Author - Nina Cordoba

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My interests are varied and I'm likely to write anything from funny to poignant to informational, so my blogs are organized by topic. Just choose your favorite topic on the left. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section or go to Contact and email me privately if you like. Thanks for coming by!

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12/19/2011 2:51:38 PM

Mia's Letter-20 Years Later

SPOILER ALERT: The following is full of spoilers and is only meant for those who have already read Mia Like Crazy. If you read this page without having read the story first, I will personally come to your house and thump you on the head. --Nina



I've wanted to write you a letter for a while to tell you about my life now.

But first I want you to know why I waited so long to write this down. It's not because I haven't forgiven you all these years. In fact, Drew and I spent a lot of time with Dr. Schultz before our daughter was born and we decided we both needed to forgive our mothers for leaving us unprotected in the world.

That's why we named our daughter Rosalinda, after our two mothers. For us, this was a symbol of forgiveness and of making a happy future from our past sorrows.

And I want you to know, Mami, I do remember the good times, now. I do know that you loved me and that in your moments of clarity you tried, and you were proud of me. And I know that the problems you were unable to overcome had nothing to do with your feelings for me.

Once I stopped blocking out my emotions, I remembered all kinds of things. Do you remember the Spanish lullaby--"Duermate Mi Hija"? It was the one you used to sing to me when I was little, back when you were still singing. I sang it to both my children and it reminded me of our happy times.

So why did it take me so many years to write this letter? Because I didn't want to face the feelings of sadness and regret.

When Drew hired someone in the city to find you, I guess he didn't really expect to learn you had died. He waited until the kids were at Meri's, then he sat me down on the couch. He was so choked up, he could barely get the words out. At that moment, I thought I felt worse for him than for me, since he was probably reliving his own mother's death, and I was already half-expecting you to be gone.

But expecting something like that really doesn't make it any less monumental or painful. You died and we never fixed anything between us. I never got to sit and tell you about my husband and my children, my best friend who is also my sister-in-law, my niece and nephew who have grown up to be wonderful people...

I never got to hear you tell me you were sorry, and I never got to tell you I forgave you.

So, I guess this is the closest we'll ever get to that conversation.

Where do I start with Drew and me? Well, you can't take two people who are as screwed up as we were and get a perfect story-book ending. We've had our struggles. I always thought I'd want to marry the perfectly well-adjusted man who'd come from the perfect family, but I don't think that man could have understood me the way Drew does.

And as odd as he is, I can't imagine how the kids could have had a better father. Since he had no interest in business whatsoever, Drew made the kids his full-time occupation. When they were little, he refused to leave them alone with anyone besides me and Meri. Yeah, he's great with kids, but hasn't fully gotten past his trust issues with adults.

Of course, this caused a problem when Rose got to be a big girl and started getting invited to sleepovers. Drew told her "absolutely not." She went along the first few times because she worshipped her daddy, but she's got my strong will and she finally put her foot down. After we dropped her off that first night, Drew paced around the whole evening. Around midnight, he took off to where Rose was staying, only two blocks away. He claimed there was a family emergency and brought her home.

I didn't know a seven-year-old could be so livid. She told her dad he was paranoid and he was just going to have to get over it. Drew took it kind of hard because the two of them had lived in a state of mutual admiration since she was born.

Luckily, I had set up a studio for Drew in the house we bought behind Meri's, and he'd taken up painting. He often used it as an outlet when he got stressed. So, we worked out an agreement that when the kids were away and he got worried, he would go into his studio and paint.

During those times, he'd paint the most dismal pieces--dark, brooding, stormy images, often done in black and white and gray. Then the next day, when the kids were home and all was right with the world, he'd paint an almost identical piece, but in vivid color, all sunshine and light.

When I complained that we were accumulating too many of these, Meri showed them to a friend who owned a gallery in the city, and the "Darkness and Light" sets became a hot ticket item. Drew refused to go to his own opening at the gallery, but that only drove the prices up because now he was a reclusive, tortured genius.

