Maintaining Perspective for Authors

It’s nothing personal,  just business… Whoever wrote that obviously wasn’t an artist. Our business happens to be very personal, or at least, it can be. Artists create, and their creations are reflections of themselves. No wonder we’re so touchy when someone else wants us to incorporate their two cents.

Not long ago, I attended a writing workshop about how to create engaging book titles. I never imagined that such a benign sounding meeting could end up being so emotionally charged. The speaker asked for people to share their book titles with the group, and there were about fifty attendees. One elderly lady (we’ll call her Helen) raised her hand and shared her title. The speaker asked her to come up to the stage and stand next to her and a flip chart. The book in question was Helen’s autobiography. The story was about her journey in and out of her church and her struggles along the way. The original title was something like “From Chosen to Castaway.” The group did not go for that title. Someone said that it brought images to mind of the movie “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks. The speaker said that Tom had dibs on that intellectual memory branding for the time being. Of course, she could use the title if she liked, but she was advised that another option would make it more ‘her own.’ During the exercise, the presenter kept flip chart notes of all the great ideas given by attendees. Here’s where it got awkward, though – Helen became incredibly defensive about the title, the attendee feedback and the presentation in general.

Helen was a first time author. She suddenly found herself in front of a panel of local publishers and writing professionals that were all throwing out ideas. You could tell she had not thought this through. You could tell she didn’t want to be up on the stage. Well, she did, but she didn’t. She wasn’t in a place that she could be open to constructive criticism. She stammered and became red-faced and flustered. She was taking deep breaths to regain composure, which obviously made her very anxious. Although all the people in the group were enthusiastic and genuinely wanted to help her, the poor lady was overwhelmed. My heart really went out to Helen, because it was a personal, painful experience that she was sharing, and she clearly was uncomfortable doing so. The speaker was very gracious and smoothly transitioned to a less emotional audience member, and Helen faded back into the audience where she seemed much more comfortable.

How will we react when put ‘on the spot?’ You never know when you will get a big break (like a room full of authors trying to help you establish your branding platform). I don’t know if I would have fared much better in the same situation. This event taught me that I need to spend more time working on my presentation skills. I may even join Toastmasters to make sure I can have such impromptu conversations. I have a feeling at some point, we are all a little like the lady who freaked out at the presentation, staring at the audience like a cat at a ceiling fan. Overwhelmed and out of our leagues.

Once a writer finishes their book and goes to promote it, something happens. In order to maintain perspective, in order not to overlook helpful feedback, the author has to separate themselves in part from their work, in order to sell it, push it, promote it and have conversations about it. How to get the right tone? As an HR Manager, when I have to have conversations with employees that may be emotionally charged, I always use the same tone I would use if asking them to please pass the butter. There is no emotion involved in a request such as that. If I can only apply that thinking to my writing…
What do you do to maintain perspective about your writing?

Short Story: Todd Wanted to Meet Dahlia's Family

Todd Wanted to Meet Dahlia's Family

By Kimberly Vargas

Todd Golden wanted to meet Dahlia Moore’s family, and there was no getting around it. Dahlia had been so opposed to the idea that for a while it gave him a complex. This was because Todd was the son of the wealthiest couple in town, and Dahlia only knew Todd because her family worked for his. She and Todd had fallen for each other and were now having to deal with their glaring differences.

Mrs. Moore was on cloud nine once her daughter nervously asked if she would like to have dinner with Todd sometime. No rush, Dahlia had said. Next year would be totally fine. However, to Dahlia’s dismay, this dinner became the priority of her mother’s life. Mrs. Moore had gone stark raving mad with the opportunity to spend time with the boy she hoped her daughter would marry. She scheduled the event for Valentine’s Day. She insisted upon inviting not just the immediate family, but also even the most distant relations. Mrs. Moore reserved the private room of Smokey’s Pit Barbecue for the occasion. This was the type of establishment where the guests were furnished with peanuts. It was common practice to throw the peanut shells on the floor. Dahlia tried to compare it to the last place Todd had taken her. The contrast in parallel thinking made her feel faint.

“I don’t think it’s the best place for us to be going,” began her attempt to negotiate a more suitable locale.

