Tuesday, July 29, 2014
BLOG TOUR: "Painting The Moon" by Traci Borum; Review & Interview
The moment she saw the letter, she knew. The London postmark gave it away.
Noelle set down her keys and coffee, deciding to abandon the rest of her Saturday errands. She needed to take this letter to the ocean. She couldn’t read it here, standing over junk mail and bills.
She kicked off her sandals and walked down the steps of her beach house, grateful for San Diego’s mild weather even in mid-October. And grateful she wouldn’t have to walk far, with the ocean practically at her doorstep.
When she picked her usual spot at the water’s edge and sat down, the foamy water crept toward her toes like long, greedy fingers then slinked back again. Noelle always sought the ocean during troubling moments—craved the sea air on her face, the tinge of salt on her tongue, the comforting swoosh of powerful waves. But sometimes, even the sea couldn’t keep her from feeling hollow. Stranded and alone.
She’d already torn the envelope’s seal on her way down the steps. Opening the letter, she noticed the date, wondering why the news had taken two whole weeks to reach her.
Dear Ms. Cooke,
We regret to inform you of the unfortunate passing of Ms. Joy Valentine.
Great Aunt Joy had died alone in that cottage.
Noelle stared deep into the ocean as tears stung her eyes. Everything had gone quiet: the crash of waves, even the faint tapping of a neighbor’s roof being re-shingled two doors down. All silent.
In the dull gray sky above the ocean, Noelle could see almost slideshow-like, vivid images of her great aunt. Her thin-lipped, lopsided smile; wiry, gray hair secured by a pencil into a makeshift bun; deep wrinkles around her mouth and eyes from decades of smoking. And next, flashes of summers spent in England with her and Gram—white-haired and soft-spoken, the opposite of her sister. Those women had taught Noelle to paint, to enjoy literature, to savor life. Her surrogate mothers, she always called them. Now both gone, the end of an era.
Noelle shivered and wished she’d brought a sweater. It always seemed colder at the water’s edge. Brushing away a tear, she returned to the letter, skimming for more detail. She stopped at this:
As Ms. Valentine’s only living relative, you have hereby been named executor and sole heir of the estate. Please contact our office for further details.
Sole heir. Noelle considered what that might entail. Her aunt’s modest cottage nestled in a village in the Cotswolds, Chilton Crosse. And the art gallery! Noelle hadn’t stepped inside in fourteen years, since she was seventeen. If she concentrated, she could still smell the pungent turpentine and old, musty wood that greeted her when she opened the door. The back room had served as a working gallery, where artists set up and painted while visitors wandered quietly, gazing at masterpieces-in-progress. Occasionally, Aunt Joy even participated. But that was before her sudden retreat into obscurity. Noelle recalled the scandal of that winter, a decade ago, with perfect clarity. Online articles screamed out the embarrassing headlines: Famous Cotswold Artist Has Monster Meltdown; Storms out of Art Show.
No one ever knew what happened, never discovered the trigger that had caused Aunt Joy’s breakdown and subsequent retreat into reclusiveness. Noelle had tried to call her, write her, but the dozens of letters went unanswered. She didn’t know whether her aunt had even received them, or whether Joy had tired of all the probing questions: “Are you okay? I’m worried… why won’t you return my calls?” Joy finally sent one brief letter to Noelle, assuring her she was fine, but that she wanted—needed—to be left alone. She asked that Noelle respect her wishes and her privacy. And so she had.
Restless, Noelle rose and brushed the sand off her jeans. She needed to go inside, make a cup of tea, and banish the chill.
She headed back to the house with the letter, thinking about Joy’s funeral, wondering if it had been a media circus, with paparazzi descending on the unimposing village to fill the inches in their columns the next day. Or perhaps the church was almost empty, her aunt a forgotten figure even in her own community. In either case, Noelle wished she’d been there. And more than that, she wished she’d made contact with her aunt before she died. Just one more time.
She maneuvered her way toward the kitchen through the maze of stacked-up boxes—surely, her roommate, Casey, would retrieve them next week after the honeymoon. But something caught Noelle’s eye. The painting above the mantel, one that had been there for years, one she’d strolled past a thousand times.
Now, though, she couldn’t look at anything else. She drew closer and clicked on a nearby light to study the painting’s detail. One of Aunt Joy’s creations, given to Noelle on her fourteenth birthday—a seaside painting of England’s Cornwall coast. She touched the edge of the frame and peered at the canvas. A white-blond little girl stood at the cliffs, staring into the ocean and holding a broad-brimmed hat, its ribbon floating in the wind. Noelle could almost hear the bluish-gray water crash against the rocks as she looked beyond the little girl, into the endless sea.
