“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
~ Toni Morrison
Taking Toni Morrison’s lead, though girl-meets-girl is definitely the central aspect of my latest romance, It’s Not a Date, I hope to deliver something different than a formulaic love story. Other novels can follow a character who has decided not to open her heart again because she was hurt by love, or a serial seducer looking for a new conquest who has just met her match, etc. For me, as Toni said, since those aren’t the only books I want to read, I write.
I wanted to bring to life a character who’s stymied in her personal life because she’s the one who has hurt others and doesn’t want to continue the pattern.
I also wanted to incorporate some real-world issues many of us face: sexism in the workplace, challenges related to caring for an elderly relative with declining mental faculties, and whether or not to forgive someone for a great hurt they caused. I also wanted to cover the importance of being kind, which in this age of anonymous, mean-spirited Internet commentary, is more and more crucial.
Yes, we’re following the story of two people falling in love, but they’re also dealing with other life hurdles. We appreciate their journey all the more because of the humor and compassion they use to get through the rough times and eventually to each other, helped along by quick-witted friends who make them laugh along the way.
The Lesbian Reading Room said of my second novel, “This starts like any traditional romance; clashes, obstacles and differences to the fore. But as it progresses the characters deepen, the plot thickens and it becomes so much more than ‘just’ a romance.” That’s what I’m aiming for as well with It’s Not a Date, and you, dear reader, will have your own opinion as to whether I’ve succeeded.
Kade, one of my main characters in It’s Not a Date, is a smart and demanding business leader who requires strict adherence to punctuality as a result of traumatic events in her youth. She’s a planner who doesn’t cope well when things veer off schedule. She’s the one who fears that she will hurt the people she loves because she’s done it before.
Jen is a first-time CEO of a struggling startup that’s behind schedule and running out of cash. If she can’t quickly get the product where it needs to be, her company won’t be able to raise more money from investors and it will be forced to shut down. The company helps match caregivers with aging loved ones needing care, a problem Jen has experienced first-hand with her grandmother.
These women are ultimately compelled to work together to solve the problems facing Jen’s company, but when they first meet en route to a conference on Maui, they’re strangers, away from the demands of home and work, and their connection is immediate. Jen first spies Kade at the rental car counter after Kade’s efforts to procure transportation are foiled. From Chapter One:
As she signed where indicated and tried to take in the rest of his instructions, Jen heard snippets of the brunette’s increasingly voluble conversation with the other clerk. She gleaned that this was the last inbound flight of the night, no cars were available without a reservation, and that, yes, the woman could speak with her manager, but she’d have to return in the morning when he was on duty. The brunette said something about taxis and bum-fucked Egypt, then sliced her palm through the air as if to strike her outburst from the record. She left with a curt “thank you” and marched back toward the terminal.
Jen grabbed the proffered key and tugged her roller bag, practically running to catch up to the woman. “Excuse me,” she called twice, louder the second time, and the woman stopped and looked up from her phone.
Oh, those eyes up close—intelligent and appraising, sparkling with flecks of forest and autumn. Jen struggled to catch her breath and blamed it on the forty-foot dash. “Would you like a ride?” Jen seemed to catch the woman off guard because she studied Jen as if she were trying to complete a puzzle. Jen replayed the past few moments and knew the woman spoke English, so she tried again. She dangled the key fob. “I’m happy to take you wherever you’re going, or at least drop you at a hotel where you can call a cab or have one meet you.”
“Why would you do that?”
It was Jen’s turn to be confused. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I’m a stranger you just met in an airport. I could be anyone,” the woman said, seeming aghast.
Jen laughed. “What are you going to do? Steal my underwear?”
The woman again looked perplexed. Then something shifted, and she smiled. “What kind of underwear?”
Oh my God. Jen wasn’t expecting that. Her cheeks heated. The woman could be playing off the idea of filching some fancy name-brand lingerie, or she could be flirting big-time. Jen extended her hand. “Jen Spencer.” They were similar in stature, and Jen realized it was the woman’s carriage that made her seem taller than her own five-nine.
The woman hiked her carry-on bag up on her shoulder before taking Jen’s hand. “Kade Delaney. And a ride would be great, thank you.” The greeting lasted several seconds longer than was customary, neither interested in ending the contact.
“You’re welcome. We’re this way.” Jen led them to the designated car.
As Jen adjusted the seat and mirrors, she asked, “Where to?”
Kade removed her laptop from its protective sleeve and flipped it open. “I’m at the Ritz-Carlton, but I’m happy to be dropped off wherever you’re going.”
“You’re not attending the Women in Tech conference there, are you?”
“I am. I take it you are too?”
“Which panel are you on?” With the confidence Kade projected, she probably wasn’t merely an attendee.
Kade turned her head and met Jen’s gaze. “I’m not on one. Are you?”
Jen put the car in drive. “Yes, and I’m trying not to freak out about it.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Miranda McArthur’s on my panel.”
Kade eyed Jen and waited.
Jen filled her in. “CEO of HipSpot.”
“The fastest-growing online travel company in the world?”
“I know who she is, but I don’t see why that should freak you out.”
“And you’re not?”
“You don’t even know me.”
“Not true, Jen Spencer. I know you show kindness to strangers in airports, you’re in high tech, and you wear underwear. Or at least you pack it. Of course, I’d have to…see it, to know for sure.”
“On?” Jen posed the question to get a better idea of the signals she was reading.
“You’re in the driver’s seat.”
Jen stopped the car before they exited the parking lot. “You’re flirting with me.”
Kade raised her hands as if in surrender. “You’re the one who mentioned underwear. I was merely staying on theme.”
“Sorry. I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable.” Kade’s expression shuttered, returning to that of the woman who was told no cars were available.
