Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Santorini Sunset by Claire Croxton: Interview & Excerpt

Contemporary Romance

Caroline Clayton's sister, Gabriella, is getting married . . . to Caroline's former fiance, Albert. Instead of drowning her sorrows in a vat of ice cream, Caroline recruits her sultry co-worker, Raul Sobrevilla, to be her wedding date. Showing up with Mr. Hotter Better Sexier has the desired effect. Both Gabriella and Albert are jealous and Caroline's mother is speechless for the first time in history. Even Caroline's dad is happy with that result. Raul Sobrevilla hired on at Synergy so he could work with the best, Caroline. When she asks him to attend the wedding in Santorini, Greece, he sees it as an opportunity to prove to her that he's her perfect partner both at the office and in the bedroom.

Laurie, thank you so much for this opportunity to chat with you and let your readers know a little more about me. I’m really excited about my newest release, Santorini Sunset, a steamy romance than can be described as Bridget Jones meets The Wedding Date.
Do you use a pen name? If so, how did you come up with it?
Yes, Claire Croxton is my penname. In my past life, I worked as a technical writer in northern Alaska.  When you Google my real name, my work with rural Alaska sanitation issues pops up. For some reason, I didn’t think that was the best association for a romance author. So, I came up with a pseudonym that combined variations of my grandmothers’ names. When I googled that name, I discovered it was already being used by a very prolific porn star. After hours of research, I decided that I didn’t want to be associated with her image. So, the main character in Santorini Sunset became Caroline Clayton and I took her original name, Claire Croxton.  Croxton is my mother’s maiden name and not very common, so I figured it would stand out on the bookshelf.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I lived in remote villages with no road access in northern Alaska for well over a decade. I currently live in the backwoods of Madison County, Arkansas in the Ozarks. So, people think I prefer the quiet, rural life. Truth be told, I’d love to live in London or New York City. I lived in Tokyo for a year and loved the bustle, the activities and public transit. I think I’d thrive in a city, but would probably have to visit my folks in the boonies to rejuvenate on occasion.
Do your friends think you are an introvert or an extravert? Why?

My friends think I’m an extravert because I’m gregarious and like parties. I’ve never been known for being shy or soft-spoken, but in truth I’m an introvert.  I have to have peace and solitude in order to gain the strength to smile and chat people up. Since I live in the boondocks, I usually only make it to town once a week. That’s when my friends see me, after I’ve had time to recuperate from my last foray into civilization. During longer events—such as conferences—I have to have alone time in order to mediate and prepare myself for the next situation that requires me to be “on.” 

Sure, I can be social and animated, but I’m truly a turtle, hanging out in my shell.
Have any of your characters been modeled after yourself?
My first book, Redneck Ex, is about Summer Leigh Johnson. Her ex-husband has her listed as next-of-kin. He’s injured in a car bombing in Iraq and she is faced with the decision to go to his aid or ignore the jerk. Every time I read bits of it to my critique group, people always assumed I was writing about myself. Sure, there were large portions of the book based on my life. I was married to a bull rider/bluegrass musician who is now a civilian contractor. Summer Leigh moved to Barrow, Alaska after the divorce as did I, but that’s where the similarities end. So, yes, I did model parts of Summer Leigh after myself.

In Santorini Sunset, Caroline Clayton has my snarky attitude, but that’s about as far as the similarities go. Although, I wish I could say her ability to wile men was modeled on my skills. But alas, I write fiction.

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it?

This is how I wanted to start Santorini Sunset, but I was told it was too purple. Personally, I love it and I think it sets the tone for the entire novel. I hope your readers will find it enticing.

