, as often happens when you put yourself out there, I discovered another path and took it: I developed a TV pilot about New York in the seventies because, as they say “Write what you know” and I know New York. I’m a native of Long Island, and between attending school and working, I spent twenty-two years in Manhattan. I was so overwhelmed with ideas, I  created a TV series designed to run for five seasons. Appropriately placed in the New York City of 1975, which was International Women’s Year, the plots in the series intermingled fashion legends, business icons, real events, and untold stories, providing a behind-the-scenes look at inspirational women in the worlds of art, fashion, and business.

After meeting with professionals in the entertainment industry, I realized that the main character needed more drama and the plots had to be developed, and I felt the best way to do that was to write a novel, incorporating the TV stories.  While I still hope to see the characters alive on the big screen, I tremendously enjoy daily researching and writing historical fiction. My favorite time to write is early in the morning, preferably around 5:30 a.m., when my mind is clear, it is peaceful, and there are no interruptions. For at least three hours a day, I am again at home in New York City in the 1970s, creating a life for thirty-year-old Dana, her family and friends: attending parties at Café des Artistes with celebrity guests like legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, a business meeting with Estée Lauder, an art lectures at the Met.. At the same time, raising important questions that are relevant at every age, then and now: how does one find balance and meaning in the daily routines of life? How does one stop counting the candles, a single year or event, and instead, value the tapestry of life? This quest for self-fulfillment is a universal theme everyone can identify.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]A Very Good Life by Lynn Steward

Although Lynn Steward’s debut novel, A Very Good Life, takes place in 1970s New York City. it has a timelessness to it. Dana McGarry is an “it” girl, living a privileged lifestyle of a well-heeled junior executive at B. Altman, a high end department store. With a storybook husband and a fairytale life, change comes swiftly and unexpectedly. Cracks begin to appear in the perfect facade. Challenged at work by unethical demands, and the growing awareness that her relationship with her distant husband is strained, Dana must deal with the unwanted changes in her life. Can she find her place in the new world where women can have a voice, or will she allow herself to be manipulated into doing things that go against her growing self-confidence?

A Very Good Life chronicles the perils and rewards of Dana’s journey, alongside some of the most legendary women of the twentieth century. From parties at Café des Artistes to the annual Rockefeller Center holiday tree lighting ceremony, from meetings with business icons like Estée Lauder to cocktail receptions with celebrity guests like legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Steward’s intimate knowledge of the period creates the perfect backdrop for this riveting story about a woman’s quest for self-fulfillment.

EXCERPT

Chapter One

Dana McGarry, her short blond hair stirred by a light gust of wind, stood on Fifth Avenue in front of the display windows of the B. Altman department store on the day after Thanksgiving, November, 1974.  Dana, public relations and special events coordinator for the store, pulled her Brooks Brothers camel hair polo coat tighter around her slim, shapely frame.  Shoppers hurried past her, huddled in overcoats as mild snow flurries coated the streets with a fine white powder.  It was now officially Christmas season, and Dana sensed a pleasant urgency in the air as people rushed to find the perfect gift or simply meet a friend for lunch.  The frenetic pace of life in Manhattan continued to swell the sidewalks, but pedestrians were more inclined to tender a smile instead of a grimace if they bumped into one another.  Dana often told her friends that Christmas was a time when there was a temporary truce between true believers and grinches.  As far as business was concerned, she was pleased to hear the cash registers of B. Altman singing their secular carols inside the store, but she also still believed that the holidays brought magic and balance, however briefly, into a world of routine and ten-hour workdays.

Balance?  Dana smiled wistfully, for balance was becoming harder to achieve.  She was only twenty-nine, but the pressures of life were already assaulting her mind and spirit in numerous ways.  She tried to please multiple people in B. Altman’s corporate offices on a daily basis, not an easy task given that the seasoned professionals who were grooming her had various agendas, not all of which tallied with each other.  And then there was her marriage to Brett McGarry, a litigator at a Wall Street law firm.  Brett was as busy as she, and simultaneously attending to her career and the needs of her husband was sometimes difficult, if not downright burdensome.  His needs?  Well, “demands” would be a more accurate description of what Dana had to contend with.  Although Brett didn’t overtly order Dana around, he informed her of what he would or would not be able to do with her on any given day.  His growing air of superiority was extremely subtle and couched in affable smiles that most of Dana’s friends could not accurately read.

Dana’s eyes had become unfocused as she stared past the display window, but she quickly snapped her attention back to the present moment.  People, coated with a dusting of light snow, continued to stream through the portico outside B. Altman’s.  Magic and balance still held the better claim on Friday, November 29.  She’d worry about Brett later.

“I think they like it,” commented Andrew Ricci, display director for the store, as he stood to Dana’s left, referring to the happy, animated shoppers. “Good idea, Mark.  Christmas was the right time to bring in live mannequins.”  Andrew, slender and dressed in a gray suit with sweater vest, wiped snowflakes from his salt and pepper hair, wavy and combed straight back.  Even as Andrew said this, a little girl waved both hands, trying to get the attention of one of the Sugar Plum Fairies behind the window, saying over and over, “I saw her blink!  I did! I saw her blink!”

Mark Tepper was the president of the Tepper Display Company, and B. Altman had been a good account for ten years.  “You’re welcome.  I want you guys to look good.  Bloomie’s is just twenty-five blocks away,” said the suave president, dressed in a blue pinstripe suit.  He stood to Dana’s right.  His light brown hair was parted neatly above a broad forehead, and he had intense blue eyes that could capture the slightest nuance.  He was of average height, in good physical shape, and his ideas seemed to emanate from a bottomless reservoir of energy.  “You can’t go wrong with a Nutcracker theme.”  Mark stepped back and surveyed the scene.  “Now if I could only figure out a way to make the live mannequins stop blinking,” he said with a grin.

