DUCK CHAT: Laughing ‘Til It Hurts With Christie CraigThursday, June 11, 2009 10:00
Welcome to another whacky day of Duck Chat!
And today is going to be whacky. We have romantic suspense author Christie Craig with us, and if you haven’t read any of Christie’s books, you have no idea what kind of whackiness you’re missing! If you love humor in your books, you will love Christie’s stories.
Christie just released her fourth book, Gotcha!, last month (see my review). Her non-fiction and photography have appeared in almost three thousand national magazines. She is married and lives in Texas with her husband and they have two children and one grandchild. (Check out this funny but poignant blog about her new granddaughter.) She blogs daily at Killer Fiction and helps out aspiring writers when she can.
Life is full of humor for Christie (even her bio on her website is fair game!) and she spreads that fun and laughter around quite liberally in her books which cause her fans to come back time and again. So read on to get know this terrific author better. And if you leave a meaningful comment, you’ll be in the running for several copies of Gotcha! from Christie and Dorchester. Now let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Well, as cliché as it is, we have to start with “the phone call,” especially because your call gave you the news you sold four books in that one day. You don’t hear that every often. What was that like as soon as you hung up? What was it like a week or two or more later?
CHRISTIE CRAIG: Oh, it was crazy. I had just won and finaled in a bunch of writing contests. And I had been targeting Dorchester, because I felt my humorous voice would fit there. I had three books on three different Dorchester editors’ desks all from different contests. And I had one manuscript submitted by my agent, Kim Lionetti, there. When one editor requested the completed manuscript, my agent started calling. I had another book at a small press submitted elsewhere as well. On that November day in 2006, I knew that Chris Keeslar had read one book, and then requested to see another. I also knew the small press was interested in my other book. But my insecurities told me that Chris was looking for a reason to reject my butt and the small press would not come through. I had been so close to selling before, only to learn it didn’t pass a committee, so my insecurities had validation. Ahh, but I was seriously hoping.
When Kim called she asked me. “Are you sitting down?”
My answer was, “No, but I’ve worked my butt off and I can take this news standing up. I sold a book, didn’t I?”
Her one-word answer, “No,” sent my heart nose diving to my bladder. But then she said, “You haven’t sold a book. You sold four.”
My reply was quick. “Just a second, I’ve got to sit down!” I had sold one to the small press and three to Dorchester. However, the small press went under and that book was returned to me.
The call happened early that day when I was still in my PJs. When my hubby came home that afternoon ready to take me out to celebrate BIG, he found me at my computer in a complete state of shock. He looked at me really strange and asked about us going out. I told him that of course we were going out. I freaking deserved to be taken out. Then he asked if I was planning on wearing my pajamas. I had sat and stared at my computer all day and completely forgotten to change my clothes.
DC: Did you actually have four books either partially written or at least in mind when the call came? If not, what in the hell did you do?? If so, were they the books you’ve written so far or something else?
CC: The first book I sold and published was actually a Silhouette Romance in 1994 (Two Hearts Too Late). When I hadn’t had any luck selling a second book, and my daughter started college and the University of Houston had the nerve to want to be paid to teach my little darling, I put the novels on the backburner and started writing full-time for the magazine market. Six years later, she graduated with two degrees, and I had over 3000 credits in freelance. But I had always felt like a one-book wonder. I wanted to write novels. So, when the University stopped reaching into our bank account, I started writing novels again and wrote part time for the magazine market. I wrote eight complete novels and six proposals during that time. The books that sold were all written. And my next three-book contract with Dorchester included another that was also completed, one that was partially completed and one that I had to start from scratch.
DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
CC: Ohh, this is good question and a hard one. I think the question I would kick to the compost pile would be: So when are you going to write a real book?
The prejudices are generally against romance . . . about love. And I always just look at them and say, “So love isn’t real? Two people making a commitment for life isn’t important? So when the kindergartener feels her first butterflies over a boy, it isn’t real? When at twelve, she holds a boy’s sweaty hand in hers, the rush she feels really doesn’t exist? When she gets her first kiss at thirteen, the emotional high isn’t worth talking about? When she goes out on her first date and her heart is in flutters, it’s not important? Her first heartbreak is trivial? When she dreams of the boy asking her to the prom, it’s a stupid little thing, right? When she experiences her “first time”, it’s not a memory she will ever recall? When the boy she loves gets down on one knee and puts a ring on her finger, it’s frivolous? And when she walks down that aisle with her father to become a wife, the day isn’t important? When the man she loves, holds their little baby for the first time, it’s just a joke? When she makes 25 years with the man she loves, it’s not a big deal, right? When she stands beside a grave and watches the love of her life be lowered into the ground and she cries from the grief, it’s just a silly little thing that isn’t worthy of being written about? Passion, love, commitment, that’s what my books are about. Oh, heck yeah, they are funny, and I’m going to make you laugh, but laughing is good. And love is real, and it’s probably one of the most important parts of being human. I’m proud to write romance and it is a REAL BOOK!