Joy explained it that day, as a teenaged Noelle tore the gold wrapping paper. “The little girl in the painting, that’s you on your very first visit to us. I think you were five. I knew how frightened you were, being in England with virtual strangers. But the moment we took you to the sea, to Cornwall, you responded. You seemed calm, at home. And I wanted to paint you that way. To freeze you in time.”
Noelle took a few steps back to sit on the couch, to wish herself into the painting. To those summers spent in England, where everything remained safe, intact.
Not that she didn’t appreciate her life now. But lately, she’d become… stilted. Uneasy. An unfulfilling job, a stagnant social life, where she only played a role of herself, a pretend version. But those precious English summers centered her, brought out her genuine self. And she craved that again more than ever.
* * * *
On Monday morning, Noelle brushed out her honey-blond bangs and gave them a spray, planning what to say to the lawyer, Mr. Lester. She needed to phone his office before work, over a quick breakfast. Last night before bed, she’d done the math in her head, taking time zones into account. 8:00 a.m. San Diego equaled 4:00 p.m. London.
She stood in the kitchen with her back against the countertop and slathered cream cheese onto a bagel. Knowing that Casey was married, truly gone, gave the house a specific emptiness. Especially since Noelle hadn’t found a roommate to replace her yet.
She took a bite and dialed the number of the London firm. She thought she’d have to wait a few rings, but on the very first one, a thin male voice answered, “Hello?”
Nearly choking on the bagel scraping down her throat, she swallowed and tried to respond. “I’d like to speak with Mr. Lester.”
“This is he.”
She took a fast sip of orange juice, cleared her throat, and said, “I’m Noelle Cooke. I received a letter from your firm on Saturday. About my aunt passing away. Joy Valentine?”
“Oh, yes. Noelle.” He stretched out all the vowels. Everything sounded better wrapped in a British accent. “Thank you for responding so promptly.”
He issued condolences and apologized for not contacting Noelle sooner, explaining his first notification went to an old address, then they got down to business.
“As you’re aware, your aunt has left you her entire estate. This includes the properties of Primrose Cottage as well as the Artist’s Gallery.”
“I’m still in a bit of shock over all this.”
“Yes, quite. There are decisions to be made. The gallery is… how do I put this delicately? Financially unstable.”
“Oh. I had no idea.”
“Miss Cooke, these matters would actually be best discussed in person. I know it’s asking much, but might you be able to travel to England? My office is in London, but I have an early business meeting in Bath, near Chilton Crosse, day after tomorrow. You could stay at your aunt’s—or rather, your cottage. The curator could also meet with you to discuss the gallery.”
The idea of seeing the cottage and gallery was thrilling. She assumed no one but Joy had stepped inside those cottage doors in the past decade. Perhaps its contents might offer hints about her aunt’s reclusive period.
“I could meet with you there on my way back to London,” Mr. Lester continued. “There are many papers to sign and—”
“And decisions to be made.”
“Indeed. Urgently, in fact.”
In this Age of Technology, they could still handle the details if she stayed in California. Email, phone, FedEx, fax—back and forth, back and forth. But doing so might stretch things out to weeks, and Mr. Lester indicated they didn’t have weeks. The debt collectors might pounce soon. If she did travel to England, they could manage things in a few days. Plus, she could use that time to sort through the contents of the cottage—old family heirlooms, dishware, or valuables she wanted to keep.
Dan, her boss, would balk about her leaving with such short notice, but too bad. She would remind him that she had vacation time and sick leave, lots of it. Surely, she deserved time for a personal emergency. Noelle could work the rest of the day then leave for England late tonight, with Desha covering her workload and meetings until Thursday. Dan couldn’t say no.
“Yes. I can do that,” she told Mr. Lester decisively. “Let me make some arrangements and get back to you.”
“Oh, one more thing. The letter never mentioned. How did my aunt pass away?”
“It was a stroke that took her. Instantly, from what I heard.”
She hadn’t suffered.
The moment she hung up with Mr. Lester, Noelle remembered she would have to postpone the interview tomorrow with John Hill Advertising. She had worked so hard the last two months, polishing her resume, searching online listings for new job openings, scheduling secret interviews during lunch hours or after work. Nothing had panned out yet, but she had been particularly hopeful about tomorrow, a second interview with the senior manager. John Hill represented salvation, her escape from a job and a company she had once loved. But everything had soured drastically when Dan took over last year. The office politics, the backbiting, the pointless meetings and toxic environment. Enough was enough.
She took another bite and peered out the window. She loved it here—seagulls, beaches, the steady shush of the ocean. But the house, even the gorgeous beach view, had lately become redundant.
