CHIGGERS

It’s not every day the Editor-in-Chief for a romance publishing house offers to give you a third and final chance to prove you can write a great romance novel. With two solid rejections under my belt, I knew my latest effort had to use a high-concept plot idea and follow the criteria Miss Prettywell outlined for a romance novel. Something she had not taken the time to tell me until recently. According to her, all romances novels must follow three simple rules.
Rule Number 1: The hero and heroine must meet in the first chapter and are immediately attracted to each other.
Rule Number 2: The hero and heroine struggle throughout the story to overcome one or more obstacles keeping them apart.
Rule Number 3: In the end, the hero and heroine surmount all obstacles keeping them apart, and the reader is led to believe they live happily ever after.
Those three rules are so simple I’m surprised everyone is not writing romance these days.
I e-mailed my query today and look forward to hearing from Miss Prettywell. For those of you who have trouble writing a query letter, I’m sharing mine with you so won’t make the same mistakes I made.
  
Rose Petal Romance Publishing
ATTN: Ms. Prettywell, Editor-in-Chief

Dear Ms. Prettywell:

In my novel, CHIGGERS, global warming has caused an explosion in the chigger population in America, sending people indoors for cover. Robert (Chig) Langdroff, the country’s leading authority on chiggers, is summoned to Washington, D.C., from his home in the Mississippi Delta, to offer a solution to the chigger crisis. Robert meets with the President and the President’s top Scientific Advisor, Nancy Snatchit, a beautiful, but aggressive young woman bent on preventing the banning of makeup and perfumes even if Robert’s advice might help prevent an exponential growth in the chigger population.

Robert realizes his first task is to win Miss Snatchit’s trust. As Robert and Nancy lock horns and scratch chigger bites, millions of the country’s outdoor sporting events are put on hold, causing a tremendous decline in beverage and fast food sales, resulting in a national decline in obesity, causing a surge in online clothing sales, home cooking, and family time. The White House grounds are soon engulfed by chiggers. The vast horde-of-chiggers are too much, even for the mightiest military in the world. As a last resort, Robert calls for help from some Good O’ Boys. While everyone else in the country stays indoors, two Good O’ Mississippi Boys, immune to chiggers, begin to mount an offensive just north of the Mississippi State Line. The Good O’ Boys drive their truck toward Washington, D.C. killing billions of chiggers all along the way. The lethal gas, used to kill the chiggers, is emitted from their truck, as the Good O’ Boys drink lots of beer and eat lots of barbecue. They arrive in Washington to a hero’s welcome. Everyone appears happy until one of the Good O’ Boys unintentionally releases some of the lethal gas amongst a crowd of well wishes, sending thousands of people scrabbling back indoors for cover.

Later that night, Robert wins Nancy’s trust in the Lincoln bedroom. They get married and move to Alaska, where no chigger has ever lived long enough to cause any trouble. The President takes credit for reducing obesity, the upswing in online clothing sales, and the national movement toward more family time.

Market Research: Having been bitten by more than a few chiggers, I can tell you chiggers are one of the most feared creatures on the planet. More people are attacked by chiggers than all other forms of wildlife in this country. One person can sustain literally hundreds of attacks in one outdoor walk to the barbecue grill. Just ask my neighbor, Eddy, or worse, make him take his shirt off so you can count the bites. I have enclosed a picture for your benefit.

CHIGGERS, a Romantic Thriller, runs about 86,000 words. May I send you my draft?

Thank you for your time. You do not have to return the picture of Eddy.

Jack LaBloom

Romance Writer       

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WORKING MY WAY THROUGH THE Es

