Today Wednesday Writers is welcoming Zoe McCarthy, author of Calculated Risk. Zoe will be giving away either a print copy (within the US only) or an e-book copy for readers inside or outside the US to one commenter on her post. All comments between Dec 17 and Dec 25, noon EST will be eligible for the giveaway drawing. Welcome, Zoe. Please tell readers about the book that is being showcased today.
Calculated Risk is a contemporary romance about extreme opposites. Nick is a numbers man, an analytical actuary. He’s private and doesn’t like to be wrong. He evaluates the financial risks Cisney’s marketing ideas have on their Virginia-based insurance company. Cisney is vibrant, social, and expressive. She lives by sticky notes.
At their previous week’s meeting, Nick witnessed the dump-Cisney call from Jason, her father’s choice for her to marry. Upset, Cisney blubbered she had no place to go for Thanksgiving. In a compassionate moment, Nick invited Cisney to spend Thanksgiving with his family in North Carolina.
The book opens with Cisney hunting for the sticky note with her ideas for this week’s meeting with Nick. She’s contemplating how to get out of spending Thanksgiving with his family full of actuaries. She prefers to spend the holiday skiing in Colorado with her fun marketing friends. And so, the challenges begin.
How did you come up with the concept for this book?
My husband and I are retired actuaries. We evaluated the financial risks for insurance companies. I wanted to write a story of a different kind of risk: the probability of romance between extreme opposites. Having worked with social, expressive marketing reps and analytical, private actuaries, I had ready-made extreme opposites.
Also, people often tell me they’re surprised to observe I’m both an introverted analytical and a creative expressive. The combination is distracting. Knowing it’s the same for Cisney and Nick, I came up with the belief that opposites distract. My tagline became: Distraction to Attraction, Magnetic Romances Between Opposites.
What are you working on now? Do you have a release date for this book?
I’m promoting Calculated Risk. I have another book with my agent about extreme opposites who are golf caddies. And I’ve started a third book.
Tell us about your writing space.
Husband John and I designed our retirement dream house. Because I spend my days in my office, I took care in creating my space. Several of my mother’s paintings grace the walls to inspire me. A big chest holds my knitting materials. I use my desktop iMac for special projects, like creating promotional materials.
Surrounded by bookcases, I feel writerly. The books motivate me. People like me wrote those books. I use them to research writing issues. The extra chair is for John to check-in before he kisses me and takes off to golf, snow ski, grocery shop, or volunteer.
The fireplace keeps me toasty in the winter. I write on my nearly weightless MacBook Air in my armchair recliner. I keep my iPad at my side to look up information without leaving the story page I’m working on. I’m able to view the mountains and valley from the windows spanning one wall. I’m blessed to have my special writing space that doubles as the place I spend time with God.
Okay, I’ve got office envy for sure. Your space is beautiful!
Now I’m curious. How do you revise in such a gorgeous space? I’d be tempted to curl up by that fireplace and read all day. What does your revision process look like?
I’m a writer who likes to edit. Here’s my process:
- I write a scene without paying much attention to details.
- I put the scene through a check-list to ensure I have the elements that make a good scene.
- I have my internal computer guy read the scene back to me. I catch small things that sound strange.
- The next day, I re-read what I wrote the day before. A day’s distancing shows wordy, complicated or goofy sentences.
- After I have several chapters, I revise and send them one at a time to my critique partner.
- I don’t change everything exactly as she marks it, but I address everything that stops her in reading my chapter.
- Once critiqued and revised, I go through the manuscript again. Sometimes I send it to a professional editor. Then the manuscript is off to my agent.
- Sometimes she gives me suggestions, which sends me revising again.
- Of course, house editors have a new set of edits.
