Veronica Jorge is out of the office this month, so we’re running one of her columns from our archives. Hope you enjoy it!
Hispanola, which means the “Spanish island,” became the first Spanish settlement in America. It is my mother’s native country and today we know the eastern section of the island as the Dominican Republic; a fertile land abundant in mines and minerals and rich in a great variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and flowers, where the sun shines brightly year round.
The merengue, the country’s traditional music, embraces you throughout the island for dancing is an entirely social activity independent of holidays or festivals. Any gathering includes dancing because Dominican’s don’t just listen to music, they live it. Emotionally, the merengue celebrates life wherein you partake of the rhythms of love, family and friendship. The most skilled dancer moves in unity with their partner, as one.
My mother, Celina Antonia Luna de Jorge, (isn’t that lovely? Like a song in itself), left her beautiful, beloved island, and part of her heart, when she came to America at the age of seventeen. Like most of our ancestors, her family traveled to America in the hope of a better future. I’m happy to say that she found it. (She had me!).
Mom is most fully herself, most fully alive when she is surrounded by her family and cooking us all of the traditional delicious foods of her country. She fills and satisfies us with her peace and joy. And like the savory aromas that waft through the air, she makes our hearts swirl to the rhythms of her warmth and love.
And that’s what I want my writing to be like; a dance of words wherein writer and reader move in sync and taste the flavors of love, friendship, loss and new found purpose, joy and laughter. Writing that, in spite of sorrowful events or hardships, celebrates life and fills the reader with hope that today is indeed worth living.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!
Veronica will be here next time on May 22nd.
Linda O. Johnston enjoys writing, romance, puzzles, and dogs.
A former lawyer, Linda is now a full-time writer and has published 52 books so far, including mysteries and romantic novels. More than twenty-five of them are romances for Harlequin, including Harlequin Romantic Suspense and Harlequin Nocturne. Her latest release is Colton First Responder for Harlequin Romantic Suspense.
She has also written several mystery series including. The Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter Mysteries, which was a spin-off of the Pet Rescue Mysteries and The Superstition Mysteries. Pets, especially dogs, frequently show up in Linda’s novels
She is currently writing a lot of books for Harlequin. Three new Harlequin Romantic Suspense books will soon be released. The first up is Her Undercover Refuge in July 2021.
A simple Internet search can become a journey down the rabbit hole. A phrase or a word catches my eye, I click and find myself wondering down a path light years from the original intent. I was looking for info on clay pot cooking and got entranced by all the entries about things people are in praise of. Not sure how I got there, it’s a Google thing, but I couldn’t look away; all those heart felt testimonials extolling an incredible array of individual passions.
I was delighted by a man’s elegant praise of Velcro (who could argue with that?), an oratory on the simplicity of the ten penny nail (it really is an elegant and useful item), a poetic discourse on the play of sunlight on soap bubbles in the kitchen sink (I’ll take her word for it). The essays in praise of the rubber band, the sound of a child’s heartbeat in a quiet moment, the meditative smell of a crackling fire on a cold night all touched a universal human note—and I asked what I am in praise of.
Answer: writers. I write in praise of writers. I work with authors. I know something of the blood, sweat and tears invested in the books that are my passion to read. Writers are people with such a strong drive to tell stories they dive into unchartered waters and do it—despite the requirements of life. Writing is a full time occupation for a rare few. For most, the act of putting pen to paper is precious time carved out between client conferences, parenting, shift schedules, basic survival—the business of life. Amazing, praiseworthy.
Every book began as a spark in the mind of a writer. Might be an event, or a word overheard or grandmother’s lace collar that ignited the spark. With trial and error that spark becomes a premise to be populated with characters and action and goals. With more trial and error a burgeoning universe grows into a draft. More trial and error—okay, call it what it is—revisions and rewrites. Then more of same. Finally, a deep breath and first cautious preview. Writers group, spouse, beta reader, editor; it doesn’t matter who, the writer bears their soul. Feedback is absorbed (emotionally, technically, inspirationally), and it’s back to revise and rewrite, until the whole tough process results in the best effort of the writer.