I waved at Eddy when he drove past my house and pulled into his driveway. His truck made a screeching sound before it came to a halt. When he jumped out and ran toward me waving his hands in the air, I thought he had an emergency. I let go of the handle so my lawnmower would stop running.
          “Eddy, what’s wrong?”
          He stopped short of my mower and stared at me. “Hey man, when’s the last time you sharpened the blade on that mower?”
          I looked at the 21 inch Yard Dog I’d purchased at a flea market sale five years earlier. “The guy I bought it from told me he sharpened it.”
Eddy pointed to three or four hundred weeds sticking up all over my yard. “Your blade is so dull it can’t cut the weeds.”
That explained the strange phenomenon I had noticed this mowing season. I’d begun to think I had a fast growing variety in my yard. So fast they grew back right after I mowed over them. It was time to fess up. “Okay, you got me. How do I sharpen the blade, and where is it?”
“Hey, I’ll do it for you.”
He walked over to his truck and pulled a couple of tools out from behind the seat. He removed a long flat thing from my mower in less than 30 seconds. He used something called a bench grinder on his back porch to sharpen it. After he put it back on the mower, he started it up and made a round in my front yard. What a difference it made. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh cut weeds in August, especially when someone else is doing the cutting.
He stopped the mower. “What do you think?”
“That’s great. Thanks, Eddy.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a card and handed to me.
I looked at it.
Eddy’s Lawn Mowing and Firewood Deliver Service
You grow it, we mow it.
We cut it, you burn it.
In an effort to pay down the debt he and Darla ran up by taking a Florida vacation on their credit cards, Eddy cuts firewood in the spring and sells it in the fall and winter. Now it appeared he had added a lawn service to make a little extra money during the summer months.
“That’s a pretty fancy business card.” I stuck it in my shirt pocket for reference, in case I ever sold a manuscript and made enough money to hire him to mow my yard.
“It’s was Darla’s idea. She said they’d make me look more professional.”
Eddy and Darla are both twenty-two years old. They got married two months after they graduated from high school. Darla is a teacher’s aid during the school year and a life guard at the city pool during the summer break. She’s taking classes to become a classroom teacher while Eddy works his butt off for his father-in-law down at the Co-Op, but to hear Eddy tell it, Darla’s father doesn’t think he’ll ever amount to much. Eddy’s plan is for Darla to get her college degree first, and then Eddy will go to college and get a degree in agriculture.
In an effort to give him moral support, I said, “You know, I bet Darla’s dad has changed his mind about you.”
He shrugged. “When I showed him my business cards, he said I was a regular entremanure.”
A good romance writer has to know the proper way to pronounce every word in the dictionary. Lucky for me, over the years, I had finally worked my way completely through the es.
“I think he meant entrepreneur.”
“Probably not,” Eddy said. “Darla’s dad thinks I’m full of it, and it’s looking like he always will, no matter how hard I try.”
My neighbor has a good heart and works hard. He deserved better treatment from his father-in-law. I needed to act quick before depression set in. “One day he’ll surprise you and tell how lucky he is to have you as a son-in-law.”
            He dusted some glass clippings off his leg. “I’m not getting my hopes up.”
Eddy is one of my two beta readers. I had finished writing the first three chapters of my latest novel, Tumble Weeds and Dry Lips, my first attempt at writing a western romance novel. Maybe it would be a good time to ask him to read my first draft. I looked at my watch, and then pushed the mower under a tree. 
“It’s Friday and after five. What do you say we go hang out on my back deck and have a cold one.”
Eddy nodded. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Right after we opened our first beers, I placed my hand on my young neighbor’s shoulder.
“For what’s it worth, I think you’re top notch.”
He smiled. “Thanks, but I still ain’t reading any of that mushy stuff you write.”
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The Women’s Annual Floral and Tea Event

You can imagine my surprise when I received an invitation in the mail to speak at the Women’s Annual Floral and Tea Event. Being literally inundated with requests to speak publicly—in my lifetime, I’ve received a total of one and this was it—I jumped at the chance.
I was especially excited to read that four of the women attending had read my newspaper column. Assuming the other women, who would be there had never heard of me, my hope was to increase my fan base by reading an excerpt from my latest attempt at a romance novel, Shipwrecked In A Dry Dock.  
In addition, the invitation specified formal attire. That stirred up visions of attractive women dressed in long beautiful flowing dresses with their eyes focused on me, so I decided to wear a tuxedo.
Then I read the postscript. The Women’s Club was offering to pay up to $50.00 to cover all of my traveling expenses. That changed my vision to one where I’d be speaking at a nursing home where none of the residents had purchased gasoline since 1964 when regular was 24 cents a gallon.
After driving two and half hours, asking for directions twice, I arrived at the address I had been given. The home of Mrs. Lillie Mae Cottingham could have been in the movie Gone With The Wind. When I was escorted to her back yard, I was shocked to see ten round tables draped with pressed white cotton linen table cloths. Eight chairs wrapped with green bows circled each table. Atop each table were fine China plates separated by silver place settings that had been polished so much the sunlight reflected off them like  streaks spewing from from a super nova. A florist could have retired on Martha’s Vineyard from the proceeds he earned from all the flowers displayed on the tables, and around the cobble stone patio.
It didn’t take me long to realize I had not arrived at a nursing home. When I was announced by the young women, Lillie Mae’s granddaughter, who escorted me to the back yard, I feared Lillie Mae might have a heart attack when she saw me dressed in a purple claw-hammer tuxedo I wore when I played the character Seefer Settlemyer at the local playhouse theatre, where the entire audience, comprised of eighteen people, gave us a sitting ovation. Instead, the women in her late seventies, welcomed me to her home with a youthful looking smile.
When the time came to give my speech, Lillie Mae introduced me as the young man who wrote the obituary column for The Langley County Weekly Newspaper. She was going way back. In those days, I was sixteen and one of three employees at the antiquated newspaper office. Since no one was dying in those days, at least not in Langley County, I made up fake obituaries. Mr. Morgan, the owner and editor of the weekly newspaper, read one of them and came up with the idea for a column under my name. After the first one was published, circulation of the four page newspaper went up twelve percent, an increase of thirty-eight subscribers. My newspaper career ended at the age of 17, when Mr. Morgan died peacefully in his sleep one night. My column and the only real obituary I ever wrote were buried along with him.
I wish I could say I received a standing ovation for my speech, but the truth is I didn’t. The ladies remained seated and clapped politely. What I did receive was far more meaningful. I was invited to come back, when my book is published, if I promised not to wear that atrocious outfit I had on.   
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CELEBRATING THE 4TH OF JULY IN THE HAMPTONS

