Love Bites: A little somehing for my readers

‘Mother’‘Wife’ red-love-background-wallpaper

I like to say ‘I don’t write romance’. And I believe that. But I do write about love, and all its many complications. It’s my singular writing ambition, capturing the love of a man for a woman, a woman for a man, a mother for their child, between siblings, and sometimes the fleeting flash of something like love that springs up between strangers.

So, on this Day of Love, I share a few little ‘bites’ of love from my work, featuring men I fell in love with as I wrote them., and a woman who never knew love who came to me in my sleep one night. Happy Valentines Day, readers.

Love and Peace to you,

Nia


WHAT REAL LOVE LOOKS LIKE

“So what’re you doing? You got anything planned?”

“Nope.”

“No?”

“Nothing?”

Shawn looked up at his friends’ startled faces and laughed. “I have a sensible, levelheaded woman at home, unlike some of us.” He looked in Brendan’s direction. “So she won’t be flippin’ out and actin’ all crazy if I don’t have hearts and chocolate and a dozen roses in hand when I get home on February fourteenth.”

“You lyin’, man,” Chris said sucking his teeth. “No way you stayed married all these years without doin’ anything on Valentine’s Day.”

“I didn’t say I don’t do anything. Just that my wife doesn’t need all those dramatic gestures that y’all talkin’ ‘bout.”

Brendan swallowed a gulp of his Hennessey and shook his head. “I’m not buyin’ it either. Even if your wife were one of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, spends her days picketing against American consumerist culture and her nights blogging about the scourge of poverty in the developing world, she would still want you to do something big for her on Valentine’s Day.”

“Hell, Riley probably is one of the founding members of Occupy Wall Street, and probably does spend her nights blogging about poverty,” Chris said dryly.

Shawn laughed again. “Shut up. So what? My woman’s about something more than shopping and looking pretty.”

“Why you keep lookin’ at me?” Brendan said, feigning outrage. “Tracy likes nice things. And I like giving them to her. What’s wrong with that?”

“If I thought ‘nice things’ would do the trick with Robyn, I’d go that route, but …” Chris shrugged. “When we were just kickin’ it, I gave her a twenty-five thousand dollar bag and she just yawned at that shit.”

“Give her a baby,” Shawn suggested. “We know she likes those.”

Chris shot him a look. “Don’t even joke like that, man. I’m done. I’ve been thinking of getting snipped on the sly just to shut that down once and for all.”

“Yeah, you are one baby-making motherfucka, that’s for sure,” Brendan chimed in. “But don’t get snipped. I heard if you do your dick won’t get hard anymore.”

Shawn laughed. “Don’t listen to him …”

“Ain’t nobody payin’ his dumb-ass no mind,” Chris said shaking his head.

Boys’ nights out like this had become fewer and farther between in the last year, but after a business meeting earlier that day that all three of them had attended purely by coincidence, Shawn coaxed his two best friends into dinner and then drinks. Things were different now, so they all had women at home they had to check in with before they could head out to Mastro’s Steakhouse for a rich meal, followed by drinks in the bar at a small, exclusive boutique hotel.

Watching Chris in particular make his way over to a private corner to tell his wife he wasn’t coming home straightaway that evening was particularly satisfying. Who would have thought? Chris Scaife, married—and happily at that—with two kids under three years old at home. If there had been anyone he would have given the label ‘confirmed bachelor’, Chris Scaife would have been it. But even he got taken out by Cupid’s arrow.

It had been entertaining watching him fight it though. Shawn recalled with amusement the occasions before they were married when Chris and Robyn visited with him and Riley, or came to parties at their home. Chris had been a ball of coiled awareness, his eyes involuntarily following Robyn around the room, his body growing tense when someone of the masculine persuasion approached and spoke to her.

Shawn remembered even more keenly what those days had been like in his own relationship. Riley had been his singular obsession until he finally came to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going anywhere. He’d proposed to her before he truly knew and accepted that, and for the first few months of their marriage, he felt like he’d somehow tricked her into something … lured her into a trap that he knew he had no earthly intention of letting her get out of. It was an entire year—and a shitty one at that—before he could allow himself to truly believe she wanted to be there.

Glancing over at the clock atop the old English pub-style bar, Shawn saw that it was just past ten p.m. This was about the time Riley would be getting ready for bed. Their nights were early ones when he was home. His son, Cullen was a little bit of a hellion, who, when he was awake tore through the house like a freight train and just as noisy. Because Shawn still traveled a fair amount, whenever he was home, he kept his kids close; and Cullen especially followed him around, sometimes mirroring his every move.

His daughter was different. At three years old, she was quiet and a loner and … graceful. He had no other word for it. Already, she was a little lady with a gentle disposition and a seemingly innate sense of calm. Like her mother.
Neither of his kids was ever far from his thoughts. And Riley, of course, she was everything.

Turning away from the clock, Shawn signaled to the bartender to bring him another drink. He could afford to stay out awhile because according to his wife, getting the kids to bed was twice as difficult when he was home, because to them, Daddy equaled playtime. But still, Shawn loved being there in that magic hour before bed, and particularly loved watching the rituals. Riley had a little refrain she repeated to them: Bath-Time, Book-Time, Bedtime. So now they’d started saying it as well, like it was one word.

Mama, I don’t want to go bathtime-booktime-bedtime, Cullen would whine, shaking his head from side to side.

