Valentines and Giveaways

So, what ever became of the characters from Between the Lies…

Cari and Tristan’s wedding is a week away! They’ll be married on February 22nd, which, of course, is the Stoneciphers’ and Stoddards’ 5th anniversary (who could deny Gemma her wish?). The bride and groom will be have the ceremony at St. Eustachius University in Seattle, with Jazmyn as maid of honor and Tristan’s best mate from London, Andrew, serving as best man. Andrew is single and just as wonderful as Tristan, and, yes, Jazmyn is swooning every time she hears his voice. They’ve got similar snarky personalities, so don’t be surprised if there’s another intercontinental wedding this time next year…

Ben is taking things slow, working part time with his father while majoring in Criminology at SEU. He’s done with romance…for a little while anyway…and he’s taken to walking his new puppy, a Golden Retriever named Gracie, at the local park near the campus. Ben’s not stupid; the college women come flocking to pet Gracie, and Ben’s been very friendly. When the time is right, though, when the time is right…

Nicky and Alexei, with Vasily’s help, have relocated to a small town north of Vancouver, Canada. With the adoption legalized, Alex (as he now wants to be called) has taken to calling Nick “Dad.” Vasily’s still connected enough to monitor their safety and, thus far, everything’s been peaceful. In fact, there’s a pretty teacher at Alex’s school who’s caught Nicky’s eye…

And as for Grigor? Well, when you read about a mysterious “accident” somewhere in the world that may or may not be mafia-related, you’ll have a pretty good idea as to who’s responsible…

Want a chance to read lots of Omnific books? Valentine’s Day marks Omnific’s 3rd anniversary and you’ve got a chance to fill a book-filled Kindle!

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for THREE GREAT YEARS!

What’s in a Name? Part 2: Characters & Places

A friend of mine, Jeanie London, has published over thirty novels (In the Cold is my favorite!). Most, if not all, of her stories include names of family members and friends. Two of the books I’ve read include her niece and nephews, whom I have known since they were entering elementary school. She doesn’t necessarily make real people into her characters, but it is kind of neat that she’s included them.

In Between the Lies, I included my best friend’s name on a neon sign — “Jami’s Fried Chicken – Voted Best in Oregon,” an homage to her teaching me how to make the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. I also morphed her two daughters’ names to become Jazmyn Riley, main character Cari’s colleague and friend. One of the basketball players, Walker Jamison, is also a shout out to Jami, who played basketball in high school. The other player mentioned in the story, Dan Morrisette, was named as a tribute to two family members who lost their lives to cancer: my brother-in-law Dan (known as Danny to his family — the character’s parents also call their son Danny), and my father, whose middle name was Morris. Good, faithful men taken way too soon.

The other real character in the story is Canyonville librarian Judy Jones, a sweet friend of my mother who so graciously allowed my first book, Passion Fish, to be one of their book club’s selections.

Aleynekov was the last name of my former next door neighbors — and story inspiration Dmitry’s inlaws’ last name (they weren’t evil, though). I’d originally had my female assassin, Evgenia Aleynekova, named Elena Kovach, but I thought readers would figure out too quickly it was a play on Aleynekov’s last name. Besides, my friend Elena Dimitrova and her husband were so helpful with the Bulgarian in the book and trailer, I didn’t want a bad person sharing her name!

As I’ve noted, Canyonville and Bainbridge Island are real places — Jami and I had a blast doing “research” for my book, always taking pictures to help me better describe scenes. St. Eustachius University is based on Seattle Pacific University. I considered using the real name, but given some people at the fictional university aren’t so nice, I didn’t want anyone thinking I was basing my characters on real people. My husband helped me find a suitable new name by searching saints’  names; I wanted the name to be the patron saint of something linked to a theme in the book. Keep that in mind as you read…

I hope it makes the reading more interesting knowing some of the thought that went into various names. And just FYI, Tristan Saunders was originally going to be Andrew Chastaine…a name I still like and may use in another book down the road.

