Real Estate and My Novels

sold signOne of my several careers over the years has involved real estate sales and service. It’s hard to believe but sixteen years ago, I considered myself an original “April fool” for jumping into the real estate game—one reason related to my love of reviewing open houses when I was a teenager dreaming of what my house would look like.  That dream probably related to the fact that my dad was in the service and we moved around a lot—always renting since we were rarely in any one place more than two years. In one case, his duty station lasted a mere nine months. I think that was the year I was in one school for 13 days!

Back to the realty gig: like most totally green realtors, I knew nothing when I began, even though I’d taken the requisite pre-licensure course and passed the state-administered test. Each transation thereafter became a learning experience, one that ensured I would seek, and eventually obtain, several advanced designations, the better to know what I was doing and to serve my clients.  As important as that advanced training was, remaining open to the needs of each client—seller or buyer—informed my work.

The stories of other realtors and their experiences with their clients also added to what I knew. And all these encounters—the good, bad, ugly, funny, gruesome, dangerous, and just plain stupid—all became grist for the particular mill in Granddad’s House. Some of the realtors who appear in that story are also found in Just Friends, and in another book called Choices, which won the Grand Prize ( in the Chanticleer Book Reviews and Media Contest for 2013.  It remains to be seen if those same realtors show up again in as-yet-unwritten stories in the series taking place in the fictional town of Evergreen, Washington.

People often ask if I miss my work as a realtor since I retired from that role. Yes and no. I still remain open to answering questions my friends ask, usually for their relatives or acquaintances. But, I don’t miss the often-frustrating actions of banks since the 2007-2010 Recession, whose decisions buyers and sellers still hang on with often too-long bated breath. Requiring that buyers prove they have the money to buy a home has always been wise, something some lenders forgot in the craziness of the period 2002 through 2008. But triple-checking bank accounts and demanding to know about every little thing is going way too far in the direction of total mistrust.  Would that the happy medium is soon achieved.

To-Do Lists

Kate ValeI’m in shock! I prepared a “to-do” list yesterday, the better to organize both my thoughts and my writing work schedule. That list now exceeds four pages!

Have I been laying back lately, playing instead of working? Or am I simply anticipating what I want to accomplish before the holidays and family obligations intervene?

In checking over that list—which may become longer before items can be crossed off with a satisfying “so there!”—I discovered that numerous items are not in themselves big jobs. It’s just that there are so many. Thus, the entirety of the list is off-putting.

My garden calls, the bulbs need planting, and the sun is out. But although I yearn to grab my spade and head outside, that dratted “to-do” list glowers. Get to it, it repeats, a litany that threatens to overwhelm my desire to take a break.

A friend just called and I admitted my schizophrenic urgings to be two places at once—outside and inside, planting my bulbs, completing and then shortening the everlasting list.

Oh, joy! What I couldn’t do for myself has been provided by another.

I now have permission to take a break in favor of the bulbs, knowing the inside chores will get done later today or perhaps even tomorrow and throughout the week. The garden needs my attention before I can put it to bed for the season under a warm pile of mulch.

Bye-bye, list! I’ll see you later.

My Characters: I Can’t Let Them Go

Someone at a recent writer’s conference reminded me of something that I thought was a personal problem. After the book is finished, I miss talking to my characters, thinking about them, wanting to know more about them, imagining how their life thread will spool out after the story is over. I can’t seem to get these people out of my head.

Suzanna in Dream Chaser continues to remind me that second chances at love can occur, and remaining open to the possibility is something I should consider. Gillian in Gillian’s Do-Over repeated the same message, even as her son—unlike mine—tried to run her life instead of trusting that Gillian could take care of herself. Her white-water rafting adventure was far less fun for her than it was for me when I tried my hand at avoiding getting thrown out of a raft. But having experienced it meant it was easy to imagine her there.

