Dear Friends,

It’s a bittersweet moment for me as I think back over the Lakeshore Chronicles series. When Summer At Willow Lake was published, the topic was a 50th wedding anniversary, based on the celebration my family had for my parents. In fact, I dedicated the novel to them.


Yesterday, I learned the book is on the New York Times Bestseller List once again. For that I have readers to thank.

The very next day, my author copies of Starlight on Willow Lake arrived at my doorstep.
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I’m so excited for you to read this new novel. Like the first Lakeshore book, Starlight on Willow Lake (aka Lakeshore #11) is dedicated to my parents. By now, they’ve been married for 61 years.

​But it’s particularly poignant, because my sweet dad passed away this month. I’m still in a fog of missing him. He loved the Lakeshore books and was always my biggest cheerleader.

In honor of my dad, here is his favorite Old Fashioned recipe. Cheers, Dad!

Just a reminder that if you preorder Starlight on Willow Lake, you can receive some fun e-mails with exclusive content about this upcoming book. Plus, you’ll be automatically entered in the drawing for a collection of swanky things guaranteed to please any reader. So if you preordered the book, or plan to, take 30 seconds to fill out this form, and you’re in!

Thanks to all for sticking with the Lakeshore Chronicles through thick and thin.

Love,
Susan

Please join me on my social networking channels, and let’s talk books! You can check out my Pinterest board. You’re also welcome to join me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram, or read my blog below.

My memory is so bad that I’ve taken up the habit of pre-ordering books. For me, it’s the perfect way to remember to buy a book I’ve been dying to read.

My publisher is rewarding readers who pre-order Starlight on Willow Lake. You get exclusive extra content about and from the book, and you’re entered in a contest with lavish prizes. What’s better than that?

About that special content–I worked like a rented mule on it, so I hope you like it!

Anyway. If you preordered the book, or if you plan to, click this link to sign up for the special content and the contest. Thanks, all!

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Q: Why, oh why, did you leave Daisy twisting in the wind like that? Curse you! May you burn in hell! (But after you write Daisy’s story.)
A: WARNING. There are bound to be a few spoilers in my reply. If spoilers bother you, please don’t read! If you don’t mind the spoilers, roll your mouse over the hidden parts of the reply to highlight and reveal the text (I’ve written it in white font).
Oh, Daisy. When will you learn? We’ve been following you since you were a troubled child of divorce in Summer at Willow Lake, a pregnant teen in The Winter Lodge, leaving home in Dockside, a college student in Snowfall at Willow Lake, a career girl in Fireside and a busy single mom in Lakeshore Christmas.
And all we’ve ever wanted was for you to find your happily-ever-after.
You keep being pulled back and forth between Logan, the handsome, well-born father of your child, and Julian, the dangerous but adoring adrenalin junkie in search of adventure.
And now this! Somebody’s about to pop the question and we don’t even get to know which one, or what your answer is!
Argh! I could kill you dead right now!
There is no way everyone is going to love everything that happens to a character in a book. I just hope I can be true and fair to the characters and storylines I’ve set up.
It’s true that there is a major, major unanswered question at the end of Lakeshore Christmas. Daisy finds herself in quite a pickle. A delicious pickle.
The good news is, somebody wants to marry her.
The bad news is, we don’t quite know which somebody.
Do I know who dropped the d-bomb on the train platform? Yes.
Is it who you think it is? Probably not.
Disclaimer: Even though I do know how this is going to go down, I haven’t finished Daisy’s book yet, so it’s subject to change. Sometimes a story goes off in its own direction and I have no choice but to follow.
I have a title I really like: Daisy+Logan+Julian which doesn’t really give anything away. It’s a working title and my publisher tends to change them so I’m not holding my breath.
One thing I can promise: The book will be Lakeshore #8 (after the March 2010 release of The Summer Hideaway).

It’s Frustrated Reader time in my in-box. Definitely the most frequently asked question is this:

Q: Why, oh why, did you leave Daisy twisting in the wind at the end of Lakeshore Christmas? Curse you! May you burn in hell! (But after you finish Daisy’s story.)

