The Seen Versus The Unseen in Water Signs

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16

I’d posted a cryptic Twitter update the other day alluding to the fact that I’d received confirmation on the accuracy of my intuition, pertaining to a character in my book. I’d recently written that Erin was mostly a product of my imagination, an embodiment of the theme of the culture of self-absorption, with her obsession with all things material and superficial. Turns out, as I’ve discovered from a reliable source, I was right on target in my portrayal of her without even realizing it. Of course, the whole LinkedIn incident should have provided a very big clue as to this person’s true nature, along with the revealing status updates that inspired a professionalism post.

Sadly it appears that spouses, just like friends, do indeed have the power to change previously upstanding, deep-thinking people for the worse, which seems to be the case here. Either that, or for some strange reason, she wants her husband to come across online as an infantile, immature version of his former self — the guy I once knew who inspired a larger-than-life character in both Water Signs and my forthcoming sequel. Let me just say, I am thrilled that the novel came into existence prior to my knowledge of these realities, because Ken has definitely come into his own as a fictional creation — one that extends far beyond his initial, real-life foundation.

I don’t know if the guy I remember from the past and spoke with over the phone as recently as two years ago even existed in the first place, but I choose to believe in his sincerity. Coming from his background, his honorable ambition and drive to succeed — originally fueled by an admirable work ethic and desire to blaze a new and different trail from the one put forth by his father — makes it very easy to understand how he’d fall prey so easily to an attractive woman with an agenda. I’ve seen this scenario play itself out over and over again, especially in South Florida — particularly in Boca Raton — where too many people get caught up exclusively in the material trappings of life.

And when either the guy or girl in the scenario isn’t strong enough to listen to his/her inner guidance when it’s flashing warning signals about an impending marital union, either that person will eventually succumb to the other person’s negative influence until they become unrecognizable, choose to remain in the marriage even if miserable or as character Ken does in Water Signs, know when to leave after making every effort to salvage the union.

In Chapter 24 — a recreation of actual life — Maddy receives another surprise visit from Ken on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, a few days after dreaming vividly that he’d broken off his engagement to Erin:

By the time early afternoon rolled around, she’d finished her chores and had changed into her bathing suit and cover-up. She was busily placing a towel, a magazine and a few bottles of water into her canvas tote bag when a knock at the door took her by surprise. Her heart lurched when she opened it to find Kenny standing before her, smiling in his typical fashion, dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. It bothered her that in spite of all the pain he’d inflicted, her body still tingled at the mere sight of him. Suddenly, she remembered the dream she’d recently had about him breaking off his engagement.

“Ken! I must say, this is an unexpected surprise!” She endeavored to remain cordial and calm, while keeping her hopes in check.

“Hey, how are you doing, Maddy? Can I come in?”

“Uh, I guess there’s no harm in that,” she replied lightly, offering him a seat and a cold bottle of water.Was it her imagination or did he possess the unmistakable aura of a defeated man?

There was no sparkle, no luster in his aquamarine eyes, which appeared to be lost in thought as he stared off into the distance. And as he held the bottle of Zephyrhills in his hands, he leaned forward on the couch as if grappling with an unspoken, internal conflict.

“Is everything ok?” she inquired, settling in at a safe distance beside him. “You seem a bit preoccupied.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, everything’s fine. It’s just that—well I guess I’ve turned into my father after all,” he sighed. Madeline wasn’t quite sure what to make of that statement, though it hardly coalesced with the profile of a happily engaged man eager to exchange vows with his beloved. What exactly was he trying to convey?

“Oh,” she responded softly, recalling the difficulties he and his dad had endured in the course of their relationship. Though they’d seemed to patch things up that New Year’s Day at her house in Pennsylvania, Maddy had no idea where things stood with them at this point.

“Well is that such a bad thing?” she asked.

Kenny turned to face her, staring deeply into her amber eyes, nearly causing her to tumble to the floor.

“I hope the excitement comes back after Erin and I are married,” he confessed.

Why was he telling her this? Was he just trying to spare her feelings by pretending not to be enthralled by the idea of marrying another woman? Or was he attempting to get her to open up about her feelings for him—feelings she still harbored in the infinite depths of her heart and soul, no matter how hard she fought to expel them?

“Kenny, I don’t know what to say,” she finally blurted out.

