Catering Girl

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Coming soon on Amazon!

Stand-up comic Frankie Goldberg is one of my favorite characters. She popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in the middle of Woodstock, New York, and she had a story to tell me. That initial meeting eventually became The Joke’s on Me. But before Frankie reunited with her family, she wreaked a little havoc in Hollywood. Catering Girl is a novella from that chapter of her life.

Frankie keeps getting fired from her day jobs, thanks to her smart mouth and a lot of other bad habits. Now a thirty-something catering assistant on a movie set, she reluctantly agrees to bring a cappuccino to the resident diva. The young star Anastasia Cole is in tears, distraught about disturbing changes in the script. Frankie serves a side of common sense with the coffee, and excited to have an ally, Anastasia offers her the role of a lifetime. It’s not what Frankie had in mind—but being needed might be exactly what she needs.

I’m excited to share a bit of Catering Girl with you here, before I publish it this weekend.

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Catering Girl

Chapter 1

I wasn’t supposed to be smoking on set, even though it was an outdoor shoot nearly halfway to the Mojave Desert. I wasn’t supposed to be smoking at all, having promised everyone who still loved me that I’d quit. But lack of sleep and a vicious hangover made for a deadly combination that lowered my willpower to zilch. I’d just lit up, intent on spending my midmorning break in contemplation of my bad habits, when a voice perforated my muzzy thoughts.

“Catering! You there, catering!”

Busted. I ground my cig underneath one designer heel and prepared for another lecture. Snapping his fingers at me was the producer’s son, an entitled little creep with a Napoleon complex and a suspiciously low hairline. Per my contract with the studio, I didn’t have to man my station for another ten minutes. For almost anybody else involved in this movie, I would have hopped to, probably with a joke and a smile, but I had no intention of saluting this guy’s flag any sooner than required.

My deficiency of hop-to did not appear to please him. His eyes narrowed to nasty slits. “What are you, deaf? Cappuccino to trailer three, nonfat milk. Don’t screw it up.”

Speaking of entitlement. “I’m not going in there.” I’d yet to meet the performer in person, but the last coffee jock who’d gone into Anastasia Cole’s trailer had exited wearing the cappuccino, then kept on walking.

If either he or Miss Silicone thought that a slew of forgettable slasher flicks and one Oscar—best supporting actress, in a slow year—earned her the right to go full-on diva, they both had another thing coming. I didn’t care that my teenage nephew adored her and had seen all her movies, some twice.

The heir apparent sighed. “Okay, what’s it worth to you?”

“Excuse me?”

He pulled out his wallet. “Ten bucks?”

Ten bucks? I saw what that putz drove onto the set. My parents hadn’t paid that much for their house. “Fifty,” I countered. “But if she throws it at me, I’m walking, too. And I’ll take the entire catering unit with me.”

I had no authority to pull up stakes, but I’d been working with guys like this for years. It seemed a safe bet that beyond his own imagined influence, he didn’t have a clue who was responsible for what.

A vein bulged on his left temple. “Christ. You’re as bad as the agents. Anastasia won’t do the nude scene, the other producers are threatening to bail, and now the catering girl is shaking me down for a lousy cup of coffee.”

Catering girl? I straightened my spine, which probably didn’t make me any taller than my usual five foot five, sans moussed curls and impractical footwear, but it made me feel more intimidating. “What did you call me?”

He got right up in my face. “Catering. Girl. No power.” He pointed to himself. “Producer. Power. Get the difference?”

I smiled sweetly at him. “Thank you for clearing that up for me. Now let me give you some advice. When Daddy makes you drive to McDonald’s to pick up dinner for the crew, don’t forget the french fries. Makes the union guys pissy.”

