She kicked to the surface, breaking through the water with a greedy gasp. She flipped onto her back, shoved hair from her eyes, floated, and blinked at the empty blue sky. Yes, this is why she needed to get away. Serenity.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Mmm...first encounters. I love it when characters in both movies and novels meet for the first time. It sets the tone for what's to come. Sometimes there's snap, crackle, sizzle...or maybe there's that slow burn of borderline contempt that you just know is gonna be fun to watch.
This is a sneak peek of my December release, ANONYMITY, an action/adventure contemporary romance. It's definitely lust at first sight…She held her breath as long as possible, enjoying the solitude of the water. Heartbeat echoed in her ears. Lungs clenched inside her chest until she couldn't hold her breath any longer.
She kicked to the surface, breaking through the water with a greedy gasp. She flipped onto her back, shoved hair from her eyes, floated, and blinked at the empty blue sky. Yes, this is why she needed to get away. Serenity.
Peace is why she'd come to Belize, an escape from reality. On New Year's Eve, her former fiancé would marry a woman he barely knew and she'd traveled far to escape her friends' pitiful attempts at distraction.
Palm trees sheltered the pool of Ramon's Village on Ambergris Caye. Most of the families and scuba divers had left for their daily excursions, leaving the resort nearly empty. Booking a solo trip over the holidays had sent alarm bells throughout her family, but she'd done exactly as she needed with no regret. She'd left for the airport after Christmas dinner for an overnight flight and had arrived only a few hours ago. As far as she was concerned, the timing couldn't be better.
Unlike some people she knew—her ex, for one—she had no problem disconnecting from the chaos of home. She'd shoved her cell phone into the room safe and didn't plan on opening her laptop for at least seventy-two hours. Accidentally seeing pictures of the wedding festivities on Facebook or Instagram would wreck her plans.
Thinking of Scott and his bride-to-be, she dragged herself from the pool, tied a sarong around her hips, and headed for the bar. This was definitely a week best spent in a rum haze.
"Quiet, ya?" A giant Jamaican woman greeted her from the counter. At least six feet tall and almost as wide, the woman smiled at her with gold plated teeth. "I'm Rosie."
"Alyssa." She grinned at the way the woman's braids danced around her face when she spoke. "Quiet's good for me. Do you have any rum back there?"
"Turn around, lady." Rosie pointed at the white-capped waves breaking against the reef about a mile from shore. "That's the Caribbean Sea. Of course I have rum. Silver or gold?"
"Silver with Diet Coke."
"A Skinny Black Bitch?"
Alyssa blinked before smiling in agreement. "If that's what you call a rum and Coke, then I'm dying for a Skinny Black Bitch, make her extra sexy."
Rosie tilted her head back and laughed, braids enhancing the movement with a show of their own. "Some use vodka with the cola, but," she pointed at the ocean, "I use rum, still call it a Skinny Black Bitch, Rosie style."
"Whatever you call it, I want it." She glanced at the nearly empty bar, thrilled that she'd chosen to come down during this time of year. Families, yes, and the usual scuba divers, but no head-over-heels-in-love couples pawing each other. It couldn't get any better.
"You here alone?"
Alone. Single. Solo. An island unto herself. She sighed and nodded. The last thing she wanted to do was discuss Scott, yet she couldn't escape him even a thousand miles from home. She tapped her fingers against her bare knee and concentrated on the thatched roof covering the bar.
"I sense a story. Tell Rosie why a beautiful woman like you is in paradise alone."
"Cheating fiancé of eight years is getting married in five days to a woman he's only known six months." She reached for the rum and Coke and gulped it down. Let the rum haze begin. Why not live out a Jimmy Buffet song and get a little wild? What did she have to lose? Everyone from her coworkers to her grandmother told her she needed to break out of her comfort zone.
"Bastard." Rosie folded her arms over her chest and shook her head with disapproval. "I hope he goes bald, loses his teeth, gets fat, and his wife divorces him and leaves him penniless."
Well, she could toast to that!
"You are the best bartender. Ever." She smiled at her new best friend before looking over her shoulder at a dive boat returning to the dock. She imagined it had been a good day for scuba diving, a bit windy but otherwise flawless.
A lone kayaker bounced along the boat's wake. A few of the men on the dive boat waved to him and he held up a paddle in greeting. Bad idea. Over he went, upside down in an instant thanks to a rogue wave. He righted the boat and smiled at the men who were now on the dock and giving him a hard time.
"I guess they all know each other?" She asked without meaning to say the words out loud.
"Luke—the kayaker—is alone now, but his family had been here for the holiday. As for the others, most of them are guests here, too," Rosie said with her golden smile. "How long are you staying with us?"