“Madeline, do you ever miss our conversations, you know, the way we used to talk? God, you were so easy to talk to!” He ran a hand through his blond hair as he spoke.

“Well, I will admit Kenny that no man before or after you has ever treated me the way you did. No one has come close to that level of affection, respect and kindness.” Her tone was wistful as her thoughts turned to Jake, Jim, Gary and now, Mark.

“It was all you, Maddy,” he insisted. “It was all because you were such a joy to be around. You always listened without judgment; I could talk to you for hours about anything!”

This scene ends with a hug and a few tears, though Madeline — just like me in real life — cannot bring herself to admit her true feelings. She’s too consumed with an ardent belief in right and wrong, considering an engaged commitment on just as equal a footing as a marital one; in her mind, Ken needs to be strong enough to walk away, even if by doing so there’s no guarantee that she, Madeline, will be waiting in the wings.

Her new friends from the dance studio however, beg to differ:

“If you want my opinion, the guy stopped by to see you to try to figure out if getting married is the right thing to do,” Scott offered plainly as he dried himself off on a chaise lounge. Ken had just left after spending nearly four hours poolside with Maddy and her friends from Fred Astaire.

“Or maybe he just wanted one last fling before he ties the knot!” Lloyd teased, playfully punching her in the shoulder. He was blissfully unaware of the ludicrousness of his statement, considering Ken and Madeline’s passionate, but chaste history. However, Maddy wasn’t about to ‘fess up to keeping her virginity intact to this new group of friends, nice as they were. Something gave her the distinct impression such news would raise a few eyebrows as well as concerns for her mental health.

“Nah Lloyd, Kenny’s not like that; he’s a very honorable guy and he knows I have high standards. I don’t go after other women’s boyfriends, fiancées or husbands—it’s just not my style. Besides, if he does break his engagement, I want it to be entirely his decision with no influence from me. If he’s having second thoughts about marrying Erin, he shouldn’t go through with it period, regardless of how I feel or what I do.”

“Yeah, you have a point,” Rebecca concurred. “But I gotta say, Maddy, he gave you the perfect opening to tell him how you really feel. I don’t know—if it was me and I still loved the guy, I’d tell him.”

“Rebecca, I can’t hurt a woman I’ve never even met—a woman who’s done nothing to me just because Kenny and I couldn’t get our timing straight! It wouldn’t be right; I wouldn’t want someone hurting me like that! And even if I did admit my real feelings, there’s no guarantee he’d end things with her anyway. I got the very strong impression that he’s resigned himself to his decision, even if it’s wrong. I don’t think he could live with the guilt of hurting her and her family by backing out now.”

“Well maybe you have a point,” Rebecca conceded. “Still, I’m amazed by you, Maddy. Do you know how many women would move in for the kill in this situation? Hell, I’ve had girlfriends who had no qualms about stealing my boyfriends right out from under my nose!”

“It was strange though, when he called her on his cell from my apartment,” Maddy admitted. He didn’t tell her where he was, for obvious reasons. But it was more than that—it was almost as if he felt stifled by the whole conversation, like she has him on a short leash or something. Anyway, he’s not the upbeat, gregarious, fun-loving guy I remember. And for someone about to get married, he’s sure not excited about it.”

“All I can say is for the guy to spend an entire Saturday afternoon on a Holiday weekend with an old girlfriend, and not his fiancée, something is terribly wrong,” Lloyd commented.

And while I listened to everyone’s input, I still couldn’t justify hurting a woman I didn’t know, simply because “Ken” and I kept messing things up between us, a thought process Madeline articulates in the above paragraph, much to the consternation of the entire group. I will also admit that I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time, so enveloped was I in the heartbreak of the whole situation. Maybe there was a little bit of pride at work, too, in the sense of You hurt me? Well,I’ll show you I don’t need you. You made your choice, now live with it, kind of way.

And it now appears that he’s not only living with his choice, he’s allowed it transform him from a once thoughtful, mature and deep-thinking individual who was actually concerned with important things far beyond the scope of just his own little world, into a vain, shallow, infantile man who can’t stop bragging about his new status in life — from where he gets his hair cut to his family’s latest 5-star vacation.

