Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Honeysuckle Surprise!

I did tell you I'd be disappearing, but I couldn't resist sharing a bit of promising news. Honeysuckle Love is doing quite well in the paid Kindle store. Currently, it's ranked #5911, though that could change in the next thirty minutes. The point is that, considering there are over 100,000 contemporary fiction books alone in the Kindle store, I'm pretty darn happy. I want to continue the momentum. So fans, please tell your friends and family about my book. And if you enjoyed it, please let others know by writing a review. I know it takes some time, but I'm always always appreciative. Kind of a neat little thing happening. No marketing whatsoever for this book besides the excerpts I threw up on this blog, but I guess Hoodie and word-of-mouth must be drawing them in. I will be participating in a blog tour for Honeysuckle Love in the new year. I'm getting the details worked out now. Once it gets close to tour time, I'll have information on my blog to let you know where I'll be stopping each day so you can check it out. Super excited! Thanks for your support, everyone. xoxo

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Farewell . . . sort of

I have finally, finally gotten into the writing groove for my third novel, Going Under. I had a few freak-out moments in the past several weeks because my writing mojo was missing, and like every writer, I assumed the worst: I can't write anymore, so I'm packing it up. Clearing out. Retiring early, thank you very much. And I'm sure once I'm finished with Going Under and experience a bad writing day (oh, it'll come), I'll have the same freak-out moments and want to quit all over again!

I don't know how anyone lives with writers. I just don't.

So, I'll be disappearing for awhile, immersing myself in Charity Run High School and Brooke and Ryan (delicious Ryan) and stupid Cal and the whole lot. I thought Hoodie was controversial; that's really why I published it under "S. Walden" instead of "Summer Walden." (Like people couldn't find my first name if they wanted.) Going Under is on an entirely different plane, and I've no idea how to market this thing. It's got no definable genre. It's about teenagers but the content is so "Oh my God, I'm not letting my teen read that!" So I've no idea where that leaves me, but then again, I thought there was no market for Hoodie. I thought it was too intense. Thank you, everyone, for proving me wrong. I don't know why I keep getting hit upside the head with these stories that are so . . . subversive. I'll use that word because I like it. I just know that once they enter my brain, I have to write them. I have no other choice.

So before I return to Charity Run, I wanted to share some info with you. First off, thank you for spreading the word about HSL. I did very little to no marketing for that book, but somehow sales are chugging along quite nicely. Actually, it's outselling the hell out of Hoodie right now. Still, marketing is important, and I do have lots of things lined up for marketing Going Under. Unlike HSL (which I'm starting to think I wrote solely for my own pleasure), Going Under speaks to those fans of Hoodie. Same fast-paced reading. Same subversive tone. And while I have many Hoodie fans who want a sequel (for which I simply, out of a sense of loyalty to Anton and Emma, cannot do), I'm giving you a book I think you'll love just as much. One huge difference is that Going Under is written in first person P.O.V. My very first book written like that, and I'm totally digging it! My favorite marketing strategy for this book is the Advanced Reading Copy giveaway on goodreads. I'm entering three copies that you may win two to three weeks before it's even released! It'll be a proof as well, which can be fun in its own right. You'll own a version no one else will (unless I magically do all of the formatting and editing cleanly the first time around.) Super excited about the giveaway!

And there's a huge change coming soon to Facebook. I've created an author's page (not completely ready to go, but it's getting there), and once it's up, I'll be asking you Hoodie folks to make the transition with me. I wish FB let you merge pages, but they don't. I can't keep posting things about my other projects on the Hoodie page. It feels weird. I should have started out with a comprehensive FB page, but I was new to everything and didn't know what I was doing. Yes, I realize getting people to switch over is going to be a pain, but I want a FB that highlights all of my work. And I'm going to have a nice flash banner that does just that! Oooo, I'm excited about this page. I want you to get excited, too!

As far as my book contests go . . . um, yeah. I understand how annoying it is to join sites and "like" things and all of that. The truth is that I don't know what other kinds of contests to do. Or maybe no one cares about a signed hard copy of my books. I don't know. I know there are programs out there you can use to do giveaways on your blog (the programs manually pick a winner), but I'm no computer person, so I don't know how to do that. If any of you do, share with me. I'd love to be able to do giveaways on my blog. No effort there! Just drop your name into the running.

Now I'm off. Brooke has a lot of stuff to do. Investigating. Seeking revenge. Flirting. It's a full schedule. Be patient for the summary. It will come. Soon.

Friday, November 30, 2012

You can win a signed book!

Well, it would have helped to read the stipulations for goodreads Giveaways before telling you that you can expect Hoodie and Honeysuckle Love. The giveaways are for Advanced Reading Copies only, and neither Hoodie nor HSL are ARCs. Soooo, let's do a contest here and on the Hoodie Facebook page, shall we? (And yes, I will be participating in a goodreads Giveaway for my third novel, Going Under. Details about that book coming very soon.)

Your Choice Contest #1:

Bring me 10 followers (yourself included) to my blog and win a signed copy of Hoodie or HSL. Your choice. Just click the "Join this site" button on the right side of the page under "Followers." You can follow my blog privately or publicly. No one needs to see your picture if you don't want them to. Scroll down and see that "Burt" is an exclamation point. You can be an exclamation point, too :) First one to send me 10 followers wins. Email me at with the list of names and a mailing address to receive your free signed paperback edition of Hoodie or HSL. Make sure you specify Contest #1. Contest runs until there's a winner.

Hoods Contest #2:

I'd love to see 100 followers on my Hoodie Facebook page. I don't know: It's a nice, round number. And we're nearly there. Do you think you could bring me the rest? That's a tall order: 16 new "likes," but you get two signed copies of Hoodie (paperback edition), one to keep and one to give to a lucky friend. Or, two to keep for yourself. First person to email me the names of their "likes" wins. Email me at and specify which contest. Include a mailing address to receive your books. Contest runs until there's a winner.

