Thursday, June 30, 2011

Read What You Write

6/29/11 -- I gave a talk last month and was asked to tell about writing my first novel, Where Love Once Lived. My college degrees are in mathematics and computer science, so all I could do was tell them about my experience. I must admit I went through a long learning curve for this book, taking more than six years to go from a serious first draft to a completed book.

Before I dissuade you from writing a novel yourself, let me add that I finished my second book in less than a year. The Vengeance Squad is not for sale yet, but all that's left are a few mechanical steps.

I prepared a two-page handout for the talk I gave last month and I'll send you a copy if you email me a request ( However, two pages only allows for the highlights. What I want to do today and in future articles is to fill in the list with more details. Today, we'll begin with step one:

Read the type of novel you want to write.

I confess this is simplistic, but it helped me when I started and it may help you. Especially if your formal training is not in creative writing. This simple statement says to study the competition. Read books similar to what you want to write and analyze their construction. I bet you are already reading such books anyway. If not, perhaps you need to consider writing a different book.

This doesn't mean you can't enjoy reading other types of books. I read a lot of different books. However, it was Jan Karon's Mitford series that made me think Where Love Once Lived could be a book. All I had at the time was a germ of an idea. I didn't know how to get started writing a novel, but I read all the books in the series, and examined several in detail noting the length of each book. I looked at to find books in the same category as the Mitford books.

At Home in Mitford, for example, is in two categories:

Books > Literature & Fiction
Books > Religion & Spirituality > Fiction

From the page, clicking on Fiction in the second item above will take you to a list of all books in that category. When I did so while preparing this article, this particular list contained 21,669 books. To make the list valuable to you. Change the order from bestselling to publication date by using the pull-down menu on the top right, then review a page of two of the what's being published now in your category. You'll see what's popular, who's publishing what, as well as what's coming soon.

I used one of Jan Karon's books for this example. To do this for any book, go to the book's Amazon page and scroll down near the bottom of the page and look for this header: Look for Similar Items by Category.

As I mentioned in another blog article, picking the right categories can sell books.  See:

In my case, I studied several Christian novels to learn to write. As I learned more about the craft from taking classes, I had to stop reading the Jan Karon books because the point of view was different from what I was doing. I'll tell you more about taking classes in a future step. The next step in my a two-page handout is:

Study genres and subgenres. Determine which one best suits the story you have in mind.

Join me for that discussion next.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Serendipity Sells Books

In March of this year I told you about an email I received from a neighbor who had read Where Love Once Lived after hearing me talk about it at a party. I'm careful not to push books at social gatherings, but if an opening arises, I take it. In this case, I had noticed someone in the house was reading a novel similar to mine, so I left a business card about my book with the hostess while commenting on the book I saw there. As you will see if you read the following, this lead to her getting the book, reading it and sending me an email.

Another neighbor, one who had heard about the book from the hostess of the party I went to, was looking for a speaker for a monthly meeting of Christian women. She asked if I would be interested. I said yes and gave her a copy of the book to look at.

I told you about the meeting and my talk in this article:

Later, I received a thank you note from the neighbor who had invited me to speak with these words:

Thank you so much for coming to our luncheon and talking about writing your book. I felt it was a very interesting talk given by a gifted speaker. Thanks again, your neighbor…

Yes, I sold a few books after the talk, but the appreciation received after my talk was worth even more to me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where Love Once Lived Kindle TOP RATED on

June 21, 2011--The Kindle Edition of  Where Love Once Lived is in the top ten as rated by Amazon customers. Here's the announcement which is posted with the print edition and the Kindle edition:

#7 Top Rated in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Religious Fiction > Romance

This line only pops up for books rated in the top 100. If you click on the word Romance (not here, but on the Amazon page ( you'll see the complete list of Top Ranked books in this category. When I first spotted this achievement last week, Where Love Once Lived was in the #8 position.

Is It a Romance Novel?