But in choosing a different ending for Water Signs to keep my main characters around for a compelling sequel, Ken takes an entirely different approach in Chapter 28:

Unfortunately, their live-in arrangement soon revealed significant differences—impediments that Ken hoped would either dissolve entirely, or at least mitigate once they were united in the bonds of marriage. In hindsight of course, he’d realized the folly of his thinking. That while he truly did love Erin, it had been utterly foolish to believe they could actually go the distance with her relentless insecurities, self-centeredness and proclivity towards distrust inflicting slow, steady and ultimately—unfixable, damage to their union.

Every female, whether Ken’s boss, co-worker or fellow college student, provoked Erin’s pervasive jealousy. On more than one occasion he recalled knock-down, drag-out arguments with her over innocuous incidents, from a study session in broad daylight over coffee at Starbucks, to mandatory after-hours socializing with the sales and operations teams at a company-sponsored event.

And a few paragraphs later:

Strange also that this particular year had brought her so much clarity; he’d just signed his divorce papers the previous fall. Did Maddy somehow know that? If she had been aware of his marital status, she offered no indication in her correspondence. His last recent search of public records had revealed no information whatsoever, which was understandable, given that his attorney had advised him it could take up to a year for such records to be updated on Internet databases. With no mutual friends or acquaintances to spread the word, Maddy was most likely in the dark. And that made her gesture even more impressive.

Ken rolled over onto his side, kicking the cotton sheets down to the end of the bed. Ever since having children, he no longer enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in the raw, and had taken to wearing boxer shorts. Tonight, he’d just happened to have chosen a green pair featuring the Philadelphia Eagles logo, though it had been ages since he’d actually slept in them. Somehow it only seemed appropriate. Funny, Erin despised football, one of the many activities Ken and Maddy had delighted in together.

It was also thrilling that she regarded him as a catalyst for positive change in her life, despite all of the heartbreak he’d caused her. And the thought that he’d somehow inspired her was the icing on the cake. All this time he feared she might actually feel nothing but contempt for him, though he completely understood her rationale for keeping her distance. He supposed it was selfish of him to want to keep her as a friend while he gave his love and devotion to another woman, but he’d truly missed her presence in his life.

In the book of course, this leads to a reunion which eventually leads to a marriage proposal and wedding a full 16 years after their initial meeting at the Somers Point Dance Club (which by the way, was a real place called “Key West”, though I changed it to “Key Largo” in the novel).

While it is sad to witness through cyberspace such a profound change for the worse in the man I remember, I am thankful for the unexpected rush of memories that led me to create a character who is much beloved by my readers. And unlike his real-life counterpart, Ken will continue to evolve as a man, father, husband, Christian and American, never allowing the material aspects of life — wonderful as they may be — to become his “god” or to alter who he is at the very core of his being.

Looking forward to finishing Sea To Shining Sea very soon!

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Character Study: Madeline Rose in Water Signs, Part Two

Character Study: Madeline Rose in Water Signs, Part Two

In my last post, I discussed Madeline’s “weighty” insecurities, and their detrimental effect upon her relationship with Ken. Intertwined with other fears and hang-ups about the opposite sex, these insecurities will ultimately lead to a formidable bout with panic and anxiety disorder (from which she eventually emerges victorious) as part of her own personal growth and spiritual development. In this sense, her insecurities are also a catalyst for positive, profound change in her life, much like Ken himself (although at a conscious level, he’s quite unaware of it).

One of Maddy’s biggest obstacles to success is her inability to fully and clearly articulate her deepest fears and feelings, especially to Ken. To get this point across dramatically in the book I employed italics to denote the thoughts swirling through her head, juxtaposed with her conflicting statements.

There’s a dramatic example of this in Chapter 6, in a scene that also reveals the inner conflict between traditional values and contemporary culture:

“Maddy?” he asked softly, as he traced her arm from shoulder to wrist.

“Mmm-hmm?” She was exquisitely lost in the moment.

“Don’t you ever get curious?”

She turned her body so that she was now looking at him directly.

“Curious about what?”

“You know,” he gave her a telling glance, followed by a raised eyebrow. Then he felt sudden regret for even having asked the question.

But relief washed over him when he saw a smile slowly form on her face. “Well…” she began, her voice trailing off. As desirable as he made her feel and as tempted as she was, there remained an underlying fear, an almost irrational insecurity when it came to this very intimate act between a man and a woman.