What sound does a heart make when it is breaking?  A rip, a tear?  Does it shatter, smashing thousands of tiny shards of the soul to the ground—never to be complete or whole again?  A whoosh perhaps—the sound of all the air being kicked from the body.
Five tiny little words—uttered in less than a second.  That’s all it takes to remove all happiness from the heart.  To replace hope, joy, love and bliss with despair, sadness, self-doubt and homicidal rage. 
I don’t love you anymore.
If four more words are added to the equation, the heart is filled with betrayal, distrust and the need for years of counseling
I love your sister.
I never actually went into counseling and I certainly never killed anyone, but the thought crossed my mind on more than one occasion.  Slow, painful ways to inflict death on the love of my life, Albert, or as he’s now known, my future brother-in-law.
When asked, I’d be hard pressed to define which was worse, my fiancé leaving me for my sister or her asking me to be her maid-of-honor.  I close my eyes at night and see my sweet, beautiful, kind, baby sister looking at me with tear-filled, million-dollar eyes—literally, they are insured for  amount—begging forgiveness and asking me to stand up for her during her joyous nuptials. 
“I know we hurt you, Claire, and I’m so sorry.  I’ll understand completely if you refuse to be my maid-of-honor, but you’re the best friend I have.  I couldn’t imagine my wedding without you by my side.”
I refrained from commenting about how best friends don’t steal fiancés and was quite restrained when I resisted the urge to rip her beautiful blonde hair from her scalp.  Everyone knew the breakup wasn’t Gabriella’s fault.  It was mine.  Projecting my feelings of rejection onto my sister wouldn’t bring back Albert. 
Instead of running from the bedroom, crying and sobbing, as my heart broke even more, I smiled and hugged my little sister.  “Of course, I’ll be in your wedding.  Do you need any help planning it?”
Sucker! Idiot! Fool! 
Arm in arm, we walked into the living room to tell our parents the good news.  Daddy looked at me and winked.  He knew how I felt.  Mother sat, ankles crossed, in a wing-backed chair, drinking tea.
“Mama, she’s agreed to be my maid-of-honor.  I’m so happy.”  Gabriella skipped across the hand-crafted Persian rug.  Mother offered her cheek, which Gabriella kissed.
“Of course she agreed, darling.  Claire is a sensible woman who understands just because she can’t keep a man doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be happy.”  She set the fragile tea cup and saucer on the serving tray and attempted a warm smile for my benefit, but as usual, I only saw the grimace of a she-wolf.
Years ago, I decided I was adopted.  There was no way I sprang forth from her loins.  Daddy swears she is my real mother and even has photographs to prove it, but I refuse to believe.  They didn’t have Photoshop thirty-five years ago, but I’m sure they had the technology to doctor the photos.  Shoot, look at the moon landing.  Many people swear that’s a hoax. 
My pain was too raw and I was too upset to stay around my mother.  As soon as Gabriella finished with her announcement, I left.  Daddy called me on my drive home to make sure I was okay.
“Baby, are you sure you want to do this?  No one will think less of you if you refuse.”
“Oh yeah, did Mother get that memo?”
“Sweetheart, you can’t be in your sister’s wedding simply to appease your mother.”
“Daddy, I’m not.  I love Gabriella and know she didn’t pursue Albert.  Mother was right; I didn’t pay enough attention to him.”
“Albert is a jackass and doesn’t deserve to be part of this family.  How can you forgive him?”
“Who said I did?  I’m in the wedding for Gabriella, not him.”
“You’re a good person, Claire.  I know you’ll find someone who deserves your love one day.”
Daddy always said things like that.  He thought he was comforting me, but it really made me feel even more pathetic. 
Does it get any sadder than when your dad is the only person who thinks you’ll find love?
What are your hero and heroine of the story like?

Caroline Clayton is a confident, successful business woman. She’s at the top of her game, literally wins awards for being the best in the world. Her personal life? Well…
Professional life—a breeze.  Personal life—a tornado. 
She can hold her own with leaders of industry in a boardroom, but when it comes to facing her mother in a dining room, she’s a wreck.  It doesn’t help that her mother is as loving and cuddly as porcupine with PMS and her sister Gabriella, the supermodel, is now marrying Albert, Caroline’s ex-fiancé. To top it all off, Caroline is the maid-of-honor at the blasted wedding.
There’s no way she can face the Triumvirate of Tribulation—Mother  Gabriella and Albert—by herself.   
Enter Raul Sobrevilla, Caroline’s sultry, sexy co-worker, the only man hot enough to stun Gabriella and shut Mother up. He’s a true gallant hero. He went to work at Caroline’s project management firm for the chance to work on one of Caroline’s teams. When the opportunity to assist her with a non-work related project presents itself, Raul isn’t about to pass it up.  
Once he gets to know Caroline personally, he realizes he wants to be more than co-workers and turns on his Peruvian charms.  
Caroline doesn’t stand a chance.
What does family think of your writing career?

