I had a lot of fun writing my two latest contemporary romance novels, The Scandal and Aquamarine. Both stories took place in Hollywood, so creating characters who work in the entertainment industry was a real treat. Interestingly enough, I had only planned to write one Hollywood novel, but sometimes life imitates art.
I was in the early planning stages for The Scandal when the real-life Harvey Weinstein scandal made the headlines. The news stories were too similar to what I had in mind for the storyline, so I had to come up with a whole new game plan. Later on, I used the original Scandal story idea for Aquamarine. Now I’m going back to writing stories about more every day people.
My next story involves a romantic triangle. It’s a classic soap opera trope which always creates nice conflicts. The underlying theme would be best described as, “though shalt not bear false witness.” We’ve all had a lying, two-faced, backstabbing so-called friend at least once in our lives, and this person will be the instigator for much of the conflict.
Jenna, the lead character, is an interior designer whose most recent romance had ended amicably. Or so she thought. However, when her former boyfriend finds out there’s a new man in her life, he’ll do whatever he can to sabotage her new relationship. No, he doesn’t want her back. He’s doing it just because he can. The title for this new contemporary romance novel is Rivalry. Look for it in late 2024.
It’s Tonya’s first Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. George will be spending the day watching football, while Tonya’s mother and stepfather have come to visit her. Tonya meets her parents at their motel, and they drive up to Santa Barbara to spend the day with Mike. As the turkey is cooking, the conversation takes an interesting turn.
An except from the contemporary romance novel Aquamarine
It had been years since Heather or Alberto had seen the ocean, so they stopped to take pictures as they made their way up the Pacific Coast Highway. Tonya’s spirits rose once they reached Santa Barbara and parked in front of a small, unassuming home in a quiet, residential neighborhood. Mike came out as they exited their vehicle, greeting Tonya with a big hug.
“Okay, that’s enough,” said Heather with a nervous grin.
“Sorry, Mom.” Tonya quickly made the introductions, but her mother looked a little star struck. The scent of roasting turkey filled the air as Mike invited them inside and told them to make themselves at home in the living room.
“Can I help you with anything?” asked Heather as she presented him with the pies.
“Mike’s an amazing cook.” Tonya’s face beamed with pride as she spoke. “He learned how while he was working at his dad’s grill.”
“Yeah, but they also knew to not serve anything I prepared to the public.” He excused himself for a moment, but before stepping away he asked if they liked dogs.
“We love dogs,” said Heather.
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Tonya grabbed the wine and followed Mike into the kitchen where he greeted her once again, but this time with a kiss.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Ms. Rose.” He was about to kiss her a second time when Bruno barked loudly from the patio. Both burst out laughing.
“Well, okay, I guess.” Mike opened the door and both dogs bounded inside, greeting Tonya with wagging tails while Mike grabbed a few sodas from the refrigerator. Heather still looked a little star struck when they returned to the living room, and she immediately focused her gaze on Tonya.
“So, now that we’re all here, I want to talk to you about something. I’ve been having dreams about your sister again, and she’s been saying some interesting things.”
“Like what?” asked Tonya.
“She says you need to let it go about Jesse and move on.”
“I’m just telling you what she said, and I feel the same, so maybe the dream came from my own subconscious. The point is, you’re an up-and-coming musician, and Jesse hosts a nationally syndicated talk radio show. I’m not saying you have to be a guest on his show, and frankly, I’d prefer you weren’t. I’m simply saying you could possibly run into him somewhere, and if it were to happen, you need to be gracious. Just give him a nod or a quick hello and go your merry way.”
“She’s right,” said Mike.
Heather turned to Mike. “I’ve had other dreams in which Annette tells me you have some sort of a plan to get Tonya away from George.”
A serious look came over his face. “As we all know, Tonya isn’t in a financial position to live on her own. However, I’ve offered her a room here, and she’s saving up her money so she can buy a dependable car. So once she has the means to travel to LA for her modeling gigs, we plan on making some changes.”
“What about your advance?” asked Heather.
“I won’t have the money until sometime next year.”
