The Perfect Cover and the perfect cover

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I was in a brave, optimistic place this summer. I survived a gall bladder attack and a subsequent surgery and realized I could work in the pool while drinking White Claws and Trulys. There was also an open call from Avon for unagented manuscripts so I decided to shoot my shot, since this was Sarah’s summer. “What are my strengths, self?” I asked and my response was “Antiheroes and underdogs?” I knew I wanted an agent of some sort and to pair him with someone who wouldn’t be impressed, or interested, really. I decided a very tired suburban father would be fun but the more I learned about Grant, the more I realized that his story would be a tough one and that he was the real hero of the book. How does a man end up a single father? There aren’t a lot of good reasons, are there? I decided this was a good time to introduce a character who was beautiful and heroic in a very different way. Grant is a lot like me, and I suspect a lot of my readers, in that he suffers from depression and anxiety. He isn’t depressed or anxious because his husband died or because his neighbors are spies. He’s always struggled with depression and has terrible anxiety, like the hundreds of millions of people around the world who struggle with mental illness in their daily lives. As a result, I told on myself a whole lot, in writing Grant. I even gave him a big goofy dog for a best friend, named Edgar. But, I promise, this isn’t a sad book. Grant’s story is a sad one but our dashing agent sees the hero in him and makes it his mission to make the shy but secretly kinky widower laugh again. There’s also the matter of the Chinese spies living next door and Grant’s daughter, Audrey, and his sister-in-law have matchmaking schemes aplenty. I lost my best friend just as I was finishing The Perfect Cover. My Milo passed away and it was hard to edit a book about a depressed man with a big goofy dog, being a severely depressed woman without her dog. Then, Avon passed on The Perfect Cover and while I was disappointed, I was glad that I could finally share what I think is a sexy, fun and very honest book with my readers. What I wasn’t excited about was the title and the cover. For months, it was called “Hopkins Creek” because I hoped Avon would want it and someone more savvy might help with a decent title and I didn’t even think about covers. God, I hate titles and covers. But once they passed, I had a book to self-publish and sell so I stopped crying and put on my thinking cap. I’ve been on the fence about illustrated covers on romance books but since “Hopkins Creek” wasn’t like my Lake Cliff books I wanted something that would signal that to readers so a different cover made sense. I found some cute illustrated guys and an extremely adorable dog among the stock pictures and my spirits lifted as I tinkered on Photoshop. I used The Perfect Cover as a place holder because I thought I was being cheeky and meta but Melissa loved the title and pointed out that it worked, so I left it! What do you think of the final result? And how about a whole chapter excerpt from The Perfect Cover?

“Don’t ignore the alarm when it goes off. You’ll forget to take your pills,” Audrey scolded absently as she typed on her phone and Grant snorted.

“I think I can remember to take my pills,” he replied and she hummed in agreement.

“I like pretending you weren’t puffy and covered in hives when you picked me up last month too,” she said dryly. “Just take your meds when the alarm goes off or you’ll forget.”

“I will,” Grant promised. It wasn’t just his allergy meds, he got behind with his Effexor and caught up with his depression and anxiety. He spent the last half of the month on the couch watching old family movies and eating ice cream in the dark. “I’m glad it’s just three days this time. A month is way too long,” he complained.

“I’ve got bad news, dad. College is significantly longer than a month and then I’m never coming back,” she said then flashed him a sweet smile. “I’m kidding. I’ll miss you and come home so I can do my laundry at least once a month,” she promised. Grant glared at the windshield. He hated that she was sixteen.

“Why can’t you wait and go to college when you’re eighteen?” He asked and she sighed as they turned into the high school parking lot. Grant parked next to the bus and Audrey unbuckled her belt then hugged his arm.

“It’s just a two-hour hour drive and I’ll call you all the time,” she said gently. He shushed her as he gave her a squeeze and kissed her hair.

“Don’t think I’m not proud of you or excited, just because I’m falling apart. I’ll figure out some way to survive on my own,” he teased.

“I know,” she said as she sat back then waved at her best friend, Ashley, before her eyes flicked back to Grant and narrowed. “You better do something cool this weekend,” she threatened. Grant started to smirk before she pointed. “With someone other than Edgar,” she stipulated and his face fell.

“Why can’t I hang out with Edgar? That’s cool,” he argued and she shook her head.

“Hang out with Walter or Aunt Marcy or… I don’t know, meet a guy,” she suggested nonchalantly and Grant’s face twisted. “Come on!” Audrey begged. “Think about how much better I’d feel!” She protested. “I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for leaving you alone and someone else can remind you to take your pills every morning.”