A: WARNING. There are bound to be a few spoilers in my reply. If spoilers bother you, please don’t read! If you don’t mind the spoilers, hold down the mouse button and roll over the hidden parts of the reply to highlight and reveal the text (I’ve written it in white font).

Oh, Daisy. When will you learn? We’ve been following you since you were a troubled child of divorce in Summer at Willow Lake, a pregnant teen in The Winter Lodge, leaving home in Dockside, a college student in Snowfall at Willow Lake, a career girl in Fireside and a busy single mom in Lakeshore Christmas.

And all we’ve ever wanted was for you to find your happily-ever-after.

You keep being pulled back and forth between Logan, the handsome, well-born father of your child, and Julian, the dangerous but adoring adrenalin junkie in search of adventure.

gettyimages.com

gettyimages.com

And now this! Somebody’s about to pop the question and we don’t even get to know which one, or what your answer is!

Argh! I could kill you dead right now!

There is no way everyone is going to love everything that happens to a character in a book. I just hope I can be true and fair to the characters and storylines I’ve set up.

It’s true that there is a major, major unanswered question at the end of Lakeshore Christmas. Daisy finds herself in quite a pickle. A delicious pickle.

The good news is, somebody wants to marry her.

The bad news is, we don’t quite know which somebody.

Do I know who dropped the d-bomb on the train platform? Yes.

Is it who you think it is? Probably not.

Disclaimer: Even though I do know how this is going to go down, Daisy’s book is full of surprises. As the story unfolded from my imagination, the twists and turns surprised even me. Sometimes a story goes off in its own direction and I have no choice but to follow.

I had a title I really like: Daisy+Logan+Julian which doesn’t really give anything away. It’s a working title and my publisher tends to change them so didn’t hold my breath. Ultimately, the perfect title emerged from lengthy discussions with my editor and agent: Marrying Daisy Bellamy.

One thing I can promise: There is an enticing excerpt from Lakeshore #11 in the back of the new edition of Daisy. Please enjoy the exclusive preview of Starlight on Willow Lake.

I met the love of my life when I least expected it. I was done with men, I’d raised a fine daughter and was ready to enjoy thefreedom of singlehood. Then Jerry came riding into my world on a mountain bike one sunny afternoon. He made margaritas and guacamole. We took a trip to Hong Kong, got matching tattoos at a divey parlor in Wanchai, and decided to put our lives together.
Jerry and Susan anniversary at Canlis susanjerrybooth-162
The thing about falling in love when you’re older than dirt is that you get to have any wedding you want. Couture dress made by your bridegroom? Check. Wedding feast by a famous chef? Check. Eighties cover band for dancing? Vintage getaway car? Check.
We had it all in the bag. Then we looked out at the terrace of our wedding garden and saw this. The local art house movie theatre had put our names on the marquis.
Wishing you all your very own happily ever after,
strengthen your premise; check this out.
Premise in fiction. Your undergrad English professor probably taught you a fancy definition for this concept, but every novelist will tell you this: The premise is the cool thing your book is about.
Simple, right? Like, a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write a novel (Misery by Stephen King). The lives and loves of best friends through the years (Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy). A forbidden love that lasts a lifetime (The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough). A Navy wife whose marriage is in crisis learns her husband is missing at sea (The Ocean Between Us by my favorite author).
In The Art of Dramatic Writing (1977), Lajos Egri (who seems to have been obsessed with the concept of premise) states:
“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there…Every good play must have a well-formulated premise…No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.”
I envy the writer who comes up with fantastic ideas again and again, using the same method–listening to music, going for a drive, staring out the window, reading the paper, brainstorming with a friend.
For me, coming up with a premise is like going shopping without knowing what you’re looking for. “I’ll know it when I find it,” you tell yourself. Figuring out exactly what “it” is can be all-consuming. All I know is that “it” will be the driving force that sends me on the longest walk in the world, every day for the next six months to a year–that deathly commute from the couch to the blank page. So “it” had better be good.
The funny thing is, the harder I try, the more elusive “it” becomes. I think myself into a dither. I fiddle with things. I “what-if” myself into a state of confusion. I go on personal quests in search of the Cool Thing.
Sometimes I get lucky. I might discover it as I take my dog for a walk on the beach. Suddenly, I might think, “a child with Aspergers.” And I’ll think about a writer friend of mine and his sweet son, who has this condition, and its curiously gentling effect on the father. Or I’ll be digging in the garden or Windexing the kitchen, two activities that any writer will tell you have enormous appeal when confronted with a blank page. Maybe “it” will smack me upside the head as I stand at the refrigerator with the door propped open, contemplating the merits of leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast.
Then I’ll have to test the idea in a thousand ways, figuring out what the most compelling elements are. Where will the tension come from? What will the reader see on the page and how will I make myself–and then the reader–happy to be reading it?
For most books, my story premise is cobbled together the way a magpie gathers things for its nest, with a shiny object here, a twisty thread there. At some point, maybe while making a story collage, these seemingly disparate pieces will coalesce into the Great Thing I’ve been seeking, the thing that will consume me through the next year: IT.
How serious am I about nailing the premise of my next book? So serious, we’re having a meeting about it. I’m not kidding. I have a brain trust coming to my house today and we’re going to brainstorm our book premises all day long.
What’s a brain trust? Well, it’s my writers’ group plus the world’s best story consultant, Michael Hauge. Some of you might remember he has a lifelong connection to the place where I live–and I have a rockin’ private guest house. He’s ours for the day. We’re rolling up our sleeves…I’ll report in on our progress. Stay tuned….
nice view, but whats the real story?