Her father gave her a disapproving look. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“You know how the Goldens are, Dad. Give me a break.”

“You’re the one who decided to date that kid. You’d probably be better off dating Damian from The Omen. Maybe it’s not good enough for the Golden boy, but it’s the best place near our house. He’s got to accept all of you, not just the parts he likes.”

“Can’t we at least go to a chain restaurant with accepted standards, practices and health codes?” begged Dahlia.

Joe Moore was no pushover. He realized he was intellectually superior to the Goldens, even if they were the most successful people in the area, and he was not about to kowtow. Besides, he wanted to throw up a few Herculean challenges for any guy who tried to take his daughter away. They were going to have to earn her and prove their intentions were admirable. It was hard for him to deny his daughter anything but this was for her own good. “Forget it. We’re not driving thirty miles away and over the Paradise Skyway bridge for Todd Golden. He can punt on that. Let him come to us if he’s so crazy about you.” Then he returned his attention to the Miami Dolphins and his beer. Dahlia shuddered at the thought of Todd’s reaction to seeing her father drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The night of the occasion (anticipated by some with enthusiasm and others with dread) was clear and warm. Todd met the Moores at the restaurant since it was quite a hike and he didn’t want to delay them. Florida traffic is always a wild card. Dahlia, Clay, her parents and grandparents arrived at seven that night. Several of her aunts and uncles were there. One aunt in attendance didn’t exactly have dementia, but she was definitely touched in the head from her husband beating her senseless over the years. There was one cousin there who had recently been released from prison (grand theft auto), and he received congratulations all around on his newfound freedom. Uncle Bob apologized for hitting another mourner during Uncle Fred’s wake, because it just wasn’t appropriate. After assessing the pending damage, Dahlia prayed that Todd’s car would get a flat tire or catch on fire. Anything would be better than him seeing her amongst this motley crew.

No such luck. Todd walked through the door and Dahlia could tell he was doing his best to smile graciously and not to look disturbed. He took in the décor, which was random antiques displayed all over the walls amongst a serious collection of neon beer signs. He thought it was the most distasteful place he’d ever seen in his life, but he looked over at Dahlia and didn’t care anymore. He walked boldly over and shook her father’s hand.

“Nice to see you, Mr. Moore. I’m Todd.”

“You can call me Joe,” said Mr. Moore. Joe Moore gave Todd a once over and thought he was a good-looking kid. A good-looking kid whose parents own about 10% of Florida. What the hell does he want with Dahlia? I can’t believe he actually showed up. Guess he really does like her.

Outside in the parking lot, Dahlia’s friend Jack Burton was sitting in his car. He could see the Moore family inside. Jack had been dying to meet the rest of Dahlia’s family. He figured if he could get to know them better, maybe he’d stand a better chance with her. Seeing Todd Golden through the window surprised him. Jack felt sure he wouldn’t really make the trip to Tomahawk, but there he was. Jack felt like throwing a brick through the window of Todd’s BMW but realized it wasn’t going to solve his problem. He saw the way Dahlia looked at Todd and it made him nauseous.

Inside the restaurant, Todd tried not to slip on the peanut shells all over the floor. Dahlia had to use the bathroom but was terrified to leave the object of her affection alone with her family. She finally gave in, rushing the whole time. She returned to find her nightmare scenario. Aunt Yolanda had cornered Todd.

“In our family, there’s always been really big babies,” Aunt Yolanda told wide-eyed Todd. “Like twelve or thirteen pounds, some of ‘em.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Todd responded with a furrowed brow, as though conducting analysis with a faulty calculator.

“Nope. It’s God’s honest truth. Some of the c-sections the women in our family have had nearly killed ‘em,” Yolanda continued babbling. Dahlia tried to interrupt them, but her brother Clay pulled her aside.

“Let go of me! I have to get him away from Aunt Yolanda!” she hissed.

“No. He’s going to see us for who we are, warts and all. If he can pass the Yolanda test, then I was wrong about him.” Clay gave his sister a you-know-I’m-right look.

“Please- please- can’t it be something he might actually pass, like climbing Everest or finding his way out of that hedge from The Shining?”