Dana and Andrew laughed at Mark’s quick wit, the result of keen intelligence combined with a sophisticated playfulness.  He could be highly focused without taking himself too seriously.

Andrew rubbed his hands together and exhaled, his breath drifting away in a small cloud of vapor.  “Say, would you two mind coming inside to look at the blueprints for the cosmetic department? I have to make one change.”

Dana, like all B. Altman employees, was energized by the transformation of her beloved store, and being a close friend of Andrew’s, she knew of changes starting with the planning stage. More than a year ago, when Dana first learned that the cosmetic department would be renovated, she thought it might bode well for her idea to add a teen makeup section.

Inside, the store was glowing from Christmas decorations, chandeliers, and red-capped  mercury lamps illuminating counters that curved and zigzagged across the main floor in every direction.  A decorated tree in the center of the main floor rose fifteen feet into the air, a grand focal point for the holiday atmosphere.  Andrew led the group to one of the counters in the existing cosmetic department and unrolled a set of blueprints he’d stored beneath the glass counter.  The trio would be undisturbed since holiday shoppers were buzzing past them on their way to the gift departments, many to see the new million-dollar menswear section that opened the previous month and extended the entire block along 34th Street.

“We’re aiming for the new department to open the first week of May,” Andrew said, “followed by a black tie gala.”  He poked his index finger onto the center of the blueprints for emphasis.  He then looked up proudly and pointed to a section of the floor where the new cosmetic department would be installed.

“Good placement,” Mark said.  “And nice layout, too.”  Mark usually spoke rapidly and in short sentences.  Insightful, he sized things up quickly and didn’t waste time.  It was another aspect of his confidence that allowed him to act professionally without losing his innate charm.  He also had a knack for including everyone around him in any discussion.

“So what does the public relations and special events coordinator think?” he asked, pivoting to face Dana, sensing she had something to say.

Dana cocked her head slightly while mischievously narrowing her eyes.  “I think we shouldn’t forget that a teen makeup section is just as important as an updated cosmetic department.  Otherwise, why are we bothering to update it in the first place?  Our demographic is getting younger.  Girls today are wearing makeup by the time they’re fourteen.”

Dana turned to Andrew. “What do you think, Mr. Ricci ?

Andrew chuckled at Dana’s use of his surname, which she occasionally did when talking business with her friend and confidante.  Andrew was the quintessential Renaissance man—artist, craftsman, and cook.  He and Dana attended art lectures at the Met, and he had personally taken Dana under his wing to give her what he called “a gay man’s culinary expertise” when her husband announced they were hosting a dinner party for a few of the firm’s partners.  Andrew was not only Dana’s close friend, but he was also a consummate professional in his capacity as display director.  He was a passionate man, at times almost compulsive, but he commanded respect from the refined corporate culture at B. Altman.

Andrew rolled up the blueprints and sighed.  “Good luck trying to persuade Helen.  She’s done a great job with her department, but she’s from the old school—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Andrew paused.  “But the fact that Helen isn’t on board isn’t going to stop you, is it?”

Helen Kavanagh was the junior buyer at B. Altman.

Dana shook her head and winked.  “Not for a minute.  I’m an optimist, Andrew.  Besides, it’s Christmas.  I’ve been a good girl, and Santa owes me.”

Mark was clearly enjoying the good-natured exchange.  “Santa naturally wasn’t big at Temple when I was growing up.  No stockings hung by the chimney with care—although I remain an ardent fan of stockings.  That having been said,” Mark continued, “I think—”

The conversation was interrupted by a no-nonsense twenty-something secretary, dark brown hair falling to her shoulder.  “Ms. Savino would like to see you in her office as soon as possible, Ms. McGarry,” she said.  The secretary turned on her heels and promptly disappeared into the busy throng of shoppers without waiting for a response from Dana.

Bea Savino was Dana’s boss and the vice president of sales promotion and marketing.

“She’s new,” Dana commented. “Poor girl—she’s scared to death.  We all were when we started.”

“I still am,” Andrew laughed, “and I don’t even report to her.  Bea can kill you with that look. You know, when her eyes tighten and she peers over her reading glasses—ouch!  But give her a martini, and it’s party time.  Bea’s a moveable feast.”

Dana nodded.   “True enough.  I better see what the indomitable Ms. Savino wants.  Gentlemen, it’s always a pleasure.”

Dana headed to the bank of elevators on the far side of the store, passing a dozen lively conversations that blended into what she regarded as a delightful holiday symphony.  People were spending money—and happy to be spending it.  She envisioned a teen makeup section facilitating that same enthusiastic banter at some point in the future.

“Dana!”

Dana wheeled around to see Mark hurrying past shoppers, his outstretched arm indicating that he wanted her to pause until he could catch up.

“People just can’t get enough of my infectious optimism,” Dana proclaimed.

“You’re cursed with good genes,” Mark said, stopping a foot from Dana.  “Seriously, the teen makeup section is a smart move.  I think you should ask Helen if she’s been following the incredible success of Biba.”

“I think everybody’s eyes are on London.”