Then I turned and started for my car, forcing a cool, confident walkaway so he wouldn’t see that I was having a quiet nervous breakdown over what I’d just done. It was a crappy movie, but I needed this job, bad. In the thirteen years since little Frankie Goldberg had left the East Coast and the comfort of my mother’s brisket, the career as a famous movie star hadn’t panned out. Nor had I been doing very well as a fair-to-middling standup comic. The only marketable skill I had left was a knack for cooking in large quantities. At the moment, I couldn’t afford to put my job on the line just to make a point. I had bills coming due, my beat-up Barracuda was on its last cylinder, and I owed my sister and her current husband, at her last accounting, six hundred and thirty-two dollars and fifteen cents.

It was the fifteen cents that bothered me the most.

“All right,” he said. “Fifty. And I’ll talk to her first.”

I let out my breath. For fifty bucks, I’d even draw a little heart in the foam. “Nonfat milk, you said?”

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The Magic of Writing Fiction about Magic

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I’ve loved magic since I was a kid. I eagerly watched magicians on television, especially Doug Henning, Harry Anderson, and David Copperfield. It looked so cool that they could appear to cut a person in half, make something vanish, or perform some other jaw-dropping feat. In my head, I knew that the illusions performed were not physically possible. Harry Anderson wasn’t “really” sticking a giant hatpin right through his arm on Saturday Night Live. David Copperfield wasn’t “really” making a 747 disappear. Doug Henning didn’t just…do that, did he? But I still was enthralled. The craft of illusion fascinated me, and even though I was able to suspend my disbelief, I admired the work and practice it must have taken to make the performances look so smooth.

Then I had a chance to peek behind the curtain. I lived with a magician for a few years, and he had a lot of magician friends. I watched them practice; I went to their shows; I learned about their props. And for a short time, I was an actual assistant, right down to the fishnet tights and misdirection. I wasn’t very good at my job, but it was a lot of fun to dress up on a weekend and try to get people to put money in our hat. I learned how to juggle and perform a few simple illusions, much to the delight of various small, fussy children and their weary parents.

I still watched the professionals with agog, even though most of the time I knew how the tricks worked. I met Harry Anderson in a Manhattan magic store (he’s adorably sweet and freakishly tall), I spoke with David Copperfield after one of his shows (eerily intense and possibly a vampire), ditto Jeff McBride (less eerily intense than Copperfield though), among others. But there was one thing I noticed time and time again.

Nearly all of the women I’d met in magic were the assistants. They were better than I had been, earned a lot more money than I had, but they weren’t headlining.

My career ambitions lay elsewhere, and just as well, because as I said, I wasn’t very good at my assistant job. You need to be flexible to fold yourself into some of those illusions, and that wasn’t in my skill set. But the question still ruminated in the back of my mind: why aren’t there more women in magic?

As I grew into writing and left magic to the professionals, I discovered two fundamental truths. First, no experience is wasted. Second, certain themes and ideas resonate for a reason. I hoped that one day I would find a suitable vehicle for my magical past and write about a woman who wanted to be a magician in her own right. And then Christina Davenport popped into my head. When I first “met” her, she was a snarky waitress, auditioning to become a magician’s assistant, hoping he wouldn’t figure out that she wanted to use him as a springboard into her own spotlight. It was a sort of power struggle between her and the magician: he wanted her to get inside a box illusion and she didn’t want to reveal her claustrophobia or her ambitions. When I started asking her more questions, a story developed.

How to handle the magic in the story was another challenge.

I’d hung around enough magicians to have internalized the idea that you don’t spill the secrets. Even though magicians like Penn and Teller do let a few cats out of the bag, it’s done strategically, and to let the audience share in the wonder of how something is done.

But how could I write a story set in a background of street and stage magic without a little peek inside—enough to pull a reader into the world and make the (sometimes imagined for the sake of the story) illusions look real without ticking off the magicians by revealing too much? Well, the magicians union hasn’t made me disappear yet, so maybe I struck the right balance.

Another reason I liked working with the theme of magic is that it sort of mirrors the art of fiction itself. Fiction writers harness the power of misdirection, of showmanship, and throw around a little sleight of hand when needed. So even though I might have been a bad assistant, maybe it was because I was really rehearsing for a different role in magic.

