Saturday, July 4, 2015

This Time I'm Doing It Backwards

Photo by canstockphoto.com
I may not be a formula writer, but there are certain rules for basic plot structure that fiction writers have to follow. A protagonist is trying to acheive a certain goal, but an antagonist gets in their way. This creates the conflict that drives the story. The conflict builds to a climax, followed by a conclusion. This is, for all intents and purposes, the tonal scale for a novel writer. And in romance, the expected conclusion is for the couple to end up married, or engaged, or to make some other commitment to one another.

My first three novels, The Reunion, The Deception, and The Journey, all ended with the leading characters getting married, or, in the case of The Journey, remarried, but with my upcoming novel, The Betrayal, I've deviated of course. In fact, I've kind of done it in reverse.

The Betrayal is the story of a married woman who discovers, in a rather bizarre way, that her husband is cheating on her. So, instead of a protagonist finding her true love and getting married, I've have a protagonist trying to get herself unmarried. Of course, she'll still meet Mr. Right along the way, but this time the ending is different. Emily, the leading lady, is once again single, and while she and the leading man are most certainly in love with one another, neither are ready for a commitment, leaving the other characters, and the reader, speculating that they will probably marry--someday.

I took this path with this story because I think it's more like real-life. Divorced people are often gun shy at the idea of remarriage. I also think readers like variety. I know I do as a writer, and having all my characters go up the aisle at the end of each novel gets redundant over time. It might make me a "formula" writer, and that's something I don't want to become.

Look for The Betrayal to be released later this summer.

MM

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cover Sketch for THE BETRAYAL

The other day my illustrator, Wes Lowe, sent me the sketch for the cover illustration for The Betrayal. Part of the story takes place at a southern Arizona winery. Believe it or not, we really do have wineries in Arizona. We may not be Napa Valley, as they are all mom & pops, but they do make some very nice wines.

McPherson Vineyards, where this portion of the story is set, is a fictional winery. It's named after the Scottish clan I'm descended from, and it's loosely modeled after a real-life southern Arizona winery in the tiny town of Elgin, in the Santa Rita Mountains. This is one of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the state. It's still off the beaten path and I hope it stays that way. I love the unspoiled beauty, and taking an occasional Sunday off and driving to the winery that was the inspiration is a real treat.

I'm hoping to have the finished cover illustration soon, then it's off to the publisher. Look for The Betrayal to be released later on this summer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

It was Certainly Well Worth the Wait

Photo Courtesy of CanStockPhoto.com
I finally have The Betrayal back from the editor, and it was certainly worth the wait, as this time I had to do a revision.

The Betrayal is a story of lies, deceit and infidelity that climaxes when a potentially deadly conspiracy is launched against Emily, the leading lady. However, I was facing some real-life challenges of my own as I was writing the story, which resulted in my having to set the manuscript aside for weeks at a time. When I finally finished it there were a few continuity errors that I couldn't see, but Cynthia, my editor, sure caught them. She told me the last few chapters would need to be revised, and by the time I was done both of us were delighted at how much those changes improved the storyline. Now, I can't divulge too much, as I don't want to spoil it for you, but I can, however, give you a sneak peek, so here you go. And enjoy.