“Shouldn’t you be going?” He asked flatly and she pulled a face as she leaned in to kiss him.

“I love you and I want you to do something this weekend. You don’t have to do anything radical like go on Tinder, if you’re not ready. But you have to do something nice for yourself or talk to someone other than Edgar. And not on the phone, please,” she added as she gave him a loaded look and he held up his hands.

“I will do my best but I can’t promise my idea of cool will be as exciting as you’re hoping,” he warned but she waved if off.

“Don’t spend the next three days at home, alone. And running by the post office and grabbing coffee doesn’t count. You see the same people and have the exact same conversations every day. Go get a haircut or a pedicure or buy yourself something nice. Whatever. Just don’t stay home,” she ordered.

“Fine. Get out or I’ll throw you out,” he said then kissed her loudly on the forehead. “I love you. Check in when you get there and send me a text goodnight.”

“I will and I love you too,” Audrey said then pushed open her door and hopped out of the passenger seat. Grant waited as she grabbed her backpack and duffle bag from the back then loaded her things into the bus.

“Stay safe, Jelly Bean,” he murmured softly as Audrey and Ashley got on the bus and took their seats at the front so they could help supervise the younger campers. He made a weak attempt to shake the guilt during the short drive from the high school to the town center. It was a lot easier to trick Audrey into thinking he was happy when she was younger, but she noticed and worried more as she got older. Grant parked in front of The Six Beans Coffee Co. and waved at Vanessa as he passed the window then frowned as he reached for the post office door. He didn’t even look, he just waved because he knew she’d be there.

“Morning, Grant! Got your mail right here. Looks like a beautiful weekend,” Rhoda predicted as she handed Grant his mail. He nodded as he took it and she pointed as he tucked it under his arm. “You’ve got the new Pottery Barn catalog there! They’ve got those cute lamps I was telling you about again.”

“Great!” Grant said loudly. He pretended he knew what she was talking about and that the déjà vu wasn’t severe. Marcy put his address and email on Pottery Barn’s mailing list to get a coupon, he suspected. But Rhoda loved Pottery Barn so he went along with it every time a new catalog came in. “I’ll keep an eye out for them when I’m flipping through it.”

“Oh! How’s Edgar?” She asked solemnly and Grant shook his head.

“It wasn’t that serious. The big baby got his foot pinched in Marcy’s fence because he was trying to catch Lola so they could be friends. He needed a few stitches and a few days in a cone to reflect. He’s not too thrilled about it so I let him stay home to preserve his dignity,” he explained and she laughed.

“Poor guy, that cat’s just a hateful thing.”

“I keep telling Edgar but he’s determined to be her friend,” Grant sighed then tapped his mail against his brow. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rhoda.”

“You have a lovely day, dear. Tell Edgar I missed him and let Audrey know I enjoyed her little article in the paper,” she said as she hurried around the post office counter and got the door for him.

“I’ll tell them,” Grant replied absently as he studied the Audi parked next to him, in front of the coffee shop. Hopkins Creek was full of luxury vehicles but most were SUVs and crossovers. Something about the sharp little sports car made the hairs on the back of Grant’s neck stand.

It took Grant all of two seconds to find the Audi’s owner after he stepped into The Six Beans. He was thanking Vanessa for his coffee then smiled at Grant before he went off to add sugar to his cup. Grant quickly noted the perfect hair, flawless smile, square jaw, expensive suit and the other man’s tall, lean and probably sculpted body and moved along. Like the other mortals in the coffee shop, Grant pretended to be unaware of the walking cologne ad obliviously perusing the display of travel mugs and smiled at Vanessa as he stepped up to the counter.

“How’s it going? Just my usual,” he said. He pulled out his wallet and Vanessa hissed urgently as she waved for him to come closer. Grant frowned as he leaned over the counter.

“He’s definitely single but I can’t tell which one of us should make a move!” She whispered then cocked her chin at the other man.

“A move? Who…?” Grant asked quietly and cluelessly. Vanessa cleared her throat loudly and pointed at the man as she rubbed her nose.

“Him!” She coughed and Grant flinched before he chuckled and shook his head.

“I can’t tell either but I doubt he’d give me his number,” he said dismissively as he slid his card into the reader and punched in his PIN.

“I’d love to give you my number,” a smooth, warm voice murmured from over his shoulder and Grant wanted to shove his face right in his wallet. Grant’s fingers were numb and trembled as he found a $5 for Vanessa.