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
CC: I never know where my characters are going to take me or what smartass remark they are going to make. Heck yeah, they surprise me and they embarrass me, too. I can’t believe they do some of the things they do. I really am a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer.
DC: Now we have to talk about your hats. Do you have a closetful? Do you go out of the house without one? How many do you have (okay, rough estimate is fine!)? Do you have a favorite?
CC: I like my hats. I do. But unlike some of the rumors, I’m not a hat freak. I probably have 12 hats, and I have three favorites that I wear most of the time. I’m very picky about my hats because with me being so short if I get one too big, it makes me look like a mushroom. I wear hats at almost every writer-related event because it has become my trademark. But I really don’t wear them at home or for any other event, unless it’s a bad hair day and then it’s a baseball hat.
Hats became my trademark about a year before my first book came out in 1994, I was at a conference and I’d found a couple of hats I liked, so I wore them. When my Silhouette editor went looking for me, everyone said, “I think she’s the little blonde with the hat.”
My editor, who was a smart woman, told me then, “You need to always wear your hat when doing a writer’s conference, because people recognize you and remember you because of them” So . . . my trademark was born. Now if I go to even a writer’s meeting without my hat, I get hell from people who know me.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
CC: Argue with my fictional characters? Are you joking? They would kick my butt! Seriously, I argue with them all the time. Not that it does a bit of good, they always win. In a lot of ways, characters are like children. You give them life and then they take off and do what they want, and throw tantrums, talk back to you, and make their own life. That’s part of the thrill of being a writer.
DC: I’m willing to bet that a lot of your ideas in your books come from everyday life that either happens to you or you hear about. Am I close? Can you give us an example?
CC: Oh, yes, I’m afraid I come from long line of people who are constantly finding themselves in chaos. Crap just happens to me. Weddings Can Be Murder came from planning my daughter’s wedding and more specifically from the day we visited the Houston Bridal Extravaganza. Between getting wedding cake samples dropped on us, being burped on by a chocolate fountain, and trampled by hundreds of photographers, wedding planners, florists, and cake bakers, I knew I was going to have to kill someone. Lucky for me, I could do it in a book and stay out of prison. Hence, the whole plot of Weddings came into being.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
CC: Clive Owen walking into my study without his shirt on would probably be a big distraction. LOL. Seriously, probably the biggest distraction is some good “writing” news. Before I sold to Dorchester, I learned to write through rejection. It actually motivated me, because I would work harder and set out and prove the naysayers wrong. But when good news comes in, as in I sold another book, or I’ve gotten some great review, or one of my published books is up for some award, well, I just get so excited that I can’t write.
DC: I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard when reading as I do when I’m engrossed in one of your books. You have to be the jokester in your family, but what about your husband and kids? Are they the same or do they leave that part of life to you?
CC: I come from a long line of jokesters. Before I was born, my dad actually convinced my mom, who was a new driver at the time, that she needed to change the air in her tires. You should hear her tell the story of how she pulled up to a service station and told the attendant to change her air. When he said, “You mean, you want me to put some air in your tires?” my mom thinking he just didn’t want to do it, informed him in a serious voice, “No, I want you to take all the old air out and put new air in!” Seriously, my mom and dad are a big reason I write humor. If there is one lesson they taught me while growing up, it was: You gotta be able to laugh at yourself. Because when you can laugh at it, you can live with it. It’s a lesson I live by and all my characters are believers as well.
And while my hubby at one time was a very serious, sedate man, after falling prey to too many of my pranks, he has turned into a king joker. I’m short, and I recently complained that I couldn’t reach the pull strings of our new ceiling fans. Thinking it would be funny, he went out and bought pull strings that hung all the way to the floor. Then there’s the whole Geico story. You know the lizard on their commercial. Well, one day he saw two green lizards getting it on and he had me take a picture. Then he sent the picture and a blackmail letter to the Geico corporation saying he was going to show it to the lizard’s wife if they didn’t pay up. You can see that picture on my website under Musings and then by clicking on the box that says, “for anyone who enjoys a little voyeurism, click here.”
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
CC: Good question. My very first book with Silhouette was a sweet romance. I think as I got older, I grew into more of a . . . smartass. There is something about hitting the age forty that just allows a person to speak their mind. And unfortunately this speaking of one’s mind is passed on to my characters.
DC: Your latest book is Gotcha!, which released May 26th. Would you tell us where the idea for the story came from and then give our readers a little insight into Jake and Macy?
