Hereâ€™s the thing. Iâ€™m actually a very private person. I hide it well, and most people describe me as outgoing. But thatâ€™s really just an act I put on out of habit, thanks to a career as a reporter.
In fact, one of the reasons I write romance is because itâ€™s the only way I can express that side of me. I can write about other peopleâ€™s love lives. But please donâ€™t ask me to talk about my own. When it comes to my love life, Iâ€™m about as open as bad clam. Which is why writing this blog has me twitching.
Itâ€™s also why I grew up believing I was defective. That I, as Sarah Jessica Parker says in an episode of â€œSex and the City,â€ was missing some kind of bride gene. Every other girl I knew growing up had elaborate wedding plans mapped out by the time they were teenagers. Not me. The thought of professing my love for a man with a room full of people watching had me blushing and stammering even in my daydreams. I wouldnâ€™t even hold my boyfriendâ€™s hand in high school if I knew someone was watching!
This presented a pretty big problem when I met The One. You know who I mean. The One I couldnâ€™t keep my hands off. The One who had me daydreaming and giggling in the middle of the day. The One with whom I spent so much secret time, my mother practically put out an APB on me. The One I knew I had to spend my life with.
My husband and I were friends for a year before we became more than friends. And within a month of becoming more than friends, we were engaged. It seemed so natural, but I was terrified to tell my mother. When I couldnâ€™t put it off any longer, I swung by my parentsâ€™ house one night after work. Mom was cleaning up the kitchen. We talked about my job, her job, my brotherâ€™s job. Finally, I casually mentioned The One. She casually asked how serious it was.
I shrugged, looking anywhere but at her. â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œOn a scale of one to ten.â€
â€œWhat does one mean and what does ten mean?â€
Mom sighed, exasperation evident in her jerky movements. â€œOne means youâ€™re casual acquaintances. Ten means youâ€™re getting married.â€
I ran from the room. I grabbed an afghan off the couch, ran back to the kitchen, and threw the blanket over my head so she couldnâ€™t see my face when I told her the truth. So she couldnâ€™t watch.
â€œTen,â€ I said, voice muffled.
There was only silence on the other side. I lifted a corner of the blanket and peeked out. Mom stood frozen.
â€œW-would it help if I had something over my head, too?â€ she finally asked.
I nodded. She went into the living room, grabbed a couch cushion, and then came back in with it balanced on her head. I replaced the blanket over my face.
â€œAre you saying that we have a wedding to plan?â€ she asked.
I nodded, the ends of the blanket swishing against my legs.
â€œWhen?â€ Mom asked.
â€œWe were thinking Christmas.â€
I heard a noise. I peeked through the blanket again. Mom was sagged against the kitchen counter. â€œThatâ€™s only â€“ â€œ she paused to add the months in her head, â€œseven months away.â€
â€œI know, but we just want something small. Just close friends and family.â€ Because, you know, I couldnâ€™t stand the idea of walking down the aisle and repeating my vows with a room full of people watching.
So much for that. Thanks to Momâ€™s persistence, The One and I decided to wait until April. Then Mom talked me into something â€œslightly bigger.â€ Then she talked me into a big hotel. Suddenly, I had it all. A string quartet. A soaring ballroom. More than two hundred guests. The big cake. An even bigger wedding party. An antique car to whisk us away from the church to the reception.
The best part? Momâ€™s best friend from childhood was, at the time, a designer for a major bridal label. Mom paid for my maid of honor and me to fly to New York to spend the weekend with â€œAunt Cindy,â€ who took us through the cityâ€™s garment district to pick out the fabric and design my dream dress from the first stitch to the last.
It was the perfect fairytale wedding. But I was still terrified.
When the big day arrived, I gave my all of my bridesmaids a pair of those gag glasses with the nose and mustache because I didnâ€™t want anyone crying in my presence. I hid behind my own camera, snapping pictures of all the action behind the scenes. Anything to keep the attention away from me. To keep them from watching me. When my dad came to get me for the big walk down the aisle, I shushed him the minute he opened his mouth.
â€œPlease,â€ I begged. â€œDonâ€™t say anything mushy. I canâ€™t take it. Letâ€™s just get this over with.â€
Then the music started. The doors opened. And we started down that long, long aisle. I purposely avoided looking at any of my guests. I kept my eyes locked squarely on my husband-to-be. I pretended he was the only person in the room.
And when we reached him at the end of the aisle, I was shocked to discover that he was nervous. So nervous, he was sweating like heâ€™d just run a marathon. Finally, I had something to help me get through it. From around the base of my bouquet, I unwrapped the antique handkerchief â€“ my â€œsomething oldâ€ â€“ that my grandmother gave me to carry. I reached over and wiped a line of sweat from my husbandâ€™s face.
