Posted on Leave a comment

Sparkle & Shine Cover Reveal!

Cover Reveal might be my favorite part of launching a book. I love unveiling the face of the story I’ve been working on so hard. The only way I could love this more is if I could have somehow wrangled Nicolas Cazale to play Rich for it.

Maybe in a couple years.

But seriously? This cover captured exactly what I was looking for, but saying why would be SPOILERS, so let’s just all admire the sweetness of it. And the balloons! I am so in love with the balloons.



Pre-Order Your Copy Today:

Apple
Kobo
Nook
Release Day Reminder Email

Pre-Orders are available on Kobo, Nook, and iTunes now, or you can buy from Amazon on release day. In the meantime, follow me on Instagram for more teasers and sneak peeks leading up to release day next month.

Posted on Leave a comment

Ethan & Juliet Cover Reveal!

I absolutely love this cover. The composition of the image absolutely slays me. The embrace perfectly symbolizes the push and pull of Ethan & Juliet’s relationship. (Scroll down for a larger image.)

Ethan & Juliet: The first in the Try Again Series, a collection of three interconnected second chance romances releases December 4th, 2018. Look for Sparkle & Shine and Read & Wright in 2019!

Pre-Order Your Copy on:
Amazon
Kobo
Apple
Nook
and Add to your Goodreads shelf

When Juliet Hawthorne met Dr. Ethan Harvey during her final semester of nursing school, she thought he was hot, but too arrogant to be worth the trouble. Plus she had Rich, the only man Juliet thought she’d ever want. But when Juliet’s world shattered, Ethan was the only one there for her.

Ethan hasn’t let himself think about Juliet for four years. But when she shows up at his hospital with an emergency patient, Ethan realizes that Juliet is still the woman of his dreams, even if she’s about to become a certified nurse midwife. Ethan’s never had much time for midwives, but he’s willing to set his discomfort aside, because she’s exactly what’s been missing from his life.

When Ethan sets out to woo her, Juliet is forced to choose between the career that has given her life purpose and the man she never thought she’d fall in love with.

Listen to my Ethan&Juliet playlist on Spotify
(Photo by Joanna Nix)

Posted on Leave a comment

Ethan & Juliet Chapter One

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have heard me talking about Ethan & Juliet since August at least. And if you’re one of the real lucky ones who read all the way to the end of The Other Lane, then you’ve already seen it. BUT, for anyone who hasn’t, this is an early teaser of what’s to come December 4th!

Chapter One

Juliet slapped her palm against the steering wheel as traffic closed in around her. She should have known better than to get on the highway at eight o’clock in the morning even if it was the fastest way to get from Overland Park to Midtown. And she needed to be in Midtown ten minutes ago.

Fifteen minutes ago, Juliet had stepped out the front door of the birth center into the brittle warmth of the spring morning with no other plans than to go home and nap. She’d squinted past the newly leafed trees and into the sunlight. Juliet had basked in the afterglow of assisting in the uneventful birth of a healthy baby girl. The high of witnessing new life never got old, but the adrenaline of it had already worn off. Exhaustion had pressed down on her shoulders like she’d been carrying both her physiology book and her pharmaceuticals book in her bag at the same time again. She’d wanted to go home and sleep and sleep and sleep.

Juliet had taken one deep, cleansing breath in through her nose and out through her mouth and had just turned toward her heap of a twenty-year-old Toyota when her phone had buzzed in her pocket.
The screen had flashed Gina’s name, and Juliet’s heart had ticked up a notch when she’d heard panting over the line instead of words.

“Gina? Gina are you OK?” she’d asked.

A whimper had been her answer.

“Gina are you in labor?”

Juliet had heard her friend draw in a deep breath, then in a shaky voice, she’d said, “Regular contractions, getting strong fast. And they hurt more than last time. A lot more.”

Juliet had done a mental sun salutation since she hadn’t had time for a real one, then she’d pivoted on her heel and walked right back into the birthing center. On her way, she’d asked if Gina was experiencing pain between contractions and if she’d noticed any spotting. A yes to both.

“And Colin is still . . . out of town . . . and it’s too early.” Gina’s voice had been a sharp whine interrupted by hard pants.

Gina wasn’t due for three more weeks, but that hadn’t been what had Juliet worried. Not by a long shot. “It’s not too early. Call Rich to stay with Noah, and I’ll be there in a flash.”

Gina had groaned as another contraction came on.

“Scratch that, I’ll call Rich. You hang tight.”

Juliet had snagged Charlie, the midwife she’d worked with the night before and filled her in.
“She needs to get to the hospital,” Charlie said.

Juliet nodded in agreement. “She’s only a few blocks from KU Med. I can have her there in thirty minutes.”

Charlie had offered to take care of the official transfer and meet them there. Then Juliet had been off, only to wind up stuck in traffic ten minutes into a twenty-minute drive. The wait was long enough for every awful thing that could be wrong with Gina to pass through Juliet’s mind. When she felt panic crushing her diaphragm, she focused instead on how good it had felt for Gina to adopt her when she’d first moved to Kansas City. How all the nights drinking wine and dancing had forged a sisterly relationship that withstood Juliet’s split from Gina’s brother.