nice view, but what’s the real story?

Premise in fiction. Your undergrad English professor probably taught you a fancy definition for this concept, but every novelist will tell you this: The premise is the cool thing your book is about. Simple, right? Like, a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write a novel (Misery by Stephen King). The lives and loves of best friends through the years (Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy). A forbidden love that lasts a lifetime (The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough). A Navy wife whose marriage is in crisis learns her husband is missing at sea (The Ocean Between Us by my favorite author). In The Art of Dramatic Writing (1977), Lajos Egri (who seems to have been obsessed with the concept of premise) states:

“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there…Every good play must have a well-formulated premise…No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.”

I envy the writer who comes up with fantastic ideas again and again, using the same method–listening to music, going for a drive, staring out the window, reading the paper, brainstorming with a friend. For me, coming up with a premise is like going shopping without knowing what you’re looking for.

“I’ll know it when I find it,” you tell yourself. Figuring out exactly what “it” is can be all-consuming. All I know is that “it” will be the driving force that sends me on the longest walk in the world, every day for the next six months to a year–that deathly commute from the couch to the blank page. So “it” had better be good. The funny thing is, the harder I try, the more elusive “it” becomes. I think myself into a dither. I fiddle with things. I “what-if” myself into a state of confusion. I go on personal quests in search of the Cool Thing.

Sometimes I get lucky. I might discover it as I take my dogs for a walk on the beach. Suddenly, I might think, “a lonely woman who runs a beachside restaurant.” And I’ll think about why she’s lonely, and what it feels like to own a place where marriage proposals happen on a regular basis. Or I’ll be digging in the garden or Windexing the kitchen, two activities that any writer will tell you have enormous appeal when confronted with a blank page. Maybe “it” will smack me upside the head as I stand at the refrigerator with the door propped open, contemplating the merits of leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast. Aha, I’ll think. How about a struggling young widow and a bazillionaire?

Then I’ll have to test the idea in a thousand ways, figuring out what the most compelling elements are. Where will the tension come from? What will the reader see on the page and how will I make myself–and then the reader–happy to be reading it?

For most books, my story premise is cobbled together the way a magpie gathers things for its nest, with a shiny object here, a twisty thread there. At some point, maybe while making a story collage, these seemingly disparate pieces will coalesce into the Great Thing I’ve been seeking, the thing that will consume me through the next year: IT.

Do you have a favorite story premise to read or write about? Share below! My inquiring mind want to know.

