Celebrating that Tenth Book Anniversary!

Under ContractI’m over at the Contemporary Romance Cafe, talking about unusual anniversaries – the imminent release of my tenth Carina book! – and how we observe them.

What unusual anniversaries do you all celebrate – and what’s your favorite way to do it?

Under Contract

 The kinkier the sex, the higher the price tag…

Ryan Black has admired Celestina Sala from afar for years, her lush body and sensual nature calling to the dominant in him. For just as many years, Celestina was off-limits—married, proud and self-sufficient. But all that has changed, and now Celestina is in debt and in need…and available. Ryan proposes a contract: he’ll pay off her debt if she gives herself to him in bed, yielding control in exchange for the pain and pleasure he’ll bring them both.

There are words for women who take money for sex, and none of them are nice ones. Celestina never thought she’d have to sink this low, but giving up control sounds more enticing than ever before. And suddenly it’s not about having to give in to Ryan. It’s about wanting to.

But when Ryan’s dark past comes to light, they may both be in over their heads. The terms of his contract say her body is his…but her heart may be another story.

One thing is for sure—now that Ryan has Celestina, he can never let her go.



Sweating the Small Stuff

One good thing about dark winter mornings is that I’m awake for the sunrise. Not something I would otherwise make an effort for, but look what I miss in the summertime.

Today is our 21st anniversary. On this date, lo these many years ago, David took me out for a drink and to see a movie after the Superbowl. I’m terrible at dating and neither of us had much fun. Still, he persisted and I liked him, so we had a little fling.

We’re still flinging.

Funny how that works out. More and more I think that life, the universe and everything doesn’t take well to being planned out. Certainly not to being controlled. That’s why I like the idea of Tao – grab a wave and do your best to ride it without drowning.

It seems I see a lot of people grasping for control lately. Maybe it’s a feeling of instability embodied by that deathless phrase “in this economy.” I don’t even know what that means anymore, except that it somehow conveys that people are afraid. And fear often makes us hold on tighter, with clenched fists and squinched-up eyes. We might become less tolerant, rather than more flexible. Less inclined to let the small stuff go. Less able to see that it’s all small stuff.

One of my book blogger Twitter pals posted this today – a contract that an author sent to a book reviewer. It seems to be yet another attempt to control the uncontrollable – if, when and how a book gets reviewed. And, it’s ultimately an unenforceable contract. I’ve heard of other authors telling reviewers that they can only post reviews of three stars or better. Or arguing with readers who give story “spoilers.”

Ultimately it’s like trying to keep Tom Cruise from being cast in your movie: it might be terribly wrong, but it’s not a fight you can win.

As my friend Laura Bickle says, “I don’t want to die on that hill.”

A particularly poignant way of pointing out that we have to pick our battles. Fight for what you want, for what’s right, necessary and important.

But, really – don’t sweat the small stuff.

(Hint: it’s pretty much all small stuff.)

Viva! Happy! Fun!

Not an elaborate blog post today.

Really it’s just a Las Vegas recap. For those following along, you know David and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary last Thursday.

I’d always kind of thought we’d have a big party for our 20th, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Because David has gone back to school for his Doctor of Oriental Medicine, our funding isn’t what it used to be. So instead of hosting a beach-party celebration of some sort, we just scooted to Las Vegas for the weekend.

Yes, we had a lovely time.

We’ve discovered over the years that we’re happier if we stay at a new place, instead of recapitulating something we enjoyed before. We never seem to like it as much the second time. This time we stayed at the Paris resort and casino. We didn’t get the priciest room, but had a decent view and a nice spot at the end of a tower.

The highlight was our anniversary dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, overlooking the Bellagio fountains.

We had a late dinner, after the Criss Angel/Cirque du Soleil show Believe. Sadly, we did not believe. The show was criminally disappointing. Alas.

But this seafood bonanza for two was beyond words.

Followed by the best chocolate souffle I’ve ever had in my life.

Everything about the Eiffel Tower Restaurant was perfect and lovely. They treated us like royalty.

Which was most welcome, because lunch at Mon Ami Gabi earlier that day was quite the fiasco. For a hotel where every single person smiled, said hello, and welcomed us from housekeeping to the pool attendant, the hostess for outside seating at Mon Ami stood out for her everlasting bitchiness. She screwed with us, made wait over an hour while she seated people who arrived later than we. Perhaps we were supposed to tip her to seat us at an outside table. After an hour and ten minutes, when she tried to seat us inside – at a table we could have had with our reservation when we arrived – I pitched a fit and the manager got involved. Amusingly, as we stood in the dining room next to the inside table I didn’t want, Carrot Top, walked by, twice. It was kind of a surreal moment. And yes, he looks exactly the same in person, with the same boyish grin. At any rate, the manager made it good and we finally got to sit outside and recapitulate the meal we had on our 15th Anniversary.

