Tag Archives: South Florida

More Random Thoughts on the Writing Process

In my last post, I started to delve a little deeper into the fusion of fact and fiction, and some of the literary techniques I employed in penning Water Signs. There’s also a bit of personal intrigue intertwined in the entire experience — things I haven’t previously shared on my blog.

First though, I want to take up where I last left off, namely the reconnection via letter and telephone between the two main characters after a 13-year absence. In the novel, as in real life, the guy made the call upon learning from his mother that a letter had arrived for him at her house — before he’d even had it in his possession. Neither Madeline, nor I had signed a name above the return address on the envelope, but the address alone is (was) apparently enough information for the recipient to know exactly who’d been trying to reach him.

That first night back from Disney, as Maddy listens to the sound of Ken’s familiar voice, even she is taken aback by her reaction:

Nothing could have prepared Madeline for the fireworks that erupted within at the mere sound of Ken’s voice. As if afraid of her thoughts displaying on some sort of celestial cloud for the whole world to see, she moved to the recliner chair in her sitting area, which was located at the extreme front of her home. After listening to his message a few times, she pressed “2” to save it in the archives, and then jotted down Ken’s cell phone number.

“It’s all yours, Mom,” she said as calmly as she could, handing over the cordless before taking her cell and retreating to the privacy of her bedroom.

She’s also cautiously optimistic and admirably pragmatic:

Here it was, nearly 11 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. He’d mentioned specifically that the cell number he’d given her was a business line. Did she dare dial the number now? After a brief internal debate, Maddy decided to go for it. After all, she’d been searching for him long enough. It was high time to just get on with it, knowing that whatever might transpire, she could handle the outcome well. Having successfully overcome truly horrific problems in the past—the most formidable of which had been panic and anxiety disorder, Madeline could now effectively cope with anything else life threw at her. She’d been thoroughly tested and proven incredibly stronger for the experience.

This is another area where real life differs from the novel. Because right after Maddy returns Ken’s voice mail with one of her own, the scene changes to Ken’s bedroom, where he’s lost in thought over the woman he’d first met as a much younger man at the Jersey Shore — and wondering if she’s aware of the fact that he’s now officially divorced. It’s also an example of the novel’s recurring theme of reconciliation:

Yes, he understood the purpose of her card, and it touched him deeply that she felt the need to apologize for past transgressions. And at the same time, he acknowledged that he himself was also guilty of inflicting pain on her. In many ways, he should’ve been the one sending a letter.

Strange also that this particular year had brought her so much clarity; he’d just signed his divorce papers the previous fall. Did Maddy somehow know that? If she had been aware of his marital status, she offered no indication in her correspondence. His last recent search of public records had revealed no information whatsoever, which was understandable, given that his attorney had advised him it could take up to a year for such records to be updated on Internet databases. With no mutual friends or acquaintances to spread the word, Maddy was most likely in the dark. And that made her gesture even more impressive.

Of course, Madeline really has no proof and no reason to believe he’s a single man once again, her psychic friend Ann Claire’s prediction notwithstanding. And to keep the suspense going for the character (unlike the reader), I purposely kept any mention of it out of their conversation the next morning — which is based on the very same one I had with “Ken”:

Neither one of them dared mentioned children, spouses or even possible boyfriends, though Ken had the benefit of near-certainty of her single status, which had been implicitly stated in her letter. Still, he hesitated to ruin the joy of this reconnection by speaking of Erin, even for the express purpose of revealing his divorce. Why remind either one of them of the pain of the past? For now, he’d simply savor this long-overdue conversation with Madeline; he could fill her in on the details of his marital break-up when they finally met face-to-face again.

However, he couldn’t resist “confessing” to Googling her and feeling frustrated when his searches came up empty. His admission sent shivers of excitement down her spine, proving Ann right on yet another point—Ken had ardently wanted Maddy to contact him. The psychic had been adamant about so many things, not the least of which was Ken and Madeline’s ability to “recreate the relationship,” now that he was out of his marriage. And though Ann’s track record had been nearly flawless over the years, Madeline still yearned to hear him speak the words as she held the phone to her ear and paced around her bedroom.

