Friday, May 27, 2011


I called her hotel room to confirm my meeting with Miss Prettywell, the Editor-in-Chief of Rose Petal Romance Publishing. Although she had rejected my pitch last fall, she offered to give me another chance at the upcoming Romance Writers Conference, but only if I would write a story that fit their romance criteria. The main characters had to be attractive, sexy, and at least somewhat likeable. All of which I thought to be reasonable on her part.
Although my first romance novel, Sir Truckalot And The Obese Maiden had gone over like a circus fat lady in a pole vaulting contest, I felt pretty good about my latest attempt at writing romance.
At 7:30 AM on the first full day of the conference, Miss Prettywell was already seated in a booth in the hotel restaurant, when I approached her holding a printout of my synopsis.
“Good morning, Miss Prettywell.”
She nodded and pointed to the empty seat across the table from her.
 I slid into the booth with the ease of butter on hot toast. The unwashed new pair of slacks I was wearing still had that slick feel to them.“Thank you for agreeing to meet me for breakfast.”
“I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.” She smiled.
She must have noticed I knitted my brow, because she quickly added, “Having breakfast while listening to your pitch.”
“Oh.” A huge wave of relief rippled over me. For a brief moment, I thought one of her intentions might have been to kill my dream of becoming a best-selling romance author.
A waiter came to the table to take our orders. Being the gentleman I am, I took the initiative and ordered for both of us. “A bowl of fruit for the lady, and a stack of pancakes for me.” I had done my research. In a blog post she had written while in Paris, she had written she preferred to have fruit for breakfast, after reading the menu.
Miss Prettywell looked up at the waiter. “I’ll also have two eggs scrambled with toast.”
In all of my excitement about getting a second chance, I had forgotten we were in Oklahoma, not exactly the same as Paris. “So sorry.”
She waved off my comment as if no harm had been done.
Timing is everything in a pitch session so I decided to make my move.
“While we’re waiting for our food, could I interest you in reading my synopsis?” 
“Why not?” she replied with a smile that would corrupt most clergymen’s thoughts.
I pushed my twelve page synopsis across the table.
After glancing at the first page, she jerked her head up. “Water and Wild Flowers, now that is an interesting title?”
When readers are considering buying a romance novel, the title is the second most important selling factor. The most important thing, of course, is to have is a couple of half naked people on the cover.
“I thought you might like it.” I leaned back, confident I’d gotten off to a good start.
I held my breath waiting for her to get to the subtitle.”
“Love flourishes like weeds on the roadside of an interstate highway.” She stared at the sheet of paper. “Now that makes me want to dive right in.” 
Trying to contain my excitement, I said, “That’s exactly the same thing Darla said.”
“Who is Darla?”
“My neighbor, she’s one of my beta readers. Her husband, Eddy is the other one.”
One of her eyebrows ticked up a notch, before she rubbed her temples with both hands. “I take it your neighbors read your manuscript?”
When pitching to an agent or an editor, honesty is always the best policy.
“Eddy only read most of the first page, but he told me if I added a shoot out, a train derailment, and a couple of explosions, he’d finish reading the whole manuscript.”
“Your neighbor reminds me of one of my editors, Colt Johnson. He worked for a western publishing house, before he joined us at Rose Petal Romance. We nicknamed him Tombstone, because he’s buried so many writers’ dreams.”
        The waiter poured two glasses of water. “Your food will be out shortly.”
        I needed to hurry up and finish my pitch before the food arrived. It would be extremely rude to expect Miss Prettywell to continue reading while her eggs got cold. Had she struck with only the fruit bowl I wouldn’t have felt the need to rush her.
“My story is not a western romance, but I did take your advice and made both the hero and heroine attractive people. They live on a lake surrounded by a few wild flowers, but mostly weeds.” 
In any romance novel, a romantic setting is a must have. According to Eddy, you can’t get more romantic than water and wild flowers.
She appeared to read a few more lines.
“Your heroine’s name is Candy Cleavage?”
The frown on her face spelled trouble. So much for Eddy’s input on the names for the main characters. I needed to think fast. “Of course not, I use temporary names in my drafts. The actual name of the heroine is Farla Kay Smith.” It was the first thing that came to me.
She dropped the page. “Well that makes all the difference in the world. I love it.” She pulled a business card from her purse and pushed it across the table.
“Please send the complete manuscript to this address?”
After years of being a struggling writer, I had finally received a request for a full manuscript. My heart felt like a balloon tied a Helium tank with the valve turned wide open.
The waiter approached our table carrying our breakfast orders. I grabbed the card from the table and stuck it in my shirt pocket, before he placed my plate down on top of it.
The smell of hot pancakes permeated the air. I was starving and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the maple syrup and a fork.
Miss Prettywell glanced at her watch. “Breakfast has been lovely. Unfortunately, I have to run.” She stood.
I jumped to my feet. “But you haven’t eaten.”