“Wouldn’t you rather know now than ten years from now?” he asked her quietly.

“No. Because then I’d at least have the ten years,” she told him honestly. “I can’t even believe I’ve had it for ten minutes.”

Clay appeared as though a death in the family had just been announced. “It’s already too late for you. You’re a goner. You’re flying too close to the sun. You’re headed for a fall.”

Dahlia shook off Clay’s warning and walked back towards Todd. Yolanda had moved to a new topic of conversation. “If you really want your hair to grow, now, you have to eat a lot of sugar. That’s cause sugar makes your hair grow.” She displayed two prominently missing teeth. She was wearing a t-shirt that said All This and Brains Too.

Dahlia linked arms with Todd, asked to borrow him for a moment and strolled with him outside. He looked shaken. There was a sagging swing set behind the property. Thinking that might be a little more peaceful, they decided to take a chance that the swings would hold up under their weight. For a moment, they sat in silence. As Todd was about to speak, a group of children ran up to them. They were Dahlia’s three cousins, aged four, seven and eight. They were the offspring of Uncle Tom, Mrs. Moore’s n’er do well brother. Dahlia groaned. She realized this could actually be worse than the Aunt Yolanda experience.

“Hey Dahlia, is that your boyfriend?” one of them screamed.

“Aunt Jean says you guys are getting married. Is that true? Because I heard Todd is really rich!” crowed another.

“Hey, if you’re rich, will you buy me roller blades?” another one asked. “Because my daddy said he lost all his money in Vegas and can’t buy me none.”

Dahlia buried her head in her hands. This was even worse than she had expected. Their relationship, fragile egg that it was, had just been cracked and scrambled.

Todd’s brain was feeling a bit cracked and scrambled as well. He took things literally and had a pretty active imagination. Mental pictures of writing checks to these three dirty children had already been etched there.

“I’m not rich. Who told you I was rich?” he asked, trying to smile.

“Everybody’s saying that!” an eight-year old redheaded girl informed him before shoving her index finger squarely in her nose.

“Where are your shoes?” Todd heard himself ask, even though he knew it was impolite. After all, this was hardly polite society.

“Kids, why don’t you go inside?” Dahlia suggested. “I think they’ve got a monkey in the private room.”

The children all scampered away to find the monkey.

Todd was bewildered. “They have a monkey? Is that legal?” He wanted to know.

“No. The monkey was my own invention.”

“Too bad. That would have been the high point of the evening. I like monkeys. They sure don’t smell like roses, though.” He handed her a little package that was in his pocket. “It’s a necklace. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Before she even could open it, Todd was exhaling loudly. He was never one to suffer in silence or hide his feelings. “I don’t think I can do this, Dahlia. Ay, carumba. What the hell is wrong with your Aunt and those nasty kids?”

“We hardly ever see them. I don’t even know why my mom invited them,” she said sullenly.

“Oh, your mom told me why. She said she wanted everyone to meet ‘the guy Dahlia’s in love with.’ This is probably out of line to say, but I genuinely think she would sell you to me for forty shekels of silver.” Todd laughed quietly.

Dahlia didn’t have the energy to dispute his statement, particularly since she felt it was accurate. She could pretty much handle anything, no matter how brutal, as long as it was true. “Clay said it’s better you see it now than later. And I never told my mom I was in love with you. Don’t listen to her. She’s a frustrated actress.”

Todd dug his Cole-Haans in the sand. “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know. Maybe we have even less in common than I thought. It’s not fair of me. I’ve treated the situation like you were an angel who dropped out of the sky for me, and never in the context of your life.”

“I’m not planning on this being the extent of my life, Todd,” she snapped. “I don’t have any control over where I came from, only where I’m going. Remember when you told me that your parents’ home was their home, and it didn’t have anything to do with who you are as a person? I don’t think you know yourself very well.” She got up out of the swing. They were on the path of a military airline strip, and a B-52 was flying overhead. “Please determine if you can accept me or not, because it’s kind of the cornerstone of any relationship. If you can’t accept this, and believe me, no judgments, I need you to stay away from me and let me start to get over you.” She wiped a tear from her eye.

