Saturday, September 24, 2011


            Leon leaned forward in the Adirondack chair my Aunt Josephine purchased at a yard sale in Boston and kept with her throughout four moves and 32 years of marriage, before she decided it would make a great wedding gift for me and my wife. The chair didn’t look all that bad after I scrapped three layers of lead paint off of it and spray painted it yellow. Something about a mauve colored lawn chair on our Redwood deck didn’t sit well with my wife. Come to think of it, she wasn’t all that affectionate over the color I picked either.
            I handed Leon another beer. “Zelda has a birthday coming up soon. We better start looking for a gift.”
“I can’t believe another year has already gone by.” He shook his head and twisted the top off the Sam Adams Light, our version of diet beer.
I knew exactly how he felt. Shopping for a birthday gift for Zelda was something Leon and I dreaded more than root canals. And it was getting worse every year. What do you get a women who is about to turn ninety-nine? The box of Depends he gave her last year didn’t go over well. Zelda predicted he would die a slow agonizing death.
The six pack of beer I gave her was accepted with a smile and the prediction I’d live long enough to realize my wife had way under married.
That’s what happens when you buy a psychic the wrong gift. Zelda lives by herself in an old trailer with a human palm painted on the side of it. In the middle of the palm are printed the words: Psychic Readings $1.00. Of course, it’s false advertising. She hasn’t done a reading for a dollar in over forty years. Living next door to a psychic has a lot of disadvantages when you’re a romance writer, especially when said psychic has the uncanny ability to predict rejections before they arrive. So far, she’s batting a thousand.
“You got any ideas?” Leon asked, leaning back in the chair and placing his feet up on the railing.
“How about a moon rock?”
He glanced up at the moon I had been staring at for two minutes. “What the heck is she going to do with a moon rock, throw it at us?”
Leon had a point. Zelda might be old, but she still had plenty of spirit left in her.
“Okay, scratch that idea. Your turn,” I said, placing the burden on him.
“Well, since this might be her last birthday, I think we need to do something really nice for her.”
“That’s what you said last year, and we ended up giving her diapers and a six pack of beer.”
“Well, that’s what I’d want if I were that old.”
Have you ever been talking about someone and they walk up on you?
“Who you calling old?” Zelda said, climbing the back stairs with her cane tapping on each step.
Leon and I jerked our heads around.
“We’re in deep yogurt,” I whispered, but not low enough.
 She made it to the top step and stood up as straight as she could. “No thank you. I didn’t come over here for yogurt this late at night.”
Leon and I jumped up and pulled another chair up for her. We ran to her sides and offered our arms for support. It was hard to tell exactly where her hands were with all that purple and pink silk draped around her head and arms. Her whole wardrobe remained me of a psychic.
“It might take me a while, but I can still walk by myself.”
Leon and I both agreed that Zelda had become rather feisty, after she had a pacemaker put in last spring. To get her to agree to have surgery, the doctor told her that her heart was worn out, and she needed a pacemaker, if she wanted to continue living. When she woke up and found out the doctor had put it next to her left shoulder, instead replacing her heart with it, she accused him of being a jar-headed idiot and predicted he would die a slow death.
And to think some people are stupid enough to pay Zelda to predict their future. I’m certainly not dumb enough to pay for a reading, especially when she offers to give them to me for free whenever my wife asks her to. One might think they were in cahoots.
Zelda shuffled along one step at a time, with Leon and I staying by her side, until she reached the green aluminum fabric covered deck chair my wife purchased for me on the first anniversary of our wedding.
After she eased into the chair, Leon and I retook our seats.
“Zelda, would you like to have a beer?” Leon asked, apparently hoping he could get her drunk, and get something out of her, by way of ideas for a birthday gift.
“Bonehead, when’s the last time you’ve seen me drink any liquor?”
“I rest my case.”
Leon leaned back in his chair and sulked for six whole seconds, before he swallowed enough beer to calm him down.
He and I had been in deep yogurt with Zelda before, but her overhearing us refer to her as old apparently was too much for her to take lying down or shuffling along in turtle gear.
Sometimes the best defense is a cowardly offense. “You look nice tonight.”
“Thank you. How kind of you to say that. You've obviously had your limit tonight?”
“This is only my second beer,” I said, holding it up to show her and set the record straight.
“I rest my case.”
“It sure is a pleasant night, all cool and everything.” Leon tried to rescue the conversation.
“It’s especially pleasant now that I know you two boys want to do something really nice for me on my birthday.”
Apparently, she had overheard our conversation, or her ability to predict the future had skyrocketed to new levels of accuracy.
“We haven’t come to a firm decision on your gift, but it’s going to be something you’re really going to like.” Leon must have thought he was on a roll, and tried to bluff our way out.
“I want you two gentlemen to take me to see a play.”
Talk about simple and easy to do. The local Playhouse Theatre never had a sellout crowd and tickets were cheap. We could probably get three for fifteen dollars. I decided to get in on our roll.
“Zelda, it would be our pleasure.” I glanced at Leon. He nodded. “To escort you to a play.”
She pushed one of six scarves away from her face. “I’ve kind of had my heart set on seeing Mama Mia.” There was short pause then she added, “Before I die.”
I glanced at Leon to see if he knew anything about that one. He shrugged. Neither of us kept up with the fall schedule. Since few people attended any of the plays at the Playhouse Theatre, the management didn’t see any need to spend any money on advertizing.
Leon jumped in. “Sounds like a good one to me.”
“I’m sure you boys will love it.”
In for penny, in for a pound. “I’m sure we will,” I said sealing the deal.
She reached into her web of silk clothing and pulled out a piece of paper.
“Here’s their numbers for tickets.” She handed it to me.
“I’ll call first thing in the morning and make arrangements for the four of us.” I stuck the paper in my pocket. “You don’t mind if Linda goes with us?” I decided to take the opportunity to build up a few points with my wife. I never know when I might need them.
“Of course not. It was her idea in the first place.” She turned her attention to Leon. “Leon, dear. I was hoping you’d be my date.”
You could have knocked Leon down with a soft, white, fluffy feather. Neither of us could remember a time when Zelda had spoken so kindly to him.
“I would feel honored to be your escort to see Mama Mia.”
“Okay, then. I need to get my rest. You two have a most wonderful night out here on this lovely deck. Isn’t that moon beautiful?”
Ten minutes went by without a word. That’s how long it took for Zelda to climb down the stairs and walk back to her trailer.
“Is she out of hearing range,” Leon asked, leaning over the railing.
I hustled back up the stairs. “All tucked in for the night.”
“If that don’t take the pressure off, I don’t know what does. Give me another beer, before someone pinches me and wakes me up.”
I fished two ice cold Sam Adams Lights out of the cooler.
“Give me those numbers,” Leon said. “I’ll cover the costs of all four tickets myself.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Leon. My gosh, Linda and I can handle our end of it.” All four tickets couldn’t add up to more than twenty dollars, but I acted like he was offering to buy the Taj Mahal.
He held his hand out. “I insist.”
There was no need to drag it out any longer, so I pulled the folded piece of paper out of my pants pocket and handed it to him.
He grabbed it, feeding up my hand to unscrew the cap on my fresh brew.
“You know,” he said, after reading the information written on the paper. “I think I’ll take you up on that offer to let you and Linda buy your own tickets.”
“Sure, Leon. No problem.”
“Well, actually there are several problems.” He handed the paper back to me.
I studied it for a moment. The numbers were for airline reservations, a four star hotel, and a theatre in London.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