Hard won romance, there.

We did a lot of walking around and looking at stuff. David commented how amazing it is that the money in Las Vegas allows for such spectacular experimental architecture and frivolous art. Best, it’s accessible to anyone who cares to walk around and see. This wall of fountains (above) at Aria is a must-see. They pulse the water at various speeds and volumes, then it falls over a textured wall, creating gorgeous patterns. The resort is beautiful beyond belief. If we can afford it, I’d love to stay there next time.

I loved these heat lamps that look like table lamps. If you all feel like chipping in to get me a present, I want one for my patio, okay?

A big change in Las Vegas in the last few years is all the outside seating available now. Lots of places had decks and patios, with very fun heat lamps making it possible for year-round use. We also ate lunch at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina and Tequila bar. Great deck, fab music and really wonderful staff, too. The margaritas were excellent, too.

We saw Blue Man Group and they were as amazing and inventive as I’d heard. Well worth the ticket price.

All in all, it was a terrific celebration and a very fun time together.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about the Guy in the Pink Suit and what I learned about rejection from him.

Platinum (!) Anniversary

Apparently it used to be the anniversary for gifts of China, but that’s passé. We’re platinum now, baby! Ironic that silver and gold come later, but you can hit platinum at 20 years.

There’s a moral in that somewhere.

At any rate: today is our 20th Anniversary!

(cue screaming crowds)

In honor of this special milestone, I thought I’d share the title essay with you from my book, Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel. It’s about our first date, the one that took place 20 years ago today.

I wrote this some time ago and a lot has changed since then. Still, it’s a fun read.

Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel

David warned me about the truck when he called for our first date. “I’ll have to pick you up in the race-beast, you know,” and he hesitated. I wondered what response he expected from me as I sifted through his deep, slow telephone voice for clues. Unaccustomed to being phoned up and asked to the movies in the first place, I felt on very uncertain ground reassuring him that the (“race-beast” did he say?) would be fine. The implication seemed clear that I knew about his car well enough to make an informed decision about riding in it and that any refined female might have reservations on the subject. The previous summer David had played on our co-ed softball team, “The Science Nerds,” and so I supposed that I had seen him come and go on wheels, but I hadn’t tucked away the sort of mental image he seemed to expect. I did suspect him of womanizing ways, a new divorcé out preying on tender young grad students, and so in my mind the race-beast took the shape of a sleek and sexy sports car, screaming seduction in every line and curve. Well, he had warned me and I would be ready.

Maybe not entirely ready for a brown ‘79 Ford pickup. Opening the front door to David, freshly shaven and handsome in his button-fly Levi’s and leather bomber jacket, I smiled, said hello and craned to look over his shoulder for the sports car I was to be wooed in. In the chill post-Super-Bowl party evening, the truck idled with the quiet and grace of an irritated water buffalo–ah, now I understood the “beast” part. David must have seen me eyeing the putative racing vehicle as he escorted me out to my sporadically choking and roaring chariot. Or he anticipated my reaction. “I did warn you,” he grinned down at me.

That grin proved to be my eventual undoing. My friends refer to David as “that man with the intense blue eyes and gorgeous smile.” Behind my back, I believe they discuss him as the reason I’ve never left Wyoming. He’s certainly the reason I now find myself occasionally navigating the race-beast around town.

In my early days in Wyoming, someone told me that there are more trucks registered in Wyoming than there are people living here. Taking into account that dozens of people around don’t own pickups, this implies that some people own dozens of trucks. Granted we do have the smallest population in the Union — as of the 1990 census we beat even Alaska — so we’re not talking millions of trucks. You do have to factor in the ranch concept — lots of ranches with many trucks. But it’s still an awful lot of trucks. When I called the Albany County Library to check this out, the reference librarian gently suggested that my pet statistic might be a popular myth. And she is correct. There were only 175,000 trucks registered as of July 1, 1996, which leaves 300,000 of us truckless.

* * *

“I would never move to Wyoming!” my college roommate yelled out her proclamation as she sat on the ratty couch in our St. Louis apartment, watching a tourism commercial for the state.
“And why would that be, Rachel?” I called back from my desk. I knew she had no personal experience farther west of the Mississippi than the city outskirts and she knew that I was considering graduate work in Wyoming. More than considering — I had pretty much decided upon it.

