I recently visited with another book group that read Blue Straggler, and I always love it when I hear how animated and passionate readers are about the characters in the novel.
This particular conversation revolved around Adam and Rudy — two very different male characters in the story — and which one of the two was more likeable as a long-term romantic interest for Bailey (and for the book group members …).
And then one of the members asked me who MY favorite character in the novel is. That’s a pretty tough question. After all, I created them all and they lived in my head with me for a very long time before the story was complete and out in the world. It’s kind of like asking me which of the many dogs I’ve had in my life is my favorite. I’ve loved them all in different ways. I can’t pick. Ever.
I will say, however, that I plan to write a sequel to Blue Straggler, and Rudy will have a big part in it. Because I think I might miss him the most.
Now – your turn. If you read Blue Straggler, comment below and let me know which character in the novel was your favorite and why. I’ll choose a winner based on which comment I like the best. (I’m queen of this little world/blog, you know.)
Best part: Winner will receive a signed paperback copy of Blue Straggler – in its original 2012 cover (those are in limited supply, baby!)
Now, don’t let me down. Comment away!
Here’s a recap of the some of the characters for you:
Bailey — Directionless female protagonist approaching 30; uses self-deprecating humor to deal with life; enjoys Cool Whip and alcohol on frequent occasions; can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes milk to expire in the fridge
Rudy — Bailey’s best friend since college at Texas A&M; will kick your ass at Jeopardy; Bad at dating and financial management.
Idamarie — The third and oldest member of the friendship triangle; shells out good diner food and mostly good advice. Fourth-generation Texas woman with the hair and sass to prove it.
Adam — Moody mountain man with a beat-up Jeep and heart, plus a lot of dogs and a barn for rent.
Francis — Coffee shop owner and Bailey’s first friend in Colorado. Nice Southern accent.
Stella — Feisty mail carrier and mayor of Gold Creek, Colorado. Don’t look at her prosthetic ear.
Tuck — Tow truck driver, originally from Texas, now living in Gold Creek. Has a Jesus bobblehead on his dash.
Bailey’s Mother — Enjoys throwing backyard parties and yard sales, and berating Bailey. Co-owner of family’s fiberglass cow business.
Bailey’s Father — Rancher. Values beer, old outlaw country, gambling, and good dogs.
Lawrence — Librarian with Skills.
Weasel – Bailey’s cat she believes is out to get her.
Willie and Waylon – Bailey’s family’s dogs
WHO WILL YOU CHOOSE?
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I started this blog in early 2012, at the request of my publisher. I’ll admit I was worried about it. I’d written a weekly online column before, but that was different. This was a BLOG, something I’d resisted for years. Would I have time to blog and blog well? Would people (other than my mother) care enough about what’s going on in my head to read it? And what in the hell would I write about?
Well, I haven’t kept up with the blogging schedule I’d hoped for, but I have written a few fun pieces. Below, I’ve featured links to the 10 most popular posts, just in case you missed `em. Even I enjoyed rereading a few.
Oh, and just to recap this AMAZING year in publishing for me (because that’s what you do on New Year’s Eve-Eve) … after becoming an Amazon bestseller in the spring and summer, Blue Straggler (released as an ebook in August 2011 and in paperback in March of this year) remains in the top 30 in sales and customer ratings in comic fiction on Amazon. It hit #2 again right after Christmas and #5 in a different category (humor). Pretty cool. Or rather, a huge dream of mine come true. A Good Kind of Knowing was released in ebook in October and in paperback earlier this month. It made it to the #10 spot in its category (fiction/drama) on Amazon and remains in the top 30 in ratings. It also made the top 100 in customer ratings in literary fiction. Whew. That’s as good for this writer’s soul as crab legs, cheese biscuits and a Bahama Mama from Red Lobster.
I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and always. Having my work touch just a few people would’ve been satisfying. But this kind of success has been overwhelming. Thank you!
I’m cheating a little tonight. I was going to write a quick blog post before hitting the hay, but then I realized I had recently answered an Author Q/A for a blog during my two-week blog tour, but the content was never used.
So I think I’ll publish it here, just for kicks. The really cool thing? It includes a quick teaser of content from my second novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, which will be out this summer. I hope you enjoy it. But first, the Q/A.
Q: What inspired you to write this book, Blue Straggler?