I know what you're thinking. I've said many times in this blog that the book is not REALLY a romance. The title makes it sound like one and the manuscript won first place in the romance category of a major writing contest. It has male and female protagonists with alternating points of view. It looks and feels like a romance. But romance novel publishers don't like the subplots I've included and I didn't want to delete them. My writing mentor, Bonnie Hearn Hill, has read the book and she calls it a "coming of age" inspirational novel. I like that description even though the main characters are a little older than those of most coming-of-age stories.

The reason I selected the romance category for Amazon was because it is the closest of the choices in under Religious Fiction. See if you agree. Here are the others: Biblical, Historical, Mystery, and Science Fiction & Fantasy. So, where would you put it if not romance?

What Amazon Top Rated Means

Amazon  describes it as "Top Rated by Customers", and the following is taken from Amazon:
Amazon Top Rated products are identified based on factors that have been carefully chosen to help give customers the best shopping experience. Factors considered include Amazon customer review star ratings, the number of customer reviews a product has received, and the timing of those reviews. Reviews that don't meet our Community Guidelines may be excluded from consideration or subject to other corrective action.

So, it has to do with reviews and whether or not customers find the reviews useful. Of course the more stars a reviewer gives, the higher the ranking. There is also something about the timing of the reviews. I suspect this means the reviews aren't all done at once, but have grown naturally over time. I suspect, the ranking for my book just popped up now, because some minimum time period has passed.

How Many Reviews Does It Take to be Ranked?

The #1 ranked book in this category is Redeeming Love: A Novel by Francine Rivers. It has 871 reviews and 5 customer discussions. However, #5 on the list, I Called Him Dancer by my friend G. Edward Snipes, has only 14 reviews. Between Snipes and me is The Negotiator by Dee Henderson with 129 reviews.

Where Love Once Lived has only 11 reviews, with 10 being 5 star. Most of the 93 books that follow have more reviews than my book, some many more. However, my average star rating is higher than most.

Was This Review Helpful to You?

Checking the Yes button where you see Was this review helpful to you? at the end of a review seems to help move a book up in rank.

I've done pretty good at this, and I notice Eddie has also. So perhaps this helps the ranking more than we thought.

Getting Ranked

If you are interested in getting your book ranked in the top 100, the first step is to pick the right category. You are automatically assigned a category. It is posted near the bottom of Amazon's book page. Click on the category to go to a page showing the top 100 books in that category. At the top you will see the categories and your subcategory. Click on the category, in my case Religious Fiction, to see the other subcategories. On the left side of that page you'll find a list of categories and subcategories, and how many books are each. At this time there are only 15 books in the Mystery subcategory of Religious Fiction Kindles. My next book, The Vengeance Squad, will be in the mystery category, and as such, should pretty much stay on the ranked list all the time. That's mainly because some of the top writers do okay in the broader categories and don't bother with subcategories.

Changing Your Book's Category

How do you change your book's category? You have to call Amazon. I know, we're writers not talkers, but just do it. It part of the marketing process. Go to Author Central, select Contact, select My Books, select Phone and click the submit button. Changing categories is more complicated than I think it should be and it sometimes takes multiple calls. But hang in there, be nice, but persistent.


Next, if needed, get more positive reviews. Ask your friends and writing buddies. Trade reviews with each other. Send review copies of your book to bloggers. After the review is published, ask people to read it and, if they agree, click the Yes button.

One way to get reviews is by joining author groups. I belong to ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), John 3:16 Marketing Network and a few others. These groups provide authors helpful information as well as support from other writers. Some members are not writers, but people who love to read and review books.

Good luck. Contact me if you have questions about the process, and let me know how this works for you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bloodmobiles and Bookmobiles

June 16, 2011--Today, I donated two pints of blood using the ALYX method for a lifetime total of TEN GALLONS. I accomplished one of my goals. Since I started rather late in life, and most of my donations were one pint at a time, I wasn't sure if I would achieve the goal or not.

I'm telling you this for two reasons. First, I'm proud of it and want to share my achievement with you all. But, mostly, I want to encourage you to donate if you're not already.