CC: I think Gotcha! and perhaps my whole desire to write humorous romantic suspense came from several of my brushes with the law, and especially the times when I was working at a pizza place just like my heroine does in the book. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not like a hardened criminal, but let’s just say I’ve had some humorous close calls. One of my stories, about the time I was caught in Pizza Hut with thousands of dollars strewn around me, by six armed and ready to shoot police officers, is posted at Dorchester’s site under the special feature link. You will also find a contest posted there and learn how you can win a whole basket filled with Christie Craig books and goodies.
Macy is a smart-mouthed pizza delivery girl/law student who allows only two tissues for crying jags for fear she’ll end up being like her mom. Macy’s history with men reads a bit like a daytime talk show where words are bleeped out, noses are broken, and chairs are thrown. She compares dating to enjoying a day at the beach without sunscreen. It might be fun while you’re there, but inevitably you’re gonna get burned.
Jake is a fun-loving crass man, who doesn’t back down when he knows what he wants. And he wants Macy, but convincing her that they’re perfect for each other isn’t easy. However, watching him try, is a lot of fun.
Here’s that special treat, excerpt from Gotcha!:
“You lucky bastard.”
Sergeant Jake Baldwin looked up from his desk and found Mark Donaldson, the new detective in the department and his sometime partner, leaning his head inside the offi ce door.
“Why am I lucky?” Jake asked and shouldered back in his chair.
Donaldson’s chicken-shit grin widened. “She says she needs you, and only you will do.” He looked down the hall, then shot off as if someone chased him.
“Hey, who needs . . . ?” Jake’s question tripped over his lips as a blonde, a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe in her chubbier years, sashayed into his office. She didn’t walk. She sashayed.
About a foot from his desk she stopped moving, but her body didn’t. Her breasts, squeezed into a low-cut red tank top, continued to bounce. Up. Down. Up. Behind her, two
Houstonpolice officers paused, their tongues dangling out like hounds’. Jake’s tongue remained in his mouth. He’d never been a Monroefan.
His visitor leaned over to pull out a chair, and he got a peek at her cleavage— which led him to realize maybe you didn’t really have to be a true fan to appreciate a look-alike. He glanced away. Gawking was crude. Besides, he’d stopped letting women know they had the upper hand. They still had it, of course. He was, after all, flesh and blood, but he refrained from giving them the leverage that came with knowing. His ex-fiancée, now sister-in-law, had taught him better.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, but his male mind was already considering options. Then he gave her another once-over. She was twenty, maybe? At thirty-one, Jake refused to date anyone who might still believe in Santa.
Miss Monroe opened her mouth to speak, and Jake waited for her sweet husky voice to flow over him, sound effects to add to the fantasies that no doubt he’d have later on. His fantasies had no problems with a twenty-year-old. And lately, fantasies were all he had.
“My name’s Ellie Chandler.” Her voice, some would call it cartoonish—a really bad cartoon—came out two octaves above chalk screeching across a blackboard. “You’re Jake Baldwin, riiiight?”
Jake jerked, knocking over his coffee mug. God help him. No, God help her, he thought, grabbing the cup and saving his files from the spill. No wonder the Almighty gave her that body. He’d been trying to make up for the voice.
She continued talking, and Jake would have done almost anything to shut her up. Anything but be rude. For the son of a Baptist preacher, rudeness wasn’t an option, even for a religious backslider like himself. He finger-locked his hands in front of him and forced his attention on her. Every spoken syllable was like bowel surgery.
“I’m here to report a murder.”
He sighed. “Then you need to talk to Hom icide. I work Robbery.” Please God, let it be that easy. God wasn’t listening. “I want to talk to you.” “Why me?” he asked both the blonde and the Almighty. “Because you know what he’s like. You’re the one who put him away.”
“Put who away?”
“David Tanks. My ex-boyfriend.”
Jake remembered Tanks. Too many tattoos. A dealer with a mean streak and a drug habit of his own.
“And because I love Billy now, David’s threatening to kill him. He’s even threatened Billy’s sister. He called her one dead bitch.”
Jake shook his head to clear her voice from his ears. “Tanks is still doing time, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” Ellie Chandler nodded vigorously, and her tank top strained to contain the jiggling. Up. Down. Jake had to force his eyes from lowering.
“So, the murder you want to report . . . It hasn’t happened? No one’s dead yet?”
“He cut the man’s head off. I’d say that killed him.” Jake stiffened.
“I don’t know.”
“Where did this happen?”
“I wasn’t there”—her hazel eyes rolled—“so how would I know?”
Okay. She wasn’t making a ton of sense, but he’d give it one more shot. “When did the murder happen?”
“Last year, I think. David got drunk and bragged about it. I want you to pin it on him and then get him moved in with the dangerous prisoners—away from the good ones.”
Good prisoners? Unlocking his fingers, Jake pressed his palms on his desk. Suddenly, the pieces of the blonde’s story began to fit together. “Where’s Billy?”
