Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Author Guest Post: Anita Hughes, Author of Monarch Beach

Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Anita Hughes, author of Monarch Beach!

My Writing Mentor 
By Anita Hughes

Actors give their thanks at the Academy Awards, where they reel out as many names as they can before the music and gorgeous models shoo them off the stage. Writers have their dedications and acknowledgments to applaud the people that helped bring their book to fruition. But there is usually one person - a spouse who ate spaghettio's for years - the actor cannot thank enough without causing the wrath of the Oscar producers, and there is often one individual that the author would have to write a whole book about, to tell them how much they value their support. 

For me, that person is my mother. My mother was a copywriter before she had children and my father was a journalist before he became a businessman. Reading and writing were gospel in our house and literary aspirations were encouraged. But my mother didn't just talk the talk, she spent her time and energy helping me achieve my goals.

When I was fourteen I sat down and wrote a novel. I still remember going over the story with my mother, asking her to read each chapter, making the changes she suggested. In those days, children didn't learn how to use a keyboard before they learned how to ride a bicycle. Typing was something you learned with home economics in high school. My mother typed out the whole manuscript and researched publishers. She went to the post office and sent off two hundred pages (photo copied at a local printer) first class mail, to New York. 

Neither of us could have been more surprised and thrilled when I received a revision letter from a famous editor at Harper & Row. But again, my mother surprised me. She didn't make me do the revisions. She let me make the choice between working on the novel and taking part in all important high school activities like cheerleading. She never remonstrated me for not following through. She was proud that I had gotten that far. 

When I was in college, my mother showed me that you can fulfill your dreams later in life. She researched and wrote a diet and nutrition book that was published by Dutton. I still remember going to Walden's Books and seeing the pyramid of my mother's books in the window. She had spent decades that she could have been writing being a wife and mother, but eventually she achieved her goal. (If I do a search, I can still find her Kirkus review!)

My mother died from Alzheimer's six years ago so she will not be able to see the release of my debut novel, Monarch Beach, or learnt that I received a three book deal with St. Martin's Press. The dedication on the front page - to my mother - seems like a small gesture for all that she gave me. But I know that she understands I couldn't have done any of it without her.

About The Author: 

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named "One of Australia's Next Best Writers." (She still has the newspaper clipping).

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley's Masters in Creative Writing program.

Monarch Beach is her debut novel, published by St. Martin's Press and will be released on June 19, 2012. A second novel, Market Street, will be published in April 2013.

She lives in Dana Point, CA with her family, where she interrupts her writing to watch the glorious sunsets.

BUY THE BOOK: Monarch Beach

Book Description: Monarch Beach

Anita Hughes' Monarch Beach is an absorbing debut novel about one woman's journey back to happiness after an affair splinters her perfect marriage and life - what it means to be loved, betrayed and to love again.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her very lovable mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life - and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention ... and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

Book Excerpt: Monarch Beach

                                                 Chapter One

The day my life changed forever started like any other Tuesday. I liked Tuesdays. My appointment book stayed blank on Tuesdays. Sometimes I wondered how the other days filled up so quickly. You’d be surprised how ladies’ auxiliary lunches, PTA committee meetings, and library fund-raising can occupy your time. Not to mention the karate lessons, piano, and chess club Max had after school. Like many stay-at-home moms I was a full-time chauffeur for my son and fund-raiser for his school. Tuesdays were mine. I started the day with a yoga class, usually followed by a fresh strawberry muffin at the Lemon Café. But this Tuesday, the Lemon Café was out of strawberry muffins, so I did something different. I made an unexpected visit to my husband’s restaurant and found him in the back room with his pants down and his legs wrapped around Ursula, his new chef. He tried pulling his pants up before I swung open the door, but it was a glass door. I had seen what I had seen: my tall, dark French husband sticking it to his blond Scandinavian chef. I thought, how cute, they had matching ponytails: Ursula’s was a long blond plait down her back, Andre’s was a short black ponytail I had always found very sexy. Apparently, Ursula did, too. I slammed the glass door so hard I heard it shatter behind me. I jumped in my car and tore away. Black Tuesday changed everything.

I didn’t drive far. My hands were shaking, I was afraid I would lose control of the wheel. While I wanted to kill Andre, and possibly Ursula, I didn’t have a personal death wish. I pulled into the parking lot at the post office, threw my purse under the seat, and started walking. I was still in my yoga clothes, so I looked like any other mother going for a morning hike. I left the parking lot and took long strides till I reached the lake, a walk that usually took me half an hour. That Tuesday I made it in sixteen minutes. I sat on a bench watching the ducks and took deep breaths. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was warm, the sky a pale blue, and beds of purple and white daisies surrounded the lake. I often brought Max here on Saturdays while Andre worked. We tossed stale bread to the ducks. Max threw stones in the water and we would both be quiet so we could hear the “plop” sound when they landed.

That Tuesday the only sound I heard was my own sobs. I sounded like a stuck pig. And I felt like a complete idiot. What a cliché I was. Married for ten years, mother to a fantastic eight-year-old son, never suspecting that when Andre went to the restaurant on Tuesdays to “do the books” he was also doing the chef. 

I tried blaming myself. I should have protested when Andre wanted to hire a female chef. Ursula was a former sous chef at the Palace Hotel Dining Room in Montreux and she specialized in fondue. Andre’s restaurant specialized in fondue: cheese fondue, salmon fondue, chocolate fondue. But if he hadn’t hired Ursula I may have found him in the supply closet with Yvette the hostess, or Marie the cocktail waitress. I couldn’t even blame Ursula. Andre was thirty-five. He had olive skin and green eyes. He looked like a European film star, and he was her boss. Ursula had only been in California for six months. Maybe she thought it was part of the job description. The only person I could blame was Andre. 