I know, darling, Riley would say before scooping them both up, one under each arm.
She never argued, cajoled and bribed their kids, but just gently … handled them, getting whatever needed to be done done, while Shawn looked on in awe, wondering how in the heck it was that he’d lucked out like this. So the hell with Valentine’s Day. He knew what real love looked like.

But … maybe he’d get the flowers and candy anyway. And throw in a nice piece of jewelry. Just in case.

 


 

open roadBackstory for Jayson from ‘Mistress’, ‘Wife’ and ‘Mother’. This is from his travels after he left Keisha in ‘Mistress’) and while he was falling in love with her, though he didn’t know it was happening.

Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals

March 20
Allentown, PA

There was one dude on the block who kept a journal when I was inside. Muslim brother. He wrote all the time, day and night. Kept his head down, his lips moving as he wrote. I couldn’t tell whether he was praying or talking to himself. One time I asked him what he was mumbling about and he smiled.

“Talking to Allah, my brother,” he told me. “Al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm.”

His name was Ahmad. He never got into it with anybody and everyone left him alone. He wasn’t a prison Muslim, he was a real deal zealot, who was inside because he’d beat his teenage daughter to within an inch of her life when he found out she had a boyfriend. His case was in the papers and on television a lot because folks were a still looking cross-eyed at all Muslims because of 9/11.

I asked Ahmad about his case one time. Which broke code. You weren’t supposed to ask anybody about their case. But I asked because Ahmad looked like the most peace-loving dude you would ever meet, and seeing on television what he’d done to his own flesh and blood, I just couldn’t believe it. That he would do something like that.

“Man’s law, or the law of the Allah?” he’d responded. “Which should I choose? Lā ilāha illā Allāh”

Some of the other Muslims told me Ahmad was full of shit. And that if he truly followed God’s law, he would understand compassion. Rumor had it, Ahmad planned to finish the job he’d started on his daughter when he got out.
The only thing I guess I learned from Ahmad was that writing things down can be purifying. So I’m writing.

When I left New York yesterday, it was already dark. I thought about leaving at first light, but didn’t know whether I’d want to leave if I waited one more day. Especially after seeing Keisha. She cried before I left. Real tears, fat drops rolling down her face and dripping off the tip of her chin. And I wanted to stay to comfort her, but knew I couldn’t because then it might get really hard to leave. And I had to, because I have some things to work out, and on top of all that, I’m not sure I trust her. I want her. I like her; hell, maybe more than like her . . . but I definitely don’t trust her. And what kind of messed-up shit is that? To want a woman you can’t even trust.


So I had to leave.

Right now I’m in a Motel 6 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I don’t know why except that I saw the exit signs and decided to check it out, because of that Billy Joel song. From my room, it looks like a depressing place to live. The song was depressing too now that I think about it—all about how someplace that was brimming and alive practically died.

That’s how I feel sometimes. Like maybe I died when I was inside. Not physically, but in other ways. In prison, I was Inmate # 01-B-8746 and now I’m not even that. And I’m not the Jayson Holmes who went in either–that cocky bastard got the shit beat out of him three days after he went in. So who am I now?

That’s what this journey cross-country is about. Finding out.

I won’t write anymore tonight. Too tired. A little scared. Wondering what the hell I’m doing traveling hundreds of miles away. I had to tell my P.O. because I have a five year tail on my sentence. He didn’t have to approve it but he did. His name’s Chester. Older white dude who looks like he’s been doing this for dog-years. He has runny eyes, a cloudy blue. Behind his glasses he stared at me when I told him my plan to travel and see the country. I expected him to ask me why, or what I was planning to do out there. I expected him to be suspicious. But he didn’t seem to be.

“I hope you find it,” he said.

I didn’t even tell him I was looking for anything. I didn’t even know for sure that I was. But I guess I am looking for something. And I hope to God I find it.


Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals

March 22


I thought about heading south to Philly, but that seemed kind of obvious. So instead, today I headed west towards the Appalachian Mountains in the direction of Pittsburgh. I stopped once, so I could call Chloe. She sounded like she was crying but trying to hide it. I think she believes I’ll never come back. I wanted to tell her that the only way for me to really ‘come back’ is to go on this trip. See, I never really came back home from prison. For the longest time, working in Rey’s garage, going home to that small room in his house, sleeping with a bunch of women I didn’t care about … that wasn’t me, that was me in limbo, waiting for Jayson to come back. Like I was asleep and going through the motions of the dream, waiting to wake up.

In Altoona, a woman tried to pick me up in the parking lot of a gas station with a little diner attached. I thought she was just looking for a quick hook-up, and was thinking that maybe she had a hotel room nearby or something. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days and her breath smelled like crap, too. It took me a minute to realize that she was a hooker, one of those they call ‘lot lizards’, who walk through truck stops and do tricks for like ten or twenty bucks a pop. And once I realized what she was, I saw about a dozen other women like her. Kinda messed with my head a little, that I couldn’t even recognize hookers when I saw them.

What the hell am I doing out here?

My cousin Ty used to pay crackheads to suck his dick once in awhile. I could never do it. When he made fun of me, I told him it was because I was too attached to my dick and couldn’t imagine putting it just anywhere. He looked like he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Ty. Stupid-ass Tyrone. One of these days, I’ll stop being mad at him, but I’m sure as hell not there yet. Not even close.