After Leon and I were placed in charge of the 4th of July celebration, things went downhill fast. Due to failing health, Wyatt and Eleanor Griffith asked the homeowner’s association to let Leon and me take over the responsibility until someone of high character could be found to replace us.
The Griffiths were both confined to wheelchairs, and Leon and I had been doing all the leg work on the celebration for the previous eight years. Leon and I rolled Wyatt and Eleanor up the ramp and through the front door of their cabin.
“We would like to thank you for that glowing recommendation,” I said.
“We hope to be able to do as good a job as you and Mr. Griffith have done all these years,” Leon added.
Since Mr. Griffith was sound asleep in his wheelchair, Eleanor replied, “It’s the least we could do.”
Leon and I stood at the doorway, preparing to leave when she decided to deliver a parting shot.
“If you two run into anything you can’t handle, Wyatt and I will be right here to guide you.”
Our first order of business was food. We depended upon our residents to cook up a bunch of it for the celebration. As an incentive, the association holds a barbeque contest with prize money for the top three winners of the Barbeque Cook Off Contest. The winners are announced right before the fireworks display begins. On the way back to our cabins, Leon and I agreed to approach last year’s contestants and make sure they were all on board again this year.
But the following day when word spread that Leon and I were in charge of the celebration, things began to get ugly.
“I ain’t participating in the contest,” Eddy said, after I asked him if he was going to cook up another one of his fabulous briskets this year.
Last summer Eddy babied a large brisket in his smoker over night only to come in fourth place, just out of the money. He couldn’t understand how a widow woman, working a minimum wage job, trying to raise four school age kids, could win the 300 dollar first place with hotdogs heated up over an open fire. Especially, when one side of the hotdogs were burned black.
Leon tapped me on the shoulder. “Let me take this. Look here, Eddy, who helped you and Darla with her tuition money?”
“You did.” Eddy looked down.
Leon placed his hand on Eddy’s shoulder. “Don’t take it personal. Everyone loved your brisket and all that praise you received from the residents should have been reward enough.”
Eddy didn’t look convinced, so I decided to give it a go. “That woman is doing everything she can to give her kids a good home, and we felt she could use a little help. Leon and I thought we were doing the right thing last year by giving her that prize money.”
He looked up at us. “When she accepted the award, she said she didn’t know she had even entered the contest. She thought she was just cooking those hotdogs for her kids.”
Leon glanced at me. “That must have been the reason she cried when we handed her that check.”
In an effort to get Eddy back on board, I said, “What if we bring in unbiased judges this year? Judges who will be fair and honest.”
That got his attention. “You mean like real judges who don’t live here.”
Leon and I both nodded.
“Okay then. I’m in.”
With the first crisis solved, Leon and I left Eddy’s house and put our plan into motion.
By the night of July 3rd, everything was in place. A ton of fireworks, plenty of soft drinks, a little bit of beer for me and Leon, and lots and lots of great food being cooked and prepared by the residents of The Hamptons Lake Estates.
Later that evening, Eddy began smoking a brisket and two pork butts. Leon and I even helped him monitor his smokers during the night. Mainly we drank beer and watched Eddy keep the heat within the correct range.
The next day, the sky was a beautiful bright blue. By midday, the temperature hovered around ninety-three degrees. American Flags were flying all over the place. Tables were set up on the grounds. We brought in fans and placed them around the pavilion, so the older folks could stand the heat. Even Zelda, a ninety-eight-year-old retired psychic, told us we had done a good job. Rumor had it she predicted disaster when she learned Leon and I had been put in charge of this year’s event.
At ten-thirty that night, after the last fireworks were set off, people started cleaning up, and the judges were driven back into town.
Eddy, carrying his first place ribbon in the Barbeque Cook Off Contest, walked up to Leon and me.
“Congratulations, Eddy,” Leon said. “That was the best pork butt I ever ate.”
“Thanks,” Eddy replied, sticking the ribbon in his pocket.
I patted Eddy on the back. “They really liked your barbeque. I’ve never seen judges eat that much food.”
Eddy gazed at me. “You and Leon didn’t fool anybody. Those judges you brought in were homeless Vietnam war veterans. They told me they go to the shelter for food.”
Leon stopped picking up empty soda cans from the ground and stood. “Yeah, Eddy. That’s right. We thought they might enjoy celebrating the 4th with us.”
           Eddy didn’t say another word about the judges nor the contest, but stayed to help us clean up.
Four days later, the association received a long letter in the mail. It was from the shelter. The veterans had all hand written an individual thank you to the association for inviting them out for the celebration. At the end of the letter, a note had been added by the shelter administrator. She wanted to give a special thanks to the young man who signed over his first place prize winning check and gave it to her to help buy food for homeless veterans.
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THE TREASURE OF BIG ROCK MOUNTAIN

