Monthly Archives: February 2010

Chapter Three Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

This second novel will delve into more socio-political issues, reflective of the awakening of grassroots conservatism taking place throughout the country. As demonstrated by this next excerpt describing Madeline’s visit with a Canadian doctor, special-needs babies, abortion and socialized medicine will be paramount among them.

Chapter Three

“I’d advise a termination right away.”

The cold, clinical words hit her like a bolt out of the blue. She was seated across the desk from Dr. Harper, where blood test results had just confirmed the accuracy of the three home pregnancy tests she’d taken the prior evening. It was nearly 3 p.m. Vancouver time, and the long delay in being summoned to the doctor’s office had only intensified her anguish.

She couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt so alone, save for all those years ago in Florida when she’d let a newly engaged Ken simply walk out of her life, falsely believing she’d happily moved on. It felt like déjà vu all over again, except for the exacerbating facts that she was now pregnant and alone in a foreign country.

“I-I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked, praying she’d somehow misunderstood.

“Mrs. Lockheart, you are 42 years-old, and this is your first pregnancy – one that was never supposed to happen in the first place, given your medical history. We’ll need further analysis to know for sure, but I suspect that testing may reveal some abnormalities. You did tell me you have an older brother with Down’s syndrome, right?”

A shaken Maddy was literally sickened by the direction in which this conversation was so obviously heading, as she summoned as much inner strength as she possibly could to fend off her visceral reaction to his unwelcome advice.

“Is that your way of telling me there’s something wrong with my baby?”

“I’m saying,” Dr. Harper continued, “that you are a lucky woman, compared to your mother. Unlike today, 50 years ago we didn’t have these kinds of diagnostic tests; parents were just stuck with whatever they got after labor and delivery. At least now you have the luxury of knowing about potential abnormalities ahead of time, so you can prevent another life from coming into this world at a disadvantage.”

“A disadvantage? I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” she exclaimed, palpable anger usurping every other emotion as she fully absorbed the implications of his “counseling”.

“Let me assure you, Dr. Harper, my family considers my brother Louis to be a blessing from heaven, not some unbearable burden whose life should’ve been snuffed out for the crime of so-called imperfection. Even if these wonderful diagnostic tests had existed in 1959, neither my mother nor my father would’ve ever entertained the idea of killing their child—not for one second! And no, they’ve never considered themselves stuck, as you put it. How dare you make such an insulting assumption about my family or me!”

“Mrs. Lockheart, please calm down,” the doctor advised in a tone that was bordering on impatience and condescension, “I am simply laying out the facts as I see them. I wouldn’t be practicing responsible medicine if I didn’t advise you to make the right choices.”

“Tell me something, Doctor,” she pressed him, “have you ever even known a child with Down syndrome? Are you even aware of the incredible joy they bring to people who are fortunate enough to know them? If you did, maybe you wouldn’t be so blasé about advising me to have an abortion—something I am never going to do regardless of what the test results might show.”

“Do you really think that would be fair to your husband, a rising star in the business world? Think about it, Mrs. Lockheart. He already has two healthy children from his previous marriage. Why would he want to take on these kinds of problems now?”

A flabbergasted Madeline suddenly felt a renewed appreciation for her own mother, and a never-before-experienced sensation of truly knowing exactly what she went through as a young mother in her late-20s, when that insensitive attending physician walked into her hospital room uninvited. It had been mere hours since Louis’ premature birth, and upon closer examination, also been determined that the fuzzy-blond-haired baby boy was not the picture of health he’d initially appeared to be.

The doctor had entered Monica Rose’s hospital room for the express purpose of badgering her to put the child in an institution, lest his very existence taint her husband’s promising medical career. Though utterly devastated by the news, Monica nevertheless had the presence of mind to angrily throw him out with a stern warning to stay away from her child.

Still, as outrageous as that doctor’s behavior had been, at least Louis had actually been born. How incredulous that—without even knowing for certain if there were any physiological problems—this doctor would automatically pressure her to murder the unborn life in her womb, simply because of a possibility, a mere suspicion of abnormality. And though Maddy was literally in it for life no matter what, the least this guy could do was pretend to be optimistic.

“I can’t believe this,” she muttered under her breath, as she placed a hand over her stomach.

“Well, there’s actually more news to tell you,” the doctor matter-of-factly continued. “Your blood tests also revealed elevated HcG levels, which indicate a high probability of twins.”

Madeline braced herself as another tidal wave of emotion overtook her.

“T-twins? Are you certain?”

“Well we won’t know for sure until you are into your second trimester, assuming you decide to continue with the pregnancy. From what we can tell so far, you’re most likely about eight weeks along. Whether or not you decide to have an abortion, you will need to see a gynecologist to have the necessary follow-up tests to confirm the presence of twins. If that is the case, you are at even greater risk of genetic abnormalities. That’s why, all things considered, if I were you, I’d definitely end the pregnancy.”

“Well, I suppose it’s very fortunate for my unborn children that you are most definitely not me,” Madeline retorted, rising up out of her chair. “Thank you for your time doctor, but I won’t be needing your services anymore.”

With that, she turned on her heel and strode out of his office, restraining her tears until safely inside the luxurious confines of the waiting limo.

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Chapter Two Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

I will resume regular blogging about the writing process soon. In the meantime, look for excerpts from Sea To Shining Sea as it progresses into a novel!

Chapter Two

“Madeline is there any chance you could be pregnant?”

The words kept reverberating through her brain as she rested her head against the plush, velour seat of the limo. Bathed in the light of a starry summer sky, complemented by a gleaming half-moon, the Vancouver skyline unfolded magically alongside the glistening harbor, where luxury cruise ships awaited their next transfer of passengers bound for Alaska. But an uncharacteristically indifferent Madeline barely noticed the breathtaking mix of natural wonder and cosmopolitan panache as the luxury car cruised down Marine Drive—too distracted by the unexpected events that had just transpired.

Pregnant! At her age? With her medical history? How could this possibly be? Admittedly, the female problems of her youth and early adulthood had long been solved with a simple remedy—natural progesterone—but still, this was the last thing she’d ever anticipated. Although her last visit to the gynecologist just prior to her wedding had affirmed her overall good health, Dr. Steyling was quite adamant in her assessment that Madeline’s chances of conceiving and bearing her own child with Ken were slim-to-none.

While disappointed in the news, the bride had taken solace in the reality of her long-anticipated reunion with her first and only love – a fervent desire she’d previously believed had been lost to her forever, in spite of steadfast prayers and undying hope. When those prayers had finally been answered in exactly the way she’d wanted, all Madeline could feel was gratitude. If she was only meant to be a mother-figure to someone else’s children and not her own, she would find complete satisfaction and joy in that role, secure in Ken’s love, respect and fidelity.

As for her husband, his biggest concern was her happiness and well-being; although he’d hoped the window of opportunity would still be open for the two of them to make their own baby, just having her back in his life was an incredible gift in and of itself.

Maddy well-remembered how he’d held her in his arms and comforted her when she’d briefly succumbed to sadness and anger after advising him of the doctor’s prognosis that day. In typical fashion, Ken had been her rock, assuring her that no matter what, their new life together would be everything they’d imagined.

And other than fatigue, she’d had no other symptoms suggestive of pregnancy, although it was quite feasible that, like her mother before her, she’d never experience the nausea, heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems that often plagued other women. Wow! Pregnant at 42—not even ace psychic Anne Claire had seen that one coming!

Suddenly, a former governor came to mind, a remarkably fit and healthy woman who’d experienced the same kind of shock last year when, at age 45 and already the mother of three young teenagers, she’d discovered her fourth child was on the way. A devout Christian, she’d held firm to her faith when doctors determined early on that her offspring would be born with Down syndrome, though she’d recently confessed to a brief moment of weakness in a speech to a pro-life group. Although the fleeting thought of terminating the pregnancy had flashed through her head, the governor remained true to her convictions, eventually giving birth to a “perfectly beautiful” daughter named Annabelle.

Maddy well remembered listening to Anna Hardin’s interview on Talon Grant’s show soon after the governor had given birth, impressed not only by the woman’s significant record of accomplishment, but also her touching honesty in relating the story of her heart-wrenching “choice”. As the sister of a wonderful older brother with Down’s, Madeline had felt a certain kinship with her, a phenomenon shared even more strongly by her own mother, for whom giving birth to such a child had occurred at the young age of 28.

With a sudden, panicked thought, Maddy shot up in her seat.

“Driver! Can you please take me to a drug store before dropping me off at the Penthouse?”

There was no way she was going to wait for blood test results to come back tomorrow when there was a reliable method of confirming the doctor’s suspicions in a matter of minutes. As her chauffeur nodded his approval and directed the car into the parking lot of a nearby shopping center, she heard her cell phone ring.


She’d been so taken aback by her probable diagnosis she’d neglected to call Ken as promised. A firestorm of insecurity overwhelmed her as she envisioned his potential reaction to the news. Here they were, just six months into their marriage, facing formidable financial pressures, an impending implosion of a lucrative deal—the procurement of which Ken had dedicated countless hours—due to circumstances beyond his control, and still struggling to win over his existing children. How on earth was he going to handle this latest unforeseen, life-altering development?

And what if, on top of all that, the baby had some sort of disability? Such were the haunting fears that plagued her as she tossed her ringing cell phone into her handbag and numbly entered the through the automated doors of the pharmacy.

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Guidelines for Fictionalizing Facts into a Novel, Part Five

Reconciliation between Water Signs’ two main characters, Madeline Rose and Kenneth Lockheart

As mentioned previously, when the story unfolds in 1992, the character of Madeline Rose is still somewhat naive and insecure, in spite of having grown into an attractive young woman of 25. She’s just endured an incredibly painful breakup with her first boyfriend, and is reeling from the ramifications, in spite of the realization it was all for the best. Indeed, as the story progresses, readers learn via flashbacks and conversations among characters that Jake Winston’s abrupt exit from Madeline’s life — while clumsy and cruel — is also a tremendous relief to those who love her.

Unfortunately, having occurred on the heels of a difficult adolescence wherein dates were as scarce as 80-degree days in the middle of January in Pennsylvania, it wreaks havoc with her ability to see herself as a vital, attractive and smart young woman who is worthy of the good things in life.

When a twist of fate leads to a shared late-summer evening at a Somers Point, New Jersey nightclub with a fun-loving, intelligent and handsome former US Navy sailor  — who also happens to be her exact same age — it never occurs to Madeline that the meeting will progress beyond a few laughs and couple of dances. Ken’s impressive self-sufficiency and  life experience are simultaneously a source of pride and conflict. On one hand, she’s genuinely thrilled to know of someone who’s overcome obstacles and admirably served his country; on the other, she cannot help but draw an unfair comparison between this new guy and her ex-boyfriend.

Will he, like Jake before him, resent her for not having to endure the same family and financial challenges? Worse, will he view her as someone whose physical appearance, while acceptable, still needs some improvement?

Of course, the fact that Ken initially makes overtures to her exotic, statuesque friend Carmen (with the purchase and presentation of a long-stemmed rose) lays the foundation for her erroneous belief that he is simply marking time by agreeing to hang out with her. While to readers it should become fairly obvious rather quickly that the US Navy vet is truly charmed by his unlikely date for the evening, thanks to Madeline’s inability to let go of the recent past, she cannot quite accept that reality. Thus, several hours later, she’s amazed that he actually followed through with his promise to meet her at the beach.

For his part, Ken is quite enamored of his new romantic interest, and her wonderful, welcoming family. However, due to Madeline’s inability to adequately express herself, he’s puzzled by her reaction to his sincere compliments and genuine desire to someday make her his wife. He’s also intrigued by her innocence, and hopelessly enticed by the very real possibility of becoming her “first” and only.

