Tag Archives: Misty Dreams


This article was first published in the online literary magazine Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

My name is Josephine Strand and I’m the author of my first published romance novel, Misty Dreams, released in April 2021. I’m what is known as a literary late bloomer. Three years ago, I was a soon-to-be novelist past the age of sixty, and utterly unprepared for the work that goes into publishing a book—before and after it’s out in the world. Years of insecurities and setbacks prevented me from taking my craft seriously. I didn’t think I had it in me to write anything good enough to share with the world. I hope to inspire new writers with my story, and perhaps help them avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.

Since my teens, writing has always been like a hobby, a sort of creative outlet. In my twenties, I wrote short stories and novellas, drawing inspiration from the famous authors whose books I read. I didn’t have a routine; I wrote when inspiration struck, and at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. When years later I was struck with the idea for a full-length, standalone novel, I went into it with the same casual, freewheeling approach.

During what I call the disillusionment period, I wrote the initial draft of Misty Dreams. I was living in Italy at the time, and although I was fluent in both Italian and English, it made more sense to write it in Italian, my native language. When my husband and I made the life-changing decision to relocate to the United States, my inner creative was shut down for years. The adjustment to a new country, a new job, a new life, left little time for fantasies. It was much later that I was seized by the desire to resume writing. I was going through empty nest syndrome and needed a distraction, so I dusted off my manuscript and started working on it sporadically. I translated it into English and played around with it, updating references to places and events to make it current. In the process, I was making it better and better, surprising myself. It was then that I began to see the possibility of turning it into a book. I was pleased with the result, and being able to share it with the world would represent the ultimate reward for all my hard work.

But I had a huge problem on my hands. Literally. In years of erratic writing patterns and utter disregard for wordcount, my manuscript had grown to around 360,000 words. And that was just the beginning. My writing hadn’t been seen by any eyes but my own. I had never belonged to a critique group or discussed my book with anyone. That’s when I knew I needed help.

My first step was to find an editor. I needed a professional to do a developmental check and reassure me my manuscript wasn’t a total train wreck. Besides, something had to be done about the length, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. It was thanks to my editor that I was able to shrug off my insecurities and take those dreaded final steps. Ultimately, through her expert advice and guidance, I was able to shrink my manuscript to just under 90,000 words. It was a daunting process, painful to say the least. Separating the manuscripts into two books would have been the easier way out, but the idea of ending Book 1 on a cliffhanger didn’t appeal to me. Thus began the slaughtering. It wasn’t just a matter of eliminating redundant words or tightening sentences; it meant cutting off scenes and killing off characters deemed ‘unnecessary’ to the advancement of the story. It was like cutting off pieces of me, one limb at a time.

It was during the final revisions that I began to query agents and publishers. I wasn’t holding my breath; the chances of a first-time author snagging a contract from a traditional publisher were a drop in the bucket. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I allowed myself six months for the querying process. I submitted dozens of letters, only to receive a handful of polite rejections in return. I had lost enough time and I didn’t want to be stuck on publishing the old-fashioned way. One way or another, I was going to bring a book into the world, and if that meant jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon, then so be it.  

The decision was easy, but I was facing another quandary. I was going to have to promote my book myself. I didn’t have a strong following, and I had no clue how to go about getting my book into the hands of potential readers. I was social media-shy, and the idea of setting up advertising platforms seemed overwhelming. The huge amount of work to get my manuscript to marketable standards had taken up all of my time and energy, so that there was none left for building visibility as an author. I created a website but had nothing to put on it. I had a manuscript that was getting the last touch-ups, a bunch of cover designs I couldn’t decide on and was querying agents and publishers. I told myself I couldn’t possibly find time to create content for Facebook and Instagram to promote my book. I realized other debut authors were way ahead of me. They had a blog, a newsletter, a street team to cheer them on, as well as ARC readers pledging to post reviews on release day, and they were planning launch parties. It was a sobering discovery.