Now, go read Between the Lies and tell me what you think!

 

What’s in a Name? Part 1: Pen Names

Many friends have asked me why I chose to use a pen name.

Well, to be honest, I was worried that people would think differently of the person they knew after reading Passion Fish, which has a decent amount of steam (the movie version would — WILL someday? – be rated R). “What?! I go to church with her!” I also have two teenage sons who are, as would be expected, a good bit mortified that their mother writes romance novels. I wanted to spare them embarrassment at school by creating a separate entity that, for the most part, isn’t easily traced to my real identity. The choice to use a pen name has its drawbacks, especially when I’m trying to get my books “out there” without necessarily revealing the reason I’m pushing them so hard. It becomes moot when people look inside the back cover and, ta-da!, there’s my mug for all to see!

Once that first question is answered, the second — how I chose my pen name — is almost immediate. More (and maybe too much) honesty for you: I started writing fanfiction and had a pen name that was long enough that it was abbreviated “AO.” When I wanted to create a pen name for publishing my first book (sorry, Mom, but I’ve never liked my given name), I knew I wanted to still be AO. I have always loved the name Alison — spelled this way – ever since meeting my first best friend, Paige, whose middle name was spelled this way. That took care of the first half of my new name. Oburia came from my great-great-grandmother: Caroline Oburia Bonzey.

Thus, Alison Oburia — AO — became my alter ego. Once in a while someone will mispronounce my last name; it’s oh-BYUR-ee-ah (the BYUR pronounced as in bureau) but I gently correct and move on. Oburia doesn’t seem to exist as a surname, not even in my own family history, but when I Googled it, I found out if one adds a question mark after it, it means “Is it not so?” in Igbo, a language spoken by a particular ethnic group in southern Nigeria. Who knew!

Next blog: What’s in a Name? Part 2: Character Names

 

Between the Lies is HERE!

I’m so excited to announce my new book, Between the Lies, is now available in print and as an e-book!

Over the next few days, I want to share some things about the book that may add to your reading experience — or, if you’re not sure you want to read it, may convince you to!

I guess technically this book was about 15 years in the making, starting with the mafia’s attack on a Ukrainian accountant named Dmitry. I met Dmitry about 10 years ago and learned his extensive injuries were a message to his company to “stop looking for the money” that was missing. His story stayed in my head, and when I had the chance to participate in an author’s auction — people bid on authors to write them 3 chapters of an original story — I began writing a fictional version of Dmitry’s story. After the 3 chapters were delivered to the person who “bought” them, I realized I didn’t want to stop there. I moved the beating event to Bulgaria because, after doing some research, found that this country still has a strong mafia presense.

For the US part of the story, I chose the small town of Canyonville, Oregon, where my best friend lives. When I visited there, I knew this was the place I wanted to set most of my story. I’ve included real places — Ken’s Sidewalk Cafe, Canyon Cafe, Ray’s, and the Seven Feathers Casino — and fictionalized others. The bed and breakfast is based on the dorm of a Christian school; the community center in the story is actually a church next to the dorm. And some of the places mentioned on Bainbridge Island, Washington, are real as well, right down to the aisles of the Safeway. Fictional St. Eustachius University is my remaking of Seattle Pacific University. My friend and I visited the campus, spoke with some of the professors, and looked in classrooms and offices.

I love mixing the real with the fictional, so I tried hard to be as accurate as possible with details I knew people could check. Some places, like the Canyonville Library, had to be fictionalized; the real library is quite tiny from what I understand. The library I described is really more like the first library I ever went to as a child many (MANY) years ago in equally small-town Norfolk, Massachusetts.

I hope that if you’ve ever visited Bainbridge Island, Canyonville, or even Norfolk, you’ll see places I’ve fictionalized as well as those I kept as real as possible.

Enjoy!

Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Are lies ever acceptable? Are there certain lies that can never be forgiven?

