The tattoo is on my left inner arm - each puzzle piece representing a different student who left a particular impact on me. I worked in the world of Autism just as it was gaining the traction of awareness it has in our culture now - I remember reading Temple Grandin's books before Claire Danes won an award for playing her in an HBO film; and I recall when the Autism puzzle ribbon was so uncommon that an elderly man approached my car in a parking lot to ask where he could get one just like the one that sat magnetized to my bumper. I had an extra one in my glove box, and I remember how happy he looked when I handed it to him. I sound like I’m 100, don’t I? I’m only 35, but that’s how quickly Autism has gone from fringe disorder to one of national awareness.
I’ve been lucky enough to do a few author interviews on promotional websites and/or the blogs of people I’ve met online.
The questions in those interviews (as well as those from individual people who have contact me) always pertain to the degree to which Impressions of You was based on any personal experience. I like to joke that, yes, I looked in the mirror and saw Wesley, and just started typing. That’s a lie, of course, but there were aspects of the book based on myth personal experiences. Those who’ve read the blurb (or the book itself – thank you bloggers!) know that Mia is a special needs teacher who works with low functioning, special needs children. The inspiration for that came directly from my own experience, although I was never a teacher. As some may know, I worked in the exact same type of school that I describe Mia working in – a small, private school on Long Island, New York, for speech and language impaired children. Although on paper the school was for any students with speech-language deficits, in reality the vast majority of the population (at least at that time) was children on the autistic spectrum. I worked in classes of non-verbal, aggressive, severely autistic students as a TA and a 1:1 aid for seven years.
In my time doing that work (which I never considered work) I was bitten (like Mia) stabbed numerous times with pencils, scratched almost daily, hit in just about every part of my body with fists, head-buts, and spit at on multiple occasions. Even dealing with all of that, I can honestly say that it was the best job I’ve ever had.
We weren’t there to teach math as much as we were there to teach how to sit at the math table for more than 3 minutes. We had book reading circle time, but the book was secondary to the kids not attacking on another. In short, we had the most hazardous and most rewarding jobs simultaneously, and I saw many people come and go, for all the reasons I allude to in the book. Girls (mostly) coming out of college programs would spend a single afternoon in our class and quit their jobs; those who did come back usually reported sitting in their car and crying after their first day because of the stress. It was the most wild, rewarding, fun, and amazing job I’ve ever had, and I knew that I wanted to make the experience a part of my main character. At the same time I didn’t want to write about special needs at length – it’s a romance novel, after all – so instead I wanted to give only glimpses into the stress of that world, and ascribe Mia those characteristics that I witnessed in so many great women who I got to work with over the years.
What I describe in the book, based on my personal experience, is very specific. It’s called “Autism Spectrum Disorder” for a reason, and my experience was very small and very specific, and what I write is in no way meant to be generalized, but I’m thankful every day for spending my days with those kids, so many years ago now. It was nice to revisit them as I wrote Impressions of You.
A New York Times article that caught my attention long before I started the Impressions Series is titled “Tapping Your Inner Wolf” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/06/opinion/tapping-your-inner-wolf.html?_r=0 The article caught my attention immediately because of sentences like those below:
“The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf,” the veteran wolf researcher Rick McIntyre told me as we were watching gray wolves, “is a quiet confidence, quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that. You have a calming effect.” The point is, alpha males are not aggressive. They don’t need to be.
I’m a huge fan of anything that questions the norm; and in this case it seemed to me that almost everyone who described the so-called ‘alpha’ male was literally describing the last person that would ever inspire any sort of following. When I read the article it interested me that the author captured the true essence of alpha qualities. After all, the very name ‘alpha’ would indicate a ranking; a place atop a hierarchy, as in the alpha of a pack of wolves. In pop culture, however, somehow the expression became coopted to mean the dominant, aggressive male monkey whose walking around with a bad attitude and a puffed out chest, ready to strike fear into anyone who stood in his way. Now, let’s transition to the writing of Impressions of You. . .
So when I set out to write the book, I knew that having a male character that women would want to read about was crucial to being successful. After all, it’s a romance novel! If the male character comes off as too abrasive, or too aggressive, or otherwise unattractive, all the well strung together sentences in the world won’t save your book. So I knew that who Wesley was would be key to the telling of the entire story, even though that story is seen through Mia’s eyes. So how did I go about crafting Wesley Marsden from scratch?
I knew that I wanted to keep him mysterious and that the mystery surrounding him would unfold as the story unfolded; and I of course wanted him to be physically attractive.
But then came this whole alpha male thing. . . although there are some great books that follow this model, I really had no interest in writing about a dominant asshole who was hyper sexual towards the main character the second he laid eyes on her. I wanted instant attraction, and I wanted to a strong connection, but I didn’t want to write 300 pages of a good looking douche. A handsome asshole is still an asshole at the end of the day, and more than anything I wanted to write a good man who was living with a few things that haunted him. At the same time, I wanted him to fight tooth and nail to confront those demons for the woman he ends up loving – Mia Careri. In writing, as in life, there’s a balance. The connection between characters, the sex, the banter, the drama of the story – all things must be balanced, and more than anything I tried to add complexity to the characters without devolving into too dark or too over-sexualized a story. That word – story – it always comes first. And I wanted a story of a guy I could relate to – not the guy who’d steal your girlfriend in high school and break her heart. Even with a six pack and chiseled face, that guy will always be a dick, and I wanted to write my alpha – the real thing – a guy who can be confident, caring, and most importantly puts the needs of those he loves above his own. Wesley is the most non-alpha-alpha I could write – and I wouldn’t have him any other way.