“I wanted to take her on tour with me,” said Mike, “I certainly could have used her on the viola, and it would have given her some nice exposure as well. However, George wants to remaster the album she did with Shawn, so they’ll be in the recording studio when I start the first leg of my tour.”
“Hold on. Time out.” Alberto looked at Tonya. “Have you signed any kind of agreement with him?”
“They’re still working on my contract, which my manager will sign for me as my representative.”
“Good to know, but I wasn’t talking about your record contract. I’m asking about the agreement for you to rent a room in George’s home. Did you sign any kind of lease?”
“No. It’s a verbal agreement only.”
Heather spoke up. “All I can tell you is whenever I have these kinds of dreams about your sister, she’s never wrong. She says Mickey will help you break free of George. I have no idea what it means, and it may be nothing more than a concerned mother’s worry.”
Tonya took a deep breath and swallowed hard. “So did Annette say anything else?”
“No. She just said you need let go of Jesse, and Mickey will help you with George.”
the manipulative villain from the contemporary romance novel Aquamarine
When it comes to people hiding their real intentions behind a charming facade, no one does it better than George Monroe. He’s one of the most diabolical villains I’ve created to date. He almost makes the homicidal Craig Walker, from my contemporary romance novel, The Stalker, look like a choirboy in comparison. However, Craig was so evil he even scared me, so he remains at the top of the list.
George was born into the music business. Both of his parents were rock musicians, and his father started up Alicorn Records when he couldn’t land a recording contract. The label was a huge success in England, so when George became an adult, his father sent him to Los Angeles to start up Alicorn Records, U.S.A.
George is, in essence, the “casting couch” character I wanted to create with Calvin Michelson in The Scandal. However, the “Me Too” movement began when I was in the early planning stages for that particular romance novel. Therefore, I had to change Cal from a sexual manipulator to a misunderstood man who’s been falsely accused. Mind you, I’m not complaining. That plot twist worked quite nicely.
Like Cal, George is a man who can never be satisfied with just one woman. While he doesn’t demand every female singer have sex with him to land a record contract, he has been known to occasionally take an aspiring woman under his wing. When he does, we’ll just say he expects more than a simple, “Thank you,” in return.
George happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet Tonya Clairborne, a young music student who is working as a model to help pay for college. He sees a genuine talent in her, so he offers to mentor her. Tonya eagerly accepts his offer, not realizing it will come at a very high price.
George is a completely fictional character. He’s not inspired by anyone I’ve actually known, although there are plenty of George’s out there.
We authors are told to write what me know, and so far nearly every lead character I’ve created is an artist of some kind. Gillian was a painter. Carrie was a photographer. Most recently, Tonya was a musician. Or they’re like Cassie and Stephanie, and they work with artists. Many of my leading men characters have creative jobs too, such as architects, writers or musicians.
I certainly know art. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing on my bedroom walls. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t too keen on that, so she got me some coloring books and crayons. As I got older, my favorite toys were paint-by-number kits and a spirograph. Later on, I took up embroidery and sewing. By the time I started high school I was making my own clothes. Then, when I went to college, I got a degree in fine art.
Along with writing, fine art photography is my other passion. A fine art photographer approaches photography the way a painter looks at a canvas. The goal is to create an interesting composition of lights and shadows. I do photography as Gayle Martin. If you’d like to take a look you can see my work at gaylemartinfineartphotography.com.
So, with my background, I suppose it would make sense for my lead characters to have art-related occupations, or otherwise be freelancers of some kind, as I’ve spent most of my working life being self-employed. Fortunately, my editor has plenty of experience in the corporate world. She’s been a real asset in helping me with characters who work so-called, “regular” jobs. I also know retired nurses who’ve been extremely helpful with creating supporting characters who work in the medical field. However, I simply don’t have the background to have a nurse, or a corporate executive, as a lead character.
Thankfully, in my genre, contemporary romance, I really don’t need to get too technical about my character’s occupations. The focus of the story is on the romance. I just need to know enough about their occupations to accurately describe what they do, which for me would be an art related occupation.
