Life, Love, and the Lottery

Today we have a guest who’s familiar and yet not. Berta Platas, better known in the Lair as half of Gillian Summers, makes her first solo appearance today. We’ll chat about writing and life and her St. Martins release, Lucky Chica, which is about life, love, and winning the lottery. Welcome, Berta!

Thanks for inviting me! I love you guys. Can’t wait to see who gets the rooster this time.

As you know, we love call stories. We’ve had Gillian’s. I think. What’s Berta’s?

I had written a thriller set in Miami, thinking to submit it to Kensington for their multicultural line after talking to Kate Duffy at a conference. She said that they planned to start a Latina fiction line, and it would probably be just like Arabesque, their popular African-American books. So I wrote 90,000 words. Then Kate got back to me – they’d finalized the plans for the line. It would be 50,000 words, because they planned to publish them English/Spanish, back to back. I was stuck with this monster (to me!) book. I was disheartened, to say the least.

Then Nancy Knight, one of the founders of Georgia Romance Writers and a good friend of mine told me to bring the project to our March Workshop and she’d do surgery on it. That was a rare offer – Nancy never reads work outside of judging contests, and I jumped at the chance. In March she took a red pen to my manuscript, slashing out all of the mystery and thrills, and what I had left was a pamphlet – and the basis for a strong love story. I edited, added scenes, and sent it off in August of 1998. Three days after I sent it Fed Ex to Kensington I got a call from the editor with an offer! I was at work, front desk at a small city hall, and everyone was out to lunch. Neither my family or husband answered their phones. This was way before everyone was in constant contact with cell phones, so I ran up and down the halls, yahooing, looking for someone to tell. I ended up telling a mildly shocked paramedic at the fire station next door, and a totally disinterested prostitute who was washing police cars as “community service,” still wearing her working clothes from the night before, when she was arrested. Later, I got a more gratifying response from my family!

How cool. A paramedic and a prostitute–I think that combination may be a “first” for the Lair! You have an unusual background that contributed to your writing for Encanto. Tell us a bit about it.

I was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. with my family in 1961. Yes, that makes me older than dirt. My first book was actually a Regency. I adore historicals, but I wrote it before I joined GRW and had no clue about how to format a manuscript or who to send it to. I did pretty well to get the rejection I got! I should have gotten a Potter-style Howler. By the time I joined GRW and learned everything I was doing wrong, multicultural fiction was getting a lot of attention, so I started writing the thriller that would become Miami Heat, my first published book. Writing a contemporary about a construction company’s female Cuban-American owner was fun. It’s strongly flavored by sights and sounds I experienced in Miami, for which my family has never forgiven me. They bring it up at every family event. With love.

I’ve lived a varied life, and have tons to draw from for stories. For instance, during my college years I would help my father research his dissertation between classes, then go to my work study job in the Foreign Language Department, where the department head (a diva in purple named Dr. Kuntz) would send me back to the library to research her latest book. The research librarians must have thought I had an impossible work load. In the morning, I’d ask for books about Spanish poets of the Golden Age, in the afternoon, it was 14th century Jewish philosophers in France.

And there’s science fiction and fantasy fandom, which I’ve been involved in since my high school years. That’s enough material for a hundred books.

Who are the hero and heroine of Lucky Chica, and what’s their problem?

Lucky Chica is the story of Rosie Caballero, an independent girl who lives and works not far from my old job in Chamblee, Georgia. She’s got a serious crush on movie star Brad Merritt, and she buys a lottery ticket once a week. Just one ticket, at the same place, every week. She gets to meet Brad when her weekly ticket hits the big one, $650 million dollars, and she lives her dream of traveling and spending lots of money. Brad thinks she’s different, and remembers her when they meet again. Unfortunately, the tabloids come between them, and Rosie discovers that a long distance relationship is even harder to maintain when your boyfriend is reportedly getting serious with his costar. Then Rosie and her grandmother and cousin (the only family she has) discover that they’ve been scammed, and have lost everything.

Can we have a peek in side the book?

Sure! This is a scene where Rosie accompanies her crazy cousin Cheeto (nicknamed thusly because of his favorite snack food) to look at houses. She’s sharing her winnings with Cheeto and their grandmother, who they call Abuela, which means Grandmother in Spanish:

“What would you do with this much room?” She craned her head back, looking up at a vaulted ceiling that had to be two stories tall. “Normal furniture would look puny in here.”

No way she’d buy one of these monsters, especially the ones that had just enough grass around each house that it could be mown with a weed eater. Maybe the houses were so close together so that their owners could impress each other with their cars and stuff.

Everyone around here was crazy about golf, too, and she didn’t get it. Hitting a ball with a stick was best done with something meatier, like a baseball bat. Rosie added Braves skybox seats and season tickets to her want list. Heck, she could have season tickets to every major league team. That would make her popular with the guys.

“Why would anyone need a wine room on each floor?” Her voice echoed against the tall ceilings of the sixth house they’d seen.

“Some people really love their wine.”

“Right.” She’d ask Dr. Sloane later. Rosie stared at the anatomically correct cherubs painted on the ceiling. Dave the real estate agent had skipped on to the next room, talking as if they were right behind him. He treated Cheeto and Rosie as if they were his own kids, left over from when he used to be a doorman at the hotel where Abuela worked.

“If you have to have lots of wine bottles on each floor of your house, you have a problem,” Rosie said.