“Yikes!” She whispered and her eyes were wide but sparkled with delight as they met Grant’s. She giggled as she hurried off to make his coffee and Grant swallowed the giant knot in his throat as he stuffed the bill in the tip jar. He was sweating but he managed a humanlike smile as he turned and Grant was stunned as bright, seeking blue eyes trapped his.

“Sorry to eavesdrop but she whispers loud,” he said then winked at Grant.

“She does,” Grant agreed as his head bobbled. “But the coffee’s really good so we overlook her lack of subtlety.” He laughed weakly then pressed the back of his hand to his head to check if the flop sweat had begun yet.

“Do you come here often?” The impossibly gorgeous man asked as he swayed a little closer and Grant almost looked around to see who he was flirting with. But he knew that aside from Vanessa, Edgar and the Davis sisters, it was just the two of them.

“Just about every day,” Grant said then glanced at Vanessa and silently begged her to hurry. “The post office doesn’t deliver here so I stop in and say hi to Vanessa after I see Rhoda for my mail. I like to take my dog, Edgar, to the park afterwards,” he explained. Why? Grant asked himself and his nose scrunched as he wondered if he could find anything blander to tell the most beautiful man he’d ever met. “Unless the weather’s really bad. Then we just go home,” he added. There you go.

“I’m devastated to see you didn’t bring Edgar with you today. I love dogs,” the most beautiful man replied as he reached into his coat and pulled out his phone.

“Dogs are great,” Grant replied woodenly and his eyes widened in panic.

“Here’s your coffee, Grant!” Vanessa chirped and Grant gasped in relief as he turned and grabbed the cup like it was a life vest and the coffee shop was going under.

“Thank you! I’ve got to go!” He said and her head pushed forward in shock.

“Grant!” She protested.

“Not before I get your number, I hope,” the other man said and Grant shook his head quickly as he backed away from the counter.

“I left my phone in the car,” he mumbled as he gestured over his shoulder then turned and escaped. He pushed open the door and almost ran to his car as he pulled his keys from his pocket. Grant fumbled with the mail and his coffee as he opened the door and ducked into the driver’s seat but he made an otherwise clean getaway. “I left my phone in the car?” He yelled at the windshield in disgust then sneered. “And what was that even about? Asking me for my number…” he complained then waved at the windshield. “That guy would never be interested in me.”

There was a very brief time in Grant’s life when he considered himself “hot”, it was right after college, when he and Chris got their first place together. They still had abs and jawlines and groomed obsessively because they didn’t have Audrey yet. But not even then. The guy in the coffee shop probably dated men with diplomatic immunity and private jets. He wasn’t sure what the dashing younger man was doing in Hopkins Creek but Grant severely doubted he was hunting for a broken forty-two-year-old soccer dad.

“God, he was beautiful, though. And he smelled incredible,” Grant sighed as he turned into his driveway. Edgar was standing on the couch and watching through the window. His whip-like tail swatted excitedly as he waited and Grant’s mood lifted as he got out of the car. He was still disappointed in himself for acting like a total ass but at least he got to spend the rest of the morning teasing Edgar about his silly collar.

The Perfect Cover will be available on December 17th but you can PRE-ORDER it NOW on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2YDQ2bG

 

The Perfect Cover is on Goodreads! Please add it to your lists!: https://bit.ly/2roHI3g

 

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The Perfect Cover and the perfect cover

After Death And Addiction

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In the summer of 1997 my family and I drove from Fort Drum, New York to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was a magical road trip. I just received my driver’s license and I was following my parents’ Explorer in my hand-me-down LeBaron. It was just me and my brother and we listened to Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy the whole damn way. I was 18 and he was 14 and we knew we were so fucking fresh.

We were Army brats and our lives started over every two or three years. But no matter where we went, we had each other’s backs and for several weeks, we were our only friends. There were hours spent on ski lifts talking shit about who ran a trail the fastest or got the most air on a jump. Or, we swore we wouldn’t tell mom and dad about ditching trails and negotiating over fallen trees and boulders as we made our own way down the mountain. When Nintendo’s NES came out, we barely slept for weeks playing Contra, Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt.

Then, life happened. I went to college and into the Army. Kevin started high school and learned how to use drugs. At first it, wasn’t that serious, it was just marijuana. I smoked pot now and then and laughed it off. The two of us went to the movies stoned and thought Jar Jar Binks made sense.

Eventually, I moved on and Kevin got into harder drugs, stealing to pay for harder drugs and dropped out of high school. The sweet, funny partner in some of my favorite crimes and adventures became less and less of a person I could recognize or stand to be around. He went to juvenile detention/rehab facilities until he advanced to jail. The first few times my parents bailed him out and paid legal fees but eventually let him ride out his time. He became known to the cops as a petty thief, small time drug dealer and addict.