"Through the New Year," she nodded, her gaze locked on the kayaker as he pulled the boat onto the sand, his laugh drifting up to her on the wind.
He shoved his hands through dark hair while he waited for the dive group to walk down the dock. Even from a distance, his smile transmitted ease and humor. A man who could laugh at himself...she liked it.
Not that she wanted to like it. She turned her back on the scene and met Rosie's observant eyes.
"He's a good looking man, ya?"
"Who?" She poked the lime in her glass and avoided contact.
"Luke. He's anti-love, too. You two need to get drunk together, I think."
"I'll pass." She smiled at the idea, though. "What makes you think I'm anti-love? I was engaged eight years."
"To the wrong man."
"I can't argue that," she muttered over the edge of the glass, her gaze slipping toward Luke who now carried his kayak over his shoulder toward the dive shop. The man definitely filled out his t-shirt in all the right places and had an ass that begged to be bitten. She now understood why men liked seeing women in wet t-shirt contests. Who knew kayakers were so buff? Even from this distance she could see sculpted biceps, hard glutes, and defined calf muscles. She shook her head and looked into her empty glass. "Are you sure there's just rum in here?"
"Rosie style." Rosie winked and handed her another drink. "You're on vacation. Enjoy yourself."
Oh, what the hell. The more she drank, the more she forgot about the long ski weekend slash bachelor party going on back in Colorado and their mutual friends who'd be attending. Eight years of wasted time. She shook her head at the idea, yet she'd never pushed for a wedding of her own. Why not?
He'd once called her cold, accused her of living behind a barricade of excuses designed to keep anyone from getting too close. She'd dismissed the criticism. After all, she'd said yes to the proposal, hadn't she?
She sucked on the lime, her mind getting foggy.
"I didn't love him," she announced to Rosie after a prolonged silence. "He proposed and I said yes because he'd been the only man to ask. I didn't know that then, though, but...wow, that's horrible to realize, isn't it? So why am I so pissed off that he's getting married?"
"Because he did the leaving."
She thought about that as she studied the bar menu for some food to absorb Rosie's special brew. Yeah, he'd done the leaving...and the cheating.
"I'll have my usual, Rosie," a male voice said.
She glanced up and saw the kayaker pulling out a stool a few seats away from hers. His black hair, wet from his spill near the dock and stiff from salt water, stuck out in random spikes from his head. He pulled at his t-shirt from where it stuck to his chest as he adjusted himself on the stool. When he noticed her staring, he flashed a smile that showcased dimples and humor.
"I flipped the kayak, not exactly my finest moment," he said.
"How was the reef? Looks a bit choppy today. Did you tie up at the buoy?" Rosie asked as she handed him a frosted mug and a Heineken.
"I went further north, hitched to a buoy at the Mexican Rocks. Smooth going out, rough coming back. It's all good." His palms cupped the frozen mug as if reveling in its coolness.
"I was telling Alyssa here that you're anti-love." Rosie blurted out as if they'd been discussing tide charts.
He paid extraordinary attention to pouring the beer into his mug, his smile turning into a laugh. "I have absolutely no idea what to say to that."
"She's anti-love, too. Her ex is getting married on New Year's Eve."
"Rosie," she said in protest, "I thought bartenders were like priests and all discussions were confidential."
"This aint no goddamn church. Do I look like a priest to you?" Rosie held her hands out to wide, showed off her gold teeth, and her braids pummeled her shoulders as she laughed.
"More like a Buddha," Luke said. "I agree with the lady, though, bartenders are meant to keep their lips sealed."
"Americans and your rules," Rosie said with a snort before walking over toward an older couple that had seated themselves at a table on the pool deck.
She poked her lime with the straw and ignored the urge to flee. Rosie's pronouncement, although somewhat amusing for its audacity, created an awkwardness between the lone patrons at the counter.
She sipped her drink, keenly aware that she hadn't bothered to comb through her hair after getting out of the pool and now it had dried into an untamed mess around her bare shoulders.
"Ex getting married in five days," he muttered. "That's harsh."
"I'm fine with it." She swayed a bit on the stool.
"No, seriously, I don't care." She faced him, her gaze sliding over the dried salt sticking to his neck. She wondered what he taste like. "Have you had an ex get married?"
"Last year. She's expecting her first child in a few months." He leaned his elbow on the bar and assessed her with a lopsided grin. "We suck at small talk."
Damn, the man was too good to be true. Humor, hot body, killer smile, and take-me-to-bed blue eyes were a deadly combination in her book. She ripped her gaze from his and focused on the drink in her hand. She probably should have asked more questions about Rosie's special ingredients.