“Holy shit Dahlia, don’t start crying. You’ve got a ready-made lynch mob fifty feet away. I’ll never make it out alive.” He was only halfway joking.

“Go ahead and go,” she whispered. “I know you want to. Go ahead and go.” He hesitated a moment and walked out to his car. In the parking lot was Jack Burton, watching the evening unfold.

“Todd Golden, right?” Jack asked. “Hi. I’m Jack. I’m a friend of Dahlia’s. Are you leaving already?”

Todd sighed and took a silver flask of whiskey and offered it to Jack, who declined. He took a long swig of it. “I guess. I don’t know what the hell to do.”

“About what?” Jack asked, wondering how he could permanently paint Todd into a corner.

“About Dahlia, that’s what.” Todd hit the flask again. “I’ve got it bad, really bad for her. But what’s the point? We can’t penetrate the other’s worlds. We only exist in our own. It’s only good when we’re alone, and that’s no good, right?” He had no idea why he was opening up to a total stranger, but he was glad Jack was there.

“You’re right. That’s no good,” Jack agreed. “You can’t sustain that.”

“Exactly. Have you met Aunt Yolanda?”


“What the F, dude? How do you deal with that shit?” Todd sighed deeply. “How am I supposed to sit there and deal with all that?”

“If you were really into it, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Jack shrugged.

Todd laughed cynically. “Yeah, right. Apparently you haven’t met Aunt Yolanda.”

“Au contraire. I take Aunt Yolanda to her volunteer shift at the Sugarville Boys and Girls Club kitchen every Tuesday,” Jack said quietly.

“You ride in a car with that whack job for almost two hours a week? Wouldn’t you prefer to just take a beating?”

Jack nodded. “Well, sure, sometimes. For example, she said her husband’s diabetes was instantly cured when he was hit by a car. She also claims that her breasts get bigger in the shower, and she offered to prove it.”

Todd laughed out loud in response. “Okay, so why do you do that?” He marveled. “Are you looking to get sainted?”

“No. Not that,” Jack responded.

“Then why?”

“Because it helps Dahlia.”

“To do that, you must be in love with her or something…” Todd’s voice trailed off as he realized he’d hit the nail on the head.

Jack just stood there staring at him for a meaningful pause. “Thanks to you, my Valentine’s Day is looking up.” He smiled and walked towards where Dahlia was still sitting alone in the children’s playground, oblivious to the conversation between the two young men.

Todd hesitated. He hadn’t considered that Dahlia had other suitors. Of course she did. And was he really going to leave her with one of them? Apparently, yes. He had to get out of that place.

He started his car and drove across the Paradise Skyway to the Sugarville Microbrewery. They had 50 beers on tap. Maybe he would try all of them. Maybe that would make him feel better. He certainly had to do something.

What do you think of this story? Do you want to find out what happens next? We'd love to hear from you!

Contributor Spotlight: Excerpt from Gumbeaux by Kimberly Vargas

January 5, 2010

J.P. Deacon
Orion Publishing
One Market Place
Bethesda, Maryland

Dear Mr. Deacon:

I wanted to express my deepest appreciation that you have agreed to write my biography. Your reputation as a journalist of factual integrity was one of several reasons I approached you for this assignment. There have been many inaccuracies and misperceptions printed about the Fait family over the years, and this is an opportunity to set the records straight.

After much deliberation/consideration, I have decided to disclose my diaries for your perusal. They span the years of 1986 to present day. Through them you will gain greater insight into the Fait “art empire”, as you described it during our last conversation.

Thank you and please know if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing your reaction.


Mary Fait
Musée Fait
100 NW Embassy Avenue
Washington, D.C.