“In prison with David. But don’t murderers get moved away from people who accidentally rob a convenience store?”
“Accidentally robbed a store?” Jake tried to keep the disrespect from his voice.
The blonde started chattering again, and Jake listened. His ear drums throbbed. At last he reached for a yellow notebook and wrote down her contact info. Then he jotted, Tanks—threatened to kill Billy’s sister. Glancing right at her, and for the sake of politeness, he said, “Miss Chandler, I’m glad you came in.” Sons of Baptist preachers occasionally lied, but only when politeness was on the line.
She blinked, and something close to intelligence fl ashed in her green eyes. “You’re not going to do a thing, are you?”
Okay, he’d try one more time to reason with her. “Honestly, you need to talk to Homicide.” He then watched her storm out.
Though the view was nice, his gaze dropped back to his pad. Tanks—threatened to kill Billy’s sister. Sadly, if a cop jumped every time one inmate threatened to hurt another’s mother or sister, the whole damn force would be too busy playing leapfrog to do its job.
“You’re his sister.”
“No!” Macy Tucker said, dropping her veggie burger onto her plate. She should have guessed something was up when her mother served a lunch entrée that didn’t include butchered livestock. Macy had been a vegetarian since she was sixteen. Twelve years later, her mother still felt it was a passing fad. Of course, her mom, clueless at times, also waited for Ma-cy’s dad to walk back in and yell, “I’m home. Get me a beer, would ya?” Never mind he’d been gone for fourteen years; she kept waiting. Not that Macy would want him back.
“Siblings are supposed to—”
“It’s not happening, Mom.”
Macy’s chest clutched when her mother’s blue eyes filled with tears. Not that Faye Moore’s crying would surprise anyone. In the last three years, she had taken her part-time job of hysterics and made it a full-fledged career. Hundreds of trees had fallen to make the facial tissues to dry her eyes. The doctor said it was menopause. Macy decided it was men. Macy sympathized, because she’d almost succumbed to the malady herself.
“He said he needed to see you.”
“I’m not his fix-it fairy anymore.” But Macy’s chest ached watching her mom dry her tears. Crying could be contagious.
“You’ve always been there for him.” Her mom snatched another Kleenex from a box on the counter and went to work with it.
“Maybe that’s where I went wrong. If he’d faced the consequences—” “It’s been months since you’ve seen him.” The used tissues got pocketed.
“I’ve been busy. Between work, school, and getting a divorce, my plate’s been a bit full.” And the thought of seeing her baby brother behind bars was horrifying.
“Just because you’re . . .” Sniffle.
Her mom glanced at the Kleenex box again. Macy glanced at the door. Two tissues were her limit. Any more heartfelt sobs and she’d need her own box of tear catchers.
Faye continued, “Just because you’re mad at your husband, you can’t take it out on your brother.”
“He’s my ex-husband, and I’m not mad at him.” What Macy felt went far beyond anger.
“Your brother thinks you’re embarrassed by him,” her mom suggested.
“Well, when Father Luis asked what Billy was doing, and I said, ‘Three to five in the pen,’ I wasn’t exactly beaming with pride.”
“Oh, Mace. You can’t be this way.”
“What way?” The self-control Macy maintained around her mother was starting to slip. She was tired of sugarcoating everything. It didn’t help. She had tried all sorts of ploys to curb her mother’s tears, biting her sharp tongue among them, but all had failed. And lately, Macy was tired of failure.
Her mom sighed. “He loves you.”
He should have thought about that before he borrowed my car to hold up a Stop & Go. And wrecking it didn’t help, either. “I love him, but I can’t fix this.”
“He said he was sorry.” Emotion fi lled her mom’s face.
Anger at Billy’s selfish actions and their consequences shot through Macy like blue fire. She embraced it, because anger felt better than helplessness. But as her mom reached for a third tissue, Macy reached for her purse. No third tissue! “Gotta go. Thanks for lunch.” And with a quick kiss to a damp cheek, Macy fled her grandmother’s kitchen.
Her mother’s words chased her across the living room. “Mace! You weren’t raised to turn your back on the people you love.”
Macy kept walking. “It’s called tough love, Mom.” The front door was Macy’s target, and not-crying her immediate goal. Not turning into her mother? That was a lifelong challenge.
“All love is tough,” her mom snapped. Then: “Men.”
“Yup. We should all become lesbians,” Macy countered. And she never looked back as she hit the screen door with her open palm.
Tears did spring to her eyes, however. You weren’t raised to turn your back on the people you love. The lump in her throat grew as she headed for her car. Macy hadn’t been raised that way, but it sure seemed all the men in her life had. First her father—no, first was Grandpa, then dear ol’ Dad. Next her husband, now Billy. Of all the stupid, idiotic things to do, the brother she loved more than good chocolate, the brother she’d sworn to protect, had gotten himself a prison sentence. How could Macy take care of him now? She couldn’t, and she was tired of trying.
