What My Characters Taught Me About Relationships
When Amber Daulton invited me to guest post on her blog, I had no clue two of my main characters would beg to join me. But Sunny Chanel (Middle Ageish) and Dana Narvana (Eat Your Heart Out) insisted.
Besides, I have a secret.
My inner voice is too often my characters from my novels talking to me while I’m writing. This past week my characters and I argued about what makes relationships work.
Dating in your fifties isn’t easy, said Sunny.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, said Dana.
They pointed out four basic bloopers I made again and again.
“If you mess up in life, you’ll mess up in your books,” Sunny said.
So I agreed the three of us would guest post. In truth, I was afraid to say no.
Dana told me these bloopers are in no particular order, and thank you for having us on your blog, Amber.
1. Not Giving the Guy a Chance
How soon do you know he’s the guy for you? they challenged. Or not?
“You know right away,” I said. “All it takes is a meet.”
“It’s not that simple,” Sunny and Dana yelled at me.
Dismissing a man because he’s balding or talks too much or doesn’t talk enough because he’s nervous? You could miss out on someone worth knowing, they moaned. Give a guy a chance.
I get it. Beta guys get overlooked. Guys who’ve made a mistake deserve a second chance.
Good relationships take time to grow.
2. Advice About Online Dating
My characters pop up even when I’m having serious conversations with my friends.
“I don’t have the nerve to start online dating,” a friend complained while we were having lunch on Zoom the other day.
We’ll help,” my characters said inside my head.
“I’ll help,” I said. I must have had a smirk on my face because my friend asked what credentials I carried for giving dating advice.
Together, we have about 300 years of dating experience, Sunny and Dana said.
“Oh, once I met six guys in one week.” I blinked, daring my friend to challenge this statement. (It was true.)
Then I told her about the dating contest between two of my characters in Middle Ageish. How they encouraged each other to never give up.
“Contest? Your characters?” My friend took a bite of her sandwich and chewed with her mouth open, sprouts landing on her desk like dust motes. “Like that’s real life?”
You forced us to do all that dating, Sunny and Dana piped up in their own defense. She has her nerve, your friend, said Dana.
That’s insulting, said Sunny.
“Yes, a contest to encourage each other.” With my patient voice, I explained. “See who dated twenty-five guys first.”
“What were the rules?” Ah, my friend was curious.
We had to spend forty minutes with the guy for it to count, Sunny reminded me. I repeated this out loud so my friend would understand this was a serious competition.
“That’s it?” She leaned closer to the camera and her eyes brightened. “It’s a numbers game. I get it.”
“Yes,” I said. “Unfortunately, it is.”
Tell her the loser takes the winner to Pepe’s for pizza, prompted Sunny.
“Yeah.” I had a feeling my friend was getting into this contest thing. Inside my head Sunny and Dana were arguing and I almost missed what my friend said next.
“My profile could use a spiffing up.”
Was this a hint?
My friend stood and adjusted the camera. “I’ll email my profile and you’ll pass it on to your characters? I need some clever, pithy remarks. To get hot guys to write me back.”
Oh, I think your friend is winning this one. And we’re coming to Pepe’s with you, Sunny and Dana whispered in my ear. I love Pepe’s, said Dana. Me too, said Sunny.
3. That Old Chemistry Thing
Mistaking chemistry for the real thing is always a mistake, said Dana one day when I was walking on the treadmill minding my own business and listening to Diana Krall on my iPod.
In Eat Your Heart Out, she fell hard for a guy I’ll call Freddy. (Not his real name.)
Yeah, said Dana. I kept filling in the blanks, hoping he was into me. She muttered something to Sunny I didn’t catch.
“What did you say?” I asked.
No spoilers, Sunny said.
Tell them how you came up with this Freddy character, Dana asked.
Freddy was based on a man I nicknamed Toxic Man. We dated sporadically and when I say sporadically, I mean there were gaps months long between dates. But Freddy was a back-burner man, meaning he kept me on the back burner, with phone calls and texts to boost his ego. Luckily, I gradually weaned myself off Freddy.