"She's here alone," Rosie stated in her matter-of-fact way.
She winced at the word 'alone.' Traveling here solo for the New Year had been her idea, hadn't it? She didn't want to be the one who stayed in Denver and pretended to take the higher road. And she was damn sick of everyone she knew pointing out her single status.
"Must be an adventurer. I like it. Spontaneous, carefree...the only way to be, if you ask me," Luke said. "Why is it that everyone who is in couple mode tries to make those of us who aren't feel like we're flawed?"
"Yeah, they do that, don't they? Maybe we're the smart ones."
"There's no maybe about it. We can do whatever we want, when we want. Look at us...sitting in a bar in paradise, doing exactly as we please."
She slid her gaze toward his. What she pleased to do involved ripping his wet t-shirt in two and screwing him blind. It had been a long time since she'd done anything wild and carefree. Being a thousand miles away from home coupled with Rosie's special ingredients ignited a daring in her that had long been dormant.
"What is it that you like to do with all your freedom?" she asked.
He squinted and caught his lower lip between his teeth. "Whatever comes up."
"So you're a live in the moment kind of guy?"
"I am today." His wink caught her off-guard.
What am I doing? I don't flirt, don't pick up men in bars, don't travel alone to places I've never been before. She smiled against the rim of the glass. Well, maybe this is a new me. It's going to be a new year, might as well be a new me, too.
"Hey, Rosie, the love of your life has arrived!" A man driving a golf cart loaded down with strapped musical equipment called out as he parked on the sand.
"Dave the Gringo. He's a one-man band. You'll see him all over the place at all times of day," Luke said when he noticed where her attention had gone. "He comes here every Friday night."
"How long have you been here?"
"A week." He watched Dave the Gringo unstrap a keyboard. "Things are pretty routine on the island. Dave's here on Fridays, up at Captain Morgan's tomorrow, and out to Sanctuary on Sunday. Ramon's has its beach barbecue on Tuesdays. It doesn't take long to figure out how the island works." He turned his gaze on her. "Have you been here before?"
She shook her head 'no', all thoughts evaporating at eye contact. Blame it on the sun, the rum, exhaustion, or delirium, but she could definitely see going out of her comfort zone with Luke the Kayaker.
He turned, stretched a leg in her direction over the tops of the stools, and perched his beer on his thigh. His gaze roamed over her, too, with an equal amount of curiosity and...dare she think...desire.
"So are you anti-man or just anti-love? Don't let one jerk ruin the chances for the rest of us." With his smile came the dangerous dimples.
"Are you flirting with me?" The idea intrigued her. Not that she wanted to hook up with some stranger, but then again maybe she needed his kind of diversion. She looked into his blue eyes, memorized the dimples, felt the warmth of alcohol rushing through her veins, and swayed forward on her stool.
"I don't flirt." The gleam in his eyes said otherwise.
"Liar. I think you've been down here flirting for a week," she said, her words more slurred than she'd like as she tried to channel the sophisticated woman she pretended to be back home. She propped her elbow on the counter, stretched her legs next to his, crossed her ankles, and stared into his eyes.
Whatever Rosie put in that drink had given her courage.
His hand closed around her ankle. "You'd be wrong, way off the mark."
His touch sent shivers of awareness through her body. She shifted on the stool, uncomfortable under his scrutiny, certain he knew the affect he had on her. Losing control wasn't her style, neither was picking up strangers in bars. Yet she had an overwhelming desire to knock over the stools, peel his swim trunks down, crawl onto his lap, and screw him against the bar.
She pressed her hand to her forehead. Maybe she was sick. Lust wasn't in her vocabulary. At age thirty, she'd never had a one-night stand. There were simply things she didn't do...and suddenly she wanted to do all of them with Luke the Kayaker.
"I'd better take a nap," she muttered more to herself than him.
"Okay, I admit it, I'm a flirt. Why not? Flirting is fun." His fingers traced lazy circles against the top of her foot. "Let's meet back here in an hour and go to dinner. I'll show you the town of San Pedro. I know all the best places."
"You work fast."
"You're the one who brought up exes before even saying hello."
"Rosie did, not me." She watched his fingers make lazy circles on her skin.
"C'mon...you're alone, I'm alone, what's the harm in having dinner together?"
She slid a fingertip over the rim of her glass without looking away from him. Tempting proposition. Her options were staying here, dining alone, probably getting sick from drinking too much...or she could go out with Mr. Sexy Eyes and Dimples and have some fun.