No, trying wasn’t the issue. But trying and failing was breaking her heart. And she’d obviously failed Billy, failed to teach him right from wrong.
She’d almost made it to her green Saturn when she heard the distinct clearing of a throat. Blinking the watery weakness from her eyes, Macy turned to face the music.
The music was dressed in purple biking shorts and an orange T-shirt that read bite me. It was Macy’s grandma, who flipped the bird at the world’s view of a senior citizen. No rocking chairs, no matronly house dresses or quiet home life. At sixty-eight, she biked six miles a day, taught yoga and, as Macy had recently discovered, did a few other things, probably in yoga positions.
“Your mom has a point.” Nan stood beside her new ten-speed.
Macy quirked an eyebrow. “Her having a point is fi ne. It’s when she starts jabbing me with it that I get out of sorts.”
“He is your brother. Would it hurt to just see him?”
“Yes. It would hurt me.” The thought of seeing Billy behind bars brought back the lump in her throat. Didn’t everyone know it was easier to be mad? She couldn’t start feeling sorry for him. That would hurt too damn much.
A sympathetic smile deepened the laugh lines in Nan’s face. “You’ll do the right thing. You always do.”
“I’m not going.” Macy suddenly remembered the package in her purse. She pulled out the plastic bag and said, “Here. And you can buy these yourself. They aren’t illegal.”
Nan’s smile vanished. “I . . . It would be . . . embarrassing.”
“Embarrassing?” Macy stalked to her car and opened the door. The smell of yesterday’s pepperoni wafted from the vehicle—one of the drawbacks of delivering pizza for a living. But going to law school full-time had left her with limited job choices. Never mind that her ex, Tom, was supposed to put her through college, just as she’d spent the first years of their marriage doing for him.
Nan looked at the bag. “You’re young. People know you’re doing it.”
“I haven’t done it in two years.” Giving up men meant giving up sex.
Nan smiled. “Mr. Jacobshas a nephew. . . .”
“And he’s welcome to keep him.”
With one foot inside her car, Macy swung around and hugged her grandmother. “I love you,” she said. And she meant it, too. As much of a nutcase as her sexually active relative was, she’d been the glue of their family since Macy’s father walked out. She had cocooned them in her nutty life. It wasn’t Nan’s fault that the glue hadn’t been enough. What did keep families like hers together? Macy wondered. She’d let her marriage fall apart in less than five years. How sad. Heck, even her mother had stayed married to her dad for fourteen.
“I know you love me,” Nan said. “Just like you love Billy.”
Macy jumped behind the wheel of her Saturn, shut the door, and drove away. “I’m not going,” she muttered. “I’m not.”
She hated being proved wrong, but the next day Macy sat behind the wheel of her pizza-scented, fender-dented, convenience-store-robbing Saturn, driving toward the prison. Her mom’s “you don’t turn your back on people” speech and Nan’s “you’ll do the right thing” lecture had done her in. However, she’d postponed the trip until today because she didn’t know the proper attire to wear to a prison. Visions of all the men ogling her, running tin cups along the bars, had been daunting. Not that she was the type who warranted a tin cup. Men preferred bouncy blondes. Macy was brunet, and her size Bs didn’t bounce without the help of a bra that pushed up, pulled in, and captured jiggle mass—and she’d burned those bras the day she found her husband in bed with his blond, bouncy secretary—but prison inmates were desperate.
In the end, she had decided to wear her pizza uniform. How sexy could Papa’s Pizza’s polyester be? Plus, she had to hurry back to
Houston, go to the library to do some research, and then go straight to slinging cheese pies. Then she had to study for exams. There was no time to cry tonight about the emotional havoc this visit was sure to bring. No. Not tonight. A vision of Billy behind bars popped into her mind. Dread pulled at her stomach.
Spotting the sign proudly announcing the prison, she pulled into the parking lot and mentally scheduled herself a pity party this weekend. But only two tissues. What was good for the mother goose was good for the . . . goosette.
Oh Lord, she didn’t want to do this.
Do what, exactly? Why had Billy insisted she visit? All night, Macy’s fitful tossing had given her mattress springs a workout, and she’d half dreamed, half imagined her brother begging, Macy, you’ve gotta break me out of jail.
Her chest ached as she got out of her car. She stuffed her long, unruly hair up under her pizza cap and approached the desolate building that was to be her brother’s home for the next three years. He’d only gotten three to five, thanks to the fantastic lawyer she’d hired to defend him. That was one credit card that would be maxed for a while.
Like her mom, Macy had wanted to blame Billy’s downfall on his bad group of friends, on the fact that he had grown up without a father. But the pain of it all had forced her to pull her head out of that pile of kitty litter. Billy had done this to himself. He’d done it to their mom and to Nan. And, God help Macy for being angry, he’d done it to her, too.