That journey from idea to finished book is praiseworthy enough. That it’s just the beginning of a new sweaty effort is a fact. A book isn’t alive without readers. Reaching those readers is the next act. Even with a traditional publisher every writer has to promote their work — a fact even more vital for Indie authors. How else can the reader find your book among the 1100 new postings per day? Nothing makes me sadder than to have a client hang up their keyboard after publishing because sales are few to none. These are wonderful books, I know they are, but the author made no effort to promote. No one found the work. That wonderful book never stood a chance.
The investment of writing a book is a labor of love. Promoting and selling the book is just hard work. The effort begins with well-chosen genre categories and killer key words. An educated approach to pricing techniques, a website, blog and social media are promotional gold. Reviews are essential; consistency is key. Every author must invest the sweat equity needed to allow people to find their book. Fortunately, hundreds of Indie pros share promotional know-how, experiences and techniques on line, a lot of it free.
When I have found that ‘just right’ book I can snug up the Velcro on my slippers, hang my troubles on the ten penny nail, drain the supper dish soap and with the kid sit before the fire and travel wherever those pages take me. I am in praise of writers.
Date Published: April 13, 2021
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Orion City has been on lockdown for ten years. Courtney Spencer, a disillusioned barista doomed to live a “normal” life in a quarantined fishbowl, is certain she’ll never see over the Wall again.
Until one rainy evening, Courtney unintentionally befriends W, an eccentric customer who leaves a switchblade in the tip jar. The unexpected acquaintance soon opens the door to a frightening string of questions that flips everything she knows upside down. Stumbling into a world of secrets, lies, and disturbing truths, Courtney grapples with a burning temptation to look again at the Wall. Surrounded by citizens trained to ignore its looming shadow, Courtney no longer can.
Intrigued and terrified to expand her world, Courtney finds herself toeing a knife’s edge between the law and justice, learning quickly that the two are not always compatible. She wants to cling to her morals. She also wants to stay alive. But most of all, she wants to see a certain customer again, despite everything in her whispering W is dangerous.
In a gritty urban clash of hope and fear, passion and survival, The Walls of Orion explores the edges of light, dark, and the gray in between.
About the Author
A world-romper from the Pacific Northwest who quite enjoys the label “crazy,” T.D. Fox supplements a hyperactive imagination with real life shenanigans to add pizzazz to her storytelling endeavors.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Studies, her favorite stories to write usually involve a clash of worldviews, an unflinching reevaluation of one’s own internal compass, and an embrace of the compelling unease that arises when vastly different worlds collide.
When not recklessly exploring inner-city alleyways during midnight thunderstorms in the States, she can be found exploring rainforests without enough bug spray somewhere along the equator.
Facebook: T.D. Fox
“Hey,” she called again. “We’re closed. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
He didn’t make any sign that he’d heard. Courtney took another step forward. A deck of cards lay scattered over the table, white faces sharp and crisp in the shadow. At first she thought he was playing solitaire, but she noticed half the cards appeared to be cut in half. Diagonal slashes from corner to corner, oblong triangles and half grinning faces of Jacks and Queens.
Courtney blinked at the soft voice. “Sorry?”
W didn’t look up, just took a handful of half-cards in his hands and shuffled. She was impressed he could do so with such deft precision, given the weird shapes.
“Bor-ed. You know, weary, restless, your little world holds nothing of interest. The repetition, the grind, marching toward that same paycheck every week. You’re over it.”
She stared at the mangled cards. “What are you—”
“Wake up. Eat cereal. Work your tail off for eight dollars in tips. Come home to an empty hole in the wall. Pass out and repeat. Sound familiar?”
Something prickled at the back of her neck. He flipped a card onto the table. A three of hearts, with two of the hearts cut out.
“I really have to close up,” she tried again.
W looked up then. Leaning forward, he laced his fingers under his chin and peered up at her. “Got somewhere to be?”
She opened her mouth, but a picture of her silent apartment filled her mind. Shadows slinking through the tiny space, the stars in the window blacked out behind the Wall. The breath slid out of her lungs without a sound.
W motioned to the bench across from him. Without really deciding, Courtney found herself moving. She sank into the booth. Just for a minute. Her knees ached from standing all day. All week.
“Two minutes.” She nodded at the cards. “What are you playing?”
“It’s called Life.” He glanced up at her. “Wanna learn?”
“Does it work with all those broken cards?”
W laughed. “Darlin’, it only works with broken cards.”