Then we both started laughing. We couldnâ€™t stop laughing.
And suddenly, I didnâ€™t care who was watching.
Louise Knott Ahern is a freelance journalist and public relations coach who writes contemporary romances. Sheâ€™s the author of â€œOpting Out: A Career Womanâ€™s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy,â€ a blog for mothers at www.optoutguide.blogspot.com. She is also a contributor to The Writerâ€™s Vibe (www.thewritersvibe.typepad.com), a blog for professional writers.
My little brother has this face he makes, kind of a scrunched-up goofy smirk. He has perfected it since early childhood, when he first discovered this Stan Laurelesque look could make one of our sisters laugh like crazy. As the years went on, he tested his power from time to time. He usually got a chuckle, from her at least. Everyone else in the family had long since become immune.
Sadly, on my wedding day, one susceptible grown womanâ€™s mild amusement incited full-out group hysteria. Church hilarity is a well-documented phenomenon. I believe it could be some kind of biological imperative. Its evolutionary purpose is not clear, but I donâ€™t think I care to know anyway.
Weâ€™d planned a brief ceremony on the campus where my husband and I met. The university chapel was small, peaceful and surrounded by redwoods that gave the place the dignity of a cathedral. However, I hadnâ€™t considered the down side. An intimate setting makes it impossible to overlook the behavior of your guests.
The wedding began relatively smoothly. A minor problem of lost luggage forced my future father-in-law to attend in a t-shirt that said â€œI Got Leiâ€™d in Hawaii.â€ Not ideal, but what can you do?
The minister had encouraged us to personalize our vows so I had naturally tried hard to find passages that reflected our serious commitment. I knew our guests would find the selections thought-provoking, profound, even witty.
Unfortunately, as the minister began to read, suppressed laughter emanated from a middle pew. On the brideâ€™s side. Very near that particular brother and sister.
Giggles rippled like dominoes along the pews. One by one they fell: brothers, sisters, their spouses. The minister was all but drowned out by a crescendo of muffled snorts. I shot dirty looks in the familyâ€™s general direction but I knew it was futile. Itâ€™s very much like a stadium wave. Once it starts, you can either watch in helpless fascination or join in. I opted for helpless fascination and barely noticed what the minister said until the kissing part.
The experience reminded me of the Monty Python skit about the funniest joke in the world. The jokeâ€™s punch line results in fatal hilarity. Anyone who hears or reads it laughs so hard they die. Of course the joke turns out to be something incredibly dumb. For a few minutes on that day, I wouldnâ€™t have minded an outbreak of fatal hilarity.
I found my little brother after the ceremony and reminded him, â€œWhat goes around, comes around, buddy.â€ Sure enough, ten years later, it was his turn to stand at the altar. His wedding was a traditional Catholic mass, with all the trimmings. Suitably, the person giggling helplessly at his side was his own bride. We all sympathized, though. She was entitled to be punchy after all the excitement, what with the exploding limo, the twenty foot flame and the burning palm tree nearly igniting the bridal suite balcony.
So as it turned out, I didnâ€™t consciously have to do a thing to disrupt his wedding. Except hire the limo.
OCC/RWA Chapter Member
The Going to the Chapel Contest is off to a great start! During our weekend break, A Slice of Orange is bringing you an interview with Charlene Sands. Charlene will be giving an online class on the Top Ten Writing Mistakes beginning June 12th and running through July 9th. You can find out more about the class here.
Charlene Sands remembers how difficult it is to sell that first book. The truth is itâ€™s difficult to sell every book. But itâ€™s easier when you know what not to do. And after 17 novels, she knows what not to do. In her class Top Ten Writing Mistakes, Charlene will discuss mistakes that bog manuscripts down, classic taboos to avoid and common mistakes even experienced writers make. Here she talks about why she never gave up, what she loves about writing romance, and (of course) mistakes!
Q – To what do you attribute your success?
A â€“ My fatherâ€™s never-say-die attitude and OCC/RWA. The first is self-explanatory and as for OCC/RWA, Iâ€™ll always give our chapter credit for being the best, most generous, most informative, friendly place for a serious writer.
Q â€“ When you were just starting out, how did you keep those rejections from getting you down?
A â€“ I love this question. The truth is I did let it get me down â€“ for a day or two â€“ then Iâ€™d get good and mad. Determination spurred my creativity. Iâ€™d say, okay, they want a story with more emotion â€“ Iâ€™ll give them more emotion. Or, okay, they need a stronger conflict then Iâ€™ll give them a stronger conflict. There. Take that.
