Message From The Author

Author's Message



By Tara Gelsomino

If you've been a fan of Cindy Cruciger's Path to Publishing
column, which has run as
a semi-regular feature in RT BOOKclub since January 2001, then you know she's not your average, well, anything. Cruciger's triumphs and
tribulations as she strived to become
a published author were noted with originality, cynicism, smarts, plenty of dark humor and a fondness for the absurd. It's no surprise then that her debut novel, Revenge Gifts (Sep., Tor), has all that in spades, plus some ghosts, voodoo priestesses and...oh, sex scenes thrown in for good measure.

Entrepreneur Tara Cole lives a laid-back island life in the Florida Keys, happily selling her mail-order revenge gifts (i.e., chocolate-a-day deliveries for the dieting boss you can't stand, handmade lace pillows stuffed with your choice of allergens). Then she's served some vengeance of her own via a voodoo curse. The bad mojo builds, even as her attraction to island newcomer Howard Payne heats up, culminating in a voodoo showdown. Here, we interview with Cruciger about the ups and downs of an aspiring writer's life and get the real scoop on her spirited debut.

When you entered the RT Path To Publishing Contest, were you a complete newbie? How long had you been writing?

I knew absolutely nothing about the business of writing novels. I had been writing for about a year and a half. I had submitted one manuscript to Avon and been rejected. This is probably incomprehensible to most writers, but I took Avon's rejection as the end for that book and moved on to writing a new book. In fact, I was living in Puerto Rico at the time and Avon was the only publisher for which I could find an address. I just didn't know that it was possible to submit elsewhere.

To this day, I do not believe Avon even read it. I didn't provide a synopsis (I had no idea at the time what a synopsis was) and, for the life of me, I couldn't find an official "manuscript box" for mailing! I figured if I couldn't even get the packaging right, the publishers would all know what a complete amateur I was and shred it.

Anyway, when I saw the contest notice in the magazine, I decided to send in the new manuscript, "The Buccaneer," and see what happened. Quite frankly, I still have no idea if it's a good book or if it reeks. Opinions, thus far, have varied wildly.

You documented your struggle to get published in RT for three years. Are you glad you laid yourself out on the page for public consumption and criticism?

You know, I can't play that head game with my own life. I can watch someone else screw up completely and say, "Wow, that could have been handled a little better." But I can't even begin to put a finger on my own screw-ups. I have always had one very solid philosophy in my life that I will stick with to the grave: I can't control what other people think of me or what they do, and I can't let other people's opinions change who I am or affect what I write and say.

Fair enough. So, “The Buccaneer” was a historical pirate romance – a far cry from the voodoo-dueling, goat-sacrificing events of your novel Revenge Gifts. What was the inspiration for Revenge Gifts?

All I can say for sure is, I was in a wicked, evil mood from hating the job I was working at and the endless rejection letters from agents, along with a million other trivial hells that kept opening up under my feet. That personal place just isn't conducive to writing historical fairy tales set in the sunny Caribbean.

This kind of novel was such a better fit for me. There is a scene in my current work in progress where the heroine nearly drowns and I darn near let her drown just to see how hard it would be to write around it. When you are in the mood to start killing off major characters in a mean way, paranormal is a much better genre. That way, you can bring them back from the dead when
you come to your senses.

What exactly is a Revenge Gift and where did the idea come from?

The revenge gifts are all things I considered creating and sending to someone in real life. I've kept a list for years. It's a much better venue for venting one's ire than actually acting on your anger. Nine times out of ten the person in the wrong was me. It just takes me a year or two to get some perspective.

For the book, all of the "gifts" had to serve a dual purpose. When Tara is hit with a Reversal of Fortune Curse, the evil that
was her life had to swap ends with the good, including the gifts
she was selling. Tara's life is grim--I mean there's been no sex
for 10 years and she's selling bad, bad things. Fortunately for her,
the curse has the opposite of its intended, disastrous effect. Her stuff starts to sell for alternative, good uses and she gets laid. Of course, she's a little frustrated when people start ordering her lace
pillows as wedding gifts. In the end, there's a simple message: Inanimate objects are not bad or evil; it's the people wielding them that make them seem evil. Perspective is everything.

First novels are often autobiographical. Many of the elements of Tara's life in the Florida Keys seem to be influenced by your own life in the Keys. How much is based on your own experiences?

The computer programming bits, the lace-making parties, the scenes from a bartender's life, the cats and the cockatoo named Sunshine are glimpses into my own personal life.

The Keys are exactly as I represent them in the book. At the time I was writing it,
it was possible to buy a house on the beach for a reasonable price, and ordinary working-class families could make a decent living. In the past year or so, things have changed dramatically.
Revenge Gifts may be the last "real time" glimpse of the old Florida Keys.

By the time people read it and think they want to go visit, the Keys will be fully assimilated into the Disney Syndrome that is sucking Florida into amusement park hell.

