Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Ten Beach Road
One thrill that never gets “old” is that moment when a guest post from an author arrives in my email in box. Today’s post was no exception because it comes from popular author Wendy Wax who penned Magnolia Wednesdays, The Accidental Bestseller, and her new release, Ten Beach Road.
I was delighted to read her contribution to Colloquium and learn that we have a shared addiction, although she makes no mention of my favorite show, Real Estate Intervention with Mike Aubrey, in her description of the manner in which the addiction manifests in her life.
Help! Author Addicted to HGTV
My name is Wendy and I’m a Home and Garden Television (HGTV) Addict. I didn’t mean for this to happen. It all started innocently enough, back when I came up with the idea for Ten Beach Road, which just came out May 3rd.
It’s a story about three women—strangers to each other—who lose almost everything in a Ponzi scheme and are left with only co-ownership of a dilapidated beach front mansion. I might have been all right if I hadn’t made the house quite so dilapidated. Or decided that my characters Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford and Nicole Grant would spend a sweat-soaked summer trying to rebuild it – along with their lives.
It was an odd choice for someone who belongs to a family that can’t use tools without requiring medical attention. Being adept at both procrastination and denial, I managed to push this fact out of my mind for quite a while, until I reached the spot in the story where the renovation had to begin.
Panicked, I read every book and article I could find with the words “how to” and “fix it” in the title. I grilled everyone I knew who was good with their hands or had a background in carpentry or design. If they owned a power tool, I wanted to know them.
I accosted the contractor husband of a woman from my long ago Mommy & Me group (that son is in college now) and the interior designer friend who lives down the street. I begged an old family friend for an introduction to a neighbor she’d never met who had restored a house like the one I had in mind.
People began to run when they saw me coming, but by then it didn’t matter because one night while flipping channels I came across Mike Holmes righting construction wrongs on HGTV. I couldn’t tear my gaze from his crew cut hair and bare-armed overalls. I was completely sucked in by the people whose homes he’d saved from shoddy (and often dangerous) workmanship. I cried along when they sobbed out their gratitude.
Then I discovered Scott McGillivray and his show Income Property, in which he renovates homeowner’s basements into fabulous apartments that they can rent out for enough money to live practically free. I, myself, would move into any of these apartments in a heartbeat and I can completely understand why Scott’s nickname is “McGilli-babe!”
For a while I was able to pretend that it was all about the research. After all, where else could I learn terms like ‘knob and tube wiring,’ ‘condensate drain’ and ‘substrate?’ But then my dependency worsened. I got hooked on Property Virgins and My First Place. Then came House Hunters and House Hunters International, which appear so quickly back-to-back that sometimes I didn’t even realize one show was over and another had begun. Then it was Curb Appeal, Dear Genevieve, The Antonio Treatment, Cash and Cari. And my new favorite — even though very little construction is involved — Selling New York.
I inhaled each new program; I just couldn’t get enough. My husband of twenty-five years begged me to stop, but I couldn’t. He hid the remote, but I always found it. He claims I murmured the names Scott and Mike in my sleep.
It’s getting difficult to claim “research” during my HGTV marathons now that Ten Beach Road is on bookstore shelves. I’m considering writing a sequel so that I can use all the excess information I’m absorbing and so that I can keep watching. Even though my husband and I now watch TV at different times and in different rooms.
The truth is, what I’m really addicted to is watching other people’s rooms and homes (and lives) get fixed. It’s like having ongoing permission to peek into other people’s windows. Only now I know exactly what kind of windows I’m peeking through. And exactly which tools I’d need to repair or install them.
Wendy Wax grew up in St. Pete Beach, Florida. As a child, she was a voracious reader who loved Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. After studying journalism at the University of Georgia, she returned to Florida and earned her degree from the University of South Florida. She worked in Tampa at the local PBS affiliate, behind and in front of the camera. She hosted Desperate & Dateless, matchmaking radio show and The Home Front, a national magazine format show.
She had two young sons — a toddler and an infant — when she decided to pursue writing. She says, “I’m still not certain why I felt so compelled to write my first novel at that particular time, but that first book took forever.” She is now the successful author of seven published novels, including the just-released Ten Beach Road, the first in which she use hers hometown as the primary setting.
For the past fourteen years, Wendy has lived in Atlanta with her husband and children. When not writing, she enjoys speaking to writer’s groups and book clubs . . . and “continues to devour books.”