January 1986
I’ve never kept a diary before. Scary stuff. Let’s see how it goes. My name is Mary Veronica Fait and I’m sixteen years old. I lost my parents about five years ago. They died on the way back from Chesapeake Bay. They were driving home with my Uncle Claude. One minute they were all excited about coming home, the next Claude was calling Grandma Marguerite in a panic, crying because he lost control of the wheel and drove the car off an embankment. My parents both died and Claude survived. I survived too, but am not quite the same. The shock fractured my soul, and the loose part keeps shifting around, edgy and restless.
Claude (Dad’s brother) is now my guardian. Grandma Marguerite is in a nursing home so there is no other option. Claude used to do a decent job of taking care of me but started drinking a couple of years ago. Things have gotten progressively worse. He gets very mean when he drinks. When he’s sober, everything is fine. Lately, he’s not sober much. Losing my parents has been hell every day on earth. It’s been hideous and frustrating and lonely and angry and mad and sad and miserable and sometimes I just want to walk off a tall building.
We’re not a normal family for many reasons, but primarily because my grandfather was Jean-Luc Fait. In case you’re not an art person, Jean Luc-Fait was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. He was a Modernist, a contemporary of Picasso and a he-man in general. Granddad lived from 1890 to 1980. He died when I was ten. He came to America in 1921 and set up residence in New Orleans. About thirty years later, he and Grandma Marguerite moved to Washington, D.C. They bought our present home, a huge place on Capitol Hill.
Things were just starting to normalize after the death of my parents when Claude decided to turn our family home into what it is today, the Musée Fait. He brought back all my grandfather’s paintings from their worldwide tours and traveling exhibitions and had them displayed at home. Then, with the assistance of our family lawyer, Dante, Claude followed the appropriate steps to turn our Victorian on Capitol Hill into a museum.
People are more than happy to pay a shitload to visit the home of one of America’s greatest painters. We had always been comfortable, but with Claude running things, the money really started rolling in like you wouldn’t believe. It was terrifying to see how powerful he became in a very short time. Celebrities rent our house during off hours and use it as a bed and breakfast. Our backyard has become a hot spot wedding location. Granddad would have hated it. He was a private man who wouldn’t have wanted strangers running around his house, touching his things.
Grandma Marguerite thinks all of this is a great way to celebrate Granddad. She told me to play ball, so I play ball. Claude uses me as his companion to accompany him to fundraising events. I know when to laugh at his stupid ass jokes, when to smile at guests and when to excuse myself so the adults can discuss adult business. Claude and I really know how to work a room. He says I’m his lucky charm, his ace in the hole. He says that as long as I’m around, nothing is impossible for him. That was very flattering for a while. He’s the closest thing I have to a father figure, and my options are limited.
Claude took some wine courses to become a sommelier a while back. Just to let everyone know how cultured he is, probably. There is no telling which bottle it was, but he crawled inside one and has yet to come out. Ever since he became a certified wino, his behavior has become increasingly disturbing. I confronted him about being such a cheesy snob (he insisted on a Ralph Lauren Christmas one year, in which all our decor had to be only from that designer). Claude didn’t appreciate my honesty and we started not getting along so hot. Then, when he started drinking not just wine but all things alcohol, things went from bad to worse.
Grandma Marguerite used to keep Claude at bay, but now he just walks all over her. Dante told me that Grandma is getting rather old and doesn’t have the same kind of joie de vivre that she used to have. I know Dante well enough to understand that he’s gently implying that senility is setting in. So you see, I have absolutely nowhere else to go.                  
There’s a good person deep inside of Claude. But he’s very sad, as I’m very sad. We are both very sad. We’re mourning the situation in our own ways. I “love” Claude or whatever, but I don’t like him when he drinks. He drinks all the time, so there you go.
There’s no one to talk to, and I’m scared to be writing all this stuff down but will explode without some kind of release. All the people who work for us act totally weird now. They’re scared of Claude. He’s paying their salaries so they walk on eggshells all the time.
Only my tutor, Dr. Jonas, knows what’s going on. He noticed a cut on my wrist and knew it wasn’t really an accident. He said that life can be amazing, so there’s no reason to check out early. He said to study hard and to get good grades on the entrance exams for college. He said college would launch me to liberty. Then he got a small book out of his briefcase and handed it to me. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” He said it would give some illumination to these dark days. The writing certainly made an impression. Here’s what I mainly got out of it:

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. . . . What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think. . . . The reliance on property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. . . . Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

