Wow, it’s my turn for a little self-promotion. What fun it is to take time out from interviewing other authors to talk about my own books. There’s nothing an author likes more!🙂
I’m actually following author Caitlyn Hunter who wrote about the second book in her Shadow series yesterday. Her “leading men” in that series are so hot that I find her a tough act to follow. However, I know you’ll find my “leading lady” Billie Jean Sloane of 1106 Grand Boulevard just as unforgettable.
Yep! Since I told you all about The Toonies Invade Silicon Valley last week, I’m pitching 1106 Grand Boulevard this week.
As most people know, Grand was one of my most popular books when it was in print. It’s been out of print for a few years, but I now have a new publisher, Wendy Dingwall of Canterbury House, and we decided to “e-incarnate” Grand and the Toonies, bringing them into the digital age so my readers can get them for their Kindles, Nooks and other e-reading devices.
A reminder: Like Toonies, you can still get print copies of Grand because they’re available on the secondary market, ranging in price from $14.56 to $79.99 for Grand and $14.84 to $159.95 for Toonies. (It seems that some people take the concept of “Collector’s Item” very seriously.) :-) That’s one of the many reasons I’m happy to be able to bring the digital copy to you for $4.99. What a difference!
But back to Grand, it was bittersweet writing that story because the title is the actual address in Hamilton, Ohio where I grew up with my parents and three brothers, three sisters. Grand is a dramatized version of the life of my beautiful sister Billie Jean and her seven marriages. It’s an epic romantic thriller that I call “faction” because it’s based on her true story. It was sweet bringing Billie Jean to life and sharing her joys and accomplishments, but it was “bitter writing” because I had to dig into the sad memories as well as the good.
You’ll get a taste of this story by reading the first chapter, so without further ado, here it is:
Billie Jean Sloane-Taylor
Hamilton, Ohio, August 3, 1933
The quiet peace of the humid August evening was abruptly shattered when Cal stormed into the kitchen. He pulled up short, slammed his fist into the ice-box and roared at his young bride. “You slut! How dare you let Rusty see you like that! You stupid or something?”
When he puffed out his chest, folded his arms across it and glared at Billie Jean, his hooded brown eyes blazed with anger and his nostrils flared, pulsing to the beat of some hidden rage. Billie Jean couldn’t believe Cal could be so cruel. His drastic mood-swing terrified her. As a tremor shook her slight frame, an odd observation slashed through her mind: Cal looks madder’n that old bull on Uncle Bob’s farm.
She flashed back to earlier in the evening when Cal had seemed so happy and carefree. They had enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing supper with his young brother, Rusty, followed by a refreshing run through the lawn sprinkler; it had been a swell day. Then he had driven Rusty to a friend’s house and returned home in a rage.
So what had happened between now and then? Why was Cal being so mean and hurtful? He was like a different man.
When Cal stomped into the house and verbally attacked her, Billie Jean had been cutting into a ripe, juicy watermelon. He startled her so much, she instinctively jumped back, causing the melon to slip off the counter onto the floor where it shattered, sending sticky, mushy blobs of pulp and rind slithering all over the shiny linoleum.
Christmas colors, she fleetingly observed, even as she inhaled the rather sickening sweetness of the juicy, red pulp.
Billie Jean was confused by the changes in her husband since their hasty marriage––petty jealousies, unfair criticism, temper tantrums––but he’d never been this unreasonable. Hurt by Cal’s meanness, she fought back tears, determined to be brave, determined to not show her fear.
Through sheer willpower, she thought she had succeeded when she clenched her small fists and brought them up before her face, but her body language betrayed her. Billie Jean’s hands trembled and she knew how she must appear to Cal when she glared at him. In the past, he’d told her that her eyes looked like two fiery green marbles when she was angry and she had joined him in laughter when he charmed her into forgiving him.
But his current behavior was no laughing matter; Cal had gone way too far this time. He even had the gall to smirk when he said, “Close your mouth! You look like a moron with your mouth hanging open.”