Juliet’s pulse slowed as she remembered and breathed. They were both strong women. Gina would survive this. Juliet would get her to the hospital. The University of Kansas Medical Center was the best hospital in the area, with the best doctors. Gina would be fine, and Juliet could do this. She was a nurse, almost a full-fledged midwife, she was trained to stay calm in these situations, so she would, even when it was one of her best friends in danger.

Juliet practiced breathing in through her nose, out through her mouth, and it did almost as much as a good round of yoga.

Then she remembered she’d offered to call Rich and cursed.

Juliet fumbled her phone out of her satchel, and scrolled through her contacts, keeping one eye on the road in case the car in front of her moved.

“Durand.” He answered, with a perfect French accent.

“Are you going by your last name now?” Juliet asked.

A pause, and Juliet imagined a sexy, confident smile sliding onto his face. “Oh, Juliet. It has been too long.”

Juliet snorted. “Whatever. Have you talked to your sister lately?”

“I’m on call for the baby.”

“Yeah, well, the baby’s coming now.”

All the flirtation fell from his voice as he said, “Is everything okay?”

“I’m on my way over so I can take her to the Med Center. Colin’s still out of town, so I need you to get over there now. Stay with her until I can get there, and I need you to take care of Noah and let Colin know what’s going on. If she starts bleeding or can’t handle the pain, call an ambulance and don’t wait for me, got it?”

From the scraping and scuffling noises in the background, Juliet guessed Rich was gathering papers off his desk. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Then he hung up.

It might have been the least amount of flirting Rich had ever pulled off in one conversation. At least he understood the situation. Rich had always respected her professionally, even if he hadn’t been good for her in any other way.

When Juliet arrived, Rich was making Noah eggs, but paused to help Juliet get Gina into the car. Juliet’s hope that Rich had somehow been horribly scarred in the last two years were dashed the second she laid eyes on him. His thick, wavy dark hair fell in his earnest brown eyes. His olive skin glowed in the morning sun as he gripped Juliet’s hand and thanked her for being there for his sister. Looking up at him, Juliet was reminded of the first time they’d met. He was just as gorgeous at thirty as he’d been at eighteen. Possibly more so.

Juliet snatched her hand back and only just resisted wiping it clean on her scrubs. “I’ll call with news as soon as I can.” Then she joined a groaning Gina in the car.

The drive to KU Med took less than ten minutes, and Charlie met them at the emergency room doors along with a nurse who got them checked in and into an ultrasound. Then they were admitted to the high-risk wing of the Labor and Delivery ward. Juliet helped Gina through contractions while Charlie coordinated with the hospital staff.

After what Juliet considered far too long, the door opened and a man in a white coat entered the room.
Juliet’s heart might have stopped beating when he snapped the file he’d been reading shut, revealing his rugged face and bright blue eyes.

It was him.

Juliet knew she would run into him eventually. To have made it four years without meeting him when they worked in the same field was almost a miracle.

What wasn’t surprising was the near scowl he wore as he took them all in one at a time. He’d always hated midwives, and here were two, along with a patient in distress. That would make him cranky. And if his greasy hair and thick stubble were any indication, it was well past the end of his shift. Oh yeah, he would be in a great mood.

Gina squeezed Juliet’s hand, and Juliet tried to give her friend a reassuring smile, but that was when the doctor spoke.

“I’m Dr. Harvey,” he said, pulling the last empty chair in front of Gina’s bed. “I’ll be performing your cesarean today.”

“Cesarean?” Gina blinked.

Juliet and Charlie had explained to Gina that they thought she had a partial placental abruption, but the hospital staff hadn’t said a word. When asked, the nurse had said they were waiting for the doctor to get out of surgery to confirm the results. The doctor they had been waiting on was now exchanging glares with Juliet’s boss.

“She doesn’t know?” he asked.

“Your staff hasn’t exactly been forthcoming,” Charlie said. “We warned her it was a possibility.”
“It’s the only way to deliver safely at this point,” he said, angling his head back toward Gina.
“Is the baby okay?” Gina asked, her voice quavering in panic.

“The baby is fine,” Juliet said, nodding toward the fetal monitor. “Dr. Harvey means that a vaginal delivery is too risky for you right now.”

“And for the baby,” Dr. Harvey said. “Stillbirth would be the most likely outcome.”

Gina let out a little sob of shock and her heart rate monitor beeped a little faster.
“Ethan!” Juliet sent him a silencing glare as she felt Gina go rigid beneath her palm, then said to Gina in a soothing voice, “C-section is the best way to make sure you don’t bleed too much if the placenta detaches, but the baby is okay.”

Gina looked to Dr. Harvey who said, “The risk of hemorrhage is high.”

After grimacing through another contraction, dulled by the pain medication they’d given her, Gina asked Juliet, “You’d do it?”

She was pretty sure she heard Dr. Harvey’s teeth grind.

Juliet made sure she smiled as she said, “In a heartbeat.”

Gina nodded, looking determined. “Alright then. Let’s do it.”

Dr. Harvey explained the surgery and recovery as if his life depended on him doing so in fifty words or less. Then he swept himself from the room with a dark look in Juliet’s direction. She didn’t flinch. It wasn’t her fault his bedside manner was so atrocious that she’d had to translate for him.

“That’s it?” Gina panted through a contraction.

Charlie said, “He’s abrupt, but if you have to have a c-section, he’s who you want.”