“Because once you move to Wyoming, you’re stuck. You never get out.” After ten years and a Master’s Degree, I have yet to escape.

* * *

David is not a cowboy, as many of my East Coast friends refer to him; actually he’s a fish pathologist. But his truck means as much to him as any trusty steed. The first vehicle he bought himself, the only real material good he salvaged from his divorce (except his traps and his stereo), this eyesore remains a source of pride and affection. He claims the annual elk hunt would be impossible without it — although he now uses my ‘82 Honda, Flash, to scout through the Snowies, as it consumes much less gas. Certain the truck becomes indispensable when the winter blizzards snow us in sufficiently David always happily turns the hubs in for four-wheel drive and barrels through the drifted streets, cackling manfully. He enjoys acting the part of the macho womanizer ever since I foolishly confessed my first-date thoughts. No one would guess the man fills his spare time reading Taoist philosophy and physics texts when he hollers out, “This shur is a fahn truck, w-man!”

Without the truck, our border collie, Cayenne, wouldn’t have her primary obsession. Riding in the pickup supersedes all other temptations for her, even food. She waits, almost patiently, by the front door, carefully not looking at the truck, unable to stand the anticipation. When the “OK” command releases her, she barrels at top speed, a black and white weasel shape burning through the two cottonwoods, arcing to the right (I won’t let David park the truck directly in front of the house we share) and flying in a single leap over the side, ready for the slower humans necessary to make it go. A dog in a truck — sometimes a gun too, but always bullets or empty shells rolling around — links a man to his heritage. It’s what his dad had up in Cody. Oh, and your girlfriend riding in the middle, so you can pat her on the thigh as you shift gears. That part is kind of nice.

* * *

For the true Wyomingite trucks (and other lesser autos) are an extension of the individual. David can recognize anybody by their vehicle. “Joe’s down at the Ranger again,” he’ll inform me. When I ask how he knows, he looks at me funny and replies, “Well, I saw his truck.” And woe to me if I happen to drive past the Red Buttes Environmental Station without noting who’s working. After all, it’s only a quarter-mile from the highway, and you can see the small dirt parking lot plain as day. As we drive down the street, David waves to passing cars. “Who was that?” I ask, spending more time looking back than forward. He always knows.

I think that I must not look at cars and trucks the way David does. I grew up in Denver, a place Wyoming people dread to motor through, and I know city traffic. In fact, I pride myself on being an excellent driver. My mother taught me, and she’s an excellent driver, too. We like to drive fast, decisively and efficiently. I have contempt for the hesitant motorist and no patience with the oblivious. Instead of looking at cars, I see spaces. Opportunities. I watch the gaps open and close, widen and lengthen. The people in the objects around me become less relevant than their speed and vector. I think this ability to focus is part of what makes me alert and confident behind the wheel. And it’s important to me to feel that way. At least, up until recently.

* * *

There’s an old saying that in our strengths lay the seeds of our downfall. Always reliable and with a spotless motor vehicles record, in high school I worked for a law firm as a runner. Zipping around the city in my little ‘76 hatchback — Folly, the Accord that preceded Flash — I could go to any address in the metropolitan area, usually by the fastest route. When I drove from college in St. Louis to New York for a wedding, my friend said not to worry about the city traffic because I would fit right in. This may not have been a compliment. I have navigated Chicago, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco, Boston. Black ice for 50 miles through northern Colorado couldn’t keep me back; and I’ve driven over Vail and Rabbit Ears Passes through blinding snowstorms. But I can’t drive that damned truck.

Occasionally I have no choice. Between us, we have three vehicles. But Flash’s battery died of neglect last winter and I put off buying another, afraid that a more severe problem would emerge. And the new Accord, Allan, that David and I bought together from the Allens who could no longer afford him, has to take David down to Greeley for class on Mondays. His truck guzzles too much for distances, and doesn’t handle all those curves fast enough through icy Telephone Canyon.

So one stormy evening last March, I had to drive the monster. Even though it was brutally cold out, I would have walked to workshop and wouldn’t have minded walking back through the snow at 10 pm. One of the things I like best about my town is that I can walk anywhere, even by myself, and at night, too. But I had errands to run; I grabbed the rented videos, my notebooks and critiqued stories, shouldered my purse and strode purposefully out to the beast.

