This evening, Thursday, May 13, I’ll be attending a book club meeting in Tallahassee at which my book, Mayhem at the Happy Valley Motor Inn and Resort, will be the topic of discussion. This will be my second book club experience with Mayhem, but while the first one was via Zoom, this one will be held in a friend’s home with actual people in the room with me!
I’m no introvert, but having been fairly sequestered with Studly Doright for the past year, I’m going to confess to being a bit nervous. And when I get nervous, I’m liable to say just about anything.
“By the way, did you all know I lost my virginity back in….”
I read a lot. I’m not the speediest reader in the world, so I average about a book a week unless the book in question is a lengthy sci-fi tale. Sometimes sci-fi books become so technical that I might need two or three weeks to absorb a single book.
Recently though I read a trilogy that fell into a category called dark erotic romances. My curiosity got the best of me. I couldn’t figure out why the books were labeled “dark,” but after five pages I thought, Aha. NOW I know!”
My first inclination was to order a different, much tamer book and forget I’d spent money on the trilogy, but dadgum it, the author kind of hooked me right away. I already liked her main character and needed to see what happened to him. But, holy cow the story was dark and gleefully erotic—and I read all three books in the space of four days. Yes, they were fairly short, but still that’s something of a record for me.
The author mentioned several songs I’d never heard of in the text of the stories, and one made it to my writing playlist. “Ride” by Chase Rice might be the hottest song I’ve heard in a long time. It makes me wish I was 21 instead of 64.
And as for dark erotica, I believe I’ve reached my lifetime limit after those three books. I don’t need to travel that path again. In fact, I’m thinking about rereading the Anne of Green Gables books just to cleanse my mind.
I’ve always heard that variety is the spice of life. Well mine got a little too spicy—at least for a few days.
Every now and again I read a novel that stays with me long past the time I finish reading it. TJ Fox’s debut novel, An Unexpected Turn, is one such book.
I discovered TJ through her blog on WordPress. She’s one of these incredibly talented Renaissance-type women who seems to be capable of doing just about anything she sets her mind to, whether it be writing, photography, decorating, or any number of other endeavors. And she does them all beautifully. Check out her blog at http://tjfox.net.
Recently I recommended TJ’s book to a friend and I started thinking about the incredible way it came to pass. Having spent nearly ten years writing my first novel, (eight of those years it spent on a shelf, nearly forgotten), I was amazed, impressed, and flabbergasted to learn that TJ wrote the first draft for An Unexpected Turn in one week! Yes. Read that and weep, fellow authors.
I asked TJ how she came up with the idea for her novel:
TJ: I had a literal dream I couldn’t get out of my head after waking from it because of how improbable and ridiculous my rational mind thought the dream was. My brain wouldn’t let go of the questions and the “what ifs” that dream dredged up. I had to start writing all those thoughts down to get my brain to process it and it became a book, something that I never dreamed I would ever do. In a way, it feels kind of like I accidentally wrote a book.
Me: But you wrote it in a single week?
TJ: My brain was so obsessed with trying to answer those “what ifs” and trying to take a situation that seemed so over the top and impossible and figure what kind of circumstances would create an environment to make it be possible, that I sat down and wrote the entire first draft in a week. I would sit down in the mornings and write until I hit a problem I wasn’t sure how to get beyond. I’d then go to sleep and by morning, I’d have a solution and I’d start up again.
Of course, I spent so much more time on edits than I did on writing that first draft making the entire process so much longer, but a vast majority of the story was set in stone in that one week. It was one of those rare creative moments where it feels like the creation took on a life of its own and created itself while the creator was just a tool in the process.
As an artist, I’ve experienced similar creative moments here and there, but never on this scale or this completely. Even now, at three and a half years later (sheesh, I can’t believe it’s been that long already), I still struggle to believe it happened.
Me: Incredible and mind-boggling, but I’m glad it happened that way. Now, I’m a lousy interviewer, so I’m going to ask a “catch all” question. What is it you’d like future readers to know about An Unexpected Turn?
TJ: This one is always hard for me. To me, with the story evoking all kinds of emotions as the events unfold, it feels like if I talk about any of those events, even in very broad strokes, that I’ll take away from the emotional impact of the story for any future reader. And it IS a story that is all about the emotions, a lot of really sad emotions, but still laced with the feel-good kinds of emotions that make such hard events bearable. It isn’t like a major suspense kind of story that I’m going to be spoiling the big “who done it” reveal, but I’m never really sure how to talk about my book without feeling like I might cheat a reader from the experience if I were to say the wrong thing. The best I have been able to come up with in trying to describe it is that it is a story about a woman’s emotional journey to finding and creating family in unimaginable circumstances.