But Ken is not without his own insecurities, the most insurmountable of which are his feelings of not being good enough for the daughter of a successful neurosurgeon — a situation that is only exacerbated when Maddy abruptly ends the relationship because of maternal pressure. Seems Mrs. Rose, although she finds Ken to be a likable and mannerly young man, cannot get over the fact that he’s not yet completed his college degree.

Monica’s pride in her own father’s accomplishment of having graduated from Temple Pharmacy School in 1919 (during a time when such an achievement by immigrants was nearly unheard of), becomes a source of heretofore nonexistent contention between mother and youngest child. Further, with the rest of her brood either married or on their way to the altar, the sticking point of a college education appears to be the only way to slow down a relationship that is moving much too fast for her liking.

Though she has the blessing of the rest of her family — including Dr. Rose — to continue the relationship, Madeline’s utter distaste for conflict, particularly between her two parents, along with her own seemingly insurmountable insecurities, conspire to lead her to a series of very unfortunate actions. Among the pain and hurt she unintentionally inflicts upon Ken are her decisions to back out of being his date for a work party and a wedding, and ending the relationship with a Dear John letter.

And although the pair reunites shortly thereafter, Madeline’s inability to communicate the motivations behind her actions, ultimately leads to more heartbreak. Perhaps unconsciously, Ken decides to inflict the same sort of heartbreak upon her when he stands her up for a much-anticipated ski date; months later, a phone call out of the blue adds insult to injury when he reveals he’s relocated to Florida.

Several more months down the road, after a series of regular phone calls from Ken, during which he encourages and at times, implores her to join him, Madeline finally makes her shocking (to those who know and love her) and bold move to The Sunshine State, simultaneously wanting to be with Ken and frustrated with life “up north”. She cannot seem to gain traction either in a fulfilling career or a loving relationship (though she’s certainly given the dating scene plenty of tries); further, it has become increasingly difficult to watch her siblings’ lives progress even as her own remains stagnant.

What she doesn’t bargain for is the discovery that Ken’s “platonic” roommate is actually his betrothed — a suspicion that’s confirmed by an in-person visit to her apartment not long after her arrival in South Florida. A humiliated, angry and devastated Maddy nevertheless takes the high road when Ken asks her point-blank how she feels about the news; in an Oscar-worthy performance, she leads him to believe she’s moved on.

Thus when the two characters unexpectedly reunite well over a decade later, there is much to discuss, forgive and reconcile before they can renew and revitalize their relationship into something that far surpasses anything they’d experienced before. Both have grown and matured to the point where honest communication leads to genuine understanding and full release of the mistakes of the past. All is forgiven, and all that matters to them now is the present moment.

Coming soon: the mother-daughter bond, and the theme of reconciliation.

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Literary Techniques Used In Water Signs

Taking a digression from the discussion of the themes of Water Signs, I wanted to share some of the literary techniques I employed to help bring the story to life. As someone who believes good fiction should engage the reader to the point where he or she loses all concept of space and time, it was important to me that my book have the same all-consuming effect. Thus, I used several different techniques to create a “mental vacation” for the reader and underscore the points I was trying to make through plot and characters.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Italics – A significant factor in Madeline’s personal development is learning how to effectively confront people and circumstances when warranted. Throughout most of the novel, this is a daunting challenge for her. To denote this element of her personality and allow readers a window into her real thoughts and motivations, I employed italics. One of the most dramatic examples occurs in Chapter 19, when Ken forthrightly asks her how the news of his engagement makes her feel. Unlike Ken, readers get the truthful answer, immediately followed by her articulation of a lie she deems honorable and necessary under the circumstances:

How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?

“Hey, I think it’s great!” she replied brightly. “Congratulations! I’ve been dating a lot myself since I got here. Believe me; I have my own things going on!”

Look for this technique throughout the novel.

MusicWater Signs spans sixteen years in the lives of its two main characters — 1992-2008. In order to help readers identify with the changing time period throughout the story, and relate more deeply to Ken and Madeline’s world, particular songs and artists are mentioned. Some of these were chosen specifically for their relevance to real life, while others either fit the narrative at a particular juncture perfectly, or reflect the characters’ Philly-area roots.

For example, in Chapter One, Ken and Maddy’s first slow dance takes place to Elton John’s The One, which debuted during the summer of 1992 and immediately became one of my favorites.

In Chapter Three, as the two characters are driving to Atlantic City — site of their first official date — in Ken’s black Acura (another detail taken from real life), Maddy asks him to stop switching the radio dials when Jon Secada’s Just Another Day starts blaring through the speakers. That’s also a page (no pun intended) out of real life, with the song being a 1992 hit with both the characters and their living, breathing counterparts.

In Chapter 23, Madeline performs her own unique rendition of the song, On My Own, from Les Miserables, for her dance studio’s local production. As I’ve mentioned before, singing beautifully and powerfully was something I’ve always wished I could do, but alas was not in God’s plan for me. Thus I took some creative license as an author and infused the character based on me with that very talent. I chose this particular song for two reasons: 1.) to dramatically underscore the melancholy circumstances of Madeline’s life at this point in the book; and 2.) to pay homage to my very favorite Broadway show.  However, like Madeline I am also a ballroom dancer, and I did participate in a Fred Astaire showcase in Boca Raton, as part of a group tango!

In Chapter 30, The Spinners’ Then Came You, not only retells the love story between the two main characters, but also recalls their native metropolitan Philadelphia origins.

Sports – In Water Signs as in real life, professional sports play a significant role. When crafting the novel, I endeavored to recreate the culture of the Philadelphia/South Jersey area (site of Part One) and South Florida (site of Part Two) via the incorporation of real-life sporting events. Much of this occurs as a remembrance uttered by a character over a breakfast or dinner conversation, such as when Maddy relates her experience as a young teenager at the 1980 World Series, and at the 1981 NFC Championship Game when her beloved Eagles beat the Cowboys, 20-7. Both of these are an example of art imitating life, as is Dr. Rose’s passionate devotion to the Phillies.

Food – As part of bringing regional culture and tradition to both a new and familiar audience, much of the activity in Water Signs revolves around popular foods and delicacies. Maddy and Ken’s beach picnic, for example, features provolone cheese from South Philly, homemade Italian wedding cookies and “tomato pie” (a special pizza-like creation first introduced to the area by a South Philly bakery in the 1900s).

Humorous Side Note: When I spoke at the Hawthorne Writers Group last fall in North Jersey (about 20 miles from Manhattan), I thought it would be fun to bring wedding cookies (baked by yours truly) and tomato pie. Although I knew the latter was mainly found in South Jersey, I’d assumed it had finally made its way north, for the simple fact that it is absolutely scrumptious. After several fruitless calls to North Jersey bakeries and pizza shops,  I realized the Philly-area delicacy was nowhere to be found anywhere north of Trenton. So I ordered it from a local suburban place near my parents’ home and transported it by car. Thankfully, it survived the 2 1/2 hour trek unscathed (and uneaten). 🙂

Technology – One of the most enjoyable aspects of tracing the progression from 1992 to 2008 was referencing the various technology used by my characters. When the story opens, “car phones” are the latest rage, as evidenced by an excited Lori happily showing off the one that came with her brand-new Pontiac Bonneville (an actual event borrowed from reality) to her younger sister and her new beau. As the plot progresses, Madeline notes the heretofore unknown and excessive use of cell phones and pagers in South Florida (circa 1995). By the time we arrive near the end of the first decade of the new millennium, she is employed as a content manager for a company that specializes in online marketing for the hospitality industry, a fictional career based on the fact that I did indeed work as a content writer for a Boca Raton-based company, creating e-proposals for major hotel chains.

JuxtapositionWater Signs is about the journey, not the destination. Therefore, readers know the ending from the moment they read the prologue, demanding a compelling narrative on the part of the author to keep them turning the pages. In addition to the other methods mentioned, the use of juxtaposition was a great help in building suspense, beginning in Chapter One. It opens with Madeline and Carmen crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge and then speeding down the Atlantic City Expressway, their conversation informing readers of their backgrounds, motivations and plans for the evening ahead. Before long, the chapter shifts to a back-and-forth narrative that alternates between the girls’ arrival at the club to Kenny’s reluctant preparation in front of the mirror for a night of drinking and dancing (which also serves as his initial introduction to readers). This technique continues throughout the novel, with most chapters picking right up where the previous one left off.

Branding – Another method through which the culture and traditions of Philly, South Jersey and South Florida come alive for readers is branding. In Part One, I make several references to familiar retail chains and brands throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Jersey Shore including Wawa convenience stores, Tastykake commercial baked goods; water ice (known to the rest of the country as flavored Italian ices); soft pretzels, Herr’s potato chips and Turkey Hill ice cream. In Part Two, Maddy gets stood up by the character of Mark Donnelly, who was supposed to take her to Sunfest (an unfortunate incident taken from my own experience AND an annual festival held in West Palm Beach); several chapters later, she and Ken reunite over lunch at The Samba Room, a popular restaurant chain in South Florida.

Side Note: I did once work in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where I also shared a few lunches with former co-workers at this particular Samba Room location, thus the inspiration for using it as the setting for Madeline and Ken’s long-awaited meeting.

Water Imagery – Aside from obviously paying homage to the book’s title, the use of water imagery also evokes a dream-like quality within the narrative, and supports the interwoven concepts of renewal and reconciliation. On a basic level, the coastal locations of the story, the characters’ shared Pisces sign and Ken’s US Navy service contribute to Water Signs’ “escapist” quality, conjuring up images of beach-inspired beauty, majestic ocean waves, colorful fish swimming beneath the sea’s surface and American heroes serving their country on awe-inspiring aircraft carriers.

But on a much deeper level, water is a symbol of rebirth in traditional religious customs and spiritual practices. It is also a symbol of the emotions, which play a significant role in character development, particularly for Maddy. She suffers for years with panic and anxiety disorder — a gross distortion of the emotions that negatively impacts the physical body — without actually knowing what it is — until she reads the packaging for the medication prescribed by her doctor. Prior to her unusual cure by a psychic, the only time she finds relief from her sometimes frightening symptoms is when she’s immersed in water, whether swimming in a pool, riding a wave in the ocean or standing under the pulsating refreshment of a hot shower.

Ken, although not a co-sufferer with this affliction, often heads to the beach or to the Deerfield Fishing Pier when life seems overwhelming. In Part Two, when rocked by Maddy’s unexpected arrival in Florida — blissfully unaware of his engagement to another woman — the pier is his destination of choice when he seeks his mother’s counsel in person.

Side Note: When I first moved to Florida, I’d often go to this pier for my own consolation, which is why it is also the setting for Maddy’s date with Mark (another fact turned into fiction). Today, I still visit there frequently as this section of Deerfield Beach also boasts plenty of retail and mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, as well as a beautiful, two-mile sidewalk along the beach.

More to come in another post!


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Thank you to Kevin Price of The Price of Business

I want to acknowledge excellent, Houston-based talk radio host, Kevin Price of The Price of Business, for inviting me on his show on March 1 to discuss my novel, Water Signs. Having known Kevin for the better part of a year via Facebook, I am familiar with his stellar work on CNN Radio and in various, nationwide publications. Check out his impressive bio here.

Over the past several months, Kevin has frequently included me on The Price of Business to discuss tea parties, politics and pop culture, but this latest appearance marked the first time I joined him on the show for the sole purpose of discussing my book. Prior to the interview, I’d sent him a review copy and appreciated his subsequent, positive feedback on my writing style. Kevin noted he’s not much of a “fiction” guy, but from what he’d read, was very impressed. He also took the time to offer some welcome marketing advice, which I definitely plan to put into practice.