* * *

A certain amount of bravado seems to help. Like a horse, this sort of truck senses fear. Carefully inserting the worn key in the eye-level door lock, I slowly turned it against the cold metal. David has warned me that the slightly twisted key could break off in the lock, especially in the -20 weather. Closing my eyes, I sent a brief supplication to the truck spirits, who I knew were awaiting the smallest error. It worked; the key emerged with only slight protest. After wrenching the door ajar, I tried to keep it propped open with my shoulder while levering my things up, pushing them as far as my arms could reach, to clear enough space to climb in. Usually the door closes over me, hopefully not too hard, and holds me up against the frame as I scrabble about. Fortunately I was wearing my black wool slacks, so I didn’t have to hike my skirts up to my crotch to make that first big step up. But as I stretched my right foot up to hip height, grabbing the steering wheel like the monkey bars at my grade school, I could feel the seam split down the back of my pants. Fine. My leather duster is long, I would just wear it for the next three hours.

If I sit on the very edge of the seat and stretch my left leg fully, I can just get the clutch down far enough to shift. The seat, of course, doesn’t come forward. No worries about seat-belts; they don’t work either. I gently revved the engine, tenderly attending to its every snort and growl. Apparently I tend to “wrap it up” too much, and so I have to work to balance letting the idle die or bringing the drive shaft through the floor. David assured me that this is not only possible, but very likely if I don’t lose my attachment to driving a working machine like it was a Honda. Perching forward, my chin practically on the steering wheel, I realized I looked like a little old lady. “There goes Ma Kettle, out for her Sunday drive,” my mother would exclaim impatiently as she passed the Impala hovering in the left lane. She never liked driving to my grandmother’s retirement community, because the traffic would slow so measurably as we approached, with “Little grey heads everywhere!” I felt for those little heads now, as I slowed for the stop sign half a block ahead because the brakes are so soft.

Shall I reveal the further banal details? How the gutter below the video return box sloped with ice, so I could maneuver my peevish tank only within two feet — too far to reach through the window, too close to open the door fully enough to get out. How the engine died as I crossed Third Street, forcing oncoming cars to wait as I nursed the brute back to life. That truck brought me to tears as I wobbled and hesitated down the icy street, and for the first time in my life I felt like a fragile female.
I broke my nails to the quick scratching a mugger in St. Louis and never thought to be afraid. I’ve traveled alone through a blizzard in eastern Colorado when they closed the interstate around us, stopping only to help a gal who had pulled over, too afraid to continue. I followed her into Limon and got us both hotel rooms. I am strong, capable and confident, but that unnameable truck brought me to my knees.

* * *

On my knees, the perspective is different. The small defeats in life take on greater proportions. Little choices, brief moments reverberate with endless sound and color. Feeling helpless and defeated, especially in, let’s face it, an exceedingly ridiculous situation, can be very useful to the efficiently arrogant. I find it interesting that it’s not necessarily the challenges we choose that teach the lasting lessons.

Living in Wyoming was never my intent. As a “greenie” — a local term for Coloradans with their green license plates — I had never given the state a specific thought. In fact, it seems that very few people give Wyoming a specific thought. I amuse and irritate myself now and then by watching the weather channel to see if the forecasters ever say the word “Wyoming.” I don’t have abundant free time for this dubious activity, but I have never once heard it. They say Great Plains, the Rockies, Denver, the Northern Plains. I’m sure I’ve heard the Dakotas discussed, Montana mentioned in passing and always ski reports in Colorado. I have heard Jackson Hole bandied about and sometimes Big Piney or Pinedale wins the national overnight cold spot award; but I remain unconvinced that anyone knows those places are in Wyoming.

It’s odd, and sometimes difficult, to live in a place that does not appear on the cultural map. Our department head once called Chicago to reserve Cubbies tickets for his upcoming visit. When giving his mailing address, the operator asked, “Now, Wyoming — Is that in the United States?” He replied that the sale to Canada had not yet been finalized.

We love to tell each other these stories. We share a mixture of delight at remaining undiscovered and righteous anger at the negligence of our countrymen. I have come to think a lot like a Wyomingite. I relish the difficulties of living here; I savor the beauty that strikes my heart and weakens my legs. I don’t like Senator Al Simpson, but I take a perverse pride in his obdurate methods. I work with people like him. If nothing else, they seem more alive, more rooted in the earth and daily living somehow, than the folk of other places. Some of us fight for the wilderness, some for improving our woeful economy through the energy industry, but to live here is to develop a deep love for the sere land and the challenges it poses, even when the challenges take the form of intractable trucks.