Mickey Lee Janson, also known as Mike Jablonski, was originally intended to be minor character in my contemporary romance novel, Aquamarine. However, like Jeremy Palmer, from The Reunion and The Journey, Mickey, or Mike, as he prefers to be called, had other ideas. Characters sometimes have minds of their own, and there are times when their ideas are actually better than the author’s. This was one of those times.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Mike was an amateur musician who was managing his father’s bar and grill during the day, and singing and playing the guitar at night. He had no intention of becoming professional until his friends suggested he audition for a television talent competition. Mike went to the audition, but only to get his friends off his back. Much to his surprise, he was accepted. From there he made it to the finals, being voted off on the second to last show. However, it was enough. A talent scout from Alicorn Records offered him a recording contract, and Mike Jablonski became Mickey Lee Janson.
Mike meets glamour model Tonya Claiborne when she is hired to appear with him on an album cover. However, something unexpected will happen during that shoot, and it will change both of their lives forever.
As mentioned, Mike’s original role in the story was intended to be brief. He would try, and fail, to free Tonya from a toxic relationship. She would eventually end up with a minor character from an earlier contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal. However, as the story progressed, I really liked the way Mike was turning out. He had it in him to be so much more. My editor agreed. She also nixed the idea of bringing back the character from The Betrayal. Thus Mike became a lead character.
Mike is a purely fictitious character. He isn’t based on anyone I know, nor is he based on any famous real-life musician, living or dead. His origination rests solely with me, the author.
I’m often asked how many books I’ve written. Danged if I know. After a while, you kind of lose track. However, of all my contemporary romance novels, The Reunion will always be my favorite.
The Reunion was my first full-fledged novel. Prior to that, I was writing children’s books, (as Gayle Martin), and The Luke and Jenny series did quite well. My very first book was a historic, WWII era ration cookbook titled, Anna’s Kitchen, which was later updated into Rosie’s Riveting Recipes. It’s still one of my biggest sellers. However, after Luke and Jenny, I wanted to write more contemporary stories for adult readers, and romance is my favorite genre.
Unlike my later novels, The Reunion is loosely based on events which have happened in my own life. I wrote it as a, “what if” story. As in, what if I had done this instead of that? Of course, I’ll never really know, but The Reunion gave me a chance to imagine one possibility. Leading man Ian is based on someone very special who I once knew. Gillian is me. Sort of. She’s an idea of what my life might have been, had I made different choices.
Samantha Walsh, Gillian’s best friend, is based on a real-life neighbor I once had. I also met her while I was in college. Her apartment was a few doors down from mine. However, she worked at the parimutuel windows at the dog track instead of a truck stop diner, but some of the stories she told about her job were hilarious. She moved back to Chicago a few months after we met, so I have no idea whatever become of her, but she was certainly unforgettable, to say the least.
Gillian’s ex, Jason Matthews was, I’m sorry to say, based on my own ex-husband. He worked at an Old West Theme park called, Rawhide, which, at the time, was in Scottsdale, Arizona. Like Jason, he kind of swept me off my feet. Unfortunately, also like Jason, he turned out to be an abusive conman. Thankfully, I haven’t heard from him in many years, and so far as I know, he’s alive and well. Although I will admit that writing about Jason’s untimely end was kind of cathartic. Just saying.
I think of my first romance novel as my first child, in a way. Writing it was a life-changing event for me, because doing so was when I realized that writing novels truly is me life’s calling. It’s yet another reason why The Reunion will always be my favorite.
I did it. I’m finally here, in my new home in Denton, Texas. I’m all unpacked and settled. In my last blog post, So Moving Right Along, I talked about my decision to sell my New Mexico home and move to the Dallas Fort Worth area.
It was a long, hectic spring, to say the least. Buying a home, and selling a home, are quite time consuming. Especially in this crazy real estate market. First, I had to win a bidding war to get my new home. Then, when I returned to Las Cruces, I got to experience the other side when I put my home on the market.
It was, in a word, crazy. We were open for showings for three days, and seemed like hundreds of people were going through my house. I had sixteen offers in the end, with the winning bid coming in at sixty-thousand over my asking price. I kind you not. Sixty grand. Then came the fun of finding the right mover, packing, loading and unloading, and then unpacking. Unpacking definitely takes the longest.