In real life, this was a very warm, friendly and welcome conversation. Like the novel, it did end with a request to get together, though it had been more of a vague “Hey we should meet up for coffee sometime” kind of deal. Unlike the novel, the invitation thankfully never did result in an in-person meeting, for reasons I will share later. In terms of the book, however, to keep up a good pace and heighten the drama, Chapter 29 picks up with a nervous Maddy hastily applying lipstick in the ladies room of her corporate office building.

At this time in my life, I was working as a content writer in downtown Fort Lauderdale for a large financial firm, which provided plenty of inspiration in terms of settings for Madeline and Ken’s long-anticipated reunion. My co-workers and I used to frequent a nice restaurant called The Samba Room, which is actually a popular chain in South Florida. The real Ken at the time was working in Fort Lauderdale also, though not anywhere near downtown. So that gave me the idea of arranging a lunch date for my characters in a place I’d frequently shared good food with work friends. And it’s here where Maddy finally finds the strength and courage to forthrightly ask about his marital status:

That was Maddy’s cue to finally end the suspense. Folding her menu, she set it aside and, leaning slightly forward, politely but firmly demanded the truth. “Kenny, I need you to level with me, please. Look, nothing will ever change the way I feel about you. No matter what you tell me, I will always be thankful for this opportunity to reconnect. It’s so good to see you; especially since there was a time I thought I never would ever again—at least not in person.

“But for my own sake, I want to know right here and now exactly where things stand. Is there a woman in your life whose world would be torn apart if she knew you were looking at me this way? Is it really appropriate for you to say these things, knowing how much I—”

“Madeline Rose! Do you honestly believe I would toy with you like that?” Maddy’s heart leapt in her chest as he went on. “Sweetheart, I told you on the phone I’d been trying to find you. That wasn’t just because I missed an old friend; it was because I realized how much I missed my one true love. Once my marriage ended, I knew I had to at least look for you, though I also knew I was risking a huge disappointment. I mean, for someone like you to still be available—I just didn’t think it was possible. Surely some guy would’ve scooped you up by now.”

Here’s where I couldn’t resist adding a commentary on the dating rituals of this tropical paradise, something about which Ken himself is lacking in experience:

“Obviously, you are completely unfamiliar with the South Florida dating scene,” she smiled as a rush of excitement coursed through her body.

This leads to a renewal of their relationship in every way — emotionally, spiritually, mentally and, eventually — physically (following her acceptance of his marriage proposal in Chapter 33).

But I am getting ahead of myself.

This scene is purely fictional, a product of my imagination, based on real people and places. However as I mentioned in another post, some serendipitous things did occur in real life on the way to getting Water Signs published.

After that initial conversation, nothing much happened for a while. I kept writing my book and nearing its conclusion. And though I’d mentioned it in passing to “Ken” during our initial conversation, as the website began to take shape and I started to mobilize social media marketing efforts, I felt he should know the extent to which he was featured in the novel. That there wasn’t simply a character based on him — there was a character based on him who was the hero of the story. And that the story culminates with his character divorcing his first wife and eventually marrying my fictional counterpart.

In my mind, if he’d already admitted to “Googling” me, what would prevent him from doing it again, knowing I was working on my first book? He’d seemed pretty excited to hear that news — and understanding that certain contents might not go over too well with members of his family (particularly his wife), I figured I’d nip any potential unpleasantness in the bud.

This is where my friend “Elyse” disagreed with my decision, but true to form, I followed my instincts.

More to come in the next post.

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Erin in Water Signs: A Boca Babe Embodiment of the Culture of Self-Absorption

More than any other character drawn from my own life in Water Signs, Erin Mahoney Lockheart owes about 90% of her creation more to a stereotype than an actual person. Yes, there is a real fiancée and wife whose acquaintance I’d made many years ago, and those recollections formed a starting point for the character sketch. However, after having spent so many years in South Florida, I felt very strongly about including a commentary about what I call our current “culture of self-absorption”, and it was this desire that led to the evolution of Erin.