Good luck, everyone!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Never Been More Thankful

There's something to be said for devoted fans and good timing. When I originally decided to publish Honeysuckle Love and put Hoodie up for free download on November 19th, I didn't even think about the Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, I thought Thanksgiving was the following week. I'm so glad I was wrong, and in debuting my second novel and doing my free promo this week, I discovered that people READ during their time off of work! What a revelation! Let's roll out the stats:

1. I had a total of 3771 downloads for Hoodie during my three-day promo. That's pretty rockin'.

2. I had a huge jump in the number of people on goodreads who added Hoodie to their shelves.

3. Hoodie made it to #2 on the Kindle For Free Teen Romance Book List. (Not up now, of course, because it's no longer free.)

4. Hoodie made it to #36 on the Kindle For Free Contemporary Romance Book List.

5. I was able to draw people in to HSL with my free Hoodie promo. I've sold more HSLs in the past five days than I did Hoodies in the first month!
6. And probably my favorite: a reader on goodreads who downloaded Hoodie for free reviewed it and said she would have paid for it.

Wow. It was pretty humbling sitting with my family during Thanksgiving dinner running these stats over in my mind. I am so blessed to have outstanding fans who support my work and share it with others. I think back to when Hoodie debuted (which really wasn't that long ago, but feels like it)---to my faithful few who worked so hard to spread the word about an unknown. I'm still an unknown, but I'm making a dent. All because of you and some darn good timing. So thank you.

UPDATE: Hoodie is up on Smashwords. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download an .epub version of the book there. HSL was just accepted into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, and they've begun distributing the book to online retailers. It's in Kobo (couldn't believe it!), but I haven't seen it in the B&N Nook store yet.  Haven't checked iBookstore either. Remember that you can get the book on Smashwords in lots of different formats for whatever type of reader you have.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Honeysuckle Love: Where to Buy

Last day for your free HOODIE on Amazon Kindle! So go get it!

For those of you who use readers that require an .epub file, Hoodie will be available on Smashwords at the end of the week.


HSL is here! And it's in more places than I originally thought! Click on the links (in tan) to take you where you want to go.

Honeysuckle Love

Amazon Kindle (e-book 3.99/.mobi file)

CreateSpace (paperback) (print edition 9.99)

Amazon (paperback) (print edition 9.99)

Smashwords (e-book 3.99/.mobi file, .epub file)

So what are we waiting on? Smashwords is reviewing my book for eligibility into their premium catalog. Once that goes through (it can take up to a week), and I'm approved, Smashwords will begin sending my book out to various e-book retailers including Apple (hmmm), Kobo (we'll see ), Sony, Barnes and Noble, etc. I'll keep you updated. This process can take several weeks. You can get the .epub version on Smashwords, however, so you don't have to wait.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bad Business

Hi Everyone. First, let me apologize for my publishing ignorance. I’m truly sorry. Now let me explain to you what’s going on with Honeysuckle Love.

Print Edition: Right now, HSL is in the review stage for the print edition that will be available on Amazon and CreateSpace. The review process can take up to 48 hours (a little fact that would have been helpful for me to know before waiting until late last night to publish). Soooo, it may or may not be ready for tomorrow. It’s just up in the air based on how quickly CreateSpace gets my proof to me for final reviews. (I’m totally rolling my eyes right now.) On a positive note, however, the book binding looks fantastic!

Smashwords: You know that I’m publishing my book with Smashwords which is an e-book distributor. Well, since I’ve never formatted a book to be converted to an .epub file (a file completely different from Kindle), there were problems with my initial upload. Oh, I followed the directions to a T, and it still came out looking like garbage. Naturally, because why would anything work correctly the first time? (By the way, I had to put on Christmas music this morning to calm down because I am so irritated. Bing Crosby is helping enormously.) Soooo, now that I got all of the formatting issues fixed (I think . . . I previewed the .epub file in Calibre), I am now waiting for the review process to be completed. They don’t tell you how long this takes, but I’m going to make a safe bet that the Smashwords edition of HSL won’t be available tomorrow.

Now here’s the real kicker. I stumbled across a blog last night (I think God directed me there) written by another indie author who publishes with Smashwords. Her latest book was published in August, and Smashwords still hasn’t distributed it to Kobo and Apple iBookstore.  Apparently getting a book to these retailers can take longer. So naturally that pissed me off because they make it sound like as soon as your book is published, it’s out there in all the online e-book retail stores. Oh, no no no. So this indie author suggested that other self-published authors check out the Kobo website since now they offer direct publishing (in pretty much the same setup as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing). Yea! I think. I’ll just scoot over to Kobo so that my Kobo readers don’t have to wait weeks or months for Smashwords to get my book into the Kobo store. Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, I set up an account. And I loaded my book. And it looked like shit. Well, unless you enjoy reading a sentence per page. They must use a different program to convert Word docs to .epub files, because it looked nothing like what Smashwords spit out to me. All of this to say that yes, I will be publishing directly through Kobo. When? I don’t know. I’ve got to reformat my entire book, and I think I know how, and I’m dreading it because it will take FOREVER. Kobo users, I do apologize. It shouldn’t be this hard to get you an e-book, but you should be able to purchase HSL through Smashwords which converts it to .epub for you.

One last thing about Smashwords. Well, actually Apple iBookstore. Like I said, Smashwords is supposed to distribute to Apple, but it sounds like you could wait months for your book to show up in their store. This fabulous indie author with all of the answers (mentioned above) explained that you can, in fact, publish directly to the Apple store, but you can only do it with a Mac. Well, I’m a PC person. I don’t have a Mac, so I’m at the mercy of Smashwords unless I get a Mac in the future. And I don’t think that’s happening. So those of you with Apple devices may just have to get the Kindle app in order to read HSL unless, for some reason, my book appears in the Apple store in the next few days.

Amazon Kindle: Easy. Done. Up and ready to go. Of course, this is because I’m familiar with it—I know how to format and how long the publishing process takes.