"One condition." She dared touch his foot as he touched hers, liked seeing his eyes narrow in response, enjoyed watching him swallow hard. "I'm a little drunk, I admit that, and probably will stay that way for the next week. I don't know you, and you don't know me. No need to share our deepest and darkest secrets. No last names, no following each other's Instagram, no strings or expectations."
"It's only dinner and a town tour." His smile widened, showing off his dimples again. "Alyssa Anonymous...I like it. Deal."
Anonymity sounds simple, yet leads to complications neither foresee when they find themselves on a
Caribbean life-or-death adventure and discover they want more than first names and good memories.
Coming December 6, 2013.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Thanks for stopping by the hop where we're taking a break from talking romance to talk about FOOD! Yum. Please leave a comment with your email address below to be eligible to win the grand prize giveaway for $450 or a second grand prize of an ebook from each participating author (I contributed "Riptide")--that's 75 ebooks! You'll be set for 2014!
Also, I'll be choosing one winner from the comments below to receive a $25 Target gift card (USA) or an ebook copy of my novel, KISS ME SLOWLY. (I don't want to leave out the international visitors!)
Also, I'll be choosing one winner from the comments below to receive a $25 Target gift card (USA) or an ebook copy of my novel, KISS ME SLOWLY. (I don't want to leave out the international visitors!)
My favorite is Rommegrot (pronouced room-a-groot) or otherwise known as cream mush or Norwegian Christmas Pudding. Yeah, I know the names don't sound appealing, but let me assure you that this is heaven in a bowl. Seriously. Just thinking about it now makes me salivate! Imagine what BLISS would taste like and that will get you close to how delicious this holiday pudding is.
1 quart whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup butter (the real thing, baby!)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter (to be used later, bear with me)
Heat milk and cream, being careful not to scorch it. In a separate large, heavy pan, melt butter and flour. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour milk and cream into the flour/butter mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, until it bubbles and thickens.
Melt the 1/4 cup butter in a separate container.
Stir sugar into the flour/butter/milk/cream mixture until thick. Pour the melted butter on top. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm. The key with making this is the constant stirring. It actually doesn't take long at all…but you need to just…keep…stirring.
Rommegrot is amazing…and fattening…but it's the holidays so who cares? Next up is lefse--which always goes along with the above, but is a MESS to make. It always turns into a flour fight at some point.
|My daughter's back during lefse making.|
8 cups potatoes, boiled, approx 5 pounds
2 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 lb butter
2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
Extra flour to spread on canvas when rolling dough
Rolling pin with stocking cover
Large round grill (they make them especially for lefse)
Flat counter or round lefse board with canvas cover
Lefse stick to pick up and turn lefse cakes
Peel and boil potatoes with salt and sugar. Rice potatoes with the butter while hot and leave to chill. Mix chilled potatoes with flour and make 6 or 8 rolls of dough and keep them refrigerated until rolling. Roll tennis ball-size of dough to a 12 to 14 inch circle on a well-floured canvas-covered board. Transfer to the grill and turn once when side has many browned spots. Keep in a dish towel covered pan until cooled.
|My dad making lefse!|
Serve with butter, sugar and/or cinnamon. Roll up and EAT!
There's a reason the Vikings were so hearty! SUGAR overload!
Now for a taste of my latest romantic suspense, "Reckless Endangerment." It's romance with an edge--wounded Marine, feisty reporter, human trafficking, PTSD--Reviewers have called it an "epic love story" and I must agree. These two characters really stayed with me.
Here's a taste…
“I have faith in you. It’s me that I’m not so sure about these days.” He peeled the orange without looking at her but knew she paced next to him in the small kitchen. He chanced a glance up at her and winced at the distant expression on her face. He hated looking up at her. Hated it. He had once been able to lift her up and screw her against the wall if he wanted, but now...now he peeled an orange and wondered what the hell to say next.
It would be easy to let her back in, as easy as breathing. Talking to her felt like a much needed shot of normalcy. He dropped the orange to the counter. “You said we don’t know anything about being married and you’re right. We don’t. So what do you want?”
She perched on the counter, her dress rising up her thighs again. “I’d like to eat the Chinese I brought. Devon’s picking me up in a few hours. We’re meeting a source in the park at midnight. There’s someone we need to find...anyway, I needed a break and, for some reason, I thought you’d be a nice change of pace.”
He grinned without looking away from the skin exposed between the hem of her skirt and the top of her boots. “You dress like this for a source?”
“I dress like this for you.” Her fingers touched his forehead. “I never really got to dress sexy for you, except in Greece.”
He dragged his gaze over her body before looking in her eyes. He had no idea what to do with her. “Who’s Devon?”
