Hope you’ll stop by and say hello as I cap off two weeks of celebrating my newest release, Turning the Tides. I’m asked my greatest temptation, my greatest weakness, and other personal foibles in an interview with Linda Nightingale.
MS Spencer writes suspenseful romances set in exotic locales. Today on the MS Spencer Tale Spinner blog, I discuss my own first attempts at writing suspense. I also reflect on the person whose intriguing origins inspired Turning the Tides‘ heroine, Lee Cooper.
I love to hear your comments, and I respond to every single one. Please stop by!
Want to hear about my one-day experience as a swimsuit model? Come on over to Zara West’s blog and find out other secrets, like how my friends are the inspiration for my heroines (and whose story is next!)
My second novel with The Wild Rose Press, Turning the Tides, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions
Please come celebrate with me at Sharon Buchbinder’s fun blog. Sharon will interview my protagonist, Lee Cooper, to find out how her early life experiences have led her to advocate for the rights of a woman roundly judged to be an unfit mother. I loved exploring the complexities of this character, and drew upon some of my own experiences working in social services with at-risk families to create the storyline. I hope you’ll enjoy it too!
Thank you for your support, especially today!
In advance of the release of my second book with The Wild Rose Press, I’ll be appearing on several blogs in the upcoming weeks.
First up is Wicked Wednesdays, where I share the indignities of an introvert dragged out for a “good time” by a gaggle of extroverts. Have mercy on a wallflower–stop by and say hi!
Turning the Tides is available for preorder now on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Turning-Tides-Nell-Castle-ebook/dp/B06ZZ19WTC
I loved writing about Pomegranate Key, a fictional island off the coast of Florida. A Northerner again now, I lived for five years within a mile of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Everything about the environment felt new and exotic. Instead of sparrows, robins, and crows, we watched ibises, seagulls, and egrets pass overhead. Panthers were occasionally sighted at the golf course where my husband worked, and alligator removal from the ponds were a periodic necessity. When we took our children camping, the nuisance animal wasn’t the loveable, cuddly raccoon but the spiny, blind armadillo bumping into our feet, attracted by the light of the fire. Fire ants were a serious hazard–in our first month, a stranger pointed out with alarm the pile I’d stepped into. Seeing me shrug, she observed, “You’re not from around here, are you?” a moment before a stinging army of tiny insects had me hopping crazily around the parking lot–and snakes, camouflaged by Spanish moss high above, sometimes dropped onto the shoulders of unsuspecting victims mowing our lawn beneath the huge oak trees.
I also loved writing the character of Lee Cooper. A departure from the virtuous and well-intentioned Sophia of A Leap of Faith, Lee is impulsive, creative, generous, defensive, and hot-tempered. And the man who crosses her path, who seems like nothing more than a playboy, is equally complicated beneath the surface.
Here’s the official blurb from the book jacket:
Ever the black sheep of her adoptive family, Lee Cooper has finally buckled down to a responsible job as a social worker in Southwest Florida. Defending her client against charges of child abuse awakens buried memories of her own abandonment in a Korean orphanage. Can she remain objective for the sake of a child?
Bricker Kilbourn, the court-appointed guardian, doubts Lee’s judgments–and his opinion might determine the little boy’s fate. He’s got his own family issues and haunting secrets to keep. Falling for a woman is not part of his plan.
He’s running from his past. She’s searching for answers. Will their resolution to protect a child bind them together or wrench them apart?
Look for an announcement soon for a release date for Turning the Tides from The Wild Rose Press!
Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test? Inspired by Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, the test sorts each individual’s dominant personality traits into categories of extraversion vs introversion, sensing vs intuition, thinking vs feeling, and judging vs perceiving. By answering a few key questions, you can get an insight into who you are.
I went to https://www.16personalities.com/, an elaboration on the Myers-Briggs model, and took a 10-minute quiz. Twenty years ago, I took a similar quiz as an undergraduate and remembered my results. I was surprised to find now that I’d switched in two categories, from Feeling to Thinking and from Perceiving to Judging. An in-depth analysis of your personality profile follows the quiz.
The description of “my” personality type—INTJ-T, “The Architect”—was astonishingly accurate, from the strengths listed (decisive, intellectual, open-minded) to the weaknesses (arrogant, overly analytical, judgmental). Page after page of profile details made me feel like someone had looked into my soul and snapped a picture.
