I had a goal of writing deeper emotion. To see if I could make readers go from laughter to tears. So, I wrote For the Love of a Fireman, with two wounded souls. The hero was especially hurt; his co-workers at the fire station had taken to calling him Ice Man. My heroine lost her mother in a car accident a few months earlier, was dealing with a father in the early stages of dementia and was being stalked by an ex-fiancé who had beaten her when she broke off the engagement. Serious stuff, right? I've gotten more reviews and emails from readers who claim they've never laughed so hard the whole way through a book.
Well....that's not what I was aiming for! How did I screw that up?
The truth is I do enjoy starting a book with a humorous scene, for I feel it draws the reader in and makes them like the characters right away. Often the characters tell me how to do it. Barclay, my hero, told me how to write this opening scene of For the Love of a Fireman as an example.
“Quick! What aisle are the douches in? I’ve got three bitches at the beach cottage and they all stink to high heaven.” The broad shoulders of the harried man appeared solid under his faded t-shirt, worn inside out and backward. His pale whiskered stubble was pulled tight by his clenched jaw and tensed lips. The customer practically vibrated with frustration.
“I can’t let them in bed with me smelling like that.” His fingertips tapped a beat of annoyance on the check-out counter. “What is it with females, anyway? Ain’t got the good sense God gave them.”
Molly Devon’s temper flared. Oh, yeah, as if you men are the sharpest knives on humanity’s chopping block.
He brushed his neck, his fingers tangling in the worn tag. He looked down, plucked the material of his shirt and muttered a curse. “Sorry, I grabbed the first top I could find and just yanked it on. He reached back with one hand and jerked it off, trying to set it to rights.
Molly’s Colorado born-and-bred gaze took a skiing trip over the mountains of his hardened pecs and skied down the ridges of his abs. Along his downhill masculine slope, she noticed other things. Skin tanned dark. On his left side, a wide tribal rib tattoo ran from below his armpit to beneath his pants to who knew where. A light tan treasure trail of chest hair thinned at his navel. The waistband of his raggedy jeans barely hung onto the V indent at his hipline created by well-toned obliques.
Sweet Lord, what a girl couldn’t do with…
For Pete’s sake, swallow this mouthful of drool. Stop gawking! Haven’t I learned my lesson? Men are bad news. Not to be believed and never to be trusted.
Firm biceps flexed as he slipped the faded t-shirt, advertising boogie boards, over his torso, tugging it down and shifting his wide shoulders. “Sorry, about that. But, believe me, I’d sooner be home, hammering away, than in here.”
His crass remark jerked her admiring attention to his overconfident square jaw.
Yeah, just give me a hammer, buddy. I’ll pound some sense into your arrogant over-sexed brain.
He leaned toward her. “Well? Where are they?”
The stranger’s bark startled her. With her nerves on edge from her mother’s recent passing, her father’s increasing signs of dementia and Wade’s violent reaction after she broke off their engagement, any perceived threat—no matter how minor or brief—set her insides to trembling. Paranoia had her in its grip for she was sure she’d seen Wade’s battered, dark blue SUV cruising Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Both times she hid, her body having slipped into fear mode.
Molly tussled with her anxieties, scrambling for internal control.
“Ah…” She lifted her index finger to indicate she needed a second or two as she scanned the overhead signs, listing the items stocked in each aisle. Where had she seen the feminine products during her brief new-hire orientation two days ago? Another deep breath and calmness returned, her mind finally chugging into gear.
The customer lifted his blue ball cap with some kind of marine rescue emblem on it, forked his long fingers through straight hair—bleached nearly pale blond by the sun—and resettled the hat. “You do carry Massengill, don’t you? That’s the best brand, according to my research.”
“Ah…” My God, what kind of man researches douches? A man who goes to bed with three women, Molly. Now concentrate.
Two broad hands clasped the edge of the counter. His index finger had a nasty red-rimmed cut on its side. An appealing mixture of sawdust, lime and ginger snagged her attention and, when the man cleared his throat, her gaze snapped upward to lock on a pair of surf green eyes flecked with blue. “Is my question too difficult for you to answer…” he glanced at her nametag, “Molly?”
Oh, this guy has a good tongue lashing coming. Molly sucked in a breath, pulled together a string of insults to hurl at him and then changed her mind. Better to smile while she enjoyed her private opinions of this man-whore, especially since she needed every penny to buy groceries and her father’s medicines. She’d put a big dent in her credit card balance to substitute the laptop her dad had misplaced, along with his wallet and her carryon of her clothes.
Finally the product’s location slipped into place. “You’ll find them in aisle six, on the right.”
