Stilettos and Scoundrels is, and always will be, near and dear to my heart. It’s the first book I wrote start to finish and then went on to publish. I wanted to be a writer since the second grade. Though it never felt within my reach until the advent of the e-book and Amazon transforming the publishing landscape.
My entire life, I dabbled in writing and continuously thought about how amazing it would be to become a published author one day. Every year I went to the library and checked out the book Writer’s Market. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a huge (like thousands of pages) book that has lists of agents and publishers along with publishing opportunities plus much much more. I’d scour through it, looking for potential agents who might be a good fit for what I wanted to write. I’d create a list, and then tell myself that this year would be the year. I’d finally finish a book and send it to an agent starting my author journey. But I never did. Why? I was too afraid of rejection, so I made sure to come up with plenty of excuses for why I could never actually finish the book and send it off to an agent.
My mother also had the same dream. While she never went as far as getting a list of agents, at least not to my knowledge, she always talked about how she wanted to be a writer. She attempted to write a few stories but never really pursued it seriously. More just a pipedream because she lacked the confidence to pursue her dream. The exact thing I did for years. That halfhearted attempt at achieving something we both wanted.
I know that her fear was the same as mine. It was a fear of failure. Isn’t it crazy how many things we don’t even try because we’re afraid to fail? When often the worst that can happen if you fail isn’t really that bad.
If back then, I’d finished a book and sent it off, and that person didn’t like it, it’s not like it would have killed me. Sure it would hurt, and my ego would be bruised, but it wasn’t life-threatening.
When the exciting new world of self-publishing opened up, I got a renewed desire to publish. For the first time, I could do this. The second thing that finally motivated me was my circumstance. I was in my late 30s going through divorce doing the typical taking stock of your life thing. You know, what I’d accomplished and what I still wanted to do before I died. The dream of becoming an author had never left, and it was finally time to achieve that dream.
When I started writing Stilettos and Scoundrels, I planned for it to be romance. My reading tastes bounce around from romance, mystery, thrillers, and suspense. I knew, or least I felt, that I could do the best job with a romantic comedy type book — nothing too deep, nothing too complicated, something that would be lighthearted fluffy and fun. I knew before I started writing that my main character’s name would be Presley Thurman, to pay homage to my mother. Her maiden name was Thurman, and she loved Elvis Pressley. Fun fact: I was conceived after an Elvis Presley concert now, aren’t you all thrilled that you know that about me?
My original premise was that she would lose her job in Chicago, go back home, and run into an old high school flame. Then they’d have the normal – oh, I’m attracted to you, but this won’t work with some funny mishaps thrown. Until they finally decided that they were meant to be and would live happily ever after.
However, if you’re reading this after reading Stilettos and Scoundrels, you will realize that’s not what happened. Instead, a senator turned up dead. In a romance book that might not be a big deal as a side story but Presley had a mind of her own and decided she needed to solve the mystery. This decision of hers, and I say hers because it was not mine, she has a mind of her own, changed the trajectory of not only the book but Presley’s future as well. Instead of falling back in love with a high school sweetheart, staying in her hometown, and living happily ever after, she’s now solved 13 mysteries and counting. I plan on getting through all 26 letters of the alphabet. Thank you, Sue Grafton, for the idea. While the series didn’t end up being the romance I’d planned, Presley’s actions have allowed me to launch and sustain a writing career that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
This book was also over 100,000 words in its first iteration. That was in 2009, and trust me; it wasn’t 100,000 words of amazingness. Over the years that book has been re-edited several times, it’s had several different covers, and has only gotten better with age.
Like most of us.
People often ask me if Presley is fashioned after myself. To some extent, all the main characters in my series have some things in common with me. My heroines love coffee, Diet Coke, cheese, food in general. None of them are a size two. They are also curious, stubborn, and don’t take no for an answer. I think most writers, to some extent, interweave real life into the books. I always tell my friends no one is safe. There are glimmers of personality traits. Common phrases that my friends say, situations that have happened, that are all ripped from the headlines – yes, I’m a big Law and Order fan.
I often get asked where the idea for Cooper came from, and it’s an exciting story. There was this boy in high school, who will remain nameless to protect the innocent who was a bit of this bad boy. While we never had a serious boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, we did go out a couple of times. I liked this guy, and I think he liked me; we were just different. As a teen, it was a barrier, and so we never managed to go past a couple of dates. When I thought about who I wanted to model Cooper’s history off of, I thought of this guy. Cooper didn’t have the best upbringing, and got in a little trouble, was a little bit of that proverbial bad boy but deep down was the sweetest guy ever.
Interestingly enough, I haven’t talked to this person since I graduated from high school many many many years ago. Recently, Facebook gave me one of their suggested friends, and it was his wife. No big surprise because we all went to high school together, and I’m glad that he’s happy and seems to have a beautiful family.
As for Cooper and Presley living happily ever after well, I guess you will have to keep reading.
Read the first chapter of Stilettos & Scoundrels below
What was I thinking? Did I just tell my boss off and get myself fired? I smiled, thinking back to the moment when I told David Ritter that I wouldn’t sleep with him if he were the last man on earth. By the look on his face, I could tell that no wasn’t something he was accustomed to hearing. Though I was now unemployed, it was a small price to pay for telling him off.
