Character Introduction #3: Graham

Ah Graham. Week three of my character introductions continues with Graham. Emily meets Graham almost immediately when she starts University. He charismatic, chivalrous, persistent and above all, hot. It’s obvious upon meeting him that his experience outweighs hers by leaps and bounds; which let’s face it, is extremely sexy at her age. The way he looks out of the corners of his eyes at her with a sly and flirtatious smile drives her crazy.  And his ever so often rescues from her ridiculous clumsy streak only endear him more to her.

After numerous advances, Emily agrees to go out with Graham, sending her down a fast and turbulent path that leads her to question a great many things that she has come to know in her life.

So to address the endless question about who I based Graham on. It’s funny actually. Graham has always stood completely on his own two feet for me. I see no ex boyfriend or past crush. I only see him. I picture his face, his now typical smirk and the fast black car he drives, and he seems like a real person to me. And I can honestly say, I fabricated him completely out of thin air. That said, he absolutely lived in my life when I wrote Call Me Emily and Emily Calls It. There were days when I knew I was about to write a twist and turn with Graham and I dreaded it. I didn’t want to taint the connection I felt to him. I know, crazy talk right? Well who knows, but that set of feelings I felt for him helped me to create an amazing character that I think all women will fall in love with and all men would want to hang out with. I could go on and on about Graham – and I have. But I think this example from Call Me Emily will give you a nice little picture of THE guy. The one that turns Emily’s world upside down. Sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not.

To pick one excerpt that sums up Graham is like picking one pair of shoes. And if you know me, that’s almost impossible. So after reviewing about twenty Graham scenes, I decided to include the scene that shows the intensity that is Graham. The moment when Emily’s life stands on end.  It’s a pivotal scene for a few reasons. See if you can pick them out.

It’s Emily and Graham first date. While they’ve spent time flirting in Spanish class, this is the first time he’s taken her out. Over dinner they discuss her love of art history. And the evening takes off from there. Oh, and yes, there is the kiss. THE kiss that says much more than “I like you.”

First Kiss

I learned that his parents were still married and lived in the area. His mother was the fine arts curator at the Pacific Center for the Arts and his dad was a custom home builder. He had an older sister who went to school in San Francisco and a younger brother still in high school. He lived off campus in a condo a little further from school than I. He was poised and confident. He almost seemed older than he was. Part of me felt young and self conscious, but I tried not to give into those feelings.

We talked about my family, the convoluted story of marriages and half and step-siblings. We learned we both loved art and art history, architecture and traveling; although I had done little traveling at this point. After our plates were cleared, he reached across the table and touched my fingers with his.

“My parents have a Toulouse-Lautrec. Maybe you’d like to see it sometime?” He moved his thumb across my fingertips. It wasn’t surprising that his mother would own exquisite paintings, but to get your hands on an original Toulouse-Lautrec was no small feat.

“I’d like that.” The thought of meeting his parents was kind of nerve-wracking and seemed an early topic, but I really wanted to see the painting.

“Actually,” he paused and looked for a second like he might not say anything else, “they are out of town previewing colleges with my brother, and the house is just a few blocks away. What do you think?”

My instinct was to say no, but I couldn’t help myself. I was having such a nice time with him and I was curious about seeing a real work of art. “I’d love to see it.” That also meant I didn’t have to meet his parents right now, and that was a relief.

When we drove up, the place was black. Not one light was on, so I knew they must be out of town. Again he placed his hand in the middle of my upper back to lead me to the front door. The way he did this made me wonder if it was a typical posturing for him and his dates. But I didn’t dwell on that thought.

He reached inside the door and turned on the porch light and the entry light, or rather the chandelier. There were several lights across the front  that illuminated the long house. I would describe it as a beach house, but there was nothing quaint and beachy about it. It was big and illustrious with heavy white shutters and a sweeping roof that came down and ended in thick eves. It was monumental, like the rich grandfather of all beach houses. I was impressed.

“Come on.” He passed me in the entry and took my hand to lead me to another room. I followed along, but looked up at the chandelier as I passed under it, mesmerized by the light as it danced across each of the cut glass pieces. He paused in front of the open door to the next room and flipped on a series of light switches. Against the far wall was the painting. I knew it immediately. It was smaller than I thought it would be, and framed in a heavy gold-tipped frame. It was placed with nothing around it, and three lights above that were probably installed specifically for viewing it. I walked straight over, not waiting for Graham.

“See the way he used the brush? The strokes are so unique.” I reached up and hovered my fingers above the painting, not wanting to get too close. I traced the brushstrokes in the air above the painting following every loop. I heard him come up behind me.

I looked out of the right corners of my eyes without turning around, trying to see how close he was to me.  Then I felt the buttons of his shirt graze my back. I stopped talking; his closeness had stopped my train of thought. I felt his breath caress my back. Looking over my shoulder, I met his eyes. Without breaking our eye contact, he turned me around taking a step to the side of the painting and me with him.