MM


* * *
 


Emily glanced at the dashboard clock as she waited for traffic light to change. It was nearly one o’clock. In the hour since she left Dr. Lerner’s office, her entire world had collapsed around her, and she wasn’t sure where to go next. Should she get a hotel room? Or would she be better off staying with her father? Granted, he’d never been fond of Jesse, but he wasn’t one to say I told you so either. The light turned green. She sighed and pointed her car toward her father’s house. Ten minutes later she pulled into the driveway.
The house looked quiet. Her father didn’t get off work until five o’clock, and Susan worked until seven, assuming today wasn’t her day off. With any luck, Emily would have the place to herself for a few hours. She still had the house key her parents had given her when she was a teenager. Hopefully, Susan hadn’t changed the locks. She put her key in the lock. It turned. As she stepped into the foyer, she got an enthusiastic greeting from Lurch. Lurch was part sheepdog, part collie, and part something else though no one knew exactly what, but whatever he lacked in pedigree, he more than made up for in love and affection. He put his big paws on Emily’s chest and she wrapped her arms around him.
“I know, buddy. It’s good to see you too.”
She gave the dog a pat on the head and stepped into the kitchen. To her relief, Susan was nowhere to be found. She fixed herself a glass of ice water and headed into the family room. A number of family photos stood on top of the mantle. She picked one up and gave it a closer look. It had been taken at the University of Arizona, shortly after the commencement ceremony had ended. Jesse stood in his cap and gown, his face beaming as he held up his diploma. Emily stood at his side, her face glowing as she showed off her engagement ring. She let out a sigh.
“I think we can safely throw this one away now.”
 She took the photo from its frame and ripped it in half, taking its remains back to the kitchen and dropping them into the wastebasket underneath the sink. She refilled her water glass and took it down the hallway to her old room. Her posters had all been taken down and replaced with other artwork, but it still had the furniture she grew up with. A framed photo sat on the nightstand. It had been taken shortly after the family had moved into the house. A fourteen-year-old Emily sat next to her mother on a chaise lounge by the pool. She picked it up and caressed the glass over her mother’s face with her finger.
“I miss you, Mom. Everyday. And most especially today.”
She set the photo down and plopped down on top of the bed. Lurch came up and joined her. She wrapped her arms around him and burst into tears.

 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE BETRAYAL has gone to the Editor

Finally! I've got my next manuscript completed. I started way back in November, 2013, and it's the longest it's ever taken me to finish a book. Now I'm not making excuses, but 2014 was an "interesting" year for me, to say the least, and I've been dealing with some exceptional real-life challenges.

Adultery is once again the theme, but unlike The Deception, this leading lady is the wife who's been cheated on, and the other woman knows he's married. In some ways The Betrayal is like The Reunion. It's actually two novellas put together in one novel. The first half is the story is about Emily, the leading lady, struggling to rebuild her shattered life after discovering Jesse's infidelity. The second half focuses on her friendship with Kyle, the police detective who's out to prove her innocence when she's accused of a crime she didn't commit. And if a police detective name Kyle seems familiar to you, it's because he's the same Kyle Madden who appeared in The Reunion as the detective who warned Gillian about her ex-husband, Jason.

As a sneak preview, I'm posting an unedited sample from The Betrayal. Please note the final version will vary.

Enjoy.