That remark infuriated Billie Jean even more, but she struggled to control her emotions, deliberately closing her mouth, unclenching her fists and lowering her arms to her sides. She relaxed her jaw and with renewed resolve, tried to still her shaky voice. She wanted to scream at Cal, but reining in her own Irish temper, she chose her words carefully. “I c-can’t believe you think there’s anything wrong with Rusty seeing me in this modest, old-fashioned swimsuit. After all, he’s your brother and he…he just came in the kitchen for a soda-pop before going to the movies.”
And why hadn’t Cal objected to the swimsuit this afternoon when they’d had such fun in the sprinkler? Why mention it now?
Moving closer to Cal, Billie Jean placed her rigid hand on his shoulder and forced herself to gaze up into his eyes. “I…I love you, honey, but your hot temper and unreasonable jealousy is destroying our marriage. Darling, we’ve talked about this before and you really do need help. Please go talk to Pastor Young.”
At her open reference to his fiery nature, Cal’s anger exploded. “Dammit, Billie Jean, don’t ever talk down to me,” he shouted. He bared his teeth like a rabid animal as he stumbled to the bureau drawer and withdrew a pistol, waving it menacingly. When she saw the gun, Billie Jean ran for the front door, slipping and sliding in the goop on the floor, but just as she grabbed the doorknob, Cal caught her and shoved her aside. She lost her balance and fell. Cal went down with her, rolled on top of her and grasped her arms, attempting to pin her to the floor. Both were breathless from exertion as they struggled around the floor, getting seeds and fruity pulp all over themselves.
Billie Jean broke out in a sweat when she looked into the barrel of the gun. The petite girl––not much over a hundred pounds (sopping wet, as Cal often bragged)––knew she was no match for her big, brawny husband, but she grappled with him…rolling aside a scant second before the gun exploded in a burst of blue smoke and a stifling odor.
Hot, searing pain shot through Billie Jean, but she lurched to her feet and staggered out the door before Cal recovered from the shock of what he had done. Fearing he would bolt after her, she stifled her screams, ran like hell and crawled beneath the evergreen bushes between their apartment and the house next door. She crouched there like a frightened little kitten trapped by an angry, snarling dog.
As Billie Jean hunkered down behind the prickly bushes, shivering in the damp, sticky swimsuit, a police cruiser drove by, but fearing Cal would discover her hiding place, she remained silent. Too terrified to leave her meager shelter, she stared at the cruiser as it rounded the corner, as though she could will it to return.
Too much in shock to feel the pain from the bullet wound, Billie Jean huddled there in the dark for what seemed like an eternity. Squatting in that awkward position cramped her muscles, so she eventually gave up and slumped to the ground. When she rested her head on her arms and sprawled out on the hard, rough earth, she felt something warm, fluid and sticky. She jerked back, swiped her hand across her temple, then drew it away. Her fingertips were coated with blood. She thought she had a head wound, but after gently probing with her fingers, she discovered she’d been shot in the upper arm.
Then, from someplace deep within, Billie Jean’s emotions finally erupted. Forgetting about Cal, she screamed loud enough to wake all the dead at Greenwood Cemetery, then angrily pounded the ground with her one good arm.
As people rushed out of their apartments and surrounding homes, Billie Jean heard the sputtering noises of an old car puttering up the street. She sucked in her breath when Earl and Sally Friedland, the retired couple who lived next door, pulled up in their faded blue Oldsmobile. “Oh, thank God!” she cried, lifting her eyes to Heaven. She was so relieved to see them, she mumbled incoherently as she crawled out of the bushes and collapsed at their feet.
Safe! I’m safe! she thought. Earl and Sally would help her. They would take good care of her.
Earl was a kind, caring man…a round, florid man who always wore plaid pants with a pocket-watch dangling over his paunch, wide-brimmed felt hats and carried an umbrella year-round. Even though he was a bit showy and pretentious, he had a heart of gold and to Billie Jean, he looked like a swashbuckling-Errol-Flynn-to-the-rescue as he waddled up the cobblestone path to summon help.