“If not, they should be.  Biba just moved to a seven-story building in Kensington, and the store is attracting a million customers a week.  Teen makeup sure seems to be working for the Brits.  The birds, as the English call young girls, are flocking to the store in droves.”  He paused.  “I’m mixing my metaphors—birds, cattle—but you get the gist.”

`           Dana put her hands on her hips and burst into laughter.

“When was the last time you used the word droves, Mark?”

“Hey, I’ve watched cowboys on TV like anybody else,” he replied with mock defensiveness. “Head ‘em up and move ‘em out.  And that’s what Biba is doing.  The customers are in and out, and most of their wallets are quite a bit lighter when they leave.  That’s the idea, right?”

“Absolutely!

“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Mark said, touching the side of Dana’s arm right below her shoulder.  He walked away, turned back with a big smile and a thumbs-up, then disappeared.

Mark’s energy and enthusiasm, as well as his one-minute pep talk, were just what Dana needed to boost her confidence and keep her idea alive.

As Dana neared the far side of the store, she and Helen Kavanagh simultaneously  approached the same elevator.

As always, Helen was impeccably dressed, and her carriage bespoke an elegant, stylish demeanor.  She was in the later years of middle age, but she advanced towards the elevator briskly, her blond hair pulled severely back from her face and secured with an ever-present black velvet ribbon.  Her face expressionless, she glanced at Dana, her pace unchanged.  A signal had clearly been given.  In point of fact, Helen truly admired Dana, but the young events coordinator was in her twenties, and there was a protocol in Helen’s universe that she didn’t believe needed to be articulated.  Respect carried the day, with camaraderie offered in moderation, preferably outside of the workplace.  Dana therefore halted just long enough to allow Helen to slip into the elevator before she followed, the doors closing behind her.  The two women were alone as the elevator ascended to the executive suite of offices on the fifth floor.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Dana thought.  Besides, Mark had literally gone out of his way to suggest that she approach Helen.  Mark, of course, could be aggressive and disarming at the same time, so such a feat would naturally be far easier for him to accomplish.  Still, she was quite aware that Mark had her best interests at heart.  It was worth a try.

“Good morning, Helen.”

Helen nodded and smiled thinly.  “Dana.”

“Helen, I was wondering if you shopped Biba when you were in London last month.  They’re pulling in a million customers a week.  A million!”  Dana raised her eyebrows, her clear blue eyes sparkling even in the dim light of the elevator.

Helen tapped a silver ballpoint pen against the brown leather case holding her yellow legal pad.  “Biba,” she said with frustration.  “Biba is filled with non-paying customers who rush in before work to try on free makeup.  Free, Dana.  Are they running a business or having a party?   Try it before you buy it?  I don’t think so.  They’re crazy.  Excuse me—as the British say, they’re quite mad.  They’ll be out of business in a year.”

Dana’s heart skipped a beat, but she wasn’t going to show any nervousness.  Instead, she laughed. “Well, I’m sure you’re right.  Shows what I know!”

It was a self-effacing remark, but Dana knew when to back down.

Helen, who had been facing forward, turned and looked at Dana squarely.  “And don’t even think of taking this to Bea.”

Dana smiled as the elevator door opened, but she said nothing.

The two women stepped onto the fifth floor, the rooms of which were a facsimile of the 1916 interiors of Benjamin Altman’s Fifth Avenue home.  Dana and Helen walked through the reception area, which was a replica of Altman’s well-known Renaissance room.  Fine art adorned the wood-paneled walls beyond the anteroom, with elaborately carved woodwork accenting the hallways.  The President’s Room was a reproduction of Altman’s personal library, while the Board Room was a faithful rendering of his dining room.  Oriental carpets lay on the polished parquet floor, and Dana never ceased to marvel at the rich interior of the executive suite and its expensive art collection no matter how many times she entered the area.  It had the ambience of a corporate cathedral, and the first time she stepped onto the floor years earlier, she had unconsciously lifted her right hand for a split second, as if to dip her fingers in a holy water font.

Dana and Helen walked in the same direction for fifteen paces until it became obvious that they were both heading for Bea Savino’s office.

“I was told Bea wanted to see me,” Dana stated.

“I’m sure you were,” Helen said flatly.  “But I need to see her first.  That isn’t a problem, is it?”

“No.  Of course not.”

It was another elevator moment.  Dana gave Helen a politically correct smile and stepped back, allowing her to open Bea’s door and slip into the office.

Dana walked up and down the hall, admiring the landscapes hanging on the dark paneling.  Miniature marble sculptures stood on pedestals and library tables with inlaid mother-of-pearl.  She hoped Helen wouldn’t be long since she wanted to get back home, walk her dog, and double-check arrangements for the annual McGarry Christmas party, now only six days away.  It was one o’clock, but if Bea called a special events meeting, Dana’s afternoon would be lost.  She was overseeing the expansion of the adult programs, known as “department-store culture,” and she and Bea were still working out the details for the rollout in January.  B. Altman was a pioneer for such a program, and Dana would be programming three events a week in the Charleston Garden restaurant that seated two hundred.  A smaller third-floor community room was newly renovated for the expanded sessions that included mini-courses in art appreciation, cooking demonstrations, book signings, self-improvement, and current events.

She reversed direction and walked past Bea’s office, noticing that the door was slightly ajar.  She turned around and decided to wait outside Bea’s inner sanctum to make sure Helen wouldn’t slip out unnoticed.  Heart pounding, she stood near the open door and heard Helen expressing dismay.

“You know how I feel about having shoes in my department, Bea.  Can’t you help me convince them to find somewhere else to put this Pappagallo shop?  Shoes belong with shoes.  It just doesn’t work for me.  I don’t want to see them. Period.”