He started dealing. As she watched, a little voice in the back of her mind asked what the hell she was doing. He explained the rules of the game, and she found herself distracted by the way his face changed as he spoke. He was a very expressive person. But nothing quite seemed to touch his eyes. Frowns, smiles, laughs. Those pale eyes stayed the same. At first she’d thought they were gray, but now she could see a faint swirl of color inside them. She couldn’t decide if it was icy blue or green.
In this light, he looked younger than she’d initially figured. The sharp skin-on-bones angles stole some of the youth from his face, but she noticed a boyishness in the crooked grin that startled her. He probably wasn’t more than a handful of years her senior, mid to late twenties maybe. The contrast of dark hair and pale eyes made the edged features more striking, not quite handsome, but something close.
He went silent, and she realized with flushed cheeks that she’d been staring.
“My, my, kiddo, you really are bored.”
Defensive felt better than embarrassed. “Who’re you calling kiddo?” She leaned back. “And you keep saying I’m bored. You don’t know me.”
“I know your eyes. They’re the reason I became a regular in the first place.”
“What do you mean?”
He peered at her over the cards. “Your eyes. They’re restless. Not something you see every day in this city. You want more.”
“More of what?”
He leaned back, a small smile playing about his lips. “You tell me.”
Clearing her throat, Courtney sat back in her seat and picked her own intrusive question. “Why W?”
“It’s the most inconvenient letter to say.”
“No, I mean—why just the initial? You never give your real name.”
“Who’s to say it’s not real?” He glanced down. “C suits you better than your nametag. An initial has infinite potential. You could be anything. Not ordinary, not a repeat label your parents picked out of a baby book. The possibilities are limitless.”
Again, he’d steered the conversation off an uncomfortable edge. Courtney nodded to the deck of cards. “You were teaching me how to play.”
W chuckled, and Courtney couldn’t decide if the sound was pleasant or unsettling. She paid close attention to the way he laid out the cards, whole and broken pieces alike. Some looked like the other halves of cards cut in two. Others seemed to have no corresponding piece. She wondered if they were all from the same deck.
He dealt, and she did her best to play along. A steady current of doubt hummed beneath her thoughts. She glanced up at the clock above W’s head, at the minute hand ticking past closing time. Why couldn’t she bring herself to get up and leave?
Courtney figured out pretty quickly that the rules of this game made no sense to her. Every time she thought she’d gotten it down, something changed. Maybe W was messing with her. Was Life even a real game? Matt was right, he was kind of a loon, as he proved more and more throughout the course of their interaction.
“Y’know, C.” He shuffled the cards again, dealing out a different number than last time. Which was a different number than the time before that. Courtney really didn’t get this game. She was starting to think there was nothing to get at all. “I mean absolutely no offense. But I can’t help but notice you’re a little crazy.”
Courtney looked up, choking on a laugh. “Me?”
“Because you’re still here.”
“You’re the one who invited me to play cards,” she started.
“Nah, not here with me. I mean here.”
She waited. “I think I’m following this conversation as much as the game.”
“Surrounded by crazy people. Working a crazy job, in a crazy city, waiting for the next crazy thing to happen and hoping it doesn’t happen to you.”
A prickle ran up her spine. “You’re talking about the news this morning.”
“Something happened this morning?” The cards shuffled through his long fingers with a magician’s flair. “Don’t watch the news much.”
She frowned at him. “I suppose that’s one way to survive in this town.”
“Who wants to survive? I quit surviving ages ago. You should quit, too. What a boring habit.”
Courtney stared. “More of a basic instinct, I think.”
“No. Our instinct is to live.” The cards fluttered with a rippling swoosh. “These big four Walls can make a body forget that, though.”
Date Published: 3/26/21
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Following a global pandemic, which has either killed or weakened most of the male population, women now dominate all aspects of life.
Dr. Morgan Digby, married to a man rendered bedbound from his bout with manflu a decade prior, is working tirelessly on a vaccine, yet obstacles keep springing up in her path.
When she meets a handsome neighbor who has never been exposed to the deadly virus, things become…complicated. There’s something between them, but he can’t leave his home.
Morgan’s struggle to remain faithful to her ailing husband isn’t her only battle. Someone has been one step ahead of her, countering her every move. Will she find a vaccine before it’s too late to protect those she loves?