Another single title, Package Deal, allowed me to relive through Amanda what it’s like to be a newly-minted college professor, intent on building a career while raising a child. In Amanda’s case, two men complicate her life, one I loved to hate (Carlton), I adored (Marcus). And so does spunky nine-year-old Cecelia, who is convinced from their first meeting that handsome Marcus would make the perfect dad. After all, like her, he has blue eyes!

Dannilynn in Concealed Attractions, a New Adult Novel, allowed me to relive how scary college can be when one is away from home for the first time and how events there can impact one’s life far into the future. Making her home on an island, set apart from the more sophisticated mainland, mirrored how her family sheltered her. Thus began the Cedar Island Tales series.

Meeting long-time lovers Joel Taylor and Angela Wright in that same story compelled me to focus on their evolving story in Heartstrings precisely because I wanted to know if they would ever get together again and, later, if they could weather what often is thought to destroy marriages. Theirs is an example of the statistic that most marriages—after such betrayal—remain intact.

Jane in Family Bonds, another New Adult Novel, was the compilation of several young women I knew in college who had to go it alone following their parents’ death, and who then found love but lost it when they unearthed unexpected, often ugly, family secrets. Jane deserved a happy life in the face of those discoveries and the support Chet provided endeared him to me. I so wanted them to be happy, which is why their story ends with an unexpected twist. In Family Bonds, I also fell in love with the delightful little town of Evergreen, Washington—a fictional place that became the setting for the On Geneva Shores series, where so many different characters have added flavor to the town.

A friend encouraged me to write what I know and at the time, I was still deeply involved in the real estate industry. Evergreen seemed the perfect place to explore one realtor’s experience. Thus was born Granddad’s House, set in various neighborhoods of Evergreen, where Olivia Brown, a real go-getter realtor, thinks she has life by the tail until she agrees to list and sell her beloved grandfather’s home. The man who intrudes in her dreams and her office, Beau James, swept me off my feet, too, when he entered that big Victorian. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him, wishing at times I’d met someone like him: Southern accent, sparkling eyes, and all.

Olivia and Beau were such a great couple that I was compelled to follow Sally, Olivia’s best friend, and Paul, Beau’s younger brother, in Just Friends when several women I know—nearly all survivors of breast cancer—begged me to tell their story through Sally’s eyes. I couldn’t let her miss out on the life she’d always wanted and feared she’d never have.

Melanie in Choices was brought to life again after a brief introduction in Granddad’s House because I couldn’t leave real estate agents alone, particularly those new to that particular game. Her children, too, like so many of the younger set in my stories, captivated me. Melanie’s teens and her 5-year-old tagalong enabled her to experience a happily-ever-after with Sam, the detective with a heart of gold, who was just too darn slow to propose. Thank goodness for Jeffrey’s “goof” in stating his and his siblings’ unanimous decision!

The men in my novels have intrigued readers and several have asked me what I thought of them. Jonathan in Dream Chaser was the kind of man—a rancher and an academic—whose complexities immediately captured me. That he was good-looking was an added bonus. I’ve already mentioned southern charmer, Beau. His brother, Paul, was less a romantic heartthrob than someone whose demons drew me closer as he struggled to heal, emotionally and physically. Then there was Matt in Gillian’s Do-Over. Sigh. Another man I’d love to meet in real life. He had to deal with big issues, too. Fortunately, Gillian took the initiative when I was afraid he would hesitate. And, in spite of his big mistake, Joel Taylor remains a favorite of mine. He’s always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Angela and his children. He’d die for them, those sweet twins and baby Grace.

Which brings us to my most recent book, Safe Beside You, soon to be published. Like me, Carrie thought she knew what she wanted in a relationship with a man. Brian’s friendship kindles feelings that cause her to question her future. I could easily see Brian’s shoes under my bed. But will she?

My characters are a part of me. They live on in my head, prompting questions yet to be explored in future stories with new characters not yet identified or only briefly mentioned in previous stories. The ones that appear in more than one title are a clue to those men and women I feel most close to, even as those in the single titles remain cherished friends. Perhaps they, too, will surface elsewhere.