There was clear exasperation in the junior buyer’s voice.

“But it works for Ira and Dawn,” Bea responded calmly, “and they firmly believe in the merchandising potential for this young market.  “Don’t quote me, but I heard Ira’s daughter will be working in the shop this summer.  You gotta get on board, Helen.  Think young.  Think upbeat.”  Her voice rose with sudden enthusiasm.  “Think Biba!”

“Bea, if I hear that name Biba one more time!” Helen interrupted.

Bea ignored her.  “The kids are all drinking espresso, and I’ll probably go down for a cup in the afternoon.”

“What are you talking about?” Helen asked.  “You’re going to—”

“Helen,” Bea slowly responded, “Pappagallo stores have love seats and espresso machines.  It’s that Southern hospitality.  They were introduced in Atlanta.  Anyway, we have no choice.  Remember, Pappagallo is leasing the space.”

There was a noticeable silence inside Bea’s office.
“Breathe deeply, Helen,” Bea advised with a laugh.  “You’re going to hyperventilate.  It’s

not the end of the world.”

“Espresso machine?” Helen repeated. “Love seats? Taking up selling space.  I’m not putting up with this.  Fine.  Then they’ll just have to give me a larger department.  I’m not giving up without getting something in return.”

Dana smiled.  If Ira Neimark, the executive vice president and general merchandise manager of B. Altman, together with his hand-picked vice president and fashion director, Dawn Mello—Helen’s boss—were looking for ways to bring  young people into the store, maybe the teen makeup department wasn’t a lost cause after all.

Helen came flying out the office, brushing past Dana by mere inches as she talked to herself under her breath.  “B. Altman will be out of business before Biba.  It’s all totally absurd.”  She took no notice of the young events coordinator.

Dana moved forward and stood in the doorway.  “You wanted to see me?” she asked. “Yes, Dana.  Come in.”

Bea Savino was a tiny but feisty Italian woman with snow white hair, a chain-smoker with a no-nonsense approach to life and business.  Bea had married five years ago, at the age of forty, and had no children, but she felt compelled to give her adopted young staff reality therapy every chance she could, believing they were too influenced by the soft dress-for-success career articles in fashion magazines.  With Dana, Bea’s mantra was “Toughen up, for God’s sake!”  When Dana had been passed over for an assignment and complained to her boss, Bea merely said, “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, kiddo.  I didn’t even know you were interested.  Carol was in here every day, begging.  Speak up, Dana.”

Bea lit a cigarette, exhaled a plume of smoke, and laughed.  “I think poor Helen is headed for a stroke.  I saw you standing outside, so I know you heard our exchange.  Ah well.  She’ll get over it.  She’s a tough old broad, God love her.”  Bea shuffled some papers around her desk before finding the folder she was looking for.  Her office was not a model of perfection and order, as were Helen’s and Dana’s.

Dana cringed at the term “broad.”  The expression seemed out of place on the sacrosanct fifth floor, but she merely took a deep breath and remembered that Bea didn’t mince words.  She decided to pitch her idea despite Helen’s warning.

“Bea, since Mr. Neimark and Ms. Mello are interested in the youth market, why can’t we go one step further than the Shop for Pappagallo and add a teen makeup section too?  As I told Helen, Biba is pulling in a million customers a week.”

Bea leaned back in her chair and took another puff of her cigarette.

“You always tell me to speak up,” Dana said, her voice rising slightly as she shrugged her shoulders.  “So . . . ?”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Bea conceded as she surveyed her cluttered desk, “but it’s not going to happen, at least not now.  One step at a time.  Let Helen adjust to the intrusion of Pappagallo first.  It’s too much at once.”

“But—”

“Go whine to Bob.  I know you two are thick as thieves.  I asked you here to discuss something else.”

Bob Campbell was the store’s vice president and general manager.  He was Dana’s unofficial mentor, a fact that often irritated Bea to no end.  It was she, not Bob, who was the young woman’s immediate boss.

Dana clasped her hands behind her back, squeezing her right fist in frustration.  Was she supposed to toughen up and be vocal or remain silent?  Bea’s mixed messages could be infuriating.  Dana was advocating the same teen strategy that the general merchandise manager and fashion director of the store apparently believed in, and she couldn’t help but think that she was being penalized for her youth.  Or maybe it was because Helen might pitch a fit.  Either way, Andrew had been right: Bea was a moveable feast.

“Bob has chosen the winner for this year’s teen contest.  You’ll announce the results next week at the Sugar Plum Ball.  It’s a favor for a friend of Mr. Campbell.  His friend’s daughter, Kim Sullivan, will be this year’s winner.”  Bea sighed deeply and crushed her cigarette in a large glass ashtray on her desk.  “Have a good weekend, Dana,” Bea said, summarily dismissing the figure standing before her.

Dana was speechless.  The contest involved getting the best and brightest teens to write essays, make brief speeches, and model clothes, and they were down to the five finalists. She’d run the contest for three years, but the idea that the contest was rigged this year—and by Bob Campbell of all people—left Dana dazed and temporarily unable to move.  The Sugar Plum Ball was the annual December benefit for the Children’s Aid Society.  The idea of committing fraud was bad enough, but she would also have to disappoint the girls who would be competing in good faith.  Did such a prestigious charity event have to be marred by dishonesty?

Bea looked up, glasses perched on the end of her nose.  “Is anything the matter, Dana?  You look positively pale.”