I wanted to call Keisha when I found a motel for the night. Just before I closed my eyes, I thought about her and the way she says my name. Jaaay, with the ‘aaaa’ elongated, like she’s caressing it with her tongue. Caressing it with her tongue. Yeah, that’s just what I need to be thinking about right now. I shouldn’t be thinking about that, or about her at all. So I’m going to just stop. For now anyway.

Until maybe tomorrow.


Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals

March 27
Canton, Ohio

I fell in love while I was locked up. Nah. Not with a dude. Although that does happen, even to guys who weren’t gay before they came in. I have a theory, that the human heart is like that—it seeks out something, or someone to love. And if you live an unfulfilled life, it’s only because you never found that person, or that passion which filled your heart to capacity.

My third year in, I thought I found that. Her name was Donna Pierce. She was a law student in her final year of school who came onto the unit as part of a re-entry program. They showed us films about guys on the inside preparing to get out and coming to terms with the things they’d done, the time they missed and the lives they’d ruined. After the film, Donna led a discussion where I guess we inmates were supposed to see something of ourselves in the men on film.

Though she put up an image like she was comfortable sitting around on the unit with a bunch of beefy, horny convicts, I could tell that Donna was nervous. She didn’t know what to do with her arms and legs when she sat and spent lots of time arranging them, probably trying not to be too alluring. But hell, when you’re locked up, it doesn’t take much. Anything that bears hints of the feminine will make your dick hard. And Donna bore more than just hints. She had shoulder-length hair that she wore out whenever she came to the prison, and a deep, rich complexion that reminded me of Belgian dark chocolate. And her eyes, black as coal.

I remember the eyes and complexion now, but at the time I was more focused on her hands, slender and graceful, the slight hint of breasts she had—they were small, but more than enough for a dude in prison—and her beautiful, curvaceous hips. I went to watch her films, but never participated in the discussion afterwards, though I sat there staring at her. I mean, I hadn’t done a crime, so what the hell did any of that have to do with me, right? That’s what I thought at the time; that I was somehow going to come out of prison different or better than the other dudes who actually had done a crime. Stupid.

One day, after one of her screenings, Donna approached me. Usually the guys descended on her like locusts, asking questions they didn’t care about the answers to. This time, as I was about to saunter away, she stopped me. She didn’t just stop me, she touched me. She touched my arm. That was like lighting a fucking forest fire, having a woman touch me, all soft and gentle like that.

“Hey,” she said. “What’s your name? You always come to these discussions, but you never talk.”

“I’m Jayson,” I said.

And just that quickly, just because she looked at me in the eye, and because she was female and pretty and touched me with an intention other than custody and control, I was in love. Donna came back many times after that, and for a while, it seemed like she loved me too.

But that’s a story for another day.


dsc_0100BETTER OFF NOW

Maintaining the fiction of a perfect marriage–that had been the most difficult part. From the outside, had anyone known what was happening to Helen, they would have assumed the beatings were the worst of it. But they would have been wrong. If there was a way to rate levels of unhappiness, Helen would have put them in this order:

One; pretending–to family, friends and co-workers that the reason she walked so slowly, sat so carefully and wore such thick pancake makeup had nothing to do with anything of consequence, because of COURSE things at home were fine; of course she loved her husband and he loved her; and of course, he would never do anything so terrible as raise a hand to her.

Two; waiting to be hit–there was no way to characterize that other than ’emotional terrorism’. ‘Abuse’ seemed far too tame a word to describe what Brett put her through. The days and weeks and sometimes even months of sweetness, romantic gestures, gifts and praise, were all a cruel wind-up to the main event, which was always, always unexpected. On one occasion, he had immediately consoled Helen when she tearfully–and fearfully–confessed to having scratched his prized black Range Rover. But yet, her forgetting to get his favorite salad dressing led to a beating that cracked her front tooth, dislocated her jaw, broke a rib and landed her in hospital for a week.

Three; the beatings themselves–they ranked lowest on the list of things that had been difficult about being married to Brett. No one would believe her if she said it aloud, but it was true. The beatings were sometimes sweet relief. They validated her fear (‘See,’ she would think as he stomped on her abdomen. ‘Of course I should be afraid, because this is what he can do!’) and they externalized the pain she carried around inside all the time. The force of a fist on the side of her face, making her eye feel as though it might explode, only matched the resounding ache she had inside every moment of every single day.

Helen never told anyone any of this. She maintained her silence throughout her trial; she maintained it to her parents and Brett’s, and even with her defense attorney. No one understood how and why she stabbed her childhood sweetheart to death while he slept. They assumed she must have gone quite mad. That was her defense–temporary insanity. Helen let her attorney say that, because she didn’t much care about the outcome of her trial. Sitting in her cell, from the night she’d been arrested and even now that she’d been transferred to the prison following her conviction, Helen said nothing.

Because what she thought the moment she knew Brett was dead remained true, no matter where she was. What she thought then, and still thought every day, was, ‘I am better off now.’


SAMPLE(S) SUNDAY: ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’ and ‘Ivy’s League’

Wine w WritersI like to write about women, figuring out who they are and what their “stuff” is. You know what I mean, right? The things that drive them, the things that hold them back, the things that block them from having the kind of life they deserve. That’s it. If I had to sum up the central theme of every single thing I write, that would be it.

