AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: C.L. Etta

Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.

Today, C.L. Etta – C.L. Etta, a bartender’s daughter, became the apple of her parents’ eyes at her first dimpled smile. Developing a lifelong passion for reading, C.L. spent summers riding her bicycle to the library where she filled the handlebar basket with books. Much to her chagrin, C.L.’s mother often found her under the bedcovers with a flashlight, reading in the middle of the night.

CL Etta

Thanks so much, C.L., for joining me!


First off, I want kudos to Scott for the generous opportunity to be a part of his weekly Author’s Spotlight. He’s quite unselfish and I’m humbled to be included.

J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

C.L. Etta: In the early nineties I left an employer I’d been with for eighteen years. I had planned on pursuing a writing career. Well, that never materialized because I had no self-discipline. Shortly after I retired in 2013, I had an urge to nurture my creative side. In the past, I’d crochet, create ceramics or paint. At one time I’d even took up macramé. This time, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money for supplies for a project I likely wouldn’t finish. So, I took a creative writing class at our community college, and when I’d completed it I began writing. I guess I learned I was marginally good at it when Pride Publishing accepted my first manuscript for publication.

JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.

CLE: Heartache and Hope. It’s the story of three young men, Kevin, Raphael and Robbie.  Kevin and Raphael live next to each other. Kevin’s younger and dreams of becoming a drag queen , while Raphael is in high school just coming to terms with the possibility he may be gay. Robbie, who Kevin meets after graduation, is a runaway and trolling the streets just to eat. It’s a story of first love, discovery, family, heartache and ultimately hope. The book follows the boys as they mature and move into adulthood. Just to clarify, it is not a YA novel.

The book is the first in the Beyond Heartache Trilogy and tells Kevin’s story.

JSC: How long do you write each day?

CLE: When I first started, I was writing eight to twelve hours which resulted in having four books published in less than a year. Now I’ve slowed down and write about four hours a day.

JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your books? If so, discuss them.

CLE: I enjoy reading books about flawed characters and prefer to pen similar stories. Love’s Tethered Heart tells the tale of a ventilator dependent quadriplegic finding love. Darken Not My Soul is the story of a blind man finding his independence through love and forgiveness. Malcolm’s Man follows the tale of a homeless young man who grew up on a boy’s ranch and a man who’s a childlike adult.

In the Beyond Heartache series it’s the secondary characters with impairments but they are a big part of the stories.

JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?

CLE: I’m a panster for sure. In fact, I failed an English class in high school because I refused to do the outline and detailed note cards required for a writing project. Fortunately, I had enough English credits to graduate. It was the only time the administration ever called my parents for a disciplinary matter and probably the only rebellious thing I’d ever done in school.

JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?

CLE: After reading Love’s Tethered Heart, I had a reader message me to say she wished she could phone Mico and Danny to see how they’re doing. I knew then I’d done my job.

JSC: Where do you like to write?

I do much of my writing sitting in my recliner in front of the television, usually with Classic Rock playing. When I really need to concentrate, I go to my home office and use my desktop. Inevitably I tune in to Pandora to keep me company.

JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

CLE: I devoured medical shows, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, General Hospital. I wanted to be a doctor until I realized how much schooling I’d need. I also discovered my creative side in high school and took three years of art and theater arts classes. So, I turned my sights to working in the theater—costume or set design. Then, I met Mr. E and my goals changed.

JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?

CLE: Yes! I rode my bicycle to the library every week and checked out the maximum number of books, put them in my handlebar mounted basket and pedaled back home. My mother would often find me beneath the covers with a flashlight reading when I should’ve been asleep.

JSC: What are some day jobs you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

CLE: I mentioned earlier that I worked for one employer for eighteen years. I started as a teller and later became the loan manager for one of the largest credit unions in the state. Eventually I burned out and I left. Since then, I’ve worked as a mortgage loan processer and opened my own mortgage brokerage. For a while I provided software support for a company that provided accounting software to small credit unions. When the owner sold the business, I went back to school at age 50 and became a nurse. I worked in a nursing home for ten years before retiring.

You’ll find that my nursing background has impacted my writing. I’ve written a character who’s had a stroke, another with Alzheimer’s disease, and a character with quadriplegia.

JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

CLE: Malcolm’s Manis my most recent release. It’s the story of Sam who lives in a small town and was oxygen deprived at birth. His mother died when he was young, and his dad raised him alone. Sam is gay and a child-like adult. He works in the local bookstore as a barista. When he meets Malcolm his attraction is instantaneous, but he worries about his not being “normal.” As with some of my other books, I wanted to show that everyone, no matter their limitations can fall in love and finding someone who’ll return their feelings.

I believe I have met that goal, but the readers are the final judge.

JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?

CLE: This cover was designed by yours truly. Remember, I like to nurture my creative muse in many ways. I put the cover together on MS Publisher, an older software program I had learned when personal computers first became a thing.

JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

CLE: Years ago, I saw the film Timwith a very young Mel Gibson. I loved the story of the young man, who’s described as “not quite the full quid.” He falls for an older woman who reciprocates his feelings. After seeing the movie, I needed the book and discovered the very talented Colleen McCullough of The Thorn Birds fame had written the story. I own the movie on tape, but I no longer have a VCR, so I watch the film whenever I can find it and I’ve read the novel more than once.

I wanted to write a story like that, heartwarming with obstacles met and overcome by the characters. The challenges were keeping true to the character Sam and his limitations without being condescending. I hope I’ve done that.


Malcolm's Man
Cover image copyright: theartofphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

And now for CL’s new book: Malcom’s Man:

“Sometimes things happen, no one can explain. The boy’s dad did his best after his wife died, but Sammy is Sammy, kissed by angels and sweeter than maple syrup. The why of it all isn’t important. It’s the nurturing and keeping him safe that counts. That’s the kind of thing that makes heroes. And, doesn’t everyone deserve a hero on their side?”

Sam Jensen is content pouring lattes for the tourists and citizens of Durango, Colorado. Oxygen deprived at birth, he has accepted that he’s not normal and slower at most things others take for granted. When he spots the cute stranger with the enticing sashay standing at his counter, Sam is awestruck.

Malcolm Meuli strolls into Branson’s Books and Bagels seeking employment. What he doesn’t expect is the gorgeous barista with the blinding smile happily serving coffee in the busy store. Drawn to his charisma and naivete, Malcolm spends the next two years working with and fantasizing about the enigmatic Sam.

When Sam suddenly asks Malcolm on a date, he’s about to refuse. Dating the man folks say the angels kissed, isn’t fitting for a someone like Malcolm, a homeless boy raised on a ranch for at-risk youth. Besides, a boyfriend doesn’t fit in with Malcolm’s five-year plan.

Even the best-laid plans can go awry when fate refuses to follow life’s blueprint. A smart man acknowledges the Fates are fickle vixens.

Get It On Amazon


Excerpt

Across the table, Malcolm noticed the exasperated expression on Sam’s face. His own thoughts had wondered, and Sam was probably curious about Malcolm’s inattention. Sam frowned, looking like he wanted something. Malcolm met his gaze and tilted his head, silently telling him to go ahead and ask. Sam grinned.

Sam dug into the sack and pulled out the sliced and buttered blueberry bagel he’d selected for this morning’s break.

“Thanks. This is my favorite,” Malcolm said, taking the roll from his hand. Their fingertips brushed, and Sam dropped his chin to his chest.

“I know. You tell me the same thing every week, Muley.” He rolled his eyes, smirking at Malcolm’s redundancy. Malcolm crossed his eyes and stick out his tongue. Sam burst into a hardy laugh.

“Remember, you pronounce my name… Miley.  Or better yet, just call me Malcolm.”

“I know, but I forget sometimes,” Sam said around a mouthful of his cinnamon treat, seemingly unconcerned over the mistake.

“This is extra tasty today,” Malcolm said, munching on his bagel, deciding to let the topic of names drop for now. They’d discussed Malcolm’s unusual surname so many times, he realized it wouldn’t do any good to keep correcting the faux pas. Yet, he despised being called Muley, having endured too many years of teasing back home. With the stubbornness of a Texan mule, he kept hoping one day Sam might surprise him and use the correct pronunciation.

On the exterior Sam was a gorgeous specimen of a man, older than his youthful handsomeness indicated, but his innocence held the real attraction, at least for Malcolm. There was something captivating about Sam that made Malcolm want to cuddle him. Yet, he hesitated to pursue a relationship with Sam, for fear people would think him perverted. Besides, he wasn’t certain of Sam’s sexuality. Malcolm had worked at Triple Bs for a year before he found the courage to ask Mr. Branson about Sam’s childlike manner.