(Deep freaking breath.) So you all may only see the Kindle edition of HSL tomorrow. Then the Smashwords will probably be up in a few days. But don’t count on seeing HSL in the Apple or Kobo stores. And the print edition? Well, I’m really hoping and praying for a proof sometime tonight. Once that’s complete, CreateSpace should throw it up on my Kindle page. You can purchase the print book through Amazon and/or the CreateSpace e-book store. You’ll see the print edition listed under the Kindle edition. It’s print-on-demand, so they store my digital file, and once you order it, they print and bind the book for you then ship it out.

I am so sorry. I really feel like I’ve let everyone down because I said that HSL would be available in all these different formats and e-book stores tomorrow. My husband said, “Well, lesson learned,” and if it weren’t Sunday, I would have put him through the window. But as Lamar says, “Man, it’s the Lord’s Day. You don’t get in no trouble on the Lord’s Day.” Despite being majorly irritated and stressed (not to mention totally embarrassed), I still can’t help but feel excited about the release of this book tomorrow (even if it’s only the Kindle edition initially). I’ve worked so hard on this novel. It’s dear to my heart. I love these characters and their stories, and I hope you discover a love for them, too.

Don’t forget that Hoodie will be up for free download Monday – Wednesday, November 19, 20, and 21. Tell all of your friends. I’d love to surpass the number of my downloads from the last time!  

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Mpemba Effect

“Did you know that warm water actually freezes faster than cold water? It’s called the Mpemba Effect,” Evan said.

“I had no idea,” she responded, and looked down at her tray to hide her grin.

“And did you know that no one understands why?”

Clara giggled.

“This doesn’t interest you in the slightest, does it?” Evan asked.

“I didn’t say that,” Clara replied. “It’s just hard for me to understand. That’s all.”

“Well, like I said, nobody understands,” Evan said. “That’s what makes it interesting.”

“I see why you don’t read fiction,” Clara replied. “It’s the exact opposite of all this science stuff.”

Evan smiled. “Why do you like made-up stories so much, Clara?”

Clara flushed. “I just do.”

“Well, I hope it’s not because you imagine yourself as anyone other than you. That would be a shame,” Evan said.


Oh, Evan. When I think about him, I smile. And my sister smiled, too, when she got to this part in the book.

“Um, can we say ‘Aidan’?” she asked.

It’s true. That part of Evan is definitely my husband—the part that likes to share science tidbits with people who could care less. The part that likes to interject science knowledge into conversations that have nothing to do with science. Seriously. This is usually how it goes: My sister and I are hanging out in the kitchen having a conversation about Christmas cookie recipes. Aidan sidles up to the kitchen island and pretends to listen. Really what he’s doing is waiting for an opening, and we should know better. But because it’s natural to take breaths while you talk, there’s a pause. Bingo. His opening:

“Did you know that if you travel faster than light you can actually go back in time?”

Oh, the smartass things I could say. I don’t, though, because I love him. And because I think he’s pretty damn cute.

So I decided to make that aspect of my husband a part of Evan. I think it makes him cute. And Clara likes it, too, because she just likes to listen to him talk. Better than having to talk herself.

My idea for Evan was simple at first. I wanted a really nice guy who had a strong desire to take care of Clara. But, of course, once I started writing, he decided how he wanted to be. He kept the “taking care of Clara” part that I wanted but added a lot of other characteristics. Some good. Some not so good.

He’s controlling. Not “Where were you last night?!” kind of controlling. More like, he understands Clara—her shyness and uncertainty, gentleness and fear—and he takes advantage of it. He knows he has the power to control her emotionally. It’s pretty easy since he’s popular, confident, and aggressive (well, aggressive in a gentle way . . . whatever the hell that means.) And he likes that power. Remember the cafeteria scene I posted weeks ago? He drinks her milk. The guy just picks up her milk and drinks it in front of everyone. He knows what it’s doing to her. And that’s why he does it. Good trait? Probably not. But it was soooo fun to write, and then to write Clara’s reactions to these power plays. I think of the song “Smile” by The Gufs. I can now control you with a smile. Yes, Evan, you can.

But Evan’s redeeming quality is his intense desire to take care of Clara. He recognizes early on that she doesn’t have money. It’s obvious in the way she dresses. Think Keri Russell as Jenna in the movie Waitress. And when she finally does allow him into her life, he sees all of it—the destitution, the longing. He wants to give to her, take care of her, but he doesn’t abuse it. He doesn’t want to control her that way. He’s selfless in his giving. He never makes her feel embarrassed for her monetary situation (she does it enough to herself), and he doesn’t go over the top with the things he does for her. He’s careful to give just right.

His looks? Based on nobody I know. Well, he’s tall and lean like my husband because that’s how I like ‘em. I like really tall guys who can pick up and toss their girls in the air with ease. But the blond hair and green eyes? I don’t know. I think I looked at my birthstone one day and thought, What would a person look like if they had eyes this color? Freaking awesome!

He’s just the whole package, in my estimation. He’s smart, caring, cute, and silly. He’s in love with Clara, persistent even though she tries to push him away. Man, I love that persistence! I love writing male leads who pursue. Clara is his target. He’s going after her. There’s something really sexy about that. The confidence to go for it, to not give up even when she puts up all kinds of obstacles. Remember the scene I posted where Evan asks Clara to go get yogurt with him? Oh, she’s going with him to get yogurt! Yes sir. Even if he has to toss her over his shoulder, carry her to his car, and strap her in. She’s going.

What’s not to love about that?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I am so stressed out about this publishing process, and I started writing a post about it then thought, Who cares? Unless you plan on self-publishing, you don’t care about bleed lines and gutter fill. Boring. So I’m going to talk about Clara instead. She’s interesting. Print layouts? Not so much.

Clara. What was it about that girl?

Well, at first for Evan, it was all about the way Clara looked. I wanted her to be beautiful. Not pretty. Beautiful. And it’s easy to covet beauty, to want it, to want to hurt it. Evan wants her. The mean girls at school want to hurt her, and she becomes the perfect target when Evan starts talking with her. It’s easy to make fun of someone who’s afraid to fight back. Even easier when she’s poor.