“No.  Everything’s fine.” Everything was most decidedly not fine.  Dana had the ear of Bob Campbell, and she would use her access to the general manager to express how odious the idea seemed.  One way or another, she’d find a way to avoid making the contest into a sham.

Feeling manipulated, Dana turned and left Bea’s office.  Her normally fair complexion was red with anger, and her breath came in quick, short bursts.  She marched down to the Writing and Rest Room for Women, a beautifully carpeted room with chairs upholstered in blue velvet.  The mahogany walls and soft lighting made this one of the most elaborate rest areas in any store, and Dana sometimes came here because of the quiet and repose it offered.  Today the room was, not surprisingly, filled with shoppers taking a moment to compose themselves.  She hurried to her office in the General Offices section of the fifth floor, retrieved her purse, and tried to calm down.

Regaining her composure proved impossible, however.  She took a deep breath and decided that she would have no peace for the rest of the day until she spoke with Bob Campbell.  Bea must have been mistaken.  Bob would never rig the yearly teen contest.

Dana got up from her desk, hoping to get a few minutes with the general manager.  She walked back to the executive suite, ready to make her case.

AUTHOR BIO

Lynn Steward is a successful business woman who spent many years in New York City’s fashion industry in marketing and merchandising, including the development of the first women’s department at a famous men’s clothing store. Through extensive research, and an intimate knowledge of the period, Steward created the characters and stories for a series of five authentic and heartwarming novels about New York in the seventies. A Very Good Life is the first in the series featuring Dana McGarry.

Website:   www.averygoodlife.com

Publisher:  CreateSpace

Purchase link:  http://www.amazon.com/Very-Good-Life-1/dp/0991500776

This One Time I Did That Thing….

My Marvel Inspiration

My Marvel Inspiration

This one time, I did that thing where I threw my hands up and quit writing. Forever. And I totally meant it. This is why:

I had a manuscript on submissions (as I always do) and the manuscript received wonderful compliments followed by things like: BUT we just picked up something too similar to properly support a second so close in plot. Many. Many variations of that. I got so crazy mad at this notion. Somehow my “intriguing”, “well-written,” “engaging” even “page turner” of a manuscript couldn’t find a home because I was late to the party. Well. I screamed. A lot.

That’s when I did the thing.

I stopped my WIP (work in progress) and went back to the drawing board. I took my hero, a boy who was mysterious because his family had mental issues circa Bates Motel and tried desperately to hide that truth…. and I made him a Viking.

WHAT?

Yep. Extreme. I know. I was in a bad place at the moment, but I did the thing and it was good.

Cause guess what? There aren’t an abundance of vikings in YA today. (Unless there are and they’re all being prepped for release before mine. Then, I’m screwed).

So, anyway.  That’s what I did. I took a contemporary YA and asked myself, “How can I come up with something other authors aren’t turning in ahead of me?” “How can I avoid rejection based on accidentally writing something already written?” I had to take a chance. I changed my “safe” storyline and went with an idea I loved, but had been afraid to approach for fear of messing it up. I embraced my love of Thor and Loki, Odin and Zeus (Yeah, I like both Greek and Norse mythology) and I said, “My hero is a Viking and in my world, Vikings are demigods, born of humans and the Goddess Nike’s siblings, Kratos, Bia and Zelus: gods (and goddess) of strength, force and zeal.  I wrote my very first fantasy romance and I had an amazing time. Vikings. Huzzah!

Who knows? Maybe there are a half dozen similar works set to release tomorrow. All I know is that I was pushed into making a stand and I decided to write something I’m passionate about: Mythology. I gave the mythology a Julie-esque slant, and set it in contemporary rural Ohio. Hey, isn’t that what makes fiction so amazing? I think so.

And THAT was the thing I did. I owned my creativity and took a chance. I’m so glad I did.

Oh, did I mention the story found a home? My YA fantasy, PROPHECY, arrives this December from Lyrical Press/Kensington, and I am one happy author.

A thought for fellow writers: If you’re debating something a little crazy, I encourage you to go for it. Why not? What do you have to lose? If you’re not writing with passion and finding joy in the process, then maybe you’re doing it wrong (like I was) and it may be time to start again. Then again, what do I know? I write about Vikings and sea nymphs in modern day rural Ohio.  *shrug* It’s totally your call if you want to take advice from crazy o_0.

There will be many many posts to come on this matter. Mythology, Norse and Greek. Runes. First love. Epic Viking battles and swimming as a sport. Plus there’s lots of kissing. Always with the kissing. Yep. I’m fizzy-excited to share my enthusiasm for making mythology mainstream :)

Happy Book Birthday to: The Luthier’s Apprentice by Mayra Calvani

The Luthier’s Apprentice

tlaNiccolò Paganini (1782-1840), one of the greatest violinists who ever lived and rumored to have made a pact with the devil, has somehow transferred unique powers to another…

When violinists around the world mysteriously vanish, 16-year-old Emma Braun takes notice.  But when her beloved violin teacher disappears… Emma takes charge. With Sherlock Holmes fanatic, not to mention gorgeous Corey Fletcher, Emma discovers a parallel world ruled by an ex-violinist turned evil sorceress who wants to rule the music world on her own terms.

But why are only men violinists captured and not women? What is the connection between Emma’s family, the sorceress, and the infamous Niccolò Paganini?

Emma must unravel the mystery in order to save her teacher from the fatal destiny that awaits him.  And undo the curse that torments her family—before evil wins and she becomes the next luthier’s apprentice…

Enjoy the Excerpt!