Get it right

Get it right

Help me out here, people. For the umpteenth time, I’ve had a note from a reader telling me about an error in my book. Many writers I know, including the peerless Tess Gerritsen, get this kind of feedback.

Now, ordinarily, I love getting corrections from readers because it means that in future editions of the book, I can change, says “commissary” to “dispensary” or put the Pax River Naval Station in the right state (blush).

But quite often, a reader wants to change a word that’s already correct. The latest? Gabbie K. tells me I’ve spelled “minuscule” wrong. She wants me to spell it “miniscule.” Is it because it’s derived from the ancient root “mini” as in, “mini marshmallows”???

And don’t get me started on words that are spelled right, but are perennially misunderstood. There has to be a term for this–words that don’t mean what you think they mean. You know, like toothsome. Ask anyone what she thinks it means. Use it in a sentence, even. “He had a toothsome smile.” Trust me, toothsome does NOT mean toothy. It has nothing to do with teeth. Look it up, I dare you.

And niggardly is not a racist term, although this word is so misunderstood that I’m nervous just typing it. niggardly“>It means stingy, and always has. Out of ignorance, some people think it’s an offensive term. So much so that when I need to say “stingy,” I’ll just say “stingy. Or maybe if I’m feeling daring, I’ll say “begrudgingly.”

Oh, and just so you know–when someone makes a speech and you want to agree with them vociferously, it’s “Hear! Hear!Not “Here, here,” unless you’re calling a dog. And did you know that if someone was killed by hanging, he was hanged, not hung? And the past tense of sneak is sneaked, not snuck. Check it out, people. You know I’m right.

[Note: Some sites like the New York Times have a  new lookup feature. Select any word, and it will takeyou to a dictionary link.]

Here are a few more “counterintuitive-nyms” for you. Treat this as a pop quiz. Do you know what these words mean, how to use them and how to spell them? If yes, then YAY YOU:

Noisome, inflammable, invaluable. Chasten, bemuse, vilify. Fecund, lachrymose. Guttural. Timorous. Restive, leman, sacrilegious.

How about you? What are some sadly misunderstood and misspelled words in your writing world?

It’s a literary technique. If you’re a reader, you don’t need to think about it. Just scroll down to the excerpt, and enjoy! If you’re a writer, you need to know this stuff. The amazing author and teacher Rita Gallagher (yep, the namesake of the RITA Award) advised writers to start in the middle, retrieve the past and drive toward the future. Why does it work? Think of it as going to a party full of strangers. You spot someone who intrigues you…maybe you feel a spark of attraction. You get to know him right here, right now, in the middle of things. If the attraction deepens, then you ask him about himself–what brought him here? Where’s he from? What is important to him? What does he dream about, fear, hope for…? You get the idea. Something hooks you in, and you want to go forward.

Now apply those principles to the opening of a novel. Begin in media res. That’s a fancy phrase for starting in the middle of things. The example below, from Summer by the Sea, illustrates the technique. We meet Rosa, seeing the scene from her point of view. This is all we know of her at this point.

Some writing teachers also call this a misdirection hook. The reader assumes the next beat of the story is heading one way, but in fact it goes in a less-expected direction. Maybe. You be the judge. Happy writing!

Rosa Capoletti knew that tonight was the night. Jason As-poll was going to pop the question. The setting was perfect—a starlit summer evening, an elegant seaside restaurant, the sounds of crystal and silver gently clinking over quiet murmurs of conversation. At Jason’s request, the Friday night trio was playing "Lovetown," and a few dreamy couples swayed to the nostalgic melody.

Candlelight flickered over their half-empty champagne flutes, illuminating Jason’s endearingly nervous face. He was sweating a little, and his eyes darted with barely suppressed trepidation. Rosa could tell he wanted to get this right.

She knew he was wondering, Should I reach across the table? Go down on one knee, or is that too hokey?

Go for it, Jason, she wanted to urge him. Nothing’s too hokey when it’s true love.