I stood with my back against the wall questioning him without saying a word. He never took his eyes from mine as he wrapped our hands together.  He leaned into me touching his lips to mine. It was a gentle and quick kiss. When he pulled away, I was surprised at my reaction; I followed his kiss wanting more. I kept my eyes with his, trying to figure out what he would do next.  As he pulled back from me just one corner of his mouth turned up into a smile; I think he knew I wanted him to kiss me again. He lifted his hands to my face and pulled me closer. This time his lips parted mine softly. He moved his hands from my face along my neck as his kiss became deeper. His body pressed against mine pushing me further into the wall behind me. I pressed my hands against the wall to brace myself.  His kisses slowed, soft again but rich with pleasure. As he pulled away, he swept a few strands of hair from my face and tucked them behind my ear.

“I guess I can’t call you Spanish Girl anymore,” he said as another smile snuck out of the corner of his mouth.

“I guess you’ll have to call me Emily.”

“I guess.” He leaned into me again and swept his lips across mine. I moved my hands from the wall along his chest, up to his face and kissed him back. It was divine.

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Character Introduction #2: Allison

Week two of my introduction of characters continues with Allison. Allison is a sweet girl. Coy and almost meek.  On the surface she seems like the kind of girl that doesn’t really get it. She’s shy, impressionable and a little behind the times. But realizing that first impressions are not always correct, Emily’s opinion of Allison changes over time.

Allison comes from a tight knit family in the Midwest. She lives on campus, but takes an interest in the Greek system almost immediately. She’s petite, with small doll-like features and chin length blond curly hair. She befriends Emily the first day of school without judgment or agenda. And, as time passes, her warmth and caring nature shine through any preconceived notions Emily may have had.

To say that I based Allison on any one individual would be like saying I only like one brand of chocolate. How is that even possible? When I started writing Allison’s character I pictured her as an average college student. Then as time passed, she grew into an amazing woman and friend to Emily. And I must admit, I’ve met girls like Allison who later evolved into incredible women. And I’m fortunate to call those women my friends today.

Allison is Emily’s support system. It’s no secret that I’m aiming the book’s theme at young women. And I often think we devalue the importance of friendship and support, especially at that age.  Emily goes through a great deal during her journey through young adulthood, and the support of her friends is a large part of why she is able to carry on. Allison is the backbone of that support. Allison is friendship.

Below is an excerpt from Call Me Emily.

Allison and I met for coffee bright and early Monday morning. Our Bistro was bustling with college students. I got there before her and grabbed a table in the back. Although I had met a few people, I didn’t see anyone I knew. I tapped my fingernails on the table and sipped my coffee as I watched people walk by and waited for Allison. She arrived without Melinda and Heather, which was what I was hoping for. They were nice girls, but seemed very self-involve.

“So what have you been up to?” she asked, or shall I say accused. I called you a couple of times this weekend; what’s up?”

“Oh it’s been crazy with this new job,” I said and she nodded. “Oh, and I went out on a couple of dates.” I looked down at my feet and smiled.  “Other than that, I was around. I didn’t have a message from you.”

“What? Who?” Allison prodded. “Don’t tell me, that guy from the club?” she asked and I nodded.

“So, What’s going on there?” she continued,  taking a sip of her coffee.

“Just a couple of dates, Allison. He’s fun.”

“Huh. And hot!” She made an attempt to wink at me. I thought it was cute. I shrugged my shoulders in agreement.  “So Spanish Girl, do you want to go shopping with me this afternoon?”

“Totally, but you can stop calling me Spanish Girl; Graham has.”

“Really, how did that come about? My guess is …well, never mind … you tell,” she said taking another sip of her coffee.

“You know, just spending time together.” Allison didn’t buy it, but I thought I’d try to sell it.

“So have you?”

“Allison!” I was surprised she was so forward. I guessed her association with Melinda and Heather was changing her a bit. Not quite the awkward and quiet Michigan girl anymore. “No, we haven’t. So far just a couple of amazing kisses.” I looked at the ceiling when I said “amazing” hoping she would get the point.

“That’s what I was thinking actually. That good huh?”

I sighed. “That good.” We both sipped our coffee at the same time. I had a hard time creating a seal with my lips due to the large smile I had plastered across them.

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Character Introduction #1: Ethan

Week one of my introduction of characters starts with Ethan. Emily is one of three children. She has two brothers, Hunter who is twelve and Ethan who is twenty. While Hunter makes brief appearances in all three books, Ethan is an integral part of her journey.

Emily and Ethan attend the same University, which isn’t without its challenges. While she cringes at the thought of bumping into him at a party, she’s often comforted by his loving gestures and protective nature. Ethan is warm, caring and above all present for her in a world full of new harsh realities. But, those qualities are all melded together and wrapped up with chiding and teasing as well as typical sibling rivalry.