I gave blood in Austin for the first time when Dudley Baker scheduled the Bloodmobile to come to our church, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin, Texas, in April, 1986. I was forty-nine at the time and had never donated blood in Austin, and only a few times elsewhere.

We turned in chits to the church each time we donated to provide blood for anyone in the church if it was ever needed. This gave me the incentive to continue donating over the years. I wasn't always regular, and sometimes got banned for a year at a time because of travel to places where malaria was a problem. In my case, parts of Mexico and China. The blood bank also monitored my travel to Europe, and I almost hit the maximum days in the mad-cow areas. Between 1992 and 1996 I had been in Europe eighty-four days and the limit was ninety days.

It took me twenty-five years to donate ten gallons of blood. But, the only reason I got started is because a friend at church asked me to. How about you? Are you donating blood? If half of the people reading this give a pint of blood, there would be another ten gallons available for those in need. Wow!

Okay, what does this have to do with bookmobiles?

The first time I donated was in the bloodmobile, which is similar to a bookmobile. When I drove a bookmobile, I learned the library would send us to places where they were considering building a substation. And that's what bloodmobiles do. When they find an area where business is good, they open a substation. That's what happened here in Georgetown.

Let me know if you donate a pint or two.

Monday, June 20, 2011

EXCERPT: The Gentleman Takes a Bride by Louise M. Gouge

Hampshire, England
June 1810

“I will not settle for an untitled husband.” Lady Diana Moberly lifted her pretty little nose and sniffed. “I shall find a peer to marry, or I’ll not marry at all.”

Seated beside her cousin in St. Andrew’s Church, Miss Elizabeth Moberly listened with rapt attention. After all, Di had just returned from her first London Season and knew everything about courtship and marriage. And in a few minutes, the wedding ceremony would begin, and Di’s older sister would marry a handsome gentleman she met at Almack’s only two months ago. An untitled gentleman. Di insisted she would do better.

Before Elizabeth could voice agreement, her other cousin, Miss Prudence Moberly, squeezed Elizabeth’s hand and leaned around her to address Di.

“But what if the Lord wills for you to marry a good Christian gentleman without a title?”

Elizabeth swung her attention from Pru back to Di.

Di sniffed again. “La, such a question, Pru, but just what I would expect from you. Haven’t I told you? The Almighty and I have an understanding about such things.” She gazed down her nose at Pru.

Elizabeth released a quiet sigh. She and her two cousins had been born within months of each other eighteen years ago. The youngest daughters of three brothers, they looked almost like triplets, with blond hair, blue eyes, and ivory complexions. They had enjoyed a merry childhood together, yet these days their views on most everything were different. Di was always ready with an opinion on any topic and brooked no contradiction. Pru was the sweetest soul, but she never backed down from differences with their more influential cousin, especially on spiritual matters. Elizabeth vacillated between the two, but these days she tended to follow Di, who always seemed to have more fun.

Still, Elizabeth could not deny the peace she felt in this small stone church, which her family had attended for over two centuries. Nor could she guess how many relatives had been baptized here or how many lay buried in the ancient graveyard outside. This building was a place of beginnings and endings and all good things in between. Whenever she came here, it seemed to enfold her in sheltering arms, encouraging her always to seek God’s will, whatever she might undertake in life.

Perhaps she could take the advice of both cousins. She would ask the Lord to send her a titled Christian husband.

But this was Sophia’s day, and Elizabeth wished her great happiness with Mr. Whitson. Today, all things seemed to smile upon the bride. The sun shone brightly, and no one in their vast family had succumbed to illness to spoil the celebration. Flowers from Aunt Bennington’s garden and bright green and white ribbons bedecked the altar and the pew ends, filling the air with the heady fragrance of roses.

The rustling of ladies’ gowns and the shuffling of leather shoes on the wooden floor caught Elizabeth’s attention, and she glanced over her shoulder. Across the aisle, several people had moved down so a tall young man of perhaps three and twenty years could slide into the pew.