Chin up, she entered the prison. No tin cups or bars. The impression she got was minimalism meets drab: all was linear, sterile. The only warmth in the place came from the old red- brick walls.
A guard snagged her purse and locked it away, another wanded her for weapons, then a serious-faced geezer led her into a gymnasium-type room to wait. After a few minutes of her finger-tapping the metal table, the door opened and inmates rushed through.
Tears sprang to her eyes as her brother approached. She knew it was too much, but Macy didn’t see Billy the nineteen-year-old. She saw the five-year-old kid with big blue eyes fringed in black lashes, the kid who’d sneaked into her bedroom at night with his teddy bear because he was afraid of trolls under the bed. He looked scared now. All her anger vanished in a big puff of smoke. And without the anger, the anguish of knowing she’d failed him ripped at her heart.
“Hey, sis.” His voice shook as he lowered himself into the chair across from her. Once settled, he touched her hand, carefully, almost as if he feared she’d pull away.
Didn’t he know she loved him with every ounce of her heart? Didn’t he know the reason she hadn’t come until now was because this was going to kill her, and perhaps the only way to teach him to deal with the messes he created was to leave him on his own? Tough love wasn’t easy. Not for the giver or the receiver. She felt a few tears trickle down her cheeks. This visit might take three tissues.
“Hey back at you.” The ache in her throat doubled as she turned her palm over and threaded her fi ngers through his.
“You look good. Mom said you fi nally got your divorce.”
“Yeah. And I sure showed him. I got custody of most of his bills.” Swallowing, she fought for control. Billy probably got all the tears he needed from their mom.
“How are you?”
“I’m . . . making it.” He gave the room a glance then met her eyes. “I know you’re mad,” he whispered. “You deserve to be mad. But I . . . There’s trouble.”
Macy braced herself for the whole break- out-of-prison re quest. This visit would defi nitely require three tissues. Billy leaned in. “I need your help.”
“What kind of help?” she whispered back.
“There’s this man. He’s real bad.” Billy’s big blue eyes grew wide. “He cut this guy’s head off. Now he wants to kill me and—”
“Why?” Macy gasped. “Why does he want to kill you?”
“Well, I sort of stole his girl.” Macy’s mouth fell open.
“You did what?”
“Her letter to him got caught inside my magazine in the mail room. I thought it was to me . . . from you, Nan, or Mom.” He glanced away. “It wasn’t to me, but . . . She wrote this poem about her grandma, and it was so beautiful. I wrote her and told her I’d accidentally opened her mail, and I told her how beautiful her poem was. I never dreamed that she would write me back. But she did, and . . . we fell in love.”
“You stole a murderer’s girl?” she asked. “Couldn’t you have, I don’t know, gone after a deadbeat dad’s? Or someone less violent, like a white-collar criminal?”
Billy’s forehead wrinkled. “I’m serious.”
“I’m not? What the hell were you thinking? You don’t steal a murderer’s girlfriend. Didn’t they teach you anything in school?”
“I didn’t know he was a murderer.”
“Wait!” Macy held up her hands. “I don’t need to know this. Because I can’t fix it. I mean, if you think this guy who just happens to cut people’s heads off will listen to me, why, I’ll be happy to read him the riot act, but something tells me—”
“I don’t want you near that freak. I want you to talk to Ellie.”
“My girlfriend.” Billy bit down on his lip.
Macy blinked. “The same girl who dated the murderer?” When Billy nodded, Macy dropped her head on the table. Her pizza delivery hat flipped off and her hair scattered. The cold metal on her forehead was bracing, but everything else felt surreal. Damn, if it still didn’t hurt, though. It might take four tissues..
Billy rested his hand on her shoulder. “Between the two of you, maybe y’all can fix things.”
Macy raised her head. “Fix what?”
“Maybe you could talk to the cops. Anyone but Jake Baldwin—don’t go to him. Maybe they’d listen to you. Ellie’s not like you. She’s too pretty. Men don’t listen to her.”
Macy was suddenly a frog’s hair away from committing her own murder. “But they’ll listen to homely-looking girls like me, huh?”
“I didn’t mean that. It’s just she’s blond and—”
“Big boobed?” It would be justifiable hom i cide.
“Yeah.” Her brother smiled, then frowned when he looked at her. “What I mean is, men don’t think she’s smart.”
“Of course she’s, like, megaintelligent, right? That’s why she was dating a man who chops people’s heads off.” Macy knew she was being catty, but how much could a girl take?
“It’s not like that. She just got mixed up with him because of her stupid brother.”
Because of her stupid brother, huh? Well, that was an excuse she could understand. Macy dropped her head back on the table. She even gave it a good thump.