Now, I have drawn on pieces of my personal experience to concoct certain characters, but not most of them. Emily herself is a complete piece of fiction, formed strictly from my imagination. Other characters I give a small, fractional nod of truth. Ethan is one of those characters.

For those of you who know me, you know that I am surrounded by men. I live in a house with my husband and son, as well as my dog William. I have three brothers, and just as God started to feel sorry for me, he gifted me with a sister and another little brother. So while I don’t discount the girl power between my sister Bree and I, my eldest brothers are the ones that helped guide me into the woman I am today. Ethan is a blend of Tom, Josh and Robby. In Ethan, there exists Tom’s way of turning every compliment, sentiment and practical observation into an opportunity to tease Emily and keep her safely tucked under his older, wiser arm. Together with the influence of Tom, is Josh’s ability to turn any situation into a possible rescue attempt. While Emily may be perfectly able to take care of herself, Ethan isn’t about to risk it. Package that all up with Robby’s ability to live in a world created just for him. Where common practices of caring what other people think, simple escape him.

So I raise a glass, as well as an eyebrow, to my brothers who helped bring to life Ethan Parker.

Below is the first of many exchanges between Emily and Ethan in Call Me Emily.

A New Beginning

I heard a click then a whoosh. My front door.


“Back here.” I called back.

I stood in front of the mirror holding a sweater up to in front of me. I felt suddenly ridiculous. It was late September, and it had to be at least eighty degrees outside.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“What does it look like?” In jeans and a t-shirt I was tossing around the idea of wearing a sweater. Wasn’t it obvious?

“You must be out of your mind.” He stood across from me wearing shorts and gestured toward the sweater I was holding. Maybe I should re-think that sweater.

I grew up in a town that had hot summers, but by October the leaves start to drop and there is a sharp chill in the air. This place didn’t show any signs of a change in season.

“Orientation huh?” he asked. I nodded, still staring at my reflection in the mirror. “Maybe I’ll see you on campus. I’ve got a few books to pick up.”

“Ok.” I shrugged not really caring whether I ran into him or not. Then it occurred to me. “Why are you here?”

“To see you off on your first day.” He patted me on the back. “Later.”

Whatever, I thought to myself. I turned around and watched as he moved through my apartment on his way out. He grabbed an apple from my fruit bowl on the kitchen counter and took a bite.

“And Em?” He chewed. “Lock your door. You’re not in Kansas anymore.” He shut the door behind him and it was quiet again. I sighed.

I set the sweater down on my bed and looked out my window. If I were down on the street, I’d hear the flip flop of sandals on the sidewalk and the VW vans as they passed me with surf boards on the roofs. Southern California was a different place, but seemed almost like a different country compared to the small Northern California town I had grown up in. My home town wasn’t Kansas for sure, but the similarities were undeniable. The change in scenery alone was a jolt, but add big brother to the mix and whoa. This was going to be quite a different experience with both of us going to the same college.

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The One-Sentence Summary

I recently was challenged to write a one-sentence summary of my books. I say that I was “challenged”, making it sound like a live person came to me and actually challenged me, but that wasn’t really the case.  I was reading a blog I often frequent by Rachelle Gardner.  She’s a literary agent that offers some of the best literary advice I’ve found on this huge thing we call “the internet.” On this particular day in May, her post offered a contest to see who could come up with the best one-sentence summary, also known as a logline, hook or pitch. She asked that it be around 25 words (but not more than 45) that capture your novel; almost like a snapshot.  So I thought, humm, how hard can that be? Then I started.

The guidelines asked that I include a character, their conflict, what’s at stake, and the action.  I started with my first book, Call Me Emily. It was about 9:00 in the evening. Then it was 11:00. If I were some mad writer with a typewriter, there would have been crumpled paper everywhere and my head smashing the keys so loudly that I would have woken up my husband. But my little laptop is surprisingly quiet, and even pounding the delete key over and over didn’t wake him. Finally, the next day,  I bounced a couple of my ideas off some friends, but came up empty again. I skipped over Call Me Emily and went on to write pitches for Emily Calls It and Meet Emily. And those one-sentence summaries only took me about twenty minutes to write.

So what this exercise taught me, is that you can’t write a one-sentence summary if you are at all conflicted about the story you are trying to pitch. I took a closer look at Call Me Emily, evaluated my story, and made some changes. Once I gave myself permission to really dig into the story and change things up, the summary practically wrote itself. Well not exactly, but you get the picture.

So here are my one-sentence summaries:

Call Me Emily

When Emily leaves her small town for a big city college, she thinks she’s got it all figured out, but when manipulation, vanity and pleasure enter her life (AKA Graham), she must decide if she can stay true to herself.

Emily Calls It

Emily continues on her path, returning to her home town seeking solace and clarity, but encounters more romantic drama making finding herself a challenge.

Meet Emily

When Emily returns to her home town years later for an event, it doesn’t occur to her who might be in attendance, and how Christian might lead her to question all of her past decisions.

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