To test the accuracy of the site, I decided to retake the test as Sophia, my main character from A Leap of Faith. Answering as I imagined she’d answer, I was given the results of ESFJ-A, “The Consul”: loving and warm, devoted to duty, and loyal, whose main weaknesses are a tendency to be too selfless and sensitive to criticism. Nailed it.
If you’re a writer, I recommend running your characters through the quiz at the 16 Personalities site. The weaknesses revealed can be a great starting point for developing conflict for your character. (Indeed, Sophia’s tendency to put others’ needs before her own is what gets her into trouble.) I can’t wait to use the test on Lee Cooper, my protagonist from Turning the Tides, set to be released with The Wild Rose Press in spring of 2017. I predict fiery Lee will be an ENFP-T.
Whether you’re a writer or a reader, try taking the personality test, and prepare to be amazed!
Keep your candy hearts and your pink ribbons. For my money, the season of love is Halloween.
Raised by parents who bore the stiff upper lip of the English and the iron spine of the Germans, my siblings and I learned to be uncomfortable with public displays of affection from an early age. Rather than hugs and kisses at bedtime, we traded firm handshakes with our Mom and Dad. When they felt especially lighthearted, they’d treat us to a game of Hot Hands, holding their palms flat over ours and tantalizing us during long moments of stillness before snaking their hands over ours in a lightning strike to slap us hard across the knuckles.
There was only one time when we felt comfortable cuddling next to our parents, and that was when we watched scary movies on a Friday night. Vincent Price movies, Night Stalker episodes, and everyone’s favorite: vampire movies. Mom would shake a pan of popcorn over the burner, drip melted butter over each of our bowls, and sit with us on the couch. Curling up against her side so I could press my face against her shoulder whenever Dracula tapped against the window gave me a sense of security and love that transcended words.
I clung to my affection for horror films through my teen years, always rooting for the vampire to win the eternal devotion of his female prey. Chris Sarandon advancing eerily across the dance floor in Fright Night, catching the eye of his next teenage victim with a sly smile playing across his lips…who could return to an adolescent love affair after that? Lestat in the Anne Rice chronicles–don’t even get me started. Eternal damnation seemed a small price to pay for a moment of his undivided, bloody attention.
I couldn’t wait for my children to be old enough to see some of these films I’d loved. Not surprisingly, they laughed at the campiness of films that had once scared me to death, preferring the kind of jerky photography and editing of The Grudge that I found silly. So I was thrilled when my youngest son agreed to listen to an audio version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on our trip across Pennsylvania to drop him off in New York for his freshman year of college.
My husband listened skeptically as Stoker, through a long series of letters, told the tale of an unwitting young solicitor who fails to flee at the first sight of his sharp-toothed, red-lipped, bloodless client in the remote hills of Transylvania. (“The gypsy warned you to stay away from the mansion! The wolves circled your carriage and howled at midnight! Can’t you take a hint?”) By the time Count Dracula moved on to the white cliffs of England and beat his bat wings against Lucy Westenra’s window at midnight, my son and I were sucked into the novel.
Driving under the arches at the entrance of the college, we had to turn off the story just as Lucy’s blood was drained from her body for the first time. Soon we were distracted by the details of moving our youngest son into his new home.
Hours later, as evening darkened the sky and bats flitted through the trees above my son’s dormitory, I swallowed my tears and hugged my son. (Sometimes a hand shake is just not enough.) “See you in two months.”
He hugged me hard. “Save the rest of Dracula for when you come back to get me.”
In a few short days, my youngest son leaves for college. And each second that ticks away before the moment we shut the car door and drive 8 hours back home seems weighted with added significance. His last Thursday at home. His last time walking the dogs before it becomes my job for good. His last family game night.
Life was so stuffed with activity and forward motion when my children were young. The only time for reflection was when they collapsed in my arms at storytime. After a hard day’s play, they fought to stay awake all the way to the end. I’d carry them to bed, awake or half-asleep, bridging the exploration of the day to the stillness of the night, helping them find security in their blankets and the companionship of their favorite stuffed animals.
How many times is a child picked up? Multiply that by three, for me. Swinging my children onto my hip was, for years, a motion I performed as frequently and unconsciously as walking. Lifting them into my arms, day after day, year after year.
But one of those times when I lifted each child was the last time.
The most poignant scene I know in literature is in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, when Emily, after dying in childbirth, returns as a ghost to witness the morning of her 12th birthday. She experiences the pain of watching herself and the people she loved taking for granted the moments of being alive. “We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Does anybody realize what life is while they’re living it- every, every minute?”