I had written a short story with three of the characters that now appear in Blue Straggler (Bailey, Rudy and Idamarie), and I just loved them so much that I needed to put them into a broader story. Plus, the main character in the short story (Bailey) was going through a kind of early mid-life crisis, and I knew a lot of friends who were going through similar things, as was I. I thought the story could be universal and really explore what it means to find out who you are and where you’re meant to land in life.
Q: Do you have a favorite place you like to write?
Our deck in the summer = paradise for me.
Yes! On my deck in the spring, summer and fall. I live in a log cabin in a beautiful area in the Colorado mountains, in the middle of a national forest. It’s so peaceful; I can’t think of a better place to settle in and crank out stories. When winter rolls around, and the deck is not an option due to 20-below temperatures and snow, I write in my back bedroom or in the great room, next to a warm, crackling fire. Thank goodness for laptops (and golden retrievers to keep my feet warm)! We’re talking of moving to a lower elevation soon; it’ll be interesting to see how it affects my writing.
Q: Do you have a favorite author of your own?
So many. I love Barbara Kingsolver. She’s probably at the top of my list. Anna Quindlen would be there, too. (Her new memoir is brilliant.) Anne Lamott and Lorrie Moore. Larry McMurtry. Cormac McCarthy. Toni Morrison. I just can’t choose; it’s like asking me which of my many furry babies (dogs) I’ve had through the years I like best.
Q: A favorite character? One of yours or someone else’s that touched your heart?
A: Not to toot my own horn, but in my Blue Straggler, I love, love Idamarie. She’s just so down-to-earth and real and colorful and she always shoots from the hip. She’s the kind of Texan I miss most, living in Colorado like I do now. If I could have an Idamarie in my life, I think life would be even more fun than it is now. And I’d likely be more grounded with her sage advice around.
Q: Are you currently working on anything? If so, can you give us a tease?
I am putting the finishing touches on my next novel, A Good Kind of Knowing. It’s set in a small, rural town in Texas, and explores how all of these small-town lives are interconnected, and how even though we all come from different places in our lives, we have a lot in common — big things like humanity and small things like a love of good music.
So, I’ll leave you with a super tease! This is the most I think I’ve revealed of any part of the book. As you’ll see right away, A Good Kind of Knowing is a different kind of novel than Blue Straggler. It’s not comic fiction, though there is some humor.
This is the kind of jukebox mentioned in the excerpt below.
This is an excerpt from about halfway through the story. Sera is the main character in the novel; she owns a local music store. She’s married to Bill, but has a “special” relationship, which is growing in intimacy and closeness, to a handsome young musician (Mack). She’s been pretty sick for a while, and most people in town know it. Some of her friends have been trying to help out at her business while she deals with her illness.
Mack waited for her at Antonio’s bar. Antonio stood over by the pool tables, emptying ashtrays from the night before. The afternoon sun filtered in through the small windows up front, sending sleek slats of light into the otherwise dark room and catching the perpetual dust of the place in a kind of suspension around the room. Two men, both in their eighties, sat at a square table in the corner, smoking thick cigars and playing cards. Every now and then, one of them would chuckle and cough. Antonio had turned on the jukebox—an old Wurlitzer with just one remaining front bulb flickering—and pushed the numbers for his favorites, mostly Freddy Fender hits.
Antonio mumbled the words to “Vaya Con Dios” as he picked up the previous night’s litter around the booths in the back. Empty beer bottles knocked together in his hand.
Mack sat at the bar, his felt hat on the barstool beside him, his hands working to fold a square bar napkin into the shape of a flimsy paper airplane. He shifted his weight on the barstool, glanced back at Antonio, then shifted again. “Sure I can’t help you back there?” It was the third time he’d asked.
Antonio hollered his response. Same as before.
The front door squeaked a little, drowning out the low-playing music for a second, and Sera stepped into the bar, jeans hanging loose on her hips and one of Bill’s sweatshirts tied around her waist. A blast of fall slipped in behind her and the wind sucked the heavy door back hard as she came in.
“Hey there. Been waiting long?” She greeted Mack with a quick kiss on the cheek. He wondered if she’d meant to let her lips linger, or if it was only in his mind.
“Thanks for meeting me, hon. I needed to get out of the house for a while.” Sera waved to Antonio as she talked. “I don’t know how long I can stay, though. I never know when my body’s going to give up the ship for the day.”
“I was glad you called,” Mack replied, nodding again at Antonio as he motioned for them to help themselves to the cold longnecks chilling in a long, aluminum tub next to the bar.
