Thursday, December 1, 2011

That's My Story and I'm Sticking To It!

I'm so, so, SO lucky to welcome Mary Campisi to Tattered cages, who shares with us a beautiful post about writing what is in our hearts. I couldn't agree more! PLUS, one lucky commentor will win an e-book copy of The Way They Were! Take it away, Mary!!

For years, when someone asked me what I wrote, I fidgeted, cleared my throat, and forced out the words, “I write romance and women’s fiction.” You can imagine the comments, the raised eyebrows, the little smirks that made me want to say, “No, wait! I write stories like Joyce Carol Oates…and Margaret Atwood.” That certainly would have squelched the look. Problem was, that’s not what I wrote. More importantly, that’s not what I wanted to write. If you are going to write a book, you had better darn well want to hang around with those people and their problems for three or four hundred pages…and in simple terms that can be anywhere from several months to years.
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So, why did I fidget and want to hide my true passion? That silly need for acceptance, I’m sure. Everyone wants to be thought of as brilliant and cutting edge. While I do enjoy reading Joyce and Margaret, I don’t want to actually have to write what they do. That’s quite a lot of pretending to be someone I’m not. You see where this is going, don’t you? I would love heartfelt praise and page after page of great reviews, but I’ve got to write what’s in my heart—what I’m most passionate about. For too long, I worried about what the outside world said—editors, agents, the writing world—and I didn’t listen to myself. Then after one particularly stressful day of aimless wandering, I said, “Enough!” It came shortly after taking Barbara Samuel’s writing class where she told me I might be doing myself a disservice by looking too much at the outside world for both validation and direction. By tapping into my passions, (gardens, food, dogs), I would find the most success. Such a wise woman! I began to explore self-publishing opportunities and oddly or maybe not, months later, the book that has garnered the most attention and success in the self-pub arena, is the contemporary romance/women’s fiction one that challenged me the most….A FAMILY AFFAIR.
I write romance and women’s fiction about second chances and that one true, seeped in near insurmountable circumstances. There is almost always a morally ambiguous situation. I’ll clarify that:
In A Family Affair, the mistress is more likeable than the real mother. (Real families aren’t always the ones you know about…)
In The Way They Were, the heroine married one man but never stopped loving another as evidenced in the once a year letter she writes him, (which she’ll never send.) (Tragedy tore them apart, now destiny may bring them back together.)
In Pieces of You, a mother’s disappearance isn’t really a disappearance at all but a planned abandonment that leaves a son scarred for future relationships. (Sometimes hiding in the shadows is the only way to protect your heart.)
And my soon to be released, Pulling Home—The heroine loves one brother but marries another. (She’ll risk anything to save her child…even the truth.)
And lest you think these are fly-by-night ideas, most of them live in my head for years before they spill onto the page. A Family Affair (5 years), The Way They Were (3 years), Pieces of You (3 years) Pulling Home (10 years). Sometimes, the story isn’t ready or I’m not ready to tell it the way it needs to be told. Pulling Home morphed and changed several times until finally, finally, I got it the way I wanted it!!
Thanks for stopping by and a most heartfelt thank you to AJ for opening her cyber home to me!
Happy Holidays!
Here's a sneak peek inside The Way They Were!

He hasn’t spoken her name in fourteen years. She keeps a journal hidden in the back of her closet and permits herself to write about him once a year—on the anniversary of the first and only time they made love. They promised to love one another forever, but tragedy tore them apart. Now, destiny may just bring them back together.
At eighteen, Rourke Flannigan and Kate Redmond thought they’d spend the rest of their lives together—until a family tragedy tore them apart. Fourteen years have passed and they’ve both carved out separate lives hundreds of miles apart—hers as a wife and mother, his as a successful, driven businessman. But once a year, on the anniversary of her daughter’s birth, Kate pulls out a red velvet journal and writes a letter, which she’ll never send, to the man who still owns her heart. Once a year, on the anniversary of the first and only time they made love, Rourke permits himself to read the annual investigative report detailing an ordinary day in Kate’s life.
When a subcontractor at one of Rourke’s holding companies is killed, Rourke decides to pay the widow a visit and offer condolences, never dreaming the widow will be Kate. As they embark on a cautious journey of rediscovery, one far greater than they could have imagined, secrets and lies threaten to destroy their newfound closeness—forever.