“That’s the downside of the publishing business. One minute you have an appetite and the next minute you don’t. But please go ahead. I need to run up to my room and get ready for my first session. I was told the turnout for the conference is expected to be an all-time record.”
Admiring both her work ethic and red high-heel shoes, I watched her walk away in what could only be described as the most ladylike fast pace I’d ever seen.
In celebration of my triumph, I poured half a bottle of syrup on my stack of pancakes. I took two bites, and then remembered my wife was waiting on pins and needles. I pulled my cell phone out dialed her number.
“Hi, Honey, great news, I just got my first request for a full…yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. Would you place a copy of my manuscript in the mail today? Thanks.”
When you get a request for a full, it’s best not to delay.
“Wait. Let me give you the mailing address.”
I pulled the card from my shirt pocket and read it.
Colt Johnson, P.O. Box 3D, Deadwood, South Dakota
“Better hold up on that mailing. Looks Like I’m going to need to add a shoot out, a train derailment, and a couple of explosions.

Monday, May 16, 2011


On my way back from the mailbox, I noticed my neighbor, Eddy sitting on his front porch drinking beer. That’s what he does when he’s not working at the local Co-Op store loading seed, fertilizer, fence wire, lawn tractors, and such.
“Another rejection letter,” yelled Eddy.
I guess he could tell by the imaginary flow of tears soaking my T-shirt. With the temperature approaching a 100, real tears had a half life of one second. I nodded at him.
He opened his cooler and pulled out a beer. Pieces of ice slid off the bottle when he held it up. “Hey, this one’s got your name on it.”
I closed the letter and stepped up on Eddy’s porch. After pushing his lawn mower out the way, I was able to clear a path to a metal chair next to a stack of varmint traps.
Eddy handed me the beer. “Better not sit in that." I noticed the seat is about rusted through. "Next time, I’m going to buy the plastic chairs.”
I looked at the ice chest next to him. Moving it, would have freed up plenty of room in the swing.
He put his arm on top of the cooler. “I’d offer to let you sit here next to me, but you know how the people in this neighborhood talk. Better use my wooden tool box. It makes a good seat with that vinyl covering I put on it last week.”
I stared at the box resting on top of the tool box. “What about the litter box? What do you want me to do with it?”
“Just dump in it in the yard. I’ll tell Darla to put some fresh litter in it when she gets home.”
I was willing to do a lot of things to keep from offending one of my neighbors, but touching that litter box wasn't one of them. Stepping away, I said, “I’ve been sitting all day writing a new romance and prefer to stand.” I turned the beer up and drank about half of it.
Eddy leaned back in the swing. “I hope it’s better than your last one.”
“You finally got around to reading it?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve read most of it.”
After two months of waiting, I was finally going to get some feedback from one of my beta readers. Eddy's wife, Darla is the other one. “What is it you don’t like about the story?”
“Well for one thing, your opening.” He made a face like babies do after they've taken their first bite of green beans.
The opening paragraph in a romance novel is critical, and I had worked on it for weeks getting it just right.
Candy Cleavage waved at her new neighbor, a tall young man with blond hair and a quick step. He waved back and smiled, before thumbing through his mail. When he went back inside his lush cabin, she re-entered her house and changed into her favorite bikini. Spring had brought more than a new batch of flowers into her life.”
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked
Both of Eddy’s eyelids crawled up his forehead until they reached their limits. “Dull as a broken brick.”
“You didn’t think the part about the woman having an affair with the pool man was exciting.”
“What pool man?”
“I thought you said you read most of it.”
“Most of the first page,” he replied.
The Romance Writers Conference was in two weeks. I needed feedback before my pitch session with the Editor-in-Chief of Rosebud Romance, where love blossoms like wild flowers in spring. If Darla didn't come through soon, I would be going into that pitch session blind.
A car pulled into the driveway. It was Darla.
Eddy threw his empty bottle out in the yard. “I’m ready for another one. How about you?”
“Not yet.”
Darla exited the car and opened the rear door. She grabbed one of the sacks from the back seat. I turned back to Eddy. “She might need help with the groceries?”
He glanced toward the car. “She appears to be doing okay.”
“I better go help her anyway.” I put the empty bottle down and walked over to Darla. “Let me help you.”
She handed me the sack she was holding and grabbed a second one for me as well. “You’re so sweet. I can get the last one.”
I looked back at Eddy and yelled, “I’ll be back in a minute . . . as soon as I help Darla put this stuff put away.”
Eddy waved before he turned his fresh beer up.
Darla led me down the side of their cabin toward the back entrance. We had barely put the sacks on the kitchen counter when she grabbed me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek.
Startled, I said, “Glad I could help. Just like you can help me by reading my manuscript and telling me what you think.”
“Oh, I’ve been reading it all right.” She smiled. “I know who Randy is.”
At least she had read farther than Eddy. “Who?”
“Except for the hair color, height, and muscular build, he’s the spitting image of you.”