The knuckles of his fisted hand rapped once on the counter before he sauntered off.
Big-headed, demanding jerk.
Her gaze settled on the box of chocolate bars calling her name, taunting her. Why did everything she ate have to settle on her ass? Two women strolled in the store wearing shorts that showcased slender, toned thighs and itty-bitty butts. Her thighs were toned, but thick by society’s standards. Unfortunately, the only things slender on her body were her earlobes and toes. Life just wasn’t fair.
Molly was shoving packs of cigarettes into racks behind the register when someone thunked items onto the check-out counter. She pasted on a smile, did a quick pivot and sighed as the grin slid off. Douche-man was back with twelve double packs of Massengill disposables.
“You only had two boxes of the mixable kind.” He read the printing on the box he held, never once sparing her a glance. He tapped the second carton resting on the counter with his cut finger. “Would you mind checking your inventory in the back? I’ll need more.”
“I’m not allowed to leave the register, but I’ll be happy to page our stock boy.”
Douche-man grunted and flipped the package around. “It’s gonna take at least two boxes for Lola. She’s big. Got wide hips. Skinny legs, though. Kinda like a twenty-gallon tank on toothpicks.”
What an ass, talking about his girlfriend like that! Molly sneered and depressed the button on the store’s intercom. “Cruz, could you check our supply of mixable douche powder? I have a man who needs three or four boxes.”
“Make it five or six. And they have to be Massengill, don’t forget. God, I don’t know which girl smells the worst.”
Well, quit putting your nose in their hootchies. Molly cleared her throat and rolled her eyes before depressing the button on the intercom. “Could you make that six boxes of douche powder? Massengill, please, Cruz.” A few snickers floated over from aisle two.
“I can see I’m gonna have a rough night ahead. Maggie Mae hates when I give her a good scrubbing, especially if I get soap in her beady eyes or get too rough with her.” He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger and sighed like a man greatly imposed upon. “God, I hate a whiny bitch.”
Oh, I am so going to belt you.
“Caroline handles her bath pretty well. She likes it rough, especially when I hold her head under the faucet.” He had the audacity to chuckle. “She tries to drink the water, but then she’ll drink most anything.”
She’d have to be drunk to put up with you, buster. You need some serious help.
Cruz hurried to the register, his arms full of boxes. “Here you go, Molly.” He shot the customer a curious glance.
“Thanks. Would you do me one more favor, please?”
The pimply-faced teen’s head bobbed. “Sure.”
“Our customer needs a bottle of peroxide and Neosporin for the cut on his finger. It’s showing signs of infection.” Cruz nodded and hurried back to aisle four.
Douche-man glimpsed at his hand. “Thanks. I do have a first aid kit, but I’ve been too preoccupied with work to take care of it. Ain’t nothing but an infected splinter. Can’t seem to dig deep enough to get to it."
Oh, just give me a machete. I’ll show you how deep a good woman can cut.
He slid his fingertips into the front pocket of jeans, pulling them a little lower on his hips, and she fought to inhale her next breath until he finally tugged out folded bills secured with a silver fire truck money clip. “What’s the damage?”
To your wallet or the self-esteem of those poor women?
After totaling his purchases, Molly handed him his change and six plastic bags. “Hope you get them cleaned up.”
He grunted again. “Sure as hell hope so. Don’t know if I can sleep without the girls laying all over me.”
She planted her hand on her hip. Oh, puh-lease.
He headed for the exit, high-top sneakers clunking the tile floor.
Molly glared at his retreating form. What a piece of macho jerk.
He snapped his fingers and returned. “Where’s the dog toys? They’ll be expecting a treat after I scrub the skunk smell off.”
“Dogs? Dogs!” Had he been talking about dogs all this time?
Douche-man nodded, his blond five o’clock shadow more an eight o’clock sexy scruff. “Yeah. An overweight Black Lab, a beady-eyed Chihuahua and a Collie mix. I’m kinda partial to my girls, but not when they chase skunks and get a good spraying.”
“Skunks? Spraying?” God, I sound like an echo.
“Used to wash them down with tomato juice after being sprayed, but Caroline would lap at the juice and get terrible gas.” He shook his head once. “Couldn’t stand to be around her for days.” He grinned and dimples slashed his cheeks. “So, I researched online and found out about bathing animals in Massengill after encounters with skunks.”
Boy, talk about a miscommunication.
Although I stuck in bits of humor here and there throughout the book, I also thought I wove in moments to take a person's breath away, to play on their sympathies and to make them feel sorry for this man who has lost so many loved ones in his lifetime. Somewhere along the line, I got confused.