“He’s back.”
Kate’s brush slipped, smearing red paint onto the gray siding of the miniature dollhouse. Damn. She snatched a rag and began dabbing at the red spot.
She dabbed harder as if she could blot out Angie’s words. “I heard you.”
Kate glanced up, proud of the outward calm she displayed when her insides were a jumble of panic. “And what?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, it’s me you’re talking to here, the one who sat up with you for three nights straight after that jerk left.” Angie swore under her breath and muttered, “He didn’t even have the decency to say good-bye.” 
“It was a long time ago.” Fourteen years in July. 
Angie Sorrento was a pint-size dynamo with a giant-sized temper who swore in Italian and English and could carry a grudge longer than anyone Kate had ever known. The only grudge larger than the one Angie had for Rourke Flannigan was the one relegated to the ex-fiancé who skipped out on her three days before the wedding.
“Really, Angie. Fourteen years is ancient history.”
Angie’s dark eyes narrowed. “That’s what I’m worried about, Kate. Your history with Mr. Jerk.”
“There’s no need to worry.” Kate dipped her brush in red and filled in the trim along the roof. This house was a four bedroom cape cod, designed for Rachel and Jared Hennessy and their seven year old twins, Jeffrey and Jason. The family had relocated from Richmond, Virginia last year so Jared could teach sophomore English and coach basketball in Montpelier. Great family—devoted couple, beautiful kids, even a golden retriever named Jed.
Angie started up again. “Even if it weren’t ‘Mr. Holier than Thou, let me grace you with my presence in this Podunk town’ and even if said man-boy weren’t someone you’d been intimately involved with, I’d still be worried.”
“Unnecessarily.” Kate ignored the way her pulse skittered when Angie talked about him.
“You’re vulnerable.”
“Stop.” Her pulse tripled.
“You buried Clay five months ago. That makes you a lonely widow. The perfect target.”
“You watch too many Lifetime movies.” Had he heard about Clay? That was ridiculous, how could he have heard? She had no idea where he lived and now, suddenly, he was here. Why?
“Katie? Are you all right?”
No, she wasn’t. She hadn’t been all right since—Kate pushed the unwelcome truth away and glanced at her friend. “I’m fine.”
“Fine is code word for no. Look, I know you don’t want to talk about him, but there are some things you’ve got to know before this guy comes waltzing back into your life.”
“He’s hardly waltzing back into my life.”
“Steamrolling then. You just wait and see.”
“We haven’t seen each other since we were eighteen.”  A marriage and child ago. “We’re strangers.”
“You were planning to marry the guy.”
Kate set down her brush and plastered the same expression she’d worn when well-wishers patted her hand and offered prayers for strength to endure her newly-widowed state. She’d never told Clay how much he meant to her, not really and now one freakish accident had stolen her chances of ever telling him.
“They say he kicks people out of their homes to get a deal.”
“That’s crazy. He would never—” She stopped. How did she know what he would never do? He was a man now, not a teenager.
“They say he buys the buildings dirt cheap, after he kicks the tenants out, and then renovates the places into posh apartments for his rich friends.” Angie crossed her arms over her small chest and tilted her head to one side so several black springs of hair bounced off her shoulders. “While you were watching Barney with Julia, I was watching him on E and seeing his face plastered in People.”
Rourke had always hated media in any form, said they made it hard to find a nugget of truth in anything. Kate started to shake her head in denial and ended in a shrug. What did she really know about him anymore? The truth slipped out again. Nothing.