The Next Big Thing

A local writer and friend, Pamela Beason, invited me to participate in this online “blog-hop.” This is my first such attempt at this exciting event. I’ll begin with a few questions I’m to answer:

What is the working title of your book? Granddad’s House is my sixth independently-published title, and the second in a series set in Evergreen, Washington. I anticipate that the next title in this series, Just Friends, will come out later this month.

Where did the idea come for the book? I spent 14 years as a realtor and met and assisted many different buyers and sellers. Every such transaction presented unique issues, problems, and solutions. I decided to explore some of those issues.

What genre does your book fall under? Granddad’s House is contemporary women’s fiction with strong romantic elements. It explores what happens when a realtor intent on selling her grandfather’s house–and the place where she spent so much time as a child–even though her late father warned her against doing so. A realtor must bring objectivity to every transaction, and Olivia is too emotionally attached to do so. Making matters worse is her granddad’s request that Olivia find a family, with children, for his house. Unfortunately, the best possible kind of sale–quick close for cash!–comes from a handsome architect who intends to turn Granddad’s house into a B&B!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Selling a relative’s home can become a near-impossible professional and personal complication.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Granddad’s House is self-published under my press name, North Cascades Press. It can be found on Amazon and on

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft poured out in about six months. It took me another year to work it into something I wanted to publish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I read lots of authors, but one of my favorites if JoAnn Ross. She, too, deals with sometimes difficult issues while entwining those elements with romantic opportunities. I especially like her title, One Summer.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? The recommendation of a reader of one of my other stories encouraged me to write a story about a realtor after I shared several funny and/or awkward situations I’d experienced.  I was reluctant to do so, fearing I would be too close to the main character to create a story others would like. But, after I began the story, it became easy to write.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The complications that Olivia experiences–both personal and professional–tie her in knots. Her relationship with her grandfather both soothes and infuriates her when he decides that Beau is the man for her–in spite of Olivia’s insistence that he is SO not her type. When Granddad faces a major health crisis, Beau is there for Olivia, even as she supports him when his younger brother is injured in Afghanistan. The final question is: how can she set aside her guilt and accept what Granddad wants for her?

There you have it: my answers.

CSI is not as you might think

Because I have been interested in what is shown on TV in different CSI shows, I took advantage of an opportunity recently to spend a few days with a crime scene investigator. In a word, what in on television is not at all a true reflection of what happens in the real world. Fiction requires that answers be found quickly, and often easily. Real crime scenes are fraught with too many hands touching what shouldn’t be touched, footprints where feet should not be walking, and even placing crime scene tape too close to the scene itself. While working with the investigator, I and my fellows learned how to pull fingerprints off both smooth and more difficult surfaces. Even my clean shoes provided an excellent example of how to lift a footprint from flooring, even when one did not see a footprint. We also learned why a crime scene investigator would never interview a suspect unless that person is first and foremost a detective who’s been secondarily trained to obtain evidence at the scene.  Nor do most CSI’s carry guns.

In spite of learning how fictional those TV shows really are, knowing the writers probably ignored the consultants’ recommendations (and maybe even their frowns when “the story arc” trumped reality) has not ruined my enjoyment of those shows. Instead, I now concentrate on other aspects of the story as I lose myself in the fantasy presented.

I am a serial careerist!

What is retirement? Am I now retired? The question arises out of my most recent action, in which I chose—a key word, I think—to stop doing what I had been doing in favor of other work that has occupied only a portion of my waking day, but numerous dream nights for several years.

Ruminating about my experience, and that of others who’ve had similar adventures, convinces me that I haven’t retired. Rather, I’m simply in my newest career.

Think about it: in my parents’ and grandparents’ time, they often began a career and ended it in the same business or occupation. If changes occurred, it was to climb the ladder from a junior to a more senior position. But they continued to be defined by that same occupation.