For Maddy, it went far beyond the “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” teachings of the Catholic Church, repeated so often throughout her schooling she could almost hear them in her sleep. She’d long ago accepted the validity of these words; indeed, she took them to heart and wanted nothing more than to give herself to her husband—whoever he might turn out to be—for the very first time on their wedding night. It was simply that, as she grew older, she realized how few people, good people, had practically applied the same beliefs. Even Jake in all of his self-righteousness had admitted to sleeping with his college girlfriend, though he claimed that his ensuing guilt over it had been partially to blame for their break-up.

Beyond all of that, Maddy struggled with some deep-rooted insecurity about not being quite good enough, not having a body acceptable enough (she was after all, very small-breasted as Jake had so cruelly reminded her that evening), and not adequately aware enough of how exactly to please a man. And hadn’t she read stories in the hottest women’s fashion magazines about men leaving their wives over sexual dissatisfaction? Hadn’t she seen the endless articles about how to be better in bed?

She wanted so much to confide in him her conflicted emotions, to explain what was held so very deeply within her being. But as with that night in his waterbed, there was a frustrating disconnection between her innermost thoughts and their eloquent expression. All she could manage was some lame answer about how sex belonged within the confines of a marriage. Undeterred, he just smiled at her as he traced the curve of her face.

“I know, sweetheart and I respect that so much,” he assured her in his deep, sexy voice. “I just wondered that’s all. I know I’d like to know what it’s like be with you. Guess I’ll just have to marry you to find out.”

This entire scene is taken from real life, occurring one evening when “Ken” and I were alone on the couch watching television. And just like Maddy, I couldn’t seem to trust him enough to confide all of the complex feelings I was experiencing. Ken’s comment regarding marriage is a direct quote from his flesh-and-blood counterpart, and for the purposes of fiction, also a statement in support of traditional values. Yes, Ken is a 25 year-old young man with raging hormones and burning desires; but he’s also a serious guy who very much wants to marry and settle down with the right woman.  The fact that he’s willing to wait for her is a testament to his strong character. (Too bad Ken’s real life counterpart took a different course of action, one that changed him — or at least my memory of him as a genuine, down-to-earth guy unaffected by the superficial aspects of life — into someone I no longer recognize)

In Chapter 5, readers get a glimpse as to just how deeply Maddy’s previous relationship with Jake Winston has wounded her when — in an intimate moment in Ken’s bedroom, she suddenly has a flashback that propels her to react in harsh opposition to the desires of her heart and body. And although she wants to explain fully the genesis of her discomfort, she cannot bring herself to articulate the words:

Maddy covered her face with her hands, more embarrassed by her overreaction than outraged by Ken’s completely understandable attempt, considering they were all alone in his bedroom. She remained quiet while she tried to gather her composure, wanting so much to find the words to comfort him, to clarify for him the root cause of her discomfort. But it was as if the synchronicity between her thoughts and the physical mechanisms necessary to express them had completely failed her. All she could do was sit there in silence.

But when Ken finally pulled her into a hug, she didn’t resist. Instead, she buried her head in his chest and muffled an emotional apology.

“Nothing to apologize for, sweetheart,” he comforted her. “It’s ok. Everything’s ok.” His voice was a barely audible whisper as they held each other in the translucent beam of moonshine streaming from the window above them.

Ironically, although Ken treats Madeline with the utmost respect and dignity, in a very real sense he’s the one who takes the punishment for Jake’s wrongdoings, simply by being the very next guy to express an interest in her after the breakup. This is also exacerbated by Maddy’s inability to communicate effectively, leaving him frustrated and unsure of her true emotions.

In the pivotal Chapter 19, newly engaged Ken shows up unexpectedly at Madeline’s door to formally announce his status (a reality she’s already aware of intuitively) and to ascertain her feelings about the situation. Perhaps more than any other part of the book, this section is the most dramatic example of the use of italics to denote the dichotomy between what the heart is experiencing and what the head is articulating via the spoken word.

I remember this all too well from real life and can confirm the conversation between Ken and Madeline to be nearly verbatim to the one that transpired between “Ken” and Daria. And like Madeline, part of my motivation for putting on the performance of a lifetime was also a lofty belief in morality, a desire to do the right thing (in my mind) by stepping aside:

“Now how do you feel?” he asked nervously.

How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?

“Hey, I think it’s great!” she replied brightly. “Congratulations! I’ve been dating a lot myself since I got here. Believe me; I have my own things going on!”