I taught a college writing course for freshmen a few years ago. It was an interesting course: every semester, two books on a random topic were selected and the students would write a series of papers, responding to prompts.  One semester, the topic was Lying.

We discussed and they wrote about reasons people lie. In writing about their own lying, most justified their words and actions – to avoid punishment, fines, relationship issues, revenge, etc. Some students regretted their decisions…often because the consequences for being caught were far worse than if they’d told the truth in the first place. Some still looked over their shoulders, wondering if they’d ever be found out.

Of course, when the tables were turned – they were the ones lied to – the tolerance level was much lower. Despite the inconsistency of their thinking, many students still felt it was okay for them to lie but rarely acceptable for others to lie to them. (My favorite student, Ben, wrote about how his father had lied to him in telling bed-time stories about “Doris the Moo Cow.” In a wonderfully formatted, tongue-in-cheek-yet-dead-on-topic paper, he wrote that his father had deliberately lied about Doris’s adventures – a cow couldn’t drive a car or talk or live in a house like people do! Ben wondered if he should forgive his father for the blatant lies; he wondered if he could trust his father about other things like vegetables being healthy and doctor shots hurting just a little.)

But in my new novel, Between the Lies (due out this fall), the deception goes much further than manipulating a little boy’s imagination. Some of the lies will save the individual telling them; some will save others. Some of the lies are to block out a horrible past; others are to avoid a dangerous future.

Is there a situation where lying really is the only path to freedom or redemption or safety? When is the risk of a lie preferable to the risk of telling the truth?

The motives of each character’s lies will, I hope, remain a mystery to readers until I choose to reveal them. By the end of the novel, some of the characters will be despised, while others will be forgiven. As readers turn the pages, more and more truths will be revealed…Between the Lies.

Perfect Men…Almost

I like my men almost perfect.

I’m of course talking about the male protagonists in my stories. And why not? The fiction I write is almost real, why not its men almost perfect? And to me, almost perfect men know how to bring me to tears—in a good way. I write for the romantics in the world. I love writing story lines and scenes that make me cry. I love when I can feel the pain, angst, elation, heartbreak, and anger my characters experience because of the situations I’ve put them in. It’s what makes me enjoy other authors’ work—stories with characters who could be real, could be living right next door, could be me.

Men I’ve created include Will Prentiss, thoughtful millionaire (Passion Fish), Paul Workman, widowed high school principal (“The Bridge”), and Tristan Saunders, British accountant on the run from the mafia (Between the Lies, due out Fall 2012).

You must understand up front that I cry at the drop of a hat. My breaking point when reading emotional passages is much lower than your average Joe. Still, every time I read Will’s speech in Passion Fish, when he’s announcing the grant winner, I tear up. When he shows Eve how much he loves her, I tear up. Yes, he’s wealthy and could buy her anything, but you know he’d give it all up just to be with her.

In my short story “The Bridge,” when Paul visits the graves of his wife and daughter, I tear up. When he tells Kate, a stranger, that the love of her life isn’t going to show up on the bridge, I tear up. And when the story comes to a close, with hope for tomorrow for both of them…yep, I tear up at that too.

In my new novel, Between the Lies, I think much of my sentimentality comes from knowing that Tristan Saunders was based on a real person I knew. Dmitry was a Ukrainian accountant who had it all: a fiancé, a great job in post-communist Kiev, plenty of friends, and lots to look forward to…until he discovered money—lots of money—missing from the company he worked for. Money that two thugs with metal pipes “warned” him to forget about…or else. The mafia had sent a message through him to his company: Stop looking for the money.

I met Dmitry five years after his encounter with the mafia, which left him hospitalized for three months. His fiancé had left him, he’d lost his job (although the company paid him a hefty settlement), and for a while his sole focus was literally getting back on his own two feet. By the time we met, he was doing better. He’d married someone else and had a three-year-old daughter he adored. We stayed in touch for a while, but then the emails across the globe eventually stopped. He’d promised me he was safe, and I assume he still is. In my novel, I put so much of the real Dmitry into fictional Tristan. Dmitry was almost perfect. What he went through made me cry. Maybe knowing that Tristan is based on a real person, you’ll ache for him when he’s hurting. Maybe you’ll even cry.