Since then, I’ve come a long way in overcoming that last hurdle. Yes, I was late to the party, but I showed up for it. I made up for lost opportunity by dedicating myself wholeheartedly to improving my marketing skills. I don’t have a huge following, but I’m working on it, acquiring more confidence along the way.  Writing my book has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and now as a published author, it continues to give me joy through the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I regret letting my insecurities get in the way of my writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had believed in myself a bit more. The best advice I can give new writers is, don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Learn the fundamentals of writing and become more competent in your own abilities. Finally, look beyond your goal. Writing a book doesn’t end at the words ‘The End’. There’s so much work to be done, before and after the publishing process. Ultimately, all this can be immensely gratifying almost as much as the writing itself.

Photo attribution: <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/aerial-view-man-typing-retro-typewriter_3213042.htm#query=typewriting&position=25&from_view=search&track=robertav1_2″>Image by rawpixel.com</a> on Freepik

Finding inspiration in the simple things

About a year ago I posted about my own experience finding inspiration in the places I visit: Have travel, Will write. That was at the height of the pandemic, when traveling was still a distant vision. But by this spring, my wanderlust was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. One trip to Italy last September hardly qualified as a vacation, since the purpose of my trip was to visit with my elderly mother who couldn’t get around because of her health issues and sort out her complicated personal matters.

Finally, earlier this month, hubby and I were able to take our first real vacation in almost three years. If truth be told, it was an almost ‘stay-cation’, since the location was only a two-hour drive away. Nothing exotic or extravagant, just a short trip to the Jersey Shore, nonetheless an escape—a much-needed one.

But I’m not one to not take full advantage of an opportunity, however small. It’s not a coincidence that I chose Cape May, New Jersey’s southernmost beach town as our destination. I was also in dire need of inspiration for the setting of the novel I’m working on, and it seemed like the ideal place. Cape May has inspired dozens of sweet romance authors with its ornate gingerbread homes and pristine sandy beaches. From its lovely promenade that runs along the beach, to the manicured gardens and narrow tree-lined streets, this little town is a delight to stroll through. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s almost like taking a step back in time. Although I’ve visited the area many times before, I felt I could benefit from a ‘refresher course’.

For fiction writers in general, there’s no better way to get the full experience than to visit the place that inspired their setting in person. Browsing through travel blogs for research will only go so far. Only by being there in body as well as in spirit can you sense the smells and feel, learn about the customs and architecture, explore the local wildlife or study the weather pattern. Not to mention how much fun it is to discover unique natural scenery and hidden nooks and crannies. Almost anything can come in useful in crafting a plot or in world building. And even if we end up not using most of the information we’ve absorbed, having experienced it firsthand helps us visualize the story setting and improves the story’s flow.

I decided to keep it simple. No lounging by the hotel pool, no scheduled sightseeing expeditions—none of that cliché stuff people do on vacation. We were going to make the most of our time there by doing things organically and at our own pace. Just beach time in the mornings and long walks in the afternoons and evenings to enjoy the unique beauty of the town. Hubby seemed to be on board with my sudden urge for improvising. He’s all for simplicity, so it wasn’t a surprise he was such a good sport about it.

We set off on self-guided walking tours so that we could study the grand Victorian houses up close and browse the quaint retail stores. The sunsets in Cape May are a true spectacle, so we made a point of walking to Cove Beach or driving to nearby Sunset Beach to admire them whenever we could. We steered clear of the crowded restaurants and lunched on homespun meals at a working farm and picnicked on sandwiches on the beach. All the while I took notes and jotted down ideas. I felt supercharged, both spiritually and physically.

While I was at it (talk about opportunities!) I mapped out the Little Free Libraries scattered throughout the neighborhood and took hubby on a walking tour to drop off copies of my book. To his credit, he didn’t complain—that is, after I agreed to stop at his favorite ice cream shop in the Washington Street Mall on our way back. Did I mention hubby’s one of those men who need to be bribed into doing something he doesn’t normally do?

All in all, a satisfying and productive break. And now, back to the keyboard!

Tackling the second novel. From climbing a hill to scaling a mountain.

Writing a book is hard work. I didn’t realize how hard until I started writing my second one.

Writing my first book was fairly easy – like walking up a steep hill and slipping and falling a few times along the way. But that was all right, because no one was looking. I didn’t nurture any hopes of ever becoming a published author at the time. I used writing as a creative outlet, and as long as no one knew what I was writing I wasn’t experiencing any of the pressure and the anxiety and self-doubt that come with publishing in mind. I wasn’t concerned what anyone would think about the finished product, since it was only for my own eyes. The fact that my first novel turned into a published book is still something I’m wrapping my head around.