Juliet nodded and squeezed Gina’s hand back, and said, “He’s the best,” trying not to let anything else show on her face. In her mind, Juliet was poking Gina in the shoulder, saying “Oh my God, oh my God,” over and over, and maybe throwing a “He’s the one!” in there.

Juliet hadn’t seen him since she’d finished nursing school. Her life was completely different now, but Ethan hadn’t changed at all.

He was still broad and sturdy like a rugby player, only three or four inches taller than she was. His shaggy, dark hair still escaped from beneath the surgical cap that matched his blue eyes. He still couldn’t take the time to talk to his patients and was apparently working so much he couldn’t even be bothered to shave. The Dr. Harvey she remembered had always been miraculously clean shaven, even at the end of a twenty-four-hour shift. He looked more ruffled this morning than he used to get, but Juliet had to admit she liked the beard. It matched him somehow.

Gina huffed, her face still contorted in pain. “I hope he’s better at surgery than he is at conversation.”

A nurse with a consent form arrived then, and Juliet focused again on Gina, and not on the way Dr. Harvey’s eyes had looked at her in annoyance. Not that she wanted him to look at her at all, she wanted him to focus on Gina. Juliet did not want to talk to him, or about him. She’d avoided all reference to him for four years. All she had to do was to make it through this surgery, and she could go back to forgetting he existed.

Only once the surgery started, Juliet had trouble not watching him. She was positioned by Gina’s head, so she couldn’t see his hands, but the poise of his shoulders, the stillness of his body as he worked, the soft whisper of his voice, efficient with his words as he directed the staff. Juliet noticed every breath he took. He was impressive, and despite herself, Juliet felt a pull in her belly to be near him as he worked.

She wasn’t the only one. When she’d been in nursing school, Dr. Harvey had been the young, handsome doctor who notoriously never dated nurses. Which meant each of Juliet’s classmates had wanted to be the exception to the rule and flirted shamelessly whenever he was near.

Despite her attraction, Juliet hadn’t bothered. She’d had Rich back then, and they’d been talking about getting married. While she’d noticed Dr. Harvey’s sparkling blue eyes and unshakable confidence, she’d also noticed they came with an air of entitlement and a healthy dose of arrogance. He didn’t just not date the nurses, he spoke to them over breakfast with half-teasing condescension, and sometimes even a hint of derision. Even among his fellow obstetricians Ethan incited controversy and lead discussions with a tone that implied anyone who disagreed with him was an idiot.

Rich’s soft charm and poise had been magnetic by comparison. Rich’s passion had been so intoxicating that even when Juliet had met him at fourteen, she hadn’t been able to imagine loving another man. Most days she still couldn’t, but she was no longer as naive as she had been four years ago when she thought she and Rich would get married, have babies, and live happily ever after.

In that moment of regret, Dr. Harvey raised his eyes to hers and held. It lasted only a moment before his eyes were back on his work. She wondered how he remembered that night, and if he despised her for being there with a birthing center patient.

“Birth,” she remembered him saying about at a group breakfast one morning, “could go from normal to dangerous in a split second. Why would anyone endanger themselves and their child by choosing not to have every modern option available?” It had maybe been those words, more than anything else that had kept Juliet from seeking him out again, not when she’d been angling for the job at the birthing center near the end of her nursing degree, and not after she’d started her midwifery program two years ago.
A cry broke through the quiet stillness of the operating room, and Juliet left her memories to share a tearful smile with Gina as Dr. Harvey said, “It’s a boy.” He handed the baby off to a nurse and returned his attention to Gina.

Juliet stayed with Gina until the surgery was over since Gina’s husband had arrived just in time to accompany his new son to the nursery.

When they wheeled Gina to recovery, Juliet escaped back to the room and collapsed into the nearest plastic chair. She let relief wash over her. Abruption could be so, so bad, but they’d gotten here in time.

Every muscle protested in exhaustion as she checked her watch. It was after eleven. She’d only slept four hours in the last two days. Juliet couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten, and she’d have to be here another couple of hours at least.

The door opened, and Juliet sat up, expecting to see a nurse wheeling Gina in. Instead, Dr. Harvey leaned against the door frame.

“She’s doing great,” he said. “She lost a lot of blood, and she’ll be here a few days, but she will be alright.”

“Thanks,” Juliet said. It wasn’t information a doctor confided in a colleague, but family. She sat up straighter. “Your bedside manner is still abominable.”

“A compliment so soon?” he chuckled, then sobered, his eyes narrowing in on her. “You were smart to bring her straight here.”

Juliet sat up straighter and squared her shoulders, looking down her narrow nose at him. “I’m not exactly new to all this.”

The corners of his mouth twitched, as if he were trying to smile at her, but couldn’t bring himself to follow through. “You’re wasted at that freestanding place.”

Juliet thought, that considering the circumstances, she was just what they needed, but said, “Are you offering me a job?”

“How about breakfast? Dino’s?” It was the diner across the street, the usual gathering place.

The allure of eggs and hot coffee was too good to pass up. “I sometimes dream about Dino’s breakfast.”
A real smile lit up his face this time. “Great. I’ve got paperwork to finish up, then I’m done. Meet you downstairs in an hour?”

Juliet nodded, knowing her confusion showed on her face, but he smiled like maybe he didn’t despise her after all.

