Writers use one of two approaches to writing a book. A plotter is someone who clearly defines everything about a book before they dive into the writing process. A pantser is more a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of writer. They may know the beginning and ending, but the stuff in the middle is made up as they go along.
I’m a plotter. Long before I ever sit down to write a book, I spend weeks or even months defining the concept of the book. I map about the beginning, middle, and ending. I research everything from the place they’ll travel to the things they see. I define my characters in the finest details.
When a story comes to me, it’s usually a basic concept. With my latest book, Christmas Eve, it started with the desire to add a holiday romance novel to my list. I knew the main character had to travel at the holidays – where would she go? With my own daughter halfway around the world, the concept of meeting her daughter became my focus.
As soon as I have the ideas down, I dive into the details. Instead of “seeing” the two main characters in my mind, I head out online and try and find my “models.”
When I saw the image above, I couldn’t let it go. I pictured a couple walking on a beach. I saw them as equals, successful, happy. And this image fit what I needed.
And the writing began …
I’m releasing Christmas Eve in just a few days. But if you’re looking for something fun to read, something for you to spend a few minutes “escaping,” read on.
Eve Nichols scrunched up the piece of paper and threw it at the window in front of her. She placed her elbows on her desk, and dropped her head between her fingers, massaging her temples.
Normally the rain didn’t get to her. She’d lived in Seattle most of her adult life. But lately, it was getting harder to take.
Up on the twenty-third floor, the view could be spectacular on a clear day. Today, it was nothing but clouds.
Two more weeks, she told herself. Two more weeks and her daughter would be home for Christmas. Then she’d have two glorious weeks with twenty-one-year-old Grace.
She glanced at the photo on the corner of her desk. It was the two of them together, taken a few months before, when they’d traveled to Bali. Eve had treated them to a two-week trip a few weeks before Grace had left for her junior year of college. Grace was spending the year studying abroad in Granada, Spain.
Eve picked up the photo and thought about their time together. They hadn’t done much, other than enjoy the pool and local cuisine. They’d read a dozen books. Eaten more than they should have. Enjoyed spa visits several times a week. They’d headed out on a few bike tours given by the hotel staff. But mostly they’d talked for hours, about life and what they each wanted in the future.
For Grace, it seemed easy. She had very clear goals. She wanted her degree in International Relations and Modern Languages. She wanted a job that would take her to the far corners of the world, to work as an international aid worker or foreign relations. Eve knew as determined as she was, she would get it. She was hoping her year abroad would help her secure an internship for the upcoming summer. Grace was already starting to apply.
Eve put the photo down and stared out at the clouds one more time.
How had time gone so fast? How had she fallen into a life she was no longer happy with, yet had no idea how to change it?
Part of it could be blamed on her ex. They’d divorced six years before, when Grace was a freshman in high school. He’d come home one day and said he was meant for bigger things. He had only so much life left, and he no longer wanted to live it with her.
Translation: he wanted sex with younger women. Eve had figured that out right away. She drew the line two months after they’d separated when his twenty-four-year-old girlfriend came to pick up Grace instead of him. She filed for divorce that same day, and was officially single a few months later.
She hadn’t dated until Grace had gone off to college. She needed that time to recover. But once it was just her and too much space in her empty nest, she’d started thinking about someone new. Someone who could make her feel human again.
“Hey, Larry just brought in a cake for December birthdays. We’re meeting in the conference room in five. Come on, birthday girl. Since your birthday’s coming up, we can’t start without you.”
Eve twirled her chair around to nod at Hannah, her personal assistant, standing in her doorway. She blinked a few times, trying to pull herself back into the present.
“What kind of cake did he get?” Cake was just what she needed to satisfy her sweet tooth, and take a few minutes off her work day.
Larry was notorious for bringing in gorgeous desserts. That’s why they always gave him the job.
“I’m not sure of the flavor, but you gotta see it before it’s cut. It has red candied poinsettias all over the top. I even took a picture.” Hannah moved into Eve’s office and showed her the screen.
“Wow. Maybe I should get something like that while Grace is here.”
“You should. It would make a great birthday cake.”
It would. Eve made a mental note to ask Larry where he shopped. She was turning fifty this year. She’d told everyone she didn’t want to celebrate, didn’t want to make it a big deal. But a birthday cake, that she could do. Especially one as pretty as the one waiting for her in the conference room.
“When does Grace get in?”
“Two weeks. Her flight arrives late Saturday night. I plan on spending all day Sunday in our pj’s watching movies and catching up. A cake like that will do nicely for our movie marathon.”
Eve stood up to follow Hannah out of her office, only to turn back when her phone buzzed on her desk. She saw Grace’s name light up. “Hannah, it’s my daughter. I’ll be there in a second.”
She clicked and held the phone up to her ear. “Hey, beautiful, what’s up? We were just talking about you.”
The line crackled a bit. “Mom? Can you hear me?”
Eve moved to the other side of her office. She leaned against her window, which always seemed to work. “Better?”
Her daughter’s voice rang out clear. “Yes. Um, I have something I need to talk to you about.”
Eve recognized that voice. The voice that said bad news was about to come out of her daughter’s mouth. “What is it?” She tried to hold the frustration from her voice. She knew this wasn’t going to be good.
“You know how I’m working on that side project for my professor?”
“I have a chance to spend a week with a consulting firm the first week in January.”
“Honey, that’s great news. Congratulations, I’m excited for you.”