Goodness, he was handsome, if a bit untidy. His wavy black hair appeared to have been arranged by the wind, and his black coat, while quite the mode, had a leaf caught under one lapel and perhaps a stray burr or two clinging to the sleeves. His lean, strong jaw was clenched, and his blue eyes gleamed with the look of a man set on accomplishing an important task. The gentleman must have ridden posthaste to arrive in such a condition. At the sight of him, Elizabeth’s heart seemed to hiccough.

Or perhaps it was Pru’s elbow in her ribs. “Tst,” her proper cousin admonished.

“Humph.” Di’s ever-uplifted nose punctuated her disapproval of the latecomer.

Wishing to please her cousins, Elizabeth stared ahead. Her aunt, Lady Bennington, sat on the front row with her eldest son, the viscount. In the second row, Elizabeth’s parents, Captain and Mrs. Moberly, sat with one of her brothers.

Soon the door beside the altar opened, and the vicar, Mr. Smythe-Wyndham entered, followed by Uncle Bennington, the bride Lady Sophia, and Mr. Whitson. Elizabeth’s resolve about titles wavered when she saw the groom. Tall, with broad shoulders and blond hair that curled around his well-shaped face, Mr. Whitson more than made up in form what he lacked in rank. Elizabeth could not deny cousin Lady Sophia had found a handsome man, even though Elizabeth preferred darker features.

As if summoned by her own thoughts, she turned toward the dark-featured stranger across the aisle. Seeing the stormy expression on his face, she drew in a quiet gasp. His strong, high cheeks were pinched with. . .anger? Dark stubble shaded his clenched, sun-bronzed jaw. His black eyebrows met in a frown over his straight nose, which pointed like an arrow toward the wedding couple, while his blue eyes shot flashing daggers.

Alarm spread through Elizabeth, but she had no time to think or act.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.” Mr. Smythe-Wyndham intoned the opening words of the solemn rite in his rich baritone. He read of God’s purpose for marriage, then moved on to charge the couple to confess it now if there existed any impediment to their union.

Suspicion shot through Elizabeth, and her gaze again slid across the aisle to the dark-browed stranger. His face exhibited a controlled rage much like her father’s when indignation filled him over some serious matter. The man edged toward the front of his seat, like a lion about to spring upon its prey.

“If any man do allege and declare any impediment,” the minister read, “why they may not be coupled together in Matrimony, by God’s Law, or the Laws of this Realm—”

The stranger shot to his feet, holding high a folded sheet of vellum. “Indeed, sir, I do declare an impediment.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

When Your Characters Come Alive

Last week I gave a talk about writing a novel. Of course, there is little you can say in fifteen minutes, but I managed to give them the highlights of my experiences and provided a two-page handout covering the basics. I've thought about that talk since and realized I forgot to tell them about what happens when fictional characters come alive.

That reminded me of an email I received not long ago that said, "I find myself thinking about the characters in your book even after I've set it down for the night." That is music to a writer's ears.

For me, the characters became real so gradually, I can't say exactly when it happened. Early on in the writing of my first novel, Where Love Once Lived, I would sometimes go to the fictional biography I had written for each major character just to remind myself about something distinguishing about the character. I don't know when, but at a certain point in the writing, I quit doing that. In addition,  the biography was no longer useful because the characters grew beyond it. But it didn't matter. By then, I knew them intimately.

Another thing I forgot to tell the group was that a writer has to maintain control of the characters. They tend to come to life on their own and they change as you write. That's good, but you can't let a character do anything to mess up the story. No matter how much you like a character, don't give him or her full rein.

In my second book, The Vengeance Squad, which should be available soon, the main character is a young college professor. I needed to partner him with an older, street smart character. So, I dreamed up a student in his mid-forties who had been in the military as well as prison, and who was now in a wheelchair.

At first, my writing instructor, Bonnie Hearn Hill, loved this guy. But, soon, she was saying he was taking over. She reminded me my main character had to take charge.

I had the same problem with Liz, the book mobile Librarian in Where Love Once Lived. All my readers love her. She says what she thinks, and gets into everyone's business. It was easier to control her because there were two stronger main characters. By the way, Liz is in The Vengeance Squad, too. No use wasting a good character.