I love my new home. lt has a much bigger kitchen than my last home. I love cooking. Finally, I have enough counter space and cupboard space. I also have an extra bedroom. It’s my new guest room. Visitors will no longer have to sleep in my office.
It took a few weeks to finish unpacking, and I’m still moving stuff around. However, my office is up and running, and I have a lovely view out the window. It sure beats my old office, where I had a nice view of the wall. I’ve also finished my newest contemporary romance novel, Aquamarine. I’m very happy with how it turned out. And, interesting enough, it too takes place in Denton, Texas.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly as if like the past two years have been like living in a real-life episode of The Twilight Zone.
Prior to the pandemic, I was living in Tucson, Arizona. I’d been there for twelve years and I was doing very well. It reminded me in many ways of my native town of Phoenix, before it became Los Angeles in the desert. I had a good circle of friends, a good social life, and I was absolutely thriving. Unfortunately, it all began changing in late 2019.
In November, 2019, a very controversial candidate was elected mayor of Tucson. Like many cities, Tucson had its share of problems. Unfortunately, this new mayor had her own radical agenda, none of which included improving the quality of life for Tucson citizens. It was time for me to sell my home and move someplace else.
I lived in Dallas many years ago. It was another happy time in my life, but circumstances were such that I had to return to Phoenix. So, I decided I would take a road trip to Texas. I planned on going all the way to Corpus Christi and back. However, we were getting into the holiday season, along with winter driving conditions. So, I decided I would take my road trip in March, 2020.
Well, we all know what happened in March of 2020, don’t we? I still planned on moving, but instead of going to Texas, I moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico instead. I already had a few friends there. It was also within a day’s drive of Tucson and Phoenix, where the rest of my family lives. If there were an emergency, I could easily get to where I needed to be.
I arrived in New Mexico with every intention of making it my permanent home. However, I soon became disillusioned. My family used to visit relatives in New Mexico when I was a kid. At the time it was a very nice state. Beautiful scenery, friendly people, and it wasn’t as brutally hot as it was in Arizona. Unfortunately, times have changed. It’s no longer the New Mexico I once knew. Long after other states had fully reopened, New Mexico still had mask mandates and other restrictions. Many small, locally own businesses, the places that gave the community its character, ended up shuttering for good. As a result, I was unable to go out and do the things I enjoyed doing, and I was living in total isolation.
We humans are hard-wired to be social creatures. Isolation isn’t good for our mental health and emotional well being. Two years of forced isolation had affected other health issues I had before the pandemic, and not in a good way. So, I could do one of two things. I could either keep living in isolation, and watch my health continue to deteriorate, or I could take matters into my own hands and get the hell out of New Mexico. I opted for the latter.
This past spring I finally took that road trip to the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, looking for a new home. It was quite an experience. I got into bidding wars with other folks who, like me, are getting the hell out of “blue” states. I found a lovely home in Denton, north of Dallas, which I’ll be moving in a few weeks.
One of the high points of my visit was when my agent took me to Frisco, a town between Dallas and Denton, for her regular Tuesday night music bingo. It was the first time I’d felt anything close to normal in two years. I was sitting at a big table with unmasked people and I could actually see their faces. They were actually enjoying themselves and we all sang along with the music while we played the game.
In the meantime, I’ve sold my home in Las Cruces, and I’ll be moving in a few weeks. I can’t wait to start this new chapter in my life.
Aquamarine is, in some ways, the contemporary romance novel I wanted to write a few years ago, when I wrote The Scandal. The Scandal is the story of Lauren McAllen, a soap opera star who wants to break into the movies while Calvin Michaelson, the main antagonist, would live up to his nickname, Casting Couch Cal. Such was the story I intended to write.
They say timing is everything. Unfortunately, at the time I was formulating the storyline for The Scandal, the real-life Harvey Weinstein scandal made the headlines. It was simply too close to the story I had in mind, and I strive to create original stories. Therefore, I had to make some changes. Cal would go from sexual manipulator to a man falsely accused of a serious wrongdoing. In the end, it turned out to be a good story. However, it wasn’t the story I originally had in mind.