 I felt guilty making Clara so beautiful and then giving her social anxiety on top of it. But I needed her to be that way. Constantly unsure. Doubting her worth. Because when you see her great big insecurities next to Evan, who happens to be pretty damn happy with himself, it’s just heartbreaking. And then funny. And then incredibly embarrassing. There’s nothing I enjoy more as a writer than creating those cringe-worthy scenes. Why? Well, I think those scenes lend themselves to big time character development. They tend to reveal the most. (God, Chapter 7 tore me up!) But I also admit that I enjoy making you squirm. (There’s a characteristic Evan gets from me.)

 Clara is not the typical heroine you’ll see in many YA books. Well, all books, for that matter. And a good friend of mine had a huge problem with her initially. I think it’s simply because we’re used to reading heroines as spunky, vocal, and fierce. Strong personalities. Woman-on-top kind of thing. I do love those girls, and I love writing them (Hello? Emma, anyone?), but they are not every girl. And I knew when I started this story that Clara could not be that girl. Not with all of her mother issues, her abandonment, her anxiety, the mounting debt. Total fear. Not even the fierce heroines could hold it together.

I started writing, and out she came—this gorgeous, timid girl who thinks she’s ugly and can’t understand why a popular boy wants to date her. A girl who’s scared because she has no parents and understands what could happen if she and Beatrice are reported to Child Protective Services. This girl who has a quiet strength that’s constantly at odds with her depression. I love her complexity. I love that she’s sixteen and doesn’t know how to be an adult, but is trying. I love that she works at a clothing store and can’t afford trendy things. I love that Evan wants to put his hands all over her, and she doesn’t know what to do with that. I love that she bottles up her emotions. I love that she’s flawed.

To me, Clara represents all the other girls. The forgotten ones. The ones just on the outside. They have stories, too. Just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they don’t have a story to tell. So I wanted to tell her story. I wanted to give you a window into the world of a struggling high school student who has to scrape and save and make tough choices to put food on the table, to pay the bills, to keep herself and her sister safe. A girl who is loyal. A girl with a tender heart. A girl with perfect lips. A girl who, according to Evan, is “so fucking beautiful.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Isn't She Lovely?

I am head over heels in love with this book cover! Alfred, as usual, designed something better than I could have ever hoped for. Clara is taken from a photograph by Gian Paolo Dessolis. What do you guys think?

Information Overload

                                                     Honeysuckle Love

“Love is when you’re with someone and you never check the time, because for you, time doesn’t exist.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Where to Buy: Amazon Kindle, Amazon (print), Smashwords, B&N Nook, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, Diesel eBook store, Sony Reader store, Baker and Taylor's Blio, and Axis360.


Lots to share with you this morning! First, I should have my book cover for Honeysuckle Love sometime within the next few days. Alfred is finishing several mock-ups for me to choose from, and then it’s just a matter of tweaking the details. I’m so excited about this cover because it’s going to feature Clara. Alfred and I searched and searched until we found her, and I think she’s just perfect. She embodies everything I envisioned, and I’d like to thank Gian Paolo Dessolis for giving us permission to use his photo.

Second order of business: My contract with Amazon is almost up. What does that mean? Well, two things, really. First, it means another free Hoodie download day. Actually days. I have three days to use per my contract agreement, and you better believe I’m going to take advantage of them! So mark your calendars for Monday, November 19. Hoodie will be available for free download the 19, 20, and 21. Tell your friends. Share it on your blog, facebook page, or goodreads page. Word-of-mouth is pretty powerful, and the proof is in the success of the last free download.

The other important piece of news with Hoodie is that it will be available in .epub format starting November 22. So if you have a tablet or reader that can’t support a .mobi file (Kindle), you’ll be able to download it through Smashwords, B&N, iBookstore, and various other e-book retailers. The print addition for Hoodie will also be available through Amazon starting November 22. It might be up a day or two ahead of that, but it’s still up in the air.

Okay. Back to HSL. I am not participating in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program with this novel. And as a result, I’m giving up two incentives: 1) Amazon Prime members won’t be able to borrow it from the Kindle Library and 2) I can’t put it up for free download with the royalty plan I chose. However, in giving up these incentives, I think I’m going to gain a wider readership because my book will be available in lots of e-book retail stores. So just like Hoodie, you’ll be able to purchase HSL through Smashwords, B&N, iBookstore, and more. I don’t want to limit my readership to just Kindle folks. Hey, Nooks and Kobos are awesome, too, right? You’ll also be able to buy a print edition of HSL through Amazon if you’re old school (like me).

I’m still figuring out the details for a contest I want to do on my blog for a signed free print copy of HSL and Hoodie. Just stay tuned for that. I will tell you that I’m doing a giveaway on goodreads for signed copies of both Hoodie and HSL starting November 19. I don’t know how long it will run. I’m new to this. But I’m figuring at least two to three weeks.
And now for my Saturday Shout-out. Haven’t done one of these in awhile, so I actually have two.

First one goes to my grandmother, Nancy Fassler. If you still keep up with the Facebook Hoodie page, then you’ll know that my grandmother read Hoodie. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you if you haven’t picked up the book, but for those who’ve read it, you understand how awesome that it. My grandmother—grandmother—read Hoodie. And that makes her pretty gangster. So Grandmom, in the words of Tupac, I’m giving you your proppers. (Actually, he puts some expletives in front of “proppers,” but we’ll just say “proppers.”) You deserve it. You are the coolest, most supportive grandmother ever! And I have a surprise for you for your birthday . . .

Second shout-out goes to Julie Lindy. Julie is one of my critique partners, but when I received my manuscript from her a few days ago and tore through it (with mouth hanging open in wonder), I realized she’s more than a critique partner. (And that’s saying a lot because it’s hard work to just be a critique partner.) She’s my editor. The woman is amazing. I thought I was good at editing. Nooooo. I am not good at editing one bit. Because of her, HSL will be the most polished book of any indie book on the market, I’m convinced. Julie, how can I thank you for your time and hard work? There’s an entire post coming that’s just devoted to you because I have to show my fans what you’ve done for me. Getting teary-eyed.  