 The Luthier’s Apprentice

Chapter One

 

Brussels, Belgium

Present day

Sixteen-year old Emma Braun got off the school bus and strode down Stockel Square toward her home. She glanced up at the October sky and wrapped her wool scarf tighter around her neck. Heavy dark clouds threatened a downpour. 

As she passed a newspaper stand, the headlines on The Brussels Gazette caught her attention:

ANOTHER VIOLINIST VANISHES!

Emma stopped. For a moment she could only stare. She dug into her jacket pocket for coins and bought a copy.

The newspaper article left her stunned. Not only because three well-known violinists had gone missing in the last several months, but because the latest one was her teacher, Monsieur Dupriez.

The news story seemed so hard to believe, she stopped at the next street corner to read it one more time.

It was the last week of October, and the shops and homes were lightly adorned with Halloween decorations. Pumpkins and Jack-o-lanterns sat on doorsteps. Witches, broomsticks, and black cats hunkered down in windows and shops. Just last evening, Emma had sauntered along this street with her best friend Annika, unconcerned and looking forward to Halloween. Now, everything had turned dark and ominous.

The strange incidents she had experienced for the past two weeks added to her stress.

At first she had thought they were a string of coincidences, but not anymore. While scowling at obnoxious Billie Lynam during school recess, for instance, she wished he would fall flat on his face… and half a minute later, her wish was granted. On various occasions she guessed people’s thoughts before they spoke. And yesterday, on her way home from school, she accurately guessed the meal her mom had left on the table for her.

Was she some kind of a psychic? If so, why now? People didn’t develop powers like these overnight. Did they?

She hadn’t told her mom about her new abilities yet; only Annika knew. Maybe she would tell her mom today, after she shared the news about Monsieur Dupriez.

As Emma approached her home, she quickened her step. By the time she reached the door she was almost running. She raced into the hallway and dropped her book bag on the floor.

“Mom!” she called, looking in the kitchen, then in the living room. The house was silent. “Mom!” she called again, racing up the stairs to the bedrooms. Entering her mother’s room, Emma found her sitting very still on the bed with a crumpled letter in her hand.

When her mom saw her, she hastily put the crumpled piece of paper into her pocket and rose from the bed. Her arched brows were furrowed with anxiety.

Emma momentarily forgot the newspaper article. “Are you okay, Mom?”

“I’ve just received some unsettling news,” her mom said. “I must make a trip to see your Aunt Lili. She’s ill. She…I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

Aunt Lili? Emma frowned. More surprises. Emma had never met her mom’s eccentric only sister, who lived alone in the Hungarian mountains secluded in an old chateau surrounded by dark woods—or so her mom said. Though again, her mom hardly ever mentioned her.

“What’s wrong with Aunt Lili?” Emma asked. “Can’t I come with you?” She had always been intrigued by her mysterious aunt.

“No. You’ll stay with Grandpa. You enjoy working with him, don’t you?” Her brown eyes met Emma’s before turning away, and though her voice sounded matter-of-fact, Emma detected a trace of ambivalence.

Emma sighed. She loved violin making with a passion, but Grandpa was a bitter taskmaster. No matter how much she tried to please him, she never could. Maybe that’s why her mom often seemed so reluctant about her apprenticeship.

“I’d rather go with you,” Emma said. “Plus, next week is holiday.” All Saints holiday week—or Toussaint, as they called it here—almost always coincided with Halloween.

“That’s out of the question. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Besides, you can’t miss your violin lessons, not with the Christmas competition at the academy coming up soon.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Emma said gravely, extending the newspaper.

Her mom took it. “What’s this?”

“This is why I came running up the stairs.”

Her mom read the headlines. She gasped and looked at Emma. When she finished reading, she sat on the edge of the mattress and stared into space. “Oh, my God…” she whispered.

Emma sat next to her mom. “It says Monsieur Dupriez disappeared in his study. The doors and windows were locked from the inside. The police don’t have any explanation. How can this happen? It’s not logical. It’s not humanly possible.”

“No, not humanly possible…”

“Just like the other three—that German violinist, the French one, the American. Nobody has explained their disappearances. Who would want to kidnap violinists?” When her mom didn’t answer, she began to gnaw at her fingernail.

As if by reflex, her mom pulled Emma’s hand away from her mouth.

“Sorry,” Emma mumbled. “I’m just worried about him.”

“Poor Madame Dupriez. We must visit her. She must be in quite a state.”

“Can you call her now?”

Her mom sighed. “I will. In a moment.” She looked at Emma, her features softening. Gently, she smoothed Emma’s glossy chestnut locks and side fringe away from her face. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. You mustn’t be afraid.”

“Afraid? Why would I be afraid?”

“I mean, about Monsieur Dupriez.” Her mom appeared flustered.

“I’m not afraid. I’m worried, and angry. I want to find out what happened to him. Without him, I don’t even want to take part in the competition.”

Monsieur Dupriez had been Emma’s teacher since she was four years old. But more than teacher, he was her mentor.

“You will do your best at the competition—with or without Monsieur Dupriez. Do you hear me?” her mom said. Then her voice softened. “Listen, darling, I know how close you are to Monsieur Dupriez, but you cannot allow his disappearance to destroy your chances at the competition. I’m not asking you to win, only to do your best. You have great talent, a gift, and your duty is to use it to the best of your ability. Never forget this. Monsieur Dupriez would never want you to forget this.”

“You still haven’t told me what’s wrong with Aunt Lili,” Emma said, changing the conversation. “Why must you go to her now, after all these years?”