And if I had to sum up my approach to writing, it would be “searching for realism.” I am rarely (okay, never) completely satisfied with anything I write, but on the occasions that I am somewhat satisfied, it’s because I think I may have struck a note of realism close to what I wanted.

For that reason, I love ‘Ivy’s League’. Love. Ivy has more than a few personal characteristics that I relate to, or have myself. But more than that, her story was one that felt real to me, and unfolded completely organically on the page–I didn’t map or chart it out, or even know where she would end up, I just let it happen as I wrote. And I also love that in her life, there’s an absence of drama other than the purely personal and domestic kind; her struggles are those that most women face in one form or another. But I’m not going to say too much more about Ivy since I’m doing an online Book Chat about her story today at 7 PM EDT, here.

And of course, I’ll be at Wine with Writers in person in two weeks. Tickets are going pretty fast, so get yours now, if you’re going to be in the DC/MD/VA area. I’ll be hanging out with Tia Kelly and Xyla Turner, talking books and drinking wine and signing my brand new release (slated for release just before ‘Wine with Writers’) ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’.

So … about Miri: I know some folks have been anxiously waiting for her. And honestly, I had a hard time understanding why. Miri was a quiet and small character for me. Someone who lived in the shadow of the much larger characters of her brothers. So writing about her was challenging. Here’s a little secret. If writers struggle, it’s for one reason only: we’re having a hard time figuring out what our characters want, and how (or whether) to have them get it.

Apart from life getting in the way of our writing, there is pretty much no other reason for writers being “blocked” other than that. And until we figure those things out, the book just ain’t gon’ come. Miri, now that her story is about to be released, remains in some ways a small and quiet character. But I figured out what she wants, and whether (and how) she gets it. So she’s on her way in very short order.

In the meantime, I thought I’d let you visit with these two very different women–both of whom have just enough slice of “real” to satisfy me. And I hope you as well.

Happy Reading!

N.


Eduardo promoFrom ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’. Coming Soon.

The sound of the door opening and shutting sent Miri scurrying back to the bed, clutching the sheets around her naked form. And then she felt silly. After all that happened the previous evening, shyness seemed ridiculous. So, while she listened to the movement in the next room, she found a t-shirt and pulled it on, recalling that Duardo had offered her one the night before, though she never got around to putting it, or anything else, on. Taking a moment to check her hair—which was pretty much a disaster—Miri went out to join him in the living area, pausing only to brush her teeth with her fingers in his small bathroom, and to splash water on her face.

Buenas días.”

Duardo looked up when she entered and spoke to him but did not answer.

Expecting some warmth, or acknowledgment of the previous evening, and not getting it, Miri was disappointed. Instead, his expression was inscrutable. But she felt brave, and more importantly, he looked incredibly hot, in a stark white t-shirt that only emphasized his sun-darkened skin; and baggy grey sweats. His scruffy and unshaven face reminded her of how it felt against her own face, and later, against her inner thighs. So Miri went to him, and while he removed what smelled like breakfast from a paper sack, she wrapped her arms around his waist from behind. Resting her face against his broad and firm back, she felt her entire body heave in a sigh.

“Will you not speak to me?” she asked, feeling emboldened by the way he leaned oh-so-slightly backward and into her embrace. “¿Estás enojado conmigo?”

“No,” Duardo said after a long while. But still he didn’t turn around to return her embrace.

“So if you’re not angry, what is it?”

“I crossed a line with you,” he said, turning around and looking down at her. “After everything that your family …”

Miri exhaled impatiently and pulled away from him. “If we’re going to talk about how what happened between you and me—two consenting adults—affects my brothers, my family? If that’s what you’re about to say, I’m going to fucking scream,” she said.

Duardo looked surprised, though he did not comment on her cursing.

“I’m serious,” Miri said. “I walked in here on a high and you’re just going to … wreck it. I’m starting to feel like I would have been better off going home with Stephan Payne.”

And that was precisely the wrong thing to say. Duardo grabbed and pulled her back against his chest, his hands grasping her arms and holding her tight, his face inches from hers.

“Don’t you ever say that to me. He doesn’t get to touch you. He doesn’t get to go near you. ¿Entiendes?”

Being manhandled should have alarmed her, but it did the opposite. It made Miri confident, and even calm. Because she knew Duardo would never hurt her, and because she now knew that his stoic distance of a few moments earlier was the only way he knew to maintain control over the riotous emotions that were now so clearly visible in his eyes.

“I don’t want him to touch me. I don’t want him near me. I want you,” she said, shrugging. “I just want you.”

“So why do you say these things?” Duardo let her go, running a hand over his head. “Just to … provoke me?”

“Because I want to get past this part,” Miri said. “This stupid part where we pretend like we don’t already know what’s going to happen.”

At that, Duardo gave her a grim smile. “And what’s that?” he asked, his eyes searching hers.

“We’re going to have an affair,” Miri said, staring back at him evenly.


Young black woman in the room

From ‘Ivy’s League’ Available Now.

Eli looked up just in time to see her coming down the sidewalk. Holding the hem of her gown up so it wouldn’t sweep the ground, Ivy looked like something out of a dream. Her dress was yellow, a soft shade like the faintest glow of morning sunlight and made of a foamy fabric that swayed as she walked. Cut in a straight line, binding her across the chest, it left completely exposed Ivy’s smooth brown shoulders and long, graceful arms. Under the hem of the dress, Eli could just make out gold strappy, high-heeled sandals that looked like something a gladiator would wear. If a gladiator was a five-foot nine, slender-as-a-reed, breathtaking Black woman in a yellow gown.