Every year he became less coherent. His speech and intellect deteriorated until he was a rambling, ignorant bore. Years of incarceration made him racist and paranoid. I avoided talking to him because we’d fight over his use of racial slurs and his disrespectful behavior toward our parents. I was very protective when it came to his interaction with my kids. If I suspected he was high, they were off limits to him and I wouldn’t tolerate hate speech in their presence. When he wasn’t around I went through his belongings to make sure he adhered to my parents’ No Drugs In The House rule. I resented him for stealing my mother’s jewelry or the antique guns that belonged to my father’s grandfather. He stole the medals my father received over his 37 years in the Army, he probably made $20 off the lot.

My bother’s first overdose was in the fall of 2013 but he’d been to the emergency room for numerous drug related injuries before. He burned the top of his tongue off and half of his arm was scarred from freon. In April I received a call from my mother telling me my dad found him at home, unresponsive from an overdose. A few hours later, he was conscious. The paramedics administered Narcan and he was able to go home the next morning.

The first conversation I had with my brother when I came to visit this summer was more of a lecture. I raged at him for letting my dad find him nearly dead and begged him not to die in my parents’ home. I told him it was time for him to act like 33 year old man and get his shit together. My parents couldn’t travel or spend Christmases with us in Arizona because they were afraid he’d pawn everything they owned or blow up the house making meth. They came home to strangers going through their house and feared Kevin might get high and kill them in their sleep. I worried about my father dying and my brother stripping the house of anything he could sell and the confrontation we’d have over whatever inheritance he expected.

Sunday night, my mother, aunt and my girls watched Drag Race in the living room. We ate cheesecake and drank wine (the girls drank sodas) and screamed “Yassss, girl!” until 2 a.m.. My brother stumbled in and mumbled something ignorant as he at a bowl of cereal and I rolled my eyes and waved him off. He was so high he couldn’t put a decent sentence together. My bitch face was strong and in my head I called him pathetic, worthless and selfish. My mom yelled at him for being high and told him he had to find someplace else to stay when he got up the next morning. I told her to leave him alone so he’d shut himself in the den so we could salvage the rest of the evening. He was high and I thought he was baked out of his mind on pot.

We heard a lot of moaning and loud breathing and when we investigated we found him on the couch and thought he was passed out. He did that a lot. He’d disappear for a week then come home and sleep for days. So, we stood over him and snorted at how much noise he made as he snored and drooled. Once our Drag Race marathon was over we went to bed. I was still so irritated with my brother and tossed and turned for an hour because I forgot to take my sleeping pill. I went downstairs and took my pill, grabbed a bottle of water and just as I reached the stairs I paused. Kevin made another loud “snore” and for some reason it made me uneasy. I went into the den and stared for a moment before I placed my hand on his chest. I felt it move then shook my head and went back upstairs to bed.

The next morning, I did my usual Monday morning things. I paid bills online, checked social media and did a little window shopping on Amazon. The girls and I drank coffee and ate breakfast as we discussed our plans for the day with my parents. My mom, aunt, Stella and I decided to sneak away and order Zoe’s birthday cake for Saturday. My dad mowed the lawn and my grandmother was baking in the kitchen. I got ready to head out and was slipping on my shoes when my mother decided to wake my brother up to tell him to go out and find a job or someplace else to stay.

I heard her yell for my dad and we both ran into the den. Kevin wouldn’t wake up. My dad checked him and he was cold. He was pale and a dried cone foam protruded from his nose. My mom still thinks he had a bloody nose during the night and stuffed a tissue in his nose and went back to sleep. I can’t tell her what it was or that he was probably brain dead by the time we went to bed the night before.

Death doesn’t happen to the deceased. They’re not there when death happens. Death is my mother screaming and fighting us as we pushed her out of the room. Death is my dad, shaking and struggling to tell the 911 operator that his son is dead in the front room. Death is my aunt and grandmother wailing and me rushing my kids upstairs before they can figure out what has happened. Death is my mother begging me to make the paramedics work on my brother and asking why they won’t give him another shot of Narcan then begging me to stop them from leaving. Death is holding my dad’s hand and gasping for breath as the coroner wheeled my brother’s body through the front door.

We put my mom in bed when the medical examiner arrived. She was hysterical and wanted to hold Kevin. We didn’t tell her what was going on and she kept asking “Is Kevin home?” as I held her hand and told her they were just taking pictures. I slipped away and hung onto my dad as Kevin left the house for the last time then went back and told my mom he was gone.