I’m extremely fortunate that I have such a supportive family. My mother and I live on the same farm where she raises produce for local farmers’ markets. It’s a busy place with folks coming and going all the time. My mother will warn people when they arrive. “Don’t disturb Claire, she’s writing.”

When I’m in edit mode or meeting a deadline, she brings me food.   She knocks, steps in the door, deposits labeled, plastic containers filled with homemade goodness on my woodstove and then retreats.
My brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins are all excited about my writing career and ask about it every time I see them.  They even read the books!  Amazing.

Does your significant other read your stuff?

My husband is incredibly supportive. He reads everything I write. He even edits it and offers insightful critique. I’m truly fortunate to have someone in my life that encourages me and takes such an active interest in what I do. Too many of my friends have spouses or significant others who don’t even ask them about their work. 

I was surprised when I realized that the heroes in my books were all based on my husband. My friends saw it all along, but it took me three novels before I figured it out.

My husband is dreamy.

Entice us, what future projects are you considering? 

I’m working on two novels at the moment.  Ex-Ray is a contemporary romance that I describe as Sleeping with the Enemy meets Hope Floats and Loch Lonnie is a light paranormal romance that I describe as Practical Magic meets Outlander.

The isolation of Alaska’s arctic is the perfect place to hide. But you can’t outrun your past. Maggie Shaw flees an abusive husband and assumes a new life as Anne Sutton, a 911 emergency dispatcher. Her husband, Ray Malloy, a meth-dealing, dirty cop with a vicious temper and a powerful right hook, is determined to find her and the three million in drug money she stole. Using her computer hacking skills, Anne is able to stay one step ahead of Ray until he goes off the grid. Even though she lives her life with the constant threat of discovery, she’s eventually able to form deep friendships and even falls in love again—with Joe Carducci, the new cop in town. When Ray shows up in Barrow, Anne must overcome her fears to protect her friends from Ray’s violence.  
Loch Lonnie:
Eliza Lindsay plans a trip to the livestock auction to make a fortune from all the critters that have found their way to her farm over the last six weeks, but when a hot-blooded, kilt-clad Scotsman surfaces in her pond, things get interesting. Seems her father’s death has opened up a vortex between her farm in the Ozarks and Aberdeen, Scotland. Only problem? The vortex only goes one way. By the time Eliza figures out how to get the passport-and-identification free Scotsman, Robert Cobb, back home, she has fallen for him. Admitting her feelings means exposing her scarred heart and admitting that her dad, even in death, always knows what is best for her.
Thank you again, Laurie.  I hope your readers enjoy Santorini Sunset.
Below is the opening, as published