Ivy spotted him and he opened the window on the passenger side, disengaging the locks. She leaned in, her lips pursed and stern. She looked even more beautiful up close. Her hair was pulled back into a high, regal mass of kinky curls, her makeup subtle but iridescent. A stab of possessiveness impaled Eli right in the center of the chest.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Get in,” he said.

Ivy seemed poised to protest but instead sighed and opened the door, getting in next to him. Turning, she took another breath. “Eli …”

He kissed her. Hard. Hard enough to shut her up, steal her breath, and make her gasp all at once. She didn’t resist, but she didn’t respond either. Not at first, but he persisted until her lips softened and she kissed him back—tentatively at first, and then with all the feeling he had become accustomed to from her. She tasted sweet, like white wine, and smelled even more amazing than usual. Eli turned even further and reached over to pull her toward him by the waist, awkwardly in the confines of the truck’s cab.

That awkwardness provided an opening and Ivy took it, wrenching herself free and shaking her head.

“Eli,” she said again. But this time her voice was trembling a little.

He answered her by starting the engine, and pulling out into traffic away from the curb. Ivy looked frantically behind them, and then back at him.

“Eli!” She said his name yet again. “I’m working. My boss is at that dinner.”

He slowed the truck to a crawl. “Is she going to fire you if you don’t come back?” he asked pointedly.

Ivy opened her mouth to speak but did not. Her shoulders heaved, and shaking her head, she leaned back against the seat, staring straight ahead.

**************

AVAILABLE NOW.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Vb8C5R

 B&N: http://bit.ly/1NOPG7i

What Had Happened Was …

The Education of Miri Acosta coverSo you may or may not have noticed that I’ve been away for a while. Not literally, but figuratively. I haven’t blogged, haven’t done as much online promotion of my work, and definitely haven’t been writing with the same regularity. Instead I’ve been reading, working, falling in love with my partner and out again, and in love again … and so on, playing, traveling, hanging with friends, making some enemies (yeah, for real) and living, basically. And so there it is–not sexy, but that’s my excuse for not getting ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’ out this month. More about that later, but for now, let me just say … I’m back in the saddle and rearing to go.

I guess I could leave it at that, but I’m not going to. I want to tell you what I’m going to be up to next, because as solitary as the writing part of writing is, the rest is a group exercise. You read what I write (thank God) and you sometimes like it, and sometimes you write me notes, leave me comments and give me the fuel that gets me through the rough spots, or the encouragement to up my game next time. And a lot of readers give me ideas–for characters and plot points I might consider, or even entire books I might write. I can feel a lot of you out there rooting for me, waiting for me, and believing in me, or I’ve seen you, posting the gentle social media nudge to ‘get back to work already’.

All of it is appreciated.

There’s something writers don’t always tell you but I’m going to let you in on the secret. You ready? Here it is: there was a time when we wrote furtively, secretly, quietly and alone (some of us still do). We wondered whether there would ever be another soul, besides a lover, a friend, or a family member who read what we wrote and cared about it. We silently suffered with the knowledge that though the writing itself was fulfilling, it wasn’t always enough–we wanted someone else to hear our voice on the page and tell us it was good. That’s the secret. The ‘pressure’ we moan about, the pushes and nudges to ‘get back to work already’ are part of the dream, almost as much as the writing itself. To know that you contribute to the richness of the human experience with your words alone? Man, for me there is no high higher than that.

So now that I’ve admitted that I am not so cool that I can pretend not to give a shit what readers think, back to my plans. ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’ is next up. August was the plan, but it’s now mid September. I won’t give a precise date because you know I never meet those deadlines anyway and it causes me heartburn when I know people are waiting and I’m not delivering. But about the book: I like this one. It’s more ‘pure romance’ than anything I’ve written in a while, about young love, crazy passion; learning that who you are is not who you may have planned to be, and figuring out that book smarts don’t equal emotional intelligence. It that strikes your fancy, read the blurb on Goodreads, here.

Following Miri’s story will be the one I’ve been dying to complete, Lorna Terry’s comeuppance, which is working titled ‘Art and Soul’. In that one, the mother of Riley, (who you may remember from ‘Commitment’, etc.) meets her match in a somewhat younger lover who is not intimidated by her radical feminism, and who forces her to face some of the consequences from her choices in the past; and to confront the possibility of a very different future than the one she envisioned. Meet Lorna and her intrepid younger man by reading these shorts: ‘Forty-Six’ and ‘Stalemate’.

And finally, on the encouragement of a writer-friend, and because I’m a sucker for people’s requests for “more” of a couple, I am working on Jamal and Makayla’s follow-up to ‘The Come Up’, this one titled ‘The Takedown’, will follow the very real challenges to the unlikely (and some say mismatched) couple’s relationship. It’ll also follow Jamal’s ascension to the pinnacle of his career, and Makayla being thrust even deeper into a life she’s ambivalent about at best, and outright distrustful of at worst. For me, the cool stories happen when a couple is together but external and internal conflicts work against them–the stuff that comes after the ‘I-love-yous’ are said and believed. This book will hopefully be one of those ‘cool stories’.