MM



* * * 




 Emily St. Claire reached for another tissue to dab the sweat off her forehead. She then grabbed her water bottle, but the once cold liquid had turned lukewarm. She took a few swallows and glanced at the clock on the waiting room wall. It was only eleven-fifteen. The air conditioning had stopped working at nine forty-five. Ninety minutes of down time and the office was now sweltering. She heard Dr. Lerner’s voice coming from the hallway. He was busy performing a root canal and having to apologize to his patient for the added discomfort of the heat. The front door opened as she gulped down the last of her water. Andrea stepped inside. Her makeup was beaded and creased and wisps of her red hair had stuck to the sweat on the side of her face. She walked up to the window separating Emily’s desk from the waiting room.
“It feels even hotter in here than it does in our office.”
“Must be one of Murphy’s Laws,” replied Emily. “The air conditioning will always conk out on the hottest day of the summer.”
“Any word on when they’ll get it fixed?”
Emily shrugged her shoulders. “Your guess is as good as mine. I tried calling the property manager again about twenty minutes ago, but I’m still getting a busy signal. I’m sure by now they’re aware of the problem.”
“Yeah, I kept getting busy signals too, which means must be. Meantime Dr. Hapner had me reschedule all our afternoon patients. Turns out two of them are really sick, so they’re on their way right now. Then, once we’re done, we’re closing up shop and calling it a day.” Andrea chuckled. “I love the idea of having an afternoon off, but why does it have to be on a day when it’s over a hundred and ten degrees outside?”
Emily gave her another shrug. “I don’t know. Must be the price we pay for living in Phoenix. At least we don’t get snowed in during the winter.”
“Yeah, but a good old-fashioned ice storm would sure feel nice right about now. And I’ll bet you’re glad now that you got the new haircut.”
Emily ran her fingers through her short, blonde hair. It felt strange to no longer have her long locks. “It’s lower maintenance all right, but Jesse wasn’t too thrilled with it.”
“That figures. Have you told him yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, keep me posted. I’m anxious to hear how he reacts. You can always let your hair grow back, you know, but at least for now you’ll be much cooler. Meantime, I have to get back to work. I just wanted to stick my head in the door to see how you’re doing. Hopefully, we’ll all be back to normal by tomorrow morning.”
“I’m sure we will be.”
“Are we still on for lunch Friday?”
“You bet. See you, Andrea.”
Andrea took her leave while Emily tried the property manager once again. This time her call went through. After punching a few buttons she got a live person on the line, who told her a repairman was on the way, but to not expect the air conditioning to be back online until much later in the day. She heard approaching footsteps as she hung up. Dr. Lerner had finished with his patient. His normally crisp white shirt was wrinkled and soaked with sweat.
“Any word on the air conditioning?”
“I’m afraid it won’t be back on until the end of the day. Meantime your eleven-thirty had already rescheduled for next Tuesday. Your next patient is due right after lunch.”
He frowned. “And if it’s this hot now, it’ll be unbearable by this afternoon. Go ahead and take care of Mrs. Baxter. After that I want you to call everyone who was supposed to come in this afternoon and have them reschedule. We’re taking the rest of the day off. Hopefully, we’ll all be back to normal by tomorrow morning.”
“I’m sure we will be. Thanks, doctor.”
He nodded and walked away. Fifteen minutes later Emily stepped out to the blazing midday sun. She smiled to herself as she walked across the parking lot. She decided she would stop at the grocery store on the way home so she could prepare a surprise dinner for Jesse. She hurried across the shimmering pavement and hopped into her car. The steering wheel burned her fingers as she fired up the engine and turned the air conditioning on high. After a few hot moments the air began to feel deliciously cool. A smile broke out across her face as she drove off. Tonight’s dinner would be the perfect opportunity for her to tell Jesse the time had come for him to keep his end of their bargain.
She soon pulled into the grocery store parking lot and hunted for a space. Once inside she grabbed a cart headed down the isles. Tonight she would prepare her famous chicken divan—one of Jesse’s favorites. She picked out her ingredients and tossed a bouquet of fresh flowers into her cart before she headed to the checkout lane. Ten minutes later she pulled into her driveway and frowned. Annette’s white Civic was parked in front of the house. Something unexpected must have come up. Emily sighed as she pressed the button to open the garage door. Once inside she grabbed the grocery bags and hurried out of the hot garage. The cool air felt heavenly as she stepped inside the house and headed straight to the kitchen.
“Hi guys. I’m home.”
No response. The house seemed unusually quiet. She set the bags on the counter and went down the hallway. Jesse had converted one of the downstairs bedrooms into his office. She tapped on the door and smiled as she slowly pushed it open.
“Hey guys. The air conditioning went out and I’m—”
Her smiled faded. The room was empty. The lights were out and Jesse’s computer was shutdown. She started getting a bad feeling but quickly brushed it off. Perhaps Jesse and Annette were out by the pool. She went to the living room and opened the sliding glass door.
“Jesse! Annette!”
No answer. The backyard seemed eerily quiet and no one was by the pool. She closed the door and headed toward the staircase. The upper floor contained the master suite and a rarely used guest bedroom. Jesse would be leaving for Houston on Friday to facilitate a seminar. Perhaps he and Annette had gone upstairs to decide what he should pack. She took a deep breath and started up the stairs, trying to ignore the gnawing feeling that something was terribly wrong. The knot in her stomach grew tighter as she turned on the landing and headed up the remaining flight. She could hear muffled voices as she approached the bedroom door. Jesse must have turned the TV on. She turned the knob and slowly opened it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Meet Denise Sanderson, the Evil Nurse in THE JOURNEY