“My producer slash photographer. She’s good...I like her.” She caught her lower lip between her teeth and stared at him.
“Meeting a source at midnight sounds dangerous.” He smiled because he knew it probably was and that she’d always tempt Fate. People like her ran in when others ran out. His smile faded at the memory of her running back into the line of fire to save him. “I thought we were fighting a minute ago, now you want to eat Chinese with me?”
“Yeah, well, I’m unpredictable like that.” She broke the gaze and reached for the bags he hadn’t noticed sitting next to her hip.
His hand slid up her thigh. Her skin felt like heaven beneath his hands. His thumbs pressed against her inner thigh. Both hands moved up her leg. He wanted to undress her. Taste her.
She opened her legs...just a little...enough. He pulled her close and kissed her knee. His hand caressed her thigh beneath the hem of the dress. His fingers skimmed across red silk panties.
“I don’t want to hurt you and am afraid I might. PTSD, they tell me in all this therapy they make me do. I hear stories of men turning on their wives in the middle of the night, being lost in a nightmare and I’m capable of that, Hope. I am,” he said against her skin.
“I can handle you.” She pulled his hair. “Have a little faith.”
“Do you really want to deal with me? Isn’t your life complicated enough?” Damn, she felt good. His hands curved over her hips.
“Not really. I’ve been a little bored.” She slid toward the edge of the counter.
He didn’t know what he was doing. Stay. Go. Fight. Flee. But he did know that this felt right. Being with her was the only thing in months that felt real, that felt natural.
His fingers slid beneath the panties and pulled them down. He met her gaze, thumbs pressed against her wetness.
She bit her lip, eyes alive with a dare.
“This is crazy,” he whispered without looking away from her. “You and me together again. It’s not realistic.”
“We’re unconventional, remember? A colonel and a reporter falling in love in a war zone was pretty unrealistic, too, yet we did it. We couldn’t get enough of each other, that’s what I remember.” She slithered her hips closer to the edge of the counter, the heels of her boots resting on the arms of his wheelchair. “You want to touch me and guess what? I want you to touch me, too.”
Oh, yeah, he wanted to touch her. Taste her. Bite her. Fuck her. But if he did any of the things he wanted to do, that would seal the deal, reunite them, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be anyone’s husband.
“You’re bad for me.” He bit her knee while his fingers slid down the zipper of the boot. “You’re gonna send me over the deep end. Is that your plan? To have me committed?”
“I never tell my plans.” She drank from the bottle of ouzo and he briefly wondered when she’d grabbed it.
He removed first one boot and then the other until her legs were bared and open in front of him. He’d always loved her shapely legs, the way the muscles curved, the way her skin felt beneath his fingers. He ran his hands over them, always so smooth, and cherished her compliance.
She held the bottle down to him and he took a drink without looking away from her face. He loved that she was equal parts naughty and nice, half badass and half angel. The liquor burned his throat, reminded him that he had most definitely survived.
“I can’t make you any promises,” he said before licking the inside of her thigh.
“I wouldn’t believe them anyway.”
Keep on hopping and commenting with your email address to be eligible to win some great prizes. I'd love to hear about some of your holiday traditions, food related or not.
Posted by Amber Lea Easton at 2:17 AM
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
All novels, regardless of genre, need captivating characters and hooks that pull the readers into the story. Romance, in particular, is a character driven, highly charged genre. In all great love stories, there needs to be an emotional connection, not just between the characters, but between them and the readers as well. How do we novelists write engaging/believable romance without being cliché, crass or cheesy? After all, emotion can go over-the-top if we’re not careful.
* Flawed characters. No one is perfect, even if the hero looks like a Greek God and makes you drool. In order for the reader to connect, there must be a vulnerability that makes the character human. Why root for someone if we think they’re superficial or mean?
* Attraction. You may think that’s easy to write, but it isn’t. Saying, “wow, he’s hot” is lame. Think about it...when you’re attracted to someone, don’t you have a physical reaction? When I write attraction, I don’t tell the readers I show them through nonverbal cues. In Riptide, when Lauren first interacts with Noah, I write, “little earthquakes of desire rocked through her until she thought she’d fall off the stool.” For attraction to jump off the page, the reader needs to feel what’s happening, imagine being on that stool and talking with that man. Non-verbal physical reactions are key to engaging the reader in this area, which we all know is a key element of any romance novel.
* Conflict. Nothing worth having comes easily, isn’t that the saying? Even though there is the attraction, there needs to be a conflict to overcome whether it’s trust issues, betrayal, or, because I write suspense, a life and death situation. Even though I have the suspense in my novels that provides a natural plot conflict, there are still human conflicts that need to be worked out to make the characters believable. We all have baggage--past heartbreaks, abandonment issues and what not--so the characters need those as well.