Rumors were flying that a retired bank robber had loot hidden up on Big Rock Mountain.  Leon and I attempted to limit the scope of that rumor to our young neighbors, Eddy and Darla, for obvious reasons. We didn’t want the Feds getting wind of it.
After loading a pick and shovel in the back of Leon’s old 1995 Ford truck, he, I, and Eddy climbed in. Eddy situated himself in the middle of the back seat looking over our shoulders. “Why did you wait so long, before digging up your loot?” Eddy asked when Leon placed the truck in gear.
Leon pressed down on the accelerator causing the rear tire to spit gravel out behind the truck as we pulled away from Eddy’s cabin. “You can’t recover stolen money until the statute-of-limitations runs its course.”
“What’s the statute of limitations?”
Praying that Leon would concentrate on his driving, while I fielded the question, I looked over my shoulder at Eddy.
            “After a certain amount of time, if you haven’t been caught, the district attorney can’t prosecute you for the crime.”
“Oh.”
It didn’t take long to get to Big Rock Mountain, because it borders the lake where the three of us live. Leon pulled the truck over, threw the shifter in park, and switched off the ignition.
“We have to walk the rest of the way,” he said opening his door, before the dust settled.
While Eddy grabbed the pick and shovel from the truck bed, I put on my backpack, which I had filled with bottled water before leaving the cabin. When Leon took off up the mountain, I grabbed the shovel from Eddy and motioned for us to follow him.
For a seventy-two year old man, Leon kept up quite a pace for awhile, but halfway to the top, he and I had sweat pouring off of us like Niagara Falls after a major flood. I didn’t want him nor me to become overheated in the ninety-seven degree heat, so I hollered at Eddy to hold up.
“Let’s take a break.”
“Good idea,” Leon said, wiping his forehead.
We found a rock ledge to sit on and I pulled three bottles of water from my backpack and passed them out.
After finishing off his bottle of water, Leon pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it.  “I better look at my map. Everything looks different since I was up here forty-four years ago.”
Eddy and I peeked over his shoulders. The map was nothing more than a pencil line drawn in the arc of a mountain, more like a giant inverted letter V with an X drawn near the top of the point.
“Spent a lot of time on that map did you, Leon?” Eddy asked. He grinned at me.
“It’s a lot more complicated than it looks. Didn’t want anyone finding the loot while I was in prison.” Leon folded the map back up and said, “Okay, I got it. We need to go up higher.”
Big Rock Mountain is made up of several hundred big rocks jutting out of the ground, twelve thousand or so trees, a bee hive in an old rotted out oak tree we passed on the way up, and at least three deer that scampered off, after we walked up on them. 
Two more bottles of water later, we reached the top of the mountain and were 1200 feet above sea level. Leon swatted at a bug circling his head. “Okay, according to the map, we’re in the right area. Start looking for a big rock with the letter X drawn on it.
Surrounded by approximately two hundred big rocks in the immediate area, Eddy and I stared at Leon. Apparently, we were thinking the same thing. That in forty plus years that letter X might have faded a bit.
“What did you use to write that X?” Eddy asked, shaking his head in disappointment. “After all this time, the chances of it still being visible are nil to none.”
“Permanent chalk,” Leon replied, walking off to our right. “They didn’t have magic markers in my day.”
I glanced at Eddy and gave him a thumbs up, like there was such a thing as permanent chalk back then.
After twenty-two seconds of exhaustive searching, Leon and I gave up and sat down to drink more water. Eddy, being only twenty-two years old and excited at the prospect of finding stolen loot, continued checking every rock in sight like a mountain lion in search of a rabbit.
Thirty-three minutes later, he yelled, “Over here, I found something.”
Leon and I picked up the shovel and pick and hurried over to where Eddy stood waving his arms in the air.
Leon knelt down and studied the rock like a man who had been in prison for twenty odd years, studies the center-fold of Playboy magazine. His face couldn’t have been more than two inches from the rock.
The big rock we were looking for, with an X drawn on it, turned out to be the size of a large shoebox. That permanent chalk must have been good stuff, because the chalk looked like it hadn’t been there more than a day or two. 