I hope you’re ready to read chapter two! I don’t have pre-orders ready just yet, but check back here next week for the cover reveal, and I will definitely have links for you then!

What else are you reading right now? I just finished Kingdom of Ash, and boy howdy was that an intense book. I picked up RS Grey’s Anything You Can Do as a palette cleanser. I love her books.

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Prepare for Nanowrimo When You Don’t Plot

It’s that glorious time of year again. That time when thousands of people frantically write a new novel together. It’s like a writer’s Christmas time.

This year I have given myself the extra challenge of releasing a book four days after nanowrimo ends, which means I will be writing a brand new book from scratch while I’m promoting a Ethan & Juliet. Yes, I probably lost my mind, but it seemed like a really good idea in July when I was an anxiety ridden mess. Now that it’s here, I’m committed.

My 2018 Nanowrimo novel is actually a companion novel to Ethan & Juliet. It will be the third and final book in the series, starring Juliet’s little sister, Colleen. Colleen doesn’t have a huge part in Ethan & Juliet, but she has a few of my favorite lines. She has a practicality and clarity to her that Juliet lacks. That same practicality can get her in trouble a lot though, which is why the beginning of the novels finds her more or less moving back in with her parents at 26. *wince*

If you want to know what it’s like preparing for nanowrimo as a pantser, you should check out my Instagram for a look at my brainstorming.

I don’t do a lot outwardly to prepare for Nanowrimo. I do a lot of mulling and thinking, and a little bit of note taking. Otherwise I spend time making sure I have the tools I need to make November go as easily as possible. Since I’m going to spend most of the month with my mind wrapped up in figuring out how this story unfolds as I write, I take steps to make life easier on myself.

    • I’m going to clean and organize my office
    • I’m going to find a couple of meal plans on pinterest so I don’t have to think about cooking or groceries, just go by what the list says.
    • I’ve announced my novel on the nanowrimo site, complete with synopsis
    • I made a cover for my novel
    • I started a playlist (started being the keyword, there’s only five songs so far)
    • I started a Pinterest board–again started, there are only two pins so far, because the only I know for sure is who my characters are. (I don’t actually use Pinterest boards for inspiration, I use just do them for fun and sometimes research.)

The other thing I do is give myself a daily goal of 2000 words–every year. That way I’m ahead of the game from the very beginning.

My personal goal is usually to hit 50,000 by Thanksgiving. When Thanksgiving is on a reasonable date like the 27th, that’s totally doable. Since Thanksgiving is the 22nd this year, I highly doubt I’m gonna make that. I’ve chosen the the 26th as my 50,000 word goal.

What’s the number one thing I do to ensure a nanaowrimo win?

I pre-order the winner shirt before November even starts. I have literally invested money in this, and I can’t spend money on a shirt I’m not going to wear. And I can’t wear a winner shift if I don’t actually win. So, I write my 50,000 words and wear that darn shirt everyday for basically the entire month of December, because that’s how good it feels.

Are you doing Nanowrimo? What are you doing to prepare?

Posted on Leave a comment

Why Yes, There are Books Out There That Aren’t About Rich White Dudes

Sometimes I forget I don’t live in a safe, feminist-thinking, people loving bubble.

I mean, at home, we have two mostly non-verbal kiddos. It’s a love-fest of speech coaching, playing in the hose, and sneaking words in on the stair case when the kiddos aren’t looking. My husband is the wokest straight white dude I know. He’s pretty fantastic actually.

I work at a bar/restaurant where they ask for preferred pronoun on the application.

And I choose not to engage with bullshit online trolls, because I ain’t got time for that shit. I have novels to write, damn it.

But last night. Oh, last night, sexism smacked me right in the face.

It was about 11pm. I’d just gotten off work and was at the bar paying for the cajun tots I was bringing home for Brock. (Midnight cajun tots is where it’s at, yo.) Sitting next to the bar register is this older white guy by himself. I pretty much ignore him. I’m off the clock, but still wearing my work shirt, so I’m transitioning out of customer service mode.

The bartender asks me when my book is coming out. I cheerily tell him it came out last week, and his (appropriate) response is to say, “Well, I better get on the Amazon then.”

The guy sitting at the bar turns to me and says, “Oh, are you an authoress?”

First off, I give him the benefit of the doubt, dude might be trying to cutesy, but I still have to grind my teeth at the word “authoress.”

I answer that, yes, I write novels.  When asked, I specify that they are romance novels.

Now, I am not ashamed in the slightest about the kind of stories I write. In fact, I am damn proud of them. That shit is hard to do, but I show up everyday and get the words down and do the revisions and do the promotions. I am making a career for myself, and I don’t give a crap if people think it’s useless.

At the same time, I know when people aren’t going to appreciate the work I do. I already knew this guy was going to brush my books off as unimportant, but when the next words out of his mouth were, “Are they tawdry books for bored housewives?”

I almost kicked him in the shins.

But, since I was still mostly in work mode, I kept my tone of voice kind of light, almost teasing, and said, “I wouldn’t call them tawdry. There’s a bit of tawdriness, but they almost straddle the line between romance and women’s fiction.”