* Sexual tension and sex. The sex needs to come at a natural time in the evolution of the relationship, just like in real life. Now this timing varies from story to story depending on character development, but the readers truly need to be saying, “will they ever just rip each other’s clothes off already” before I give them satisfaction. Writing sexual tension is fun...prolonging the actual act, building up to it...not only do the readers shift in the chairs with anticipation but so do the characters, which makes it all that much more rewarding when the sex scenes finally happen.
Engaging romance readers is all about tugging at their heartstrings and making the characters as believable as possible. We all want to be rooting for the happy ending and smiling when we turn the last page.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Taking us behind the scenes of Better You Go Home, Author Scott Driscoll gives us insights as to the true story that inspired this exciting medical thriller.
From Scott Driscoll, author of Better You Go Home (Oct 2013, Coffeetown Press, Seattle)
The inspiration for Better You Go Home began, really, when I was twenty-one and in Germany taking a break from college. After working for a few months in a bowling alley on an American naval base in Augsburg Germany, I had enough money saved to continue traveling. I booked a tour on a bus from Munich to Istanbul. The bus detoured through Prague, where we spent one night at a hotel before driving on to Hungary the next day. This was the late 70s.
Dinner that night was in the hotel’s ballroom. We were not allowed to wander outside unescorted. The ballroom was elegant enough, high ceiling, tall French windows, drapes. We were the only customers. The wait staff wore surly expressions and stayed by the kitchen to smoke. The women wore heavy clogs with high support ankles, unfeminine but good for staying on your feet for hours on end. We were treated to suspicious glances, until, bored, I took my harmonica out of my daypack and pretended to blow railroad blues (I am not a musician). Soon a few staff, then more came across the ballroom floor to our table. American blues fascinated them enough to overcome their fear of being exposed as decadently bourgeoisie. I only mention this because it was the first time in Europe that I actually felt a sense of coming home.
Many years later, at my Aunt’s funeral in Cedar Rapids Iowa, I heard a cousin of my father’s say: “Too bad Helen has died. Now there is no one left who can translate the Czech letters.” That one chance phrase started an odyssey of searching. I knew there was a Czech side to my father’s family, but no one spoke about them. Eventually I would find out why. But that required tracking down a priest nearby who was Czech and who was a relative and who translated our letters. After handing over his information, he said he wanted never to hear from us on this matter again. There was a suicide, a bigamous marriage, children born out of wedlock.
In 1994, three years after the Velvet Revolution, I went to Prague to search for the Bohemian village the Czech side of my family was from. Merely finding the village was a triumph. There were five villages with approximately the same name. Stupidly, I did not take a translator with me. In 1999, I went back, this time with a translator, a terrifically helpful man from Prague who ran a black light theater company and traveled and spoke excellent English (I do not speak Czech). We spent the better part of two days visiting the old farmhouse and drinking Slivovice and pivo and eating sweet pastries and chatting with an elderly relative who had lots of stories to tell.
The elderly relative pulled out a black pocket-sized spiral notebook. Through my translator, I was trying to get him to tell stories about the relatives who’d fled. I wanted him to tell me what happened. Why the suicide. Why some left and some stayed. But, no, he kept saying by and by. First he badly wanted to show us the numbers referring to the produce he’d been forced to turn over to the Soviet co-op. He wanted to explain himself, to show that he hadn’t been irresponsible, he hadn’t abandoned the farm, though he had nearly starved his family.
We visited the town historian and saw our family listed in the record book and here I made the discovery that a person named Anezka, mentioned in one of the letters, was listed with no known father. All others were accounted for but not her.
The story began to unfold as a search for Anezka and an attempt to understand why my father had been told, no, those people are dead. We do not speak to them.
I took careful notes in Steno pads during those two journeys. I kept those notes and referred to them when building early drafts of my story.
I read books. Czech history. Czech novels. Essays by Havel. Before I could actually feel ready to write chapters, I had to feel like I knew that world.
Thank you so much, Scott. What a journey you've been on. I appreciate you sharing it with us. Now let's take a peek inside the book. Good luck with your new release!
A married man’s unexpected departure from Czechoslovakia― with the neighbor woman and her children―is at the heart of a mysterious trail of true events that has inspired University of Washington writing instructor Scott Driscoll to write his first novel, Better You Go Home. “At a family funeral in the early 90s, I learned about a cache of letters written in Czech to my aunt. I had them translated and learned that a male relative had left his wife and three children in a remote farm village in Bohemia prior to World War One.” Driscoll continues, “I learned my relative and the neighbor woman married bigamously in Iowa. The other fact revealed was the presence of a child named Anezka―who seems to have simply disappeared. I suspect she was their illicit child.”