“Yep, I think that’s it,” Leon said getting back up on his feet.
Eddy put his hand on Leon’s shoulder. “You sure? You said it was a big rock.”
Leon was not about to back down. “At one time this was a big rock. Being exposed to the elements for over forty years must have taken its toll.”
That statement made it pretty clear to me that Leon had never studied geology. That rock was probably 4 million years old and forty years of wear and tear on a rock is equivalent to the wear and tear you put on a new tire pulling it off the shelf.
Eddy gazed at me and shook his head, before bending down to pick up the rock. Beneath it appeared to be freshly dug dirt. “I think somebody might’ve beat us to it.”
            “Only one way to find out.” I handed the shovel to Eddy.
He hit something right under the surface. Eddy bent down on both knees and finished digging up a jar with his bare hands. He held it up to show us it was full of coins and bills. “How much is in it, Leon?”
“Well, as I remember, the total take was six hundred thirty-four dollars and eighty-seven cents.”
“That’s all,” Eddy asked, his enthusiasm waning.
Leon shrugged. “It was a small bank.”
When we arrived back at Eddy’s cabin to drop him off, Leon handed the jar of money to him and told him to give it to Darla. It was to help pay for her schooling.
Leon and I had gotten word that Darla was trying to become a classroom teacher, but didn’t have enough money to pay for her tuition at the local community college. The amount of cash in the jar happened to be the exact amount she needed for a summer course. Eddy was beside himself and I could have sworn I saw a tear form in one of his eyes. He thanked Leon several times before letting us go on our way, which was two hundred feet farther down the road to Leon’s cabin where he had several cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in his refrigerator.
We were almost finished with our first PBR when Darla came bounding over like a gazelle on speed. She gave Leon a big hug and kissed him on the cheek. She didn’t thank me nor kiss me on the cheek. I guess Leon had no intentions of telling her that half of that money came out of my pocket.
I did ask her if she would finish reading my latest manuscript and give me some feedback on it. She’d had it over a month. It always amazes me how long it takes my beta readers to finish reading one of my stories. Darla is the better of the two beta reader I have. Eddy has never read more than two pages of anything I’ve written. At least Darla finishes reading a whole story, occasionally. She agreed and said goodbye.
On her way to the door, she stopped and turned around. “Eddy wanted me to tell you that he may not be the brightest star in the sky, but that plastic mayonnaise jar with a use-by date on the bottom was a dead giveaway you were pulling his leg about that being stolen bank loot.”
Leon smiled. “Tell him next time I’ll use old glass jars with leaded caps on ‘em.”
“I’ll tell him.” She went through the door almost skipping.
Leon went to the kitchen and brought back two more PBRs. He handed one to me. It was so cold my hand felt like I had wrapped it around an ice cube tray.
“You sure went to a lot of trouble to give those two a helping hand. I can’t believe you went up that mountain and buried that jar just to play a prank on Eddy. Why didn’t you just give them the money and save us all that sweating and climbing in the heat today?”
Leon pulled out a drawer from the hand-me-down coffee table that was in front of his sofa and flipped it over. On the center of the drawer appeared to be a large envelope taped to the bottom.
“Want to see the real map?”
“Real map?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. “You told me the money you stole from those three banks you robbed was recovered by the authorities.”
“It was for the three bank robberies I was charged with. Once you’re caught and charged, the statute of limitations stops running for those crimes, but it sure don’t for the banks you ain’t charged with robbing.”
“Exactly how many banks did you rob, Leon?”
“Seven and I’m gonna need Eddy’s help for sure to move that big rock. I was strong as an African bull elephant when I was twenty-eight, but the other day when I was up there, I couldn’t budge the darn thing.”
I smiled at him. “When are you thinking about going back after it?”
“November, when it’s a lot cooler, and everybody around here is convinced I’m just an old fool playing games with Eddy.”
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PORCH TIME AND WILD FLOWERS

