Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Double Life—And the Story It Inspired (#turningforty #romance #science)

the phoenix syndrome cover

By Claire Gem (Guest Blogger)

Although I’d give anything to stay home and write all the time, I’m still an active member of the nine-to-five workforce. Well, not exactly nine-to-five—my days begin early, 7 a.m. Which is okay, because the schedule allows me precious writing time in the afternoons and early evenings.

I work in scientific research, and my latest release reflects that. Although I do not actually work in the mouse/rat units, I am just across the hall, and know much about the process. I’m also a 40+ woman who remembers what it was like when the odometer turned over to that fateful number. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to concoct a story based on a newly-forty-year-old woman.

As for the locations: the story starts in Cambridge, MA, one of the research meccas of the country. Although I never worked there, I am quite familiar with the area, since I attended Lesley University for my MFA in Creative Writing there. In fact, the house that the heroine’s coworker, Marsha, lives in is on the same street as where I went to school.

The story soon moves to Bethel, N.Y.—the site of the original Woodstock Festival. Okay, so I was only a kid then, but my husband and I still have family near there. I have visited the Bethel Woods Museum, dedicated to that tumultuous time in 1969. It’s a fabulous place, and I highly recommend putting it on your “to-visit” list.

And the story premise? I’m making a confession here: the line Lannie makes at the end of the first chapter, I actually spoke. I may be fifty-eight years old, but I am a heavy metal music freak. As is my brother, who is ten years older than me.

Paul (yes, the Paul in the book) and his wife Terri (Jeri, in the book), took me to a concert in Manhattan (Dreamwish, in the book). They call me Frannie (Lannie, in the book). And I really did crush on the drummer (who looks NOTHING like Tristan, but I’m a fiction author. I have creative license!). In fact, NONE of the characters in the book look or act like their “models.” But I had to start somewhere.

My brother, Paul, really did say “I was afraid Lannie would run off with the roadies.” To which I answered, “Hell, no. If I run off, it will be with the yummy drummer.”

So began the story of The Phoenix Syndrome. The original manuscript won first place in FCRWA’s The Beacon Contest in 2014. My sister-in-law (Jeri, in the book), designed the awesome cover. And now, it’s in print.

As for the deaf factor: I have first-hand experience. I have 40-50% hearing loss in both ears, and come from a family plagued with the genetic tendency. Several of my close relations are either substantially hearing-impaired, or profoundly deaf. As I cherish my music, I can’t imagine completely losing the ability to hear it. So that’s the challenge I gave to my heroine—who, to compound issues, is seeking to rekindle her career in musical composition.

So there you have it. The where-the-idea-came-from, and the inspirations behind the book. I now present to you the blurb for my first women’s fiction, The Phoenix Syndrome.


Turning forty, for research technician Lannie Marvin, is rough. It’s the day she discovers her husband is leaving her. At work, a crazed mouse brutally bites her. Lannie snaps. She heads off to chase the object of her newest crush, the drummer of a heavy metal band—and an old dream of composing music.

Tristan Allard, said drummer, holds a benefit concert every year in memory of his wife. The musician is beginning to doubt his ability to write music without her inspiration. Plus, he’s damn lonely. So when a sexually charged woman literally plows into him at the backstage reception, Tristan is ready to learn more about her—and her long-buried interest in musical composition.

This new chance at life and love has them both euphoric, but reality bites back. Tristan is headed back to the UK to audition his latest album. And Lannie soon learns an elevated libido isn’t the only side-effect of that experimental drug.

It’s a musician’s worst nightmare—the drug Lannie was exposed to have rendered the mice deaf.


I don’t quite know how to describe the concert. I can say it was as stimulating visually as it was to my ears. The band—four guys and a girl—all had hair longer than mine, which was well past my shoulders. All except for the keyboardist, whose head was shaved, although he sported a long, red beard parted into two straggly plaits. I wondered how he kept them from tangling with the keys. The girl who sang vocals had inky hair hanging in strings to her shoulders, and she wore a black leather bustier that laced up the front. Well, almost laced. In truth, the garment left little to the imagination.

But then there was the drummer. If not for the overhead monitors panning in for close-ups during the performance, I might never have known he existed. What a travesty that would have been.