We’ll be doing some book give-aways via Kevin’s Fan Page on Facebook, so be sure to join to win a signed  copy of Water Signs. And listen to The Price of Business on CNN Radio!

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Sneak Preview: Chapter One of Sea To Shining Sea

Just completed Chapter Four of my sequel, which unfortunately, is turning out to be a much more arduous — but no less rewarding — process than was Water Signs. While I won’t be publicly displaying the entire contents of the new book until it is available in paperback, PDF and Kindle, I thought it might be fun to tease my readers by posting Chapter One in its entirety. I sure hope you enjoy, and look forward to completing Sea To Shining Sea within the next few months!

Chapter One

Moonlight glistened on the tranquil sea as the taxi cab steadily cruised down A1A in Boca Raton. The weary traveler sprawled out on the back seat smiled as he took in the familiar, comforting sight; it felt as if he’d been gone forever, banished indefinitely to the frigid climes of the Great White North, without the benefit of having his most beloved companion by his side. This had been their longest stint apart since their marriage, and he’d hated every minute of it, in spite of the promise of an incredibly lucrative business deal.

“Turn right here driver,” Ken instructed, excitement welling within at the thought of his impending reunion with Madeline. Her passionate protests notwithstanding, he had insisted on taking a cab home from the airport, rather than drag her away from her lounge-singing duties at 34 East. While not entirely thrilled by the arrangement, he respected her desire to contribute to their financial well-being by employing her vocal talents to help draw Happy Hour revelers and late-night Friday traffic to the upscale establishment. Once a thriving business, 34 East had become yet another enterprise struggling to succeed in the midst of the current recession.

Maddy herself had been laid-off from her position as a content manager for a formerly prosperous internet marketing firm that catered to the cruise and travel industry. As creative as she was beautiful, she’d quickly set herself up in business as a freelance writer, editor, ghostwriter and social media consultant, expertly networking her skills at various local chamber of commerce and civic functions. In just a few short months, her efforts had led to an impressive, multi-faceted client list that included a romance novelist, a political action committee and a women’s health and wellness expert.

And while her income was steadily increasing thanks to these and various other projects, including her new internet talk radio program, Madeline jumped at the chance to sing professionally again when approached by the lounge-owner at a Delray Beach event. Although her marriage to Ken was blissful, as expected his ex-wife Erin was proving herself a relentless trouble-maker. From the moment the newlyweds returned from their joyful honeymoon in Italy—only to encounter two very hostile children who’d previously been accepting of their union—they’d realized the full extent to which their relationship would be tested. Singing was one way for Maddy to maintain her sanity by channeling her emotions into something productive.

Not content to simply hurt her own children in order to punish her ex, Erin had recently taken to playing the role of victim with the wealthy Boca matrons who comprised her favorite monthly business-leads organization, many of whom urged her to redress her grievances to a Palm Beach County judge. Taking them up on their ill-founded advice, she’d hauled Ken back into court on a few occasions to demand more child support.

As a result, Maddy became more determined than ever to pull her own weight and ease her new husband’s burden, eagerly accepting the offer to sing once a week at the club, with the option to add more appearances should she desire to do so. But her solo decision had led to their first disagreement as husband and wife. Though Kenny genuinely appreciated her enthusiastic willingness to add to their financial well-being, he’d hated the idea of work intruding on their weekends. It was bad enough he had to travel so much during the week—robbing them of even the simplest of pleasures like nightly dinner together—but  having to share Madeline with an audience, and thus lose even more precious time with her was downright depressing.

“Teddy bear come on, it’s not forever,” she’d pleaded with him one evening. “Look, times are already tough and with Erin making them even tougher, we have to do something. And I want to help you—I want to help us. I am your wife after all, and I am here to support you. The place still draws some wealthy tourists; between my performance fee and tips, I can make some decent money.”

They’d been curled up together on a lounge chair on the balcony off of their bedroom, gazing at the Intracoastal Waterway. As Maddy had made her case, she’d shifted her body on top of his, the better to look deeply into his piercing blue eyes. She knew she’d wear him down eventually with a blend of gentle persuasion and irresistible chemistry.

“Ok, you win again Madeline Rose,” he’d sighed, addressing her by her maiden name as a tribute to their courtship days. “But only on Friday nights. I want you all to myself on Saturday and Sunday.” His hands roamed through her silky, auburn hair as he spoke. Then gently bringing her face closer to his, he whispered, “Promise?”

“I promise sweetheart, only on Friday nights,” she’d replied softly before his lips met hers for another passionate interlude.

“Thank you!” Ken smiled as he offered his driver the required cab fare, plus a healthy tip. The man had been so courteous and efficient he wanted to tangibly express his gratitude for the good service. In these difficult times, it was even more important than usual. Of course, given the facts it was also 3 a.m., jet-lag had left him exhausted and all he wanted was to curl up under the covers again with Maddy, he was feeling even more generous now that he was finally standing in his own driveway.

Kenny rolled his suitcase behind him as he approached the massive double-doors just beyond the Roman columns of the front entrance. It was hard to believe that nearly a year had passed since he’d made this proud purchase, an impressive home that represented the culmination of a long-ago dream. Sharing the residence with Madeline as his wife made it even sweeter; he only wished his children could join them full-time, and not just when custody arrangements allowed. Every time Bonnie and Brian returned from another stay with their mother, it seemed Maddy was forced to re-establish their relationship, Erin having successfully eliminated all shreds of progress made during the previous visit.

He loved her all the more for patiently enduring his ex-wife’s machinations, but he was quickly tiring of Erin’s endless meddling. She had her millionaire Sugar Daddy; all the designer shoes, handbags and jewelry one woman could possibly use in a lifetime; and carte blanche to undergo any cosmetic procedure she desired. Why did she have to constantly undermine Madeline’s genuine efforts to be a good stepmother and role-model? Worse, why couldn’t she see the potentially irreversible damage she was inflicting upon her own children?

As Ken locked the door behind him and programmed the alarm, he reminded himself that at least for now, his kids were safe and happy. He’d spoken to them at length before boarding the Red Eye flight from Seattle, where they’d excitedly apprised him of all of the latest happenings in their lives, from baseball practice and ballet classes, to summer camp plans. He did cringe for a moment when they recounted all of the recent purchases their mother’s boyfriend had made for them, including diamond-stud earrings and Batters Box MVP tickets to the upcoming Marlins versus Phillies series.

While Kenny fervently desired a good life for his children, free from the obstacles that he himself had to confront, he also wanted them to appreciate the value of striving for a goal, and to experience the kind of character-building that naturally results from learning how to win and lose graciously. Now that his job demanded so much more travel, he feared somehow losing his ability to positively guide them at such a critical juncture in their lives, yet at the same time, he knew he must also provide for their material needs. And in a struggling economy, there was no way he could replace his current income with a comparable position that didn’t require flying to Vancouver three out of every four weeks per month. At least until this telecomm deal was signed, sealed and delivered, he was stuck.

Striding quietly into the kitchen, Ken pushed a glass against the refrigerator, filling it with cold, filtered water and crushed ice. Bringing it to his mouth, he took a good, long sip, thankful for the pure refreshment. Long plane rides always left him feeling dehydrated, but this flight had been particularly difficult, mostly because he dreaded sharing his latest business developments with Maddy. He silently prayed she’d be receptive to what he had to tell her.

Setting the glass in the sink, he returned to the foyer and grabbing a hold of the suitcase handle, lifted it over his shoulder as he made his way up the curving staircase. A moment later, he gingerly opened one of the white doors of the Master bedroom, his heartbeat quickening in response to the angelic sight before him.

Madeline was fast asleep; her auburn hair sprawled out across the cream-colored pillowcase and her petite hands tucked under her chin in typical fashion. She’d obviously been blogging again, if the telltale laptop occupying Ken’s usual place in the bed was any indication. Fanned out on the floor was Mark Levin’s latest book Liberty and Tyranny, and local a.m. talk radio star Talon Grant’s debut novel, The Neo-Traditionalist’s Tale, the contents of both she’d eagerly shared with him during their last phone conversation.

Kenny smiled as it occurred to him that this newfound life still felt like a dream, though they’d been married for six months already. And while it was true that Erin took perverse pleasure in every attempt to undermine their happiness, they were boldly facing each challenge as a united and very-much-in-love couple. The only things that slightly concerned him were Madeline’s recent complaints of fatigue, which she’d attributed to her busy project schedule and weekly performances at 34 East.

However, in her usual stubborn way, she’d vehemently rebuffed his suggestions to give something up as a means of remedying the situation. Ken of course knew better than to fight with her, notwithstanding his genuine regard for her health, but made a mental note to keep a close eye on the situation. Perhaps his latest professional development would turn out to be God’s method of forcing Maddy to take a break—at least he hoped she’d welcome it in that light.

He parked his luggage into a remote corner and sat down on the bed beside her, gazing at her quietly for a moment while she remained oblivious to his presence. When unable to resist any longer, he softly caressed her face as he leaned in and planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. Slowly, she began to stir.

“Mm, baby you’re home,” she whispered sleepily, a big grin spreading across her face. In the early morning light, her luminescent skin offered a striking contrast to her warm, brown eyes. She was a vision of silk and lace, arrayed in one of his very favorite pale-pink negligees; for a few minutes all he could do was stare at her appreciatively.

Then as if suddenly coming to her senses, she shot up in bed and threw her arms around him, intoxicated by the warmth of his body and the familiar scent of his cologne. “Oh Kenny, I am so glad you’re back; I missed you so much!”

“I missed you sweetheart,” he replied. “You didn’t think I’d stay away for long, did you? I couldn’t wait to get home and back into your arms again!” His voice was muffled between affectionate kisses along her neck, ear and temple while his hands roamed up and down her back, and through her satiny hair. Maddy lost herself in the moment, relishing the exquisite joy of another reunion.

“You feel so good,” she cooed, “God, it’s like you’ve been away for a month instead of two weeks. How’d it go?”

“It was interesting, to put it mildly,” he admitted. “And there is something very important I have to discuss with you Madeline.” His tone was suddenly serious, prompting her to break away to face him directly, her hands settled firmly on his chest.

“What is it? Is everything ok? You didn’t lose your job, did you?”

Ever since her own lay-off she’d feared the worst, in spite of all of her prosperity training. Though she’d been diligently self-employed as a freelancer ever since, she worried about Kenny’s ability to make the same transition in his line of work. True, Maddy’s blog and accompanying weekly internet radio show were also steadily gaining in popularity, but it would most likely take time before she could parlay these efforts into actual income. For now, they were strictly a labor of love, given the dire straits the country found itself in; adding Kenny’s valuable insights as her co-host in the not-too-distant future would be a fantastic turn of events, once the monetary rewards began to materialize.

Although things were admittedly a bit tougher now financially than when they first got married, they were managing; thanks to a demanding, self-centered Erin, Maddy was ever-increasingly determined to contribute as much as possible to the marriage. But the thought of Kenny losing his executive sales position was more than she could bear. He was such a diligent worker and talented producer there was no way the company could get along without him—unless of course they too were going under, like so many of the retail corporations that once enjoyed thriving businesses in the local malls and shopping centers.

“Shh, no baby it’s nothing like that don’t worry,” he soothed, gazing into her expressive, hypnotic eyes.

“Thank God,” she sighed, holding his face in her hands and tracing the contours of his cheeks. “What is it then?”

Kenny started to answer, but as he feasted upon her ultra-feminine form and reacquainted himself with her alluring presence—a phenomenon that still elicited an intense, palpable longing from deep within—work was the farthest thing from his mind. Noting that one of her negligee’s spaghetti straps had slipped partially down her shoulder, he slid it off completely, before tantalizingly trailing his fingers, lips and tongue over her exposed breast, initiating a flood of familiar sensation throughout her body.