Now, before we proceed. I would like to say that there is absolutely nothing tawdry about my books. Is there sex? Absolutely. But it’s never gratuitous. Sex always helps advance the story in some way, but I wasn’t going to defend my work, and they people who read it to someone who clearly doesn’t give a damn about any of us. And The Other Lane does butt up on women’s fiction is places, but it is still first and foremost a romance novel. Could I have made it literary? Absolutely. Did I want to? No. The rest of my books are more romancy, because that what I have the most fun writing. Sue me for doing fun things that bring me fulfillment.

Then, dude dropped to a whole new level of scumbaggery.

He said, “Huh, women’s fiction. I didn’t know that was a genre that existed.”

I’m pretty sure my head exploded. I know I said something after that, but I have no clue what it was. I’m assuming it wasn’t the “fuck you” that was echoing through my head, because the guy left me alone after. I finished up my transaction and escaped, because I like my job, and telling a customer to fuck off while still in uniform sounds like a good way to lose it, but I’m still spitting mad about it this morning.

I couldn’t think of a way to defend my work and the people who read it (Bored housewives my ass. Women who stay home, with or without kids are still people with minds and emotions that are valuable) without sounding like a petulant child. At the same time, I’m angry with myself for not doing so, because I have a voice.

Next time, I start in on the lesson in intersectional feminism from the word, “authoress.”

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Anxiety

Anxiety is not my friend.

It’s the demon on my shoulder that I’ve carried around since I was 7 or 8 who consistently tells me I’m not good enough. Who tells me I am going to fail. Who tells me to give up and not even try.

It drives my otherwise fabulous blood pressure sky high. It hovers in my chest, threatening panic attacks over the smallest things.

I exercise daily.

I walk.

I do yoga.

I write.

I meditate.

I published my own fucking book–and it is selling.

And I still doubt myself so much, it physically makes me sick.

I am still living with this fear.

But I am better than this.

I am strong. I am capable. I am pliant. And my words mean something. They are important.

It is worth pushing through the fear.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Other Lane is Live!

Today’s the day! It’s here!

So, first things fist, where can you buy the book?

Pick up Your eBook Copies Here:
Kobo
iTunes
Nook
Amazon

And the Print Copies:
Get Your Autographed Copy Directly from Me!
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Now, there are two other big things you need to know. First, I am hosting a live Virtual Launch Party on Instagram today at 1pm central time. To attend, all you need is an Instagram account, and to follow me. I am @marlaholtauthor. Just login in at one and it should tell you that I’m live. Just click the notification and join me to celebrate, talk books, and ask any questions you have about the book or my publishing journey.

Second, I am

Posted on Leave a comment

The Other Lane, Chapter One

Publication day is only six weeks away! I’m so pumped, and I can’t wait to share Abe and Lane with you. So I’m not. Here’s your free sneak peek of the entire first chapter. The Other Lane will be for sale in print and eBook July 10th, 2018.

Read to the bottom for a video about modern fairy tales!

The Other Lane

Chapter One

Cristo’s Coffee House was a trap–a horrible stinking tar pit of a job that threatened to smother Lane beneath its bubbling surface. It was the worst coffee shop in Topeka, and today, it was competing with itself for its own prize in awfulness. Not only had she stayed up too late, then had to skip her shower because she’d missed her alarm, but Sarah had called in sick. Lane had to balance the phone on her shoulder while steaming milk because she’d had a line out the door all morning. As the cherry on top of her misery sundae, her most obnoxious customer sat on the sofa just opposite the bar, staring at Lane, passing judgment from her ugly thrift store sofa-throne and ignoring her daughter.

It was bad enough that Lane had to serve the pathetic line of middle aged men who perched at the bar to flirt with her. She didn’t need an audience who had everything, but liked to spread rumors about which of the suitors was Lane’s sugar daddy this week.

Lane shot a glare at the petite, staring woman as she finished the last of the late morning lattes. The heavyset lawyer said goodbye and threw a purposeful dollar bill in the tip jar. The crowd switched from the morning loafers to the lunchtime regulars. A retired couple between rounds of golf looked over their menus. Talia sat with her mom on the sofa, waiting for Talia’s dad to join them. When she wasn’t looking, Abe sneaked onto the stool the lawyer had just vacated, and was already hiding  behind his newspaper.

Abe was the kind of man who knew he was attractive. Tall and lean, he had slick black hair he wore swept back like he had stepped out of the 40s, with a short black beard. Two silver streaks started at his temples and wrapped around like tiger stripes. He wore tailored suits and Lane made a game out of guessing what color his tie would be. Today it was a dark blue twill.

Close.

She’d guessed navy.

The only blemish she’d ever seen on his attire had been the first day he’d visited Cristo’s last January. Abe had forgotten to remove the ugly, red Kansas-shaped name tag that identified him as a lobbyist. He had also been wearing a woven silk tie the blue-green color of the ocean that Lane was certain came from an Italian tie-maker she’d studied in school.

She warmed up a mug for his black coffee, then tugged the newspaper down along the center fold just far enough to meet his eyes. He wore a fond, questioning expression that, had she not been used to his beauty by now, might have made her blush and stutter.

“You gonna order something, or you gonna loiter at my counter all day?” she asked.

“Coffee?”

Lane held out the mug. He brushed his fingers against hers for the second day in a row. When Lane narrowed her eyes at him, he winked at her and flashed a cheeky grin. She pretended not to notice, but read his newspaper while he filled his mug. It was the Wichita Eagle that morning. The day before it had been the Hutchinson News.