Looking into Emma’s face, her mom hesitated, as if unable to decide what—or how much—to say. “You know she’s always been ill, a recluse. She…” She rose from the bed and walked to the window, then opened the curtain. It had started raining, the drops pelted against the glass. “This time it’s serious. She may die.”

Emma couldn’t help feeling a twinge of suspicion. She hated distrusting her mom, whom she loved more than anything in the world, but this time her mom was lying. Emma trusted that feeling, another of her freaky new abilities. She felt an overwhelming urge to chew her fingernails, but tried to control herself. For her mom, a violinist’s hands were a work of art.

“But what’s wrong with her? What kind of disease does she have?” Emma insisted.

“Her heart is very weak.” Her mom turned away from the window to face Emma. Her voice was laced with impatience.

And again Emma thought: She’s lying.

“Please don’t worry about it,” her mom went on in a lighter tone. “I’ll try to come back soon.”

“How soon?”

“As soon as I can manage.”

“Grandpa is always in such a nasty mood,” Emma complained.

“Well, that isn’t news, is it?” Her mom stared down at the floor, as if absorbed by her own thoughts. After a pause, she added, “He’s old and his back always hurts. You know that.”

“I love Grandpa, but he’s so freaking…” She tried to come up with the right word. Bizarre.  Instead she said, “Mysterious. You know, with his violins.”

Her mom looked at Emma and frowned, as if waiting for her to say more.

“You know what I mean, Mom. With that room at the top of the stairs. The one that’s always locked.”

Her mom’s features hardened. “He keeps his most valuable pieces in there. You must never disobey him. He would be very disappointed.”

“Who said I would go in there?” Emma asked, trying to sound innocent. If there was something she intended to do, it was going inside that room. Once she’d almost been successful. For some crazy reason, Grandpa had forgotten to lock it one day. But the instant she touched the doorknob, he had called her from the bottom of the stairs, his wrinkled features twisted into a mask that had left her frozen. He had appeared enraged and afraid at the same time.

“When are you leaving?” Emma asked, shaking off the past to focus on the present issue.

“As soon as possible. Tomorrow, probably. I’ll get the plane tickets today.”

“Mom…”

“Emma, please. If you’re going to complain or say anything negative, I don’t want to hear it.”

Fine. Obviously, this wasn’t the best time to bring up her new psychic powers. She headed to the door.

“Where are you going?” her mom asked.

“To my room.”

“I’ll call Madame Dupriez to see if we may visit her after dinner. In the meantime, I want you to pack. You’re moving to Grandpa’s tomorrow.”

 

In her room, Emma dragged her suitcase from the top shelf in the closet and set it on the floor.

“Hi, Sweetie,” she said to Blackie, her rabbit. “Want to get some exercise?” She opened the cage door so Blackie could hop out and roam about her room. Blackie was housebroken, and smart as a cat—or close to it.

She stared at the elegant taffeta gown hanging from her wardrobe door, a strapless design a la Anne Sophie Mutter she’d already bought for the upcoming violin competition.

She sighed.

Slumped on the bed, Emma wondered for the umpteenth time about Monsieur Dupriez’s strange disappearance.

Where could he be?

Purchase links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K93R3OO/

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-luthiers-apprentice-mayra-calvani/1119467189

Author bio:

authAward-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. She’s had over 300 articles, short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The WriterWriter’s Journal and Bloomsbury Review, among others. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, she now resides in Brussels, Belgium.

Connect with the author on the Web:

http://www.MayraCalvani.com

Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mayra-Calvanis-Fan-Page/162383023775888

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mcalvani

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/272703.Mayra_Calvani

Meet the Heroes of Murder Comes Ashore

Hey guys! Guess what I did today? I interviewed the heroes of my cozy mystery, MURDER COMES ASHORE. Yeah, that’s exactly like having a three way conversation with myself. So, you know, the usual :) Enjoy!

 

Julie: Hey guys. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. I know you’re both super busy, but I’m really excited to introduce you to my friends.

How about we start with introductions? Tell us your name, occupation and how you know my heroine, Patience.

Adrian: Me? Okay, I’ll start. *beaming smile* *shows off that blasted dimple* I’m Adrian Davis. I’m running for town mayor. I met Patience when we were still in diapers. We grew up together. *stormy blue eyes twinkle* She’s my soul mate.

Sebastian: *scoffs* I’m FBI Special Agent Sebastian Clark. I met Patience a few years ago when she worked human resources at the bureau. She interviewed and hired me.

Adrian: That’s why you call her Boss. *laughs* I get it. That’s cute. I just thought it was because she’s the boss of you. *points thumb at Sebastian* This guy. Hey, point of advice. Maybe try something more feminine like sweetie or sugar.

Sebastian:

Adrian: So, they’re dating now. He followed her onto our island right after she moved back home.

Sebastian: I came here to help her clear you of a murder charge.

Adrian: *Sincere smile* Hey, I appreciate that, man. *lifts fist* *shields mouth on one side* I’m not sure that was the only reason he headed over here from the mainland, if you know what I mean. It looked to me like he was smitten from the start.

Sebastian:

Adrian: *winks* You are a smitten kitten.

Sebastian:

Adrian: *laughing*

Julie: Adrian, what do you think about Patience dating Sebastian? You don’t seem upset, but you just called her your soul mate. That’s complicated, right?

Adrian: Ah. Seb’s a good guy and he makes her happy for now.

Sebastian: *watching Adrian*

Julie: Sebastian? Any thoughts?