Q â€“ Youâ€™re giving an online class on the Top Ten Writing mistakes authors make. Which of those mistakes did you make when you first started out?
A â€“ Iâ€™m an expert at making mistakes. Iâ€™ve made all of them! Thatâ€™s why I felt the need to do this class. Newer writers can benefit from learning what bogs a manuscript down, what editors are looking for, what compels a story and how to keep all your ducks in a row. There are lots of hurdles in the way and you have to have your manuscript in top form to reach the finish line.
But to answer your question, the worst mistakes I made had to do with conflict and characterization. Editors want to see a multi-dimensional character, one with strengths, weaknesses and a compelling history. Newer writers often donâ€™t â€œgetâ€ that entirely. None of us have only one goal, one outstanding trait, weâ€™re multi-dimensional people.
Q â€“ In your class you also plan to talk about classic taboos to avoid, yet many authors have successfully broken taboos. What do you think the trick is in successfully writing a taboo in your manuscript?
A – I can only speak of category romance right now, since Iâ€™m most experienced in that â€“ but my advice to new writers is DONâ€™T DO IT. Maybe one person in thousands gets that break with a remarkable story, but most writers canâ€™t pull it off. I once tried to have my western heroine be a victim of rape (without even putting in a real-time scene, just as back story) and my editor wouldnâ€™t allow it. They are very attuned to reader expectation and author reputation. Meaning, if I had maybe 50 books under my belt, my readers might have given me license to do it, but my editors didnâ€™t want to take a chance on alienating my newer readership. I wasnâ€™t happy, but I understood. After all, my aim as an author is to build my readership and gain their trust â€“ and you know, the story worked just as well, was just as emotional and was extremely well reviewed without it. I say â€“ a true writer can write a great story without breaking any rules. Why give the editors a reason to reject you?
I do feel differently for single titles. Maybe thereâ€™s more room for breaking a rule, like when Susan Elizabeth Phillips wrote about football stars. I happen to love heroes in sports and think itâ€™s very sexy, but remember â€“ that was SEP breaking rules. Not an average, first time out, writer. Save that for later, when you have some clout and editorial backing behind you.
Q – In researching your class, you polled editors. Which mistake did they find the most and/or most frustrating?
A â€“ Youâ€™ll have to take the class!
Q â€“ Whatâ€™s the best advice you ever received?
A – When I spoke of my chances of ever getting published, my dear wise friend Geraldine Sparks told me, â€œDonâ€™t believe in the odds. Believe in yourself.â€ That advice stuck like glue.
Q â€“ You write both historical and contemporary. Which is your favorite time period to write? Why?
A â€“ I donâ€™t have a favorite. I like doing them both equally. To date, Iâ€™ve done seven of each for Harlequin. With my westerns (the only ones I write are Americana) I have a lot of freedom with the heroine. She can be pure and innocent, or feisty and spirited or both. My heroes are always rugged self-made men and the conflicts are sometimes easier to write. But, contemporaries require less research and take less time and I really do have a good grip on the Desires. I feel I was made to write them.
Q – Youâ€™re known for your Western historicals and contemporaries. What is it that so draws you to write about the American west?
A â€“ I have always loved history. My father was an avid historical reader, reading four thick non-fiction historical books a week and then making them come to life with his storytelling abilities. I cherished those times with him. His stories and depictions stayed with me. Ever since, Iâ€™ve been very passionate about our country and the great men and women who had a hand in forming our government and our society. Of course, Iâ€™m especially of fond of those sexy cowboys, sheriffs and ranchers. Then as a teen I found, Little Joe on Bonanza, Clint Walker on Cheyenne, Ty Hardin on Bronco … you get my meaning. (Big grin here)
Q – Your next book Heiress Beware comes out next month. What did you love about writing it?
A â€“ Heiress Beware is my first continuity. I was invited to do it by Melissa Jeglinski, senior editor at Desire. She writes an amazing bible of plots, conflicts and characters and then twelve authors, one per month, get to make the stories real and the characters come to life. I really loved writing this, because my hero is a small town sheriff who finds a woman suffering amnesia from a blow to her head. The continuities lend to an authorâ€™s strengths and mine, I hope, is writing about a sheriff. I contacted a sheriff in Colorado and she, along with my mother-in-law, a one time Texas county deputy sheriff, helped with my research. That part was a lot of fun. I also loved working with the other authors on the project, making sure our characters are true in each book they appear in.
Q – Which is your favorite of your books? Why?