I called to confirm my meeting with the Editor-in-Chief of Rosebud Romance. Although last fall, she rejected my pitch, she offered to give me another chance at the Romance Writers Conference, if I would write a story that fit their criteria. The main characters have to be attractive, sexy, and likeable.
I felt pretty good about my latest attempt at writing romance. On the first full day of the conference, she was seated in a booth in the hotel restaurant, when I approached her holding my synopsis in my left hand.
“Good morning, Miss Prettywell.” I took my seat across from her. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me for breakfast.”
“I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.”
When I knitted my brow, she added, “I meant having breakfast while listening to your pitch.”
“Oh.” A huge wave of relief rippled over me.
A waiter came over and took our order. A bowl of fruit for her, and a stack of pancakes for me.
Timing is everything in a pitch session.
“While we’re waiting for our food, would you be interested in reading my synopsis?” 
“Why not?’
I pushed my twelve page synopsis across the table.
After glancing at the first page, she said, “The title is Porch Time and Wild Flowers?”
When readers are considering buying a romance novel, the title is the second most important selling factor. The most important thing is to have a couple of half naked people on the cover.
“I thought you might like it.”
I held my breath waiting for her to get to the subtitle.”
“Where love flourishes like weeds on a roadside.” She stared at the sheet of paper. “Now that makes me want to dive right in.” 
“That’s exactly what Darla said.”
“Who is Darla?”
“My neighbor. She’s one of my beta readers. Her husband, Eddy is the other one.”
One of her eyebrows ticked up a notch while she rubbed her temples. “They both read your manuscript?”
When pitching to an agent or editor, honesty is the best policy.
“Eddy only read most of the first page, but he told me if I added a shoot out, a train derailment, and a couple of explosions, he’d finish it.”
“Your neighbor remains me of one of my editors, Colt Johnson. He worked for a western publishing house, before he joined us at Rosebud Romance. We nicknamed him Tombstone, because he’s buried so many writers’ dreams.”
        The waiter poured two glasses of water. “Your food will be out shortly.”
        I needed to hurry up and finish my pitch before the food arrived.
“My story is not a western romance, but I did take your advice and made both the hero and heroine attractive people. They live on a lake surrounded by a few wild flowers and a lot of weeds.” 
In any romance novel, a romantic setting is a must have. According to Eddy, you can’t get more romantic than wild flowers and water.
She read more.
“Your heroine’s name is Candy Cleavage?”
The frown on her face spelled trouble. So much for Eddy’s input. I needed to think fast. “Of course not, I use temporary names in my drafts. The actually name of the heroine is . . .uh . . . Farla Kay Smithwall.”
She dropped the page. “Well that makes all the difference in the world. I love it.” She pulled a business card from her purse and pushed it across the table. 
“Please send the complete manuscript to this address?”
After years of struggling, finally, I had received a request for a full manuscript. My heart felt like a balloon hooked up to a Helium tank with the valve turned wide open.
The waiter approached our table carrying our breakfast order. I grabbed the card and stuck it in my shirt pocket, before he placed the plates down in front of us.
The smell of hot pancakes permeated the air. I was starving and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the maple syrup and a fork.
Miss Prettywell looked at her watch. “Breakfast has been lovely. Gotta run.” She stood.
I jumped to my feet. “But you haven’t eaten.”
“That’s the downside of the publishing business. One minute you have an appetite and the next minute you don’t. But please go ahead. I need to run up to my room and get ready for my first session.”
Admiring both her work ethic and red high-heel shoes, I watched her walk away. In celebration of my triumph, I poured half a bottle of syrup on my stack of pancakes. I took two bites, and then pulled my cell phone out. I wanted to call my wife to tell her the good news.
“Hi, Honey. Great news. I got my first request for a full . . . yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. Would you put a copy of my manuscript in the mail today? Thanks.”
When you get a request for a full, it’s best not to delay.
“Wait. Let me give you the mailing address.”
I pulled the card from my pocket and read it.
Colt Johnson, P.O. Box 567, Deadwood, South Dakota
“Better hold up on that. Looks Like I’m going to need to add a shoot out, a train derailment, and a couple of explosions.
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BETA READERS ARE PRICELESS