Mack picked out a couple and used the corner of his brown work jacket to twist off the caps.
“Can you even have beer?” Mack hadn’t thought to ask before he handed it to her.
“Oh hell yes. Why not? Not like a little beer every now and then ever killed a person.” She laughed at her joke and nudged Mack’s shoulder.
“Funny.” He didn’t mean it.
Antonio walked over to them and put his hands on Sera’s neck.
“How’s my favorite lady today?” Antonio asked, squeezing her thin shoulders. Mack straightened next to her.
Sera smiled and swirled around on her barstool to face Antonio. “Tony. Join us? I’m taking a walk on the wild side, going to see how hops and barley affect pancreatic distress.”
Antonio glanced at Mack, then back at Sera. “Maybe later, okay?”
“Later,” Sera agreed.
As Antonio left to check on his two customers, Sera turned back to Mack and asked how things were at the store.
“Nobody’ll tell me a thing, Mack. Bill hardly even speaks to me these days. I’m lucky if I get a good morning from him, much less a report on how things are going. And I went by the shop on my way here, and Tommy Lee and Ruby D. were down there—on a Sunday, mind you—arguing over shelf space.
“I think it’s all gonna be alright, Sera. Everybody’s tryin’ real hard.”
“I know,” she said, letting out a long sigh. “You know, I’m really thinking you all are crazy and we ought to just close the shop for a while. It would ease my guilt of you all trying to make this work.”
Mack cleared this throat and nodded toward the bar door. “Guess this weather’s gonna stay cool for a while longer,” he said, doing his best to change the subject.
Sera didn’t answer. They sat together, listening to Freddy Fender sing about being there before the next teardrop falls. One of the men sang out to the chorus in Spanish.
“I’ve been thinking about heaven, Mack. I mean, there’s a side of me that wants to believe there is this garden of sunshine up there waiting for me with all the people I’ve ever lost in the world sitting around sipping lemonade in the shade. The weather would never get hot, and there’d be cats everywhere and my mother and Otis Redding and Patsy Cline would all be singing every night at a little dive. But something tells me it isn’t that simple.”
“It could be.”
“Yeah, but what if we’re living in heaven right now? I mean, what if we’ve got it all wrong, and we’re already there.”
“I guess there’d be some people going around missing out on the lemonade.”
Sera smiled. “Maybe we ought to switch the lemonade to Shiner Bock.” She clicked her bottle against Mack’s.
In the back, Antonio turned the key on the jukebox and punched in new codes to start the music up again.
An old Johnny Rodriguez song dropped into play, a melody about being down on the Rio Grande, lovers walking hand in hand. Sera hummed, and Mack watched the beer swirl against the glass as he moved his bottle in circles with his wrist.
“Do you realize we’ve never danced together?” Sera turned to face him.
Mack smiled slightly, concentrating on his beer. “Guess there was never a time, what with me on stage and all.”
Sera waited for a moment. “What about now?”
Mack surveyed the room. “Now?”
He looked at her—this woman with eyes that danced no matter what the music, with a face that could weaken any man, with a spirit that spread around her like a magician’s stardust.
He blushed, then stood up and offered his hand. She grinned and he grinned and the old men in the corner grinned. Even Antonio looked up from his calculator—and slowly grinned.
Together, Mack and Sera swayed and moved in a slow two-step around the center of the hardwood floor. Daylight streamed in around them like nature’s spotlight. Mack held her loosely at first, but Sera moved as close to him as she could, her left hand at the nape of his neck, her right in his leading hand.
He heard her breathe in, but was not aware that she was actually trying to hold on to his scent—an earthy combination—part leather, part cotton. Part hay, part rope. Part beer, part coffee. Part horse mane and part crushed wild weeds.
As she rested her head on his shoulder, Mack let his own breath out slowly, for fear she’d know, finally, full well, the effect she had on him. Her hair, blown in many directions from the wind when she came in, tickled his nose. But he couldn’t brush it away, didn’t ever want to brush it away. He closed his eyes and memorized how her body moved, how somehow he was no longer leading and his body was only reacting to the sway of Sera’s hips, his boots following the sliding of Sera’s across the floor.
I just returned from my first-ever book tour in Texas, promoting Blue Straggler. The trip brought up lots of old feelings I hadn’t thought about in a while — mostly because I spent a lot of time on the tour talking about the main character, Bailey, who in the book is going through a period of time where she is trying to discover who she really is inside, and because I visited many of my old haunts in Texas, which were ripe with memories, good and bad.