An excerpt from Ten Beach Road
Wall Street Weekly
NEW YORK—Federal investigators raided the offices of Malcolm Dyer, head of Synergy Investments in New York City this morning. Dyer is suspected of conducting an elaborate Ponzi scheme, similar to that employed by Mr. Madoff, and of bilking some three hundred clients of more than three hundred million dollars. Investors, who believed their money was being put in bank-secured CDs with double-digit yields, were, in fact, funding Mr. Dyer’s lavish lifestyle, which included a private jet, a seventy-eight-foot motor yacht, and homes in Westchester, Palm Springs, Palm Beach, Florida’s Gulf Coast, and the Caribbean island where the alleged securitizing bank was allegedly located.
For at least five years, investors did receive the promised returns, which were apparently paid out of successive investors’ deposits, rather than the nonexistent CDs. When clients, faced with a faltering economy and plummeting stock prices, requested their principal back, the scheme was uncovered.
Although investigators have seized records and frozen all of Mr. Dyer’s known accounts and assets, the majority of the missing money is assumed to be offshore. Dyer’s whereabouts are unknown.
Though she was careful not to show it, Madeline Singer did not fall apart when her youngest child left for college. In the Atlanta suburb where she lived, women wilted all around her. Tears fell. Antidepressants were prescribed.
Her friends, lost and adrift, no longer recognized themselves without children to care for. A collective amnesia descended, wiping out all the memories of teenaged angst and acts of hostility that had preceded their children’s departures, much as the remembered pain of childbirth had been washed away once the newborn was placed in their arms.
Madeline kept waiting for the emptiness of her nest to smite her. She loved her children and had loved being a stay-at-home mother, but while she waited for the crushing blow, she took care of all the things that she’d never found time for while Kyra and Andrew were still at home. Throughout that fall while her friends went for therapy, shared long liquid lunches, and did furtive drive-bys and drop-ins to the high school where they’d logged so many volunteer hours, Madeline happily responded to her children’s phone calls and texts, but she also put twenty years’ worth of pictures into photo albums. Then she cleaned out the basement storage unit and each successive floor of their house, purging and sorting until the clutter that had always threatened to consume them was finally and completely vanquished.
After that she threw herself into the holidays and the mad rush of shopping and cooking and entertaining, trying her best not to let the free-falling economy dampen the family festivities. Andrew came home from Vanderbilt and Kyra, fresh out of Berkeley’s film school and two months into her first feature film shoot, arrived in the first flush of adulthood and once again became the center of the known universe.
Pushing aside daydreams of the projects she’d undertake once they were gone again, Madeline fed her children and their friends, made herself available when their friends weren’t, and didn’t even react to the fact that she was barely an appendage to their lives. Steve, who loved the trappings of a family Christmas with the ferocity of an only child, seemed worried and distracted, but when she raised the subject he found a way to change or avoid it.
While basting the turkey on Christmas Day, Madeline realized that she was more than ready for her husband to go back to the office and for her children to go back to their new lives so that she could finally begin her own.
On this first day of March, the house was once again blissfully quiet. There was no television. No music. No video game gunfire or crack of a bat. No texts coming in or going out with a ding. No refrigerator opening or closing. No one—not one person—asking what was for dinner, when their laundry would be done, or whether she had a spare twenty.
Standing in the center of Kyra’s vacant bedroom, Madeline inhaled the quiet, held it in her lungs, and let it soak into her skin. Her nest was not only empty, it was totally and completely organized. It was time for her “new” life to begin.
Not for the first time, she admitted something might be wrong with her. Because the silence that so alarmed her friends sent a tingle of anticipation up her spine. It made her want to dance with joy. Go hang gliding. Cure cancer. Learn how to knit. Write the great American novel. Or do absolutely nothing for a really long time.
Her life could be whatever she decided to make of it.
Throwing open the windows to allow the scents of an early spring to fill the room, Madeline mentally converted the space into the study/craft room she’d always dreamed of. She’d put a wall of shelves for her books and knickknacks here. A combination desk and worktable there. Maybe a club chair and ottoman for reading in the corner near the window.
Madeline entertained herself for a time measuring the windows for a cornice that she might just make herself. This afternoon she could go to the fabric store and see what looked interesting. Maybe she’d hit some of her favorite antique stores and see about a worktable and a club chair that she could re-cover.