Tara and Howard are not your typical romance leads. Unlike most romance heroines, Tara’s not interested in being nice and she deals in revenge for a living. And Howard – well, look at his name – he’s a businessman, not a navy seal or a cop or any alpha stereotype. Tell us a little about your characters and their evolution?

To create Tara, I took a little from Scarlett O'Hara (surrounded by good influences, yet always doing the practical, non-noble thing and completely unaware of anyone else's opinion of her). I spliced in a little of my youngest sister, Kimmy. (Kimmy can see and talk to ghosts and has been able to do so since we were all very young.) And I pulled in a few pieces of my working world as a computer geek.

Howard was created on a dare from my friend [RT BOOKclub contributor] Renee Bernard, who said it was impossible to make a guy named Howard sexy. I pondered that challenge for days and decided that, by God, I could make anyone sexy if I wanted to or I would give up writing romance and move on to horror, assuming the horror buffs would have me.

The thing is, you can't just describe a guy by his body parts and have a woman like Tara transform into a primitive bed-slut. [I was] thinking women need a little more substance to their guys. They need men who hold down a regular job but who don't become their jobs. They need a guy who gets off the sofa to experience the world, who cares about the people around him and who doesn't walk through life unscathed but still handles it and gets up in the morning. They want someone they can build a life with, who will be there and love them when they are at their worst. That is sexy.

Oh, yeah, and I'm married to an alpha male. My husband is a customs agent. I don't think I can write [a fictional] one.

Tara is cursed with some bad mojo. What experiences have you had with voodoo? Do you believe in it?

I choose to believe it's all possible, because what do you have to lose if you're wrong?

I have seen some really weird stuff
in my life. But I have never had any
personal experience with voodoo beyond research and a purchase or two of real gris-gris bags in New Orleans.

What are you working on now?

The engine that drives Revenge Gifts is the voodoo loa, Erzulie. She is a spirit who embodies love, jealousy, envy and revenge. There will be at least four books in the series. Revenge was the first, Envy is next, then Jealousy and finally, Love.

I do not have a publisher for the rest
as of yet. If Revenge Gifts falls flat, you may have to send me a few dollars and I'll mail you a manuscript to read.

I am also writing--and I hope people don't recoil in horror when I say this--
a book devoted to snark. I'm a little obsessed with the live Internet feeds for
the reality TV show Big Brother. Every country has a version of this show, and some of them broadcast live feeds from the house via the Internet. This book is inspired by the fans and recappers who post online. We had a lot of fun with
the Croatia version and now with the Australian version. By the time this article goes to print, I'll be hard at work get-
ting my snark on over at Hamster Time.

Since you accomplished your goal,
and completed your path to publishing, you penned your final regular column for RT Bookclub in the last issue. Any final words?

Yes. If you want to get published,
never take advice from me. I still do
not have a clue as to what I am doing,
but I am having a lot of fun in the

Enjoy This Excerpt from Revenge Gifts:

Business was booming. An order for a revenge gift goes directly into the mailbox of the purchaser. If they want to gift wrap it before sending it, then that's their business. I don't gift wrap revenge. I don't send it to the target directly. Bad karma. There's one exception to this rule. Candy. Not just any candy--a year's worth of candy. The Candy-A-Day is delivered directly to the intended victim.

Of all the gifts I sell, this is the one I treasure most. I hit on this idea, as with most of the others, during a long,
dark, soulless night in the computer server room. Aileen inspired it.

Aileen was my supervisor, and the PMS queen from hell. After 10 years in Aileen's group, I knew things about her. Aileen had a weakness. Pencil-thin Aileen was addicted to chocolate. She couldn't pass it up. She would forego all food for a day if she so much as whiffed a Dove bar. And Godiva, oh baby, Godiva was her ultimate downfall.

Of all the guys I worked with, Derrick was my favorite. The Candy-A-Day? It was really for him.

The final straw came on a Wednesday. Aileen harangued Derrick to a head-banging frenzy. I couldn't help myself. I had an overwhelming desire to defend him. I got up from my seat and headed over to his desk. I stared her down until she left.

The next day, the first box arrived on Aileen's desk. For six solid months, I paid for delivery of Godiva chocolates
to her desk. At first, she was gushing. Then the pounds started creeping on. Aileen put on thirty pounds. She was frantic. But the final was beautiful. Aileen (who never took a vacation) took every day of vacation she'd saved for the past decade and checked herself into the Canyon Ranch in Arizona. During the eight weeks she was gone, we had one last round of drinks, one last game of paintball, one last lunch and left, taking the early retirement buy-out the company offered.

I was onto something.

It is possible that people purchase this gift with the best of intentions. I feel a twinge of guilt over this and I clearly state on the website that the Candy-A-Day gift is a very poor choice if you're intending to give it to the love of your life. I sit down at the computer and forward the order to Key's Candy Shoppe. According to my records, six hundred and seventy-two people are receiving a box of seven candies a week. Mostly chocolates.

This proves at least one thing: I am not alone. There are others like me out there.

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