Join me in welcoming Linda Rettstatt to Highlighted Author.
Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Brownsville, a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania. My first job after high school was working as a clerk for the local newspaper. The news editor knew I wanted to write and, when a local theater group formed, he gave me the opportunity to review plays. I’m sure it was a task no one else in the newsroom wanted, but I gladly accepted. I even got to write one human interest story with a ‘by’ line. I formed my own performing music group while in high school and continued to pursue a semi-professional music career for the following twelve years (semi-professional = playing for the love of the music, not the pay :). I spent much of my adult life in Pennsylvania until ten years ago when I relocated to NW Mississippi to work for a non-profit social service organization. I have a master’s degree in social work and have worked in both the clinical and general social work areas. I share an apartment with my companion, Binky, a tuxedo cat I adopted from a shelter two years ago. She now has me mostly trained.
When did you decide to be writer?
In high school, my secret dream was to move to Westport, Connecticut, rent someone’s small attic rooms, and write the great American novel. Yes, I had the plan all worked out in detail. But I was seventeen, didn’t have the encouragement or self-confidence and, well, at that age, what would I have to write about? I poured my creative passion into music and composing. And I dabbled in nature photography. But I never let go of the dream to write a novel. Fast forward years later (no, I won’t say how many) to 2004. I was working here in Mississippi as a therapist. I had a day when all of my scheduled appointments either didn’t show up or called to cancel. I was sitting in the receptionist’s office complaining of having nothing to do. She said, “Why don’t you go to your office and write that book you keep talking about?” So…I did. It was like popping the cork on a shaken bottle of bubby. The words erupted and just kept flowing. I’ve not stopping writing since.
You have several published works that deal with inner struggles and triumphs. What would you say is your inspiration for such touching stories?
In my early adult years, I got away from reading–something I had loved as a child. When I started to read for pleasure again, I picked up a novel by Elizabeth Berg. And I immediately fell in love with women’s fiction. Add to this my background in clinicial social work and my experience as a therapist, much of which involved working with women who were depressed, defeated, or had somehow gotten lost in their own lives. I love stories in which a woman digs deep inside to unearth the strength of spirit she needs to overcome some obstacle or life event that stands in her way.
If you could choose one, which would be your favorite? Your favorite character?
There is something to each of my books and my characters that I love. But right now my own favorite is Rylee Morgan in Shooting Into the Sun. Maybe I’m drawn to Rylee because, in some ways, she reminds me a bit of my younger self. I love the way Rylee is forced to examine her rules for life and to make new choices that promise happiness. I guess what I love, too, is that Rylee is willing to admit to being wrong in order to claim the life she truly wants.
Tell us a little more about Next Time I’m Gonna Dance.
Next Time I’m Gonna Dance, which has finaled for a 2011 EPIC e-book award, is a story borne solely out of a title. I got to thinking one day about regrets and, not being much of a dancer myself, I thought, “If I get to come back in another life, next time, I’m gonna dance.” Well…that line demanded a book. I’ve had friends and acquaintances who were affected by breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I imagined that, if I was ever in that position, I’d examine my life and thing about my own regrets. Next Time I’m Gonna Dance became the story of Emmie Steele as she is told she has breast cancer for the second time. Facing a second mastectomy, Emmie considers the things in her life that she regrets. She could regret her marriage to a man who walked away from her while she was undergoing chemotherapy after her first surgery. But, oddly enough, she mostly regrets never having learned to dance.
Emmie is supported by her four best friends from childhood: Lynn, a teacher and Emmie’s sister-in-law; Brett, an attorney; Chris, a nun; and Polly, the wild child of their group and a writer for a New York-based soap opera. She also has the attention of Sonny who was in love with Emmie in high school. He’s never married and now comes around to offer assistance–cutting the grass or clearing the snow, rescuing Emmie when her car breaks down, cooking her dinner, and then…dessert.
Next Time I’m Gonna Dance is a story about the power of a woman’s determination and spirit, the bonds of female friendship, and second chances for love and happiness.
Could you give us a peek at what you’re working on now?
I’m working on something much lighter right now–a Christmas-themed romantic comedy as yet untitled. It’s about M.J. Rich, an up and coming TV news reporter who gets stranded in the Philadelphia airport on her way home to Pittsburgh from South Carolina to spend Christmas with her family. Brady Cameron, a fellow traveler on his way to spend Christmas with a bottle of Chivas Regal at a ski lodge in Pennsylvania, suggests they share a car rental since they’re basically going the same way–west. The story follows M.J. and Brady, virtual strangers, after they get stuck for two days in an abandoned mountain cabin. M.J. regales Brady with stories of her family and what Christmas will be like at home. When she learns he will be spending Christmas alone, she invites him to her house for the holidays. But when they finally arrive at the Ryczek house, nothing and no one is as M.J. remembered or described–right down to the cockatiel that shares her former bedroom with M.J. and her great aunt Sophie. M.J. is just beginning to like Brady when she finds out his corporation is bidding to take over the TV station for which she works in Charleston–a fact he somehow neglected to mention.
Is there anything you’d like to share with your readers and fellow authors?
For fellow authors, you already know what a tough business this can be. We can make it easier by being kind and supportive of one another. As you move up the scale, don’t forget to offer a hand to those coming up behind you. For readers, my stories are only as good as any of you thinks they are. We authors love to hear from those who read our books, so don’t ever hesitate to write and share your thoughts about my stories.
And, remember: “Life’s an adventure, wear comfortable shoes.”
Where can we find you?
My web address is: http://www.lindarettstatt.com/
My blog address is: http://www.onewomanswrite.blogspot.com/
My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much, Charlene, for having me here today. It was truly my pleasure.