Can a “seven-year itch” apply to someone’s whole life?
* * * *
In the latest new release from Red Adept Publishing, Painting The Moon by Traci Borum, we're given a rare, beautiful, mysterious love story that is about so much more than two lovers.
It's clean romance, which is rare enough these days, and it hits so much deeper than anything I've read lately (and I've read a lot!).
Noelle spent her teenage summers in a London suburb, with her Gram and her lovable, artistic Aunt Joy. There she made two wonderful friends, Jill and Adam, and made memories to last a lifetime.
Fourteen years passed after her last summer, when she'd left with bad feelings in her heart, her aunt has passed away and left her her cottage in Chilton Crosse, her art gallery and the cottage at the ocean, where renters keep it afloat.
The gallery is in debt, the cottage needs to be emptied fit sale and Noelle only has three days. What she doesn't need is for Jill to want get together...with Adam, Noelle's unrequited love.
Secrets, old emotions and the lure of England keep Noelle's head spinning. What will she do?
From the first page, the reader will be hooked into wanting to know more, about everything!
The female lead, Noelle, is strong, independent, talented and brave, the perfect woman anyone above sixteen will want to read a book about. Joy is an up-front, slightly mystical figure, a main character, even though she's dead through the entire story, save flashbacks.
It's a novel about life, death, love, regret, longing and art. The painting is so prominent in the story, I consider it a character in itself.
You'll laugh, cry, smile, sigh and have your heart break and mend a million times before the book ends.
One of the best romance stories I've read since Jane Eyre!
Purchase Painting The Moon via:
Barnes and Noble
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1. When / why did you decide to become a writer?
I think it all began with a strong love of reading, very early on. My mother was a schoolteacher and taught me how to read, how to enjoy reading. One of my favorite books to read as a child was L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon series (author of Anne of Green Gables). Emily was a writer. She kept a little notebook and jotted down observations, and I was so enamored of her. Being a writer just sounded terribly exciting and interesting, through her eyes. So, I started keeping a little journal of my own, jotting down observations. And I guess I haven’t really stopped since!
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
Aside from L.M. Montgomery’s books, I also remember reading and re-reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (what a great title), The Cricket in Times Square, Nancy Drew, and A Wrinkle in Time. In adulthood, I’ve leaned heavily toward women’s fiction, and my favorite authors are Anne Tyler, Rosamunde Pilcher, Elin Hilderbrand, and Elizabeth Berg. They never disappoint! Mostly, I admire how they’re able to balance literary with commercial fiction, which is a huge challenge. As a writer, that’s one of my ultimate goals.
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel Painting The Moon?
I think it started with my love for England. I visited the British Isles with my grandmother when I was seventeen, and was quickly intrigued by the culture, the architecture, the countryside, the dreamy British accents. And although I haven’t visited the UK since then (I hope to, someday in the future), those vivid impressions stayed with me all these years. I decided to set a story there, to have an American inherit a cottage in the Cotswolds and see what could happen next. I could instantly visualize some quirky villagers, a first love from Noelle’s past summers in England, and a famous artist aunt who held some family secrets.
4. Were you an artist or have an interest in art?
My grandmother and mother are both wonderful, talented artists, but unfortunately, I did not inherit that particular gene! I can only draw a stick figure. Oh, and I’m pretty good at drawing a cartoon Snoopy. But I have absolutely no talent for placing anything on a canvas that would be beautiful. I think that’s what interested me so much about art in this novel. I’m fascinated by people who do things I’m not capable of doing well. I’m in awe of other people’s gifts. Sure, any gift or craft must be honed and studied over a lifetime for improvement (just like writing!). But I really do believe that certain people are just born with certain special gifts. And I guess since art wasn’t a gift I personally possess, I was interested to explore it in a personal way. In fact, both my mother and grandmother provided most of the art research in the book—about technique or colors or perspective. It was fun, looking to them for research and artistic advice!
5. If you had the choices Noelle was given, about the gallery and where to reside, what would you do?
Great question! Realistically, I’d probably be too hesitant to make a big life change like she does. Unlike Noelle, I have strong family roots here in Texas, along with a niece and nephews, and it would be way too hard to leave them for long periods of time and move to another country. However, if money and the safety of travel were non-issues, well…perhaps I could be persuaded to live part of the year in Texas and part of the year in England.