“Thanks. I’m super excited about it. But I have to be prepared for it. Professor Faulk has given me all kinds of data I need to review before I go. This will be good for my project, and for my resume. Not that I ever thought of working here in Spain, but this would be an ideal job for me out of college. So, I’d love the opportunity to work with them for a week before we start back to school.”
Her daughter was rambling. Which meant she needed something, and she was trying to figure out how to ask. She leaned her head against the cool window, closing her eyes.
“Grace, what are you trying to say?”
“Would it be okay if I don’t come home? I just don’t think I can do it. Not and be prepared the way I want to be for this opportunity. We can FaceTime all Christmas Day. And we can plan a trip next year, when I’m back home. And …”
Eve was stunned. She could hear Grace talking, trying to appease her. But only one thought went through her mind: Not spend the holidays with her only daughter?
Her world closed in, just a bit.
She’d been looking forward to it on so many levels.
Her brother was taking his family to Hawaii for Christmas. With one child in high school and the other a freshman in college, they’d decided this might be the last year they could do it as a small family.
Her mother had died several years before. Her father was seeing someone new, and they’d decided to go skiing in Whistler for Christmas with another couple from their retirement community.
She’d been so happy thinking it would be just the two of them this holiday.
And now, nothing.
Just her. And a big, fucking poinsettia cake she was totally going to get and eat every last bite of while watching all of the holiday movies on Netflix.
She bit her tongue. She counted to five.
She was a mom. She knew what she had to do, no matter how much she wanted to whine.
“Whatever you think is best,” Eve finally said through gritted teeth. This is my mom voice, she told herself. Just keep sounding positive.
“Are you sure?” Grace squeaked out. “Cause I can come home. I hate to think of you all alone.”
Eve could hear her daughter’s voice move from excitement to worry. And though she totally wanted to be selfish and demand her daughter come home, she knew deep inside she had to give her space. She’d deal with her own feelings later, but for now, she had to squash the worry in Grace’s voice once and for all.
“Honey, I’ll be fine. You know that.”
“You could spend it with Grandpa.”
She forgot Dad’s in Whistler. “I could. I will.”
“And I’m serious about next spring when I get back. We can start planning a trip after the new year. We can spend a week together, before I start to work.”
“Of course, we can. We’ll have plenty of other Christmases together.” And fiftieth birthdays. Grace seemed to have forgotten that too.
“Thanks, Mom. I knew you’d understand.”
They made promises to talk later over the weekend. Eve clicked off and dropped her phone to her desk.
She stood looking out at the clouds. It looked gloomier than before.
She had two weeks off. Two weeks! And now she was supposed to sit in her home all by herself, celebrate her fiftieth, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve all by herself?
What kind of loser had she become?
How had this become her life?
She was fifty, not dead.
She worked out three nights a week. She was vegetarian. The doctor had given her a clean bill of health just two months before.
She felt great. She even looked good. She could still turn a guy’s eye when she wanted to. When she and her friends went out.
“Hey, you coming?” Bill poked his head in her office.
Her staff was getting restless. Cake was calling. And since she was one of three birthdays in December, they wouldn’t cut it without her.
“Sure.” She tucked her phone in her pocket, put on her best smile, and followed Bill down the hall.
She snapped a picture of the cake – it really was a fantastic cake. Maybe she’d still order one all for herself.
She helped cut it into enough pieces for everyone in the office. Then settled back into her office with the biggest piece. And a great big sugary poinsettia flower to gnaw on later.
“Fuck birthdays. Fuck Christmas,” she mumbled to herself. And shoved a great big bite into her mouth.
Eve hung her dripping coat on the peg on the wall. She dropped her bags on the floor on the way to her office. She fell into the chair, opened up her laptop, and waited for it to come to life.
She pulled up Google and started searching, best cities for Christmas in Spain. Within a few moments, she narrowed her focus to one place: Mallorca, Spain. It was one of Spain’s largest islands located in the middle of the Mediterranean. It was known for its beach resorts, sheltered coves, and limestone mountains. Spain’s royal family preferred Mallorca for their own holiday festivities.
That was good enough for her.
She pulled up another browser window and searched for flights. While they were higher than she liked to spend, she considered it a fiftieth birthday present to herself. But before she hit the buy button, she grabbed her mobile and called her daughter instead.
“Mom? Are you okay?” Grace sounded sleepy.
It was only then Eve remembered the time difference. “Oops, sorry honey. I forgot what time it was there.”
“Yes. Sorry to panic you. But I have an idea.”
“What if I come there instead? I just did some research. I could book a room in Mallorca for a week. Could you meet me there for Christmas?”
“Really? I’ve wanted to go there. Everyone says it’s fabulous.”
“That’s what I’ve read too. I’ve got my finger on the buy button for an airplane ticket. Should I do it? Can you meet me?”
“I suppose I could take off a week. And bring some of my research with me.”
“Exactly. And we don’t have to do touristy things from sunup to sundown. I’ll get a room at a resort, and we can hang out by the pool.”
“It might not be that warm. It’s pretty chilly here right now.”
“So, we’ll hang out by the pool with blankets. I really want this. It’d be a great birthday present.”
“Ohmigod,” Grace gasped as she dropped the phone.
Eve could hear her swearing as she picked it back up. “I forgot it’s your fiftieth. Mom, I’m so sorry.”
Eve rolled her eyes. Exactly. You forgot it was my birthday.
And just as quick, her mom voice kicked into gear. She’s got a lot on her plate. I raised a good kid. She would have remembered eventually.
“Yes. Do it. Come to Spain. I’ll make it work. And I promise we’ll do something great on your day.”
Eve clicked, and her ticket was confirmed. She was going to Spain!