The hardest part of being a writer is sitting and doing the job.

I didn’t realize ‘second novel syndrome’ was a thing until I sat down to write one.

Once my post-publication euphoria simmered down, I couldn’t wait to get started on my next project. My head was full of ideas I couldn’t jot down fast enough. But when it came to putting those ideas together, it turned out to be more challenging than I had anticipated. All my creativity came to a screeching halt. Suddenly nothing I wrote seemed good enough. I was besieged by self-doubt. What were the chances that I could come up with something as good as my first draft? The last thing I wanted was for my second book to be compared to the first in a negative way. What if it wouldn’t live up to my readers’ expectations? If I wanted it to be successful, I told myself, I needed to raise the stakes.

The hating game.

So, while fellow indie authors were turning out books at the rate of four-five in the first year, a year after I published my first book I was still on chapter eight of book two and second-guessing every word, every comma or nuance, and even spending hours just coming up with a name for my characters or for a particular setting. No matter how many times I told myself “It doesn’t matter, just write the dang story!”, I was constantly editing or deleting and making very little headway. I kept changing the sequence of events and character traits like it was a constant game of Whack-a-Mole. The more ideas popped up, the more I struck down. Halfway through the second chapter the villain sounds too nice as a high-powered lawyer? Whack!!. . . better to make him a sleazy cyber-criminal. My female MC’s name doesn’t quite fit her personality? Whack! . . . she gets a brand-new name in the middle of chapter five. My writing mood see-sawed between empowering moments when I felt I was onto something really good, and moments when I wanted to trash everything and give up.

But wasn’t that what I was doing when I started writing my first book? I reminded myself at some point. Even then, I was constantly tweaking and changing things around, but at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. It was fun. And that’s when I realized it was exactly the kind of mindset I had to get into if I wanted to get the job done.

Lower your expectations. Remember why you started writing in the first place.

At this point in time I’m happy to say that following my own advice has started to produce the desired results. I’m still a work in progress and some writing habits are impossible to beat, but I’m not as stressed as when I first started on my draft. I’m starting to enjoy writing again.

The best advice I can give to other writers experiencing second-book syndrome—or third, or fourth, for that matter—is, lower your expectations and write like it’s your first book. Make it new and different and better, but make it yours. Write the story you want to write and that feels your own. That’s why you embarked on this journey in the first place, what made you excited to sit down to write. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to reach the finish line, as long as you’re enjoying the journey.

Fellow writers and aspiring writers out there, I would love to hear what your biggest struggle is in your writing.

Image by Pixel2013, Pixabay

My author interview on March 19, 2022, courtesy of author Jill Piscitello



What was the inspiration behind your latest release? 

The idea for the story came from a series I wrote in my late twenties. In between caring for my daughter and helping my husband in his business, I wrote several novellas set in a vacation resort on a tropical island. It was superficial, frivolous stuff that will never see the light of day. I had grown to love two of my characters so much, Clare and Richard, I wanted them to have their own standalone story. What laid the groundwork for the plot was probably my deep-seated regret for not having been blessed with a sister. In Misty Dreams, Clare’s sister plays a key role in the mystery the story revolves around.

Where do you get your ideas? 

The books I read are the inspiration for my stories. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write.  When I’m experiencing the dreaded writer’s block, reading a good book will get me back in the mood.

Have you ever traveled when researching information for a book? 

When it comes to research, I’m mostly a couch surfer, though I draw inspiration from my actual travels. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved traveling to new places. I believe traveling and living in different parts of the world have helped shape me as a person and as a writer and impacted the way I see the world.

When did you begin writing? 

I don’t remember not ever writing. As a little girl I loved writing essays for English class. One of the first fiction pieces I wrote was in elementary school, a fantasy short story on book characters coming to life in the school library when the clock struck midnight.

What has been your biggest challenge? 

My biggest challenge has been English not being my first language. Although I read a lot of English books, using the English lexicon in my writing doesn’t come easy to me. I worked on Misty Dreams for several years before I felt comfortable enough to send it out into the world.

What does literary success mean to you?