Me: That’s a really good description. I think I used a whole box of tissues while reading your book. I remember being shocked by your protagonist’s situation. I felt everything she was going through and became totally lost in the story.
Could we have a sample???
TJ: Again, because I struggle so much with knowing which pieces to share that won’t change the impact of the story, I’m just going to give you what I have as part of my blurb.
“When I take a good look at my reflection, I’m a bit surprised by the fact that the face looking back at me in the mirror doesn’t look any different than the one I’ve seen staring back at me for the last 27 years. I feel like I should look different. That my face should show the upheaval and the weight of the last several hours, that it should somehow show how much the course of my life has changed, but other than the mess from crying, everything is still the same. That seems wrong somehow.”
Me: Okay, now I’m crying again. Thanks, TJ!
You can find An Unexpected Turn on Amazon. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook on Kindle. It’d make a great gift, too.
The resulting comments from friends on WordPress and social media led me to purchase a copy of the book, and thanks to Amazon, I’ll soon be comparing the book to the film. Seldom do I do the reverse order thing. Usually I’ve read the book first and then often find the film disappointing.
As a newly self-published author I can’t help but imagine what the screen version of my book might look like. Mayhem at the Happy Valley Motor Inn and Express would work well as a movie, but I’m afraid one scene would need to be cut or altered and that would be a shame. Since Hollywood isn’t going to come knocking on my door anytime soon, I guess that’s a senseless waste of a good worry.
A couple of years ago I got to hear author Louise Penny speak when she launched one of her Detective Gamache books here in Tallahassee. Someone asked what she’d thought about the screen adaptation of her first novel. I can’t provide a direct quote, but Ms. Penny said she’d not been happy with the way the book was transformed for the film and that she’d felt as if she had let her characters down.
I totally understand that. My characters, Paula and Cassie, the 3M’s, and Dr. Hunky, are all important to me. They’re like family. I find myself wondering, WWPD (What Would Paula Do) in certain situations. As I write the sequel to Mayhem I ask myself that question multiple times a day. So if I allowed someone to take my characters and change them in ways that weren’t true to my images of them, I’d feel awful. Again, a baseless worry, but hey, that’s how my mind works.
So buy the book. Support those characters, so you too can think of them as family.
Shoulder sent me to the chiropractor today. We’ve been working on giving me some range of motion without making me howl in pain. At the end of the session Dr. Cal (who kind of reminds me of Matthew McConaughey) sent me to a walk-in orthopedic center. There, they x-rayed my shoulder, determined that I have some arthritis, bursitis, and maybe even other “itises“ yet to be named.
The orthopedist gave me a shot of cortisone and hopefully that, along with continued physical therapy, will help me get back to my normal wacky activities. All this pain—has resulted in my gaining five pounds, and it’s ticking me off.
I’ll be more chipper tomorrow. Oh, if you need something to read on this cold February weekend, might I suggest a couple of books? Suitable for Framing, a cozy mystery by Lori Roberts Herbst and my own novel, Mayhem at the Happy Valley Motor Inn and Resort, a quirky road trip story set in east Texas. They’re both available from Amazon and as an ebook on Kindle. And the reviews are really good. It’d probably make my shoulder feel better if you bought the books.
My copy of Manhandled by E. L. Scobie arrived in the mail on Saturday afternoon. Studly brought the mail in, and I didn’t see the book until Sunday.
Immediately I set about reading this salacious looking novel that was published in 1963, a Midwood Book, by Tower Publications in New York City.
Having read my share of romance novels over the years I imagined this particular book would be tame in comparison to the bodice rippers I’d devoured in my twenties and thirties. I was both right and wrong.
This novel is hardly tame; however, the sex scenes aren’t titillating at all. With one really sweet exception, they’re just sad and tawdry. The front and back covers had more campy sexual appeal than the entire contents of the book combined.
I tried googling Scobie, with no luck, and I’m certain the author used a pen name. This seems to be his/her only published work, but it was, indeed, published which makes me think the author might have been trying a different genre. I’ll give the author this much—he/she wrote lyrically about the beauty of the area in which the book is set.
The book was disappointing. It didn’t make me want to lure Studly Doright to my boudoir for a night of passion, which had been on my mind. Instead, it inspired me to daydream about fishing in a cold mountain stream. And I dislike fishing. Go figure.