Jen reached over and closed the lid of the laptop. “I rather prefer it.” She gently laid the device on the floor behind Kade.
The glint of playfulness immediately returned to Kade’s eyes. “I had planned on working during the ride.”
Jen grinned and turned onto the road. “How’s that working out for you?” Jen was pleased to see that Kade’s harrumph was for effect. Kade didn’t seem to be in any hurry to retake the computer.
“What’s the panel on?” Kade asked.
“Raising venture capital.”
Kade smiled wryly. “I hope they’ll be serving coffee beforehand.”
“I know, right? I’m only on it because I recently landed seed financing for my company and one of my investors recommended me. The panelists run the gamut of fund-raising experience, and I’m the newbie.”
“What time’s your panel?”
“Right before the keynote speech tomorrow. Seven, I think?”
Jen laughed at the surprise in Kade’s voice. “Yes. P.M. The agenda’s in my purse, if you want to grab it. Why?”
Kade snatched Jen’s purse from the backseat and immediately found the folded pamphlet. She indicated the light above her seat. “Will it bother you if I turn this on?”
“Not at all.”
Kade scanned the document. Then she started to shake her head. She returned the pages to Jen’s purse and turned off the light.
Jen could still see her shaking her head, her silhouette outlined by the streetlights. “What’s wrong?”
“My assistant misled me about the timing of some of these panels. I thought the main networking and conference events were in the morning, followed by breakout sessions. I thought I’d be on a plane by afternoon.”
“Time for a new assistant?” Jen suggested.
Kade laughed. “It’s complicated.”
“Isn’t accurate calendaring one of the basics of the job?”
“She thinks she’s looking out for me.”
“By screwing with your schedule?”
“By forcing me to take a day off. Now I have nothing on my plate until tomorrow night, my colleagues think I’m out-of-pocket so they won’t be pinging me, and I can’t turn around and go home in the meantime. Who knows? Maybe she thought I’d share a hotel shuttle and meet a new friend, or rent a car and go on an excursion. Make me wing it to see what shakes loose.”
“In her defense, it is Maui.” Jen heard Kade take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Is it really so bad, having a day to enjoy one of the most beautiful places on earth?”
“I like routine. Schedules. I’m not much of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal.”
“Well, you’re in luck, because I excel at spontaneity and can work with boundaries. How about this? If you’re not completely beat by the time we get to the Ritz, let’s grab a seat at one of the poolside bars, enjoy a cocktail, and, so that your assistant approves, talk about anything other than work. Then tomorrow morning, if you’re not already sick of me, we’ll meet for breakfast at a time you designate, and we’ll come up with a plan for the day that involves plenty of sunshine and beautiful women.”
“You’re not some sort of chaperone my assistant hired to keep me from working, are you?”
“Are you really that pathetic?”
“What kind of work do you do that you have to be constantly doing it? I mean, I’m a CEO and I take time off. Whole weekends, occasionally.”
“Not that I don’t want to delve deeper into the incredible laziness you just copped to—because, wow, weekends—but it might color what you think of me, and I’m enjoying my status as”—here Kade punctuated the air with her hands as if reading from a news scroll—“‘woman in technology who fails to use technology to read conference agenda.’ And by the way, how did you get a rental car?”
“It was the craziest thing. Are you ready? It’s called…” Jen took her time as if revealing a major secret. “A reservation. And nice deflection on the work question.”
“Do you really think it would change my mind about you if I knew what you did?”
“Does Miranda McArthur really intimidate you?”
“Oh, shit. You’re not Miranda McArthur, traveling under a pseudonym, are you?”
“You think I run a company that excels at helping consumers make travel plans, yet I can’t even rent a car?”
“Fair point. I don’t know what any of these business leaders look like. I know a lot of names, but if they’re not Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, I wouldn’t know them from Adam. You’re making me nervous.”
“And you drive like my mother.”
“A woman who has obviously done a few things right, so I’ll accept that as a compliment, Miss Avoid the Subject.”
Kade pointed toward the pedals. “When she talks, she tends to pull her foot off the gas, like she has difficulty multitasking.”
“I do not take my foot off the…Wow, I totally do that.”
“That’s okay. It’s just that much longer until the cocktail you’ve promised me.”
“So you’re game even though having drinks with a stranger wasn’t on tonight’s agenda?” Jen was tempted to ask Kade for her assistant’s address, so she could send a thank-you note.
“I’m taking a walk on the wild side.”
Jen reached for Kade’s hand and squeezed it softly. “It looks good on you.”
“It’ll look better once you have a few drinks.”
Jen appreciated Kade’s self-deprecating humor. It gave her a kind of accessibility Jen wouldn’t have necessarily pegged her for when she first saw her strut to the rental-car line. “If I have a few drinks, I’ll be under the table.”
“Perfect. I like when people look up to me,” Kade quipped.
Jen glanced at Kade. “I appreciate your covert strategy to take my mind completely off my panel tomorrow.”
Kade grinned. “Let’s not limit ourselves. Your mind doesn’t have to be the only thing to be taken completely off. Should we return to the underwear conversation?”
Jen smiled and shook her head. “What panel?”
Heather Blackmore was a Goldie award finalist in the Debut Author category and Runner Up for Best Lesbian Contemporary Fiction and Best Lesbian Debut in the Rainbow Awards for her romance, Like Jazz. Heather works in finance for SF Bay Area technology startups. In a counter-intuitive move, she got her MSA and CPA with the goal of one day being able to work part-time so she could write. The right and left sides of her brain have been at war ever since. Visit http://www.heatherblackmore.com.
It’s Not a Date is now available from Bold Strokes Books and will be available through Amazon and other distributors in mid-March.