Literary success to me doesn’t mean monetary reward. That would be nice, of course, but just knowing people are reading my book gives me a great sense of fulfillment. Having doubted for so many years my ability to write for other people’s enjoyment, I still have trouble believing I can and did.

What writing tips or marketing advice would you like to share

The most important advice I would give new or aspiring writers is, don’t let your insecurities get in the way of your writing. Don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Spend time learning the fundamentals of writing and becoming more competent in your own abilities. On the marketing front, I would advise to start setting up social media platforms well ahead of a book launch to start building an audience. I was never a fan of social media, and the thought of putting myself out there for the whole world to see was terrifying. Today, I regret not having had the foresight to do that.  

Which authors inspire you?

Nicholas Sparks is a long-time favorite, and the one I draw the most inspiration from. Despite his obsession for serious subject matters and less-than-happy endings, he writes books that impact me on an emotional level and that stay embedded in my memory. I’m also a big fan of Jojo Moyes since reading “Me Before You”, for the humor and warmth she infuses in her books.

What project are you currently working on? 

I’m currently working on a second stand-alone novel. For a while I toyed with the idea of a Misty Dreams sequel, but I struggled to find inspiration. Not being a fan of romance series, I decided to write the story I wanted to read.

An Unexpected Visitor

Image by Katerina Kerdi, Unsplash

Taking a page from an article I read on The Writer blog: Resurrect your darlings: How to recycle deleted material from your manuscript, I decided to ‘resurrect’ some of my deleted material from the original MISTY DREAMS draft and post it here. This is the second in the series. For those who have read the book, this piece explores the friendship between Clare and a young nun at St. Isabel Monastery, Sister Teresa.

Teresa’s muffled voice seeped through the haze in Clare’s brain, reaching her as if from afar. She was being asked something, but her mind was still on Monks’ Beach and a pair of silver-blue eyes glinting in the April morning sun.

“Hello, Earth to Clare?”

Clare blinked and snapped out of her reverie. “I’m sorry . . . You were saying?”

Sister Teresa angled her head, her dark eyes regarding her piercingly. It always surprised Clare to see how startling a contrast they made with the white of her wimple.

“I was asking,” Sister Teresa said putting emphasis on the last word, “what you think about using red anthuriums for the pedestal arrangement in the choir stand. They’ll make a beautiful contrast with the dark paneling, don’t you think? Maybe toning it down a little with a few pale pink peonies and a sprinkling of baby’s breath?”

Clare nodded, trying to infuse some enthusiasm into her voice. “I think that’s a perfect combination. You’re a flower genius, Teresa.”  

Instead of giving her usual smug grin, Teresa’s perplexed expression intensified. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

The nun tapped a finger on her pursed lips. “Well . . . let’s see. Perhaps because for the past fifteen minutes you’ve been staring into space with an air of mystical rapture only a choir of angels singing above your head might produce?” she quipped.

Clare dropped her eyes to the frayed edges of the antique brocade runner on the Carrara marble altar, feeling the heat rush to her face. “Sorry, I was . . . distracted,” she mumbled, nestling a pink powder puff blossom between emerald ferns.

“It’s because of the mysterious doctor, the trespasser on Monks’ Beach, isn’t it?”

Clare’s gaze cut to her friend. “How do you know about the trespasser?”

This time Teresa’s smugness came through in her wide grin. “I have my sources,” she said, and smartly chopped the ends off the stems of the anthuriums with the wire cutter she’d brought along.

“It was Jimmy Ramirez, wasn’t it?” Clare guessed. That boy was a troublemaker, as well as a notorious tattle-taler.

Not that she had anything to hide or be ashamed of, Clare told herself. The nuns had complete trust in her when it came to her commitment to keep the children safe.

She stooped to pick up some baby’s breath from the bucket. “He’s a new guest at Serena. He was sailing around the island on his sailboat and missed the keep-off sign at the mouth of the cove. We chatted for a bit,” she said nonchalantly.

“Mighty neighborly of him.”

Clare sensed Teresa’s curiosity behind the sarcastic façade. “I couldn’t very well turn him away, him being a Serena guest and all,” she said defensively.

“Of course not. That would have been extremely inhospitable.”