“Sometimes things happen, no one can explain. The boy’s dad did his best after his wife died, but Sammy is Sammy, kissed by angels and sweeter than maple syrup. The why of it all isn’t important. It’s the nurturing and keeping him safe that counts. That’s the kind of thing that makes heroes. And, doesn’t everyone deserve a hero on their side?”

Malcolm questioned his boss’ wisdom. In his experience, you found larger-than-life heroes in a darkened theater, fighting villains on the big screen. Mr. Branson’s cryptic answer did little to satisfy Malcolm’s curiosity, but once he and Sam had become friends, his wish to understand why Sam wore the face of a cherub on the body of David seemed insignificant. Sam was content, and Malcolm discovered spending time with him made Malcolm happy, too. He no longer examined Sam’s guile and charm. He embraced it.

“Great latte. What did you do differently?” Malcolm questioned, not recognizing how Sam changed it up.

Sam’s grin stretched across his face and his eyes sparkled at the compliment. “Vanilla, but not too much. Do you like it? I mixed it just for you.”

“It’s perfect. Do you have a name for it?”

“Latte with vanilla. Duh.” Malcolm chuckled at Sam’s annoyed tone and exaggerated eye roll. Sam’s mood seemed playful, so he teased him a bit.

“I was thinking of something with more… pizzazz. Like, Sam’s Special Bean Brew.”

“Nope. That sounds silly.” Sam shook his head and studied his friend. “What’s gotten into you?”

“Jensen’s Java Juice?” Malcolm suggested, ignoring Sam’s question and figuring it was rhetorical anyway.

“Nope. It’s coffeenot juice,” he said, shaking his head again. Sam snatched another bagel, watching him from beneath a wrinkled brow. His quizzical expression said, Malcolm was nuttier than a holiday fruitcake.

“The blend is unique and special. It needs an appropriate name,” Malcolm insisted, sipping from his cup and licking the froth from his upper lip. He leaned back in his chair, enjoying the expressions dancing across Sam’s face.

“I made it for you,” the vexed man clarified, taking a bite of his cinnamon-raisin bagel.  “Why do you think coffee needs a fancyname? It’s only coffee.”

Malcolm just stared at him and waited to see what he’d say. Sam appeared to be concentrating hard, with his brow furrowed and his tongue peeking between his lips. He took another bagel from the bag and opened his eyes wide. “Names are important to you, huh?”

Malcolm nodded and sipped from his cup. Sam frowned once, then shouted, seemingly unmindful of his full mouth. “I’ve got it!” He chased his bagel with a sip of his drink before continuing. “How about I call it, Sam’s Favorite Coffee for Malcolm?” He contemplated Malcolm with eager blue eyes, begging for his approval.

While he studied Sam’s excited face, Malcolm wondered why he’d never paid attention to the light smattering of freckles across the bridge of Sam’s nose, or the endearing way he bit his lower lip. Malcolm sipped from the steaming cup once more and sighed at the winsome perfection of his companion. “Yes. That’s a perfect name.”


Author Bio

C.L. Etta, a bartender’s daughter, became the apple of her parents’ eyes at her first dimpled smile. Developing a lifelong passion for reading, C.L. spent summers riding her bicycle to the library where she filled the handlebar basket with books. Much to her chagrin, C.L.’s mother often found her under the bedcovers with a flashlight, reading in the middle of the night.

Fast-forward to college, where C.L. spent good times burning bras, working in summer-stock theater, trying out potential husbands, then to her parents’ and in-laws’ delight, finally started a family. Having raised three kids and a husband, and with varied careers as a secretary, credit union loan veep, a software support rep, a mortgage broker, and a nurse under her belt, C.L. decided it was time for a break. So, she retired.

It wasn’t until life had slowed that she heard voices—sexy male voices. Intrigued, she listened. She discovered new friends who clamored for their stories to be told. So, it was back to school where she stood outside the creative writing classroom with students who observed her silver hair and mistook her for the teacher. After completing class and going on a cruise, she sat at her computer and began telling her boys’ stories.

Eighteen months later, C.L. has contracted with two different publishers for four books. The voices in C.L.’s head are as loud as ever, giving C.L. the impetus to keep writing.