She also knew the ring lay nestled in a black velvet box, concealed in the inner pocket of his dinner jacket, right next to his racing heart.

Come on, Jason, she thought. Don’t be afraid.

And then, just as she was starting to worry that he’d chickened out, he did it. He went down on one knee.

A few nearby diners shifted in their chairs to look on fondly. Rosa held her breath while his hand stole inside his jacket.

The music swelled. He took the box from his pocket and she saw his mouth form the words: Will you marry me?

He held out the ring box, opening the hinged lid to reveal the precious offering. His hand shook a little. He still didn’t know for sure if she would have him.

Silly man, thought Rosa. Didn’t he know the answer would be—

"Table seven sent back the risotto," said Leo, the headwaiter, holding a thick china bowl in front of Rosa.

"Leo, for crying out loud," she said, craning her neck to see past him. "Can’t you tell I’m busy here?" She pushed him aside in time to watch her best friend, Linda Lipschitz, stand up from the table and fling her arms around Jason.

"Yes," Linda said, although from across the dining room Rosa had to read her lips. "Yes, absolutely."

Atta girl, thought Rosa, her eyes misting.

Leo followed her gaze to the embracing couple. "Sweet," he said. "Now what about my risotto?"

"Take it back to the kitchen," Rosa said. "I knew the mango chutney was a bad idea, anyway, and you can tell Butch I said so." She let Leo deal with it as she walked across the dining room. Linda was wreathed in smiles and tears. Jason looked positively blissful and, perhaps, weak with relief.

"Rosa, you won’t believe what just happened," Linda said.

Rosa dabbed at her eyes. "I think I can guess."

Linda held out her hand, showing off a glittering marquise-cut diamond in a gold cathedral setting.

"Oh, honey." Rosa hugged Linda and gave Jason a kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations, you two," she said. "I’m so happy for you."

She’d helped Jason pick out the ring, told him Linda’s size, selected the music and menu, ordered Linda’s favorite flowers for the table. They’d set the scene in every possible way. Rosa was good at things like this—creating events around the most special moments in people’s lives.

Other people’s lives.

Linda was babbling, already making plans. "We’ll drive over to see Jason’s folks on Sunday, and then get everyone together to set a date—"

"Slow down, my friend," Rosa said with a laugh. "How about you dance with your fiancé?"

Linda turned to Jason, her eyes shining. "My fiancé. God, I love the sound of that."

Rosa gave the couple a gentle shove toward the dance floor. As he pulled Linda into his arms, Jason looked over her shoulder and mouthed a thank-you to Rosa. She waved, dabbed at her eyes again and headed for the kitchen. Back to work.

She was smiling as she crossed the nonskid mat and entered the kitchen through the swinging doors. Quiet elegance gave way to controlled chaos. Glaring lights and flaming grills illuminated the crush of prep workers, line cooks and the sous-chef hurrying back and forth between stainless steel counters. Waiters tapped their feet, checking orders before stepping through the soundproofed doors that protected the serenity of the dining room from male shouts and clattering dishes.

The revved-up energy of the kitchen was fueled by testosterone, but Rosa knew how to hold her own here. She walked through a gauntlet of aproned men with huge knives or vats of boiling water, pivoting around each other in their nightly ballet. A stream from a hose roared against the dishwashing sink, and hot drafts from the Imperial grill licked like dragon’s breath at precisely 1010°F.

"Wait," she said as a prep worker passed by with a plated steak that had been liberally sprinkled with tripepper confetti.

"What?" The worker, a recent hire from Newport, paused at the counter.

"We don’t garnish the steaks here."

"Come again?"

"This is premium meat, our signature cut. Serve it without the garnish."

"I’ll remember that," he said, and set the plate on the counter for a server to pick up.

She planted herself in front of him. "Go back and replate the steak, please. No garnish."

"But—"

Rosa glared at him with fire in her eyes. Don’t back down, she cautioned herself. Don’t blink.

"You got it," he said, scowling as he returned to the prep area.

"Well?" asked Lorenzo "Butch" Buchello, whose fresh Italian cuisine was drawing in patrons from as far away as New York and Boston.