Meanwhile, Billie Jean was left in Sally’s capable, yet arthritic, hands. Sally was a comforting sight; in her usual attire––floral house-dress and big straw hat which she wore with rolled-down nylons and sensible black shoes––the woman was every bit as colorful as her husband. Billie Jean felt a fleeting pang of sympathy when Sally groaned as she lowered herself to the ground and cradled her against her motherly bosom. She knew Sally’s arthritis was acting up, but her own pain was so severe she couldn’t be concerned about anyone else.
Oh, God, it hurt so bad.
Billie Jean burrowed into Sally’s body like a frightened child, thriving on the woman’s sweet, soothing voice. Temporarily lulled, she moaned as Sally rocked her back and forth, stroking her long copper tresses with a trembling hand while waiting for help to arrive.
But as warm and nurturing as Sally felt, Billie Jean yearned for her own mother and eventually stirred in Sally’s compassionate embrace. “Mom! Mom!” she cried. Her silver tears spilled onto the shoulder of Sally’s floral dress, then trickled down into her own blood.
And that was how Billie Jean Sloane-Taylor got started on her way back to 1106 Grand Boulevard…the first time.
She was only sixteen years old. (End of chapter one)
Since my sister was as glamorous and impressive as the movie stars of her day and beyond, I think the following quote from Marilyn Monroe is appropriate front copy for the book: “This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends…some come, some go. … As for lovers, baby, I hate to say it, most of them–actually pretty much all of them–are going to break your heart. But you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soul mate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole…and that goes for everything. … Keep trying, hold on and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie?” – Actress Marilyn Monroe
Before leaving, I’d like to share a few of my favorite reviews of 1106 Grand Boulevard:
“Who is BETTY DRAVIS? With 39 out of 40 Rave Reviews on Kindle, she just might be your next big discovery for your ‘Favorite Authors’ list!” – Kindle Nation
“1106 Grand Boulevard reads like Harold Robbins’s The Carpetbaggers, but with a beautiful woman in the lead.” — Paul Kyriazi, Hollywood movie director (Omega Cop), author of How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle, Hard Rock Lovers
“Edge-of-your-seat suspense. Dravis grabs the reader up front… A pageturner story that tugs the emotional heart strings.” — David E. Meadows, author of the best-selling Joint Task Force and Sixth Fleet series
“A great cross between Gone With the Wind, The Carpetbaggers and Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard, this is a stunning electric gem that will stun the senses and break the heart; yet put a huge smile on your face as you hold your breath in eager anticipation of what is gonna happen next. Thrilling and compelling from the first word to the last! Very noirish and modern, yet Victorian and epic… Awesome!” – Scott Brooks, author of
I especially appreciate this review from Amazon’s Top Ten Reviewer Grady Harp because he explains why he gave five stars to my very first writing effort. (I wrote this book first, but it was third to get published.):
“1106 GRAND BOULEVARD is a tough book to classify and giving it a rating in numbers of stars is yet more difficult. Usually 5 stars indicates a masterpiece of literature, one of the great novels, one of the books destined to climb to the top of the best selling list, or some other dubious notch on the ladder. But Betty Dravis has written an engrossing book about middle America and the foibles and kinks and bonds of the big family, bound together by secrets and by familial love of the unconditional type, and in doing so she has elected to tell her story in the language appropriate to the family. This novel is not overflowing with metaphors and waxing eloquent: Dravis writes with constrained Midwest vocabulary even as her huge cast of characters travels the continent and eventually the world. Her strict reliance on this style pulls the story along with a credibility sense that keeps it real. It is a feat, a writer’s decision, and it works. And as such it deserves 5 stars” – Grady Harp, Amazon Top 10 Reviewer
I hope you can all read this book now that it’s in very economical e-book format.
Endnote: I am very sorry to report that my beloved sister, Billie Barger Shannon, passed away at the age of 93 on October 4, 2010. RIP, darling girl.