Throughout Boca Raton and the surrounding areas, I’d seen, heard, witnessed and experienced enough examples of self-serving, egotistical and superficial behavior to write an entire non-fiction book on the topic.  But since I was penning what would in the end be a triumph of virtue, integrity, traditional values and true love over all sorts of formidable obstacles, I had to find a way to highlight this theme via plot and character. And it didn’t take long to realize that Erin was the perfect vehicle through which to do just that.

So it’s only in the early stages of Part Two that Ken’s fiancée even remotely resembles her real-life counterpart (whose name has been completely changed), although in what is most likely a very dramatic departure from reality, Erin absolutely hates football — one of the many contrasts between her and Madeline purposely created for dramatic reasons. Although Ken confesses his commitment to another woman to Madeline in an earlier chapter (more on that in another post), it’s not until Chapter 24 that readers — along with Maddy, who has reluctantly agreed to attend a BBQ at their condo — meet her for the first time:

From the moment she entered their two-story condo on the fifth floor, she felt a distinctive yet subtle hostility in the air, similar to the one that had greeted her at Kenny’s real estate office awhile back. And though physically attractive with a willowy figure, blue eyes and silky blonde hair, Erin definitely exuded a hard, urban vibe, notwithstanding her impressive career and level of education.

Yet it wasn’t her tough, Philly accent and her rough-around-the-edges veneer that most impacted Madeline; it was her pervasive coldness and attitude of indifference. She barely engaged Maddy in conversation, though Ken’s former flame conducted herself with as much dignity as she could possibly muster under the circumstances. And while Kenny did his best to facilitate the flow of conversation, it wasn’t long before Maddy wished she hadn’t accepted his invitation in the first place. When Erin abruptly excused herself to go to bed — claiming a migraine headache — Madeline resolved to banish all thoughts of Ken and Erin from her mind forever.

In Part Two, Maddy performs her own rendition of this heartbreaking song from my favorite musical, Les Miserables for a local dance studio production.

This incident instigates a thirteen-year, self-imposed, selective amnesia on the part of Madeline, embarked upon for the sake of her own sanity and self-preservation (it’s also a compounding factor in her bout with panic and anxiety disorder). She literally forces herself to forget that either one of these people even exists, just as I did in real life. It was just too painful to cope with, too unbearable to work through, even though, like Madeline, I had many sympathetic shoulders I could’ve cried on (while this isn’t really explored in the novel, I suppose for myself pride was also to blame for my reticence in sharing this devastating news with someone, anyone who loved me).

And since the story is basically told from Madeline’s perspective, that’s the last we see of Ken and Erin for a period of time, while Maddy endures the nadir of her panic and anxiety problem before solving it via a psychic; offers forgiveness to her old boyfriend Jake Winston when he calls out of the blue; and finds some career success via her writing and communications skills.

In Chapter 25, I do provide a bit of foreshadowing and embellishment using an event that truly is straight out of real life:

Taking a seat in a nearby rocking chair, Ken leaned back and closed his eyes as thoughts of Maddy permeated his brain. How was she doing? Had she gotten married yet? Was she still writing? He hadn’t seen a copy of The Good News Gazette in a while, though he’d secretly held onto the copy his mother had brought over to his house just weeks after Bonnie’s birth. That was before Erin had set up a home-based business and taken a corporate position in the creative department of a local cosmetics company.

Paula Lockheart had entered Ken and Erin’s home that morning, armed with a stack of newspapers and magazines, which she’d carefully set down on the coffee table before heading into the nursery. As Ken walked through the living room on his way to make breakfast, a photo of two familiar faces caught his eye. And when he picked up the publication to take a closer look, his heart was filled with pride and longing.

Beneath the headline, “My Brother, My Hero”, and the byline bearing the author’s name, Madeline and Louis smiled back at him, seated at a round dining table. Wow. She’d finally achieved her goal of becoming a published writer. He well remembered the endless conversations — by the ocean, snuggled up on the couch or wrapped up under the satin sheets of his water bed — during which Maddy would eloquently share her dreams for the future. In spite of everything, he still missed that connection.