"Yep." Rosa grinned and selected a serrated knife from the array affixed to a steel grid on the wall. "Went down on one knee and everything."

Neither of them stopped working as they chatted. He was coordinating dessert while she arranged fluffy white peasant bread in a basket.

"Good for them," said Butch.

"They’re really in love," Rosa said. "I got all choked up watching them."

"Ever the incurable romantic," Butch said, piping chocolate ganache around the profiteroles.

"Ha, there’s a cure for it," Shelly Warren cut in, whisking behind them to pick up her order. "It’s called marriage," Rosa said.

Shelly gave her a high-five. She had been married for ten years and claimed that her night job waiting tables was an escape from endless hours of watching the Golf Channel until her eyes glazed over.

"Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, Rosa," said Butch. "In fact, what about that guy you were dating—Dean what’s his name?"

"Oh, actually, he did want to get married," she explained. Butch’s eyes lit up. "Hey! Well, there you go—"

"Just not to me."

His face fell. "I’m sorry. I didn’t know."

"It’s all right. He joins a long and venerable line of suitors who didn’t suit."

"I’m starting to see a pattern here," Butch said. He took a wire whisk to a bowl of custard and Marsala, creating an order of his famous zabaglione. "You run them off and then say they didn’t suit."

She finished up with the bread baskets. "Not tonight, Butch. This is Linda’s moment. Send them a tiramisu and your congratulations, okay?"

She headed back to the dining room and went over to the podium, which faced the main entrance. It was a perfect Friday night at Celesta’s-by-the-Sea. All the tables in the multilevel dining room were oriented toward the view of the endless sea, and were set with fresh flowers, crisp linens, good china and flatware.

This was the sort of scene she used to dream about back when the place was a run-down pizza joint. Couples danced to the smooth beat of a soft blues number, the drummer’s muted cymbals shimmering with a sensual resonance. Out on the deck, people stood listening to the waves and looking at the stars. For the past three years running, Celesta’s had been voted "Best Place to Propose" by Coast magazine, and tonight was a perfect example of the reason for its charm—sea breezes, sand and surf, a natural backdrop for the award-winning dining room.

"Did you cry?" asked Vince, the host, stepping up beside her. They’d known each other since childhood—she, Vince and Linda. They’d gone through school together, inseparable. Now he was the best-looking maitre d’ in South County. He was tall and slender, flawlessly groomed in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes. Rimless glasses highlighted his darkly lashed eyes.

"Of course I cried," Rosa said. "Didn’t you?"

"Maybe," he admitted with a fond smile in Linda’s direction. "A little. I love seeing her so happy."

"Yeah. Me, too."

"So that’s two of us down, one to go," he said. She rolled her eyes. "Not you, too."

"Butch has already been at you?"

"What do you two do, lie awake at night discussing my love life?"

"No, sweetie. Your lack of one."

"Give me a break, okay?" She spoke through a smile as a party of four left the restaurant. She and Vince had perfected the art of bickering while appearing utterly congenial.

"Please come again," Vince said, his expression so warm that the two women did a double-take. Glancing down at the computer screen discreetly set beneath the surface of the podium, he checked the status of their tab. "Three bottles of Antinori."

Rosa gave a blissful sigh. "Sometimes I love this job."

"You always love this job. Too much, if you ask me."

"You’re not my analyst, Vince."

"Ringrazi il cielo," he muttered. "You couldn’t pay me enough."

"Hey."

"Kidding," he assured her. "Good night, folks," he said to a departing threesome. "Thanks so much for coming."

Rosa surveyed her domain with a powerful but weary pride. Celesta’s-by-the-Sea was the place people came to fall in love. It was also Rosa’s own emotional landscape; it structured her days and weeks and years. She had poured all her energy into the restaurant, creating a place where people marked the most important events of their lives—engagements, graduations, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries, promotions. They came to escape the rush and rigors of everyday life, never knowing that each subtle detail of the place, from the custom alabaster lampshades to the imported chenille chair covers, had been contrived to create an air of luxury and comfort, just for them.