Our son Jacob refers to the people who buy Drew's paintings as "artsy fartsy weirdoes," which Drew thinks is hilarious. Jake is very much his own person. His dad is thrilled that he doesn't seem to be anything like him, but I think he's inherited his dad's math brain and sports abilities. He's 16 now and is good at all kinds of things, but seems to be enamored with computer programming, lately. Drew coached Jacob's baseball teams for years. He loved working with the kids, but barely tolerated their parents. They put up with Drew because the kids loved him, and he managed to bring out the best in them on the field.

When Jake wanted to take up skateboarding, Drew went out and got them both skateboards and learned right along with him. When the day came that Jake informed his dad he'd rather just skateboard with his friends, Drew painted all night.

Meanwhile, Rose is 19 and attending Columbia University. You should have seen the collection of paintings Drew did the week she left. Pretty horrifying. But she takes pity on us and comes home nearly every weekend.

And now poor Drew faces a new challenge. Last weekend, Rose brought home a serious boyfriend for the first time. I know the idea of losing his little girl to another  man is killing Drew, but he won't admit that. He's zeroed in on the fact that the boy is an artist. Drew's worst case scenario is that his daughter will fall for a guy like her dad. I've tried convincing him that wouldn't be such a bad thing, but he just keeps saying, "An artist? Really?"

Then, I point to the weird Picasso-like painting over the fireplace and remind Drew he's told his daughter since she was two that it was a portrait of her--which it is, except Drew painted her nose on top of her head like a party hat, among other oddities. Did he really think she'd come home with an average Joe?

Anyway, the boy turned out to have a good head on his shoulders. He's majoring in forensic science, minoring in graphic art.

Oh, I just realized I wrote so much about the family, I haven't told you what I'm doing. Well, since neither Drew nor Meridith have any love for business, I took over responsibility for all the financial interest of the family. I spend many of my days in meetings with lawyers, financial planners, sitting in board meetings...and I love it! Drew says that makes me crazier than he is.

But the best part is that after Meri got me involved in some of her causes, I met some nice people who wanted to start a non-profit aimed at girls in the housing projects--helping to keep them in school, supplying scholarships, and keeping them from becoming teenage mothers.

Drew and Meri and I are the major donors, and I go into the city periodically to raise money and spend time there with the girls. It's still painful sometimes when I drive by the building I grew up in, but when I leave, knowing I've done something to improve these girls' lives, it's all okay.

I never lie anymore about where I come from--not to the girls, not to board members, not since the night Drew confronted me about it. I don't need to anymore.

And what about me and Drew? Strange as it sounds, I'm kind of glad I didn't have friends and family around to warn me away from him. I would have felt I had to do the rational thing and walk away the minute I knew his story. But I can't imagine how I could have made a better match.

I understood his need to let the kids be wild and run amuck, squealing around the house, finger-paint on their hands and faces. I understood why, after they were tucked in, he needed to pick up every toy and wipe up every drop of paint before he went to bed. Order is still a comfort to him. And I understood why I had to be the "bad cop" and take care of nearly all the discipline when the kids were little. Drew didn't have the heart to even raise his voice at them, after everything he'd been through.

And Drew understood that I still needed to feel like I was improving things--myself, our finances, the charities. He would have loved for me to stay with him twenty-four hours a day, and it wasn't like we needed the money, but he understood.

I always remember one particular time when I was pregnant with Rose. I was so emotional, between my doubts about my parenting skills and the hormones. Drew was doodling on his sketch pad while I was watching an episode of Leave It to Beaver. Ward Cleaver opened the front door and announced he was home and I burst into tears.

Drew didn't need to ask why. He knew I'd had a father who left and never came home. He knew what it was like to have a parent you loved who didn't come back. He just moved to the couch and put his arms around me. And when I was all cried out, he made me hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows like he did that first night I stayed in his apartment.

There was a time in my life when I was so solitary, so lonely, even in a law office full of people. The truth is, I quit my job that day because I couldn't take another moment surrounded by people, yet feeling utterly alone.

But since the day Mr. Mason rejected me and Drew stood up for me then opened his heart completely to me, I haven't been lonely anymore. And because of Drew, I've spend the past twenty years surrounded by people who love me. I'm not sure anyone can ask for more than that.

I hope wherever you are, Mami, you've found the kind of peace and contentment you never found in this life. Who knows? Maybe you're watching over me now and you can experience some of those feelings through me.

That's what I like to believe, anyway.