“He flew to Sweden to have dinner with some beauty queen. And spent Easter skiing in the Alps.”
“Busy man.” While Rourke was globetrotting, she’d been burying her husband and trying to console her daughter.
“Still not married though plenty have tried to snag him.”
So, there was no wife.
“Here.” Angie slid a folder across the table.  “Everything you need to arm yourself against Mr. Rourke Connor Flannigan.”
Kate glanced at the manila folder in front of her.  “You make him sound like a villain.”
“If he gets to you again, you won’t survive.”
“Are there pictures in here?” Kate fingered the folder. 
“Of course.” Angie let out an indelicate snort. “Okay, he’s drop dead gorgeous, I will give him that, but not much else.”
With a flip of the folder, she could satisfy fourteen years of wondering. “Maybe I’ll just take a peek—”
“Damn! Close the folder. Quick.”
“Because Mr. Jerk’s standing right outside.”
Rourke hesitated at the door of the little shop with scalloped pink and blue trim. Dream Houses by Kate. She was in there, the woman who had ripped his heart into tiny shreds, invisible to the human eye.
That was history. He was here to offer condolences, nothing more. But when he opened the door he realized two fatal errors; never engage on foreign ground and never underestimate the past.
She was more beautiful than the photo he obtained two weeks ago. A photograph couldn’t capture the aura of femininity, vulnerability, and raw strength that emanated from her. If he weren’t so good at masking his emotions, he’d be on the floor, sucking for air.
Not Kate. Other than a trimmed wariness flashing in the brilliance of her blue eyes and a slight flair of her delicate nostrils, she appeared unmoved. Where was the girl who had cried on his shoulder during Love Story?
She spoke first. “Hello, Rourke.”
Her voice swirled around him and threatened to pull him under. “Kate.” He hadn’t spoken her name since he was eighteen and the raw unfamiliarity of it burned his lips.
She opened her mouth to speak and Rourke zeroed in on her lips. Full, kissable.
“Well, if it isn’t Rourke Flannigan.”
He snapped his head up and glanced at Kate’s best friend. He hadn’t missed the censure or the distaste in her voice. Some things never changed. “Hello, Angie.”
She dismissed him with a flounce of wild curls and turned to Kate. “I’ll be in the back room if you need me.”
He waited until the she-witch disappeared and picked up a strip of miniature lattice, feigning great interest in the delicate wood, anything to keep from staring at Kate. “She never did like me.”
“She’s very protective.”
“Of course.” She always said I’d hurt you. He met Kate’s gaze and the years chipped away. Did I hurt you? Did I rip your insides apart? Did you think of me when you were lying in your husband’s arms? 
“Why are you here?”
Was that a tremble in her voice? “Business. And my niece.” He hadn’t meant to mention Abbie, but two seconds with Kate and already his guard started slipping.
There was a distinct tremble in her voice. Did he make her nervous? 
“Rourke? What about your niece?”
“Gwendolyn was killed in a plane crash three months ago. I’m Abbie’s guardian. She’s having some adjustment issues and I thought Montpelier might be a nice break.”
She looked away. “I see.”
“I don’t know anything about being a father.” He slid into the chair opposite her workstation. “It’s damned harder than when we were kids. I think. Hell, I don’t know.”
“It’s never easy, being the child or the parent.”
“I can see why people opt for the childless route.”
Those huge eyes rimmed with emotion. “Some do.”
“But not you.”