“Well you sure seem as if you’ve changed,” he noted with a twinge of sadness and more than a little confusion. This was not even close to the reaction he was expecting. Maybe Madeline hadn’t loved him after all.

Interesting update: During one of our emotionally charged telephone communications just prior to the release of the book, I told “Ken” that I should have received an Oscar for this performance. There was a moment of stunned silence in which he appeared truly taken aback. Reminiscing on this incident, I am amazed I even had the strength to put on such a compelling show. This was an incredibly painful time for me, one that is thankfully in the past.

For those who haven’t read my analysis of Erin, in that post I allude to Chapter 19 as a foreshadowing of her self-centered shallowness and materialism, and the eventual demise of their marriage as a direct result. Fictional Ken gives it his best shot, but in the end realizes the futility of remaining with a woman whose intellect and emotions run about as deep as a puddle in the South Florida sun — another example of where fiction differs from fact.

Preview and purchase Water Signs on Amazon in Kindle or paperback.

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Character Study: Madeline Rose in Water Signs

In previous posts, I’ve described Water Signs as a literal, metaphorical and spiritual journey for its two main characters, Madeline Rose and Kenneth Lockheart. And since I alluded to Madeline’s weight issues in my last post, I figured they merited a larger discussion in my next update.

When Chapter One opens, readers get an inkling of Madeline’s motivations, fears and insecurities via her conversation with her good friend Carmen (based on a real-life friend), as the girls cruise down the Atlantic City Expressway bound forOcean City, New Jersey. She’s just been through a traumatic break-up with her first boyfriend, who’s been harshly critical and judgmental due to his own personal issues (a topic I discussed — along with the theme of forgiveness — in the post, Maddy’s Men). The dialogue centers around Maddy’s lingering hang-ups about her appearance, which Carmen quickly attempts to dispel.

From the outset, I strove to highlight the preponderance of loving, supportive and protective people in Maddy’s life, from family members to female friends — while drawing a sharp contrast between her and the other characters — beginning with Carmen in Chapter One:

“I know,” Carmen agreed. “But believe me; I miss my retail days in New York. Macy’s was tough, mostly due to a Type-A personality boss, but I met a lot of cool people. Counseling clients at New You Nutrition and Weight Loss isn’t exactly a dream job.”

“Isn’t it satisfying to help someone get into shape?” Madeline pursued.

“Only the people who are really serious about it,” Carmen replied. “But most clients just make up excuses and waste their money so they can claim to be doing something about their figure. And the company doesn’t mind because they’re raking in the dough. Not that the program isn’t good, it is. But not even the best weight loss plan on earth will work for someone who isn’t committed to it.”

“You should tell them you owe your skinny frame to New You, and not an inherited fast metabolism!” Madeline suggested, laughingly.

“Yeah, maybe I should!” Carmen agreed. “You look good, Maddy, by the way. I can tell you’ve lost some weight.”

“Yes, I’m trying!” Madeline patted her tummy. “All the walking and swimming I’ve been doing is paying off. And I’m being really careful about everything I put in my mouth. Just a few more pounds and I’ll be all set.”

“Now, don’t go off the deep end,” Carmen warned, suddenly becoming serious. “You are such a pretty girl and you look great. So just remember that, ok? You are beautiful the way you are right now.” Knowing her good friend was still reeling from a painful break-up a few months ago, Carmen wanted this to be a fun weekend for all of them.

“Apparently Jake didn’t think so,” Madeline noted quietly.

“Jake’s an ass!” Carmen shot back, her fiery Latin temper flaring. “Who the hell was he to criticize you? It’s obvious you weren’t dating him for his good looks. He should have been grateful to have a cute girl like you on his arm, instead of acting like a complete jerk and dumping you over the phone. At least be a man and face things head on. What a wuss!”

Partly due to her seemingly unconquerable belief in her own inferiority where men are concerned, Maddy initially reacts harshly to Carmen’s announcement of their impending dates later that evening — although there’s another glaring fact that adds insult to injury. This is also an instance where I employed a bit of foreshadowing just prior to the introduction of Ken:

“Well, while we’re on the subject, I have to confess something.”

Uh-oh. Knowing Carmen, it wasn’t good news.

“What?” Madeline asked defensively, bracing herself for the answer.