For lunch she made a quick sandwich and then sat down at the kitchen table to read through the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Steve’s Wall Street Journal, and the local weekly. She was in the middle of a story about yet another financial advisor who’d absconded with his unsuspecting clients’ money when the phone rang—an especially shrill sound in the cocoon of silence in which she was wrapped.
“Mrs. Singer?” The voice was female, clipped, but not unfriendly. “This is St. Joseph’s calling.”
Madeline’s grip on the phone tightened; she braced for a full-body blow. “A Mrs. Clyde Singer was brought in about thirty minutes ago. She was suffering from smoke inhalation and a gash on her forehead. We found this number listed as emergency contact on the file from her last visit.”
“Smoke inhalation?” Madeline hovered near her chair, trying to get her thoughts in order. “Is she all right?”
“She’s resting now, but she’s been through quite a lot, poor thing. There was a kitchen fire.”
“Oh, my God.” Madeline turned and raced upstairs, carrying the phone with her. Last month her mother-in-law had fallen in the bathroom and been lucky not to break anything. At eighty-seven, living alone had become increasingly difficult and dangerous, but Edna Singer had refused to consider giving up her home and Steve had been unwilling to push his mother on it. Madeline got the room number and a last assurance that the patient looked a bit beat up but would be fine. “It’ll probably take me about twenty-five minutes to get there.”
Exchanging her shorts for a pair of slacks and slipping her feet into loafers, she called Steve’s cell phone as she clattered down the front stairs. After leaving a voice mail with the pertinent details, Madeline headed for the garage, stopping only long enough to look up Steve’s office number, which she so rarely called she hadn’t even programmed it into her cell phone. Adrienne Byrne, who’d sat in front of Steve’s corner office at the investment firm for the last fifteen years, answered. “Adrienne?” Madeline said as the garage door rumbled open. “It’s Madeline. Can you put me through to Steve?”
There was a silence on the other end as Madeline yanked open the car door.
“Hello?” Madeline said. “I hate to be short, but it’s an emergency. Edna is at St. Joseph’s again and I need Steve to meet me there.”
Madeline slid behind the steering wheel, wedged the phone between her ear and shoulder, and put the minivan in reverse.
“Did you try his cell phone?” Adrienne’s tone was uncharacteristically tentative.
“Yes.” Maddie began to back down the driveway, her mind swirling with details. How badly damaged was Edna’s kitchen? Should she have Steve go to the hospital while she checked the house? “It went right to voice mail. Isn’t he in the office? Do you know how to reach him?”
There was another odd pause and then Adrienne said, “Steve doesn’t work here anymore.”
Madeline’s foot found the brake of its own accord. The car jerked to a stop. “I’m sorry? Where did you say he was?”
“I don’t know where he is, Madeline,” the secretary said slowly. “Steve doesn’t work here anymore.”
Madeline sat in the cul-de-sac, trying to absorb the words she’d just heard.
“I haven’t seen Steve since he was laid off. That was at the beginning of September. About six months ago.”
Madeline drove to the hospital and then had no idea how she got there. Nothing registered, not the street signs or the lights or the bazillion other cars that must have flown by on Highway 400 or the artery off it that led to the hospital parking lot. The entire way she grappled with what Adrienne had told her and Steve had not. Laid off six months ago? Not working? Unemployed?
At the information desk, she signed in and made her way down the hall to Edna’s room. There were people there and noise. A gurney rolled by; a maintenance worker mopped up a distant corner of the hallway. She sensed movement and activity, but the images and sounds were fleeting. Nothing could compete with the dialogue going on in her head. If Steve didn’t have a job, where did he go every day after he put on his suit and strolled out the door with his briefcase? More important, why hadn’t he told her?
In the doorway to her mother-in-law’s room, Madeline paused to gather herself. Edna looked like she’d been in a fight. A bandage covered more than half of her forehead. Her lip was split and her cheekbone was bruised. The eye above it looked puffy.
“Gee,” Madeline said, “I’d like to see the other guy.”
“The other guy is the kitchen table and the tile floor.” Edna jutted out her chin. “Where’s Steve?”
Good question. “I don’t know. But I left him a message that you were here.”
Edna’s chin quivered. They both knew Madeline was a poor substitute for Edna’s only child. “What happened?” Madeline asked. “How did the fire start?”
Edna dropped her gaze. Her fingers, which had become as knobby and spare as the rest of her, clutched the sheet tighter. “I don’t know. I was cooking . . . something. And then I . . . something must have gone wrong with the stove. Where’s Steve?”