And much like his real-life inspiration, Ken calls the editor of the paper in an attempt to obtain Madeline’s phone number, only to be dejected when she refuses to give it out. Instead, she offers to share his contact information with her newest writer and allow her to decide if she wishes to dial the number. Skeptical of whether or not she’d actually take the initiative to call, he is thrilled when a few days later, his former girlfriend’s curiosity gets the better of her:

Ken felt the same powerful eruptions within at the sound of her voice, though she gave no indication of her personal status, opting instead to update him about her parents and siblings. Madeline also omitted from the conversation her ongoing struggle with panic disorder, preferring to keep the tone light, so as not to solicit any unwanted offers of help or worse — an invitation to dinner at his home. The last thing she needed was an evening with Ken, Erin and their new baby.

Thus, we’re starting to learn a bit more about Erin indirectly, by way of her husband’s lingering feelings for another woman. Readers already know from Chapter 19 that he’d had some reservations about going through with the wedding, confiding in Madeline that part of his motivation for doing so was that “we didn’t want to live in sin anymore”. And it’s also in this chapter that we get a glimpse into Erin’s personality when he notes how “she kind of depends on me” since most of her co-workers were busy with their own families and social lives. There’s a distinct impression that for all of her high-powered business acumen, Erin is also very high maintenance. This is confirmed (along with their eventual divorce) in Chapter 27 via Paula Lockheart’s internal musings during an outdoor power-walk:

Too bad her former daughter-in-law hadn’t shared that opinion. Oh sure, in the beginning she used him like a security blanket after she’d accepted a lucrative position with an ad agency in Miami and relocated from Atlantic City. Oddly, for such a talented and successful girl, Erin had more than her fair share of insecurities, depending on Ken to provide everything from a social life to a comfortable place to live.

And while he was working hard as a mortgage broker and real estate agent by day, and taking classes in marketing and business at Florida International University four nights a week, she constantly harangued him over stupid things, like buying her the “wrong” gift or not spending enough time together. Paula sighed as she recalled one particular Valentine’s Day, when Ken had inadvertently provoked Erin’s ire by buying her rollerblades — even though she’d been asking for them for months. That had been just one in a series of troubling incidents that should have prevented her son from walking down the aisle.

In Chapter 28, we get Ken’s perspective on his now ex-wife, and the reasons for the dissolution of their marriage:

Then there was the negative influence of the Boca Raton culture. While an exceedingly beautiful city and desirable place to live, Boca’s downside was the extreme superficiality of many of its residents, some of whom held positions of power within the community, from the local paper’s society page writer to the plethora of ambitious millionaires that populated upscale neighborhoods like Broken Sound, Royal Palm and The Sanctuary. While Ken envied no one, content to focus on his own goals, Erin got caught up in the web of botox, breast enhancements and liposuction that characterized the activities of the city’s wealthiest females.

And as her business thrived, so did her vanity, leading her to undergo a seemingly endless parade of plastic surgeries, all to assuage her fears of growing older, and to help her keep pace with the women with whom she networked for both business and social purposes. After almost thirteen years of marriage, Ken didn’t even recognize her — or was it more accurate to say he was just beginning to?

As a direct result of her own self-centered behavior, Erin’s marriage ultimately implodes. For all of his genuine efforts to make it work for the sake of their children, Ken realizes that without her willingness to change, it’s a futile undertaking. For a woman who had it all — a devoted husband, two healthy children, a beautiful home and a thriving career — Erin expressed very little in the way of gratitude, opting instead to focus exclusively on the superficial side of life. Thus, her humble Southwest Philly roots, doting childhood, foundation of faith and hard-earned education are tossed aside for the pursuit of all things material. And in the end, it costs her dearly.

Am I stating as an author that it’s bad to attain things like fancy cars and designer clothes? Absolutely not.