“First things first sweetheart,” he finally whispered huskily in her ear, their passion escalating.  Maddy let out a joyful laugh as he assertively guided her body back down into the plush pillows.

In the stillness of the early morning, Ken gathered Madeline close to him as she rested her head on his chest. No matter how many times they were together like this, it always made her feel so alive and invigorated, as if nothing and no one could ever come between them again—not even his ex-wife, in spite of her best efforts. Maddy knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kenny loved her dearly, and that he harbored no regrets after his first marriage ended, a strange, long-suffering union that had been practically over from the time it began.

Still, she couldn’t help but worry that the inevitably and understandably rough transition period they were all undertaking—particularly with respect to her topsy-turvy relationship with Bonnie and Brian—could somehow deal a fatal blow to their fledgling, blended family. Most frustrating for Maddy was the constant necessity of having to start over with every new stay: just when she’d think she was making significant progress, the kids would return from Erin’s custody re-poisoned against her. Not too long ago, Bonnie had even accused her new stepmother of being the cause of her parents’ failed marriage.

Madeline had been standing at the counter preparing a nice tossed salad to accompany their dinner of steak and baked potatoes while Ken was busily working the grill alongside a chatty Brian. Alone with a preoccupied Bonnie, who’d just finished grudgingly setting the table at her request, Maddy sensed yet another forthcoming altercation, precipitated by the child’s refusal to utter anything but one-word answers in response to her genuine questions about school, friends and ballet classes. Having sufficiently taken enough abuse, a frustrated but patient Madeline placed the salad bowl in the refrigerator, then ushered Bonnie into the rec room, where she sat her down on the sofa.

“Bonnie, honey, it’s obvious to me that something is really bothering you. Why don’t you tell me what it is so we can talk about it?” she’d gently but firmly implored. A shiver ran up and down Maddy’s spine as she noted Erin’s icy glare in Bonnie’s expression; the girl continued to focus her steely gaze at Madeline, reflecting an undeniable and deep-seeded hostility.

“You’re the reason my parents broke up aren’t you?” she’d defiantly demanded. Maddy’s heart sank; how could she possibly explain the tumultuous events of the previous sixteen years to a child? In many ways, she herself was still mystified by it.

Madeline took a deep breath as she fought to control her conflicted emotions. Before uttering another word, she’d calmly reminded herself that her justifiable anger was best directed at the real culprit—Erin, not the confused, tormented little girl who was being so expertly manipulated by her own mother. Actually, when it came to Kenny’s daughter, sadness and a lingering degree of guilt superceded all else.

“Honey, why do you feel that way?” she’d gently inquired. Bonnie had remained stubbornly silent, her arms folded securely across her chest. For a few moments, no one spoke until the young girl finally blurted out, “Well aren’t you? My daddy left my mom to marry you! What else am I supposed to think?”

“Bonnie—no, that’s not how it happened,” Madeline replied softly, placing a hand on her shoulder. She winced when the girl immediately shrugged it off, but maintained her composure.

Determinedly looking into her eyes, Maddy continued.

“Sweetheart as your dad explained to you, your mom and him just weren’t getting along anymore. And that’s no one’s fault; sometimes grown-ups aren’t able to stay together no matter how hard they try to work things out. It was really hard for both of them to finally make the decision to get divorced, but it was their choice. No one else is to blame—not you, not Brian and not me. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you or your brother just as much as they did before; in fact, you and Brian mean the entire world to them. That will never change.”

The child had remained unconvinced, but before Maddy could say anything further, she’d heard the screen door open and in the next second, the ebullient sounds of Brian’s six year-old voice enthusiastically announcing the arrival of dinner. And when Ken entered into the kitchen a moment later carrying a tray of perfectly seasoned, well-done meat, Bonnie considered herself saved by the bell, immediately springing up off of the couch and running to the dinner table—but not before shooting a victorious smirk in her stepmother’s direction.

Temporarily defeated, a dejected Maddy had decided to keep the incident to herself, though it was difficult to maintain a happy façade throughout the course of their meal that night. The only saving grace had been Brian’s apparent eagerness to engage her in conversation, which Madeline surmised had been the result of Ken’s efforts during their father-son bonding time outside.

Later that evening, she had been surprised when Kenny returned from upstairs and announced he’d just had a heart-to-heart talk with his daughter before tucking her into bed. She’d been lost in thought in their heated swimming pool, holding onto the ladder and gazing out at the starry sky, unaware that he’d joined her. He swam over to the deep end and encircled her with his big, powerful arms, abruptly interrupting her musings and nearly causing her to scream out loud.

“Don’t worry sweetheart,” he’d comforted in his deep baritone, “Bonnie will come around—because I will not tolerate this kind of disrespect from her or her mother anymore.”

“You know,” Maddy observed sadly, “the thing that upsets me the most is how a mother could be so cruel to her own child. Yes, it hurts me deeply that Bonnie seems to hate me no matter what I do, but I am an adult. I can handle it. What I don’t understand is Erin’s callousness towards her own child; she’s the one who’s really suffering here.”

“Madeline that is one of the things I love most about you; your sensitivity towards others and your ability to see things from their perspective,” he’d whispered sincerely.

She turned around in his embrace to gaze into his eyes, which reflected his genuine appreciation.

“I love you Maddy; and we will get through this, I promise. Remember that morning at the Boca Resort when I promised I would always stand by you?” She nodded her head, remembering that milestone weekend when he’d asked for her hand in marriage.

“Well I meant it. We can conquer any problem that comes our way as long as we stay together.”

“Kenny when you talk like that, I really believe everything’s going to work out,” she’d softly replied.

“Sweetheart, the very fact that we’re married right now is a miracle in itself. We will get through this; just keep the faith.”

Back in the exquisite sanctuary of their marital bed, Maddy snuggled in closer to her husband, comforted by his warmth and masculinity. Although she still retained an air of independence, managing quite well for herself during his absences, it was always such a welcome relief to feel him next to her again upon his return.

But just as she was about to drift off into a restful sleep, securely in his arms, she suddenly recalled his attempt to break some important news to her before relentless passion had prevented him from doing so.

Her curiosity piqued once more, she asked, “So what was it you wanted to tell me before we got so distracted?” her laughter punctuated her words, as her hand slowly traced his chest. Beneath her ear, his heart was beating rapidly. He caught her hand and brought it to his lip for a quick kiss while his other arm held her close against his body. “There’s no easy way to break this to you baby, so I’m just gonna have to say it.”

“Ok, now I am really worried,” she replied, shifting in bed to face him. He stroked her hair as he studied her expression for a moment. “Kenny, please just tell me; this is torture!”

“Alright, baby, I’m sorry; don’t mean to keep you in suspense. You know that I’ve been working really hard to secure this telecomm merger with the Vancouver company right?”

She nodded her head.

“Well, the Board of Directors has asked me to spend about six months up there—actually, asked isn’t really the right word. The board won’t even consider approving the deal until I spend about six months up there overseeing their operations, spending time with management, making recommendations…” His voice trailed off while he attempted to gauge her reaction. She stared at him in shocked disbelief for a moment, just trying to absorb all of the implications.

“S-six months?” she finally blurted out. “You have to be away from home for that long? What about the kids? What about us?”

He let out a nervous laugh before responding.

“No sweetheart, you and the kids would come with me. They’re going to put us all up in a beautiful downtown Penthouse, with a gorgeous view of the ocean. It’s right in the middle of everything so you, Bonnie and Brian can go sightseeing, shopping, take a cruise out of the harbor…it’ll be fun.” He was offering his very best sales pitch but Madeline remained skeptical.

“Kenny, you know I support you one hundred percent and I want you to close this deal, but my God—six months? There’s no way Erin will go for that! Look at how much trouble we have now with local custody arrangements. And Vancouver is so far away! My parents and Louis are supposed to visit us this summer, and remember we were planning to spend some time at the Jersey Shore with everyone? I haven’t seen my siblings, or my nieces and nephews since the wedding, and—”

Maddy suddenly stopped herself, taking a moment to reconsider. Kenny just stared at her silently, simultaneously understanding her point of view, yet soberly aware of the reality of the situation. Under normal circumstances, he might have the latitude to refuse such a proposition, but God knew they were living in extraordinary times. Regardless, he was the man of the house and as such, he was going to do whatever was necessary to provide for his family.

“I’m sorry baby,” Madeline confessed softly. “I know how difficult this is for you and I will not add to your stress. You are finally my husband, which means I am standing by your side no matter what.” Her face brightened with each new positive thought.

“Hey, at least summer is coming up, right? It’ll give us a chance to ease into a cooler climate. I never did get a chance to travel up there when I worked for the bank. I remember how many of the managers would hop a flight from Portland after our conferences were over. They raved about how beautiful Vancouver was, just like you always do. So now I’ll get to see it for myself.” She smiled at him reassuringly.

“I love you so much, Madeline Rose,” Kenny whispered, obviously choked up. “Thank you for understanding.” With that he pulled her close to him and smothered her with kisses as the early morning sun streaked through the vertical blinds.

“So are you guys all packed?” Paula Lockheart asked as she arranged the final place-setting on the outdoor dining table. It was another beautiful South Florida evening, and the family had gathered for a farewell barbeque at Ken and Maddy’s home.

“Pretty much Mom,” Madeline replied, placing some condiments on a nearby buffet table. She looked up and smiled at her husband’s mother with a sense of wonder—this amazingly supportive woman had been a complete stranger to her not so very long ago. Now, here they were, bonded in real affection for both Kenny and each other, the respectful title “mom” effortlessly falling from Maddy’s lips in casual conversation.

Ken and his father were busily preparing burgers, hot dogs and chicken on the grill as Ken apprised him of the latest phase of his impending business deal. Patrick and Danielle had just phoned to announce they were running a few minutes late, but would be there soon. Maddy’s parents had been unable to fly down for the farewell dinner, but had made arrangements to spend Thanksgiving week in Boca Raton, when Ken and Madeline would be back from Vancouver for good.

“Maddy, thank you for being so supportive of my son. I know this is difficult for you,” Paula offered sincerely. “And I know it hasn’t been easy with the kids, either. My former daughter-in-law has proven herself to be quite vindictive. I must confess I never did like that girl, although I made it my practice never to meddle in my sons’ lives. I want you to know I am doing my best to get through to my grandchildren. What their mother is doing to them and to you is so infuriating!”

“Thanks, Mom,” Maddy smiled, “You have no idea how much your support means to me. And I think we’re slowly making progress.

“Actually I am shocked that Erin even agreed to let them spend two months with us in Vancouver. As soon as school is over, she and Bennett are going to fly out with them. After that, Kenny and I will have to go back and forth a few times until we’re finally home for good. Ugh! You know how much I hate flying—not looking forward to almost ten hours each way in a plane, but at least Ken will be with me.”

“I think it’ll be good for you to get away honey,” Paula continued. “You’ve been working so hard yourself, and I can see it has taken its toll on you. You’ve been looking a little pale lately. Are you feeling alright?”

Striding back into the kitchen with her mother-in-law close behind, Maddy opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a tray of sliced tomatoes, pickles and red onions.

“Me? Yeah, I am fine; just a little tired from juggling so many different projects. You know how tough it’s been since my lay-off, trying to at least match the income I made with my old company with my freelance work. It’s going well, but it takes constant effort to keep the pipeline full and keep up with the clients I do have.