“She’s not stupid. Okay, she’s not smart like you. . . .” Her brother nudged Macy up. “I know you’ll think I love her because she’s pretty, but I didn’t know what she looked like. I fell in love with her in her letters. We wrote every day—still does—and she comes to see me four times a week.”
Only the fear in Billy’s eyes kept Macy from grabbing her pizza hat and getting her homely butt home. Or was it the memory of the one time Billy hadn’t been afraid? Four years old, teddy bear in his arms, he’d stood up for her, stood up for her when no one else had been there. You’re not hurting my sister. Macy could still hear his little-boy voice saying those words. She could still hear the sound of her father’s fist knocking Billy across the room.
Another tear rolled down her cheek. “You need to talk to someone here. If they know—”
“They won’t do crap,” Billy interrupted. “Even the guards are afraid of him. And some of them . . . he does things for them. He’s got people on the outside, too. He’s the head of some big gang. I heard he has some cops doing things for him. Ellie even thinks that cop, that Baldwin guy who arrested him, is in his pocket now. He wouldn’t even listen when she tried to tell him about the murder.”
“Talk to someone above the guards,” Macy suggested. What was she supposed to do?
“Please, Mace. Her name’s Ellie Chandler. She lives a couple of miles from you. I gave her your number. Promise you’ll see her. I’m scared for her. But it’s not just her. Look, the main reason I needed to see you is . . . I’m scared for you, too.”
“For me?” Macy’s blood ran cold.
“I wrote you a letter, addressed and everything. I wrote to tell you how sorry I was about your car and all.” Guilt shadowed Billy’s eyes. “But it came up missing before I could mail it. The next day, Tanks told me he knew where my family lives. He’s got people on the outside and . . . he’s got your address. You need to get with Ellie. She’ll explain.” He placed a scrap of paper in Macy’s hand. “This is Ellie’s information. Promise me you’ll call her, Mace. Promise me.”
The bell announcing that the visitation was over rang. Macy didn’t make Billy any promises, but she took the paper he’d pushed into her hand.
After his sister left, Billy waited in his cell for a guard to collect him for work duty. If anyone would have told him he’d someday be excited to weed petunias, he’d have called them a friggin’ liar. But it was true. He loved the chance to get out from behind the prison walls. It was a tiny taste of freedom.
“You going on garden duty?” his cellmate Pablo asked, sitting in the room’s one chair, his face hidden behind a book.
“Yeah.” Billy dropped down onto his bed. Some days, he thought he’d go nuts being in here. Then he would remember that he deserved it.
“Your sister come to see ya?” Pablo lowered his book.
Billy only nodded, not wanting to get into a conversation.
How many times had Mace told him he was going to get himself into trouble if he didn’t start thinking about his actions? He’d let her down, and she didn’t deserve it. That’s why he’d decided to turn his life around. He hadn’t told her about the college classes; he wanted to surprise her when he got out. He wanted to show her, his mom, and Nan that he was better than his ol’ man. And he would.
“I heard she was really pretty,” Pablo said.
“Drop it.” Billy closed his eyes.
What really hurt was Mace being disappointed in him. Again. But Billy refused to see Ellie as another of his mistakes. She was too sweet, too good-natured, and yeah, too pretty to be a mistake. Sure, he regretted getting Mace mixed up in this, but he hadn’t meant to do that.
Someone down the hall coughed, and it echoed along the gray concrete walls. Billy hated the echoes in here. God, he prayed Mace would do like he’d said and talk to Ellie. His girl might not be intelligent like Mace, but she had street smarts. And if Tanks went after his sister, Ellie would know better how to protect her.
Billy heard footsteps and remembered garden duty. Eager to leave the cramped room, he jumped up. He could almost smell the outside air.
“You ready?” Hal, one of the day guards, asked. The cell door clicked open.
“Yeah,” Billy said.
Of all the guards, Hal was the only one Billy liked. In his fifties, Hal reminded him of what a father should be. Once Hal had even shown him pictures of his grandkids. Billy wondered if the man’s family appreciated him, or if they took him for granted the way Billy had done with Mace. No more, though. Somehow he was going to make his sister proud.
Hal’s gaze shot to the stack of books. “School going okay?” he asked.
“Fine,” Billy grunted.
He and Hal made their way down the prison halls, their footsteps echoing. The thrill of leaving for a few hours stayed with Billy until he crawled into the van and saw a tattooed forearm resting on the back of a seat. David Tanks glanced at him over a shoulder. The man’s sneer had 24-karat evil stamped all over it.
“Heard your sis came by today,” the murderer whispered. “Heard she’s hot. I can’t wait to get me some of that. I’m going to fuck her hard, Billy boy—right before I slit her throat.”
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
CC: Young Adult. Stay tuned !
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
CC: Pay attention in English class. Believe it or not, you will wish you knew about commas and dangling participles later on. And you know that guy you fell for when you were sixteen? Don’t!
