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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
(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.
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.
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.)
As a writer, I consider it part of my job to do a lot of reading. <—- Holy shit, how pretentious was that sentence? Let’s be real, I devour books at lightning speed without excuse, and I don’t apologize for it either. Sometimes the books I read are amazing, sometimes . . . not so much. Luckily for you, I’ve come across a crop of really good ones lately.
First, I stumbled upon Jessica Hawkins on instagram and had to check out her Something in the Way Series. I tore through the first two in about as many days, and started Move the Stars, but I had to take a quick break. These books are so amazingly emotional that I had to take a step back from the intensity for a couple weeks. But I’ll go back and finish the last two once I finish with these next books I’m telling you about.
I don’t usually read a lot of craft books. For one, I have a degree in Creative Writing that I like to think counts for something. And two, I find craft books to be super subjective. What speaks to one creative mind might dud all to hell for another. I still don’t think I’ll ever find more helpful writing advice than Anne Lamott’s “Butt in chair. Shitty first draft,” philosophy, but I also know I don’t know everything, so every now and then, I pick up something that resonates with me. This one did for obvious reasons. I plan on reviewing it more in depth later, but so far, I think it’s helpful for anyone wanting to get into writing.
And oh, dear readers, I saved the best for last. Juliet Blackwell’s newest book came out recently, and I have been savoring it. I save this one for special occasions, even though it kills me to read a mystery slowly. Juliet Blackwell’s books are the kind that you miss when they’re over, but luckily, even the mystery series have great reread value! I think I have read Letters from Paris (not a mystery) three times.
I found Juliet Blackwell while I was on maternity leave with Rufus. Audible had suggested The Paris Key to me a couple months before, but I hadn’t listened to it until I was off work for whatever reason. I fell in love with the narrator, Xe Sands, and luckily, she reads all of Juliet Blackwell’s books, so I also listened to Xe Sands read all of the Witchcraft Mystery series while I was stuck on the sofa nursing a baby for a month. If I ever meet Juliet Blackwell and she doesn’t sound like Xe Sands, it might take me a minute to adjust–which is a horrible expectation to hold, but there it is.
In my fantasy life, the one where I am already super successful and can do whatever I want with my author biz, Xe Sands is who I’d hire to narrate The Other Lane, and it would be fantastic to listen to. And, fun fact, Juliet Blackwell is how Juliet from my second novel, Ethan & Juliet, (coming this fall) got her name.
Right, so there’s some insight into my inner ridiculousness. What have you been reading lately? Anything good?
And making those dreams into a reality takes work. And it’s work I’m excited to get done, even if it’s big and scary, like announcing my debut novel, which comes out in 77 days, btw.
My days and weeks are busy. I get up early. I work until midnight, and most of it has nothing to do with being an author. It’s cooking, it’s cleaning. It’s taking care of kiddos, and during weeks like last week, it’s a whole hell of a lot of taking care of myself.
If a week was ever gonna derail me from accomplishing my goals, it was last week.
I’ve been battling a virus that is mostly an annoying cold, but has really done a number on my appetite. (Read, for a few days I had none.) I slept in everyday. I came home from work early one night and laid on the sofa. I missed emails. There were days that I didn’t write. My to-do lists sat untouched.
I was frustrated. Guilt weighed me down as more and more stuff piled up.
As I’m emerging from the worst of the virus, I’m completely overwhelmed with the volume of things I need to get done over the next few days–stuff I probably won’t get done this week either, because it’s Felix’s birthday on Tuesday, and mom stuff always comes first.
But here’s the thing.
I’m OK with it.
Do I guilt myself? Of course I do.
Do I let it stop me from doing what I can?
Sure, I only got a fraction of what I wanted to accomplish done last week, but what I did do was important. Taking care of yourself is important, even if that means sleeping all days and drinking all of the kombucha and reading The Allure of Julian Lefray
Inventorying what I did helps put the overwhelm of what I didn’t into prespective: I finished writing a prequel to The Other Lane (more on that later). I bought ISBNs, because that’s the responsible author thing to do. I posted to Instagram TWICE. All despite feeling like shit.
Giving myself credit for what I did already makes the backlog feel more manageable.
And tomorrow, I’m baking cupcakes to celebrate Felix and not apologizing for only writing 16 words.
PS, you should totally follow me on Instagram. I’ve been posting a lot of pretty desk photos, but also some teasers from The Other Lane. And , as always, there is knitting.