Check back often next week. I'll be posting the book cover, little bits about the character creation of Clara and Evan, some of Chapter 2, and thoughts about this book's development and editing process.  Also, stay tuned for contest details. It involves free stuff because that's what we want, right?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Honeysuckle Love: Chapter 1 Part 2

I wanted to read this section to you, but I have a really low-quality webcam (I recently learned). Oh well. Enjoy the second half of Chapter 1! 

       “No college-ruled paper, Clara!” Beatrice said. “Why do you keep going for those stacks? I need wide-ruled. You got that? Wide. Ruled,” she stated with emphasis.

“Would it be alright with you if I got some paper for myself?” Clara asked. “I happen to need college-ruled. You got that? College. Ruled.”

Beatrice smirked at her sister and continued down the aisle, her eyes scanning the variety of pencil packs dangling in front of her.

“Bea, according to your list, we’ve got everything,” Clara said. “You know we have pencils at home.”

Beatrice scowled at her sister. “Clara, I cannot start school without new pencils. They make me smarter.”

“Explain to me how they make you smarter,” Clara said amused.

“I don’t know. They just do. They make me want to do a better job on my work.” Beatrice was already taking several packs of pencils off their hangers. “And I like the way they smell.”

Clara smiled. “You get one,” she said firmly. “So choose wisely.”

She watched Beatrice spread the packs out on the floor and deliberate over them all the while thinking of the two hundred dollars in her checking account. She had started her job six weeks ago, and aside from buying a few new clothing items for school as well as some toiletries and make-up, she had saved the rest. It seemed like a small fortune to her two weeks ago. Now she wondered how to pay for the school supplies on top of the mounting debt. And the property tax. Just thinking of the number made her fingertips tingle with electric fear.

“I’ve decided,” Beatrice said, handing the pack to her sister. There were eight neon-colored No. 2 pencils in the case.

“Good choice,” Clara said calculating the total cost in her head.

After writing a check for $32.96—and feeling a slight sinking in her stomach—Clara led Beatrice to the car.

“Do you like your teacher this year?” she asked as Beatrice buckled her seatbelt.

“Yes, he’s very smart and nice,” Beatrice replied.


“Yeah, Mr. Brenson,” Beatrice said. “What’s wrong with Mr. Brenson?”

“Nothing’s wrong with Mr. Brenson,” Clara replied pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot. “You just don’t hear of many men teaching elementary school.”

“Why is that?” Beatrice asked.

“You got me,” Clara said. “Maybe it has to do with men not wanting to be surrounded by a bunch of brats all day.” Clara smiled as she kept her eyes on the road.

“Ha ha,” Beatrice replied. “High schoolers are way brattier than elementary kids.”

“You’re probably right about that,” Clara said. “All that teenage angst.” She paused before continuing. “You know that no one understands us.”

“Naturally,” Beatrice replied. “You’re sooooo misunderstood. If people would only get a clue.” She twirled her hair and smacked her gum.

“Spit that gum out before we go in,” Clara ordered as they pulled into the Chesterfield Elementary School parking lot. She looked over at Beatrice and watched her blow another large bubble. She was tempted to pop it with her forefinger but feared Beatrice’s reaction. Her sister was a spitfire, just like their mother, and Clara was certain Beatrice would find no amusement in having tiny sticky pieces of gum surrounding her lips.

On their way into the auditorium, Clara noticed him. The senior who talked to her on the first day of school. It wasn’t a lengthy conversation. Actually it wasn’t a conversation at all. He greeted her and she stuttered something in reply. She thought she said “hello” back, but who knows. She felt embarrassed and unsure about why he took the time to say anything at all. He came into health class, an elective they shared, and walked by her desk. Students were already seated and surrounding her, but he only said hello to her. And then he added her name. “Hello, Clara,” and she thought she would melt into the floor. The memory caused a physical response.

“Gross, Clara!” Beatrice said, yanking her hand out of her sister’s. “Your hand is sweating!”

“Say it a little louder,” Clara hissed. She felt instantly irritated, her nerve endings crackling as she watched the boy turn in their direction. He must have heard Beatrice say her name. He waved and started walking towards them.

Oh God, Clara thought panicking. She looked down at her clothes making a quick assessment. Nothing pretty or flattering, but nothing out of order.

“Hi, Clara,” the boy said.

“Uh, hello,” she managed, looking at the floor and then the top of her sister’s head.

“I’m Evan,” he said. “I’m in your health class.”

“I know,” she replied. She blushed fiercely, glancing at him for only a moment.

He was so cute. Tall and lean. His clothes fit him perfectly, she observed. They were stylish, unlike her own. Slim jeans and skater shoes. He wore a fitted button down shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair was a dirty blond, wavy and unkempt. Not hanging in his eyes, though. Not long and obnoxious like some of the other boys’ haircuts. He didn’t have to constantly jerk his face to the side to see, and Clara was appreciative of it. She noticed his cat green eyes, like peridots, and the soft sprinkling of light freckles over the bridge of his nose. Oh yes. He was cute. And she wondered if he knew it.

“I didn’t know you knew who I was,” Evan said. His voice was deep and soothing. Clara wanted to sink down into it like a warm bath then wondered if he could hear her thoughts.

“Everyone does,” she replied quietly.

“I didn’t know that,” he said.

He didn’t sound like he was lying, so she decided to believe him. But how on earth could he not know that everyone knew who he was? He wasn’t a jock; he didn’t move in that crowd. He also didn’t move in the popular crowd of nonathletic students, but everyone still knew him. And they liked him. She watched as they flocked to him at lunch, in between class periods, at assemblies. Everyone: popular kids and nerds. Even nobodies. He was the cool, smart, tech guy with actual social skills. It made him monstrously attractive, and even Clara, being the antisocial student she was, couldn’t help but be drawn to him as well. She looked his way on occasion last year, but he never seemed to notice. But then why would he? She wasn’t outgoing and bubbly and on the hunt. She was reserved, preferring to hang back in the shadows and dream.