My blog is read by readers and writers of Christian fiction. I would love to hear from writers who had similar experiences with characters. Readers, tell me your favorite characters, either in Where Love Once Lived or another book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mother's Maple Nut Goodies

I was at CVS Pharmacy today and saw a bag Brach's Maple Nut Goodies hanging along a myriad of other candies. This particular one popped out to me because it was my Mother's favorite. I bought a bag and opened it in the car before driving away. I breathed in the distinctive aroma and thought of Mother, wishing I could share the candy with her the way I used to.

I don't understand it all, but those who do tell us smells can trigger memories. Chlorine reminds us of summertime at the pool, for example, and lilies remind us of church or a funeral. All I know for sure is that the smell of Maple Nut Goodies takes me back to a time when my mother was alive. We consumed many bags of the candies together, often just the two of us, not sharing with Dad or my sisters. I think Mother may have felt a little guilty doing it for various reasons, but not guilty enough to forego the pleasure of eating her favorite candy.

Mother and I had a special bond. She taught me to enjoy novels and music, and to sing and go to church. I am thankful to her for that. But one day she let go of me, and became a different person. We suspect Alzheimer's but didn't really find out for sure.

In time, she got to the point where she didn't recognize me, but she remembered the candy and knew I was the one who brought the Maple Nut Goodies to her. By then, she had trouble chewing the "Peanuts in crunchy toffee with maple coating", so she sucked on it until it was soft enough to eat.

I miss her. What a terrible illness it is when the person you love lives for a long time and, still, you don't get to say goodbye.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Write and Publish a Novel

  1. Read the type of novel you want to write. Lots of them.
  2. Study genres and subgenres. Which one best suits the story you have in mind?
  3. In the selected genre, what are the publisher's length constraints?
  4. Make a list of possible publishers. What are they looking for? Do they accept queries from authors, or only agents?
  5. Learn the craft. Take classes. Read books on writing. I found some great online classes.
  6. Write a synopsis. Include story question, main characters and settings. See sample synopses.
  7. Write an outline of scenes. Identify point of view character, scene goal, conflict, and, if it is important, date, time, weather. Estimate 2,000 words per scene.
  8. Prepare bios of the main characters. Add other characters as needed.
  9. Write the first three chapters. Don't ask me what a chapter is. You'll know it when you see it.
  10. Revise the synopsis when needed.
  11. Revise the outline when needed.
  12. Edit the first three chapters until you are ready to share your writing with others.
  13. Join a writers' support group where others will critique your work in return for your comments about their work. There are a lot of ways to do this. Some publishers will get new authors together to help each other. Organizations such as the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) have local chapters or online groups that do this. Romance Writers of America have subchapters. You Write where you are assigned readings randomly. For each story you critique, you get a credit for a critique of your work.
  14. Send copies of your work to your friends and ask for honest feedback, but believe in yourself.
  15. Find manuscript contests you can enter. This is an excellent way to get useful feedback. The first level of the contests are usually handled by authors. But, if you come in first, second or third, you have an excellent chance of getting your work read by an agent or a publisher's editor.
  16. Keep writing. If you are unpublished, agents and publishers don't care too much about how great those first three chapters are. They want to know you can finish the book.
  17. Polish, polish, polish. Hire a professional copyeditor if you need to. It cost about $1,200 for each of my books. Unless you are an English major, this could be your largest expense.
  18. Write a query letter. These are described in novel writing books and writing classes.
  19. Update the list of possible publishers you made when you studied genres.
  20. Make a list of possible agents.
  21. Don't bother trying for an agent or publisher until the book is complete and has been professionally copyedited.
  22. Editors and publishers want exclusive review time and they are sometimes slow, requiring three or more months to respond. Some authors send their queries out simultaneously anyway.
  23. If you get an agent, great. Having an agent opens the door to more markets. There are many publishers that will not accept proposals from anyone except agents.
  24. If no agent, send queries to publishers. Publisher's websites tell you how. They are slower than agents. Usually, you will need to send a query letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters. If they like what you've sent, they will ask to see the entire manuscript.
  25. Traditional publishing should be your first choice, because the publisher has the ability to market your book in many more places than you can otherwise.
  26. If traditional publishing not possible, select a self-publishing company. I used for the print edition and the Kindle edition. I used for the other eBook editions, including Apple's iPad. Research this.
  27. You are the publisher and will need to make decisions about book size, font, cover, ISBN, barcodes, setting a price, etc. It can be learned, but it is not all intuitive. In my town, many of the members of writers league have done this and will be glad to help. It's much easier the second time.
  28. CreateSpace and Lulu both use Print on Demand (POD) methods. The cost of the printed version is the same no matter how many copies you buy. Also, they will sell and ship books for you so that you don't have to do that yourself.
  29. Bookstores will not stock books unless you allow for refunds. This can be costly, so most self-published books don't appear in bookstores. My book is available on consignment in two local bookstores on consignment.
  30. If you self-publish you also have to do all the marketing. However, you would need to get involved in this with a traditional publisher as well. I've found that book signings with or without talks is the best ways to sell books.
  31. Maintain a presence on the Internet and the social networks. I write a blog and maintain a website. Also, I work with other authors throughout the country to help advertise each others books.
  32. Encourage people to review your book and provide free copies for reviewers. You need to have a strong page since they are the largest online bookstore. My book was a best seller on one day due to my concentrating sales on a particular day.
  33. Write another book. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Talking About Writing and Other Life-Changing Events