So that’s where I am. Until I get something out there, visit me on Facebook, or Pinterest. Send me email, post something on this blog. I know you’re out there, and I am most definitely listening.

Happy Reading.

N.

BLOG STOP: Jacinta Howard, author of ‘Less Than Forever’

JHoward

Jacinta Howard has been a favorite of mine since I read ‘Better Than Okay’ and I’ve read everything of hers since. Her novels are populated with young, hip, urban professionals trying to make sense of life and love, making mistakes and eventually finding their way. I credit her work with helping remind me why I like new adult fiction, and inspiring me to finish something of my own that had been languishing for literally years.  So it’s my pleasure to feature her book on my blog this Saturday. This is one I’ve been looking forward to …

About ‘Less Than Forever’: Raven Daniels and Dorian Thomas have been best friends since college. But while the free-spirited bond they share holds their relationship together, it’s also the reason they both know they’re better off as friends—flirty friends, but friends.

So when Raven decides to leave her old life and cheating ex behind in Fort Worth, TX and move to Dorian’s turf in sunny Miami to take a job as a middle school art teacher, they’re both excited about the prospect of being around one another full-time. As the social media manger at a prominent company, Dorian knows his city, and he’s eager to show his girl the ropes.

But one night, emotions run high and everything about their platonic relationship is put to the test. A series of events is set in motion that neither one of them is prepared for, events that force them to answer the question… is love always worth it?

Less Than ForeverFrom ‘Less Than Forever’:

“I guess this is the part where we talk about what happened and what it means,” he said as they were getting dressed, after their third session.

She didn’t look at him, fluffing her hair in the mirror that was across from the very unmade bed.

“We don’t have to talk about anything,” she returned, too casually.

“I didn’t mean that how it sounded,” he said, bending to tie his sneakers. He stood and grabbed his Suns baseball cap off the bed, placing it backwards on his head, before perching on the edge of the desk that was pushed against the wall near the TV. She stared at him and then looked away.

“How did you mean it then?” She sat down on the bed, pulling on her strappy black heels, still refusing to look at him.

“Raven, come on. Don’t put this all on me.” She looked at him then, growing agitated.

“Put what all on you?”

“This,” he said, waving a hand between them. “Like I’m the only one required to offer an explanation. Or a solution. Or to know where we go from here.”

She finished with her shoes and sighed, running her fingers through her hair.

“Okay. So…” she shrugged and stared at him. As prepared as she was to get upset with him for not having any, she didn’t have answers either.

“I know we can’t do the shit where we pretend to be ‘just friends,’” he offered, raising his cap and scratching his head. “And I know I can’t do the thing where I pretend that this one time, that last night was even close to being enough for me either.”

His voice lowered and he stared at her, his eyes soaking her up and making her fidgety and hot all over again.

“Are you ready to be in a committed relationship?” she asked.

“Are you?”

“I asked first,” she responded.

He rolled his eyes, his dimples blaring as he frowned. “So we’re twelve now?”

She sighed, tapping her foot against the carpet. “I don’t know what I’m ready for, Dorian.”

“And you’re not gonna be pissed at me for not knowing either, right?”

She looked up and he met her eyes deliberately. She turned away again and he sighed.

“We shouldn’t have even…” she started, but his head snapped up and he stared at her.

“Don’t go there. I don’t regret this. At all,” he said. His eyes traveled over her. “And if you’re real, you don’t either.”

There it was. That brazen confidence that she loved so much but infuriated her at the same time.

“I know you were emotional and probably overwhelmed by everything,” he paused and she lowered her eyes to the floor. “But what happened last night was about more than that, Raven. You know it and I know it. It was only a matter of time before we acted on what’s been there for a while now.”

She released a breath, still studying the floor. “But that’s the problem,” she admitted, meeting his eyes. “I know you, Dorian. We didn’t act on it for a reason.”

“What’s that mean?”

He stared at her like he might’ve been angry and she leveled a look at him. He sighed.

“Look, Chipmunk,” he said, pushing himself off of the corner of the cheap hotel desk and crossing the room to sit beside her on the bed, “I don’t even think I have the words for what last night was…or this morning.”

He reached and twirled a strand of her hair around his index finger and she couldn’t help but smile at him. He grinned too, then leaned toward her, brushing her temple with his nose before kissing the same spot. Her eyes drifted closed and he dropped a kiss on the corner of her mouth.

“We obviously had a lot of pent up shit we needed to… express.”

“That’s what that was? Us expressing ourselves?” She arched an eyebrow and he grinned.

“Hell yeah,” he said, biting his lip as he smiled, causing her breath to catch in her throat. “I was expressing the hell out of myself. I’d say you were too.”

Her face heated and he grinned again, chuckling softly at her expression. His hand trailed to her waist and he pushed her back gently onto the bed, and leaned over her, balancing his weight on his forearms. His brown eyes were serious as stared down at her. She couldn’t stop her eyes from trailing to his lips, those lips that had touched every inch of her body last night. He was so sexy it almost hurt to look at him. He grinned at her as she took him, no doubt reading her thoughts, because she felt the beginnings of his erection against her abdomen.

“I’m not gonna pretend that last night was less than it was,” he told her. “And you shouldn’t either,” he tacked on when she started to speak. “I think we should just see what’s up with us, you know? Explore the possibility with no pressure.”

“And by ‘no pressure’ you mean while you continue to screw everything that moves?”