“So did your parents drag you here, too?” he asked lightly.

“Um, yeah,” Clara said. She gave a quick glance at Beatrice whose nod was imperceptible.

“I’m Beatrice Greenwich, by the way,” she said extending her hand to Evan. “The polite thing to do would have been to ask.”

Evan laughed as he took her small warm hand in his.

“Beatrice!” Clara exclaimed mortified.

“No, she’s right,” Evan said. “And I’m sorry, Beatrice. Can we start over?” he asked as he squeezed her hand gently.

“I suppose,” she replied, trying for indifference.

“Alright then,” Evan said, releasing her hand and walking a few feet away from the sisters. He turned on his heel and started towards them again, stopping within inches of Beatrice.    “And who might you be?” he asked extending his hand.

“I might be Bea, but you can call me Beatrice because you haven’t earned the right yet to call me Bea,” Beatrice said firmly. She gave Evan’s hand two hard shakes and then released it.

“I completely understand,” Evan replied. “Beatrice it is.”

“Oh my God, I’m sorry,” Clara said. She shot Beatrice an exasperated look tinged with anger. Beatrice shrugged and flipped her hair over her shoulder.

“For what?” Evan said still smiling.

“My sister’s rudeness,” Clara said. “God, she’s so rude.”

“Am not, Clara,” Beatrice huffed. “Being matter-of-fact is not the same thing as being rude.”

“It’s a fine line,” Clara said through gritted teeth.

“How old are you?” Evan asked. He directed the question to Beatrice.

“I’m ten. How old are you?”

“Eighteen, and evidently not as smart as you,” Evan replied.

“Well, we can compare notes as we get to know each other,” Beatrice said distractedly. She looked over at the stage and saw someone walking to the podium. “I think we need to find some seats now,” she suggested, and started walking down the center aisle.

“Your sister is a handful,” Evan said turning to Clara.

“You’ve no idea,” Clara responded following Beatrice down the aisle.

They settled themselves in two seats randomly left open in the middle of a center row, and Clara watched as Evan made his way over to his family. There were four of them: a father, a mother, a younger brother, and him. Picture perfect, Clara thought, and her heart bled the tiniest bit of jealousy, trickling down into her stomach and making it sour.

She turned her focus to the podium but not before she saw Evan turn around and look at her. She caught his eye; she had to acknowledge him. She smiled and he smiled back. She wanted to keep looking at him, but she was afraid he’d make her do something foolish. She turned to the podium certain that he was still gazing at her. She wondered if she should flip her hair over her shoulder like Beatrice does. She wasn’t good with those things like Beatrice probably because Beatrice did them automatically without knowing how cute she was when she did them. They came naturally to her. But not Clara. She did few things in her life automatically. Every decision was deliberate and controlled. She knew if she flipped her hair it would look awkward like she had thought too long and hard about it resulting in something mechanical and wrong.

She kept her hands folded in her lap. She fought the urge to look Evan’s way. It was impossible and unfair to sit there knowing he sat a few rows in front of her probably still looking at her. It wasn’t until the principal excused everyone to the teachers’ classrooms that she looked over. He was gone, and her heart sagged in her chest.

Beatrice pulled her sister along to Mr. Brenson’s room. They rounded a corner, and Clara bumped into Evan.

“I’m sorry!” Clara said.

“No worries,” Evan replied. “Glad to see you again.” He smiled at Clara’s sister. “Beatrice,” he said inclining his head.

“Evan,” Beatrice replied civilly, inclining her own head.

“Hey, I didn’t see your parents in there,” Evan said. “Where are they?”

Clara was bad at making up lies on the spot. She thought she should find that a virtuous trait, but it mostly made her angry. Especially in situations like the present one. Thankfully Beatrice was full of deception, and she was a quick thinker, too.

“Well, our mother is in the bathroom and our father isn’t here,” Beatrice replied. “Now if you will excuse us, we need to go see my teacher.” She didn’t wait for Evan to reply but grabbed Clara’s hand, pushed past Evan, and started down the hallway towards a classroom at the far end. Evan followed forgetting that he was headed for the water fountain.

He watched the girls enter the room and hung around outside of the opposite classroom. His parents and brother were in there, but he preferred to watch Clara instead of meeting his younger brother’s teacher despite the fact that she was young and attractive.

He watched Clara introduce herself to Beatrice’s teacher, shake his hand and ask him a few questions. The teacher gave her a stack of papers, pointed to some important information, and then turned his attention to Beatrice. He high-fived her, and the girls walked to the back of the classroom out of Evan’s eyesight. He wanted to wait for them. It was an odd desire; he didn’t know them, but he was reluctant to leave without saying goodbye.

He knew he liked Clara. He noticed her at the end of last year. There was something strange and interesting about her, and he wanted to meet her. But he was still dating Amy—a relationship that had run its course and was all but over. Still, they were technically together and he wouldn’t be that guy. He waited for everything to crumble, for her to say she hated him and never wanted to see him again before making his move. But by then it was halfway into the summer. He’d have to wait to see Clara the following school year. He resolved to waste no time and made it a point to say hello to her on the first day. She was clearly confused, and he took it as a good sign. If she acted indifferent, he knew he’d have no chance.

Clara. What was it about that girl? She was beautiful and didn’t know it. Actually, she was strikingly beautiful, but she hid it underneath dowdy clothes. He thought he should feel shallow for being so sexually drawn to her. He couldn’t help it. He had nothing else to go on. He didn’t know anything about her personality. Not yet. He just knew the way her plump lips moved as she silently read to herself in class. The way her hazel eyes held secrets he wanted to know. The way her long, thick eyelashes obscured her eyes when she looked down at her notebook on her desk. The way she bent her head and let her hair fall to shield her face.

God, her hair. He thought he’d make an ass of himself one day, walk up to her and run his fingers through it. It had magnetic powers, he was sure. Her hair the positive and his fingertips the negative. He sat in class, his fingers aching with the need to go to her and touch her, touch her hair. It was long, brown and wavy. It reached her shoulder blades. It looked like the kind of hair that other girls would envy, the hair that requires no effort to look perfect. He imagined Clara let it air dry to those soft, silky waves that framed her face, cascading down her back like a horse’s mane. He resolved to put his hands in her hair. One day when she gave him permission.