She was pulling him in, one whispered word, one doe-eyed glance at a time. He was not a testosterone-crazed teenager anymore. He had been surrounded by far more beautiful, more sophisticated women than the one sitting across from him with red paint smeared on her fingers and a smudge of red on her chin. But none of them were Kate. That was the problem. That had always been the problem.
“I heard about Clay.” He fidgeted with his keys, but couldn’t quite look at her when he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.”
She bowed her head and for one absolutely insane second, he wanted to pull her against him and inhale the scent of her chestnut hair. Would it still smell like coconut? What the hell was he doing here? This wasn’t the Kate he remembered. This one was untouchable. What had he expected? That she’d gaze upon him with something akin to hero worship, like most other women did? He needed to get out. Now. He calculated his exit and just as he’d worked a strategy, he noticed his name in neat print on the tab of the folder lying in front of Kate.
“What’s this?” He slid the folder forward.
“Nothing!” She made a quick lunge for it, but Rourke snatched it away.
“Nothing?” He eased the folder open. “Hmmm.”  He stared back at magazine and newspaper clippings of himself in various locations, with various women, all beautiful, all supposedly in love with him. Rourke scanned the printed dates and captions, then closed the folder and slid it back to her.
“Would never make it as a private eye. That wasn’t just a Swedish beauty queen, that was the Queen’s niece.” He smiled and shrugged at her distress. “And the Alps,” he leaned forward to whisper, “heir to a makeup dynasty.”
“I see.”
But none of them touched my heart the way you did. “Kate.”
“What happened to Clay?”
She looked away. “He fell fifty feet from a lift. He was always so careful.” Her voice cracked, “I just don’t understand.”
Rourke cleared his throat and fiddled with a piece of lattice. How much could a person make painting dollhouses? Enough to support two people? “Have the investigators finished their reports yet?” When she shook her head he said, “You should start receiving money once the investigations are complete.”
She coughed as though embarrassed to be discussing such an indelicate subject as money with him when she so obviously had little and he so obviously had plenty. He thought of the night they planned their future together, the Victorian house they’d build, the lake, the workshop for her artwork, the four children they’d have . . .
“I’ve been talking to a few people. They say I have options.”
That brought him around—fast. People meant lawyers, preyers of the weak and grief-stricken. Wasn’t it his humanitarian duty to inquire before she got herself mixed up in a scam? “What kind of people?”
She shrugged. “What kind of people surface at a tragedy? Lawyers, of course.”
“The cream of the crop, I’m sure.” Who? Give me their names.
“They’re not all bad.” She looked down at her hands and picked at the red paint on her finger.
“You need to be careful. There are too many ambulance chasers out there trying to make a case where there is none.” He laid a hand on the table, inches from hers. “If you want me to speak with them, I will.”
Her head shot up. “Why would you do that?”
“To help you.” It was such a smooth delivery, Miles would be proud. Was it true? The next words spilled out before he could yank them back. “I’m going to be here a few weeks, maybe several.” At least until I shut down these damn lawyers. He flashed a smile which warped into a straight line when she merely continued to stare.
“Why are you really here, Rourke?”
He remembered the way she’d cried out his name the first and only night they made love. Another truth snuck past the subterfuge in his soul and aimed a steady path straight at her. “Who are we kidding, Kate? We’ve got fourteen years of questions between us and I’m not leaving until every one of them is answered.”