Romantic Gestures

Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?

Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic.

– Sleepless In Seattle (1993,TriStar Pictures)

Oh, that scene was classic. Meg Ryan’s character, Annie, got tears in her eyes as she listened to the radio call-in show, and so did every romantic person watching that movie. And then, in the last scene, Sam takes Annie’s hand, and we know that it’s… magic.

What real romance doesn’t start with non-romantic gestures? I mean, the attraction has to start somewhere. There’s got to be a lead-in to that first kiss that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Something has to make us want to have that first kiss.

In the newly released novel Small Town Girl, by fellow Omnific author Linda Cunningham, if sparks hadn’t already been flying between main characters Lauren and Caleb, I can say that a real clincher for Lauren would have been as she watched Caleb, a firefighter, walk around with a little girl, showing his ‘future dad’-ness as he put her on the fire engine during the county fair. In Nicki Elson’s Three Daves (one of my favorite books ever), Jen and David #1 are so not romantic that they’re able to trust each other completely. They’re in love long before either of them ever realizes it. The smartly written With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane has two main characters who know they shouldn’t get involved because of their own personal “baggage,” but their interactions slowly lead them into each other’s arms anyway.

In Passion Fish, I loved writing about Will’s first encounter with Eve. He watches how she interacts with her staff at the museum and he’s thoroughly entranced. Yes, he finds her attractive, but he’s looking at more than that. He’s subconsciously already making a list of reasons why he’s attracted to her: she’s smart, gets along well with her colleagues and employees, and carries herself as confident without being showy or demeaning. When he sees her again at the bar that night, he still doesn’t know her name, but he jumps at the chance to play the Passion Fish game, just so he can kiss her…anonymously. It isn’t until they’ve spent time together (through a number of chapters) that her attraction, and “list,” catches up to his. By the time they share their second kiss, you know that it’s true love.

I like romances—books or movies—where the attraction is warranted. When couples proclaim true love with little to back it up, it results in a contrived plot. I like to see from one character’s perspective what makes the love interest special above all others. “I’m attracted to him/her because…” – and the sentence is completed with a realistic list of ‘why’s. That’s where I feel Romeo & Juliet missed the mark; we’re simply told that they’re captivated by and instantly in love with each other. No “well, I met him through a friend” or “we’ve known each other for years” pre-romance background. It’s a fantastic story as a whole, and I believe that love at first sight can happen, but it just makes the romance less believable. And while I am a Twilight fan in general, I readily admit I’ve never figured out why Edward loved Bella so completely or why Bella was “irrevocably” in love with Edward when they honestly had little in common and barely knew each other. The Jacob-Bella romance made more sense; they could at least list concrete reasons they liked each other.

My next book, which I just finished, is a slow romance with international intrigue—lots of cautious flirting embedded within a bigger plot than romance that will bring the main characters closer and closer to that critical first-kiss moment. My readers will never be in doubt that they’re meant to be together; I’m just not rushing things. By the time that first kiss happens, you can list reasons why they want to be together. That also makes the conflict more realistic, I think, because you’ve been in the characters’ heads for so long that you feel the heartbreak when one lets the other down.

And so I ask you: what’s on your list of romantic gestures that makes you feel those first pangs of attraction? What has someone done that made you want to get to know him or her more? What are your thoughts on love at first sight?

Be sure to check out other authors’ blogs at http://omnificpublishing.blogspot.com/

Next Week: Pick-up Lines

Second Chances

Just glad to have a second chance at all of it!”

That’s what my friend, Scott, has posted on his Facebook page. It’s been there since he got married a few years ago to the girl next door—and I mean that literally. She was the girl next door.