“Are you stalking us?” he heard Beatrice ask.

“Bea,” Clara said. She looked nervous.

“Am I stalking you?” Evan asked. He smiled and shook his head. He jabbed a thumb behind him. “See that classroom? That’s my little brother’s classroom. I’m just out here waiting for him.”

“Why didn’t you go inside?” Beatrice asked.

“Because I really don’t care what my brother’s classroom looks like,” Evan replied.

“That’s kind of rude,” Beatrice said huffily.

“Well, he didn’t come in to see my classroom,” Evan argued. “He didn’t even come to my Open House.”

“That’s not the same thing,” Beatrice said. “You have a lot of classrooms. You’re in high school.”

“Very true. I didn’t think about that,” Evan answered.

“Bea, I think it’s time we go now,” Clara said. She pulled the car keys out of her purse.

“I never did see your mom,” Evan said. He couldn’t understand why he cared so much that these girls were on their own. They were on their own, he concluded. He hadn’t seen an adult with them all evening and couldn’t help but wonder why Beatrice lied to him.

“She actually drove separately,” Clara said. She couldn’t believe she was doing it, lying silkily. “She hasn’t been feeling well and was in the bathroom all evening. She called me on my cell to tell me that she was going home early. I guess I played parent tonight,” she said lightly.

“Oh,” Evan replied. He looked at Beatrice. She was staring at Clara, mouth hanging open just slightly, a look of confusion mixed with admiration plastered on her face.

“Come on, Bea,” Clara said taking her sister’s hand.

“Okay. Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” Evan said.

Clara nodded and walked off. He watched the girls stroll hand-in-hand down the long corridor, Beatrice’s face raised to her sister’s, her profile showing a mouth still hanging open in disbelief.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Honeysuckle Love: November 19!

We’re getting closer to publication day for Honeysuckle Love, and I’m super excited and nervous and stressed out!  And I promised you tidbits from the novel, so I thought I’d do this: give you the first chapter (and maybe part of the second).  Today you’ll be reading on your own.  Next Wednesday I hope to read to you.  I’m going to try a suggestion from an author to film myself reading my own work.  A virtual book reading, if you will.  Incidentally, this will be the first time ever that I will use my webcam.  You can comment with questions or concerns, and I’ll respond.  That’s the plan, anyway.  I will run the recording by my sister first, though, since the last time I tried something like this she told me I sounded ridiculous!  And I have no idea what I’m going to do the last Wednesday before publication.  I might read to you again if it goes off well.

Before I give you the first part of Chapter 1, I’d like to share my thoughts about my work.  It won’t take long, I swear.  I just want to say that one of the best things about being an independent author is the freedom to write whatever I want.  I work in a certain genre, but there are so many ways to tell a story in that particular genre.  Hoodie was really gritty and raw.  I was in a place in my life where I needed to write a story like that.  I needed it hard.  I needed it shocking.  But I found myself in a very different place writing Honeysuckle Love.  I felt vulnerable.  Scared.  For whatever reason, my heart felt tender and damaged throughout the writing of that story.  (Okay, that’s a lie: I know the reason my heart felt that way but haven’t got the guts to tell you.)  You’ll see a stark difference in style.  I describe it as this: with Hoodie, someone slaps you across the face.  But with Honeysuckle Love, someone caresses your face. 

Honeysuckle Love is available Monday, November 19 through Kindle, Smashwords, and print.

Chapter 1

Out of a desolate source, love leaps upon its course. ~ W.B. Yeats
    Clara sat at the kitchen table that afternoon running her eyes over the papers. She had them spread out, covering every inch of the worn linoleum table top, somewhat organized as she tried to make sense of each bill. And how she would pay them. There were several notices of unpaid electric bills. That was her first concern. She picked one up and read it again out loud: “This is your final notice. A payment of $332.79 is due no later than September 15 to avoid termination of service.
    She felt the dull pains of panic ripple through her chest—butterfly feelings of dread—and breathed deeply. Today was the twelfth. Three days before her house stopped humming with the sounds of running dryer, whirling fan, buzzing light bulb. She placed the notice back on the table and picked up another. She read to herself:

Dear Mrs. Greenwich:

Our documents show that you are not up-to-date on your gas bill totaling $126.12. These charges include late fees. We have tried several times to reach you and have handed over the matter to Collections. You must make a payment on or before September 7 to avoid your gas service being terminated. Please contact us with questions or concerns.