On my way back from the mailbox, I noticed my neighbor, Eddy sitting on his front porch drinking beer. That’s what he does when he’s not working at the local Co-Op store loading seed, fertilizer, fence wire, lawn tractors, and such.
“Another rejection letter,” yelled Eddy.
I guess he could tell by the imaginary flow of tears soaking my T-shirt. With the temperature approaching a 100, real tears had a half life of one second. I nodded at him.
He opened his cooler and pulled out a beer. Pieces of ice slid off the bottle when he held it up. “Hey, this one’s got your name on it.”
I closed the letter and stepped up on Eddy’s porch. After pushing his lawn mower out the way, I was able to clear a path to a metal chair next to a stack of varmint traps.
Eddy handed me the beer. “Better not sit in that.” I noticed the seat is about rusted through. “Next time, I’m going to buy the plastic chairs.”
I looked at the ice chest next to him. Moving it, would have freed up plenty of room in the swing.
He put his arm on top of the cooler. “I’d offer to let you sit here next to me, but you know how the people in this neighborhood talk. Better use my wooden tool box. It makes a good seat with that vinyl covering I put on it last week.”
I stared at the box resting on top of the tool box. “What about the litter box? What do you want me to do with it?”
“Just dump in it in the yard. I’ll tell Darla to put some fresh litter in it when she gets home.”
I was willing to do a lot of things to keep from offending one of my neighbors, but touching that litter box wasn’t one of them. Stepping away, I said, “I’ve been sitting all day writing a new romance and prefer to stand.” I turned the beer up and drank about half of it.
Eddy leaned back in the swing. “I hope it’s better than your last one.”
“You finally got around to reading it?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve read most of it.”
After two months of waiting, I was finally going to get some feedback from one of my beta readers. Eddy’s wife, Darla is the other one. “What is it you don’t like about the story?”
“Well for one thing, your opening.” He made a face like babies do after they’ve taken their first bite of green beans.
The opening paragraph in a romance novel is critical, and I had worked on it for weeks getting it just right.
Candy Cleavage waved at her new neighbor, a tall young man with blond hair and a quick step. He waved back and smiled, before thumbing through his mail. When he went back inside his lush cabin, she re-entered her house and changed into her favorite bikini. Spring had brought more than a new batch of flowers into her life.”
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked
Both of Eddy’s eyelids crawled up his forehead until they reached their limits. “Dull as a broken brick.”
“Dull?”
“You didn’t think the part about the woman having an affair with the pool man was exciting.”
“What pool man?”
“I thought you said you read most of it.”
“Most of the first page,” he replied.
The Romance Writers Conference was in two weeks. I needed feedback before my pitch session with the Editor-in-Chief of Rosebud Romance, where love blossoms like wild flowers in spring. If Darla didn’t come through soon, I would be going into that pitch session blind.
A car pulled into the driveway. It was Darla.
Eddy threw his empty bottle out in the yard. “I’m ready for another one. How about you?”
“Not yet.”
Darla exited the car and opened the rear door. She grabbed one of the sacks from the back seat. I turned back to Eddy. “She might need help with the groceries?”
He glanced toward the car. “She appears to be doing okay.”
“I better go help her anyway.” I put the empty bottle down and walked over to Darla. “Let me help you.”
She handed me the sack she was holding and grabbed a second one for me as well. “You’re so sweet. I can get the last one.”
I looked back at Eddy and yelled, “I’ll be back in a minute . . . as soon as I help Darla put this stuff put away.”
Eddy waved before he turned his fresh beer up.
Darla led me down the side of their cabin toward the back entrance. We had barely put the sacks on the kitchen counter when she grabbed me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek.
Startled, I said, “Glad I could help. Just like you can help me by reading my manuscript and telling me what you think.”
“Oh, I’ve been reading it all right.” She smiled. “I know who Randy is.”
At least she had read farther than Eddy. “Who?”
“Except for the hair color, height, and muscular build, he’s the spitting image of you.”
That didn’t make a bit of sense. “What?”
          She stepped closer and ran her hand up my arm. “But that wasn’t what really convinced me.”
I pushed her hand away, but my curiosity got the best of me.
“What did?”
Her finger pointed through the back window at their above ground 10 foot diameter pool. “The part about Randy watching her sun bathe by the pool.”
“You think your pool is the pool in my story?”