He’d been married for about ten years, had two children, and was fighting to make it work, going above and beyond the call of duty to make things peaceful at home. I met him about eight years into the marriage, when our sons became good friends in school. We chatted often over the next few years, and when that first marriage ended, he admitted he’d known he was in a losing battle for far too many years. He was angry, bitter, and maybe even a little bit lost. He was working hard, keeping in touch with friends, learning to be independent again. He found a nice apartment that would accommodate his children on “his” days and weekends. Soon after moving in, he met his next door neighbor, Liz, a young teacher living with a friend she taught with.

Liz had the patience of a saint and a smile bright as day when he needed it—especially whenever the ex-wife was involved. They were married two years later during a surprise birthday party Scott planned for her (she wasn’t expecting the party, let alone a pastor waiting in the wings). They now have a beautifully expressive baby boy along with two teens and, yeah, it’s obvious to everyone who’s known Scott over the past few years how happy he is at this second chance.

See, I like this kind of stuff! And I know I’m not alone—Lifetime and Hallmark movie channels are on the air because of other romantics like me who are suckers for a good love story (the more tissues needed, the better the story). Same goes for book sales, with the “romance” genre being consistently a top seller.

I’ve been working sporadically on Book #3 (while finishing up Book #2). It features four main characters, three of whom are getting a second chance at love. Two are widowed—they’d had good love and good marriages and stuck to the “til death do you part” clause. They didn’t expect, or want, to be in their forties and single again. The third character is divorced—and is admittedly an amalgam of Scott along with two other friends who tried in vain to make their marriages work.

I’m writing this story of fictional characters while watching my friends’ real lives unfold. I can make my characters maintain hope for a second chance at love; I can put each of them in the right scene with the right person to make it happen. And as I’ve noted before, I’m a romantic. My stories will always have the slow-building (and flirty!) romance, conflicts that only true love can handle, and a Happily Ever After ending. (By the way, if you’re new to my writing, you can get a snippet of my romantic nature by reading the excerpt from “The Bridge,” a short story that’s also about second chances. Click on the link at the top of the page.)

What’s nice to observe, though, is that my other two soon-to-be-divorced friends haven’t given up on second chances either. They believe a Happily Ever After is just a chapter or two away. Those chapters may be years in the making, but the hope remains. When the right scene and the right person comes along, it’ll be Hallmark-channel-three-tissues worthy.

And I’ll tell you right now, I can hardly wait.

Next Week: Romantic Gestures

Be sure to check out other authors’ blog posts at http://omnificpublishing.blogspot.com/

Blind Dates

If you’ve never seen the 1987 movie Blind Date, starring Bruce Willis, Kim Basinger, and John Larroquette, you should. Walter (Willis) and Nadia (Basinger) start their night innocently enough: attending a business dinner for his company at a nice restaurant. Walter’s been warned that Nadia goes “wild” when she drinks, but he pours her a glass of champagne anyway. Sure enough, that little drink…and then another few…will spark a series of unfortunate events that soon include Nadia’s ex-boyfriend and resident stalker, David. Just when we think it can’t get any worse for Walter, it does. It’s a funny movie, well-acted throughout.

I’ve been on exactly two blind dates. I can remember exactly half of those. And the extent to which I remember that date is limited to these two facts: my mother set us up, and we ate in a booth at a TGI Friday’s or Bennigan’s. I don’t remember his name, what he looked like, what I ate, what we talked about…nothing. Total blank. I wouldn’t be surprised if I left as forgettable an impression on What’s-His-Name as well. No biggie. It was fine, if not bland.

My favorite story of a blind date, however, involves my parents, Dot and Ed, circa 1957. Ed was set up with Dot’s friend Nancy. Nancy didn’t want  to go alone, so she brought Dot along and Ed brought his friend, Dave. Dot and Dave knew each other slightly so the foursome-thing worked out quite nicely. Nancy confided in Dot that she had a hat pin (women wore hats back then – picture Jackie Kennedy) just in case Ed “got fresh” with her at all (he didn’t – Ed was the perfect gentleman).