The Blue Flame Gas Co.
Clara dropped the letter on the table and moved to the stove. September 7. Five days ago. But she had used the stove the previous night. The gas was connected.
     She turned the dial to one of the burners and listened for the familiar click click that ushers the burst of low blue flame. Click click click but no flame. Her heart dropped as she turned the dial to OFF and then back to START. Click click click click . . . burst! She watched the flames shoot up, licking the burner insert hungrily. Clara stared at the flames reluctant to turn the burner off for fear that she would not see them again. But she was wasting gas, her hand hovering over the dial, so she spun it to OFF hoping she would see the flames later that evening.
     She returned to the table and picked up a sealed envelope. It was the only unopened envelope she found amidst the stacks of unpaid bills, and she wondered why her mother never opened it. Clara immediately feared the worst, an amount she couldn’t hope to pay off with the money she made working at a clothing store. The envelope was stamped Baltimore County State Department of Assessment and Taxation. Clara didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded official and menacing. And she knew what a tax was. Nothing good. She looked closely at the postmarked date: May 22. My God, she thought turning the envelope over and running a shaky finger under the flap.
    She pulled out a letter of multiple pages and unfolded it carefully. She didn’t bother to read the writing, only scanning her eyes hurriedly over the first page for a number. There was no number. She flipped the first page over. No number. She looked at the second page searching until her eyes fell on the big, bold ink towards the bottom: $1523.63. Clara let out a strangled cry. She covered her mouth instinctively, turning to the hallway. She waited for her sister to emerge from her bedroom. But no one came. Beatrice did not hear.
    Her eyes went back to the letter. This time she read it, fast and impatiently. Her mouth moved forming the silent words. Property tax. Two payments. One due July 1! She panicked as she continued reading. Payment may be made without interest on or before September 30 . . . Second installment is due December 1 but may be paid without interest on or before December 31 . . . Delinquent notices are issued in November and January . . . interest will accrue . . . interest will accrue . . .
    Clara didn’t know she was crying. It wasn’t until a tear dropped on the page, spreading in an uneven circle over a smear of black words that she realized her physical response to the information. She placed the bill on the table and wiped clumsily at her eyes. She tried crying quietly; she did not want Beatrice to hear. She moved to the kitchen sink and leaned her head over the basin. The blood rushed to her face immediately; she felt it pulling her head down farther into the sink like a heavy weight. She thought if the sink were filled with water she might just let her face be pulled into it. Permanently.
    She watched as the tears splashed into the empty basin making soft plopping noises in the quiet stillness of the small kitchen. A moan escaped her lips, and she slapped her hand over her mouth once more.
   “Clare-Bear?” Beatrice asked from behind.
    Clara stood up immediately and wiped at her face. She took a deep breath and turned to face her little sister.
    Ten-year-old Beatrice stood in the center of the kitchen holding a piece of paper in her hands. Her fingers were small, her fingernails short and stubby, painted with a cheery purple that was already chipping around her cuticles. Her blond brows were furrowed as she took stock of her older sister.
    “You know when you have a really bad headache and it makes you cry?” Clara asked.
    “No.” Beatrice narrowed her blue eyes at her sister. She flipped her long blond hair over her right shoulder.
    “Well, I have a headache like that now,” Clara explained.
    “I don’t believe you,” Beatrice said firmly. “Are you crying about Mom?”
    The girls’ mother disappeared a week and a half ago. They had no idea where she went, and they were afraid she would never come back. She had packed a suitcase, Clara discovered, when she went in search of it and could not locate it. Some of her clothes were gone from her closet and dresser drawers. She left a stack of papers on her bed that Clara was unwilling to go through until today. Clara searched through it multiple times trying to find a note, some sort of letter of explanation. She needed to read the words I love you. But her mother did not write them. She wrote nothing. She simply left.
    After a week and a half, it was as though she never existed.
    “I’m not crying over Mom,” Clara said.
    “Then why are you crying?” Beatrice pressed.
    “I told you, Bea,” Clara said patiently. “My head.”
    Beatrice was listening as she turned her back on Clara to take a look at the papers strewn over the kitchen table.
    “What are these?” she asked, waving her hand over them.
    “They’re nothing. We’ll talk about it later,” Clara said, hastily moving to the table and gathering up the bills.
    Beatrice shrugged and looked up at her sister.
    “Mom will be back, Clara.” She said it with such certainty that for a moment Clara believed her. She loved that about her sister, that Beatrice could be so resolute at such a young age. Clara’s heart sank thinking that Beatrice would need that quality more than anything in the coming months. That was if their mother never returned.
    “I know,” Clara responded. “She just went to the store, right?”
    Beatrice giggled. It was the joke they started after the fourth day—the only way they could cope with the pain, anger, and fear of not having an adult in the house. The feeling of security was all but wiped out, and Clara decided that day that she would have to bring it back, do everything she could to make Beatrice feel safe and secure. And happy.
    It was a bad night complete with an overabundance of tears. Clara held her baby sister in her arms, rocked her side to side as Beatrice moaned her grief, cried her anger.
    “Where is she?!” she screamed over and over into Clara’s soaked shirtfront.
    Clara didn’t know what to say, what to do. She blurted the only thing that came to mind, an absurd response to a grave situation. “She just went to the store, Bea.”
    Beatrice looked up at her sister, wiped awkwardly at her face, and opened her mouth to speak. But no words issued forth. Instead she burst into a fit of giggles, the kind of reaction only a clever person has, and Clara, understanding it fully, laughed too.
    “That’s right,” Beatrice said after she caught her breath. She slapped her forehead with the heel of her hand. “I forgot she went to the store!” and then laughed all over again. They laughed, their faces awash with fresh tears, but this time silly, happy tears for the joke they made. In that moment, Clara felt better in her heart.
    Clara smiled remembering that night. She watched her sister as she continued giggling, her little paint-chipped fingernails pressed against her lips. Beatrice was much too cute when she giggled, and Clara thought that if she were now the mother figure even at the tender age of sixteen, it was her responsibility to keep Beatrice out of trouble. Cute giggling attracted boys, and for a split second Clara feared the future when her ten-year-old sister would start noticing them.
    “What?” Beatrice asked after a moment. “You have a weird look on your face.”
    Clara shook her head and pointed to the piece of paper in Beatrice’s hand. “What’s that?”
    Beatrice had all but forgotten about the paper until Clara mentioned it. “My supply list for school,” she said handing it to Clara. “And you remember Open House tonight, right?”
    “Of course,” Clara said although she hadn’t. She looked over at the clock hanging on the wall. “What time?”
    “Seven,” Beatrice answered.
    Clara looked at the list once more. “Well, what do you say we go get these things before Open House?”
    Beatrice agreed emphatically. She loved getting new things, especially school supplies. It was something about the smell of them she tried to explain to Clara. On one occasion, she held out a pack of erasers inviting Clara to sniff. When Clara refused, Beatrice shrugged and lifted the plastic pack up to her own nose inhaling deeply. She smiled up at her sister in confirmation that the erasers were the perfect scent. What an oddball, Clara thought at the time.
    What an oddball, she thought now, watching her sister dance around the kitchen at the prospect of shopping for binders, pencils, and packs of loose-leaf notebook paper. She wondered if Beatrice would sniff everything she picked up and if the scent of each item would be the determining factor in purchasing it.
    “We’re leaving in twenty minutes,” Clara said, and Beatrice rushed to get ready.