“How many newspapers do you get?” she asked.

“Four from around the state. Three nationals on Sunday.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You read all of those?”

“I compare stories on the same subject by different reporters. The bias changes from paper to paper, region to region.”

Lane kept her voice unaffected as she said, “You try so hard to be cool, but you are a huge nerd.”

Abe folded his paper with a smirk. “Your hair looks nice like that.”

Lane had braided her dirty, tangled hair in a single rope over her shoulder. The black braid reached to her elbow and the tangles were visible through the plaits.

“Nice try,” she said. “How was tennis? Did you win today?”

“Won one, lost one–barely.”

“I’ll bet you’re a sore loser.”

“Only when I want to win.”

“Do you always get what you want?”

“Most of the time.” Abe’s grin grew wolfish.

Pretending she didn’t know what he meant, Lane touched one finger to the square face of his watch, tilting his wrist back just far enough to make out the time. The lunch rush would start any minute. The retired couple was almost finished deciding against the turkey. A big group from the shoe company down the road would show up in a hurry, and Talia and her mom would order the same ham sandwich as always, as soon as her dad showed up.

Lane’s gaze lingered on the little girl. She was five, with long black hair. She was adopted, Indian or Pakistani with white parents. Lane had a soft spot for Talia, regularly creating meals that weren’t on the menu to make her smile, despite her hatred for her mother.

The smoldering grief that always burned in Lane’s chest sparked into flame, sucking all of the air from her lungs.

Abe’s fingertips landed on the back of her hand. “You OK?”

Lane snatched her hand off the counter. She searched his face, trying to figure what emotion he’d seen, and if she could pass it off as something mundane.

“My afternoon girl just called in sick. I have to work open to close.”

He frowned. “Why can’t Allison stay?”

Lane could hear Allison washing dishes in the little kitchen hidden behind the espresso machine. She disappeared whenever one of Lane’s suitors showed up, which meant she’d spent most of her morning in the kitchen.

“Because she has afternoon classes.”

It hadn’t occurred to Lane that she should be upset about working all day. She had work she could do in her studio at home, but that was potential money. Staying to close the shop was six guaranteed hours of overtime money she needed. She should be at home making her art–the art she hoped would some day provide for her living rather than this stupid coffee shop.

“Sit down with me,” he said. “I’ll buy you lunch.”

“I eat for free.”

“Then come sit at least.”

“You’re nuts if you think I’m coming anywhere near you with the rumor mill here.” She nodded toward Talia’s mom.

Abe looked over his shoulder to see who Lane meant. Just then, Talia’s dad entered, still dressed in his pilot’s coveralls. He kissed his wife and scooped up his daughter, spinning her in two tight circles.

“Cute family though,” he said.

“Almost makes me miss being married,” Lane said.

Abe rotated around to face her with a surprised lift of his brow.

Lane covered her mouth. “Shit.”

“You were married?”

She nodded, her heart pounding.

“And you were keeping it a secret because?”

“I don’t talk about my personal life with customers.”

Abe pretended she’d wounded him, placing one long-fingered hand over his chest. “We’re pals,” he said. “You know all about me.”

“Not by choice.”

Once upon a time, he’d regaled her with the adventures that were his frequent and awful first dates. Recently though, he hadn’t shared any awkward dinner conversations or self-deprecating post-coital stories about how he was good, for an Asian guy.

“What happened? Are you widowed? Divorced?”

Lane swallowed. She wasn’t getting out of it now. “Divorced.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. “Was it bad?”

“I’m not talking about this,” she said.

“Is that why it took you so long to finish school?”

Lane had only earned her bachelor’s degree the previous spring, taking five years longer than most of her classmates.

She wanted to ask him how old he thought she was, but that would only encourage him, and she did not want to talk to him about this.

“I’m not your pal,” she said. “I’m your barista.”

“Lane.” Abe reached over the counter for her hand, but Lane backed out of reach, shaking her head.

“Off limits, Fujikawa.”

The large party she’d been expecting walked in, and Abe retreated behind his newspaper. By the time she was free, he had gone. On the counter in his place was enough money to pay for his coffee three times over.

As Lane folded the extra bills into the tip jar, she watched Talia’s mom mime Abe and Lane’s exchange over the newspaper to her husband.

#

By seven o’clock, Lane was so tired and angry she wanted to spit fire. The ladies Bible study had arrived at half past five, bringing Talia’s mom into the shop for the second time that day. She and a friend had stayed after Bible study to gossip. Lane overheard her say she hadn’t ordered coffee because she’d read it made you fat. Then she had looked Lane right in the eye. Lane, who was counting down the drawer early, cursed the woman under her breath. She didn’t consider herself overweight, she also didn’t understand the other woman’s need to antagonize her. And, even if she did carry a few extra pounds on her hips and over her belly, Lane liked the way she looked.

The front door opened with a bang. Lane startled and lost count as Javier swaggered in. The middle aged, portly man with slicked back, greasy hair owned the Mexican restaurant on the corner. He wore cheap, outdated suits as if they were James Bond’s finest.

“What are you still doing here, Beautiful?” He seated himself at the stool closest to the cash register.

“How many times have I told you to stop calling me that?” Lane asked. She poured the milk for his latte without asking what he wanted.

