I’m delighted to have a fellow Rose with me today. Shirley Goldberg and I both write for The Wild Rose Press. Shirley’s new release, Middle Ageish sounds like a fun read!
Welcome, Shirley. What drove you to write about a fifty-year old who does a lot of online dating?
The old cliche about readers asking writers where their ideas come from? No one’s asked me that question. What they do ask is, “Did you really date 25 guys like your character in your book?”
They’re curious about how much of my book is autobiographical.
Some of Middle Ageish is based on real online dates I’ve––cough––enjoyed. So yes, I did meet a man who talked about his son way too much. (See the excerpt from the book, below.) As anyone who’s indulged in online dating knows, talking about one’s son is nothing more than an irritation when compared with the criminal acts perpetrated on well-meaning daters. (Now I sound like my Aunt Patty, who watched a lot of cop shows.)
What did these guys do? Everything from canceling at the last minute to waiting outside the restaurant to look me over before introducing himself.
We writers draw, in part, from our lives. But it’s call fiction for a reason.
You get to lie.
Lawrence Block, a crime writer with a column in Writers Digest for many years, wrote a book titled, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. It’s a collection of his columns with highly entertaining tips about writing and the publishing industry.
Lying is the fun part because…well, I’m not writing a memoir.
I’m a reader. All writers are readers. Although I read across genres––recently dipping into paranormal and fantasy––my favorite is women’s fiction. Now that’s a broad category, and it ranges from the serious to the super light and fluffy.
These days, I look for humor in my reading life with an occasional detour into more substantial reads. What grabs me? Relationship stories of all kinds. A believable meet-cute that’s not over the top. Conversations between characters that are realistic yet entertaining and show why they’re attracted to one another. Subtle yet playful. A great break-up scene where the guy deserves to be kicked in the nut sack––metaphorically, of course. Or telling off the big boss and walking away, corny as that sounds. Haven’t we all wished we’d had the nerve? Also love relating to the changes a character undergoes as the story unwinds. These are the elements that resonate for me in a story.
So, back to the autobiographical stuff.
I’ll admit it, I exaggerated in the Donald scene. I took a mediocre date with a man who talked way too much about his son, and added a frustrated woman who grabs her chance to get back at him, if only a little bit. In real life, there was no phone call from another date, and I didn’t cut the evening short.
Many times I’ve wished I had the guts to follow my instinct, or my character’s example.
The thing about using real life experiences as a foundation for a scene is after a while I tend to forget what really happened. The more I read over and edit the fictional version, the more it becomes, in my mind, the real thing.
The teaching scenes in the book came from my experience as a teacher, and anyone who spends time with adolescents, especially fellow teachers, will identify with Sunny, my heroine. Kids are masters at finding your weaknesses.
As far as the online dating, yes, I did a lot of online dating. I carried a small notebook around, took a few minutes in my car––or in the restroom if it was too good an anecdote to risk forgetting––to jot down notes. Here are a few examples:
- Asked nothing about me. Talked for 45 minutes straight.
- Didn’t make eye contact.
- The waitress knew him by name.
- “I’ll treat if I can take home the leftovers.”
- Widower, three months since wife died. Too soon to date?
- Long nails on pinkies.
Short comments that eventually led to a book, even though writing a book wasn’t a plan, not at first.
And I still have that little packed-with-memories journal.
Middle Ageish Blurb
Sunny Chanel’s marriage is circling the drain when her husband marks his colonoscopy on the calendar and ignores their anniversary. With divorce papers instead of roses on the horizon, she says “au revoir” Paris and croissants, and “hello” cheap New Haven apartment and ramen noodles.
With the encouragement of her friends, Sunny jumps into online dating, twenty-three years and twenty pounds after her last date. To her surprise she discovers dating might require a helmet, and occasionally armor to protect her heart, but after years of being ignored, her adventurous side craves fun and conversation. She’s middle-aged not dead. Then suddenly, on the way to reinventing herself, life takes a left turn when the one man she can’t forget calls with an unexpected request.
Middle Ageish Excerpt
On my second glass of wine––we’d hit the early bird special, Donald’s suggestion––at a new fish place on the water, The Fin and Tater. The air held the briny scent of fresh tuna and their specialty, fifteen potato dishes, from sweet mashed to curly and deep fried in olive oil.
“One minute, almost done here,” Donald’s thumbs operating at warp speed on his phone, an oversize smart phone.
I salivated. An appetizer, however small, would do the trick.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “Don’t like to be unavailable to Johnny. So. Where was I? Oh, did I tell you he just turned twelve?”
His phone dinged, signaling another text. “Sorry, one second.” He moved away.
The urge to gulp the wine was almost overwhelming, but I forced myself to sip slowly, realizing my whole face was clenched.
And here I was in the shortish red skirt to my red suit, feeling pretty jazzed. For what? So Donald could text-date his son on my time?