Not long after, Driscoll visited his relative’s village and began to speculate. “What had become of the unidentified child? What if my life had deployed on her side of the Iron Curtain? Once that question lodged in my psyche, like a small wound that wouldn’t heal, I knew I had to write this story.” The work of literary fiction that trip inspired is Better You Go Home. The novel traces the story of Seattle attorney Chico Lenoch, who is diabetic, nearing kidney failure and needs a donor organ. He travels to the Czech Republic in search of his half-sister who may be able to help save his life. What Chico does not count on is unearthing long-buried family secrets.
Better You Go Home is about a son seeking his father’s secrets, but in a larger sense it’s about the progeny of exiles. Says Driscoll, “Much has been written about the survivors of WWII and its aftermath; I want to draw attention to the lives of their children.”
A peek inside...
Tuesday Night in Prague: Sept. 13, 1994
Milada’s flat is on the eighth floor of a twelve-story high rise in a
gray sidliste of concrete block buildings. The street curb is dammed by
defunct Skodas, the no-frills tin-can cars manufactured locally. The security
mesh screening the outer door is rusted and dented. This is the depressing
Khrushchev-era flat Milada is forced to continue calling home so that her
husband could afford that Russian mafia loan. Okay, it’s not lost on me that
I’m taking risks, possibly for no better reason than to salvage my own father’s
dignity. Or my own. Still, Jiři goes too far. How is his pride any different than
that of his father’s?
She pushes the buzzer on the intercom panel to alert Jiři to our arrival.
Jiři’s family name is listed on the panel. Her name is Kotyza. Her grandfather
was related to my grandmother. Most lights behind the buttons on the panel
are burnt out. I avoid looking at hers. I don’t want to see if they’ve troubled
themselves to replace the bulb behind their butto anymore than I want to
think of Milada stuck here for the forseeable future.
We bounce in the elevator up to the eighth floor and walk down a corridor
with cracked and missing tiles. A decorative strip of plaster above the tile,
painted the color of mustard, has browned with grime. And the smells.
Sour cabbage, urine, acrid tobacco. Nose wrinkling neglect has turned this
passageway into a tableau of the torture I imagine it must have been to raise
her family here. No wonder she obsessed over the Skagit, the baldies, the
turbulent water. The stinking salmon carcasses on the flood banks must have
been ambrosia to her eastern bloc nose.
Prague is earning a reputation as the world’s black market capital for illegal
organs. I know this, but I did not anticipate Dr. Saudek’s insinuation—as he
shoved me away from the shores of Prague this afternoon—that this was the
reason I’ve come paddling into his little harbor.
Milada insisted that we phone Blue Cross tonight and request an extension.
Jiři’s black-light troupe—he’s their business manager—is performing at a local
theater after dinner. She wants us to attend his show. She admits she is proud
of her husband’s participation in the revolution. She will always love him for
In the entryway to her flat we exchange shoes for slippers. Blinds cover
the windows, an old precaution to prevent paranoid neighbors from spying, a
habit she admits she finds hard to break. Curious—can’t help it—I lift a blind.
In a littered lot between buildings is a rusty, partly collapsed play gym. All
the reason I’d need to keep the blinds closed. Her dark furniture includes a
massive armoire for coats and shoes and a credenza filled with the obligatory
leaded crystal. Nothing in the details says Milada. Where does she keep
her details? Following her to the kitchen, I ponder the degree to which the
details we surround ourselves with ought to reflect our desires. To what extent
does a paucity of details reflect self denial? My father kept his details in the
basement. That amber bowl he flicked his cigar ashes into. The starched white
undershirts, the ironed Union work pants. The bar of Ivory soap at the sink he
brushed his teeth with, in the early days, when he still thought and acted like
an emigrant. That stack of quarters, weekly replenished, that I was forbidden
to touch. I liked to think they were savings kept from Mom in order to send
money overseas to Anezka. What do those details say about him? That he
was caught between worlds, a man whose heart desired a world that was in
his past, that he longed for pointlessly? But he was kind. Those quarters, I’m
convinced, were more than just beer and cigar money.
In the kitchen, her husband winces at my broad-voweled American accent
when I politely return his “dobry den.” Jiři is a short man with an athletic build
through the chest and thighs. With his pale eyes, sandy brows, sandy hair
cropped conservatively short, he looks more handsomely like the Olympic
skater he once was than a revolutionary. You’d expect to see his face on a
Wheaties box, not on a prison mugshot. Their fifteen year old son, Martin,
takes my jacket. His hair is jelled into neon pink and green Mohawk spikes.