With all my love,

Your daughter Mia


For more about Drew, Mia and Meri, check out the Mia Q&A blog post.

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posted by Nina 12 Comments

9/1/2011 4:58:35 PM

Threads...My Strange Addiction?

I have to admit it, I'm into threads. I think they're just yummy. I'm also into foreshadowing and reverse foreshadowing too, but threads are my all-time favorite. The threads most people are familiar with (whether they realize it or not) are those in TV sitcoms and movies.

A thread doesn't have to be a brand-new thought or idea. It can even be a common thought, phrase or cliche. It's the way it's worked into the story that makes it fun. A thread can give that exra texture to a comedy or lend a few light-hearted moments to a more serious romance or drama. And it's awesome if a thread has a "knot" at the end where it culminates in an especially cool line or a romantic moment.

You may remember in the movie Eat, Pray, Love, how recently-divorced Liz is annoyed because people throughout her travels--from Italy to Bali--keep telling her she needs a man. It's a very minor thing in the film, until the moment she's complaining about it to her hot Brazilian love interest Felipe, and he replies (in his sexy accent), "You don't need a man. You need a champion." And we stop breathing for a moment.

Hope Floats, starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. had some very dramatic moments, but also very funny and romantic ones provided by a few threads. Newly separated Birdee has had to move back in with her mother after being crushed and humiliated on a talk show, when her best friend reveals she's been sleeping with Birdee's husband. (Birdee thought she was just there for a makeover.) Here's my favorite thread: The folks back in her home town keep bringing up her TV appearance as if the excitement of her being on TV made them oblivious to the pain she suffered, saying things like, "We taped it," or "We have satellite, so we got to watch it twice."

Finally, even Justin (her new hot cowboy love interest) comments on how good she looked on TV. She asks which part he liked best. Was it the part where she looked downtrodden and pitiful or the part where she looked stricken and grotesque?

He answers, "I preferred the part where you looked available." (What a great finish to a thread!)

I tend to have lots of threads "sewn" into my stories, although they are never planned from the beginning. I'm a panster (meaning I only know the basics of the plot when I start writing) and the threads just occur as I'm writing, then later in the book, there seems to be another perfect place for that thread and sometimes it continues throughout the story.

In Not Dreaming of You, one of my favorites is the "axe-murderer" thread, where Kiki keeps getting told by her cousin Chris and the reporter Mark that these dating service guys could be axe-murders, but she insists there's no such thing nowadays. After Mark seduces her the first time, then she throws him out, he's caught and confronted by her protective cousin Chris right outside her bedroom door.

When Chris yells to Kiki, asking her if she's okay, Mark says, "Did you think I was an axe-murderer?" And Kiki can't resist yelling through the door, "There are no axe-murderers!" despite the fact that she's mortified by the embarrassing situation, and Chris and Mark are in the middle of a testosterone show-down.

I also grew to love Mark while writing the story because of his relationship with his dog Jack. Mark relates to Jack better than he does people, and his internal monologue became much funnier and more lovable because of it. At one point, he fails to pull Jack off Kiki right away (even though Jack's pushed her down to the floor and is licking her face and ears) because Mark is enjoying living vicariously through his dog.

But stories are more than threads, I suppose. After I wrote both Don't Make Me Make You Brownies and Mia Like Crazy, I realized I'd foreshadowed (and reverse foreshadowed) all over the place. When a story is written from the heroine's point-of-view instead of two POVs, it's important to drop crumbs throughout the story for your readers to follow, so they know there is more to be learned about the hero.

At the end of Don't Make Me Make You Brownies, Abbie learns several things she didn't know about Rick and how everything between them came to pass. But there are hints dropped about his final revelations throughout the story, starting the second time she encounters him (aka "the lawnmower scene") onward.

In Mia Like Crazy (coming soon), Drew is a dark, brooding hero who has shut himself away from others as much as possible. I wanted the reader to piece him together gradually, along with Mia. The more pieces to the puzzle Mia gathers, the more intriguing and compelling Drew becomes.

I'm not sure where all these little tidbits come from sometimes, but threads and foreshadowing are often my favorite parts of a story, whether I'm reading it, watching it or writing it. Maybe it stems from the fact that some of my earliest favorite books were mysteries, like Agatha Christie books and romances with a gothic feel, like Jane Eyre. I love to "gather crumbs" and piece them together or wait for the final, fun knot in the thread.