What I am positing however, is the need to keep these things in perspective and not lose sight of what truly matters in life. Ken rises from humble beginnings to find impressive success in the corporate world, but it never alters the person he is inside. He remains faithful to the morals and values with which he’s been raised; the same is also true for Madeline, though materially she is not quite as successful.

To Ken, his children are a top priority; to Erin, they are sometimes an afterthought far behind her own wants and desires (though she does truly love them).  In this society we’re living in and specifically in South Florida, I’ve seen parents, divorced or married, more concerned about their social lives than their own kids’ well-being. I’ve witnessed the substitution of money and material things for time, attention and discipline. And I’ve even watched as middle-aged mothers disgracefully competed with their daughters for the affection of a man, or the wink of a stranger’s eye.

Our current culture seems to have jettisoned the concept of growing old gracefully and dressing appropriately (albeit attractively) for one’s age. Our children are worse off because of it, and it’s well past time for good people to help swing the pendulum back. And I hope through my writing I can positively affect the discussion. In the meantime, I am forever grateful for my upbringing by loving parents who cared enough to spend time with, discipline and educate their children.

Fun Fact: The paper I used to write for was The Happy Herald, though at the time it was called The Happy Times Monthly. And yes, my first published piece was indeed titled, My Brother, My Hero in honor of my brother Ralph (Louis in the book), and featured a photo of us on the front page. If my scanner was working properly, I’d include that same photo here, but instead will post this one of the two of us in Deerfield Beach:

Ralph and I having dinner at Duffy's last summer.

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Fabulous Female Patriots

Please visit YouTube and add another number to Ava’s total views.

Yesterday’s Examiner article by Hank Oprinski — along with the many wonderful comments that followed from fellow patriots and friends — provided a much-needed boost to my spirits. While I always strive to be a happy warrior to help keep others motivated and energized for the fight, I must confess: there are days when the bad news can be so overwhelming it’s a challenge to even log onto Facebook, let alone post something inspiring and uplifting.

During those troubling moments, I remember to FROG — Fully Rely On God, asking that Eternal Presence for strength while recalling that our Founding Fathers often did the same. Nothing is impossible with God, not even returning this beloved country back to its Constitutional principles.

God has answered my prayers in many ways, and I want to address just one of them here. While I am honored, humbled and thrilled to receive recognition for my work after years of plugging away, the truth is there’s an endless list of fabulous female patriots who deserve their own write-up. I am forever grateful to have found these ladies through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; networking and developing solid relationships with them has given me strength, hope and encouragement during these very bleak times.

As I mentioned in the Examiner piece, I grew up in a conservative home with a mom who was quite the political activist. From the time I was little, I accompanied her to various polling locations, where I’d hold up signs, pass out candidate literature and — when old enough to do so — help count votes at the end of the day. Thankfully, my siblings and close relatives have remained solid in their convictions, so unlike many friends, I haven’t experienced any Obama-induced rancor in my familial relationships.

When I moved to South Florida in 1994, I retained my conservative values, but wasn’t quite prepared for the pervasive liberalism that characterizes Palm Beach and Broward Counties. While I found other conservative women through my participation as a volunteer on various campaigns, in normal life, I was severely outnumbered. In other venues, such as business card exchanges and women’s business networking groups, it seemed nearly impossible to find a contrary opinion among the successful female entrepreneurs and go-getters. Worse, it was pretty much expected (with a few exceptions) of all female members to share the same philosophy, whether on abortion, gun rights, education or war — just to name a few hot-button issues.

Over the years, some otherwise nice women have said such things to me as:

I still love you, even though you’re a Republican.

Y-you’re a Republican??? But you’re so nice!

You voted for George W. Bush???? How could you?

Of course the tobacco companies should be sued. Those poor people didn’t know how addictive nicotine could be! (This one was in response to my noting that the Surgeon General’s warning about cigarettes and health had been around for decades, thus people needed to take responsibility for their own choices.)

You’re against abortion? Then don’t have one! (Never mind the fact that taxpayers are forced to pay for them, or that Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional.)