Mary Campisi should have known she’d become a writer when at age thirteen she began changing the ending to all the books she read.  It took several years and a number of jobs, including registered nurse, receptionist in a swanky hair salon, accounts payable clerk, and practice manager in an OB/GYN office, for her to rediscover writing.  Enter a mouse-less computer, a floppy disk, and a dream large enough to fill a zip drive. The rest of the story lives on in every book she writes.
When she’s not working on her craft or following the lives of five young adult children, Mary’s digging in the dirt with her flowers and herbs, cooking, reading, walking her rescue lab mix, Cooper, or on the perfect day, riding off into the sunset with her very own ‘hero’ husband on his Electra Glide Classic aka Harley.

Find Mary on the web at:


Nancy Jardine Author said...

That's a lovely post, Mary. Thanks AJ for sharing it today. I've been one of those almost closet readers of romances in the past and now, as a writer, I'm pushing myself to get on with what I'm doing and making no excuses about liking the genre!

Christine Warner said...

Hi Mary and AJ...great interview! Your words are wisdom are inspiring. Glad to know that I'm not alone and you've experienced some of what I have :)

Love the premises of your stories and your daring to be different. The excerpt was wonderful and all your books sound like great reads.

Thanks for sharing.

AJ Nuest said...

Hi Guys! Mary is having a difficult time returning comments -- I think Blogger is having a grumpy day. She's trying to get in, but so far nada. Thanks to both Nancy and Christine for stopping by with comments! I just love the premise behind Mary's stories, as well, and agree whole-heartedly with writing what is most prevelant in the heart. Have a great day!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

thank-you. Thank-You. THANK-YOU!!! I, too, used to write what I thought other peopole would expect from me. They were boring sweet romances. Meanwhile I was reading spicy to melt-your-panties romance. My hubs said why not write what you read. Maybe you'd be happier. And I am. I still get strange looks when I tell what I write, but more and more, I just don't care. I have to write my passion. Great blog! Oh, did I say "Thanks?"

Mary Campisi said...

Hi AJ and thanks so much for inviting me today. Your blog site is beautiful. I love the quote from Marianne Williamson. I read her years ago and now am prompted to pick her up again. She writes with such honesty and truly empowers others.

Hi Nancy - I'm so glad to hear you are pushing past the uncomfortable zone and writing what you really want to write. An old agent of mine once told me that 'Just because a person could drive a milk truck doesn't mean that's what he's supposed to do.' I am sure my oldest brother would more readily embrace my writing if it were something other than romance as would those who smirk and arch an eyebrow, but then what? I'm not writing true, I'm not even enjoying what I write. And in the end, it's about what's inside of me, what I am most passionate about. Getting those words down is where the true bliss is...and that's what I'm perpetually after...

Best wishes with your writing and Happy Holidays to you!


Mary Campisi said...

Aha! Persistence has finally paid off and I was able to post a comment. I did it in a convoluted manner - signed up to follow AJ's blog and I was in! I even went to the help section where they talked about 'cookie' but if they're not made with sugar and flour, I have no idea what they're talking about:)

Christine - thanks for posting. Push through the doubt, the uncertainty and second-guessing, and trample the darn internal editor on your shoulder. Just breathe, let your heart open, and the words flow.

Vonnie- Oh, Lord- 'melt-your-panties' romance?! I love it!! That's even better than the word 'horn dog' which one of my past editors called my hero before I tamed him down a bit. I laughed out loud when I read that. Okay, maybe she had a point, but he was pretty darn sexy...

If you have any questions, ask quick before this darn blogger shuts down on me!!


AJ Nuest said...

I'm laughing, Vonnie! Just yesterday I went to pick up my 8 yo daughter from "dance club" and ran into one of the other moms I hadn't seen in a while. We started chatting about re-entering the workforce now that our kids are older, and when I mentioned I was a content editor for "romance", she narrowed her eyes and said, "Ooooo...that sounds like the best job in the world!" I laughed. It really is.

Calisa Rhose said...

Great post, Mary. And you are so right. We have to write what feels right to us because we're the ones who has to live with our choices.

Now pick me! I HAVE to read this book!

Mary Campisi said...

Hi Calisa:

Thanks for stopping by - I love to hear/read about women empowering themselves and doing what they believe in. Right now I'm editing a piece and have about 60 pages left to read. I've fallen in love with the hero all over again...if I had to pick a favorite hero of mine, I am not sure I could but Rourke in The Way They Were is one of my very favorites...

Mackenzie Crowne said...

Lovely excerpt, Mary. Gotta read this one. Like many romance authors, I've experienced that moment when I hesitated to admit what I write, but like so many things that changed after I reached 40, and changed even more after 50, I no longer do that. Now I write what I want, and announce it proudly, and figure, screw em if they have an issue.

AJ Nuest said...

*AJ stands and applauds, whistling loudly* Yay, Mac! Go on with your bad self, girl! Whoo Hoo!!

Mary Campisi said...

Hi Mackenzie! Oh, yes, I hear you! I once listened to a a tape that said the first half of our life is spent doing what we ought to do and the second half is spent doing what we want to do. It was an epiphany for me - I was 37 at the time and that's when I decided I was going to follow my dream and write. So many women tell me they'd like to change careers/do something different, etc but they don't want to give up the comfort/the money/the prestige...yup, these changes are not for the faint of heart!

Good luck to you and thanks for the post!