Noting all those book in your office, I wonder if your reading and (and writing) tastes evolved over the years? Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
As a child, I read few books. I read one of Margaret Sutton’s Judy Bolton mysteries. Thrilled but scared, I moved to read in my parents’ room, where Mom sat sewing. In high school, my Dad introduced me to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which I read twice, for freshman and senior English papers. When I read Lloyd C. Douglas’s, The Robe, I told my English teacher I loved the book. She told me I could like a book but I couldn’t love a book. Love was for people. I responded, “Well, I loved this book.”
In my early twenties, I discovered novels of a commercial ilk. A new world opened up. Between babies, I worked in a library and copied a patron’s college children’s literature list. I consumed every book on it. Feeling guilty, I read Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I believed then that one must finish a book. I made it through that one and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I enjoyed.
In my thirties, I read more commercial books, loving (oops, enjoying), Victoria Holt’s gothic romances, legal thrillers, and just about everything, except science fiction. (I did like Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game, though.)
After I became a Christian in my early forties, my sister introduced me to Lori Wick’s Sophie’s Heart. Ever since, I’ve read, mostly inspirational novels. And now, I can easily leave a book unfinished.
I, too, was a fan of Victoria Holt’s gothic romances. Let’s get more personal now. Zoe is such a different name. Do you know the meaning of your name? If so, does it fit you?
My French ancestors used the Greek name, Zoë, sans the trema over the e. So, I’m named after four generations of great grandmothers, and I have an Aunt Zoe. The name went well with my French maiden name, Mathieu.
I knew Zoe meant life, but then in a Bible study I learned it meant the abundant life Jesus promised. Boy, did that touch my novice Christian heart.
Zoe is pronounced like Joey. The name has become popular. So popular, many people tell me their dogs are named Zoe. Other than refusing to eat from a bowl on the floor, the name fits me.
Oh my, that last sentence set me laughing. You apparently have a sense of humor.
Writing is such a sedentary job. Do you do anything to keep in shape?
John and I bought the stone for our dream house. The stonemason said it was the worst stone he’d ever seen. He purchased the good rock. So what do you do with twenty-five pallets of bad brown stone?
For the last few years, in decent weather, John and I load heavy stone into our wheelbarrow. John wheels it down to the bottom of our hill. Together we work on the two-foot high wall along the road. We have ten pallets to go. Then with the pyramid of leftover good rocks the mason rejected, we’ll make steps down our hill to the Christmas trees.
We moved onto a lot filled with stones, so I understand the exercise you can get lugging rocks around. So I could garden on the hillsides, the flowerbeds on our hilly lot are either ringed with stone I dug from the soil or helped my husband create with purchased bricks.
Name three interesting things most people don’t know about you.
- I lived in Haiti from age 7 to 10 during the bloody rise of Papa Doc.
- I lived on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba during my sophomore and junior high school years. I was evacuated during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then returned two months later.
- I lived 5 months in Bangkok, Thailand during my college years while the Vietnam War raged. In transit back to the US on a C-141 cargo plane, our plane landed in Saigon for a couple of hours. Including a commercial flight, the trip took 32 hours and five crews.
Wow! Those are some interesting items.
Thanks for visiting today. Can you leave the readers with an encapsulation of your life’s philosophy?
Although, I’ve done my share of complaining, I’ve been one to persevere. I knew God was taking care of me throughout my life, even when I ignored him over the years. Now I know He was orchestrating everything. It’s such a pleasure to strive to know my Lord and his great mercy. Isaiah 53:6 has especially helped me slowly grow into someone better: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
What happens when an analytical numbers man meets a mercurial marketing rep? Romance becomes a calculated risk…
Jilted by the latest of her father’s choices of “real men,” Cisney Baldwin rashly accepts an invitation to spend Thanksgiving weekend with a sympathetic colleague and his family. Nick LeCrone is a man too much her opposite to interest her and too mild-mannered to make her overbearing father’s “list.” Now, Cisney fears Nick wants to take advantage of her vulnerable state over the holiday. Boy, is she wrong.