Photo by Fotolia.com
If I had to list the most evil of the villains I've created so far, Denise Sanderson would certainly be at the top of the list, especially since she's the last person readers would expect to be evil.

Denise is a young, pretty nurse who, at first glance, appears to be genuinely compassionate and caring. And maybe she was, at least for a time, but Denise also has a darker side. It all goes back to when she was in nursing school. Back then she liked to frequent a bar called O'Malley's Grill, and she became friendly with one of the bartenders--Jeremy Palmer. She even fell in love with Jeremy, but he didn't feel the same about her so he turned down her advances. He soon moved on and forgot about her, but unfortunately for him, Denise neither forgave, nor forgot, his rejection.

Jeremy and Denise would meet again, but this time under entirely different circumstances. Denise, now a nurse, has been assigned to care for Cassie Palmer, Jeremy's new wife, who's been seriously injured in a car crash. She quickly befriends both Cassie and Jeremy, and while Jeremy can't quite place her, she seems familiar nonetheless, and he feels he can trust her. Unfortunately for him, Denise will use his trust to unleash her revenge, and Jeremy's life will never be the same.

Denise is a fictitious character, but she also represents a deep-seeded fear many of us may have. What if the people we trust to take care of us during our most vulnerable times really don't have our best interests in mind? Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?

MM

Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Search of St. Eligius Ranch

Photo by Marina Martindale
New Year's has a way of making people feel nostalgic and I guess I'm no exception. The high point of my 2014 was a road trip I took to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in July with Geneva, my good friend and beta reader. 

I passed through Steamboat Springs for the first time back in the 90s, while traveling with my (now ex) husband, and I was struck by how beautiful it was. Famous for its ski resort, ranching is still a part of the area around Steamboat Springs, so when I wrote The Reunion, I decided to set the fictitious St. Eligius Ranch about twenty miles away from the town. It's a former cattle ranch turned horse sanctuary, and it's the home of Laura Palmer, ex-wife of leading man Ian Palmer. A number of key scenes in the novel take place at St. Eligius Ranch, including the story's final climax. Later on, when I wrote The Journey, I also set a number of scenes at St. Eligius Ranch.

Photography, like writing, is one of my life's passions, so while I was there I photographed scenery that closely matched some of the descriptions of St. Eligius Ranch. It was a wonderful trip. One I'll remember fondly for many years to come, and it's a place I hope to revisit someday. In the meantime, please enjoy this scene from The Reunion, as Gillian, the leading lady, visits St. Eligius for the first
Photo by Marina Martindale
time.