Rosa knew such attention to detail, along with Butch’s incomparable cuisine, had elevated her restaurant to one of the best in the county, perhaps in the entire state. The focal point of the place was a hammered steel bar, its edges fluted like waves. The bar, which she’d commissioned from a local artisan, was backed by a sheet of blue glass lit from below. At its center was a nautilus seashell, the light flickering over and through the whorls and chambers. People seemed drawn to its mysterious iridescence, and often asked where it came from, and if it was real. Rosa knew the answer, but she never told.

She checked the time on the screen without being obvious. None of the servers wore watches and there was no clock in sight. People relaxing here shouldn’t notice the passing of time. But the small computer screen indicated 10:00 p.m. She didn’t expect too much more business, except perhaps in the bar.

She could tell, with a sweep of her gaze, that tonight’s till would be sky-high. "I’m so glad summer’s here," she said to Vince.

"You know, for normal people, summer means vacation time. For us, it means our lives belong to Celesta’s."

"This is normal." Hard work had never bothered Rosa. Outside the restaurant there was not much to her life, and she had convinced herself that she liked it that way. She had Pop, of course, who at sixty-five was as independent as ever, accusing her of fussing over him. Her brother Robert was in the navy, currently stationed with his family overseas. Her other brother, Sal, was also in the navy, a Catholic priest serving as chaplain. Her father and brothers, nieces and nephews, were her family.

But Celesta’s was her life.

She stole a glance at Jason and Linda, and fancied she could actually see stars in their eyes. Sometimes, when Rosa looked at the happy couples holding hands across the tables in her restaurant, she felt a bittersweet ache. And then she always pretended, even to herself, that it didn’t matter.

"I give you two months off every year," she pointed out to Vince.

"Yeah, January and February."

"Best time of year in Miami," she reminded him. "Or are you and Butch ready to give up your condo there?"

"All right, all right. I get your point. I wouldn’t have it any other—"

The sound of car doors slamming interrupted them. Rosa sent another discreet look at the slanted computer screen under the podium. Ten-fifteen.

She stepped back while Vince put on his trademark smile. "So much for making an early night of it." The comment slipped between his teeth, while his expression indicated he’d been waiting all his life for the next group of patrons.

Rosa recognized them instantly. Not by name, of course. The summer crowds at the shore were too huge for that.

No, she recognized them because they were a "type." Summer people. The women exuded patrician poise and beauty. The tallest one wore her perfectly straight golden-blond hair caught, seemingly without artifice, in a thin band. Her couture clothes—a slim black skirt, silk blouse and narrow kid leather flats—had a subtle elegance. Her two friends were stylish clones of her, with uniformly sleek hair, pale makeup, sleeves artfully rolled back just so. They pulled off the look as only those to the manor born could.

Rosa and Vince had grown up sharing their summers with people like this. To the seasonal visitors, the locals existed for the sole purpose of serving those who belonged to the venerable old houses along the pristine, unspoiled shore just as their forebears had done a century before. They were the ones whose charity galas were covered by Town & Country magazine, whose weddings were announced in the New York Times. They were the ones who never thought about what life was like for the maid who changed their sheets, the fisherman who brought in the day’s catch, the cleaners who ironed their Sea Isle cotton shirts.

Vince nudged her behind the podium. "Yachty. They practically scream Bailey’s Beach."

Rosa had to admit, the women would not look out of place at the exclusive private beach at the end of Newport’s cliff walk. "Be nice," she cautioned him.

"I was born nice."

The door opened and three men joined the women. Rosa offered the usual smile of greeting. Then her heart skipped a beat as her gaze fell upon a tall, sandy-haired man. No, it couldn’t be, she told herself. She hoped—prayed—it was a trick of the light. But it wasn’t, and her expression froze as recognition chilled her to the bone.

Big deal, she thought, trying not to hyperventilate. She was bound to run into him sooner or later.

"Uh-oh," Vince muttered, assuming a stance that was now more protective than welcoming. "Here come the Montagues."