Hot silk clung to my chest.  I’d heard the staccato clip-clop of heels on the hardwood floor, but was unable to step aside before my assistant, Maude, rushed into the break room.  The door slammed into my arm sending hot coffee down the front of my new coral blouse. 
Raul Sobrevilla, the dreamiest guy in the office, reached around me, pulled some paper towels from the roll and handed them to me.  Then, he nodded and left the room.
As if he’d offer to assist me with the clean up.
Breathless, Maude said, “Oh dear.” 
I peeled the silk away from my chest and dabbed at the coffee.  Maude ran some paper towels under cold water and handed them to me.  “Caroline, your cousin’s on the phone.  She says it’s an emergency.”
I set the coffee mug on the counter, rushed down the hall to my office, and picked up the receiver.
Constance?” I asked.
“You’ve got to start carrying your cell!” 
A quick survey of the room revealed my pretty, pink phone on the bookcase.  Blinking red lights indicated a voice message awaited me.
“What’s wrong?” 
Constance’s voice quaked with fear.  “She’s here.” 
My knees buckled at the news and I fell into a chair.  “No!”
“Yes, she’s here and she’s on her way to your office.”
“God!  No!”  The cream from my coffee curdled in my stomach.  I placed a hand on my gut hoping to quell the nausea and laid my head on my desk.  “No, no, no,” I muttered into the phone.  “What does she want?”
“That’s why I’ve been trying to get in touch with you.  She wants to take you to lunch.”
That wasn’t too upsetting.  I sat up.  A sigh of relief was about to be released when Constance said, “She wants to take you and Raul to lunch.”
My vow to give a dollar to charity every time I said a curse word was off.  There was no way to handle this situation with a rabid fiddlesticks or fierce puppy dog tails. 
“Shit!” I uttered my first profanity in six weeks. 
“What are you going to do?”  Her voice was filled with concern.
“Shit, shit, shit.” 
“Caroline, get a grip!  Are you going to face her alone?  Or are you going to do something about it?” 
I looked out the window.  The Smithsonian Castle was glorious with a backdrop of trees fluttering their magnificent red and gold leaves.  The bright autumn sun reflected off the glass high-rises that surrounded my office building.  “Well, I’m only on the third floor so flinging myself out the window would only maim.”
“Sweetie, you can do this.  I know you can.” 
“Con, I’m not . . . .”
“She’ll be there soon.  Get your act together!”
“Okay, okay.”  I sighed.  “Thanks for the heads up.”
“Sure thing.  Let me know how things go.”
After hitting my head on the desk a few times for good measure, I assessed my situation. Inhale.
In with the good energy.
Out with the bad. 
Nope!  Not working.  My hands shook and my stomach quivered. 
If I weren’t such a wimp, the situation wouldn’t have gotten this far.  I had two choices.  It should’ve been a no-brainer.  The only problem was both options involved heaps of embarrassment.  We’re talking dump-truck loads of shame. 
I was hoping for a reprieve—enough time to catch my breath after Constance’s call—but I knew the moment she arrived.  A hush descended over the office.  Small children fled for their lives and kittens cowered in the corners. 
Maude buzzed me.  “Caroline, you have a visitor.”
“I’m in a meeting. You have no idea when it will end.”
“But . . . .”
I could hear her flipping through my appointment book.
“Maude, stall!”
“Oh, okay.  Gotcha.” 
A quick rummage through my desk produced a tube of lipstick.  It was buried in paper clips and had a lint-covered breath mint stuck to its side.  Tenacious toast—a lovely shade of coral blended with a touch of La Brea tar pits brown.  Without a mirror, I had to guess that I applied it evenly—an attempt to beautify before I mortified. 
I stood, dabbed at the stain on my blouse, straightened my skirt and left my office.  I was about to prove a person could actually die from humiliation—a medical marvel, written about in all the journals. 
I thought I knew what it meant to be nervous, but nothing compared to this.  The butterflies were clawing their way out of my stomach.
The hallway was long and dark.  Whose idea was it to paint the walls gray?  How depressing.  My objective was four doors down.  Not a long walk, but I was light headed, my hands shook and darkness descended over me.  I feared a diabetic coma. 
So what if I’m not diabetic?  It could still happen.
A deep breath steadied my nerves and I knocked on Raul’s slightly opened door.  His office radiated more raw masculinity than I could stand.  The man himself made my bones liquefy.
“Excuse me, Raul.  Do you have a minute?”  My voice didn’t squeak and I hadn’t hyperventilated yet, which were both good signs.  I pushed the door open fully. 
Raul was at his desk, phone to ear, throwing paper wads into a trash can across the room.  He nodded at me and I stayed by the door while he finished his call.  When he laughed my heart fluttered a little.  Very cliché, but the guy’s hot and sexy, very intimidating and his laugh sounded like raindrops dipped in honey. 