Nick wants little to do with Cisney. She drives him crazy with all her sticky notes and quirks. He extended an invitation because he felt sorry for her. Now he’s stuck, and to make matters worse, his family thinks she’s his perfect match. He’ll do what he can to keep his distance, but there’s just one problem—he’s starting to believe Cisney’s magnetism is stronger than he can resist.
In search of the yellow sticky with her ideas for today’s meeting, Cisney Baldwin sifted through papers on her desk. She had a choice: honor her rash commitment to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with Nick LeCrone and his family, or lie and join her friends on the Colorado ski slopes.
Biting cold air and exhilarating speed might keep her mind off slime-ball Jason. And, she’d need her Richmond friends nearby to nurse her self-esteem after she told Daddy she’d lost his pick for her future.
She planted fists on her hips and stared at the papers sprinkled with yellow stickies that covered her workspace. Minutes before her meetings with Nick, she could never put her fingers on her notes. Why did this always happen?
How was she going to face him today, after he’d stood in her office doorway last week and watched her disintegrate during Jason’s dump-Cisney phone call? If only she’d stopped there, but no, she hung up and blubbered about the end of her six-month relationship and having nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.
She splayed her arms over her paper-covered desk and knocked her head on the piles. This was all Jason’s fault. Jason needed space? Right. What he needed was freedom to date that woman with a waist the size of his muscular neck.
She shot erect, raking her hair from her face.
Nick stood in her doorway. He didn’t have a greasy mop of hair or wear button-down shirts two sizes too small, but he carried a calculator loaded with countless complicated functions. The joke around Marketing was that actuaries were accountants without personalities.
Nick came from a long line of actuaries, several still kicking. And unlike go-getter, snap-decision-maker Jason, built like a football tackle, lean Nick was analytical, reserved, and deliberating.
Daddy would eat him for lunch.
She peeled a yellow sticky from her arm and stuck it back on her desk. “Hi. Come in and have a seat.” She moved aside a stack of company summaries. Her new marketing strategy would turn the profiled companies into customers for Virginia National Health Insurance—if Nick approved the financial risks.
As he eased into the chair beside her desk, she fiddled with her pen. She needed to back out of the weekend now, before he had a chance to give her holiday details. Which of her excuses would avoid hurting his feelings?
He hooked his arm over the back of the chair and rested his ankle on his knee, as if he had no upcoming trips on his mind. “Did you come up with an alternative to shortening the pre-existing period?”
Happy day! Could he have forgotten he’d invited her to spend Thanksgiving with his family? Oh, yeah, he never chitchatted before getting down to business. Didn’t he want to know how she was holding up the week after her boyfriend had dumped her? He must know her heart still hurt like a triple bypass.
She lifted a legal pad. None of the yellow stickies beneath it had miraculously morphed into the one she needed since the last time she’d checked. “Yes, I do have a couple of new ideas that came out of our focus groups.” If she could find them. She picked up an empty foam cup hinting of French vanilla and threw it into the trashcan. Maybe this was a good time to renege on their trip south.
Nick leaned over and removed a yellow sticky adhering to the side of her desk. “Is this what you’re looking for?”
She squinted. Yep, that was the sticky. “How’d it get there?”
The knowing smile on the tight-lipped man’s face probably meant he thought she’d resorted to using other surfaces of her desk, now that no space existed on top. What next, her forehead?
“Let’s see…” She turned over a memo and drew boxes, circles, squiggles, and lines, labeling them while she pitched her proposal. His gaze kept up with her scurrying pen, until the paper filled with shapes and words, and she stopped.
He studied her pen scratches.
Was he entering one of his endless deliberations of her great ideas? Cisney didn’t need this right now. Boyfriend problems and Thanksgiving among a family of actuaries still loitering on her calendar was enough. She would not nudge Nick for his opinions. Today, she’d let him sit and think. She’d bring blood to her lips before she’d say a word. She tapped her toe under the desk.
He didn’t move. Not a comment. Not a question.