“And given everything that’s going on in our country, I am feeling a bit worn out from the fight, but I will never give in. I am also determined to create a career for myself in the new media; I am hoping my blog and internet radio show will attract the interest of Talon Grant, so I can actually make decent money at it. And who knows? Maybe Kenny can eventually be my co-host? That would be so fantastic!”

Setting the tray down on the counter, she glanced outside at her husband and his dad, obviously engrossed in jovial conversation no doubt centering on golf scores and Major League Baseball standings. A contented smile formed on Madeline’s face as she turned back to her mother-in-law.

“I never get tired of seeing them that way,” she sighed, remembering the father-son duo’s tumultuous history and ultimate reconciliation.

“Nor do I,” Paula agreed happily. “And you, my dear, are a big part of the reason why they do have such a good relationship now,” she added with sincere appreciation.

Although she cherished Paula’s words, Maddy felt her cheeks blush at the elder Mrs. Lockheart’s suggestion that she’d played such a pivotal role in this much-desired outcome.

“Oh, I think you’re giving me way too much credit,” she softly responded. “They would’ve worked things out eventually, with or without me.”

“No, I don’t see it that way,” Paula countered firmly, placing a hand on Maddy’s shoulder. “I remember Kenny telling me way back when how inspired he was by your family’s closeness, and how much he wanted that in his own relationship with his dad. Being around all of you, even for that short time really made an impact on him. And it’s obvious what a wonderful job your folks did with you. You are an incredible young woman. Don’t ever forget it.”

Maddy spontaneously reacted by embracing her mother-in-law with genuine affection.

“You’re the best, do you know that?” she whispered. “Thank you.”

“I mean every word, Madeline. I am so thrilled my son finally has a truly supportive spouse who really cares about his best interests, and the well-being of his children.”

She paused to look Maddy directly in the eye.

“And that is precisely why I don’t want you wearing yourself out by taking on too much. I worry about you too, you know.” Paula’s blue eyes reflected warmth and concern.

“I know,” Madeline replied softly. “And I really appreciate that. It’s true, between juggling my client projects, singing at 32 East and hosting internet radio shows, it does start to feel like overload sometimes, not to mention all the rallies I’ve been attending.

“At least I got to meet Talon Grant briefly at the last tea party protest I went to, and tell him how much I loved his book. You can borrow it if you’d like; one thing about Kenny traveling so much is it gives me time to read.”

“I’d like that,” Paula confirmed, just as the doorbell rang.

“Must be Erin dropping off the kids,” Maddy surmised, before heading in the direction of the foyer. She opened the door to find Ken’s heavily made-up ex dressed to the nines in a clingy, purple low-cut blouse showing off her artificial cleavage and a white, spandex mini-skirt. Her blonde hair was caught up in a French twist, with fringy bangs framing her angular face. She held an arm around each of her children, who seemed disappointed that it was their stepmother who’d answered the door.

“Hi guys!” she’d greeted them brightly. “We’ve all been waiting for you!” Ignoring her welcome, Bonnie and Brian rushed past her to hug their grandmother, who’d partially made her way towards the entrance. Once the kids had moved on to the lanier, Paula continued to observe the scene at the front door.

“Thank you for bringing them over Erin,” Maddy stated politely. “I know this wasn’t technically our weekend, but we wanted to say good bye in person since we won’t see them for three more weeks.”

“Just have them at school by eight tomorrow morning,” she retorted sarcastically before turning on her heel and striding back to her waiting silver Mercedes, which was idling in the driveway. As Madeline closed the door, she was surprised to find Paula standing beside her. “She is a piece of work isn’t she?” Kenny’s mother noted.

“In more ways than one!” Maddy giggled, suddenly finding the humor in the whole dilemma. “I wonder how much her latest procedure cost her rich boyfriend; sure hope it’s worth it, having to put up with her sour personality!”

Paula laughed and placing an arm around her daughter-in-law, walked arm-in-arm with her back into the kitchen, both of them oblivious to the stares of a spiteful Erin, who’d jealously witnessed their affectionate exchange from just beyond the bay window as the car pulled out to the curb.

The soft melodies of Maddy’s favorite love songs emanated through the speakers as she made her way down the staircase clad in her favorite navy blue bikini, a plush pool towel strewn over one shoulder. The kids were fast asleep, exhausted from an active evening of swimming and boating with the family; she’d just peered into each of their bedrooms to ensure all was well. Gazing at their peaceful forms bathed in the moonlight, she’d noted how angelic they appeared; if only they could find the same sort of harmony in conscious life.

Ah well!

One way or another, she was determined to create a healthy relationship with them, in spite of their mother. Right now, she was looking forward to some alone time with her husband.

Kenny had taken them all out on the speedboat after dinner for a fun cruise down the Intracoastal, while Maddy had insisted on staying behind. It wasn’t like her to turn down such an opportunity, but fatigue had overcome her and she’d secretly used the time to take a nap, reluctant to raise any of their concerns. Ken had enough to deal with already, and she certainly didn’t want her in-laws worrying about her either. But when he pulled her aside after their guests had departed, suggesting a private interlude in the pool, she’d happily accepted.

Striding through the darkened kitchen, she smiled as she looked out onto the screen porch, which had been transformed into a romantic getaway by a multitude of glowing candles and several arrangements of her favorite red and pink roses. Ken stood there smiling at her, dressed in red swim trunks, holding two glasses of bubbling Asti in his hands.

“Happy six-month anniversary sweetheart,” he greeted her, his trademark smile lighting up his face. Overcome with emotion, she accepted the champagne flute with one hand, and rested the other against his bare chest.

Gazing up at him, she noted, “You are the most wonderful husband any woman could ever ask for Kenny. I love you so much!”

“And I love you, Madeline Lockheart. I know how difficult the past several months have been, not to mention the prospect of our upcoming stay in Canada. It’s not what either of us expected and I know it won’t be easy for you being so far away from everyone. I just want you to know how much I appreciate your understanding and support. I finally know what a real marriage feels like. For that, I thank you baby.”

Temporarily unable to speak, Maddy just wrapped her free arm tightly around him and snuggled into his body. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head, slowly caressing her back and setting his champagne glass back down on the bar beside them. After doing the same with hers, he lifted her up into his strong arms and briskly strode down the steps of the shallow end, splashing his way into the pool until they were both submerged in the warm water.

“Kenny!” she laughed, “You’re gonna wake up the kids with all this noise!”

Unfazed, he simply drew her into a powerful, hungry kiss as he leaned against the wall, raising her up until her legs were wrapped securely around his waist. She ran her fingers through his thick blond hair, while she savored the sensual comfort of his embrace and the feel of his hands kneading their way up and down her back. In the next moment, she felt the strings around her neck loosening as he expertly undid the bow that helped hold her bikini top in place before releasing the clasp behind her back. Slowly, he peeled the wet material off of her and she shivered for a moment as her firm breasts were exposed to the cooler air.

But a second later, his warm lips and tongue captured one of her sensitive nipples while his tantalizing fingers expertly teased the other. Engulfed by the warmth of the explosive sensations overtaking her, Maddy sighed as he reached up and worked his magic, still holding her in place slightly above him with one arm.

Just when she thought she couldn’t stand it anymore, Kenny pulled her back down his body, until they were both standing in the shallow water. She slipped her hands beneath the waistband of his swim trunks, teasing him with her touch until he guided her to the part of him that ached for her exquisite caresses. Maddy smiled as he moaned in pleasure and simultaneously reached out for each of her thighs. Nearly dizzy with desire, he managed to slide his thumbs beneath the elastic of her bikini bottom, skimming over the most delicate, sensitive parts of her until—emboldened by her reaction, he gently probed his way deeper.

She cried out in pleasure, having temporarily forgotten her insecurities about making such noise when the children were around. He whispered over and over again in her ear how much he loved and wanted her, all the while increasing the intensity of his activity. Losing patience with constrictions of her bathing suit, he stopped only long enough to scoop her into his arms and situate her on one of the steps, where at last he pulled away the final barrier to full enjoyment. Maddy reveled in the indescribable sensation of the balmy water bathing her, leaning back against her elbows while Kenny knelt before her. Slowly raising one of her legs to his shoulder, he kissed his way back up her thigh, gauging her reaction by the urgency and frequency of her moans.

Mindful of her needs, he licked his way up her stomach, torso and breasts until they were face-to-face once more.

“Do you want to move to the chaise lounge baby?” he whispered.

She nodded her reply as he then lifted her off of her feet and out of the pool. Wrapping a thick towel around her, he dried off the excess water and chased away her shivers. In the next moment, she suddenly encircled his waist and just held him close to her.

“Kenny, do you promise me it’ll always be this way between us, no matter what?” she whispered.

“Yes, of course I do, sweetheart. You know that,” he soothed, enfolding her in his arms. “I’ll never let anything come between us, ever. I know you’re scared about spending so much time in a foreign place, but I’ll be right there with you.

“Just think, instead of being far apart for weeks at a time, I’ll just be going to an office for several hours a day, and then coming back to you.

“It’ll be so much better than what we’ve been dealing with. And you can still do your work and write your blog. Think of it as a new adventure.”

Maddy closed her eyes and did her best to envision a blissful, temporary life in Canada. She didn’t know why she was experiencing such an overpowering sense of foreboding, but even in the midst of these beautiful, intimate moments, she couldn’t quite shake the idea that something awful was about to happen. She tightened her arms around him, unable to get close enough until her felt her shiver again.

“Ok, I think it’s about time I warm you up again Madeline,” he announced in his deep, masculine voice.

He carried her to the chaise lounge, her form still wrapped securely in the plush pool towel. He lowered her carefully onto the cushion, where she watched with passionate eyes as he removed his red swim trunks. A moment later she giggled as he covered her body with his and began planting kisses over every inch of her. And by the time they joined as one in the romantic glow of moonlight, all worries had melted away, powerless against the force of genuine love and endless desire.

The Florida sun began its ascent above the horizon, streaking through the lush, tropical foliage and filtering through the vertical blinds of the bedroom, where the two intertwined figures slowly and somewhat reluctantly awakened to the new day. Ken rubbed his eyes before blinking them open to the sight of Maddy sprawled across his chest in typical fashion. He smiled as he stroked her hair, remembering the events of the previous evening out by the pool and later behind the closed doors of their room. Knowing she wholeheartedly supported him in spite of her fears, and had so willingly given herself to him in body, mind and spirit just made him fall in love with her all over again.

He prayed that in the end, their six-month excursion to Canada would result in a signed contract between the two telecomm companies. Actually from a business standpoint, things were looking very favorable; it was the US government that could prove to be the spoiler. Based on many heated conversations he’d had with his Canadian colleagues, he knew if Congress didn’t pass the FISA Act when it came up for renewal in a few months, it could spell disaster for both this lucrative deal and—much more importantly—the security of his country.

Sadly, there were scant few statesmen left in office, only power-hungry career politicians who would say and do anything to placate their kook-fringe base. Then of course there was the negative influence of a highly biased media that was all too eager to do their bidding by feeding into the electorate’s fears of losing their privacy.  After 9/11, it was exceedingly frustrating that so many Americans casually dismissed the urgent need to intercept communications coming into the country from dangerous, foreign terror cells, as permitted by the FISA Act. Recently, Talon Grant had even noted the urgency of the situation on his program, now that there was a President in the Oval Office who was not only sympathetic to Muslim extremists, but hell-bent and determined to disarm the United States as plainly evidenced by his rhetoric abroad.