She stared up at him pointedly and he rolled his eyes, shaking his head. He pushed himself off her and slowly, she sat up beside him. Their shoulders were touching and she looked up at him.

“I’m not sharing you Dorian,” she said quietly. “I can’t share you.”

The admission made her insides hot. It was embarrassing how territorial she already was. He grinned slightly.

“I don’t want to share you either, Raven. Especially with those off brand dudes you always seem to like and attract.”

“I do not.”

“You do,” he countered.

“So, what?” she asked, ignoring him. She stood because she couldn’t sit still any longer. “We’re not ready to be committed but we don’t want each other seeing anyone else? What does that even mean? We can’t be just friends anymore but we can’t be not just friends any more?”

He stared at the floor, narrowing his eyes as he shook his head. He looked up at her.

“I guess we don’t need to figure everything out this second, right?”

She released a breath and stopped pacing.

“I guess.”

They stared at each other for a full minute, both of them knowing they’d reached another turning point and neither of them willing to make the decision to bend.

About the Author:

Jacinta Howard is the author of new adult and contemporary romance with a real-life edge. Since 2014, she’s released three novels, including the well-received Love Always Series which includes the titles ‘Better Than Okay‘, ‘More Than Always’ and the final installment, ‘Less Than Forever’. She also released the USA TODAY Must-Read Romance, ‘Happiness in Jersey’.

Evolution & Completion

mistresscover4I didn’t expect to feel this way.

Letting a character go, ‘finishing’ their story and moving on to the next is usually every easy for me. By the time I kick them out of my head and write ‘THE END’ I’m a little bit glad to see them go. Like a parent sending their kid off to college (which I’ve not yet done, so there is a strong possibility I don’t know what I’m talking about) there is sadness, but also eagerness to see what the next phase will bring.

This week, I finished my journey with Keisha, my main character in ‘Mother’, and I didn’t expect to feel so terrible about saying goodbye. I think it’s fair to say she’s my least-liked character. The backstory is, she did something in my book ‘Commitment’ that by some standards would make her an irredeemable human being. I’ve gotten numerous emails from readers saying some variation of, ‘I really love your work, but I can’t read about Keisha; I just can’t. I don’t even think she deserves a happy ending and I’m scared you’ll give her one.’

In ‘Mistress’, we see that there might be some merit to those strong emotions because Keisha has apparently learned nothing from prior experience and has gone on to live a life that other people would say only confirmed that she was “a bad person.” But I happen to believe that are very few “bad people” in the world. They do exist, I just don’t believe there are very many.

Wife Cover1f2In my other line of work as a lawyer, I often say about the people whose interests I represent (most of whom have broken some law, some of them in very hard-to-defend circumstances), “would you like to be judged in your totality as a human being on the basis of the very worst thing you ever did?” That question often causes people to become very pensive, thinking back to the time they, let’s say, told a vicious lie about someone, stole something, or committed some other act about which they are now very ashamed. And after thinking about it, they say something like, ‘no, I wouldn’t. I’m a better person than that act would indicate.”

And see, that is why I wanted to write about Keisha. In ‘Mistress’, ‘Wife’ and ‘Mother’ I wanted to write about the evolution of a woman who must learn not to judge herself on the basis of the worst thing she ever did, and not to define herself on that basis. She has to learn self-acceptance and self-love. And of course, there’s a little romance thrown in there as well, but Keisha’s romance is also about learning to love yourself enough to believe you deserve love from someone else; someone worthy. So for me, the more important love story is that which Keisha begins to have with herself.

How does a ‘mistress’ learn she can be more?

How does a woman who was a ‘mistress’ embrace the role of ‘wife’?

How does a wife who has no recollection of being mothered decide to become one herself?

Mother cover mistress FINALThat was what the ‘Mistress trilogy’ was really about for me. And so it stood to reason that once I had written ‘Mother’ I should be glad to let her go because from the standpoint of a writer, she has ‘evolved’ and is now ‘complete’. But Keisha’s complexity made it hard for me to end her story. And in fact, I couldn’t even bring myself to write the words ‘THE END’ as I customarily do.

Like that parent sending their kid off to college, I know they may never live with me again, but find myself thinking, ‘would it be so bad to just drop in for a visit?’ But that’s as far as I can go with that analogy because it would be a very bad parent indeed who never did drop in for a visit to their college-age kid. And sadly, in this case, I would be a very bad writer indeed if I could not simply let Keisha be … complete.

Happy Reading.

N.

The Mistress Trilogy (based on the Commitment Series)

Mistress (Book One) On Kindle & Nook

Wife (Book Two) On Kindle & Nook

Mother (Book Three) On Kindle & Nook

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I got tagged by Kim Golden, author of ‘Maybe Baby‘, and ‘Snowbound‘, two great books I read this year, to participate in a blog tour of writers, discussing their “process”. Now if you’ve spent any time on my blog at all, you’ll know that I love, love, LOVE talking about my “process.” Such as it is.

Maybe Baby

Part of it for me is that I like learning how other people create, and hope that by sharing how I do it, it will tease out responses from others. So this blog tour is right up my alley, because when I’m done answering the four blog tour questions, I’m going to tag three other authors, who will in turn post about their process in the next couple of weeks.