This week, as the chapter closes on my child-rearing years, I’m paying close attention to final things. And although I know I’ll welcome the doors opening ahead of me, tempting me to enter and follow new adventures, for a little while longer I need to grieve the door steadily swinging shut behind me.
Some greet summer with a bottle of lotion in one hand and a cocktail in the other.
I celebrated summer solstice by cramming into a sweat lodge with eight strangers, faces blistering around a ring of fire-baked stones in the center, waiting for a shaman to guide us through four levels of reflection on our most painful truths.
If, like me, you imagine a sweat lodge as a high-ceilinged teepee, where participants warm themselves in front of a fire and puff comfortably on a peace pipe, you are dead wrong.
The sweat lodge, too low to stand in upright, is formed into a squat dome by a frame of sapling branches. Sheets, blankets, and tarps piled on top leave the inside of the lodge too dark to see your hand in front of your face. In the center is a pit piled with smooth stones– “grandfathers,” symbolizing our spiritual ancestors — roasted for hours in a roaring fire. We crawled inside the opening and jammed ourselves around the 9 foot circle, our ankles tightly crossed and our knees leaning against each other like a chain link fence of skin and bone.
Our shaman, a middle-aged white man who’s devoted decades of study and contemplation to the Lakota ritual, described the sweat lodge as a place where one foot is planted in life and the other in the afterlife. This was more than a metaphorical description. The air was so close in the lodge that the threat of suffocation felt as tangible as hands around my throat. I fought my rising panic by practicing Lamaze breaths. I had survived natural childbirth twice before, and I’d survive this challenge.
Before each round of prayer, chanting, and singing, we sprinkled sage over the burning stones. The shaman described the intention of each round, directing us to turn our thoughts inward but keep our eyes open. For the twenty to thirty minutes before the lodge door opened to a flow of fresh air, we matched the beatings of our hearts to the thud of the shaman’s leather-padded drumstick. Somehow the air burned my lungs less the more I opened my throat to sing.Although we’d never heard the songs before, the dome rang with our voices.
During the second round, when we were invited to feel ourselves jumping into the arms of our lost loved ones, thunder rumbled overhead as if the heavens were ready to speak to us. As the lodge entry was pulled shut, I turned with some dread to the image of my father, a strict man who ruled our household with an iron will. My eyes burned with smoke as my heart sought his presence. Choking on scorching air, I felt my father race toward me like a powerful wind and gather me in his arms. Speaking no words, his being emanated one message: I’m sorry. My body shook with the surprise of this communication. Even though I’d forgiven my father a long time ago for the harshness of his parenting, I’d somehow never imagined him harboring his own regrets. When the door was flung open again and we were invited to share our experiences, I could hardly speak over my tears.
In another round, we were encouraged to reach out to the wisdom of Earth’s creatures. “Let your spirit animal reveal itself to you,” we were told. Fat chance. From the moment I heard “spirit animal,” the otter–playful, adorable, and undeniably my favorite animal–was the only silhouette I could see in the fire. Total wish fulfillment. But then again, why not allow myself to feel an intimate connection to a creature who manages to make a game of survival?
We crawled out of the dome after two hours inside, drenched like babies fresh from the womb. On all fours, my knees and elbows buckled beneath me. I collapsed to the earth, clutching the green grass with my fingers and riding my heartbeat like a raft on the ocean. I measured my breathing against the progress of a tiny sugar ant traveling up and then down a blade of grass near my nose, hypnotized by its steady, inexorable journey.
Slowly, life cranked back to its usual speed. We creaked back to our feet, dismantling the lodge one folded tarp at a time. I’d wrinkled my nose when I first heard we’d “feast” after the sweat. But surviving the purification ritual together made the breaking of bread afterwards feel like communion. We ate quietly, shoulder to shoulder, passing bowls of vegetables and grains with the gratitude of pilgrims at harvest time.
I spend most summer evenings on my balcony, grateful for the warm breezes dancing through the canopy of the maple tree overhead. I watch fireflies blink on and off against my neighbors’ cooling lawns, the emerald greens of early spring fading into a thirsty yellow from the scalding of the summer sun. As a child, I chased those same lightning bugs, barefoot in my nightgown. Perhaps that was the last time I truly felt my connection to all the life that flickers too quickly across the earth.
Until I took a deep breath and crawled into the darkness of the sweat lodge.