Me, at age 30, seemingly in need of a makeover of some kind.
The truth is, much like Blue Straggler’s Bailey, I had my first mid-life crisis when I turned 30. And while I wasn’t technically at mid-life if you look at actuary statistics, I had done a lot of livin’ by that point — some easy living, some hard living.
My 20s had been filled to the brim with highs and lows, board rooms and bar rooms, tons of joy and far too much pain, some of which was self-inflicted. I had some ugly scars, but they were healing. I was successful in my career — the youngest person on the executive management team for a major university system. I was dating both a NASA engineer and a doctor, neither too serious, at the same time. I lived in a sweet 1950s cottage-style house with original wood floors in a good neighborhood. I enjoyed amazing friends who had me over for deck therapy when I needed to laugh. I mowed my yard on Sundays, had a little garden in the back. I was coasting into a pretty good little life.
Then, I hit that 30 mark. And something clicked in my brain.
Restless does not even begin to describe how I felt. I literally felt a physical, guttural pull to change my life. As Soon As Possible.
It was like an overwhelming toothache when you know you need a root canal or a chicken-pox itch that no amount of Calamine lotion could remedy. I could not drink the longing away. (Some might say I gave it a good go, though. Thank you, Ketel One vodka and all makers of boxed wine.) I could not run far enough on my morning runs or swim fast enough at the pool to make it stop. Writing about it only made it even more real.
I Simply Wanted More. Right Then.
What did I want? Well, I wanted everything. I wanted less of some things, more of others. I wanted, wanted, wanted.
I wanted the kind of love that those damn romance novels and fairytales had promised me. I wanted to work in a job that I knew would make a difference in the big, bad world in some small way. I wanted to meet new people who were more like me, less like everyone else. I maybe wanted a child, or 50 more dogs. I wanted to ditch my old self like a snake sheds its skin. I wanted to feel and experience more. I wanted to make my mark on the world, to prove that I was here and alive and creative and oh-so-deep. (Still working on the last one, by the way.)
Now remember, I was on a pretty good trajectory before all this. But the trajectory wasn’t right, and I knew it inside. So, I sold most of my belongings, packed up my (two) dogs and the little furniture I had left, said adios to one of the best jobs in town, kissed two very nice men goodbye, apologized to my mother for leaving, and headed off to the Rocky Mountains, where I knew I could push myself and experience something completely different than my comfortable life back in Texas.
Me, before a hike my first year in Colorado
Did it work? Hell, yes! I highly recommend my approach. I bought a log cabin at the top of a mountain, challenged myself to 10-mile hikes alone on backcountry trails, learned to cross-country ski and snowshoe and how to chop firewood and survive during blizzards, married a handsome man who was unlike anyone I’d met before, adopted a baby, got some more dogs, and began to write and publish writing that mattered to me. Basically, I created the life that I wanted and needed.
And then … I hit the 40 mark. (These darn age milestones just wreak havoc on my psyche!)
Adopting Mac was the best decision ever, even if he does change my ability to pick up and leave on a moment's notice.
Once again, I’m feeling that same old itch. But everything is more complicated now, of course. I have a child and there’s this whole clothing and feeding and paying for karate thing. I have a husband with his own ideas of the future. I have a home that’s lost a whole lot of its value after the housing market crash. I have family who probably needs me to move back home. There are more layers to me now than there were back then (in more ways than one).
Just because every blog post should contain an image of chocolate.
But, I want new layers! (Anyone else craving a chocolate-layered cake right now? Sorry.)
Seriously, I don’t want to fall into what society thinks a mom should be, or a wife should be, or a writer should be. I want to again make my own way. And again, I know there is more out there that I need to experience, and I crave it like an adventure junkie.
So who knows what this mid-life crisis will bring? A move to a foreign country where I’m forced to learn a new language? A move to a new climate, even if it’s just city-life in Denver? Learning a new instrument? Going back to school? Opening my own business? Running a marathon? Taking my kid to live with wolves for a year? (That one’s a probable no.)
I suppose if it’s anything like the last one, it’ll be a good thing, right?
Check back with me when I’m 50, I guess. When the next crisis will no doubt be brewing like a strong pot of black coffee, waiting to be tasted.
Have you seen the new book trailer of Blue Straggler released by 30 Day Books yet?
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