I closed my eyes and remembered just a few nights ago, breezing into the restaurant on Andre’s arm on our date night. We had been to the movies and seen The Proposal. I loved romantic comedies where the couple overcame all sorts of obstacles on their path to happiness. We sat in the back of the theater and Andre slung one arm over my shoulder, and played with the hem of my skirt with his free hand. I slapped his hand away, pretending to focus on Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, but I loved Andre’s attention. I loved knowing that after ten years together, he still wanted to put his hand up my skirt. 

I remember seeing Ursula fleetingly while I waited for Andre to give directions to his staff. Now I thought maybe the direction he gave was “kiss me harder,” while I politely discussed the savory flavor of fondue with one of the couples dining in the restaurant. 

                                                          * * * 

My sobs became hiccups and I recalled the last time my life changed in a single day. I was eighteen, and I had arrived home from school to find four envelopes addressed to me on the marble table in my parents’ foyer. 

“Good afternoon, Miss Amanda.” Our housekeeper swept up my backpack. “Your parents had to go out. I prepared a snack for you in the kitchen.” 

“Thanks, Rosemary. I’m not hungry. Please let me know when Mom and Dad come home.” I grabbed the envelopes and climbed the staircase to my bedroom. I sat on my bed looking at the view from the bay window. My bedroom was on the third floor of my parents’ house. My friends rolled their eyes when they came over and called it “the palace” under their breath. It had a full-sized ballroom where my parents held parties with seven-piece orchestras. In the basement there was a separate kitchen and living room for the staff: housekeeper, cook, laundress, gardener. I had the third floor to myself. My bedroom took up half the floor. It had a four-poster bed and a huge desk where I did my drawings. And it had the most amazing view of the San Francisco Bay. On clear days I watched hundreds of boats zip under the Golden Gate Bridge. My father had made his money himself. He wasn’t ashamed to spend it, and I refused to be ungrateful for the luxury that surrounded me. 

I held the envelopes printed with their college insignias and tried to decide which to open first. I hesitated. Should I wait for my parents to come home and open them together? I was their only child, and they were as excited as I was to know where I would spend the next four years. But I didn’t know where they’d gone, or when they’d be back. I opened the envelope from Stanford first. I read the letter carefully. I had been placed on their wait list. I took a deep breath and opened the envelope from Rhode Island School of Design. It was a long letter on dark gray stationery saying I had been accepted. 

I hugged it to my chest. My dream was to be a fashion designer: not a very popular goal at my college prep school. I had to beg my advisor to let me apply to RISD. I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the envelope from UC Berkeley. I had been accepted there as well. Not surprising, since the campus was dotted with benches and playing fields donated by my father. The last envelope was from Parsons in New York. I held it and closed my eyes. For the last two years I had dreamed of attending Parsons and interning for a fashion designer, being in the center of the fashion universe. I slit the envelope and opened my eyes slowly. I was in. I had been accepted at Parsons. I fell back on the bed and looked at my beautiful hand-painted ceiling. I felt my life was lining up perfectly like the gold stars painted on a night sky above me. There was a knock on the door and Rosemary poked her head in. “Excuse me, Miss Amanda. Your mother phoned. Your parents are almost home and they would like you to meet them in the library.” 

I gathered my college letters and ran down the two flights of stairs to the library. I sat in one of my father’s leather wingback chairs and debated how to tell my parents the news. They would hate to see me go across the country, but they would be thrilled. I had inherited my love of fashion from my mother. I spent countless afternoons and weekends as a child sitting in my mother’s closet and sketching her evening gowns. As I grew older, I would take the sketches back to my room and make small changes; erasing a shoulder strap here, adding an ivory bow there, until I created my own fantasy dresses. 

“Amanda showed me a design today that rivals Coco Chanel,” my mother said one evening to the ladies who arrived for a Junior League meeting. 

“Mom, nothing rivals Chanel,” I replied, secretly glowing. 

“Coco Chanel was once a young girl, too.” My mother poured my hot chocolate while the ladies drank tea in fragile porcelain cups. 

After I made polite conversation, and my mother dismissed me with a discreet nod of her head, I ran up to my room and looked at the sketch, wondering if it really did resemble Chanel. I vowed I would sketch and sew, and read and learn everything I could about fashion. One day my label would be found in Neiman’s and Bloomingdale’s and in chic boutiques on Fifth Avenue. 

                                                     * * * 

I clutched my acceptance letters, thinking that day was coming closer, but my parents walked in looking like they had seen the grim reaper. My mother entered the room first. She wore one of my favorite outfits: a pale pink St. John suit with gold cuffs. I looked at her face, usually so artfully made up that she glowed from across a room. Her cheeks were white and her eyes were swollen from crying. 

My father staggered in behind her. He was over six feet tall. He had white hair and his forehead was lined, but he usually moved with the confidence of someone who had come from nothing and created his own empire. That day he looked like an oversized schoolboy: scared and weak and wanting to hide behind his mother’s skirt. 

“I have the best news!” The words popped out of my mouth. 

“Your mother has some news,” my father said softly. 

“It’s not my news.” My mother shot an imploring look at my father. My parents had been married for twenty years. They met late in life: My father was busy building his empire and “forgot” to get married. My mother was a self-described “debutante left on the shelf.” They found each other at a symphony gala and married six weeks later. I could not remember them ever looking crossly at ...

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