“Mary Ellen is trying to get these guys to bring a friend along for you—”

“Aw, Carmen!” she protested.

“Look, I don’t even know if the guy will make it, but you have to start somewhere. These men are successful in business and they’re really cute. We’ll all just go out and have some fun. It’ll be great, you’ll see!”

“Do you even know anything about them?”

“Well, I know they have some kind of import/export business in Atlantic City. And I think they’re from Iran or someplace in the Middle East.”

Fabulous.

Maddy’s type was definitely the masculine, clean-cut all-American guy either in uniform, or out of the pages of Football Digest or GQ; while she had an appreciation for other cultures, she had no desire to date someone from another country—European, Middle Eastern or otherwise. As was her usual reaction to distressing news, she sat in silence.

A little while later, I took a few paragraphs to describe the girls’ contrasting appearances, as well as the dichotomy between Madeline’s self-image and reality, in addition to another bit of foreshadowing:

The girls headed upstairs to get ready. It was already after 6 p.m. and they were planning to go out to eat before heading to the Key Largo dance club just over the causeway in Somers Point. At the Point Diner a little while later, Madeline watched in awe as Carmen devoured a burger and fries, while she carefully stuck to grilled chicken and salad. In spite of her slim figure, Carmen often ate starchy, fattening foods, none of which ever affected her thin frame. It was a luxury Maddy had never enjoyed.

But she looked adorable in a cute white summer outfit consisting of a long, sequined white top over tight leggings, cinched at the waist. She’d pulled her flowing auburn hair back into a loose ponytail, held with a rhinestone clip, and her favorite comfy silver pumps, in anticipation of dancing the night away. Carmen looked stunning in a black linen dress and high-heeled sandals, her dark hair falling straight just below her shoulders. Little did Maddy know at the time, but she would find herself sitting in the very same booth a few hours later, under very different circumstances.

 

Astute readers will understand that, given Madeline’s overly critical and distorted self-image, the fact that Ken is first attracted to her stunning Latin girlfriend — going so far as to purchase a long-stemmed rose and present it to her on the dance floor — sets the foundation for the conflict to ensue in the budding, unexpected relationship that develops between her and the handsome former US Navy sailor.

Lost in the music, Madeline never saw it coming, but suddenly she looked up to see a hand holding a long-stemmed rose in front of Carmen; a little red devil was attached to it. Then Maddy caught a glimpse of the rose’s buyer and her heart skipped a beat—too bad he was interested in her friend. It seemed so unfair since Carmen already had a date for the evening, unbeknownst to this handsome stranger. But despite her disappointment, Madeline laughed right along as Carmen accepted the gesture and began to dance with her new suitor.

And of course, it’s only when Carmen’s date for the evening finally arrives at the club that Maddy even gets the opportunity to hang out with Ken in the first place — when something inside compels her to extend the invitation, much to her own astonishment:

“Maddy,” Carmen asked again, “What are you going to do?”

Feeling strangely emboldened, Madeline announced, “I’m not going with all of you. I’m staying here and hanging out with Ken!” Then turning to him, she asked softly, “Is that ok with you?”

“Yes, that’s fine with me,” he agreed, giving her a high-five. Maybe the night’s not lost after all, he surmised. She’s seems truly adorable. It won’t hurt to spend a few hours getting to know her.

“Ok, but you better be nice to her,” Carmen warned Ken as she stepped into the back seat of her entourage’s Lincoln Continental.

In spite of her insecurities, Maddy demonstrates even more confident self-assertion when her newly designated date for the evening can’t stop haranguing her over what he considers to be Carmen’s dishonorable actions:

“You know I have to say I really don’t understand your friend. Why would she lead me on like that when she knew she had a date? And did you see those guys? I mean, I spent four years of my life defending this country from people like that and she and her anorexic friend run off with them?”

“Hey Ken, calm down! I agree with you about Iran, but that doesn’t mean those guys are like their crazy government. And you have to know Carmen; she’s just a free spirit. No one tells her what to do. I’m just glad they didn’t bring a friend for me, ‘cause long hair and grunge is definitely unappealing.”

“Well she still shouldn’t have accepted my rose,” he stated emphatically.