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A quick and shamelessly promotional note—for a limited time, A Sudden Gust of Gravity will be available free from The Choosy Bookworm. If you sign up for the Read and Review program, you’ll get a free copy of the book in exchange for your honest review. Even though it’s listed under “suspense and thrillers,” the story is more on the suspense-y, romance-y side. Categories are funny sometimes.

A Sudden Gust of Giveaways

GravityBookcoverSmallFebruary can get gloomy up here in the Northeast. There’s too much winter left, and baseball season is still too far away. Rather than wallow in my February-ness, I’m taking the advice of a wise friend, who says that doing something nice for someone else makes her feel better. I’m starting by giving away a few copies of my new novel, A Sudden Gust of Gravity.

There are two ways you can win. The first is from Goodreads. You can enter here to win one of four signed print copies. Giveaway ends February 13.

For the second, if you head over to this page and follow me on Amazon, you can click on the cute little treasure chest for a chance to win a copy of the book. This giveaway is for the US only (I do hope they change that soon) and ends when one of you hits the lucky number.

I hope your February stays bright, and thank you for reading.

Real Life into Fiction

Typewriter - Once upon a timeThink about your favorite novels. There might be a ripping good story and great writing, but I bet it also stars characters that leap off the page. Even if the characters inhabit a fantasy world and have two heads and green fur, they feel as real as the person sitting next to you. That being feels…real to you. You care what happens to she/he/it. Ever wonder how writers do that? I can’t speak for all writers, but here are a few secrets some of us use to take our real life experiences into fiction. Continue reading

Playing Charlie Cool: Launch Party!

Charlie_Cool_kindle500Woot, Playing Charlie Cool is live and I’m Snoopy dancing. The fabulous folks at Book Partners in Crime are helping to get the virtual launch going with a one-day book-launch-a-palooza. A whole bunch of book bloggers (scroll down to see the list) will be featuring Charlie today and hosting a raffle for a $30 Amazon gift card and other prizes. I hope you’ll swing by and maybe hit some of those social media buttons to share with your friends.

Because some of you have been asking about the order of the books, I’ll give you the rundown of the Trager Family Secrets series and how the new book fits in. Continue reading

A Glance in The Rear-view Mirror

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdvice is a funny thing. More often it has to do with the person giving it than the person it’s directed toward. I’ve been advised frequently not to look back. That history is in the past, and we are all supposed to move forward. Sharks have to keep swimming or die. Lot’s poor wife chanced a glimpse over her shoulder, and look what happened to her. Salt city. Continue reading

My Favorite Banned Books: The Grapes of Wrath

Banned BooksLike most people trundled through the American public school system, I was coerced into reading a selection of “classical” literature as a teen. Because I didn’t like the way it was taught in my district—all this emphasis on theme and metaphor the author might not even have intended—I didn’t enjoy it all that much, little goody-two-shoes rebel that I’d been. As much as I grumbled when teachers said that the tree at the end of the book meant crucifixion and the way the moon hung in the sky was a symbol of the protagonist’s ennui about his impending marriage, I loved reading. I loved the places a good story took me to and the opportunity to see life through someone else’s eyes. Without someone telling me what it all meant. Only now, some (mumble mumble) decades later, rereading some of those works, am I more deeply appreciating the opportunity I’d been given. Some students have had wonderful books like Moby-Dick, The Catcher in the Rye (banned as late as 2001), Cat’s Cradle, and The Sun Also Rises (also banned, and burned in Nazi bonfires) removed from their libraries and school districts. Some countries do not permit their distribution at all. Continue reading

Playing Charlie Cool: Sneak Peek

PlayingCharlieCoolPrelim400Hi, everyone! While Art Dude is finishing the cover, I’d like to share an excerpt from Playing Charlie Cool. The e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon. You can save a buck by ordering now at the introductory price, and it will be delivered to your Kindle when the book is published at the beginning of October. Although it’s a sequel to The Picture of Cool and Don’t Tell Anyone, Playing Charlie Cool is a standalone story. (Scroll down to find out how you can grab a free copy of The Picture of Cool.)