“I’m here, Mama.” Steve swept into the room and moved swiftly to the bed where he took one of his mother’s hands in his. “Lord, you gave me a scare. Are you all right?”
“Yes, of course,” Edna said, her trembling lips turning up into a brave smile. Edna Singer tolerated her daughter-in-law, and seemed to enjoy her grandchildren, but she worshipped the son who, at the age of twelve, had become all she had left when his father died.
Madeline watched her husband soothe his mother and tell her that everything would be all right, but it was like watching a stranger. They’d known each other for thirty years and been married for twenty-five of them. They had two children, a home, a life. And he had failed to mention that he wasn’t working?
She looked up and realized that they were waiting for her to say something.
“I just told Mama that when I leave here I’ll check her house and make sure it’s secure. And that tomorrow when she’s released, she needs to come stay with us so we can keep an eye out for her and fuss over her for a while.”
Madeline nodded. Really, she couldn’t think of any words besides, “Where have you been going every day? How could you not tell me you lost your job?” and the all-encompassing, “What in the world is going on?”
Madeline stepped closer, appalled at how natural Steve sounded. She wanted to reach up and grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shake. “Will you be able to get away from the office?” she asked. “If it’s a problem, I could pick your mama up.”
“Nope,” he said all casual, as if he wasn’t lying once again. “There’s nothing pressing on the calendar.”
Madeline grasped the bed rail to steady herself as Steve fussed over his mother. She felt brittle, like Edna’s bones; one wrong move and she might snap. As she studied her husband, she tried to understand how the person she thought she knew best could be so unfathomable. He had lied to her. Every day when he got up with his alarm, showered and dressed, went through the same old morning routine, and left the house as if he were going to the job he didn’t have, had been one more lie.
The question, of course, was, why? Why not just tell her, why not share the loss of this job like she’d assumed they’d shared everything else for the last quarter of a century?
Her hand shook. Dropping it to her side, she told herself not to panic and definitely not to assume the worst, though she couldn’t actually think of a good or positive explanation for Steve having kept this little bombshell to himself.
Once again she noticed a silence and felt Steve’s gaze on her. She looked into the wide-set gray eyes that she’d always considered so warm and open, the full lips that were bent upward and stretched so easily into a smile. For the first time she noticed a web of fine lines radiating out from those eyes and grooves, like parentheses, bracketing the lips. A deep furrow ran the width of his forehead. When had all these signs of worry appeared, and how had she missed them?
“So, I’ll stay with Mama for a while,” Steve said, dismissing her. “Then I’ll run by her house to make sure it’s locked up and maybe pick up some things she’ll want at our house.”
Madeline wanted to drag him out into the hall and demand the truth, but the image of hissing out her hurt and anger in the hospital hallway held the words in check.
“Okay.” Madeline stepped forward to drop a dutiful kiss on her mother-in-law’s paper-thin cheek, keeping the bed between herself and Steve, certain that if he touched her she would, in fact, snap. “You get some rest now and feel better.”
On the way out of the hospital she focused on her breathing. “Just stay calm,” she instructed herself. “When he gets home you’ll tell him that you know he lost his job and ask for an explanation. He must have a good reason for not telling you. And surely he has some kind of plan. Just ask for the truth. That’s all. Everything will be okay as long as you know what’s going on and you’re in it together.”
This sounded eminently reasonable. For the time being she needed to push the hurt and sense of betrayal aside. They were not paupers—Steve was an investment advisor and had built a large cushion over the years for just such an eventuality. They could survive this. And Steve was highly qualified and well respected. Maybe he’d just needed some time off and now he could start looking for a new position. Trafalgar Partners wasn’t the only investment firm in Atlanta.
She’d agreed to “for better or for worse.” She was no hothouse flower who couldn’t deal with reality. Once again, her hurt and anger rose up in her throat, nearly choking her, and once again she shoved it back.
As she drove the minivan through the crush of afternoon traffic, Madeline contemplated the best way to handle the situation; she even thought about what wine might complement this sort of conversation and what she might serve for dinner. She’d just tell him that she loved him and that she would stand by him no matter what. As long as he respected her enough to tell her the complete and unvarnished truth.
It was only later that she would remember that the truth did not always set you free. And that you had to be careful what you wished for, because you might actually get it.