He disconnected the call, walked around the desk toward me, and closed the door.  “Have a seat.”
I sat in one of the green leather chairs and Raul sat across from me—the coffee table separating us.  
Sweat poured down my back making my silk shirt clammy and clinging.  I shifted in hopes of dislodging it from my bulges.  Then, I shook my head.  As if the guy didn’t know I was overweight.  For God’s sake, I’d worked with him for two years. 
Two frump-filled years. 
Two years of unrequited crush.  Well, two years of pining interrupted by that little engagement on my part. 
I’d had plenty of time to approach Raul about the situation.  Eight months to be exact, but I didn’t have the guts to do it.  I had the impression that he held a strong professional respect for me.  The second I bared my soul and revealed my personal issues any respect for me would shrivel up and die. 
F*** it.  The five-dollar profanity crossed my mind.  I can’t do it. 
I stood and stumbled a little.  All the blood drained from my head and I was dizzy, but I put one foot in front of the other and started toward the door. 
Raul caught my arm as I walked past him and rose from his chair. 
I could feel my skin sizzle under his touch and my face flush.  My cheeks literally throbbed from the blush. 
“Caroline, are you okay?”  He led me to the couch, sat me on the middle cushion and settled next to me.
It was the closest I’d ever been to him.  He smelled of evergreens and sunshine.  I inhaled, trying to capture his scent. 
He put his hand on my knee and asked, “Caroline, what’s wrong?”  His voice was as smooth and rich as cognac.  Concern danced in his dark-chocolate eyes. 
Quit comparing him to food! 
I closed my eyes, breathed in.
When reviewing different scenarios of approaching Raul about this matter, I had well planned presentations that outlined the pros and cons of my proposal.  Unfortunately, none of those presentations was ever completed.  I kept hoping I’d get transferred to Islamabad or hit by a bus. 
In order to comfort me, he rubbed his hand on my knee.  The friction sent shockwaves up my leg, directly to areas that didn’t need warming at the moment. 
I moved away from his touch.  As much as I wanted to accomplish this with style and panache, that opportunity disappeared months ago.
“Will you attend my sister’s wedding with me in Santorini?  It’s right after the conference in Athens.”   He hadn’t laughed, so, I bravely glanced at him.  No white face.  No signs of absolute revulsion or horror; however, he just stared at me and didn’t say a thing. 
His silence made me nervous, so instead of waiting for a response, I poured out everything.  Caroline Clayton, Queen of Reserve, spilled her guts to the hottest man alive. 
 “Before you answer, let me explain.  My sister is getting married in a couple of weeks in Greece.  Since you’re going to be in Athens for the conference, I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind going to the wedding with me.”
He started to speak, but I was so afraid he would say “no,” I rushed on with my explanation.
“I’m sure you already have plans and I wouldn’t ask, but it’s really important.  Did I mention my sister is Gabriella?”  From the look of puzzlement on his face, I knew it hadn’t come up in conversation.  “You know, Gabriella, the supermodel?” 
He opened his mouth to speak again, but I continued to talk over him.  Hoping if I spewed everything out at once, the ordeal would be over.  Unfortunately, the longer I talked, the faster the words came out.
“Save me the ‘oh-my-God-she-can’t-possibly-be-your-sister’ response.  I’ve heard it a million times.  Yes, we are sisters.  No half or step involved.  Same mother—same father.” 
The puzzled look didn’t leave his face as he stood and walked toward his desk where he flipped through a pile of paperwork. 
Well great.  I’ve bored him already. 
A panic attack threatened.  I recognized the signs from the couple of bouts of anxiety I experienced in grad school.  It could be stopped with four Valium and three shots of vodka. 
Damn!  Where’s my purse when I need it?
His back was toward me.  Since I couldn’t see his reaction, I felt safe to continue my saga.  “Anyway, Gabriella is getting married.  The kicker is . . .” I gulped, not wanting to admit the truth. “Well, she’s marrying my ex-fiancé.”
Raul spun around, magazine in hand, “What?”

Claire Croxton combines soul-searching prose with snarky eloquence to create memorable tales of love and romance. She lives on a farm in rural Arkansaswhere she helps her family grow produce for local farmers’ markets. She’s an active member of several writing organizations including the Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Workshop and the Ozark Writers’ League. She serves as the president of the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc.

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