DC: And because I’m curious, where did the idea for the Divorced & Desperate (DD&D) series come from?
CC: From the guy I shouldn’t have fallen for when I was sixteen. Oh, and then from my hubby, the guy who convinced me to give love another try. Seriously, after living through a bad marriage and a divorce, I pretty much felt like my heroines: Men were history! It was my present hubby, who much like a hero, fell in love with me and my daughter and then convinced me that love was worth another shot. Yup, I know the feeling of heartbreak–it’s like to have your heart ripped out of your chest and handed to a small dog with sharp teeth to use as a chew toy. But thanks to my hubby, I know what it’s like to find someone who you respect, admire and desire. We will be married 25 years, and while he’s not perfect, he’s still a keeper.
DC: May we get a little sneak peek into the last DD&D book coming up?
CC: Here’s my back cover blurb for Divorced, Desperate & Deceived. It was a really fun book to write. You’ll not only get to peek back at the lives of Lacy and Chase and Sue and Jason, but you meet a bad guy tuned good guy that helps saves the day. [Ed. You're all one of the first to see the new cover for DD&Deceived!]
“Christie Craig will crack you up!”
—New York Times Bestselling Author Kerrelyn Sparks
Of the Divorced, Desperate and Delicious club, Kathy Callahan is the last surviving member. Oh, her two friends haven’t died or anything. They just gave up their vows of chastity. They went for hot sex with hot cops and happy second marriages—something Kathy can never consider, given her past. Yet there’s always her plumber, Stan Bradley. He seems honest, hardworking…and pretty handy with a tool.
Kathy’s best-laid plans are about to hit a clog. The guy snaking her drain is handier with a pistol than a pipe wrench, and she’s about to see more action than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The next two-days promise pursuit, passion and some very unhappy hit men. And at the end of this wild escapade, Kathy and her own undercover lawman will be flush with happiness . . . assuming they both survive.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
CC: A stand up comic. I love making people laugh. I think laughter is a big key to happiness.
DC: My favorite book of yours is Weddings Can Be Murder. I absolutely loved Carl. Is his character modeled after anyone you know? How did that storyline come about?
CC: All my heroes are modeled after bits and pieces of my hubby, my dad, and my son. Though all my heroes have better abs! (Shh, don’t tell anyone I said that!) Seriously, all my heroes are macho on the outside but have soft hearts. They all suffer from a touch of crassness and they could all use a few lessons in manners. When my hubby reads my books and he always reads them when I get my galleys, I can’t tell you how many times he says something like, “Hey, I actually said that. You stole my line.” I just shrug and tell him, “Well, you should be careful what you say from now on.”
DC: What else is on the horizon for Christie Craig?
CC: Hopefully, a lot more books. Writing really is a passion for me. I’ve heard it said that true happiness is doing what you love and getting paid to do it. I believe that. Don’t get me wrong, deadlines can still bite, and there are days I would rather go to lunch with a few friends then finish a chapter right then, but I couldn’t stop writing. And I would write my stories even I didn’t get paid to do it. Don’t tell my publishers that. Writing is part of me, every story is a journey and a adventure that teaches me a little bit more about who I man and about being human.
- dark or milk chocolate? - When it comes to chocolate, I’m not prejudiced.
- smooth or chunky peanut butter? – Chunky.
- heels or flats? – Barefoot mostly. Okay, I like a little heel. But more than two inches and I’ll fall on my face.
- coffee or tea? – Coffee.
- summer or winter? – Spring!
- mountains or beach? – I like both, but the beach is where I go to refill my soul.
- mustard or mayonnaise? – Mayonnaise.
- flowers or candy? – Please, can’t a girl have both!
- pockets or purse? – Purse.
- Pepsi or Coke? Coke. – But don’t tell anyone. I own stock in Pepsi.
- ebook or print? – I’m a print girl, mostly. I work so much on the computer and staring at screens that I like turning pages.
And because we like having some extra fun:
1. What is your favorite word? – Quirky
2. What is your least favorite word? – No.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? - The word no. I get in this I’ll-show-you mode. Also turns ons: The beach. Time to ponder, and my hubby when he’s being extra sweet.
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – People who think they are better than someone else.
5. What sound or noise do you love? – A baby laughing.
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – Angry words between two people who love each other.
7. What is your favorite curse word? – Piss and shit. My daddy said them when I was young and they sort of stuck.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? - A cover girl/runway model. Who wouldn’t want to give being tall and gorgeous a shot?
9. What profession would you not like to do? – A politician. Hey, I want my skeletons to stay in the closet until I choose to bring them out and write about them.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – ” I laughed my ass off at your books. Would you mind autographing them for me?”
DC: Christie, thank you so much for a hilariously wonderful time today!