Friday, I had the opportunity to talk to a Christian women's group at the Berry Creek Country Club in Georgetown, Texas. I've talked to several groups since Where Love Once Lived came out last August and I never know exactly what I'm going to say. Sometimes the hosts suggest a reading. Other times they leave it up to me. This time the announcement said I would talk about the writing process.

I prepared a written speech. I read it out loud, timed it and changed it a number of times in the two weeks leading up to the luncheon. On the day of the speech, however, I intentionally left all my notes at home. I find I do better speaking without looking at a piece of paper.

There were four tables with nine or ten women at each one. We had finished eating and some had turned their chairs around so that they could see the podium. Without notes, I could easily make eye contact. A few heads nodded from time to time. There were some smiles, some laughter and some sighs from time to time. As a teacher, I know that learning happens when students have an emotional experience. Both laughter and sadness help people learn. Afterwards, more than a few women talked to me and said how much they enjoyed the talk.

I set out to give them the basics and began by telling them about the original idea of the story. That is, the bookmobile librarian I worked with back in the 1960's and how she helped people at each stop. Then I told them about that special sermon I heard one Sunday that gave me the belief that I could write a novel, and how I had to take writing classes for several years to do so. That led to talking about the conversion of the basic story to the one I ended up with and how Where Love Once Lived won several contests.

Then the talk took an unexpected turn, one that wasn't in the notes I'd left back at the house. When I got to the point where I said White Rose Publishing reviewed the complete manuscript and said they would look at it again if I would delete some of the subplots, I had to mention how the email from the publisher came at the same time I learned my wife had pancreatic cancer. I could see on their faces, they knew what that meant.

I told them I wasn't able to write for a long time afterwards, and that Lois died eight months later the day before Thanksgiving. Then, how I went to Halifax, Nova Scotia alone for Christmas and New Year's, hoping I might make the changes the publisher wanted. But, that didn't work.

I wasn't able to write until I started living again by going back to church, singing in the church choir and the community choir, and making plans for the future. I told them how I planned to sell the house and open a bookstore downtown where I could live upstairs.

And about that time, I told the women, was when I learned God had plans for me I hadn't foreseen. Celeste entered my life and that changed everything. Happiness let me write once more and eventually make the changes to the manuscript.

But, a year had passed. Publishers needs change. Mostly, though, I couldn't cut enough. White Rose publishes only Christian romance novels, and there were still subplots I couldn't delete. I knew the book was more than a romance and that I would have to self-publish it. So, I began learning about that process and settled on CreateSpace for the print edition, Amazon for the Kindle edition, and Lulu for the other eBook formats including the iPad edition.