About the Author
Simone de Muñoz writes dystopian, or perhaps utopian, fiction, depending on your perspective, where women drive the story and sometimes even run the world. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in economics from MIT, which she uses in her day job as a data analyst at a nonprofit. Based in Silicon Valley, she lives with her patient husband, their two young sons, and a grumpy dog named Fish. Manflu is her debut novel.
Morgan Digby woke up groggy from her usual nap as her self-driving, electric car pulled into the driveway of her small suburban house. She had dreamt that her husband Jonas was walking toward her on a crowded sidewalk, cradling a baby in his arms. If only any small part of that dream had the remotest possibility of coming true, Morgan could be happy.
She stretched and brushed her black bangs out of her eyes, feeling the hollow spaces beneath them with her fingertips. Tired from a busy day working at the lab on the manflu vaccine, the nap prepared her for the long evening of caretaking that lay ahead. Her husband Jonas was mostly bedridden after his bout with the pandemic ten years ago. His body no longer actively fought an infection, but he would never be the same.
Morgan was about to enter her house when she saw her neighbor put down her garden rake and cross the street to chat. Sarah, like many women nowadays, no longer bothered with a bra. Her full, bouncing breasts, barely covered by a thin, V-neck t-shirt, drew the eye. An image quickly flashed through Morgan’s mind of a time years before when Sarah had pressed those breasts against her and leaned over to kiss her on the lips. Morgan quickly shook her head to clear the thought.
“Morgan, big news!” said Sarah when she was within gossip range. “Beth’s nephew came to stay with her. He’s a Vulny. I got a glimpse of him through the curtains, and he is a hunk and a half. Pale, obviously. About 5’10” with black, curly hair and surprisingly muscular. He must spend a lot of time lifting weights. I’m charging my vibro3000 as we speak.”
Wow, a Vulny! Morgan had never seen one before. Vulnies were the men who had never gotten manflu and were therefore still vulnerable to it. These men could not go out in public for fear of being infected, thus the pale skin. Women could be infected as well as transmit the virus to others; however, they experienced very mild cold-like symptoms and quickly recovered. Both men and women who had previously been infected could not contract the virus again; however, men with post-manflu viral syndrome were immunocompromised and at high risk of contracting other infections.
Morgan immediately thought of the vaccine she was working on, and she wondered if this man could be a test subject for it when it was completed. She wanted to rush over to Beth’s house right away to meet him and find out more, but she couldn’t. Jonas waited inside for her to make his dinner, bathe him, and keep him company. She was accustomed to putting aside her own desires to care for her husband, but she still felt a sting of disappointment each time.
Simone de Muñoz
Author of Manflu
March 16, 2021
After the 2016 election, I felt an emotion that I had never felt before–rage. It was scary. I had to find a safe place for those feelings, so I started to write. In my fiction, women weren’t the victims of misogynistic men and a patriarchal society–they were powerful heroes. If women couldn’t come out on top in real life, they could in my fiction. I slowly thought about sharing my writing with the world–maybe other women could read my work and feel the possibility of this power.
I had the idea for my novel, Manflu in the summer of 2019. The “Me Too” movement was in full swing and I thought, what if there was a way to get these men out of power and replace them with women? What would the world look like if women were in charge? I came up with the idea of a pandemic that weakened or killed men. I started writing down my thoughts, centering the story around a married researcher seeking a vaccine for manflu when she meets a handsome neighbor who has never been infected. And only a few short months later, Covid hit!
I attended my first writing conference in February of 2020 right before the US basically shut down. I met the women who would eventually publish my book at that conference and I remember them saying, “This concept is so timely, you have to get the book written as soon as possible.” We had no idea what was coming because there were hardly any known cases of Covid in the US at that time. However, it was clear that the pandemic was about to affect us all. Despite a full-time job and family obligations, I wrote as quickly as I could to take advantage of the moment.
I found myself in the midst of a pandemic, writing about a pandemic. For a while, all I thought about were viruses as I researched pandemics, tried to keep my family safe from Covid, and worked to help clients affected economically by the pandemic at my nonprofit job. I finished writing the book in the fall of 2020, right around the time it became clear that my children wouldn’t return to in-person school for the 2020-21 school year.
My hope is that I have ultimately created a novel that is timely, and yet a break from the pandemic-restricted world that we are all still living in right now, and that Manflu helps to empower women to dream of a different society where they are in charge. It is always a good time for sexy, escapist fiction featuring diverse characters and a strong female lead and it is an especially apt moment for Manflu.
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