A â€“ I love my upcoming August Desire, Bunking Down with the Boss. It is packed with emotion. I think will stand out as my all-time favorite contemporary. Sam Beaumont is a man drifting, running away from his past, who refuses to forgive himself for the death of his little daughter. Hiding his identity as a high-powered CEO, he comes to work for a lovely widow, whose own child is temporarily living with her grandparents while she gets her livelihood back on track. Both characters are injured emotionally and yet they have a striking physical attraction to each other. The man who wants no family ever again â€“ falls for a single mother with a child the same age as his deceased daughter. Needless to say, the conflict is strong, the emotions are deep and the love that can never be, is almost that.
Q – What do you love about writing romance?
A â€“ The journey that leads us to the happy ending.
Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning Orange Blossom Newsletter, a contributor to The Writer’s Vibe and hard at work on her next book. For more on Dana and her interview with Charlene Sands, be sure to visit Danaâ€™s blog at: http://thewritersvibe.typepad.com/the_writers_vibe/
Itâ€™s a well-known fact in my family that my cousin, Annie, is slightly neurotic. Okay, sheâ€™s more than slightly neurotic, but even Annie acknowledges that she has some odd quirks. When she was in grade school, she was certain she was going to be kidnapped from her home by terrorists. We all attributed her fancifulness to her creativity as an actress.
I saw her first school play performance as Mata Hari in â€œLittle Mary Sunshine,â€ as she matured through the years and the roles until she blew me (and the critics) away several years ago as Annie Sullivan in â€œThe Miracle Workerâ€ at the Brea Theater.
But it was on June 25, 2005 that she gave her tour-de-force performance.
She got married.
Let me back up to when she got engaged. After her boyfriend, Mark, proposed on bended knee, the next night, the family celebrated with thin-crust pizza and toffee-crunch cheesecake.
Throughout the following weeks, wedding ideas were tossed around, locations considered and many, many bridal magazines were perused. Knowing Annie and her parents (my aunt and uncle), I had no doubt that the final product would be an elegant, classy, warm, and inviting experience. To add to that feeling, Annie asked her cousins (myself, my sister Sally, cousin Holly and cousin Liz) as well as her fianceâ€™s sister to be her bridesmaids.
While the rest of the cousins live in St. Louis, I have lived in Southern California for nearly 20 years, moving here just after college, when Annie was 10 so I felt like an older sister to Annie. And I took my responsibilities seriously, giving her someone to vent with when the details of the wedding started to get too overwhelming. There were several dinners where all I did was eat, nod my head and make appropriate comforting noises.
The venue was decided upon â€“ Ojai Valley Inn. A band was booked, a photographer hired, a videographer hired as well as a florist. The pieces of the wedding were slowly coming together. I was even there when she found the perfect wedding dress. With layers of tulle, the skirt swirled around her feet, making Annie look and feel like a fairy princess.
It truly became a family affair when Annie and Mark honored my father by asking him to perform the wedding ceremony. Little did we know that you could become ordained to perform wedding ceremonies over the Internet. But my father, whose family nickname is â€œThe Rev,â€ couldnâ€™t have been prouder. And although we all teased him about saying something outrageous and embarrassing at the wedding, we all knew that as the family statesman he would perform a wonderful ceremony.
As the day grew near, the RSVP cards poured in and the room reservations at the Ojai Valley Inn became more and more complicated. But through it all, Annie grew calmer. When her parents grew exasperated with the room coordinator, she simply smiled, waiting for the storm to blow over.
Finally, the weekend of the wedding of the century arrived. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, relatives arrived at LAX and made their way north â€“ out of the traffic of the freeway system, into the sheltered small town of Ojai. By late Friday afternoon, nearly everyone had arrived at the Ojai Valley Inn in time to attend the Rehearsal Dinner. Although the Rehearsal Dinner can traditionally be a time for any and all guests to roast and toast the bride and groom, we had much more toasting than roasting.
For the bride and her bridesmaids, the day of the wedding was planned out. Manicures for each of us followed by a light lunch in her parentsâ€™ suite (which served as Bride Headquarters). Annieâ€™s calm was tested several times. From our vantage point on the suiteâ€™s balcony, we overlooked the courtyard where the wedding would take place. So we had a birds-eye view as the staff set up for the ceremony. We managed to avert disaster with the placement of the huppah (a traditional Jewish wedding canopy) and avoided the misplacement of several strands of flowers and kumquats.
As the five of us nibbled on guacamole and chips and a Chinese chicken salad, The Mothers burst into the room, turning our calm haven into a whirlwind of activity. Annieâ€™s mother Judy, my mother Bonnie and Lizâ€™ mother Peggy. They had been tramping all over the inn, making sure that everything was being set up properly for the reception. We even learned about their gastrically-challenged lunch of hotdogs and turkey sandwiches theyâ€™d gotten off the golf course snack cart.