Sebastian:

Adrian: He’s the strong silent type.

Julie: I see that. (I also see his hooded brown eyes and sidearm. Hot).

Adrian: *leans over to look at Sebastian* So, what do you two talk about? Old cases? Hit men? Serial killers who got away? Wait. Embezzlement. I hear that makes great pillow talk.

Sebastian: You’re a marshmallow.

Adrian: *Laughs* I like him. He keeps her safe. Until she comes back around, at least I know she’s safe.

Sebastian: *groans* *shoulders slump slightly*

Adrian: *facing Sebastian* Right? I mean, she needs at least a special agent to keep her out of trouble. She gets shot at, car bombed and abducted more than anyone on this planet. *shakes head* Loving Patience is hard. Takes a lot of….well…patience.

Sebastian: *chuckles*

Adrian: *smiles* She’s a trouble magnet. Patience runs headlong into firestorms trying to satisfy her insane curiosity. She’s a nightmare to care about.

Sebastian: *brow scrunches*

Adrian: *to Sebastian* Where is she now?

Sebastian: She’s covering phones at the station while Frankie runs out to pick up lunch.

Adrian: You left her answering phones. At the police station?

Sebastian: *eyes slide shut* *swears* *pulls off mic, stands, strides away*

Adrian: *watches him leave* *cracks up* See what I mean? She’s a handful. He’s got his work cut out for him. She’s probably already knee deep in an investigation. *sighs* I’ll be here when she’s tired of being rescued.

Julie: So, what? You wouldn’t rescue her?

Adrian: *leans in conspiratorially* I will always come for her. I just know how to make it seem like she was the one who did the saving. Hero-Complex back there can’t resist swooping in and saving the day. Patience isn’t the kind of girl who appreciates all the saving. *winks*

Julie: *swoons over the dimple* Well, there you have it folks. Patience has her work cut out for her. Charismatic love lost, Adrian, is back and waiting with open arms. Sexy alpha male boyfriend, Sebastian, is already in place for new love. I’ve gotta tell you. Those aren’t the worst problems a girl can have, but I don’t envy her the choice. Good luck, sister.

If you’re looking for a fun new series with plenty of hot chemistry, intrigue and antics, please consider my new release Murder Comes Ashore to warm up your winter. I hope it will make you smile : )

Murder Comes Ashore

Art by Harlequin 2013

Art by Harlequin 2013

 

Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.

Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.

When the body count rises and Patience’s parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It’s not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she’s determined to clear her family’s name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer’s next victim.

Musings Welcomes Author Nancy Cohen!

PubPinkHooks in Cozy Mysteries
By Nancy J. Cohen

What does an editor mean when she asks about the hook for your proposed mystery series?

Basically, this refers to the marketing angle or the unique slant that your series offers. Your hook is based on the series premise, whether it’s the sleuth’s occupation or a particular locale. For example, my Bad Hair Day mysteries take place in a beauty salon owned by my hairstylist sleuth, Marla Shore. When I created the series, there were few other stories set in a similar environment. Now there are several, but they’re each different because of the setting or the sleuth’s particular characteristics.

So first you need to assign your sleuth an occupation. Are you a foodie? Maybe your gal works in a coffee shop, a bakery, a cupcake store, or a soup kitchen. Or else she’s a caterer or a food critic. Likely you’ll include recipes along with your story.

Or perhaps you enjoy hand-made crafts for a hobby, so your sleuth opens a scrapbooking store or designs jewelry or makes quilts with a circle of friends. You can include crafting tips in these types of stories.

Bed-and-breakfast owners and tour guides are also popular tropes. And don’t forget your pet mysteries. Dogs and cats have their own fans.

Ghosts are always popular, as you’ll witness by the paranormal mysteries or psychic detectives.

Whatever your personal interests, you are likely to find a mystery series to match. If not, you can create one.

The location also lends personality to these stories. My heroine lives in South Florida, which gives these books a different flavor than a beauty parlor set in Savannah. The age of the protagonist makes a difference. Whereas Marla is in her thirties, another hairdresser sleuth might be old enough to be her mother. The hook in all of these is the hair salon angle.

We could speak about the opening hook in your story or end-of-chapter hooks, but those have to do with writing craft. First you need to hook the reader on your overall series premise. Then you can worry about story details.

So what is the unique angle to your series?

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HangingbyaHairHanging By A Hair
A Bad Hair Day Mystery
Marla’s joyous move to a new house with her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, is marred by their next-door neighbor who erects an illegal fence between their properties. When Dalton reminds the man of the local permitting laws, tempers flare—and worse, the neighbor is found dead the following day. Dismayed when Dalton is removed from the case due to a conflict of interest, Marla decides it’s up to her to find the killer. Can the intrepid hairstylist untangle the clues and pin down the culprit before he strikes again?
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Nancy-J-Cohen/dp/1432828142
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hanging-by-a-hair-nancy-j-cohen/1116603785

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About Nancy:

Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day mystery series featuring hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles have made the IMBA bestseller list. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a valuable instructional guide for mystery writers. Her imaginative romances have also proven popular with fans. Her titles in this genre have won the HOLT Medallion and Best Book in Romantic SciFi/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising and outlet shopping.

Find Nancy Online:

Website – http://nancyjcohen.com
Blog – http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/nancyjcohen
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nancy-J-Cohen/112101588804907
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91508.Nancy_J_Cohen
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/njcohen/
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyjcohen
Google +: https://google.com/+NancyJCohen
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6Yb2zOkXEQ6xmAeYv8Jp5w/

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