I made my way back to my condo, forgoing the bus in lieu of a brisk walk along the few blocks from my office—well, my former office. It was a nice day out, and frankly, I hated public transportation. Besides, walking those few blocks would take me past one of my favorite boutiques.
I thought back to what had happened a few hours earlier. The day had started out good. My hair had turned out well because the low humidity helped keep it frizz proof. I’d stopped at Starbucks on the way to work, and walked through the door to the office with a few minutes to spare. Enough time to chat with my best work friend, Tonya, who’d been smoking surreptitiously outside the employee entrance, just underneath the no-smoking sign.
“Tonya, one of these days you’re going to get caught and get in big trouble,” I’d said to my friend.
“Whatever,” Tonya had replied, waving her hands absently. “They can’t afford to get rid of me. I know where all of their skeletons are buried,” she’d laughed.
Tonya had been joking, but she also wasn’t far off. Working at McLaughlin Industries for the last fifteen years, Tonya was the only one on our floor who had been there the entire time our boss, David Ritter, had, though he hadn’t always been the boss. David Ritter was a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen and Tonya knew about everything he had done that the company had tried to sweep under the rug.
Tonya twisted her cigarette against the brick wall to put it out and flicked the butt in the trash can. “We might as well get this day started.”
About an hour after we had gotten back from lunch, David had called me into his office, not an unusual occurrence in and of itself. As a Senior Human Resource manager, I’d had many meetings with David in his capacity as Vice President of Sales. He had always been coming on to me, and it had grown tiresome. A couple of times, I had complained to his boss, Gary, after David wouldn’t stop texting about taking me out or about how I looked that day. I wasn’t sure what Gary had said when he’d talked to David, but David had mostly behaved since then. When forced to speak with me, he’d been curt and tense, but I hadn’t cared because it had been better than the alternative. Although lately, I’d wondered more and more why I was still working there under those conditions. I didn’t trust him, and I had just been waiting for his old antics to flare up again. Today, I hadn’t been disappointed.
“You wanted to see me, David?” I had walked into his office and stood in front of his over-sized, mahogany desk.
“Yes. Have a seat.” David had gestured to one of the chairs beside his desk, next to a small coffee table.
I’d sat down as David had leaned against his desk, and I could barely stand the overpowering stench of his cologne. I’d wanted to gag, and had hoped that whatever he had to say would be quick.
“I wanted to talk to you about the workforce reduction reports, Presley. We are still four percent higher than where I asked you to come in the last time.” This topic wasn’t surprising. I’d known this would be coming eventually. One of the aspects of my position that I’d hated most was that I’d been responsible for cutting jobs. I’d understood that it was unavoidable if the company were to remain profitable, but it had been a distasteful duty, nonetheless.
“David, I realize the numbers were above expectations, but the higher average salary of some of the more tenured employees hadn’t been figured into the original numbers. Head count came in on target, one person less even, but the salary piece was higher.”
“Not good enough. You needed to hit those numbers, otherwise it throws off the rest of my projections. I’m accountable for those. You need to fix it. Get rid of Evans and Thompson. You can hire four college grads on their combined salaries and still have cash left over.”
“How do you expect me to do that?” I’d glared at him, incredulous. “I can’t just get rid of people because they make too much money and don’t fit into your spreadsheet calculations when they are the best people for the job. That’s how lawsuits happen.”
“Hey, I’m the sales guy, you’re HR. It’s your job to figure it out.”
I’d seethed, my hands clenching. I’d wanted to punch him. There was only so much I could do from a legal and ethical standpoint. He’d just wanted to make my life difficult, and he was doing a fine job at it.
“Maybe we could work something out,” David had said, putting a lecherous hand on my knee.
I’d deliberately taken his hand, removed it from my knee, and looked him straight in the eye. “And what exactly would that be?”
“Let’s just say, if you are nice to me, I could be persuaded to overlook the discrepancy. Then you wouldn’t have to lay off any more people,” David had replied, flashing his version of a charming smile and returning his hand to my knee.
Furious, I’d jumped up and faced him, putting my hands on my hips. “If you think I would do anything outside of my professional capacity for you, you are sadly mistaken. Your behavior is despicable, and I’m not going to tolerate it.”
David had flushed a deep red. “Are you sure about that, Presley?” he’d sneered. “We’re making cuts all across the company, and if you aren’t doing your job, which you clearly aren’t by being over budget, well…”
“Are you trying to tell me that if I’m not nice to you, you’re going to fire me?” I’d demanded, using finger quotes on the word nice.
“I’m not doing anything. It’s your choice.” David had sat back in his chair, looking smug, as if he’d thought I was going to change my mind if he threatened me about my job. “Well?”
“Well, nothing. I won’t do it.”
“Then I guess you’ve left me no choice. You’re fired.”
“What? You can’t do that.”
“Yes, I can. Like I said, we need to make more cuts.”
I couldn’t believe what I heard.
David had gotten up and gone behind his desk. “That’s all,” he said, dismissing me. “Please clear out your desk and leave. I assume you won’t cause any trouble on your way out. I would hate to call security.”
I’d been dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I’d walked over to his desk.
“Is there something else, Presley?”
“Just one more thing.”
David had looked up expectantly. I’d picked up his coffee cup and thrown the contents at him. His jaw had dropped. He’d stood there, dripping coffee off of what was probably a five–hundred–dollar suit.
I’d started laughing. “That’s all I have to say.” Then I’d turned around and walked out of his office.