Would it be impolite to ease her new phone from her pocket and set the stopwatch? She put down her pen and bit her lip. Cisney Ann, do not open your mouth.
She sat back and crossed her arms. Did Nick have a girlfriend? He wasn’t bad looking. Hair, ho-hum brown. Decent nose. Maybe turned slightly to the right? Lips…kissable, if actuaries knew how to kiss. Eyes…whoa. Nice job, Mr. and Mrs. LeCrone.
Why, in the year she’d professionally known this man, hadn’t she noticed how his abundant lashes framed and gave life to his gentle brown eyes? Probably because of the get-down-to-business glasses he always slipped on as soon as he sat.
Nick punched numbers on his calculator and jotted figures next to her drawings.
Ah, movement from the actuary. Come on, Risk Man, bless my proposal.
Who’d have thought this analytical man of few words would sympathize with her falling-apart moment and tell her she’d spend Thanksgiving with his family in some small town in North Carolina? Who’d have…?
Ha! He hadn’t asked her, he’d told her. She’d nodded, while she blew her nose, but her nod was ever so slight. So insignificant it didn’t count as a commitment.
“Sounds doable and the risks are manageable.”
She startled. “What?”
“They’re good ideas, Cisney.”
She sat up straight. “Really? I mean, that’s great.” She jetted her hands upward. “Hurray! I can move forward with actuarially sound ideas.”
He smiled while removing his glasses. “I knew you’d come up with something workable.”
Was that a second bona fide compliment? “Thanks, Nick.”
She rose as he stood. Time to weasel out of Thanksgiving with the LeCrones. Her heart hammered and her hands trembled. Could she deliver her spiel without her voice betraying her twist of the truth? She swallowed. She could do this. The words were simple: She was so sorry. When she’d accepted his kind offer during her stressful moment, she’d forgotten about the ski trip with her friends.
“Um…” Her tongue sought saliva, but finding none, ran over her lips like a dry cotton swab.
Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
But she needed the companionship of the other singles in Marketing. Marketing people were outgoing and fun. With Mom and Daddy in Germany, wasn’t a ski trip with her friends the balm for her wounded heart? Angela and the others were her safety net after she told Daddy his ideal future son-in-law had bolted.
Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
- Fine. She’d go with Nick.
He collected his calculator and legal pad. Wasn’t he going to give her trip details? After all, they would leave for his hometown in less than three days. She needed to know the Thanksgiving dress code and what time he’d pick her up.
He put his pen in his shirt pocket.
If he still wanted her to spend four days with his actuary infested family, why didn’t he act like it? She widened her eyes and arched her eyebrows. “Well…?”
He met her gaze. “Yes?”
She refused to drag trip information from him. He needed to learn to communicate. Before she’d met Jason’s parents, Jason told her to wear her royal blue dress, bring a homemade dish to wow his mother, and remove her shoes on the welcome mat.
She shrugged off her comment.
He moved to the door.
Lord, aren’t you going to prod him, as you so rightly did me?
Ah. Now he remembered he’d invited a guest who needed particulars.
He nodded at the paper she’d used to pitch her proposal. “As soon as you turn your collage into a document, get it to Julie, and she’ll run the official numbers.”
She stared at him, speechless.
He held up his hand in farewell and left.
She sank to her chair and thrust her hands toward the drop-ceiling tiles. “Actuaries! They should be forced to take remedial communication classes.”
About the Author:
Zoe M. McCarthy believes the little known fact that opposites distract. Thus, she spins Christian contemporary romances entangling extreme opposites. Calculated Risk is Zoe’s debut novel. Christian Fiction Online Magazine published two of her short stories. Zoe enjoys leading workshops on the craft of writing, speaking about her faith, planning fun events for her 5 grandchildren, and exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she lives with her husband, John.
Connect with Zoe: www.zoemmccarthy.com
Purchase links for Calculated Risks: http://zoemmccarthy.com/books