Next Time I’m Gonna Dance
(This scene takes place after Emmie has lost her hair and her four best friends had their heads shaved as a sign of their solidarity with her. Emmie is coming close to finishing chemo and is able to look toward the future.)
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to celebrate life’s moments as they come. Let’s have music and room to dance.”
“Dance? You don’t dance!”
“Correction…I didn’t dance. I’m gonna learn to dance, and you’re gonna teach me.”
That evening Emmie pushed and Polly pulled on the kitchen table to move it out of the way. Polly set the CD player on the counter and went through Emmie’s collection of music. “Did you stop listening to music in the eighties?”
“I happen to like the music of the eighties. I think I’d make a great disco queen.”
Polly shook her head. “I don’t know about this. I mean, someone has to lead and someone has to follow, and I’m used to following. I think we need a man for this.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll do fine without a man. You just have to think in opposites to lead. Even I know that.”
“Oh, yeah, that’ll be easy. I’m not sure I can think and dance at the same time. Okay, here goes. Let’s start out with something slow.”
Polly turned on the music and held up her arms for Emmie to step into them. They fumbled to establish posture until Polly switched her arms around to the lead position. There they were, two nearly bald women, stumbling around the kitchen, with Emmie either stepping on Polly’s feet or turning the wrong way.
As they passed the window, Emmie saw headlights flash in the driveway. She stopped and looked out the door at the red pickup truck. “Oh, my God, it’s Sonny. What’s he doing here at this time of night?”
“Relax. It’s only eight o’clock, and you look fine. Here, let me get your wig.” Polly grabbed the wig and flopped it onto Emmie’s head, slightly askew. She straightened the scarf she had wrapped around her own head.
When Sonny knocked at the door, Emmie opened it, breathless.
He stepped inside and looked at the table pushed to the wall and the open floor space. “Hi. What’s going on here?” he asked, his head cocked slightly to one side, and his eyes fixed on Emmie’s head.
“Dance class,” Polly said, waving her hand in front of her face to cool off.
“What brings you by, Sonny?” Emmie asked, straightening the wig.
“I was on my way home from work. A customer gave me two bottles of this wine, so I thought I’d drop one off for you.”
“You have impeccable timing. We’re planning a celebration, and the wine will be put to good use. What are you doing a week from Saturday?” Polly asked.
“Nothing I know of. What are we celebrating?”
Emmie smiled broadly. “I have one more chemo treatment, and then I’m done. After a few weeks of radiation treatments, I can start back on the road to recovery. Oh, yes, and Wes filed divorce papers. See, all the bad things are coming to an end at once.”
Sonny stammered, “That’s…that’s great news, Em…all of it…I guess.”
“Sonny, do you know how to dance?” Polly asked.
“And you know how to lead, I presume?”
“Good. I’m going to have a drink. Here are some CDs. Pick a song and teach this one how to follow,” she said as she pointed at Emmie. “My feet can’t take anymore. Good luck.” With that, Polly made a gin and tonic and retreated to the living room.
Sonny hit the play button on the CD player and a waltz came on. He went to Emmie, bowed deeply and extended his hand. “May I have this dance?”
She laughed and accepted his hand, letting him pull her into dance position. He was sure easier to follow than Polly had been. Emmie managed to step on his feet a few times, but soon got the hang of it as he gracefully waltzed her around the kitchen. She was breathing hard when the music stopped.
“Are you okay? Do you need to sit for a minute?” he asked.
“No. I’ve done nothing but sit and rest for weeks now. This is fun. Teach me another one.”
Grinning broadly, he changed the CD and a slow dance came on. He took her in his arms, telling her to look at him and let her feet follow.
She tried, but stumbled over his feet. Laughing, he lifted her and placed her feet on top of his.
“Hey, dancing is so much easier than I thought. Why’d I wait so long?”
“You just need the right partner.” His eyes were fixed on hers and warmth spread up her neck.
She slid her feet from his as the song ended, needing to create some space between their bodies. “Thanks, Sonny, but I think I’ve had enough for tonight.”
They sat at the table while Emmie caught her breath.
“I’m glad I stopped by when I did,” Sonny said with a grin.
“I’m glad, too. Polly really can’t lead, and I was worried someone would come by and see the two of us dancing around in here and wonder what was going on. She’s definitely not my type,” Emmie laughed.
Sonny gazed at her, his eyes twinkling. “What is your type?”
Emmie felt a shift in the air between them. She caught her breath. “Well, definitely not female redheads who can’t lead a waltz.”
Polly shouted from the living room, “Hey, I heard that!”
“So, about the dinner I promised you two. How about next week?” Sonny asked.
“Can we wait until after I’m all finished with the chemo? I know it sounds like I’m putting you off, but food tastes like nothing right now.”
“Sure. Whenever you’re ready. Are you up to another dance?”
“I think I’ll stick to the waltz for now, if that’s okay. I’m kind of tired. It was nice of you to stop by. Thanks for the wine.”
Emmie watched with interest as he stood and ran a hand through his thick black hair, pushing the lock that had fallen onto his forehead back into place. Her hand tingled as she imagined doing that very thing.
“I’ll see you next week,” he said, leaning quickly to kiss Emmie’s cheek. “Goodnight, Polly,” he called out as he headed for the door.
“Goodnight, Sonny. Thanks for taking over the lesson,” Polly called back.
“My pleasure,” he called back to Polly, his eyes again fixed on Emmie as he spoke. “Goodnight, Em.”
Emmie sat for a moment, her hand against her cheek, feeling warmth where he’d kissed her. She joined Polly in the living room. “Well, I can waltz now. You were right, all I needed was a man.” Seeing Polly’s smirk, she quickly added, “To lead. I needed a man to lead.”