Never will I claim to be the most observant of humans. In fact, my husband of nearly 44 years, Studly Doright, is fond of telling me that I have “awareness issues.” I’d disagree with him if he weren’t so right.
Yesterday I wrote about a woman who, while visiting in my home, thought that when I said that I’d just finished my first novel that I meant I’d just finished reading my first novel.
One day last week I ordered new carpet for the room that suffered damage from our recent water leak here at Doright Manor. The saleswoman who helped me decide on a pattern came out to the house to measure the area to be carpeted and talked me into also buying carpet for the two adjacent rooms. She was quite good at her job.
We chatted as she measured and eventually she asked what I did with my free time. I told her I’d recently finished my first novel. She looked at me kind of funny, so I elaborated, saying I one day realized I’d written 100,000 words.
“Oh,” she said. “I thought you meant you’d finished reading your first novel.”
We laughed, but then I wondered if I needed to upgrade my image. Surely I don’t look like a non-reader. Right?
This was my first Zoom experience, and for the most part the technology worked well. A couple of those attending experienced technical difficulties, and I know that was frustrating for them.
I believe there were nine of us in the meeting, and it truly was an international experience with one attendee from England and another from France. The U.S. was represented by folks from Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, and Florida. Due to the time differences, some folks were enjoying a glass of wine while we met, while others were still savoring their morning cups of coffee. Me, being in the middle joined the wine drinkers, of course.
Opinions on the book, Infield by Téa Obreht were mixed. The story tended to appeal most to those of us who’d grown up in the Southwest. The themes of thirst and need certainly resonated with me. It’s not light reading, by any means.
But—there are camels in Infield. And who doesn’t love camels? A very small portion of the book is set in Camp Verde, Texas. Several years ago Studly Doright and I were staying in Kerrville, Texas, with a group of our motorcycling friends. The men left early one morning to enjoy riding the sweeping curves of the Texas Hill Country at speeds that make me shudder, while three of us women set off on our own slower paced ride.
It was my day to lead, and I hate being the leader, but I took my turn without too much grumbling. We had no destination in mind that day, so I just headed south. We hadn’t gone more than about 19 miles when I thought I’d begun hallucinating, for in the near distance stood a camel calmly grazing. There was a sign posted that read “Camp Verde” and another for a general store, so I made an executive decision and turned left into the parking lot.
My friends and I spent the entire morning at the General Store, shopping, having lunch, and learning about the Camel Corps.
It seems I got sidetracked on my book club report, but I’d recommend this method of meeting if your group is jonesing to get together. I’m not very savvy when it comes to technology, but I was able to join the meeting with ease. I did keep forgetting to mute my mic when others were talking. Next time I’ll put a sticky note on my computer to remind me.
I’m a book club dropout. Over the years I’ve belonged to several, but after a few weeks or months I become disenchanted and gracefully, I hope, bow out.
On the surface, it would seem that I’d be a book club aficionado. My reading habit is nearly insatiable, and if I only had money enough for food and books, I’d grow very skinny, but I’d have plenty to read.
I have a couple of issues with book clubs, though. First, I like to read what I want to read when I want to read it. I think if I could belong to a club in which we all simultaneously read a book of our own choosing and then met to exchange information about our chosen books, I’d be all in.
The second issue is that often the book I didn’t want to read, but read anyway because someone in the book club chose it, isn’t really discussed at the meeting. The group might start off discussing the book, but within five minutes the meeting dissolves into a purely social occasion. Argh.
I’m certain there are clubs out there that I would enjoy. I just haven’t found one yet.
Today, though, I’m going to participate in an international book club meeting via Zoom with several people I know from my senior year at Dumas high school. The instigator of this group, M.E., recommended the book, Infield by Téa Obreht, after she’d read it and felt the need to discuss it with others. I’m one of the lucky others.
M.E. was particularly persuasive, leading me to hurriedly complete the Peter F. Hamilton book I’d been reading in order to read Infield. I was quite taken with the book. It reminds me in ways of some totally different kinds of tales: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and John Steinbeck’s story, The Chrysanthemums. The book also includes a touch of the supernatural, and I’d almost say magical realism.
I cannot wait to discuss this book with M.E., et. al. The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. my time—a time frame that will work for our friends in France and all over the U.S.
M.E., who lives on the west coast, has put a lot of thought and effort into making this happen today. And honestly, I won’t care if we end up socializing five minutes into the meeting. After all, many of those planning to take part today haven’t seen each other since 1975. We visit on Facebook, but nothing like we’ve got planned.