“But you are beautiful,” Javier affected a South American accent. He liked to pretend that he was from South America like some of his cooks, but he’d been born and raised in Kansas.

“You can cut the crap. I have been here since open, I know I look like shit.” Lane set his large latte down in front of him. Her comment earned her a glare from the church ladies, but Javier laughed.

“You wouldn’t have to work double shifts if you were my bartender,” Javier said.

“If I had any desire to serve weak beer and cheap margaritas, I could find a better joint than yours to do it in.”

Javier had been teasing her about becoming his bar manager for a year now. He was as stingy as he was sleazy and each offer to come work for him was tinged with a side of adultery.

“You should come over and have a drink when you get off,” he said. “You deserve it.”

“And risk the wrath of your wife?” Lane said. “Not a chance.”

“My wife is scary as hell, That’s why I come over here.”

“Yeah, well, I’m about to close, so you’re going to have to head back over to your place and face her.” Lane held her hand out for his money.

He pulled out his thick wallet and rifled through the bills inside. “How much is it again?”

“Five even. Same as it was this morning.”

“You’re robbing me,” he said.

“Order a smaller drink.”

He held out a five, and Lane tried to take it, but he firmed his grasp on the bill at the last second, tugging it back out of Lane’s hand. He played this game every time he paid. This time, she snatched the five out of his fingers. His hand shot out and he grabbed Lane around the wrist, closing his fingers so hard it hurt.

Lane froze as he tightened his grip.

He watched her, wearing a lewd grin.

“Mr. Vasquez,” she said, “you need to let go of me.”

Talia’s mom and her friend were staring at Javier’s hand on Lane’s wrist. He looked over his shoulder at them and smiled. It was fine, he told them, he and Lane knew each other. They were pals.

He let go of Lane’s arm, and she withdrew to cash register.

“Closing time,” she said. “Everyone out.”

Javier harrumphed, but as he backed out the front door, he blew Lane a kiss. “Goodnight, Beautiful.”

Lane ran a finger over the red hand print on her arm as she waited for the two women to gather their things.

Talia’s mom gave Lane an appraising look as she walked them to the door. “You know, if you didn’t encourage those guys, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen so often.”

Lane smiled and held the door open for them. “Thanks for coming. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.

She finished her cleaning quickly, and the familiar process calmed her. Exhaustion settled in as she hauled the trash out to the dumpster, and she hoped the pain in her feet would dull enough to let her get some sleep.

Lane stopped in the bathroom to check her reflection in the mirror before she left.  Her hair was frizzy, so she brushed her fingers through it and redid the braid. The tiny stud in her nose winked in the artificial light, but Lane only saw the dark circles under her eyes and the contrasting paleness of her complexion.

Javier wasn’t the only one who gave her a nickname that implied she was pretty. Her sharp jaw and high cheek bones were softened by subtle dimples in her cheeks, and her blue eyes were large and bright. She was curvy and soft. While she found her contours pleasing, most of the time, she tried to camouflage them with too-big thrifted men’s shirts. But Lane wanted to be noticed. She opened an extra button on her shirt and dug in her bag for a tube of lip gloss. She rolled down her sleeves to cover the fading hand print, hoping it wouldn’t bruise.

There were no customers in the liquor store when Lane limped in. A football game droned from the TV over the beer case. Shawn was typing so intently at his computer he didn’t notice her at first.

“Hey,” she said, and he looked up, adjusting his faded blue ball cap. Too preoccupied with whatever story he was currently writing to spend much time on his appearance, Shawn’s overgrown, honey blonde hair curled around his hat. His button down shirt and holey jeans were shabby, but his skin still glowed golden from his summer tan.

“Hey, Gorgeous,” he said, “What are you still doing here?”

Lane leaned on the counter, trying to take some of the pressure off her sore feet. “Sarah called in sick.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“And so were the tips,” Lane said into the countertop. “So I need a bottle of wine that costs less than twelve dollars.”

“Red or white?” Shawn asked.

“Now, you know I’m not a white wine kind of girl.” She was so tired, it was the only joke she could muster.

“Right. We got a new brand of cab. It has a hedgehog on the label, so it’ll be around for about five minutes.”

“How much?”

“Nine bucks.”

“Sold,” Lane said, but did not move.

“You want me to get that for you?” He asked.

“If you don’t mind.” Lane slid down the front of the counter until she was a heap on the floor. “Is it OK if I sit here for a few minutes?”

Shawn retrieved the wine and joined her. She lay her head on his shoulder and he rested a hand on her thigh. The heat of his palm melted through her jeans.

“Stay as long as you like. It’s been dead all evening.”

She closed her eyes and listened to the football game. “How do you write with this garbage going?”

“I don’t even notice it anymore.”

“It would drive me crazy.”

“I can write through almost anything.”

“It’s your superpower.”

“I like to think I have a couple of superpowers.” Shawn squeezed her leg.

Lane knew what he meant. “Want to come over?” she asked.

“I suppose I could let you feed me soon.”

“Is that all I’m good for?”

Shawn took her hand. “You know I think you’re amazing. It’s our damn schedules that get in the way.”

“Are you free tonight?”

“I’ve got papers and homework,” he said. “I could come over after my shift next Friday.”

“So long?”

“It’s all I’ve got. Take it or leave it.”

“You know I’ll take it,” Lane said.