In a word, he was . . . magnificent. He sat like a king on his throne at the elevated rear of the stage, sparkling silver-flake drums surrounding him like loyal minions. The monitor directly over our seats focused on him often, so close and so clear I could see the sweat glistening on sculpted upper arms, bare beneath a black muscle shirt stretched taut across a broad chest. Some sort of ink crawled over one bicep. A black-and-white paisley bandanna covered most of his head, but long, dark curls framed his face and clung damp against his neck. His facial hair, limited to a sparse mustache and goatee, was chocolate brown. I indulged in the fantasy that his eyes were that same sweet, smoldering color.

His passion for his work was palpable. Hands flying, head bobbing, he was completely engrossed, as if the music were a drug he was tripping on. His hooded eyes gave him the look of a sleepy lover, but when he did open them, I could swear he was gazing directly at me.

Looking back on that night, I can’t be sure how long we’d sat there before I fixated on my drummer boy. The music, which at first grated on my senses as way too loud and completely discordant, gradually began to permeate my brain. Before long, my bare toes started tapping against the carpeted floor. I freed one hand from my cup of wine to pat my thigh in time with the music. When my head began to bob, almost of its own accord, I smiled.

Ah, now I know why they call progressive metal fans head bangers.

The next hour and a half went by so quickly I might have slipped into a time warp. At one point I wondered if my cup of nine-dollar wine was laced with something mind-altering and illegal. I began to dig the music. I was actually enjoying the concert.

But before I’d seen nearly enough of my chocolate king behind the drums, the stage went black and the lighting came up. The band did not return for an encore. My first heavy progressive experience had come to an end.

I blinked in the sudden brightness, dazed for a moment, like I’d woken from a dream. Jeri was struggling with the strap of her shoe, her other hand braced against her forehead as though she had a massive headache. Grommet guy, too impatient to wait for the two elders beside him to vacate the aisle, vaulted easily over the backs of the seats into the row in front of us and disappeared into the crowd.

I’d almost forgotten my own young progeny—a son and a nephew—were in the same building.

We reunited on the sidewalk fifteen minutes later. The rain had ceased, leaving the city gleaming under the streetlights, clean and brand new.

Somehow, I felt that way too. Clean and brand new.

We were climbing into my brother’s SUV, Paul at the wheel with Jeri and Jay next to him in the front. I sat squashed between my husband and son in the back. Jeri’s head immediately dropped to Paul’s shoulder. I knew she’d be asleep before we got onto the West Side Highway.

I so wanted to do the same, and cuddle against my husband. But he’d said barely a meaningful word to me all evening. I sighed, dropped my head back against the seat, and closed my eyes.

So, what did you guys do for all that time?” Ryan asked.

We saw Dreamwish,” Paul piped up from the front, sounding as though his statement actually made sense.

You saw our concert? You guys?” Jay sputtered through his laughter.

I opened my eyes to find my son staring at me in much the same way Jeri had been earlier.

How’d you like it, Mom?” Ryan asked in a slight singsong of ridicule, which I chose to ignore.

I caught my brother watching me in the rearview mirror. He was wearing an impish grin. “For a while there,” he said, “we were afraid your mother might run off with one of the roadies.”

The next words popped out of my mouth before my brain had a chance to stop them.

To hell with the roadies. If I run off, it will definitely be with the yummy drummer.”

Shocked silence extinguished all laughter, and I peeked up to see four pairs of owlish eyes fixed on me.

Go to sleep,” Karl snarled under his breath. “You’ve had too much to drink.”

Media Links

About Claire

Claire writes emotional romance—contemporary, paranormal, and women’s fiction. Her heroes are hot, her heroines strong and brave: a combination lighting the spark to fan the flames of your most intense romantic fantasies. Claire's characters are human—they make mistakes, get clumsy sometimes, and they're not too proud to laugh at themselves and each other.

She writes in contemporary and paranormal romance, as well as women’s fiction. Claire's books are like a thrill ride at a theme park. Whether it's spooky-scary, angst-ridden relationships filled with gut-wrenching turmoil, silly chuckle moments, or face-fanning sex, Claire guarantees to take you on an emotionally intense romantic journey.

Buy Links

The Phoenix Syndrome

A Taming Season: A Love at Lake George Novel
Barnes & Noble:

Hearts Unloched (Winner 2016 New York Book Festival)
Barnes & Noble:

Phantom Traces

1 comment:

Claire Gem said...

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Lisabet! It was lots of fun sharing secrets about my "double life"!

Post a Comment