Happy New Year,

MM

* * * 


Before long the horses were saddled and they mounted up. Will stayed behind, explaining he had work to do. Laura rode a young buckskin gelding she called Fred.
"He's Miss Mollie's son," she explained. "He was a young foal at her side when we adopted them two years ago. I think he'll turn out to be a fine horse, but he still has some rough edges to work out."
Laura led them away from the barn and onto a narrow trail leading through a lush meadow. Gillian couldn't get over the sheer beauty of it. The aspen trees were turning gold.
"When I first came here, I was an ex-housewife who didn't know one end of a horse from the other," explained Laura. "I was originally hired as a bookkeeper for Will's veterinary practice. The next thing I knew I was writing grants, planning fund-raisers, and doing everything else I could think of to keep money flowing in the door for the foundation to help care for these animals. Back then, I was living in the cottage, that's what we call the fifth-wheel trailer, and I soon became friends with Will. He taught me, and both of my boys, how to ride. He also taught me how to help take care of the horses. Along the way I've been kicked, bitten, and occasionally stepped on, but I've learned to cope with it. Horses are easy. Two sons aren't."
"Thanks, Mom," said Jeremy.
"Anytime," she replied. "Some of the ones we get are simply neglected or have owners who,
Photo by Marina Martindale
for whatever reason, are no longer able to care for them. Those are the easy cases, and we can usually get them to new owners right away. Others arrive abandoned, injured or starving. They need some
TLC, and we're often pretty successful with them as well. But we also get the occasional hard-luck cases. Those are the ones that have suffered some serious abuse, and it never ceases to amaze me just how cruel some human beings can be. They usually need complete rehabilitation, but we're not always successful. There've also been a few that we've had to put down as soon as they arrived. Those are the ones that really break your heart." 
They continued across the meadow and began working their way toward the ridge. Laura went on with her story.
"This ranch used to be called The Flying M, and it's been in Will's family for over a century. When Will's father inherited it from his great-uncle, it was still a working cattle ranch. Will's dad was also a veterinarian. He started up the veterinary clinic, and he started taking in injured and abandoned horses. By the time Will finished veterinary school, they decided to stop raising cattle and add a horse sanctuary to the clinic. They sold about half the acreage, and the name, to that big dude ranch resort next door. Will renamed the place St. Eligius, since he's the patron saint of horses and those who work with them. That pretty much sums it up. The foundation survives mostly on grant money and donor support. We also do a number of fundraisers throughout the year. One is coming up soon, and that's the haunted hayride that we do every year with the Flying M. It's the last Saturday in October and we always have a lot of fun while we're at it. We have volunteers of all ages who come and participate, and the boys always come to help out as well."
"Isn't it snowing up here by then?" asked Gillian.
"A little bit, sometimes, but the snow doesn't really start accumulating until around Thanksgiving. Our big event, however, is our gala and auction in Denver, in February."
Fred decided to start acting up. Miss Mollie got agitated as well, but Gillian pulled the rein tight and got her under control.
"You okay, Mom?"
"Yeah. He's just being the equine adolescent that he is. I'm going to run him back in to let him get it out of his system. I've got some work to do as well. You two take your time."
Laura turned Fred around and he took off in a dead gallop. Gillian and Jeremy watched as she raced across the meadow.
"You know, she's really not so bad," said Gillian
"Well, I would certainly hope not."
"Our first meeting didn't go so well." Gillian turned Miss Mollie toward the ridge. "She meant well, but she showed up, unexpectedly, at the gallery one day and really threw me for a loop. Maybe having Ian out of the picture makes a difference."
"You and I didn't get off to the best start either, if you recall."
"Yeah, but you were just looking out for your dad. You wanted to make sure I wasn't some manipulating tramp."
They rode for another couple of hours, stopping occasionally for Gillian to snap a few photos. By the time they were ready to head back, she decided that not only would she be happy to donate a painting, she would create one exclusively for their auction. Jeremy was pleased. He couldn't wait to give his mother, and Will, the news. They rode back down the hillside and into the meadow.
"Sometimes, on the way back in, we like to run the horses through the meadow," explained Jeremy, "but I think maybe we'll skip it this time. I don't know if you're up to it or not."
Gillian turned to face Jeremy. "You're right."
She spurred Miss Mollie forward and the mare took off like a rocket. Just like her son, Fred, Miss Mollie was a good runner.
"Well, how 'bout that?" A big smile broke across Jeremy’s face. "You're going to need that head start, Missy."
He spurred Pretty Boy forward and raced after her. His mount was a bigger, faster horse, and he soon caught up to her. They were in a virtual tie by the time they reached the barn.
"Okay, Miss Smarty-Pants, I stand corrected," shouted Jeremy as they slowed their mounts down.