We shooed The Mothers away for a little while, telling them to come back when theyâ€™d calmed down. The dressing process proceeded smoothly with makeup being applied and checked, hair was curled and fluffed and finally the moment came for the bride to don her dress. This resulted in a Dance of Joy between mother and daughter when they realized the wedding dress was everything theyâ€™d hoped for. And happy tears all around when the father of the bride saw his baby girl in the dress for the first time.
The ceremony went off without a hitch â€“ my father performed superbly, combining traditional Jewish prayers with traditional Irish prayers, paying homage to both sides. The bride and groom said vows to each other they had written, bringing the entire group â€“ participants and guests â€“ to tears with their heartfelt words.
After the vows had been said, the promises made, the rings exchanged, the groom lifted his right leg and brought his shoe down hard, smashing a wine glass for good luck.
They say that for as long as it takes for the bride and groom to put the pieces of the smashed wine glass back together, thatâ€™s how long the marriage will last. There werenâ€™t even shards left of that wine glass â€“ just dust.
After the marriage certificates had been signed and witnessed and the last guest had left the courtyard to walk to the reception, the bride and groom looked at each other, grins splitting their faces. They carefully climbed into their flower-covered golf cart and headed off to a life together.
Julie Hurwitz has been a member of OCC since 1989, serving in a variety of positions, including Co-President. She is currently the RWA National Chapter Liaison.
Today we begin the Going To The Chapel Blog Contest. Every weekday for the month of June, we will post a new story. We have a special judge to select the winner. So please come back everyday and read the blogs! Tina Ralph is launching the contest with her entry–At the End of the Day. Enjoy!
Driving down highway 20 with my best friend beside me, I had to ask the question. “Are we sure, we wouldn’t rather go to the zoo?”
“Nope, we’re going to get you married.” Cathy said with determination.
The sudden sound of extra tread hitting the pavement had us rolling our eyes at each other. Sure enough, the flop, flop, flop, was coming from my car. I pulled to the side of the road.
Was this a sign from God? Should I go to the zoo instead of getting married? Again the question reared up and rode across my mind.
I checked my tire. It had lost its rubber but it wasn’t flat, just a little naked like a bald man’s scalp. In the days before cell phones, we were stuck. I thought about flagging someone down and contemplated putting on my wedding dress to get someone to stop. But a nice man in a small truck saved me from that fiasco. He tried to change the tire, but the damn thing was stuck.
Following us to the gas station, he made sure we were safe and went on his way. An angel put me back on the road to my wedding.
After calling my dad — every girl calls her dad to save her, I was no exception — he came to pick us up. Thrilled to be back on course, I was somewhat surprised, to find I’d arrived before my future husband.
Not to worry, Michael was rarely late.
His one task before coming to our celebrated event was to pick up the cake. You see, I had a simple wedding, outdoors, in Texas, in the month of June. We were only having a little cake and punch after the ceremony–simple, quiet, serene.
Others, granted, had more colorful adjectives to describe that day, but I won’t repeat them.
A phone call informed me of his dilemma. The bakery had given our cake to someone else. My beautiful cake was at another bride’s wedding.
The trip to the zoo was looking very appealing about this time.
My comment to my fiance was, “Get a cake, I don’t care if it’s a ‘Q#!@’ birthday cake.” My mother proceeded to give me a lecture on the use of certain language. I walked out.
The guests began to arrive. I stayed holed up in my aunt’s house, waiting for my future husband to get there with some kind of cake.
Michael, to say the least, was fighting his own battle. I would not have wanted to be the person behind the bakery counter. But the man came through, he got us a cake. Another angel was watching over our shoulder.
Now you may be wondering if I was seriously considering the possibility that someone didn’t want us to get married. And yes, it did cross my mind multiple times, but strangely enough, the harder the problems became, the more my resolve was strengthened.
My mantra became “At the end of the day I will be married.” With my eye on the goal, we overcame the obstacle of leaving our own wedding without a car. Remember, mine still had the bad tire that no one could pry off. My fiance didn’t bring his.
Here, the best man saved us. We left in his car with the maid of honor. We had a great time driving back to Dallas, rehashing and laughing about the events of our day.
This year on June 21st, we’re celebrating our twentieth anniversary. We’ve gone through some tough times and have made many happy memories.
At the end of the day, the route to the chapel led to an incredible adventure with a wonderful man. Now, with two teenage boys, two dogs and a bird, I have a zoo in my own backyard. I couldn’t be happier.
OCC/RWA Membership Director
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