Rosa struggled against panic, but she was losing the battle. You’re a grown woman, she reminded herself. You’re totally in control.

That was a lie. In the blink of an eye, she was eighteen again, aching and desperate over the boy who’d broken her heart.

"I’ll tell them we’re closed," Vince said.

"You’ll do nothing of the sort," Rosa hissed at him.

"I’ll beat the crap out of him."

"You’ll offer them a table, and make it a good one." Straightening her shoulders, Rosa looked across the room and locked eyes with a man she hadn’t seen in ten years, a man she hoped she would never see again.

They say you never, ever forget your first time. It’s one of those “aha” moments when the world shifts, and afterwards, nothing is quite the same. You keep this moment in your heart forever, and it’s still vivid even decades later, it’s still as vivid as the rose that just opened in your garden.

And for me, one of those defining moments happened in the Target store on Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas, circa early 1980s. That was where I discovered romance novels.

I always knew I would write; this much was clear from the time I learned to talk. Even before I could read or write, I would dictate stories to my mother and, bless her, she would dutifully write them down. But as an emerging novelist, I hadn’t found my “voice” as a writer. Fresh out of graduate school, I had been trying to figure out what sort of book I longed to write–a literary masterpiece, a dark thriller, a shoot-em-up western?

To be honest, the reader in me was ready for a fabulous, sweep-you-away novel to give my brain a vacation. A book called “Shanna” by Kathleen Woodiwiss, with a hot pink and orange cover and a lush, sexy illustration jumped off the shelf and into my cart.

Shanna-1.jpg

I dove right in, and didn’t come up for air until I’d savored every thrilling word.

And by the end of the first chapter, I had an epiphany. This was the sort of book I was yearning to write. I wanted to take the reader on a fabulous journey filled with love, adventure, danger, heartfelt emotion and pulse-pounding passion. I wanted to sweep the reader away.

Not long afterward, my first novel was published, and it was filled with–you guessed it. All of the above.

Summer by the Sea has everything I was looking for that day so long ago. There’s a lonely young woman who still dreams of the boy who stole her heart. There’s a nostalgic beach restaurant offering delicious shore dinners (recipes included). And most importantly of all, there is an emotional ride filled with laughter and tears. I’m thrilled that it’s available again, because it’s one of those books that has been sprinkled with fairy dust from the very start, thanks to readers. It’s been national bestseller lists. It won the RITA(sm) award for Best Contemporary Romance. It’s been translated around the globe, and now it’s heading right back where it belongs–into the hands of my favorite people in the world–readers like you. This special edition has a reading group guide and a yummy new recipe.

Summer by the Sea

Tell us about your own "first time." What book got you hooked? Where did it take you? How did it change you?

They say you never forget your first time. My tiny inquiring mind wants to know. Was it a recommendation from a friend? Book club? Advertisement? Online? At the library? Chime in!

Pleased to meet you!

Pleased to meet you!

So my awesome publisher has produced a nice glossy advance-reading-copy edition of STARLIGHT ON WILLOW LAKE.

Trust me on this.

Lakeshore Chronicles #11, but you don’t have to be familiar with the series to fall in love with this one.

I know all writers will tell you “this book has a special place in my heart,” but this one REALLY does. After you read the dedication page in the front and the acknowledgment page in the back you’ll know why.

It’s a good book club topic. The storyline deals with with tragedy, a person’s role in caring for a parent, and how exploring the past can lead to a whole new perspective on life. Just as bonus, there are dogs, comedy, Balinese cooking, a few cuss words. and love scenes that will curl your toes but not offend your mother. Swear.

You know what’s missing? A reading group guide. I’d love your help with this. What’s the most thought-provoking topic your group has every discussed?

I have 15 copies of the ARC (pub-speak for “advance reading copy”) to give away. Here’s how to enter. Send the name of your book group, along with a contact person and mailing address, to susanmwiggs (at) gmail dot com, and fifteen winners will be chosen at random on May 1. You’ll receive the ARC along with some other goodies for readers to enjoy long before the book gets published.

Sound good?

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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