6. Will we ever read more stories featuring the characters from Painting The Moon?
Yes! In fact, I’m starting edits for Book 2 very soon. Each new book in the Chilton Crosse series will highlight a different main character. I visualize the series as sort of “spotlighting” a different cottage within the village. For instance, Painting the Moon focuses on Noelle’s cottage (Primrose cottage), while Book 2 will focus on another cottage in the village (Hideaway cottage – where Holly, Frank’s assistant, lives). However, all the minor characters will still make appearances in each book: Frank, Mac, Joe, Mrs. Pickering—and, Noelle and Adam will appear in Book 2, as well, though in a smaller way.
7. Were any of the characters/events inspired by real life?
Aunt Joy’s name came from an actual great aunt of mine. She wasn’t a painter, though—my grandmother, Della, is the artist. So, I guess Joy is sort of a hybrid, but she’s also her “own” character. As for Noelle, well, I have to say she’s got quite a lot of “me” in her. She’s introspective, a deep thinker, hesitant to make bold choices (sometimes too hesitant), with a sensitive heart. Adam isn’t based on a real-life person, but I think the easy-going friendship between Noelle and Adam was directly influenced by friendships I experienced in college with a couple of guy friends—the late-night talks about “life,” the study sessions, the casual banter, etc. I tried to evoke that same kind of relaxed friendship into Adam and Noelle’s relationship, especially during their flashbacks.
8. Can you tell KSR readers what you're working on now?
I’m hoping to work hard on edits for Book 2 before my summer ends (I’m a full-time instructor at a junior college and the new semester starts soon). As well, I’ve already written Book 3 and have started brainstorming Book 4 in the series.
9. Would you like to see Painting The Moon as a film? If yes, what actors would you like to see play your characters?
Love this question! I actually do “cast” my characters in my head as I write a novel, so that I can clearly see their faces and features when I write descriptions. For Painting the Moon, I pictured Noelle as a Reece Witherspoon type (cute, perky, blonde hair, warm personality), and Adam looks exactly like a Welsh actor named Ioan Gruffudd. Boyishly handsome. As far as an actual movie—the Hallmark channel is my “dream” channel. I would probably hyperventilate if one of my novels was ever turned into a Hallmark movie. Their movies seem to fit the tone of my books pretty well. They’re sweet and old-fashioned, with a focus on romance and relationships.
10. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I would love to continue writing and publishing this series. So far, I’m not tired of the characters (probably because I get to explore a different main character each time) and I want to see what happens to them. I also have some ideas for other novels not related to the series.
11. What author, dead or alive, would you love to collaborate with?
Rosamunde Pilcher, my favorite women’s fiction author. Her descriptions are incredible and vivid. Just reading her books raises my own personal writing standards, makes me want to be better. But it probably wouldn’t be collaboration as much as a mentorship. I would love to ask her questions about her writing process and where her inspiration comes from. Of course, we would need to have these mentoring sessions in her homeland of Scotland, or the Cornwall coast, where most of her novels take place.
12. What, above all, would you like readers to take from the story?
Escapism and introspection. I hope my novels provide a temporary escape from a reader’s life, to lift a reader out of daily life struggles or perhaps even tragic circumstances, just for a while (that’s what books always do for me!). I also hope my books will let the reader reflect on her own life, her own choices and relationships, her past, etc. To me, that would mean that the reader has personalized the novel, that she connected with the main character and is living her own story through Noelle. Also, with this particular novel, a reader’s connection might involve the “what if” questions of a love unresolved or unrequited. If a reader looks at a character and wonders what she, herself, would do in that situation, I feel like my goal has been reached—that the reader has become absorbed in the story.
13. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
Hard to imagine, but probably, if I wasn’t writing (or teaching) I’d be a librarian or maybe a counselor. Something else related to literature/books and the human condition.
14. What genres would you like to try your hand at?
I had fun incorporating a bit of mystery/suspense into Painting the Moon, and as a kid, I enjoyed writing “detective” short stories, so probably something close to a real suspense novel.
15. Thank you for participating in the interview! Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
Thank you for letting me participate! I had fun answering these creative questions.
Three surprising things about me…
1. I’ve watched Young and the Restless since I was eighteen, sitting in my tiny college dorm room. I don’t think I’ve missed a single episode in twenty-six years! And I keep watching, even when the characters make dumb choices or the writing goes over-the-top and makes me want to pull all my hair out. Y&R is just a habit I can’t let go of.
2. I adore sarcasm from other people or in sitcoms, but I rarely use it, myself, in real life. I’m too concerned that the other person might not “get” the sarcasm and would be offended.
3. I hate seafood! I know it’s really good for me, but ick. I’ve just never liked it. Pasta instead. Give me pasta any day of the week.
Find Traci Borum online via:
Red Adept Publishing
Amazon Author Page
Facebook (LIKE page)