“I can see the wine rooms,” Cheeto answered. “But a remote control for your sock drawer? A dry-cleaning rack? That I don’t understand.”

“Okay, now you’re talking heaven,” Rosie said. “I wanted to live in that closet..”

Dave the real estate agent was starting to look a little worn around the edges. “It’s a good party house.”

“That it is.” Cheeto had discovered the cupids and was craning his head to get a closer view.

“Eight thousand square feet?” Rosie “It’s warehouse huge, and the outside looks like a public library.”

“But in here it’s all shiny.”

He was right. Inside, the place gleamed. Every surface was either black and white polished marble, or gilded.

Cheeto’s mouth hung open as he walked into the next room.

“A ballroom? For what, a big screen TV and stadium seating?” Rosie wished she’d brought sunglasses. It was sunny outside and glare from the the pool and tennis court tour had given her a headache.

“I might want to throw a party.” Cheeto floated through the room, entranced. “I’m picturing one now.”

“The front gate has dual control,” Dave said, sensing a deal. “Excellent for parties, when you have security at the front gate and the valet parking staff needs access.”

It was the mermaid in the basement that clinched it. The basement held a home theater, with a stage and raked floor, a hot tub room and spa, and a huge indoor swimming pool, made to look like a stone grotto. They walked through the poolside collonade.

Rosie could hear water gently splashing. Sort of pleasant, until she turned the corner and saw the source of the water.

A life-sized stone mermaid of voluptuous proportions was frozen in mid-writhe at one end of the pool, her hands holding out Pamela Anderson-sized breasts from which twin streams of water arced and tinkled into the pool.

Rosie finally found her voice. “The lactating fish chick has got to go.”

“I understand,” Dave said, although he looked disappointed. Having a beautiful longhaired girl holding her breasts up for a man’s bathing pleasure was probably high in the pantheon of male wet dream fantasies.

“Maybe you can sell her,” she said. She hoped that she sounded sympathetic and not grossed out.

“Over my dead body.” Cheeto seemed fascinated. “Lactating fish chick stays. Draw up the papers, Dave. This house is so mine.”

Dave grinned and looked around for a place to put down his folder.

Cheeto flipped open his cell phone and dialed. “Rock walls with orchids growing out of it,” he said into it. “And little tiny mosaics like in Roman days, and a naked mermaid at the head of the pool. She is so awesome. Reminds me of you.”

She didn’t know who he was talking to, but she knew one thing. If a photo got out, the tabloids would love the mermaid, too.

No one in the Lair knows (or knew until now, rather) you and I actually met when a friend referred me to you for advice about clothing my historical characters. You’ve competed (internationally) as a costumer. What’s that like?

So. Much. Fun. Geek fun, that is, for the period-clothing-obsessed. Imagine a hotel where the elevator dilemma is not how slow they are, but how many crinolines and towering headgear fit in at one time. (For your info – four 18th century French court panniers, carefully parked, or three squished mid 1860’s hoopskirts.) There are contests where the entries are backed by carefully researched and footnoted papers. Every button and seam, color and thread choice is supported in the paper, and the judges come to your room to root through the costume, turning it inside out and scrutinizing the seams and cut. At night, the second part of the contest is where you wear it (or your model wears it) in a show.

Besides the contests, everyone packs multiple changes of clothing to wear in the halls and to your events. You wear your 1890’s bathing costumes to the hot tub, and it’s not unusual to see ladies at breakfast in nightgowns, wrappers, and lace caps. Showoffs. There’s plenty of opportunity to wear tea gowns, ball gowns with fancy dance slippers and walking ensembles. My friends and I entered a group competition and won our division as well as best in show! It was thrilling. We wore Regency garb, and I made everything, from my slippers to the lace cap I wore under my bonnet. A blue print gown, corded stays, a petticoat and a dark red woolen Spencer. I researched the print pattern on the gown, made the stays from an original pattern which I had to resize beyond belief, and even made the little white buttons on the gown, since the type of threaded white button I needed no longer exists. A lot of work for an evening of fun. I learned a lot from my costuming obsession, but there are only so many hours in the day. These days I prefer to write. Except for that Gibson girl blouse and fitted jacket that I’m making for a steampunk outfit. Oh, and the 16th century Venetian gown that I’m planning for Ren faires in the spring. Hmm… don’t seem to have shed that obsession.

What’s next for you, individually and in your shared alter-ego?

Berta is editing another romantic comedy, this one about a woman who stumbles into running her best friends tarot-reading shop and becomes the (fake) psychic to the stars, although she keeps arguing that tarot cards have nothing to do with psychics.

I’m also writing a paranormal that has no title, although I call it The Werewolf’s Secret Baby. My critique group calls it Booty Call of the Wild. Don’t tell my agent. I’ll be mortified if it ends up on the book shelves with that title.

Gillian is working on book five of the Faire Folk Series. We’re several chapters into it and hope to have a first draft by the end of November before the holiday craziness sets in.

For more about Berta, check out her website.

Berta’s giving away two copies of Lucky Chica as well as a copy of her first book, the now-rare Miami Heat, which contains both the English and Spanish versions of the book.

So tell us: What unusual detail in your background would you draw on if you were creating a character? If you were to have a costume from any era, which era would you choose, and why? Do you ever play the lottery? Have you ever won?

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