Maddy had enough. Cute as he was, she had no desire to talk about Carmen all night; watching Nick-At-Nite at home was sounding better and better. Overcoming her usual hesitance around guys, she spoke up. “Look, Ken, you’re here with me now. Either we’re gonna dance and have a good time, or I’m outta here! What’s it gonna be?”

Pleasantly surprised by her feistiness, he took her by the hand and exclaimed, “Well, let’s dance!”

By the way, this entire chapter is pretty faithful to real life, down to the little red devil attached to the rose; Maddy’s amazement at Ken’s foresight in bringing along a clean shirt to change into; Ken’s initial anger about Carmen leaving the scene with another guy; and his marveling at Maddy’s “tiny” hands. Even the conversation in bold above is absolutely true, and like Maddy, I surprised myself with my own comfort level around this guy; I seemed to have no qualms at all about telling him in no uncertain terms exactly how I felt. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long as the relationship progressed, as I will detail in another post.

Once Ken and Maddy break the ice with a dance, the rest of the evening unfolds effortlessly. Their light-hearted conversation reveals many similarities, including their shared birthday (which, as I’ve noted before is an example of creative license; the real guy and me are both Pisces, but our birthdays are about two weeks apart), Catholic upbringing and status as “the baby” in their respective families. However, Maddy’s insecurities flare up again upon learning more about this intriguing new suitor, unbeknownst to him:

Under the cover of magnificent moonlight enhanced by the muted sounds of music emanating from inside the club, Ken and Maddy chatted for hours. He shared funny and sad stories of his time in the military as she eagerly listened, fascinated by his life experience. At 25, she’d never even left her hometown, let alone traveled the world. Except for a Caribbean cruise with a few college girlfriends after graduation and some assorted family trips to places like Disneyworld and Chicago, she’d lived a pretty uneventful life. Heck, Maddy had even commuted to a university minutes from her house because she hadn’t felt quite ready to leave the nest. At the same age, Ken had enlisted to serve in foreign lands.

She also noticed something admirable and attractive in him—an inner spark, a desire to make something of himself. He was determined to rise above his roots in a sleepy Shore town and accomplish much greater things than his older brothers, all of whom seemed content to work in a local pizza shop.

From the get-go, Ken exposes himself as an entirely different kind of man from Jake, which ironically heightens Madeline’s insecurity. After two years of constant berating about her weight, her choice of dress and even her bust size, it’s a shock to the system (albeit a pleasant one) to be with a man who’s constantly complimenting her. Although he’s quite sincere, she cannot seem to reconcile his glowing impression of her with the unattractive one residing deep within her own psyche.

And her inability to clearly articulate her feelings — coupled with Ken’s deeply held thoughts of inferiority in the face of Madeline’s highly accomplished family —  will help to destroy their relationship the first time around.

Preview and purchase Water Signs on Amazon.com


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Philly Sports Radio Personality Trevelise on debut episode of The Liberty Belle Hour on BTR

One of the many things I am incredibly blessed with are good friends who consistently look out for my best interests, as I do theirs. This kind of reciprocity makes life not only fulfilling, but also rewarding — I can’t think of anything better than to be in a position to truly help someone with real talent achieve their dreams. Many continue to assist me in this regard, particularly my good friend, ardent supporter and fellow writer, Don Smith, who called me excitedly last night with some pretty welcome news.

Seems Don, who now writes for Patch.com as well as InvestComics, made the acquaintance of Philly sportsradio personality Steve Trevelise, from 610 AM, WIP. After apprising him about me, The Liberty Belle Hour, Water Signs and my passion for Philly teams like the Eagles, Steve expressed an interest in being a guest on the debut episode of The Liberty Belle Hour on BlogTalkRadio on August 5 — as well as bringing me on to his show, which runs from 11 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Steve and I confirmed everything via email this morning, and I am really looking forward to it!

As readers of Water Signs know, the Eagles and Phillies play a prominent role in defining my characters and painting the portrait of the Philly/suburbs/South Jersey culture. Being an avid Giants fan, I am sure Steve will take me to task over a few things — like the fact that unlike the Giants — the Eagles have yet to win a Super Bowl. But maybe we’ll bond over a shared dislike of the Dallas Cowboys!

Anyway, I hope you’ll tune in to both the debut of The Liberty Belle Hour on BlogTalkRadio and my appearance on Trevelise’s show on WIP on August 5.

And thank you again to Don for being a stellar friend and staunch supporter of me and my work!

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