First…what’s Playing Charlie Cool about?

With a few humble words, mayoral staffer Joshua Goldberg comes out to the New York press, resigns his post, and leaves his wife. Three months later, he is still skittish about making his relationship with television producer Charlie Trager public. Charlie understands Joshua’s stress over the divorce and his desire to step back into the political spotlight. But he’s tired of schedule conflicts and frustrated about getting put on the back burner while the pressure ravages the man he loves. Managing some of the most demanding divas in network television has taught Charlie patience. But his cool façade is wearing thin. Longing to ease Joshua’s anguish and burning for control in a situation that seems headed off the rails, Charlie takes a huge risk that could destroy everything he and Joshua have worked so hard to build. Continue reading

Where You Stumble

file5721279006391“Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” ~Joseph Campbell 

I have been picking up and putting down the same novel-in-progress for the last year. It’s romantic suspense, could grow into a trilogy, and I’ve plucked a teeny bit from one of my real life adventures to get me started. Each time, though, something else has drawn my interest…another story, something shiny out the window, a sudden urge to alphabetize my penguin collection. And each time, I’ve lost my mojo at the same point—just when the switch gets flipped and my protagonist is confronted with the down side of the bargain she has made. Continue reading

What’s Up With That Title?

431px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C1015-0001-012,_Tokio,_XVIII._Olympiade,_Ingrid_KrämerSometimes a book, like a character, will name itself. You’ll be chugging along on the first draft and the perfect name or title pops into your head and nothing, no matter how long you brainstorm, poll your friends, read the baby-naming books, or draft pro-con lists, will ever work as well.

Drawing Breath was like that.

In a way, Sliding Past Vertical was as well.

The title came from a term used in diving competitions. I’m a huge fan. Obsessed, you could call it. When the Summer Olympics air, I will troll the cable channels and Internet footage for all of the qualifying rounds, not just the finals. Mainly I watch because it’s so beautiful. These daredevils leap and spin and twirl and land perfectly, knifing through water with such quick precision that they become negative space, leaving a tiny hole where they cut through. I want to know why. I want to know how they position their hands and feet to create barely a teaspoon of splash. I want to know what’s going through their heads as their toes leave the board. I want to know what those little towels they dry their hair off are made from. I want one. I want to know why someone would think of jumping off such a ginormously high platform in the first place.

I’m also fascinated because I have always been terrified of diving. No matter how much my father egged me on, no matter how many times he offered me a quarter to simply put my arms out and roll head first off the edge of the pool, I couldn’t make myself do it. I still can’t, and I’m okay with that, so I live vicariously through Olympic diving.

I forget which Olympic games I was watching while I worked on the first draft of this novel. During the commentary, one of the announcers, a former champion herself, kept talking about one competitor’s unfortunate habit of “sliding past vertical” during her dives. In the ideal dive, no matter how many times you spin and flip and twirl, you need to straighten out your body at a certain point so that you break the water as perpendicular to the surface as possible. That’s part of what results in the tiny splash, which is the last impression a diver leaves with the judges. The Chinese divers seem particularly good at it. Slide past that vertical ideal, however, and it’s not the prettiest of pictures. If you don’t get a good jump, or if your spins go out of control, often you don’t have enough time to get your body in the right position for the entry. Hence, that sliding thing.

Even before I started writing the book, I knew that Sarah, my female lead, had been a diver. I knew she was having problems with getting her life on track, especially when it came to certain ill-considered decisions going terribly awry. Learning about “sliding past vertical” brought it all together for me. I knew that had to be my title, because the affliction not only ended Sarah’s diving aspirations, but also had bled into her everyday life and the lives of the other characters.

What are some of your favorite “odd” book titles? Do you think they fit the stories?