Ken sighed as he wondered for a moment what his life would’ve been like had he chosen to make a career out of the Navy. There was a part of him that still wished he could defend his country in that capacity, as so many of his shipmates had gone on to do. Some had even paid the ultimate price for their patriotic devotion, a fact that haunted him nearly every day of his life. Then again, had he made a different decision all those years ago, he might not have ever met Madeline, or become a father to Bonnie and Brian. Still, he knew that he would once again contribute to the preservation of freedom in one capacity or another. He cared too much about his country and the perilous threats it was currently facing than to do otherwise. Momentarily, he had to focus almost exclusively on business but that was all going to change in the not-too-distant future.

“Mm, baby what time is it?” Maddy asked groggily, interrupting his thoughts.

“I think it’s about 6 a.m. sweetheart,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head. “We don’t have to get up just yet.”

“Oh good,” she sighed, “I am still so sleepy.”

“Well, we both had a very active night,” he teased, running a hand up and down her back.

“Yes we did,” she purred. Then with another thought, she soberly observed, “This’ll be the last morning we’ll wake up in South Florida for a while.”

“Yes it is, but look at it this way sweetheart: we’ll be waking up in a gorgeous Penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean for the next several months. Seriously Maddy, you’re going to love Vancouver. It really is beautiful.”

“I just hope you have some time to show me around while we’re there; I know how hard you work,” she observed.

“Don’t you worry baby, for you, I will make the time,” he promised. “You have no idea how much I appreciate your acceptance of all of this. And I am going to do my very best to make it as enjoyable as possible.”

“I know Kenny,” she assured him, as she placed a few soft kisses on his chest. “Speaking of which, why don’t you go wake the kids up so they can get ready for school and I’ll go downstairs and make a special breakfast. You should spend a little one-on-one time since it’ll be a few weeks before you see them again.”

With that, she sat up and, reaching for her pink satin robe, tied it securely around her waist. He winced when she drew back the verticals, ushering in a flood of bright sunlight.

“Hey baby, take it easy!” he cried out in mock horror.

“Oh come on now sailor, you’ve dealt a lot worse than a 6 a.m. wake-up call,” she teased with a wink in his direction, before heading to the bathroom.

“It’s a good thing we’re on a tight schedule sweetheart; otherwise you’d be in big trouble!” he called out with a laugh before throwing on some clothes and heading down the hallway to greet his kids.

“I hate pancakes!” Bonnie announced as she entered the kitchen, dressed for school in a floral print sundress, her long blonde hair partially caught back at the crown with a matching pink headband.

The enticing aroma of percolating coffee filled the air as Maddy busied herself at the stove. She poured out the remaining chocolate-chip batter and it sizzled on contact with the warm surface of the frying pan. Expertly, she flipped the half-done pancakes over to finish cooking and piled the completed ones onto a waiting platter.

Unfazed by Bonnie’s comment, she simply replied, “Now that’s funny; I could’ve sworn I heard you telling your grandma how much you loved them! In fact, if I recall, she told me you ordered chocolate chip pancakes every time she and your grandfather took you and your brother to IHOP.”

“Yeah, well that was when I was younger,” the little girl clarified.

“Ah, I see,” Madeline mused. “Well then I guess it’s a good thing I am also making scrambled eggs and toast.”

Whatever,” Bonnie retorted sarcastically just as her father entered the room with a freshly bathed Brian, looking adorable in a pair of khaki shorts and a pale-blue polo top.

“Have a seat at the table son; I want to have a private talk with your sister,” Ken directed him, exchanging serious glances with his concerned wife. Maddy certainly respected the boundaries in terms of Ken’s right to discipline his children as he saw fit; she simply wished she’d had the opportunity to remind him that the child was feeling especially vulnerable, knowing it was going to be a while before she saw her daddy again. Three weeks to a little kid was an eternity. Madeline’s eyes followed them as Kenny put an arm about her and ushered her into the private dining room.

“Is Bonnie in trouble?” Brian asked with all of the excited curiosity of a boy his age.

“Don’t you mind other people’s business young man,” she scolded him with a hint of playfulness. “Drink your orange juice and I’ll bring you some pancakes in a minute.”

“Aunt Maddy?” he addressed her by the term they’d all agreed to when it had been decided that “mom” wasn’t entirely appropriate.

“Yes, Brian?”

“I love chocolate-chip pancakes. Thank you for making them for me!”

“You’re very welcome,” she replied, thrilled by his refreshing change of attitude.

A few minutes later, after Maddy had set a plate before Brian and poured some maple syrup for him, Ken and Bonnie returned from their summit.

“Madeline, Bonnie has something she would like to say to you,” her husband announced. The young girl’s eyes were still glistening with moisture; Maddy’s heart went out to her, though she maintained a calm, dispassionate façade.

“I’m sorry,” she finally squeaked out.

“Tell her why you’re sorry Bonnie,” her dad pressed her.

“I’m sorry because you went to the trouble of making my favorite breakfast, and I was rude to you,” she offered somewhat robotically.

Maddy crouched down to look her in the eye. Placing a hand on each of her shoulders, she assured her stepdaughter, “Apology accepted.”

She desperately wanted to give the girl a hug, but settled for stroking her cheek instead.

“So are you ready for breakfast now?” Bonnie nodded her head as Maddy led her back to the table. Their morning meal continued uneventfully until it was time for Ken to drive the kids to school, leaving Maddy to clean up the dishes and get ready for their new adventure.

“Is this the last bag?” the kindly older driver inquired of Ken as he watched him hoist a large, black expandable suitcase into the trunk of the white Lincoln Town Car.

“Yes sir, that’ll do it,” the young executive replied with a smile. “I’m amazed my wife managed to pack so lightly, given how long we’ll be gone. Of course, neither one of us owns many heavy fall or winter clothes, so I may have to twist her arm to go shopping in Vancouver once the summer is over,” Kenny winked at the man who chuckled at his remarks.

“If I may say so, your wife is such a beautiful, delightful woman it must be a pleasure for you to spoil her with a nice wardrobe.”

Kenny glanced over to the front entrance, where Maddy stood chatting on her cell phone with her best girlfriend Elyse.  He could barely catch his breath as he took in the sight of her, dressed in a chic black pantsuit—a blend of comfortable cotton and lycra—with a cropped, long-sleeved jacket and form fitting pants that perfectly skimmed her shapely curves. With her auburn tresses pulled back neatly into ponytail held in place with a rhinestone band; her rhinestone-encrusted fuchsia blouse and high-heeled black sandals, she looked like an ad for Vogue. Fashionable Brighton sunglasses completed her look.

“I am the luckiest man alive,” Ken smiled at their driver before walking away to retrieve his wife. Slipping an arm around her waist, he whispered it was time to go. She nodded her agreement as he ushered her in the direction of the waiting car.

“Ok, Leese, take good care of yourself,” Maddy urged into her cell phone, “And please, I know you detest technology, but jump on your computer every once in a while so we can stay in touch by email or instant messenger!”

Amused by their conversation, Kenny chuckled as she snapped the phone shut. “What?” she asked, feigning indignation.

“Nothing,” he replied teasingly, “You’re just incredibly adorable, that’s all.”

He planted a kiss on her cheek as the Lincoln pulled out of the driveway, bound for Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

The 737 soared through the white, puffy clouds, steadily moving in a northwesterly direction towards Seattle, the only brief stopover on their diagonal course across the United States and into Vancouver, Canada. Nearly seven hours had already passed since leaving South Florida, and thankfully, most of the flight had been incredibly smooth once they’d reached cruising altitude. Ken was a bit concerned that Madeline had spent the majority of the journey sleeping—highly unusual, given her fear of flying. He recalled her inability to stop talking, reading or doing crossword puzzles on their roundtrip honeymoon flight to Italy, in a successful attempt to distract herself. Yet inexplicably, this time she’d dozed off into a deep slumber before they’d even made it out of Florida airspace.

If this keeps up, she’s going to a doctor in Canada, he thought to himself. I wish I’d insisted on it before we left home. He glanced over at her petite form curled up against the window, his grey raincoat tucked in around her as a makeshift blanket. On an impulse, he reached out to touch her forehead, quickly determining the absence of a fever; her face however, was noticeably pale. Sensitive to his touch, she began to stir.

“Are we there yet baby?” she asked in a barely coherent voice. “We’re getting pretty close to Seattle; should be landing there in less than an hour sweetheart,” he softly replied.



“I’m sorry I’ve been lousy company; I don’t know why I’m so tired. How could I be jet-lagged already?”

“All I know, Madeline, is that we’re scheduling an appointment with a doctor as soon as we get settled in Vancouver. I’ll ask my business colleagues for a recommendation, so you won’t have to wait an eternity to see someone.

“I just wish I’d listened to my better judgment and driven you to the Internist myself when we were back in Boca. We could’ve had a diagnosis and a remedy by now. You’ve been complaining of fatigue for weeks and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing serious, don’t worry,” she assured him, still somewhat groggy.

“Until we know for certain what the problem is, I’m sure as hell gonna worry about it,” he informed her softly, reaching out to stroke her hair. “You mean everything to me Madeline Lockheart, and it’s my job to take care of you.”

She smiled as she drifted off to sleep again, just as the jet began its initial descent into Seattle.


Filed under Professional Experience, Sea To Shining Sea, Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Literary Technique: Flashback

Since this technique is such an important element in Water Signs, particularly in terms of creating intrigue, I decided to devote an entire post to its discussion. Given that readers know the ending of the story the moment they read the Prologue,  I had to employ every possible literary tool at my disposal to build suspense and maintain a good pace throughout the novel. I’ve noted most of them previously, but wanted to delve into the flashback technique in greater detail, since the entire work of fiction is, in essence, a series of smaller flashbacks within the context of one big 16-year flashback.

Part One begins in 1992, with Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey (i.e. Greater Philadelphia area) as the setting. The Prologue, set in Deerfield Beach in 2008 at St. Ambrose Catholic Church (a place where I regularly attend Mass), has just alerted readers to the significance of the nuptials about to take place between Ken Lockheart and Madeline Rose, “by the grace and mercy of God” and “at the end of a long, arduous and oftentimes broken road.” Considering I’ve now piqued their interest in the long  journey leading to this momentous occasion for my two main characters, I next had to focus on crafting an interesting, page-turning tale worthy of the intrigue generated from the outset.

Of course, as I’ve noted before, it helps that so much of Water Signs is based on real life, proving the maxim “write what you know”.  And in spite of a well-meaning editor/friend’s advice, I declined to change the geographic locations of the story from Southeastern Pennsylvania to Illinois, and from South Florida to Southern California, for this very reason (along with a few others). I didn’t have to agonize over describing unfamiliar locations, or researching the local culture and traditions of unknown parts of the country, and then trying to infuse them into the makeup of my characters.

I know what constitutes a Philly girl versus a suburban Philly girl versus a Boca Babe, and a South Jersey guy versus a South Florida guy. I feel passionate about Philly sports, food, culture and history. I’ve spent countless summers at the Jersey Shore in my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. I’ve lived in South Florida most of my adult life. Therefore, immortalizing these characters and settings was effortless. And the result is an authentic work of fiction that simultaneously uplifts, instructs and and occasionally tugs at the heartstrings.

However, I still had to make many necessary adjustments and/or embellishments to certain plot points because — let’s face it — sometimes actual events do not quite have the same dramatic oomph required for compelling fiction. Case in point: the night Maddy and Ken peruse his old US Navy photo albums while hanging out at his house (Chapters 4 and 5). While this is a true-to-life occurrence, it took place in “Ken’s” living room, while we were both seated on the couch in broad daylight, not in his bedroom in the late-evening, as is the case in Water Signs. I changed the locale from living room to bedroom and time period from afternoon to the almost wee-hours of the morning, to increase the sexual tension between the characters, as well as to test Ken’s ability to respect his new love’s clearly articulated boundaries, and in turn, her willingness to trust in his sincerity.