Since Dana didn’t want to make the same mistakes I made, she outfatuated herself and stopped answering her phone.
“How did you wipe him off your dating slate?” I asked.
My birthday is important, she said. He didn’t want to do anything special on my birthday. Because I wasn’t special to him.
Teaching my characters a life skill through my own experience and mistakes translates to my readers without coming off as preachy.
4. Know What you Want in a Man
That dating contest with Dana helped me figure out what I wanted in a man, said Sunny.
“You mean like if a man doesn’t go out of his way for you early in the relationship?” I said.
Sure, said Dana. He’s showing his real self and that rarely changes.
It takes a lot of time to get to know someone, said Sunny. I pay attention to the little things.
Tell Amber’s readers about the lawyer you went on two dates with, Dana urged me.
Can I tell the story? asked Sunny.
“Sure, go ahead.” I love egging my characters on.
Shirley went out with a real estate lawyer who loved opera. The second date was dinner at an upscale restaurant.
“He actually said he was trying to impress me,” I said.
I was coming to that, Sunny said. No interrupting. I never forget a detail.
On the drive home he had the opera station going on Sirius radio.
“Could you find the Elvis station?” Shirley asked. Knowing Shirley, she craved a little after dinner rock and roll.
“No, I prefer this station,” said Lawyer Man. “Don’t you like opera?”
Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that makes you realize the man you’re trying on for the evening is not for you.
As a writer, I read books from a different angle than most non-writers. I’m analyzing and overthinking as I read.
You’re a big analyzer, said Sunny and Dana nodded in agreement.
In the end, though, when it comes to relationships I’m like everyone else. I want to spend my time with my special person, the guy who thinks––and shows––I’m special.
No small thing.
Blurb for Eat Your Heart Out
When a tyrant in stilettos replaces her beloved boss, and her ex snags her coveted job, teacher Dana Narvana discovers there are worse things than getting dumped on Facebook. Time for the BFF advice squad, starting with Dana’s staunchest ally, Alex—hunky colleague, quipster, and cooking pal extraordinaire. But when the after-hours smooching goes nowhere, she wonders why this grown man won’t make up his mind.
Alex Bethany’s new lifestyle gives him the confidence to try online dating. What he craves is a family of his own until a life-altering surprise rocks his world. He knows he’s sending Dana mixed messages. Alex panics when he thinks he’s blown his chance with his special person. From appetizers to the main course will these two cooking buddies make it to dessert?
Funny and bittersweet, Dana and Alex’s story will have you rooting for them.
Two foodies, Dana and Alex, banter, sauté and tiptoe around each other. Except for the occasional smooch. What’s with that?
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Excerpt from Eat Your Heart Out
“So, this is what it’s like being on a date with you.” Dana hesitated—caught herself. “This isn’t a date, is it?
Her voice flattened and she took a sip of wine. “Oh, I’m not belittling your gesture, bringing me to this fine establishment. But it isn’t a date because you’re seeing that woman, aren’t you? The one you asked me for advice about.”
Alex fidgeted. Idiot. Asking Dana how to recognize the signs a woman was interested––what had he been thinking? What could be more awkward? This. This was definitely up there on the list of more awkward moments.
“You’ve always been straight with me,” she said, holding the wine glass in midair.
That little flash of skin whenever she raises her arm. He picked up his wine glass. At this rate, he’d have to order a second bottle, simply to block his mind from going where it shouldn’t.
“Alex, do it again, be straight.”
He leaned in, took the glass from her hand and put it on the table. “Come closer,” he said. “I want to whisper sweet somethings in your ear.”
She bent toward him, a puzzled but amused expression percolating, her face glowing in the subtle lighting.
“Yes?” Her voice throaty, challenging.
“This is a date,” he said and tilted his head, brushed her lips with his, pulled back slightly, and did it again.
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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. Shirley is the author of two rom coms. Eat Your Heart Out and Middle Ageish, both in the series Starting Over. Shirley’s friends nag her to tell them which stories are true in her novels. Her characters believe you should never leave home without your sense of humor and Shirley agrees.
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/shirleygoldberg