Clare narrowed her eyes. “Are you laughing at me, Teresa Maria Alvarez Moreno?”

“Just having some fun, is all.”

Clare poked her friend playfully in the ribs. “Oh, you . . .”

“So, tell me,” Teresa said poking her back, “is he handsome, this mysterious new guest of your mother’s?”

“Sister Teresa! Have you no shame? And in the Lord’s house, too.”

“Is he, or isn’t he?” Teresa repeated, disregarding Clare’s mock reproach.

Teresa’s expression was one that could easily pass for salacious, if Clare didn’t know her friend was a devout nun who took her vows seriously. She drew in a slow breath then let it out in a rush. “All right, yes.”

Smiling broadly, Teresa leaned her elbows on the marble and rested her face on the palms of her hands. The filtered light from the stained-glass windows of the chapel created a multi-colored aura around her veiled head, like a celestial light. “Pray, tell,” she drawled with a nuance that was anything but heavenly.

Clare rolled her eyes. “There’s barely anything to tell. He told me he’s a neurosurgeon, and that he’s taking a hiatus to work on a book he’s writing. I doubt he’ll show up again.”

She rolled the stem of a peony with fingers that shook a little. She hadn’t considered the possibility that she might never see Richard Kelly again. She’d just assumed he meant it when he’d said he’d like to come back to the cove.

Her encounter with the troubled-eyed surgeon from New York had had a strange effect on her. She remembered feeling like a giddy schoolgirl meeting her first crush. It was the first time she had been instantly drawn to a stranger. After he was gone, the entire ordeal had felt surreal, as if she had had an out-of-body experience. If the monastery children hadn’t been there to witness it, she’d have thought she’d dreamed it all. Every time she thought of him, a storm of butterflies unleashed inside her belly reminding her of the gentle brush of his hand against her cheek when he’d casually curled a lock of her hair behind her ear. Who knew what dark secrets he harbored behind those guarded eyes of his?

“What sort of book?” Teresa asked.

“A medical textbook. Of the brain.” Clare bit her lip, remembering too late her promise not to reveal Richard’s real profession. “He prefers to maintain a low profile while on St. Isabel. His fellow guests think he’s a fiction writer in search of his muse.”

“Serious and educated. Young?”

“Early to mid-thirties, I think.”

She stiffened when she saw the naughty grin on her friend’s mouth. “Whatever you’re thinking, forget it. Like I said, it was probably the first and last time I’ll ever set eyes on the man. Hand me a couple birds of paradise, will you?”

Teresa plucked two fiery-colored long-stemmed flowers from a tall canister and handed them to her. “I was only making a point. It’s time you stopped being a recluse and explored new interests outside of the confines of Monastery Hill,” she said, no longer playful.

“I get out. Who do you think organizes all the field trips?”

“Playing chaperone to a bunch of preschoolers doesn’t qualify as me-time. You need to be with adults, making new friends.”

“You’re saying I should date?”

At Clare’s incredulous look, Teresa shook her head. “Girlfriend, you may not be a nun like me but you sure act like one.”

Clare raised her eyes to the ornate crucifix hanging above the altar and crossed herself. “Really, Sister Teresa, I’m appalled at your impious insinuations. If I were you, I’d make sure to say a few extra Hail Marys tonight, or the Powers That Be might start to have doubts about the legitimacy of your vocation.”

Teresa’s expression softened. “Never mind a few Hail Marys. Your happiness is worth at least a nine-month novena, and I’d recite it all in one breath if it served the purpose.”

Clare’s eyes filled even as she stifled a laugh. “Oh, Teresa,” she said giving her friend a hug. Never like this moment had her heart swelled with so much affection. Teresa was like and older sister to her, more so than Courtney. She had a big heart, and she was caring and protective in ways her real sister had never been. “I’m happy the way I am, truly,” she argued. “I have friends up here, and I have you and the children. I have everything I could possibly want.”

“So you always say, but you’re not like me, Clare. You have a special calling too, but of a different kind. You’re made for marriage, to raise children of your own. I believe you’ll make a wonderful mother someday. But you won’t be able to do any of these things by secluding yourself up here or working yourself to death. Besides,” Teresa added with a suggestive wink, “a man who can put that dreamy look in your eyes has to be special.” Clare laughed and threw up her hands. “Oh, Teresa, you’re incorrigible!”