Plus, there was the hunger factor.
My phone pinged with a chat alert from the dating site. Some guy named José. Might as well send him my phone number. Twenty seconds later, he texted.
Hi, I’m intrigued. Thinking you have more online match-type experience than I have but I do not want to presume. Wanna talk?
Dinner wasn’t materializing, as our menus sat in the middle of the table where Donald had left them when he got his latest text. I breathed in the unmistakable, mouthwatering aroma of freshly-delivered garlic potatoes at the next table. If I could catch Donald between texts, I’d lobby for a potato appetizer, plenty of garlic, since for sure there wouldn’t be any kissing.
A glance over at Donald, still texting in a corner of the lobby. The server appeared with a basket of rolls wrapped in cloth.
“Did you get a chance to look at the menu?” she asked. The early bird deadline was upon us.
“Not yet,” I said, afraid she’d disappear with the rolls. I peeled back the napkin, inhaled the scent, the warm goodness radiating from the basket. Before the rolls, I’d considered leaving, but the rolls weren’t crappy, white doughy rolls.
“I’ll be back to check on you.”
Nope. They were dark and seeded, three different kinds, popovers and crisp crusts, a couple with raisins. I grabbed a raisiny one, tore it in half and smeared it with butter. Took a generous bite, geez. Heaven. Took a healthy glug of wine. That second glass was going to my head in a good way.
Donald reappeared and set his phone aside. “Sorry, can’t help myself when it comes to my son. You have kids?”
Donald’s phone rang as I started to answer, and he disappeared again. Never mind. I finished my roll and grabbed a popover, tore off a piece, savoring the buttery smoothness. I pulled my phone out, figuring to get some business done while Donald was busy being rude.
My bank account was down to $989.56. Nothing new there. My phone rang with a caller ID I didn’t recognize.
“Hi. Sunny? This is José. Figured talking was better than texting.” His voice was a purr, and my whole body reacted in a jumpy adrenaline mini-rush. I headed for the door, waving so Donald would know I was stepping outside for my own phone call.
The restaurant, at the end of a small street that dead ends at a boatyard, hosts a sailing club. Boats of all sizes, from Sunfish to two-motor jobs. I stood listening to the slap of the waves as José waxed on about a bad date.
“I yearn for normal,” he said.
“You didn’t have normal?” Fascinating, his word choice. Normal. Normal was for the very young. Wasn’t normal mostly over at our age?
“Well, it depends.” He paused. “I know this sounds dumb. I feel I can talk to you.” His voice lowered. “Lots of sex early on. If there’s nothing else, it all fades away. And you start the next one.”
“Well,” I hesitated, “I have this naïve idea that as we mature, we realize that sex is important, yes, but not the most important element in a relationship. Unless it’s missing.” José was better company than Donald, my so-called date.
“Shouldn’t it be that way?” he said. “When you get older, well, you look for more.”
José talked the talk, but it irked me that he might be feeding me a line. I tried to truly listen to the voice, the breaks and pauses. Listen for the sincerity.
“Do you look for chemistry?” I asked, knowing the answer before he said it.
“Of course. Absolutely essential.”
“Gotta go,” I said, turning back to the restaurant. The smell of rotting fish from somewhere on the docks overpowered me. “I’m on this lousy date,” I blurted.
“Leave. He doesn’t deserve you. You’re too polite.”
“Yeah, I am a polite person.” José had no boundaries when it came to offering advice to strangers.
“Nice talking to you. I’ll call you again.”
Inside the restaurant, Donald bent over his phone in a classic text-neck posture. I plucked the remaining half of my popover, wrapped it in a napkin.
“Hey, I’ve got to get going.” Donald looked up as if unsure what was happening. A wave of irritation mixed with impatience washed over me. Not my place to tell Donald what women want.
“Good luck, Donald,” and I gave a little two-fingered wave, headed out.
Later that night, in my comfy pajamas, I went online, determined to start over, be more positive. Three emails from José hit my inbox. I skimmed the first two, and read the third email three times.
What do you dream about? I have one life to live, and while I want great sex, I want a real romance and a sense of closeness. Let’s meet soon.
I crawled into bed, smiling. Great sex, huh? Does anyone want crappy sex?
About the Author
Shirley Goldberg is a writer, novelist, and former ESL and French teacher who’s lived in Paris, Crete, and Casablanca. She writes about men and women of a certain age starting over. Her website http://midagedating.com offers a humorous look at living single and dating in mid life, and her friends like to guess which stories are true. Middle Ageish is her first book in the series Starting Over. Her character believes you should never leave home without your sense of humor and Shirley agrees.
Visit my website and sign up for a copy of Happy Hour, a short story about an online meet and a tiny misunderstanding.
ARC Reader Review:
Buckle up for a wild ride. Middle Ageish is a rom com romp of middle age dating complete with all the swipes, texts and angst you could ever desire.
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