Celeste and I married in March and the book was out in August, 2010.

I told the women about the new book, The Vengeance Squad, that should be published by the end of the year and how it was much easier to write than the first book. I also gave them a two-page handout describing the steps required to write a novel, from story idea to publication.

Monday, June 13, 2011

EXCERPT: Tooth for Tooth by Kimberley Payne

My daycare provider’s apartment always smelled like a combination of applesauce and baby powder, and my daycare provider, Donna, smelled the same. She had hair highlighted red and a goldfish face with eyes set wide. When I knocked on her door, she shouted her familiar, “Come in. It’s not locked.”

I let go of Caitlin’s hand and gave her a tight hug before releasing her to join the other kids at the toy chest. Donna sat on the edge of a kitchen chair, feeding a toddler some banana goop out of a jar. Two boys played with dinky cars on the pale taupe carpet.

I reminded Donna, “I’m working till four again today, so I should be back to pick Caitlin up around 4:30.”

Donna looked up and smiled, revealing small white kernels of teeth. “We’ll be here.”

“Bye, Caity-Cat. Have a good day,” I called to Caitlin.

Caitlin looked up from her puzzle. “Bye, Mommy.”

I blew her a kiss and then signalled for her to take her thumb out of her mouth. Although she never did it as a baby, she’d recently started sucking her thumb.

Once outside our apartment complex, I zipped up my coat to protect myself from the biting wind. Usually, I didn’t mind the walk to work but days like this reminded me that winter was on its way. Twenty minutes later, I was glad to step into the warmth of the dental clinic.

From the cloakroom, I called to my co-worker, Connie, “There sure is a nip in the air.”

Connie’s brow wrinkled. “Yeah, it’s a change from last week. That’s what I hate about September. The weather changes from one day to the next. By the way, your mom says hello.”

I smiled and nodded. Mom and Connie talked on the phone almost daily since I started at the clinic. I think Mom must feel more in tune with my life when she can talk about me with Connie.

Today, Connie had pulled her unruly brown hair into a braid. She wore a tight jean dress with one gold bangle wrapped around her left bicep.

I took off my jacket and walked through the waiting room. That’s when I saw the petite, blonde woman sitting with her back straight, and both hands in her lap, twisting the handle of her purse.

She looked up and smiled. “Hi. I’m a little early.”

I continued past her and sat at my reception desk. I looked to the appointment book to see her name was Sarah Dowe and she was indeed twenty minutes early.

“Can I get you a cup of coffee while you wait?” I said and handed her a clipboard with the standard dental forms to fill out.

Taking the paperwork she answered, “No, thank you. I just brushed my teeth.” She smiled brilliantly. “I’m a little nervous. No offence to Doctor Mott, but I don’t like dentists.”

As if on cue, Dr. William Mott entered the room. His tall frame filled the doorway. He had full lips, high cheekbones and slightly sunken sea-gray eyes. Carrying a motorbike helmet and leather jacket, he wouldn’t be mistaken for a dentist.

“Bill, your ears must be burning,” Connie said.

Bill’s face creased in a smile. “Hmm. Three women talking about me? Please don’t stop.”

I could feel the heat rising up my neck.

Connie wagged her finger at Sarah and me. “These two were saying how they don’t like dentists.”

Bill’s smile faded, “Oh.” His eyes found mine. He looked like a pierced puppy. Sarah sat up straighter. “Oh my, no. I like dentists. You come highly recommended. It’s just that I don’t like dentist appointments. I mean, I don’t like dental work.”

She seemed flustered so I tried to rescue her. “Dr. Mott, Sarah is a new patient and will need a preliminary exam.”

His smile returned so that both dimples showed. “Well then, let’s get her set up with some x-rays.”

The hygienist, Gail, walked with purpose down the hall. In her late fifties, she wore her slate-gray hair in a tight bun. I turned to Sarah and said, “Gail will take you to the room.”

“Thanks.” Sarah stood, handed me her paperwork, and followed Gail down the hall.