What does all this really mean? It means that we came into this world alone, and we will go out alone. You can’t put your faith in anyone. You’re better off doing everything alone because you can’t count on anyone except yourself. You’re a sailor out at sea, alone on the ocean. Your decisions symbolize the course you charter. Your thoughts steer the movements of your boat through life. Are you going to pave the way yourself or listen to others? If the people who you listen to are wrong, you’ll hate them for steering you badly. If you are internally guided, you will have made your own decisions—and will have no one else to blame. So, pick your poison and live with the consequences. 
Want to read more? Pick up a copy of Gumbeaux, available now from Amazon and Amazon UK

Nearly driven to homicide by an alcoholic caretaker, a sheltered, rebellious young heiress disappears into New Orleans to heal in peace from the death of her parents. In moving from Washington, D.C. to Louisiana, she experiences culture shock and freedom for the first time. 

The title refers to a Cajun restaurant where she takes a job as a waitress. There she engages in many misadventures with often hilarious results. Years later, she is haunted by the conviction that she may have left part of her soul behind in the deep south, and must face her dark, reckless past in order to win it back.

The Chick Lit Bee Welcomes Kimberly Vargas

We are thrilled to announce that author Kimberly Vargas has joined The Chick Lit Bee as a contributor. Kimberly will mainly write short stories for us and share excerpts from her debut novel and future projects. We are so excited that Kimberly has chosen The Chick Lit Bee as a platform to share her writing. Please join us in welcoming Kimberly to The Chick Lit Bee! 

Here's a bit more info:

Kimberly works for Modern Postcard in Carlsbad, California. Her debut novel Gumbeaux was the 2011 Readers Favorite Award Winner for chick lit. She lives in San Diego County with her husband Michael, enjoys stand up paddle boarding and is a surfer in training. She believes in living the aloha spirit each day and cannot refuse the call to adventure. If you don't go, you won't know.  

Present vs. Past

Present tense or past tense in chick lit? by Megan Just

When you read chick lit, do you prefer present tense or past tense?

“It’s the crack of dawn, and for some god-awful reason someone is giving us a wake-up call…I croak out something that’s a cross between ‘Hello’ and ‘I hate your guts, whoever you are’ only to be greeted with ‘Good morning Mrs. Johnson!  Stand by for Mrs. Lovejoy, please!”  --The Baby Planner by Josie Brown, 2011

“The next day I awoke with a dry tequila mouth and a searing headache.  I checked my watch; it was nearly noon.  The night before seemed like a dream.  A blurry, good dream.  I couldn’t wait to see Marcus again.”  --Something Blue by Emily Giffin, 2005

To me, it seems that books written in present tense occur more often in chick lit than in any other genres I read.  Personally, though, I prefer the chick lit books that stick to good, old-fashioned past tense.  

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I don’t like books written in present tense (Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic comes most immediately to mind as one I adored).  It’s just that when starting a book written in present tense, my brain, which longs to be on auto-pilot, always rebels against me.

ME READING: “Do you have salt for the margaritas?” he asks when I pick up the phone. 
BRAIN: You mean, “He asked.”
ME: No, it says, “He asks.”

A few pages in, the pages read as smooth as past tense, but if I put the book down for a day, I still sense small glitches as I read the first verbs when I pick it back up. 

The main reason I prefer past tense, though, is that it adds a level of complexity to the narration of the book.  How long after the events of the book is the narrator speaking from?  Why has the narrator chosen to tell us this story?

Now, it’s not like I plop down on the beach with a book that’s meant to be a light read and speculate about the main character’s motivation for sharing her story.  This is something the author handles behind-the-scenes, but it does make the book more enjoyable to read.

In a present tense book, the story is unfolding as we read it and my suspicious mind wonders, “How does our heroine know she’s going to have a story to tell if the story hasn’t happened yet?”

Now, to be fair, present tense does have some advantages over past tense.  One advantage is the line between things that happened in the past and things that are happening in the present of the story is always clear.  Another advantage is in action scenes and moments of high tension between characters where the present tense can really help a reader be right there in the moment.
We’d love to hear what you think.  Which do you prefer in chick lit?  Present or past tense?  What are some of your favorite books written in present or past tense?