She nodded. “The sun reflected off the water like sparkling diamonds until Candy stepped into his view of the pool. She reached behind her back and pulled a string releasing the top of her bikini, allowing it to fall to her bare feet.”
“You’ve memorized parts of my story?”
She blinked twice. “Every word of the good parts.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I tried the truth. “I’m not Randy the pool man?” Maybe the handsome neighbor, but I was certainly too old to be Randy the pool man.
“I know writers can’t use real names.” Darla often sounded as if she were being logical.
Since the truth didn’t work, I tried lying to her. “I’d never watch you swim without your top on.”
“I know better. Why do you think I do it?”
She did? That was news to me. I wasn’t going to answer that one, but I assumed she didn’t want any tan lines. “What about that six foot wood fence around your back yard? I’d have to have x-ray vision to see through it.”
“You’re going to deny standing on your ladder to clean the same gutter four separate times this past week?”
She had me there. Writers have to do research. I had to be clever and come up a valid reason for scoping out their pool. “I was trying to find my contact lens.”
“You lost it in the gutter?”
“The leaf blower. Should have had my safely glasses on.”
“Oh, I didn’t think about that.”
          She bought it. “I better get back outside and see how Eddy’s doing.” I turned to leave.
She grabbed my arm. “Wait. Did you find the lens?”
“No, not yet.”
“Maybe you’ll find it tomorrow.” She grinned.
As soon as Eddy saw me come around the corner of the house, he yelled, “What am I having for dinner tonight?”
          “I saw some ribs in one of the sacks.”
“She’s grilling ribs again? That’s great. At first she had a few missteps with the charcoal lighter, but she’s getting better at the grilling part.”
First, another rejection letter, and now my beta readers were letting me down. My day had started off bad and tapered off.
Glancing at the cooler, I said, “I’ll take another beer now.”
Eddy opened the lid, grabbed one, and passed it to me. “Darla’s something else all right.” He crossed his feet. “Don’t know what I’d do without her.”
I thought of several things he’d have to do, changing the litter box, lighting the grill, cooking, washing, ironing, and buying groceries for starters. I twisted the top off the bottle and took a drink. Then it hit me.  Uh oh, how much does he know about her fantasies?”
“Eddy, has Darla said anything to you about my romance story?”
“Not yet. She’s been reading it for weeks. I’m beginning to think she’s a slow reader. Don’t tell her I said that. It might hurt her feelings.”
“I won’t. Writers are like lawyers. Anything to say to me about Darla is in strict confidence.”
I sat on the edge of the porch and leaned my back up against one of the post holding up a two-color porch roof. Eddy patched a leak last spring, but he couldn’t match the original shingles. Once settled in, I turned the beer up again, for a long while.
He leaned down toward me. “I’m glad you can keep a secret, because I got something important to talk to you about.”
I gazed up at him.
He whispered. “I think Darla’s got the hots for somebody besides me.”
“You’re kidding?” I tried to act shocked and appalled she would even think of such a thing. “Eddy, I find that extremely hard to believe.”
“When a woman talks in her sleep she’s not lying.”
I signaled for another beer. “She talks in her sleep?”
He handed a fresh beer to me and looked at the front door to make sure it was closed.
“Three times this past week, she started breathing hard in her sleep. So hard it woke me up. Then last night was the worst. She called out the name, Randy.” He raised his eyebrows. “What do you think about that?”
Holy cat poop. I think I’ll be getting me some new beta readers. “It sounds to me like a clear case of overactive hormones.”
“What do you think I should do about it?”
“Better take over the grilling. Those charcoal fumes have been known to mess with a woman’s hormones in ways a man doesn’t want to know about.”
“I had no idea.” Eddy patted me on the shoulder. “Thanks, man. I knew I could count on you.”
“You’re welcome.”
Eddy grabbed one end of the cooler. “Grab the other handle and let’s move this party to the back yard. I need to get the grill going. No telling how much damage Darla has already suffered.”
We headed around back and put the cooler down next to the grill. Eddy raised the top of it and examined the grates like he might consider cleaning off the quarter inch thick layer of burned-on fat. “Looks good to me. That’s what adds the flavor. Be right back, I’ve got to get the charcoal and starter fluid.”
“Hey, Eddy.”
He stopped halfway to the back door.
I walked up to him and whispered. “I wouldn’t say anything to Darla. You know how women are when a man starts talking about their hormones.”
“Darn right. They don’t think we understand stuff like that.”
I gave him a thumbs up. They were right, we didn’t.”
“The End.”

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