 

If you want to know a little bit more about Abe and Lane, but don’t want to wait for July 10th, you can download your free copy of When Abe Met Lane when you sign up for my email list. (Don’t worry, you can unsubscribe anytime.)

 

Find out more about what I mean when I call The Other Lane a modern fairy tale.

Posted on 2 Comments

Review of The Busy Mom’s Guide to Writing


(Note: This review was unsolicited and totally independent. The authors don’t know me. The links, however, are amazon affiliate links.)

I picked this book up on Amazon a few weeks ago when I was trying to fit a few more hours into my day. And if I were leaving this review on amazon, I’d probably give 4 out of 5 stars, because it’s practical AF. But, the reason I picked it up was because it boasted about strategies to get more writing done and not ignore your kids. Unfortunately, the book didn’t offer me anything new in that area.

Write after the kids go to bed. Check.

Write in the morning before they get up. Check.

Write during naptime. Check.

Write during screen time.  Check.

Write next to their playroom. Check.

Apparently I am rocking the writing when your kids are distracted thing.

Hell, Rufus’s favorite game is to climb mommy and play with her hair, so here’s a realtime photo of me trying to compose this post.

Yes, that’s a Powerline t-shirt. A Goofy Movie 4eva.

So while the book didn’t give me any insights in to how to find more writing time in my day, unless I actually want to give up sleep, it was comforting to read writing advice from someone who knows the chaos of having young kids around.

For serious, I fantasize about the days when all of the kids are in school all day long, and I can bike to the coffee shop while wearing a fabulous sundress and a pair of sandals that were on sale and spend six straight hours composing prose so heartrendingly beautiful I am automatically nominated for a Pulitzer, even before it’s published.

But alas, that doesn’t help me get words on the page today.

When I mentioned a couple posts ago that I don’t dig writing books because they are often too subjective, that doesn’t include this book. Every single piece of advice is super helpful. It’s not going to give you daily writing prompts, but it’s going to help you get clear on your goals, figure out when to write, what to write. And holy crap, the writing/self-editing tips are worth the $2.99 alone.

If you’re just starting out, this book is golden, and the advice about finding time to write would probably be more useful to you if you’re not already cramming writing into every available opportunity throughout your day.

What I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this post, is that a second book just came out! The Busy Mom’s Guide to Indie Publishing (Busy Moms Guides Book 2) came out freaking yesterday. So, of course I already have a copy and am going to devour it tomorrow, because, hello, The Other Lane comes out in less than seven weeks! I will take all the advice I can get.

What are you reading right now? Anything fun?

PS, Did you know I’m offering editing services now? If you’re a fiction writer and need someone to go over your manuscript, check out my work with me page above.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Story Behind The Other Lane

A post shared by Marla Holt (@tinydinostudios) on

It’s no secret that I wrote The Other Lane for Nanowrimo in 2014, but what I haven’t mentioned was that I first wrote Lane as a character in a short story for one of my fiction writing classes all the way back in 2010.

I was in my final fiction writing workshop of my college career, and everyone in the class agreed I needed to work on my settings. My dialog was great. Emotions were well-described. I didn’t bog down the narrative telling the reader how to feel about the characters, but nobody could picture where my story took place.

At the time I was super annoyed. I mean, my classmates were totally right in their critique, I was concentrating so much on perfecting characters and their story, I very rarely described their surroundings. I mean, it was clear in my head, obviously that’s enough right?

So, in the spirit of being a little contrary, but still taking my critiques in stride, I set my next story in the place I spent most of my time–the coffee shop where I worked. I changed the name, but for the most part, Cristo’s Coffee was my coffee shop. “Cristo’s Cofee” was even the original name of the story.  The shop and the story have gone through numerous revisions and iterations since then, so they don’t really resemble the original anymore, but believe me. That’s a good thing.

In the short story, Lane is working behind the counter eavesdropping on two women gossiping about her. She’s outraged and offended because despite serving these women coffee everyday, they don’t know her. They don’t know what she’s been through or how she got to be where she is. In short, they don’t know Lane’s story, because how could they? She doesn’t talk about it. She doesn’t let anyone in.

By the end of the story, it turns out that the women were actually talking about someone else named Lane, and not the surly barista at all. So in the short story, “The Other Lane” is actually another physical person.

In the novel, that other Lane doesn’t make an appearance, but the title still holds. As much The Other Lane is a love story, it’s also the story of Lane learning how to trust and rely on herself.

That’s where the idea of the modern fairy tale comes in. I wrote the first draft of the novel completely by the seat of my pants. I didn’t have any characters other than Lane (Yes, including the hero. He just sat down at the counter in chapter three and was his charming self out of nowhere.) I knew two things going in, that I wanted to write a love story centered around this devastated character I’d never been finished with, and I wanted to write a story that while, yes, she got the guy in the end, that wasn’t all there was to it.

It took awhile to make that happen. I mean, I revised the thing for two years straight after I finished the first draft. Finding balance between story book romance and a character who isn’t passive in her own happily every after took more delicate work than I was prepared for when I decided upon the idea.

I truly love the way this book turned out though. I still pat myself on the back every time I finish it because of how much I love the ending. I can’t wait to share it with you.

July 10th is only two more months away, but if you need something to read now, you can check out the first six chapters or meet the hero for free! (Links also sign you up for my newsletter.)