Among my peers, a different pattern has emerged, what I prefer to think of a serial careering. We began our working lives slinging hash or selling souvenirs at a summer job and went on to our first “real” job; that is, one that had at least an inkling of a future that included more pay and benefits and a climbing of the corporate, or similar, ladder. Whoohoo!

Many of us, however, also learned—often, the hard way, as we endured recessions and cutbacks—that working for the same employer was unlikely to be our life experience. Some of us began second, third, or fourth jobs with other employers, often in occupations unrelated to where we first began. And still others of us decided to create our own futures in our own businesses, one of the reasons why small business is the rule rather than the exception in these United States.

So, where does that leave us? With serial careers, which we will continue to enjoy far into the future, well past the usual retirement birthday of sixty, or sixty-two, or sixty-five, or later.

I now count myself among those who have enjoyed a series of occupations. I’m on my fifth and am happy to report that each of my career experiences informs my view of the world. A bonus: my fictional characters’ occupations are often ones I, too, have enjoyed at one time or another!

A Thumbnail Sketch of my Trip to India

The beautiful Taj Mahal

I was remiss in January, after returning from a fabulous trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and four different areas of India to share my thoughts about the trip.  Nearly a year late, here is a thumbnail of what I saw and how I was affected by it.

People often think of India as a country plagued by illness or disease and way too many people. I have to admit that the traffic in Mumbai (with about 16 million people) was daunting. Particularly scary (but also kind of fun) was riding in a three-wheeled vehicle in traffic that seemed to be controlled by the incessant honking of horns. However, the malls in many cities were too much like that found in US cities and included brand names any American pre-teen would recognize and gravitate to. I preferred indigenous Indian fare, which I found more interesting.

This picture shows thousands of people walking to and from the area where we were required to remove our shoes. It was holiday-time and I suspect that the Taj Mahal is visited by as many people throughout the year. The architecture was spectacular inside and out.

Also of interest to me was the museum exploring Mahatma Gandhi’s life work, housed in the home in which he was born in Mumbai. I learned of his views and read his writings–many opinions far ahead of his time, including his views on the importance of equality for women in a society where it was rarely practiced during his lifetime.

A Western-educated person might assume that the major inventions and scientific breakthroughs occurred in the European cities and those, more recently, in North America.  I learned that major mathematical understandings were written about in India three thousand years earlier!  Why were they not shared with the rest of the world? My theory is that such sharing did not move from south to north, but rather from east to west.

India has a burgeoning middle class that has spurred major changes throughout this huge country. Not least among the changes is the elimination in the last 18 months of endemic poliomyelitis, which for so many years was a scourge, paralyzing thousands and killing many of its victims. Only three countries throughout the world are still plagued by this preventable disease. India is no longer one of them.

Would I return? Yes! It’s a country far too large to see in one visit, even one of several weeks. My advice? Limit yourself to a few key cities and spend several days in each, the better to enjoy the unique flavors of the foods in each area and the many sites that truly reflect the culture.

Travel – the ups and downs of it

My recent trip to Chicago was wonderful for the time it provided to spend with my writing cousin, catching up on all her activities, oohing and ahing over her new e-books and her plans for others.  But it also reminded me that I need to plan better. Someone once said a “failure to plan = a plan to fail.”  How well I now understand what was meant.

It’s been about 15 years since I was in Chicago and the road system is much changed. As a result, I got lost going from the rental car parking lot–in the dark and rainy evening traffic–to my cousin’s home in one of the western suburbs. Two hours and two phone calls to her finally resulted in my arrival, exhausted and far more stressed than I had anticipated.

Five days later, I climbed in the car and headed back to O’Hare, only to miss the turn-off (or was it not marked?!) and having to travel many miles out of my way before being able to exit the tollroad, call for directions and then follow the phoned instructions of the person who kept assuring me I WOULD make my plane.  I had my doubts. Thank goodness for securing my boarding pass on line and not planning to check my luggage.

I finally arrived at the correct kiosk with barely ten minutes to spare.

Decision time: my next visit will involve using a limo service!