An excerpt from Impressions of You –
Seeing him sitting there, the man makes me think of sex the minute I lay eyes on him. Hot sex. Me-pressed-up-against-the-wall-screaming-his-name sex. I can’t help it, it’s like an involuntary response my whole body has when I see him. I can’t help but have the dirtiest thoughts when he gives me those eyes and says my name in his deep voice. Is he the dominant type, or would he let me take control? I can see him, holding me down, my face in the pillow and my hair bunched in his strong hands, pulling my whole neck backwards as he takes me hard from behind. Snap out of it, Mia, you’re here to talk, not to undress him with your eyes. But I can’t help it, he’s gorgeous, I can’t stop thinking about my naked body on top of his, riding his hard cock until his eyes roll back in his head.
It’s not just me, either, I know the other women in the park are thinking the same thing I am, there’s no way they couldn’t be. There was something about him that has nothing to do with his words, something almost primal that I felt when I’m around him.
“You look amazing,” he tells me as I approach him. He stands up like a true gentleman, and when he does, the contrast of our heights is way more obvious than it was at The Drip. He stands over me, and I have to angle my head up to look into those baby blues. His eyes don’t look at me, they penetrate me. It’s like he’s looking inside of me with such intensity that it’s hard to look back for too long without getting overwhelmed. He looks at me like he’s studying me, as though every word and every move I make is the most interesting thing he’s ever seen or heard. It makes me feel like maybe I’m not just Mia; I’m his Mia. What the hell are you doing, you don’t even know him yet! He must get beautiful women talking to him all the time. I mean, look at him! What woman in her right mind wouldn’t wanna jump all over him the second she saw him?
He’s wearing another fitted shirt, and it grips his chest muscles underneath, hiding and showing them off simultaneously, and I want to rip his shirt off right then and there.
“Wow. There’s that expression again, you’ve used it twice now.”
“I wouldn’t waste your time counting, I’m certain it’s going to come out of my mouth a lot when it comes to you, I hope you don’t mind.” Did I mind? No, my sexy coffee-house man, tell me I look amazing as often as your heart desires.
“I don’t mind at all, it doesn’t happen that much, so I’ll take what I can get.”
“I can’t believe that. No way. I assumed I was being unoriginal.” He’s so sweet.
I’ve never known how to react to compliments. Whenever a guy tries to be sweet with me like this my face contorts into this awkward smile I can’t seem to control, followed by my indifferent declarations of “oh, okay.” I’ve offended my share of suitors with my inability to just politely take a compliment and believe whatever nice thing they were trying to say to me. I guess I never really see what they see, but I believe it when Wesley says it, and I don’t feel awkward at all when he compliments me.
“You’re doing just fine, don’t worry,” I assure him. “Your words are very flattering, trust me.”
“Thank you,” he says, “but I can do better. I will do better.”
So let's be clear from the start, Dear Reader (sorry, Stephen King), I'm no blogger. Let's face it, the stress and rigor of writing a first book, let alone getting it ready for publication and promoting it doesn't leave much time for daily (or even weekly blogging), but like so much of this, I figured 'why the hell not?"
So why do this now?
It's simple: this is my interview with all of you.
I don't have a degree in marketing. I don't know much more about it other than what's intuitive to me, or the information that an exhaustive Google search can produce. I don't like to think of myself as a marketer any more than I'd classify myself a 'blogger' because I'm writing these words. Nor do I think of informing people about my book as 'self-promotion.' Instead, I like to think of myself as a conveyer of ideas - both in my books and in the description of my books -and it's those ideas that I hope will connect with my readers. This whole process is a wonderfully strange form of job interview, and you, my readers, are on the hiring committee.
I'm a reader first and a writer second - so, the author pitch of 'I have the most brilliant idea ever, you have to buy my stuff' falls flat for me as a reader. Instead, I prefer authors with humility, grace, and confidence in their book's ability to speak for itself, and those who allow their success or failure to be the decision of their readers. So, in that spirit, that's the type of author I want to be. This blog is just to help that process along.
And that, in brief, is why you're reading this now - man, I hope someone is actually reading this, otherwise my whole job interview metaphor is dying a slow and painful death :-)
But to be serious, in the following days and weeks leading up to the November 1st release of my first contemporary romance novel, Impressions of You, I'll be blogging on different aspects of the book. I have no illusions of taking the 'blogosphere' (damn we need a new word) by storm. Instead I have a more modest goal - to enter into a dialogue with you, my potential reader, on all things related to the book: my writing process, my inspirations, my challenges, and other topics of interest.
When I was a kid, self-publishing was the realm of literary outcasts – those not deemed good enough to be accepted by traditional publishers (then just called ‘publishers’) – I’m only 35, but in my life I’ve seen the world of art – whether writing, podcasting, or making music – become democratized. We the artists don’t need to wait around to be accepted by guys in suits looking to move product. And you the audience are exposed to an even more open marketplace of ideas. Win-Win. I'm proud to soon call myself a published author, and part of the fun of this thing is connecting with you, the readers.
Not so bad for my first blog - let the interview begin, ask me anything.