A Home For Misty

This month’s post is a piece I deleted from the first draft of my book Misty Dreams. For those of you who have read my book and have heard my story of how the first draft turned out to be a massive 360,000 words, this is one of the many scenes I regretfully had to cut out to make the book ‘marketable’. Every author knows how painful it is to edit off entire passages or ‘kill off’ secondary characters from a draft after becoming emotionally attached to them. If they’re anything like me, they’ve stored away these discarded bits like the broken pieces of a priceless ornament because they can’t bear to let them go. For those of you who haven’t read Misty Dreams, I hope this will entice you to check it out.

Image from Pixabay

Misty couldn’t believe it had been six months since she’d left Mercy General and moved in with Mrs. Butler. What was even better, Dr. Max had moved in too, and now, with the boys and Molly in the downstairs apartment, they were all living under the same roof, like a big, happy family!

Three weeks earlier, everything had changed when she overheard a conversation between Dr. Mallory and Mrs. Butler. She had been playing hide-and-seek with Mozart, and neither Dr. Max nor Mrs. B was aware of her hiding in the pantry. Dr. Max had marched into Mrs. B’s kitchen after his shift at the hospital and declared, “Mary, my girl, there’s no two ways about it, we’re getting married.”

It had been the best day of Misty’s life. Of this life, anyway, since that stupid accident in the department store had wiped out her previous one from her brain.

There was a long silence, then she heard Mrs. B’s incredulous laugh.

“Well, if that isn’t the most unromantic proposal a girl’s ever heard!”

Hugging Mozart to her, Misty struggled to suppress the giggles that bubbled up to her throat. She could picture Mrs. B, all flushed and flustered, smoothing her hair to cover her embarrassment. She stroked the cat’s fur, hoping he wouldn’t mew and give them away.

“Aw, Mary, you know I’m not the romantic type,” Dr. Max mumbled. “Besides, we’re too old to play games.”

“A lady’s never too old for romance. Anyway, what makes you think I’d want to marry a hopeless grouch like you?”

“How about because you’re hopelessly in love with me?”

His response almost sent Misty into another fit of giggles. Mrs. B’s intake of breath was so intense even Mozart flinched. “Well, I—that’s a pretty big ego you have. Careful you don’t trip on it and land flat on your face.”

“Come on, don’t play coy, Mary. I know you got feelings for me.”

Another strangled sound. “And how would you know that?”

Then something happened that made Misty’s insides turn all soft and gooey. Dr. Max’s voice took on a tone she’d never heard from him before, kind of croaky, like he’d swallowed a frog. “Because . . . well, because a man picks up on these things, ‘specially a man who’s . . . not entirely indifferent to you.”

Misty thought her heart would burst out of her chest. They weren’t just poking fun at each other as they often did. Dr. Max was acting strange, and Mrs. B was having trouble talking, which was really unusual. “You . . . you aren’t?”

Misty couldn’t hold back her curiosity any longer. Still clutching Mozart, she inched closer to the open doorway and peered into the kitchen. Mrs. B was standing at the gas range, a white apron tied around her waist. One of her hands was brandishing the wooden spoon with which she’d been stirring the ragù, the other was splayed on her chest. The way she was staring at Dr. Max, you’d think she was seeing a ghost.

As for Dr. Max, his face was all sweaty and red, like the time Mrs. B had given him a smacking kiss on the cheek to thank him for the flowers he’d brought her for her birthday.

Dr. Max took the wooden spoon from Mrs. B’s hand and placed it on the counter, then he took both her hands in his. “I love you, Mary. I’ve been in love with you for a long time, and I know you feel the same. It’s in Misty’s best interest that we . . . that we finally acknowledge each other’s feelings and provide her with a stable home. The six-months custody agreement you were granted is almost up. You could get an extension for a month, maybe two, and then what? Watch her be shuffled off to a stranger’s home?”

Misty’s stomach clenched. Leave Mrs. B’s? Leave the boys?

“We’re too old to adopt, but as a married couple we could apply for permanent foster care. We could . . . Aw, Mary, don’t cry!”