This incident is also a great example of the flashback technique, as although the scene begins in Chapter Four and continues into Chapter Five, it’s not until later in Chapter Five, when Madeline is cruising along the highways of suburban Philly conducting sales calls for her job, that we learn the full extent of what transpired during the previous night’s intimate moments. Prompted by the song, Just Another Day, she reminisces back to Ken’s recounting of his broken engagement, complete with raw emotional betrayal and visceral heartbreak. This gives readers another insight into Ken’s history, and his motivation in wanting to marry and settle down with his true love; it also offers a window into Maddy’s soul, and the extent to which her lingering insecurities, exacerbated by a previous relationship, will cause problems for her nascent romance with Ken.

Much later, in Chapter 31, as an older, wiser and recently reunited couple are cruising down Camino Real on the way to Ken’s parents’ home in the Royal Oak Hills section of Boca Raton, Maddy embarks upon a silent remembrance celebrating the history of her family. This provides readers yet another new insight into her character, and conveniently (for the author) lays the groundwork for future prequels featuring the entire Rose clan.

Look for the use of strategic flashback through the novel.

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Chapter Four Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

The following excerpt incorporates a bit of real life via my experiences in speaking out against 9/11 conspiracy theorists on prominent sites like Parcbench. As with my first effort, the entire novel is based on real-life experiences; however, unlike Water Signs most of which was based on my own personal reality, Sea To Shining Sea weaves true-to-life public events into the fabric of its fictional characters (who are based on real people).

Thus in this scene, Ken and Madeline confront an angry mob of “truthers”, anarchists and cult-like followers of fictional congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent (I’ll leave it to my politically astute readers to figure out the real-life inspiration behind that character). 😉

The insults hurled at Ken, including “stooge of the New World Order”, “communist, fascist pig”, and “corporate shill” are the same ones I’ve received as a result of questioning and criticizing the foreign policy, isolationism and blatant courtship of 9/11 truthers attributable to one very well-known, 20-year incumbent congressman who champions himself “The Defender of the Constitution” (recognize him yet, dear readers?).

One note to fellow authors and writers: because the events described in Sea To Shining Sea are mostly from public life, as opposed to personal life, it became necessary to make them personal for my characters. Thus, we learn that part of Ken’s passion and outrage expressed against the truther crowd stems from the fact that he’s lost a few Navy buddies in the USS Cole attack.  With respect to the FISA Act (with which I’ve taken some creative liberties in order to make a serious point), the US Congress’ failure to renew it leads directly to the implosion of Ken’s telecomm deal, and the loss of his livelihood — an event that will prompt him to run for Congress as the conservative, grass-roots upstart (a la many of today’s candidates including Ed Lynch, Allen West, Corey Poitier and Bernard Sansaricq, to name a few from Florida). On the way, he’ll encounter much resistance from the GOP good ‘ol boys, who will throw all of their money and support behind their chosen RINO, Bennett Whitehorn.

In other ways, however, Sea To Shining Sea is a hybrid of the personal and public: like Madeline, I too lost a cousin in The World Trade Center on September 11. Like Madeline, I also have a dear older brother with Down’s syndrome, and like Madeline, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a certain former governor for choosing life when tests determined she’d be giving birth to a baby with an extra chromosome. She’s also been immortalized in my book in the character of Anna Hardin. And I’m pretty sure y’all know who I’m talkin’ about, if I may paraphrase Hillary Clinton! If you don’t, you must’ve been hiding out on a deserted island for the past 1 1/2 years, with no access to internet, talk radio or television. 🙂

Seriously, my goal with this latest effort is to uphold American principles, values and traditions within the context of an entertaining, continuing love story.

As always, I look forward to your feedback and thank you for taking the time to read my posts!

Chapter Four

The North Shore Mountains stood resplendent and proud in the distance beneath the orange glow of the Vancouver sun as Ken and Maddy stepped out of the limo and onto the Marina. As a chill breeze enveloped them, he slipped an arm tightly around his wife, who was at once relieved she’d had the presence of mind to put on a lined raincoat before they left the Penthouse. May in Vancouver bore no resemblance to May in South Florida, which typically heralded the return of intense heat and humidity. But in spite of the slight discomfort of an unseasonably cool – even by Vancouver standards – evening, the couple looked forward to a few hours’ respite from all things corporate and political.

Alas, as they approached the impressive line of fellow fun-seekers, they quickly discovered that a few carefree hours aboard a touristy dinner cruise would not be devoid of at least some conflict.

“What’s all that commotion?” Maddy asked, noticing a rowdy group of at least 50 protesters standing off to the side, waving signs and yelling.

“Not sure,” Ken replied, protectively tightening his arm around her as they neared the scene. Upon realizing that the assembly of mostly unkempt, gothic-looking twenty-somethings – interspersed with a few elders who appeared to be veterans of Woodstock – were self-described anarchists, 9/11 “truthers” and anti-war activists, they let out a collective groan.

“Ugh, I thought these idiots were mostly concentrated in Austin, Hollywood and Seattle,” Maddy sighed angrily. “Where’s their hero, Congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent? Probably speaking to college kids somewhere in the States, calling for the CIA to be taken out. Or maybe he’s here visiting Vancouver on the taxpayer dime to further incite anti-American sentiment.”

Glancing at Kenny, she noted the palpable rage building within, evidenced by his crimson cheeks and stiff upper body. No doubt, gruesome images of the Cole bombing at the hands of barbaric terrorists – complete with the subsequent gaping hole in the ship’s hull and his friends’ violent, bloody deaths – were reverberating through his mind.

“Kenny! I know you’re mad; I am too,” she counseled in a firm, yet gentle tone. You know more than anyone how much I cannot stand these traitors. I’ve been deleting and blocking them like crazy lately on Facebook, but please don’t pick a fight with them. Just ignore them. Things are bad enough at work already; the last thing you need is to end up in the Vancouver papers as the American Executive who beat up a bunch of punks at the Harbour Cruises Marina,” she warned. “We both know who the media will sympathize with, and it sure as hell won’t be the ‘rich’ Americans from Boca Raton.”

He looked at her wordlessly for a moment before suddenly remembering the fragility of her emotional and physical state, and the news he’d yet to break to her. Surely he could summon the inner strength necessary to practice restraint, notwithstanding the fact that – in that very moment – he wanted nothing more than to teach the aging hippies and their lazy, brainwashed protégées a lesson they’d never forget.

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ve got it under control,” he assured her assertively as they took their place in line behind an attractive, smiling couple that reminded Maddy very much of her cousins Lyle and Daphne. Suddenly she felt a little homesick wondering what everyone was up to back in Pennsylvania. She leaned closer into Kenny’s chest as a cold shiver ran up and down her spine.

“Good,” she noted in a muffled voice. “Because I just want to spend some quality time with my husband and forget about all of the insanity for a little while.”

Madeline closed her eyes and tried to drown out the cacophony of angry epithets and hateful chants of “9/11 was an inside job!” even as the Vancouver police valiantly attempted to maintain order by enforcing a legally mandated distance between protesters and cruise ship patrons.

But in the very next instant, she nearly toppled to the ground in the domino effect caused by a violent, powerful wave of resistance on the part of the unruly mob. Ken had felt the repercussions first, instinctively holding her up while he fought to keep his balance. Enraged, he first inquired about Maddy’s state before sternly instructing her to move further away for the sake of her own safety. Then he returned his attention to surreal mob scene.

“Fucking punks! Damned cowards! How dare you show up here promoting your 9/11 conspiracy bullshit!” he bellowed, as an officer tried to restrain him.

“Sir, please – get back in line now!” the policeman barked at Ken.

“These Woodstock rejects who don’t know a damned thing about duty, honor or country nearly caused my pregnant wife to have an accident! Get them the hell out of here!” he ordered, undeterred by the uniform.

“Corporate shill! Stooge of the New World Order!” an obnoxious teenager taunted at Ken. “Your former president ought to be tried for war crimes!”

“You little son of a bitch; you have no idea what a useful moron you are do you? Do you know how quickly a Jihadist would chop off your ignorant little head?!” Ken shot back with fire in his eyes. By now, two police officers were restraining him, as the others fought to break up the demonstration.

“Sir, please, I am going to have to arrest you if you don’t get back in line! We’re handling this!”

Ken let out a bitter laugh. “Not very well, I’m afraid, officer. What the hell are these people doing here anyway?”

Before the cop could reply, the young anarchist cried out, “Even one of your own Congressmen knows 9/11 was an inside job. Nathaniel Trent is the only member of your government with guts to call it for what it is – just a bloody ploy to instigate two wars for oil and profit!”

“You stupid punk, you don’t know a damned thing, do you? If you did, you’d know that Nathaniel Ulysses Trent is a laughingstock among anyone with half a brain!”

“Nathaniel Trent knows Al-Qaeda is just CIA fantasy, created to take away individual liberty. But what would a fascist communist pig like you know about freedom anyway!”

“Lucky for you, you little dirtbag, it’s because of people like me that you have the right to spew your conspiracy garbage. I was serving my country long before your worthless ass took up space on this earth. You—”

“Sir, for the last time, either get back in line or I will have to arrest you!” the officer interrupted.

By now, Ken’s face was beet-red, his heart pounding furiously as visions of his Navy days flashed through his mind. Although he’d completed his duty several months before the Gulf War began in 1991, he’d still witnessed plenty of tragedy in the loss of several of his brothers during the course of service; had he remained, he could’ve easily been one of the lives lost in the USS Cole. Encountering spoiled, ungrateful and painfully ignorant fools like this nutjob conspiracy crew – the polar opposite of the dedicated, honorable and patriotic young men he’d known as a sailor – awakened a simmering anger within him. Memories of horrific events like the Cole bombing and the September 11 attacks were never far from his consciousness.

A few feet away, Maddy called out to her husband, sympathetic to his turmoil but fearful of its potential consequences. He vaguely heard her cries above all of the commotion, prompting him to abruptly release his arm from the policeman’s grasp and slowly make his way back to his worried wife. By then, the officers had succeeded in subduing the protesters, while the cruise ship finally began the boarding process.

Ken encircled Maddy in his arms and held her close to him for a moment, relishing her soothing words and reassurances that – although initially rattled – she was indeed ok.

“It’s gonna take a lot more than some Kool-Aid-drinking 9/11 truthers to get the better of me, teddy bear,” she joked. “And they’ve sure given me something to write about on my blog tomorrow – along with RINO Whitehorn and the hapless Florida Republican Party.”

Ken let out a chuckle, then reminded her of their deal to put all of their problems on hold for the night. Placing an arm about her waist, he lovingly escorted her to the waiting ship, as the fiery orange sun glistened on the water and decorated the Vancouver sky with streaks of dramatic, colorful splendor.

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Guidelines on Fictionalizing Facts into a Novel: Part Four

More thoughts on the reconciliation theme as it relates to real life transforming into fiction.

In my previous piece, I drew a comparison/contrast between the characters of Dr. Joseph Rose and Ken Lockheart, the two embodiments of The American Dream in Water Signs. Though generations apart, both Joseph and Ken overcome similar obstacles in their quest for a better life that expands far-beyond their respective, humble beginnings. It should also be clear from that post, but bears repeating here, that although they rise above challenging material circumstances, both men retain the traditional values with which they were raised.

These values — love of God, family, and country, and commitment to a strong work ethic — transcend the financial, and thus are not dependent upon how much money a family possesses, although consistent adherence to them serves each of these characters well.

Dr. Rose moves from the poor son of a tailor to respected Philadelphia neurosurgeon, while Ken transforms from son of a blue-collar union worker (who takes great offense at his youngest child’s ambitions) to successful corporate businessman.  Yet neither loses their sense of gratitude for the United States of America and the opportunities it affords them, nor their ingrained belief in right and wrong.