The group had a good time, but afterward, Ed confessed to Dave that, while Nancy was all right, he wanted to know if Dot was single. She was. They married the following year and were a week shy of their 42nd anniversary when cancer took Ed away. Eleven years later, Dot still wears his ring, he visits her in her dreams, and when the time comes, she’ll be buried beside him. Happily ever after.

But before we get too melancholy here, let’s get back to the subject of blind dates. Most of us, I think, will experience at least one blind date in our lives. Who’s the most reliable at setting these up for us? Mothers? Friends? Co-workers? Who do we trust to set us up on a blind date? I love to fancy myself a good matchmaker, but if I mention some ideal pairing of two people my husband also knows, more often than not, he’ll completely disagree. I guess that’s because I’m the romantic and he’s the realist. I focus on the giddy first-date-ness of it all; he sees the bigger picture of unmatched political or religious beliefs, personality styles, educational background, etc.  I’ll always concede that he’s right (because in these cases he is) and simply sigh about the “what ifs” of that first date that will never be.

Sigh.

So, my questions for you this week:

1. What kind of blind dates have you been on?

2. Who set up the best/worst blind date for you?

3. Have you set up a blind date – and if so, how did it go? (Are they still speaking to you?)

4. If you’re good at setting up blind dates, what’s your secret for success?

 

Next Week: Second Chances

Be sure to check out other authors’ blogs at http://omnificpublishing.blogspot.com/

First Dates

I went on my last first date in January 1989, and I cried all the way home.

Nine weeks later, we were engaged.

I’ll back up to the “cried all the way home” part since I’m guessing that comes as odd in the grand scheme of a less-than-three-months’ timeframe.

I was twenty-six when I met my husband-to-be at a restaurant/bar. He’d actually taken me by surprise when he asked me out because (1) he interrupted his best friend who was maneuvering to do the same thing, (2) he’d not even said a word to me when we’d casually met the week before, and (3) he was “old” – sixteen years older than me, as it turned out. I had no other date prospects (other than his best friend who, thank heavens, didn’t ask first), so I figured I could handle a night out with “the old guy.”

We agreed over the phone a few days later to meet at a very nice restaurant the following Wednesday. As soon as I arrived, he said, “You were in a dream I had the other night.”

Big. Red. Flag.

My deer-in-headlights look let him know he needed to regroup quickly or things were going to head downhill. “What I mean is, I had a dream, nothing special, but you walked by in the background. That’s never happened to me before. You must have made a good impression on me.”

Okay, that was a good save on his part. We continued on to dinner. Romantic setting, live trees decorated with lots of little white lights, brick floor and walls, fresh flowers and candles, Caesar salad made fresh at our table (a first for me). It was the nicest restaurant I’d ever been to, but here was the kicker: despite our age difference, we talked about everything. Neither of us dominated the conversation; both of us found the other to be intelligent and intriguing.

We talked for four hours. Four hours. FOUR HOURS! Thank heavens the restaurant was open late.

Afterward, he walked me to my car, asked if I’d like to meet for breakfast and go to EPCOT the following Saturday (I said yes), and then he hugged me goodnight. That was it. No kiss…no need for one.

And I cried the whole way home because I was shocked at how much I liked this guy…this middle-aged guy…this guy who was getting out of high school when I was getting out of diapers!

He kissed me quickly on our second date, kissed me good on our third, and told me he wanted to marry me on our fourth.  When we were officially engaged nine weeks after meeting, I knew for sure he was the one. Twenty-three years, two sons, and a few jobs and moves later, he’s still the one. And it all started with a four-hour conversation on our first date.

For the record, he always claims that his “no first date kiss” thing was him being suave.

It worked.

So, how many of you knew on a first date that you’d found “the one”? What were the signs for you? A great kiss? No kiss? Something said or done that took you by surprise? Tell me your story.

Next Week: Blind Dates

See other author blogs at the Omnific Author! Author! Blog Bounce at http://omnificpublishing.blogspot.com/