Of course your parents didn’t abort you even though they were struggling financially and not looking to add a fifth child to the family. They knew your father’s medical career would take off soon! (As if the sanctity of life has anything to do with how much money the parents have. I can assure you, even if my dad had been a trash collector, I would not have been aborted. End of story.)

And of course, throughout (and in the years following) the fiasco that was the Election of 2000, with its hanging chads, seemingly endless recounts and 24-hour news coverage, things only got worse. I remember at one particular women’s venue in 2003, right about the time the Iraq War had begun, a female psychologist made the incredibly inane statement that “if not for men, there would be no war.”   She naturally followed this up with a lovely diatribe against President Bush to which every woman in the group, with the exception of yours truly, nodded along approvingly.

Following 9/11, some of these gals — in true liberal, self-flagellating fashion — blamed the USA, with one of my friends at the time actually longing for a quiet life in a thatched-roof cottage on a hillside in Ireland (never mind that this same woman loved making money and all of the designer trappings that resulted from such a pursuit). I’m pretty sure to this day, she still resides in glamorous Boca Raton.

Up until the worst attack on American soil, I relegated my commentary to “safe” places like Republican meetings, family gatherings and pro-US Military demonstrations where I’d be surrounded by like-minded people. But once I realized the rules had changed, that our very freedom was under relentless assault, I became more vocal even in decidedly unfriendly places. Not surprisingly, this did not endear me to the abortion-on-demand-Republicans-are-evil crowd, although at that point I truly didn’t care. If I could sway just one opinion, it would be worth taking the slings and arrows.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2008, when I discovered through various righty blogs that there was a conservative online revolution taking place on Facebook and Twitter. Having been an avid blogger by that point who’d even appeared on Fox News in August, 2004 to discuss politics and dating, I decided to get in on the action. I’d also just finished my first novel Water Signs, and thought it would also be a great way to market the book. While I’d hoped to connect with others who shared my love for the USA, I never expected to cultivate such genuine friendships with so many beautiful female (and male) patriots.

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I realized the existence of thousands of heretofore unknown conservative soul-mates of the estrogen variety –many who live right here in South Florida — to my great surprise and delight. Over the past two years, I’ve gotten to know some amazing female grassroots activists all across this great nation, and I am thankful to God for each and every one of them.

They keep me motivated, strong and optimistic. They pick me up when I’m feeling down. They inform me of important news events and local happenings. They stand with me for freedom.

In short, because of them, I am able to keep up this fight in the onslaught of one egregious happening after another since the inauguration of Obama. From Obamacare to the Gulf oil disaster — and every horrible occurrence in-between and yet to come — these intelligent,  articulate and independent-minded ladies give me real hope that WE THE PEOPLE will ultimately prevail.

Thank you to all of them for being such a positive force in my life. May God bless each and every one!

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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 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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Coming Soon: A New Book Review of Water Signs

I was very excited tonight to receive a call from a good Facebook friend and contact, a prominent voice on talk radio and contributor on Fox’s Strategy Room. I’ll reserve disclosure of his identity until he reads the book and (hopefully) likes it, but I’ve been a frequent guest on his excellent radio program over the past several months. Needless to say, the first task on my To-Do List for tomorrow morning is to get a signed copy of Water Signs in the mail!

If all goes well, I’ll be invited back on his show for the sole purpose of discussing my novel and its many themes. Stay tuned! Oh, and the next installment on turning fact into fiction is coming soon. 🙂

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Water Signs Earns Book of the Week Award!

I had the wonderful opportunity to create a three-minute blurb for Water Signs, as part of a fiction competition for an exciting Blog Talk Radio show called Blurb! Hosted by Sally and Dr. Kent, this creative, entertaining program airs select blurbs submitted by aspiring authors, alternating genres (fiction, nonfiction, etc) every week. The hosts then comment live after playing each blurb for their listening audience, before ultimately selecting a winner for “Book of the Week.” I am thrilled to announce that Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal is their choice for this week’s honor!

Thank you so much Sally and Dr. Kent. And for those of you who love to read, I highly recommend listening their innovative BTR show, which airs every Wednesday evening at 9 p.m.

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