Milada tells me he is crazy about Seattle grunge. I gave him a Nirvana disc and
a Walkman to play it in—he’s on his own for the batteries. Do I want coffee?
he asks. I explain that I’d love it but it’s a problem of fluid retention; I have to
measure intake. Then I decide why not, I’m going right back home anyway.
Why not enjoy the little time I do have here?
“Tonight,” Jiři announces with a dramatic sweep of his arms, “we serve
Czech specialty, svičkova!” Pronounced “sveetch-ko-vah,” the word rolls off
his tongue with a sumptuous ahhh! The sauce for the pork roast takes two or
three days to prepare. It will be too rich and too salty for me, Milada warned
yesterday when she invited me to dinner, but I said no problem, I’ll take a
spoonful and appreciate what I am missing. Throwing Jiři a stern watch-your manners
look, she disappears into a back room to change. While their son
fixes coffee, I escape to the deck.
Wash is hung to dry on plastic lines. The deck side of the building faces
the freeway, which is so close it roars like a thousand sewers draining all at
once. The unfiltered exhaust makes my eyes water. I ponder the shove I took
this afternoon from the esteemed Dr. Saudek. No doubt he was only being
sensible when he said, “Better you go home.” Still, how could I not resent the
insinuation that I’m here to steal a Czech kidney and that I’d take advantage
of my father’s country in its desperation? Nothing I could possibly say would
change the fact that in his eyes I’m an American and that’s that.
At first Dr. Saudek actually seemed willing to help. Short, wiry, with buzzcut
gray hair, the head of the Department of Diabetes wore a lab coat and had
a clipped manner and was more at ease spouting statistics than in offering
encouragement, but he did seem to take a special interest in my case. He
proudly showed me a study he’d published in English entitled, “The Effect of
Kidney/Pancreas Transplantation on Diabetic Retinopathy.”
His secretary printed a copy. I read it using my magnifier while he watched.
Eleven years in, more than ninety percent of the patients who received only
a partial pancreas from a living donor had gone blind. Patients who received
a complete pancreas from a cadaver are exhibiting a sixty percent rate of eye
“You still have functional eyesight,” he observed. “If you take only portion
of your sister’s pancreas, you will certainly become blind.”
“What I need most urgently is a kidney,” I said.
That’s where the interview began to sour. To qualify for a legal kidney
here, you have to be Czech, and I don’t have a Czech passport. When I was a
dependent my father could have made this possible but he never expected to
return and so chose not to do it.
“Cost for surgery,” he went on, I’m sure to scare me, “including mandatory
first year of care, would be about thirty thousand. In cash dollars. If you have
this money,” he shrugged elaborately, “maybe we could put you on list.”
I couldn’t help but notice the contradictory messages and was reminded
that Czech doctors work for the State and are not well paid. Many take private
patients who show up bearing envelopes stuffed with cash.
He handed me a brochure that proudly announced the introduction of the
immunosuppressant drug program ten years ago, in 1984. This program made
it possible to transplant organs that wouldn’t be rejected by the recipient’s
immune system. The annual number of kidney and pancreas transplants has
risen steadily since then. Twenty-five are scheduled at his clinic for this year
“Better you go home,” he said tersely. “Among Czech people, six hundred
thousand have diabetes. Patients on dialysis is up thirty-one percent from
when we began our study.” He opened his hands, palms up, as if to say sorry,
what can we do?
About the author…
Scott Driscoll is an instructor at the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education programs where he has taught creative writing for 20 years. He has also taught fiction and creative nonfiction in the Writers in the Schools and Path With Art programs and online through the Seattle-based Writer's Workshop, as well as at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House literary center. Scott was awarded the “UW Educational Outreach Excellence in Teaching Award” for 2006.
Driscoll has been awarded eight Society of Professional Journalists awards, most recently for social issues reporting. His narrative essay about his daughter's coming of age was cited in the Best American Essays, 1998. While enrolled in the UW MFA program, he won the Milliman Award for Fiction. “Writing for me is about applying form to the mysteries we suffer.”
Learn more at www.scott-driscoll.com
“Moving, powerful, and compulsively readable, Better You Go Home is the unforgettable story of a man's journey to save his own life, and how he discovers himself along the way.”
—Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
Better You Go Home will be released by Coffeetown Press on Oct. 1, 2013
$13.95, 236 pp, Trade Paperback/eBook~ISBN: 978-1-60381-170-5