Misty flinched when Mrs. Butler started to pummel her fists against Dr. Max’s chest. “You . . . you silly old goat! You . . . you stubborn, insufferable man! How can you stand there casually talking about—” She sniffed loudly, “—about being in love with me and expect me not to cry?”

Misty’s vision blurred again when Dr. Max’s hand cupped Mrs. B’s cheek. “I’m a fool, I know. I just never had the courage to tell you. I started loving you a long time ago, back when you belonged to another man. After Vince died . . . well, I guess I grew too comfortable in my independence. It took Misty’s predicament to finally open my eyes.”

“Oh, Max!” 

Misty didn’t know what ‘predicament’ meant, but she was glad it had worked in her favor. Mozart stirred restlessly, and she set him on her lap, then she brushed tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. Her throat felt tight, as if a lump were stuck in there.

“What do you say, Mary, do you want to spend the rest of your life with this old fool?”

Misty pressed her fist to her mouth. Please say yes, please say yes! 

Mrs. B gurgled a watery laugh and clutched the ends of Dr. Max’s beard, pulling his face to hers. When Dr. Max encircled Mrs. B’s waist and nudged her toward the back of the kitchen, Misty’s eyes almost popped out of her head. Then the couple disappeared from her line of vision. She scrambled to her knees and hugged the doorjamb, craning her neck to get a better view, but the table was in the way. She could tell they were kissing from the sounds they made. They did a lot of that on The Bold and The Beautiful when Mrs. B was watching it, and it sounded all breathy and squishy—just like that. She jerked back as the couple reappeared.

“I’ve wanted to do that for so long, but it didn’t seem right. Vince . . .”  Dr. Max sounded breathless, just like he had last spring after a bout of bronchitis. Congestion, Mrs. B had called it, though he didn’t look as miserable now.

With her arms still around Dr. Max’s neck, Mrs. B said. “Vince and I shared twenty wonderful years, but that was then, and this is now. I love you, Maxwell Mallory. I’ve loved you for a very long time.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Of course it’s a yes, you old knucklehead!”

Dr. Max’s arms caught Mrs. B around the waist, lifted her off her feet and twirled her high into the air. Mrs. B shrieked delightedly, the sound mingling with Dr. Max’s throaty laugh. A frightened Mozart mewed loudly, sprinted out of Misty’s arms and bounced onto the kitchen counter. Misty watched in horror as the wooden spoon sailed high into the air, spun a full circle, and landed on the floor, splattering tomato sauce everywhere. It was mayhem in the kitchen.

From her hiding place Misty sighed happily.


Christmas in July

Okay, this title has nothing to do with this article, but I couldn’t resist using it, even though it’s August. Every time I hear this expression I’m reminded of my Christmases in South Africa, where the seasons were topsy-turvy and a ‘white Christmas’ was some ridiculous idealistic illusion we compensated for by ‘dressing’ the branches of the Christmas trees with cotton wool.

We are a long time away from getting into the Christmas spirit, but I came across this cute image and immediately thought it would make a wonderful backdrop for a Misty Dreams prequel – should I decide to take the leap. After all, Clare and Richard’s story began on Christmas Eve, even if it didn’t turn out as joyful as one would expect. This is exactly how I envision Mary Mallory’s (at the time Mary Butler) house in the East Village all decked out for the Holidays, a non-pretentious, well-kept townhouse in the nicer part of Lower Manhattan. In Misty Dreams, Maxwell Mallory and Mary Butler tie the knot, presumably so they can gain custody of Misty, but in truth, as Misty cunningly figures out, they’ve secretly always had a thing for each other.

Often I find myself scouring websites for images that will inspire me. I rely a lot on pictures when it comes to describing places, buildings and surroundings in my writing, as well as a good amount of research. Not so much when it comes to defining my characters’ physical attributes. Characters are much more than their physical appearance, so I try not to be too specific, aside from the obvious, like the color of their hair and eyes and how tall they are, preferring to let readers conceive their own mental images. Besides, everyone has their own idea of what a character should look like. Take me, for instance. Every time I read a book where the male character has a beard or a mustache, I’m tempted to set it aside. I don’t like beards or mustaches, period. Am I unique in that?  In my mind’s eye, my characters are vague silhouettes. What defines who they are and what they look like are their mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, as well as the emotions they stir in me.

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