So here goes:

1. What am I working on?

I’m currently finishing up my next release, ‘Lifted’ which was inspired by a short drop-in on one of the secondary characters in my book, ‘Secret’. Tessa, the main protagonist in ‘Lifted’ is the younger sister of Trey, main male protagonist in ‘Secret’. Tessa is a bit of a wild-child and a free spirit. She’s never traveled the straight and narrow path and is incredibly restless, which often throws her life and relationships into chaos. In ‘Lifted’ she meets Tyson, who was similarly challenged by the demands of family and friends that he choose a sensible course for his life. Tessa and Tyson connect in an unexpectedly profound way that makes them both question things about themselves that they believe they’d long settled.LIfted cover final

I’m also writing ‘Mother’, the final part to a trilogy about Keisha Crawford, who was also featured in my books, ‘Mistress’ and ‘Wife’. And after that, I’m working on ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’ who you might have met in ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’.  And after that, I have a couple of other projects lined up that should take me to the end of 2014. It’s going to be a busy year!

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think I don’t conform to a specific genre. I think there are always elements of romance in my work, but I don’t like to say I write romance novels. Nothing against romance novels (I read tons of them) but that label connotes a certain formula which I hope I don’t always follow. Romance as a genre is about escape, I think. And I don’t want my books to be pure escapism–I want them to be thoughtful, realistic explorations of messy, complex relationships. So I never tag my books romance when I sell them online, because I don’t want to give people the false expectation that there will be a neat romantic HEA (happily ever after) at the end. So I’ve taken to saying I write romantic realism.

3. Why do I write what I do? 

Because I find people interesting (never met a boring person!) and even more so, I like learning ‘why’ about everything, I bring that analytical nature to my writing. Since I read a fair amount, I think I also do some creative mimicry–if I were reading a lot of mystery and suspense right now, I would probably try my hand at writing those genres as well. So what I’m writing now is a reflection of my current reading material, my interest in relationships and people, and my tendency to analyze things to death. Who knows what’ll happen next year?

4. How does my writing process work?

Hell, I have no idea. Sometimes I see an interesting couple in an airport and imagine their story, sometimes I hear a song, sometimes a character springs to mind from nowhere, or a piece of dialogue I overhear intrigues me, or a reader says, ‘what if you wrote …’ Anything in the known world can spark an idea for what I want to write. Most often, the bigger challenge is not to write. Inspiration and ideas are everywhere, it’s the sifting through of all of them and deciding which to pursue that’s tough.

And once I’ve actually sat down to write, I do so in spurts and rather inconsistently. I can write half a book in a couple of days, or take a week to complete two pages. But the one thing I know for sure is that I am always writing in my head. Always. In fact, the typing is oftentimes the easy part so that once I feel like I know the characters–their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their motivation–they practically write themselves.

So that’s my story. I’m going to tag three other authors now and we get to hear theirs!

My picks are:

Christopher Bynum, author of , ‘With Benefits’ and ‘The Professional’.

Chicki Brown, author of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’, ‘A Woman’s Worth’ and the new release, ‘Till You Come Back to Me’.

Linden Hughes, author of  the bestselling new release ‘Taste of Lacey’

Be sure to check their books out, and in the meantime …

Happy Reading!

N.

The Writer’s Dilemma

introvert3When I was a kid, people used to call me shy. And for awhile, I believed them, because what did I know? I was a kid! But as I grew older, I realized that while shyness connoted fear, or trepidation being around groups of people, what I knew about myself was very different. People didn’t make me nervous or fearful, they just drained me. I found that my greatest energy, my sense of peace and of self was derived from being alone. What I am, is an introvert.

Over time, I learned how to be alone even in a crowd, and I do it still to this day because otherwise, I would be in a constant state of emotional depletion. Sometimes, when forced to socialize for work or go to crowded events with friends, I literally “get into character”, summoning my more sociable alter ego who can make small talk with the best of them, covering whatever topics are currently on people’s minds and tongues. But I hardly ever truly enjoy it. At best, I can say that it ‘wasn’t that bad.’ I’ve learned extrovert skills and am fairly good at most of them.

None of this is a big deal. Millions of people share the same story as mine. But my dilemma is that I am a writer, and to do that well, I need to engage with the world.

Wherever I go, I watch people. I listen to what they say, watch the things they do as they speak. Do they make eye contact when talking about their spouse? Do they sound tired when they talk about their job? I listen to how they speak, the words they use, the dialect, or slang, verbal tics they may have. And most of all, I love listening to people tell their own stories, of their lives, their families, their relationships. In that context, I am endlessly fascinated by people. But, as I always joke to another writer I’m close to: ‘my interest in people is purely academic.’

That’s an exaggeration, of course because I do care deeply about others. But it’s only a slight exaggeration.

What I mean is, watching people helps me write better, learn more about how they tick, which in turn might help me develop characters more skillfully. Problem is, observation only takes me so far. At some point I have to get in the ring and really, truly engage with people, which I don’t like to do because I’m an introvert: so there you have it, The Writer’s Dilemma.

If you knew before you got to this part of my blog exactly where I was going, and thought for a moment that I might have a solution, you’re wrong. I have no idea what to do about this dilemma. But I do know that it has to be solved — I need to engage to write well, but to write, I also need time, and space and silence. I’m working on a magic formula: maybe three parts introversion to one part extroversion and engaging with people? I don’t know.

If you share this dilemma, tell me . . . what do you do?