Death is painful. My mother’s chest ached and my stomach felt cold and clenched for days. Sleeping is hard. Even with my sleeping pills, I couldn’t close my eyes and not see my brother on the couch. My dad swore he could hear my brother banging cabinets and pans they way he always did when he got high and cooked in the middle of the night. My mom just cried all the time. During the day we float from room to room, aching and exhausted, unfocused and tearful. My dad is Midwestern and stoic and tried to keep busy cleaning the odds and ends my magpie brother left strewn about the garage. But his grief became too heavy so he’s medicated and wanders around in a xanex and valium haze.

My grandmother is angry. We decided to have Kevin cremated and didn’t have a service. The days that followed his death felt like one long service and no one would attend something in a church but us. If any of my brother’s drug user/dealer friends did turn up, a fist fight might break out. My dad and I would be happy to break their faces and claw their eyes out. Instead, I’ll transfer Kevin’s ashes into two boxes this evening and a pastor will be present to say something comforting for my mother. My dad won’t be there. He can’t see Kevin’s ashes or hear final words.

I consider myself a mindful atheist. I have always admired and studied religion but it never fit me personally. But you borrow those harmless adages in hopes they’ll give comfort. Time becomes stagnant and pointless when you’re grieving. My mother and I laid in bed, holding hands and whispering to each other for hours. She’d say “I miss him” or “Do you think he was scared or it was painful?”. I’d tell her he was tortured and trapped by drugs and was finally at peace, in a better place and able to truly rest. I promised he felt like he was in a beautiful place as he drifted off to sleep and was relaxed and happy. It was gentle and he believed he would wake up the next morning.

My own feelings surprised me. When someone you love is an addict for 18 years you think you’re ready for their death. You let go of them and resent them for the damage they’ve done. Maybe being so intimately involved with Kevin’s death made it harder. I might have been stronger and less hurt if we had just received a phone call. I don’t know if I could have saved him when I checked on him that last time. I’m not sure if I would, as terrible as it sounds. I would have only delayed his death by a few more months and my parents would be alone with the pain and senselessness. Or, he might have died behind the wheel of a car or been killed during a drug deal.

Memories catch me off guard. I’ll be driving and remember Kevin practicing softball with the girls during one of his more lucid moments. He loved my kids and tried to be a good uncle when his mind was present. Or, I’ll remember fishing with him when we were kids or a drunken night a few summers ago when we pushed my mom in the pool. I’ll miss the boy I grew up with and the stupid fights we had. We’d duel with toilet bowl brushes and I buried his baseball trophy in the litter box because he broke my porcelain doll. I’ll wish I wish there when he lost his way. He had parents who loved him and would have helped him be anything but couldn’t stop him from becoming nothing.

The day he died I hugged my girls and all I could tell them was that everything would be alright. I sat them down and promised they could say anything to me, all their feelings were safe. But I had nothing else of value to tell them at the time. I swore I’d have better words later. I still don’t know how to explain death to them or how to process it.

Right now, death is a set of closed doors and a room we’re all afraid to look at. Someone will go in and remove a few things or clean a piece of furniture but can only bear to be there for a moment or two. Alex tries to watch the TV or use the playstation, he doesn’t understand what happened or why I keep running him out. He thinks Kevin is in jail again and we all wish he was.

Death is also fiction. There are times when I think I’ll see my brother and say “See? That’s what’s going to happen if you don’t stop this.” You wake up in the morning and for a few minutes it’s just a morning. There isn’t a person shaped hole in your life and you don’t have to confront the new grief each day brings. A part of your mind can’t tolerate the reality that someone you’ve known your entire life, that was a portion of who you are no longer exists. Somehow, it can be undone.

My aunt and grandparents return to Istanbul on Saturday and the kids and I will drive back to Arizona on Monday. I worry about how my parents will face an empty house and the lack of Kevin’s clothes and belongings. I’ve spent the last week sending things off for donation or selling anything of value on Craigslist so my parents wouldn’t have to deal with all of it. I don’t know how they’ll cope with a life without worry or disappointment. Or death. For them, death is the end of hope and a battle they’ve lost to save their son from himself and addiction.

This place is where I share my happiest news about my books and the occasional observations about parenting an autistic teenager. Today, I need this place to express all the things I can’t put into words yet. Perhaps my girls will read this later or someone will find it and feel a connection to our loss. Or, if there’s any logic to the universe, someone like my brother will see this and decide to spare their family the unfathomable pain and confusion a death like this leaves in its wake. Right now, I’m doing what comes naturally, I’m using words to cleanse the fog and clutter in my mind and the anxious pressure in my chest.

After Death And Addiction