That didn’t make a bit of sense. “What?”
          She stepped closer and ran her hand up my arm. “But that wasn’t what really convinced me.”
I pushed her hand away, but my curiosity got the best of me.
“What did?”
Her finger pointed through the back window at their above ground 10 foot diameter pool. “The part about Randy watching her sun bathe by the pool.”
“You think your pool is the pool in my story?”
She nodded. “The sun reflected off the water like sparkling diamonds until Candy stepped into his view of the pool. She reached behind her back and pulled a string releasing the top of her bikini, allowing it to fall to her bare feet.”
“You’ve memorized parts of my story?”
She blinked twice. “Every word of the good parts.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I tried the truth. “I’m not Randy the pool man?” Maybe the handsome neighbor, but I was certainly too old to be Randy the pool man.
“I know writers can’t use real names.” Darla often sounded as if she were being logical.
Since the truth didn’t work, I tried lying to her. “I’d never watch you swim without your top on.”
“I know better. Why do you think I do it?”
She did? That was news to me. I wasn’t going to answer that one, but I assumed she didn’t want any tan lines. “What about that six foot wood fence around your back yard? I'd have to have x-ray vision to see through it.”
“You’re going to deny standing on your ladder to clean the same gutter four separate times this past week?”
She had me there. Writers have to do research. I had to be clever and come up a valid reason for scoping out their pool. “I was trying to find my contact lens.”
“You lost it in the gutter?”
“The leaf blower. Should have had my safely glasses on.”
“Oh, I didn't think about that.”
          She bought it. “I better get back outside and see how Eddy’s doing.” I turned to leave.
She grabbed my arm. “Wait. Did you find the lens?”
“No, not yet.”
“Maybe you’ll find it tomorrow.” She grinned.
As soon as Eddy saw me come around the corner of the house, he yelled, “What am I having for dinner tonight?"
          “I saw some ribs in one of the sacks.”
“She’s grilling ribs again? That’s great. At first she had a few missteps with the charcoal lighter, but she’s getting better at the grilling part.”
First, another rejection letter, and now my beta readers were letting me down. My day had started off bad and tapered off.
Glancing at the cooler, I said, “I’ll take another beer now.”
Eddy opened the lid, grabbed one, and passed it to me. “Darla’s something else all right.” He crossed his feet. “Don’t know what I’d do without her.”
I thought of several things he’d have to do, changing the litter box, lighting the grill, cooking, washing, ironing, and buying groceries for starters. I twisted the top off the bottle and took a drink. Then it hit me.  Uh oh, how much does he know about her fantasies?”
“Eddy, has Darla said anything to you about my romance story?”
“Not yet. She’s been reading it for weeks. I’m beginning to think she’s a slow reader. Don’t tell her I said that. It might hurt her feelings.”
“I won’t. Writers are like lawyers. Anything to say to me about Darla is in strict confidence.”
I sat on the edge of the porch and leaned my back up against one of the post holding up a two-color porch roof. Eddy patched a leak last spring, but he couldn’t match the original shingles. Once settled in, I turned the beer up again, for a long while.
He leaned down toward me. “I’m glad you can keep a secret, because I got something important to talk to you about.”
I gazed up at him.
He whispered. “I think Darla’s got the hots for somebody besides me.”
“You’re kidding?” I tried to act shocked and appalled she would even think of such a thing. “Eddy, I find that extremely hard to believe.”
“When a woman talks in her sleep she’s not lying.”
I signaled for another beer. “She talks in her sleep?”
He handed a fresh beer to me and looked at the front door to make sure it was closed.
“Three times this past week, she started breathing hard in her sleep. So hard it woke me up. Then last night was the worst. She called out the name, Randy.” He raised his eyebrows. “What do you think about that?”
Holy cat poop. I think I’ll be getting me some new beta readers. “It sounds to me like a clear case of overactive hormones.”
“What do you think I should do about it?”
“Better take over the grilling. Those charcoal fumes have been known to mess with a woman’s hormones in ways a man doesn’t want to know about.”
"I had no idea." Eddy patted me on the shoulder. “Thanks, man. I knew I could count on you.”
“You’re welcome.”
Eddy grabbed one end of the cooler. “Grab the other handle and let’s move this party to the back yard. I need to get the grill going. No telling how much damage Darla has already suffered.”
We headed around back and put the cooler down next to the grill. Eddy raised the top of it and examined the grates like he might consider cleaning off the quarter inch thick layer of burned-on fat. “Looks good to me. That's what adds the flavor. Be right back, I've got to get the charcoal and starter fluid.”
“Hey, Eddy.”
He stopped halfway to the back door.
I walked up to him and whispered. “I wouldn’t say anything to Darla. You know how women are when a man starts talking about their hormones.”
“Darn right. They don’t think we understand stuff like that.”
I gave him a thumbs up. They were right, we didn’t.”
“The End.”