David became the immediate reason for me to stay and it seemed like a small choice at the time. A matter of a few months and a fling. But I’ve come to know this man as I’ve come to know Wyoming over a decade of my life. Yes, and the truck, too. And now I find that I like who I am here. A place that has brought me to my knees in both despair and wonder must have something to teach me. I am profoundly happy here. Growing, too.

I don’t drive the truck unless I have to. But I can do it. Mostly I enjoy insulting it whenever possible, while David sings its praises. When I argue that it is not a “woman-getting machine,” as he fondly calls it, David smiles equably and murmurs, “It got you, didn’t it?”

Hungry for those Good Things, Baby

Yesterday was our anniversary — 19 years now.

And yes, I’d planned this blog post for yesterday, but I had an early meeting in downtown Santa Fe that expanded ever outwards and kept me there until 4:30.

So, January 27 for us, which was Superbowl Sunday back in 1991. It’s hard for me to see how nearly twenty years have gone by, how it’s possible that the 90s aren’t recent years.

I’m very lucky to have found him and spent these years together.

The night before last, we watched Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. I love that David doesn’t complain about watching movies like that with me. Of course, anything with some comedy and lots of pretty women is generally good for him.

I recall a few years back, David went hunting with a divorced bachelor friend. They were up in the mountains for a week, doing the guy thing and came back all scruffy and pleased with themselves. We saw on the patio in the warm Autumn sunshine and they told me about the week. The friend said that he was amazed that I didn’t pitch a fit about David taking off for a week like his ex-wife would have. And how, when he’d mentioned it to David, he’d said “I do what I want to.” I expressed surprise that anyone would think I’d try to stop David from doing something he enjoyed. (Besides, a week to myself to write? Sign me up!) Then David asked me what I wanted to do that night and I said “Oh! Wimbledon is at the movie theater — Paul Bettany! I want to see that.” David said okay and the friend starting laughing, slapping his knee. “Oh yeah!” he says, “you do what you want, all right.”

And, I thought, you just don’t get it.

After Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was over, we sat and sipped some brandy and talked about love. This is another thing I love about David. We talked about the theme in the movie — and this is a Spoiler Alert, if it’s possible to spoil a plot as pat as that one — that somehow the childhood love is purer and more meant to be than any other. Which I just don’t buy. I don’t like it in romance novels, the instant mate bond/fated love kind of thing. I much prefer when strangers come together, have to learn each other, have to learn to accommodate each other and earn the love.

David told me that Osho, one of his current favorites, says that the sensation of falling in love, of the irresistible passion, the Meant for Each Other, instant mate bond kind of thing is all unconscious. That people should aspire to upward love, which is about conscious choice.

When people ask me our “secret,” our special formula for our happy relationship, this is what I want to explain to them. It’s about being happy doing what makes the other person happy. It’s about making conscious choices to be together and enjoy each other.

It’s about upward love.

January 27

Eighteen years ago today, David and I went on our first date. It was on a Sunday evening, after the Superbowl (because I had a party to go to and he had the kids for the weekend). And it was bone-cold with hard frozen snow everywhere, like it is now. For many years, we celebrated on Superbowl Sunday, because it seemed more congruent with the original event. Over time, however, as the Superbowl migrated farther and farther into February, it began to seem silly. We had to look up the original date. From the list of Superbowls, of course.

But now things have come around and the Superbowl is this Sunday. I don’t know which we’ll observe, tonight or Sunday. We never seem to come up with all that much to do to celebrate, which is okay, too.

For many years we talked about reprising our first date. The problem there? It was a terrible first date. It was cold, it was late. There had been a huge going away party on Friday night, I’d gone on a long ski excursion Saturday, chili and beer all afternoon hadn’t perked me up, I wasn’t sure of him, the movie was terrible, he asked if he made me nervous and dropped me off. We didn’t kiss until our third date. And no, I don’t know that date at all, except that it was well after Valentine’s Day. Long story. Suffice to say, it took us a while to recover from the first date.

“Your anniversary of what??” a friend once asked scathingly. I notice that people (read: other women) with wedding anniversaries get upset when I mention our first-date anniversary. They’ll often trot out their own dating history and tell me what their cumulative count would be, if they counted from the first date and not the wedding. They almost dare me to argue, which I never do. The beginning is the beginning, no matter how inauspicious. I’ve come to believe that a bad beginning holds all the luck in the world.

Happy Anniversary, My Dear!