Ken differs from Joseph in having the extra burden of paternal disapproval, a reality explored throughout the book with the ultimate result being the renewal of the father-son relationship. But that’s not the only parent-child connection intertwined in the reconciliation theme. And there’s also a thread of forgiveness surrounding other influential figures such as school teachers.

Like her suitor Ken, Madeline is the youngest child in her family, another sensitive Pisces creation who came into the world on the exact same day and year. She’s also been raised in the Catholic faith and school system, which has had its blessings and disadvantages. In one scene, she confides in her new beau that as a first-grader, her teacher-nun made her life miserable from the moment she discovered Madeline to be the daughter of a doctor, branding her “a spoiled rich girl” . Whenever the six year-old would show up at school in a perfectly beautiful hand-me-down jacket from her older sister, the nun would inevitably sneer, “Oh, I see Daddy bought you a new jacket!”,  as if having a family that cared for their children’s material needs was a bad thing.

These insults were usually accompanied by lectures about the poor children in West Philly, which apparently the nun believed to be the fault of a first-grader who didn’t share the same hardships. And although this is not in the book, I remember that the First Grade Sister’s favorite Bible quote was Jesus’ admonition that is was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

In real life, I have vague memories of asking my father about that oft-quoted Bible passage, horrified by the prospect that a good man like him might not go to heaven because he had money (I should also point out that while my dad made a nice living, we were a middle-class family, nowhere close to millionaire status). He did his best to assure me that Jesus was not condemning anyone for using their God-given talents to bless the world and, in his case, help people heal.

Another memory that is mentioned in the book involves riding home from school in the car with my mother, after another day of lecturing about the poor, disadvantaged kids in Philly. As we passed the familiar waste management company on the right side of the road, I remarked, “Mommy, I wish Daddy was a trash collector instead of a doctor!”

My horrified mother looked at me briefly before reverting her eyes back to the road and asked, “Why on earth would you say something like that?”

My response: “Because maybe if he was, Sr. Timothy Ann would like me!”

She then instructed me that I should be very proud of my father, as he was not robbing banks, but helping people get well. He hadn’t been handed everything on a silver platter; he’d worked hard for everything he had and shared with us. Being the protective (thank God!) “Mama Bear” she was, this little exchange resulted in a one-on-one visit with both the principal and the nun in question. To the best of my recollection, things did improve after that, but the damage had already been done.

As in my own life, the mixed messages Maddy receives about earning money contribute to her difficulties in achieving her own financial success as an adult. When she dates Jake Winston, her first long-term boyfriend, he reinforces the themes of the frustratingly misquoted “money is the root of all evil” (instead of “love of money is the root of all evil”). Years later, Madeline, through her own spiritual development, is able to forgive both the nun and the boyfriend by recognizing their own unique internal struggles that led them to inflict their pain and warped monetary outlook onto her.

In Jake’s case, his resentment over his family’s financial crisis — a difficulty not shared by his then-girlfriend Madeline — compels him to do and say hurtful things that ultimately doom their relationship. Regarding Sr. Timothy Ann, while there’s no concrete information as to the circumstances of her upbringing, it is safe to assume that a misinterpretation of her voluntary vows most likely contributed to her nastiness toward an innocent little girl. In fairness, there were plenty of nice sisters who never resorted to these tactics, sticking instead to the fundamentals of teaching the Catholic faith along with English, Math, Science, Social Studies and all of the other critical school subjects.

Interestingly enough, I am currently towards the end of an eight-week course offered by Unity Church of Delray Beach called, Five Gifts for An Abundant Life. My last two classes have focused on forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self. Years prior to taking this course and writing Water Signs, I’d participated in a 12-week course which was also sponsored by Unity — Stretton Smiths 4T Prosperity Program.  I credit the principles I’ve learned there — particularly in the area of forgiveness — with helping me to recognize and release the negative programming I’ve received, along with cultivating a compassionate understanding for the people who perpetuated it.

It’s been a long, but fulfilling journey, and I hope by presenting these themes within the confines of an entertaining love story, others may find the same benefit.

More on reconciliation in my next post.

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Guidelines on Fictionalizing Facts into a Novel, Part Three

Today’s installment draws a comparison/contrast between Water Signs’ main male character, Ken Lockheart, and Dr. Joseph Rose, the two most important men in heroine Madeline Rose’s life. As I’ve noted in previous posts, both are representations of The American Dream, though generations apart, and both are based on real people who impacted my life to varying degrees.

Dr. Rose (based on my father) is the offspring of immigrants, and a member of that generation that falls in-between The Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. While he himself had been too young too have served during World War II, like my own dad, he certainly knew of those — including close family members and neighborhood friends — who had. Some of these noble men made the ultimate sacrifice, while others were fortunate enough to have returned home safely after honorably fighting for the cause of freedom.

My father did serve in the US Army during the Korean War, although this real-life fact is not obviously noted in the novel. Nevertheless, I grew up in a home that respected the US Military and celebrated traditional American values, quintessential holidays (Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc),  and the right of the individual to pursue any path he or she might desire, whether it entail a career in medicine, law, journalism, engineering, graphic arts or countless other noble fields in which one could put their talents and abilities to their best use.

Although my dad was a practicing surgeon, he never imposed his dream on his children. Like my mom, his fervent desire was for each of us to create the life and career of our own choosing. And though his work schedule necessitated an upbringing in which my mother did the heavy lifting in terms of administering discipline, teaching values and prayers, helping with homework, providing transportation to and from extracurricular activities, planning family outings and parties, and otherwise managing all of the duties associated with raising five children (including one with a handicap),  when my dad did arrive home, he was completely engaged in the family. (I will devote a separate post to my mom and her character, Monica Rose, both of whom are quite deserving of their own analysis)

Thus, our dinner (when he was able to make it home in time) conversations always centered on what we learned in school that day, what was going on in our lives and yes — what we wanted to be when we grew up. My response as a young child to that last question typically vacillated between: “I’m going to be a novelist!” or “I’m going to be a journalist!” To which my dad would always follow-up with approval and encouragement (Good thing, too, because although I was an excellent student, my obvious strengths were English and the humanities; math and science were a daily struggle and almost always marked the difference between the achievement of First or Second Honors in high school).

Another aspect of my father I didn’t fully appreciate until old enough to understand the pressures of the medical world (including the pervasive, sometimes devastating impact of trial lawyers and government) was that no matter how tough the day had been, he always came through the front door whistling. More often than not, he’d greet my mother with a cheery, “Che fai, Rosie?” and a kiss upon arriving in the kitchen, where she’d normally be preparing dinner. As a small child, I remember running to the foyer to greet him, where he’d always scoop me up and say, “How ya doing Little Lady?!”

All of these remembrances had their most profound significance in hindsight; I’m not exactly sure why it is so difficult to fully appreciate the gifts you’ve been given (e.g. a stable, loving family) when you’re young. But as I matured and met other peers in high school, college and far-beyond, I began to realize my good fortune of being born into a family that — while far from perfect — had almost been ideal compared with the familial circumstances of others.

Which brings me back to the character of Ken Lockheart. In Chapter Two of Water Signs,  Ken completely throws Madeline off-guard by actually following up on his 3 a.m. promise of meeting her at the beach in Ocean City — a declaration made under the influence of an alcohol-induced buzz. He’d driven her back to her car in the nightclub parking lot, after the couple had gone out for breakfast at a local Jersey diner, and stated his intentions with conviction. Without the benefit of pen or paper, Maddy wrongly concludes that while cute, entertaining and interesting, this guy is far from serious about her. Part of this stems from her own insecurity, and part from her inability to let go of a previous hurtful relationship, both of which are explored in the novel in great detail.

After returning home from church much later that same day, Madeline gets the shock of her life when her sister announces that Ken is on the phone, wondering where she’s been all this time, as he’s been waiting patiently for her at the beach as promised. This ultimately results in the extension of an invitation to breakfast with the family, suggested by Madeline’s mother, Monica. After a brief bout with nervousness, Ken accepts the offer and enthusiastically joins in the conversation around the table, amazed by the way in which the Rose family relates to each other. He’s also blown away by their accomplishments, from Dr. Rose to Maddy’s attorney-siblings Greg and Lori, and absent brothers Damian (a pathologist in Nashville) and Louis (the Down’s brother who was working in PA that weekend, staying with family friends).

Later at the beach, he’s even more amazed by how the Rose family welcomes him into their circle, and by Madeline’s ability to express herself intelligently in bursts of enthusiasm and passion on everything from politics to pop culture to sports. I recall conversations from real life in which “Ken” would share his admiration of the way in which my family members ate together, amid sometimes boisterous but always engaging conversation on a variety of topics. With some puzzlement, I’d asked him why this was such a big deal. Didn’t his family participate in the same kinds of activities?

His response was something along the lines of “not the way your family does.” It was a telling example of another seemingly unimportant detail of my upbringing, and one of the first reminders that not everyone I’d meet would share the same kind of family experiences.

In a later chapter, Maddy (as did I) learns of the troubled relationship between Ken and his father, instigated by Ken’s admirable decision to enlist in the US Navy to serve his country, earn money for college and to avoid, in his own words, “turning into a surfer bum.” During an evening spent perusing photo albums from his years in the service, a teary-eyed Ken admits to her that — unlike his supportive mother — his father never once visited him when he was on leave, nor wrote him one letter, although he did show up for the ceremony marking the successful completion of his son’s time in the Navy.

As with real life, “Ken” goes on to simultaneously complete his college degree and find success in the corporate world.

In the novel, I explore the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation through several characters. In this particular case, recalling the tension between Ken’s human counterpart and his father afforded me the opportunity to start with a real-life element and carry it through the entire work of fiction.

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day of that same year, “Ken” had spent several days hanging out with my family and me at our home in Pennsylvania. I clearly remember his emotional dilemma on New Year’s Day, wanting to call his parents, yet dreading having to speak to his father — an issue he shared openly with me. After listening for a while, I suggested that he follow through with the call, mostly for his own sake, as it was clearly causing inner turmoil. Further, by doing so, he’d take the high-road, demonstrating respect without actually conceding that his dad was correct in his unfair criticisms of his son. Ken subsequently took the advice and they had a cordial conversation.

Both of these incidents served as starting points to chronicle the evolution of the troubled father-son relationship between Ken and Carl Lockheart. By the book’s end, Carl has developed a healthy respect for his youngest son’s decision to embark upon a dramatically different path than the blue-collar, union card-carrying one he’d initially envisioned for his offspring.

Having spent several years apart from Ken mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically, Madeline is thrilled to discover this incredible father-son milestone when circumstances conspire to bring him and his family back into her life. In a purely fictional chapter, she finally meets Kenny’s parents when she joins him for Mother’s Day dinner at their home, where, among other things, they enjoy a round of karaoke (inspired by my own karaoke experiences with friends at a friendly, Pompano Beach bar). This scene is but one of many examples of coming “full-circle” in the novel, and one of my favorites in terms of the writing process. Unlike me, Madeline has been blessed with a beautiful singing voice, which is one of the countless qualities that Ken finds so intoxicating about her.

When I first met “Ken”, the similarities between him and my father were not obvious to me; only in hindsight have I been able to fully see and appreciate them. From overcoming difficult obstacles on the way to achieving success, to possessing an incredibly attractive, genuine love of God, country and family, there are many ways in which Ken and Dr. Rose mirror each other. Yet, perhaps the most significant of these is their shared love for Madeline — one as the man who brought her into the world, and the other as the man for whom she forever alters his.

Coming soon: More paths to reconciliation, and fact versus fiction.

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