I have a terrible allergy to first drafts. The idea for a good story is in my head, but when I sit myself down to write, I have the sudden, overwhelming need to go do something else: repair a cuckoo clock, feed the dog, go through old papers, contemplate dust bunnies, think about removing aforementioned dust bunnies (but never actually getting around to doing it) stare into space, dream, stroll around my untended garden and stare at flowers (actually weeds). And so, on it goes…for months, sometimes years. It’s a wonder I manage to get around to writing whole books. The reason I do finally succeed is that I know how exciting it is to work on a second draft. And a third, fourth, fifth (yes, I’m excessive, but I want sentences to sing.)
So it was with my contemporary romance, Desert Rose. I carried the idea of the story around in my head for a long time, turning it this way and that, tasting it, biting into it. Then I sat down to write the first draft. It was summer, a very hot summer. I began writing at night when the air was cool, the world was sleeping, and the village I live in was perfectly silent (aside from hooting owls, squeaking and puffing hedgehogs, and one delightful nightingale.) My opening scene took place on an icy winter night (wishful contrast) in a semi-ghost town in Nevada (as far as possible from where I was.) My hero was a very sexy half-Paiute; my heroine was the village flirt. The attraction between the two was immediate, but the obstacles to their romance were just as apparent as their fascination. Yes, I was off to a good start. After a few nights, I had the first chapter, the secondary characters, the story, the setting, the passion, and all the excitement of a new project…
And then my allergy kicked in. I was unable to write another word for the rest of the summer. As soon as I sat down to work, I found a thousand reasons to go do something else. It took me two whole years to finally write Desert Rose, but what fun that second draft was (below, you can see how the story begins). However, I do rather wonder if other authors suffer from the same allergy. It would be nice to know I’m not alone in this…
What am I working on at the moment? The first draft of a mystery I began… twenty-five years ago. Believe me, my allergy is killing me.
- Storytelling Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
A secret life is the best protection against love
Men love Rose Badger, and if the other inhabitants of dead-end Blake’s Folly, Nevada, don’t approve, she couldn’t care less. With a disastrous marriage far behind her, settling down is the last thing she intends to do. Isn’t life for fun? Doesn’t a stable relationship always mean predictability and boredom? Well… perhaps things might be different with Jonah Livingstone, but he isn’t available. So, why fret? Rose has another, quite secret life, and she’ll never give that up for any man.
The last person Jonah Livingstone expected to meet in a semi-ghost town is Rose Badger. She’s easy-going, delightfully spontaneous, and Jonah is certain their attraction is mutual. But Rose is always surrounded by a crowd of admirers and doesn’t seem inclined to choose a favorite. No problem: Jonah is too independent to settle into a permanent relationship again. He’s leading his own, very secretive life, and secrets are an excellent protection against love.
When the bell above the shop door tinkled, Rose’s well-practiced welcome smile was almost in place. Almost… Then it stopped in mid-stretch. Stunned, she stared, blinked, stared some more. My goodness: wasn’t he gorgeous. Her interest increased, and her heart did a pitter-patter tippy-toe dance as she took him in: tallish — but anyone would be tall when compared to her tiny size — rangy, with tousled hair so dark it appeared blue under the lights, an explorer’s bone structure and weather honed skin, deep brown eyes. And, here she was, acting like a complete idiot, frozen into place, gawking at him, as if he were of another species, or something totally new-fangled dropped down from a distant stretch of the Milky Way.
Not that he seemed to be faring any better than she, not moving, staring at her, his gaze unwavering, the wide-open door letting in frosty air and snowflakes. What was that gaze of his telling her? That he was surprised? Pleased? Oh, yes. He liked what he saw, all right — men did like her, she knew that. She was used to their admiration. They liked naturally golden curls, slanting blue eyes, and the broad, flat cheekbones of the Russian steppe. But, wasn’t it especially nice to be admired by such a gorgeous specimen? Yes, indeed.
Mentally, Rose shook herself, forced herself out of her stupor — somebody had to do something. This was a store, a business, not a blind date. If a man suddenly showed up in a ladies’ dress shop, that meant there was already a woman in his life. Unless he was a cross-dresser. Or was lost and needed directions out of this half-a-horse hellhole.
“Hello.” She forced the formerly incomplete smile into something more fulsome.
“Hello,” he answered. Smiled back. Not a forced smile, though. A wonderful one that softened the craggy angles of his face, crinkled into deep lines around his mouth and eyes.
Rose swallowed. Stared for another few seconds, then ordered herself to stop thinking about his smile, his lips, the soft, bristly, salty way his skin would taste if she licked it, just there, at the corner of his mouth.
The very thought made her knees tremble. A bad case of lust at first sight? With a great effort of willpower, she corralled the lusty thoughts until they were more manageable, somewhat closer to normality. Heard her own voice, calm practical: “Can I help you with something?”
He shook his head slightly, as if waking from a trance. Then, the laugh lines, the crinkles disappeared, and his expression became more business-like. “Yes, of course.” Stepping into what was left of the warmth in the shop, he turned slightly, closed the door behind him. Looked over at her again. Cleared his throat. “I’m looking for a present.”
“For your wife?” Rose held her breath.
The mouth tightened. He hesitated, but only for seconds. “Not quite.”
“Ah.” Hope faded. Not quite a wife wasn’t nearly as bad as a snuggled-in official wife, but it was close enough. “Your fiancée.” She was just fishing, she knew it too, but hoped he didn’t. Not that she was being very subtle.
“No, not that either.” He shrugged, shook his head. “The woman I’m…ah…well…we live together. In the same apartment, that is.”
“Ah.” Okay. The woman he was living with. Hope skittered out of the picture with all the clang of a badly tuned wedding bell. Unless she’d detected — no, intuited — another note, one hinting that all wasn’t entirely perfect.
She tucked the thought into the back of her mind, ready for perusal at some later moment. For now, though, he was a potential customer, nothing more, she told herself…aside from that first blinding moment when he’d opened the door and seen her. A moment that had been nothing less than a spontaneous gut-deep call of male to female, female to male. A call now quashed with the message of: “too late, already taken.”