It’s not every day the Editor-in-Chief for a romance publishing house offers to give you a third and final chance to prove you can write a great romance novel. With two solid rejections under my belt, I knew my latest effort had to use a high-concept plot idea and follow the criteria Miss Prettywell outlined for a romance novel. Something she had not taken the time to tell me until recently. According to her, all romances novels must follow three simple rules.

Rule Number 1: The hero and heroine must meet in the first chapter and are immediately attracted to each other.

Rule Number 2: The hero and heroine struggle throughout the story to overcome one or more obstacles keeping them apart.

Rule Number 3: In the end, the hero and heroine surmount all obstacles keeping them apart, and the reader is led to believe they live happily ever after.

Those three rules are so simple I’m surprised everyone is not writing romance these days.

I e-mailed my query today and look forward to hearing from Miss Prettywell. For those of you who have trouble writing a query letter, I'm sharing mine with you so won’t make the same mistakes I made.

Rose Petal Romance Publishing
ATTN: Ms. Prettywell, Editor-in-Chief

Dear Ms. Prettywell:

In my novel, CHIGGERS, global warming has caused an explosion in the chigger population in America, sending people indoors for cover. Robert (Chig) Langdroff, the country's leading authority on chiggers, is summoned to Washington, D.C., from his home in the Mississippi Delta, to offer a solution to the chigger crisis. Robert meets with the President and the President's top Scientific Advisor, Nancy Snatchit, a beautiful, but aggressive young woman bent on preventing the banning of makeup and perfumes even if Robert's advice might help prevent an exponential growth in the chigger population.

Robert realizes his first task is to win Miss Snatchit's trust. As Robert and Nancy lock horns and scratch chigger bites, millions of the country's outdoor sporting events are put on hold, causing a tremendous decline in beverage and fast food sales, resulting in a national decline in obesity, causing a surge in online clothing sales, home cooking, and family time. The White House grounds are soon engulfed by chiggers. The vast horde-of-chiggers are too much, even for the mightiest military in the world. As a last resort, Robert calls for help from some Good O' Boys. While everyone else in the country stays indoors, two Good O' Mississippi Boys, immune to chiggers, begin to mount an offensive just north of the Mississippi State Line. The Good O' Boys drive their truck toward Washington, D.C. killing billions of chiggers all along the way. The lethal gas, used to kill the chiggers, is emitted from their truck, as the Good O' Boys drink lots of beer and eat lots of barbecue. They arrive in Washington to a hero’s welcome. Everyone appears happy until one of the Good O' Boys unintentionally releases some of the lethal gas amongst a crowd of well wishes, sending thousands of people scrabbling back indoors for cover.

Later that night, Robert wins Nancy's trust in the Lincoln bedroom. They get married and move to Alaska, where no chigger has ever lived long enough to cause any trouble. The President takes credit for reducing obesity, the upswing in online clothing sales, and the national movement toward more family time.

Market Research: Having been bitten by more than a few chiggers, I can tell you chiggers are one of the most feared creatures on the planet. More people are attacked by chiggers than all other forms of wildlife in this country. One person can sustain literally hundreds of attacks in one outdoor walk to the barbecue grill. Just ask my neighbor, Eddy, or worse, make him take his shirt off so you can count the bites. I have enclosed a picture for your benefit.

CHIGGERS, a Romantic Thriller, runs about 86,000 words. May I send you my draft?

Thank you for your time. You do not have to return the picture of Eddy.

Jack LaBloom
Romance Writer