What a difference a few years can make
Things had changed by the time The Scandal was released. The notorious Mr. Weinstein had been convicted, and the rest of the world had moved on. I had also revisited an earlier contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal. One of the supporting characters, a teenager named Tonya Claiborne, really stood out. She was strong and compelling and certainly worthy of having her own story. This became the inspiration for Aquamarine.
Every story needs a good antagonist. At long last, I had the opportunity to create the bad guy I wanted to create with Cal Michaelson. This time my antagonist is narcissistic, cunning, and manipulative, but on the surface he’s charming, charismatic, and seductive. Hopefully, he will be one of my most memorable villains ever.
I really, truly love what I do. I put a lot of thought into the characters I create, and all those scoundrels make my job so much fun. Especially when they get their comeuppance.
Tonya Claiborne is a young music student who plans on becoming a music teacher. Her well-to-do grandmother was helping her through college, but it all came to a sudden halt when her grandmother unexpectedly passed away. Determined to continue her education, new employment opportunity has come her way, but once Tonya accepts the offer her life will take another unexpected turn.
A preview of Aquamarine by Marina Martindale
Tonya Claiborne scanned the room as she finished her guitar solo. Her college jazz ensemble was performing at a Dallas church, and so far everything had gone smoothly. She glanced at the music director, who nodded his head in approval. As the other musicians resumed playing Tonya turned her attention back to the audience. The blonde woman sitting in the front pew gave her another smile. She had been watching Tonya intently for some time. It began while Tonya was singing, “The Girl from Ipanema.”
The audience members were mostly family and friends of the student musicians, along with jazz enthusiasts from the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Tonya wondered if perhaps she had met this woman before. She appeared to be friends with the woman sitting next to her, and both appeared to be enjoying the concert. Tonya shrugged it off and refocused her attention on her music. As the chords faded, the audience once again burst into applause.
Their director returned to the microphone. Their next song would be the final one for the evening. As he stepped aside they began playing, “Caravan.” The mystery woman whispered something to her friend as she nodded toward Tonya and took another photo of her. Her actions made Tonya even more curious. Once the concert was over, she would have to find out who this woman was.
The audience rose to their feet and gave them a standing ovation as they finished. The music director thanked everyone for coming and motioned for the ensemble to stand and take a bow. As the crowd disbursed some headed for the exits while others approached the musicians. Tonya looked toward the back of the room. A young man stood from his seat in the last row and made his way towered the front of the church while the woman in the front pew, along with her friend, walked up to one of the trombone players. He greeted Tonya with a quick kiss a moment later.
“Good job,” he said.
“Oh, Evan, you always say that.”
“Hey, just because I’m your fiance-to-be it doesn’t mean I can’t be your biggest fan too.”
“I know, and I love you for it.” She nodded toward the two women, who were still talking to the trombone player.
“I’m wondering who the lady in the blue sweater might be.”
“Which one?” He stepped back to get a better look.
“The one with the shoulder length blonde hair. She kept her eye on me for some time and she acted like she knew me. We must have crossed paths somewhere, but I can’t recall when.”
“Maybe she’s sizing you up,” Evan said jokingly. “But don’t worry. I can handle her if she tries to make trouble.”
“Thanks, Evan. I know I can always count on you.”
As if on cue, the woman walked up to Tonya and extended her hand. “I wanted to stop by and introduce myself. My name is Melissa Atkins. I’m here tonight with a friend whose nephew is also in the band.”
“Nice to meet you”
“Likewise, and at the risk of sounding too forward, I’m also with the Angela Carson Modeling Agency. The reason I was watching you so closely is because you have the perfect look to be a model. You’re tall and thin and your hair is gorgeous. I snapped a few photos of you with my phone, and you’re certainly photogenic. So, have you ever thought about modeling?”
Tonya brushed a strand of her long, dark hair away from her face. “Well, I’m certainly flattered, but to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it. I’m more focused on my music.”
“I see.” Melissa looked disappointed as she handed Tonya one of her business cards. “Well, you’re certainly a talented musician, and you’re going to a top-notch school, but we do a lot of print modeling here in Dallas, and it pays really well. If you think this is something you might be interested in doing to help with school, then please give me a call.”