Why don't I write mysteries? Well I never say "never," but so far I haven't been able to resist turning everything into something funny, so if you see a mystery from me, it will probably be a tongue-in-cheek humorous one.

In fact, I do have this crazy idea...but it will have to wait until I get some of the other books out there.

Do you have a favorite thread from a movie or book? Or am I the only one who records them in my brain as "threads"? (I never know which things are normal to remember, since I have an entire jukebox in my head full of old TV show themes and commercial jingles.)

posted by Nina 4 Comments

8/19/2011 11:15:21 AM

Confessions, Baby!

I have to admit, I gave Abbie from Don't Make Me Make You Brownies more of my quirks than I have any other character to date.

She doesn't have my basic personality. Although I have a big one, I'm so mentally and physically stressed by serious confrontation that I nearly always choose to either swallow my anger or handle sticky situations with humor.

But despite our differences, Abbie has a ton of my quirks. Today, I think I'll just talk about the one oddity women may find most appalling. Abbie has a sort of pregnancy/baby phobia, a fear of children, and is convinced she has no maternal instincts at all.

Of course, in fiction things have to be exaggerated, however, I have experienced some of these feelings myself. When I learned the ins and outs of giving birth, I thought it was the most horrific, ridiculous process ever. I didn't see why anyone would go through all that just to have a baby. I never got excited over babies the way other women did, though I always wanted to take their dogs home with me.

You'd think that raising my daughter would have gotten me past all this, but she screamed night and day as a baby until I finally understood how that whole shaken baby syndrome happened. (No, I never actually shook her.) I was so glad she was an early talker, so at least I knew what the problems were--even if she was still screaming them at me.

Anyway, I remember one particular day at a belated baby shower, where the newborn was in attendance. All the moms, and even some of the little girls, were dying to hold the baby. I sat quietly, hoping I could get out of there unscathed. But, no, after everyone else had held the little bundle of joy, the mother looked at me and said, "You haven't gotten to hold him yet!" as if I wasn't going to get proper compensation for my baby gift if I was gypped out of the "holding" part.

I didn't want to say, "I have no urge whatsoever to take that scary little load off your hands." Instead I said, "Oh, I'm sure there's someone here more qualified." Everyone laughed like I was joking. (I've found this is one of the drawbacks to being a person who jokes all the time. Even when you're trying to be serious, people don't take you seriously.) So the proud mom came over an thrust her baby upon me.

And I got the same weird feeling I always get in that situation because everyone turned and stared at me expectantly. Since I have sort of an entertainer personality, when people give me their attention, I feel I should do something entertaining. But there was this baby in my arms totally cramping my style. (Hey, I'm half-Latin and that half talks with her hands as well as her mouth.)

Since I don't have a clue as to what to do with a baby, I can't impress anyone with my awesome Mary Poppins routine. I'm a good conversationalist, but an infant rarely holds up his end of a conversation and I find that babies don't get my jokes. So once I was handed the baby, I felt completely self-conscious because I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. Then, as usual, the baby  started crying. I think they're like animals that way. They can sense the fear.

My daughter could sometimes be soothed by my singing, but I didn't want to sing to someone else's baby with everyone staring at me. What if the baby just cried louder? Then I'd have to either give up, which is lame, or attempt to drown the baby out with my singing and hope he's impressed enough to realize I'm the alpha human and shut up.

I've also learned over the years that I'm not good with groups of children of any age. I was once left in charge of a handful of two-year olds with only my five-year-old daughter to assist me.

One of them made a poopie and I had to go into the adjoining room to change him. Seconds later, my daughter started yelling, "Mommy, they're putting glue all over the tables."

"Take it away from them," I yelled back.

"Mommy, they're coloring all over the floor with crayons!"

"Take them away from them!" I screamed as I desperately tried to get the new package of wipes unwrapped while holding the child down with one hand.

"Mommy, they're all crying because I took their glue and crayons away!"

Damn, they had me there.

But to tell you the truth, I didn't fare much better with high school kids when I was substitute teaching. As it turns out, kids that age have not yet lost their wild animal instincts and seemed to know the moment they walked in that I was easy pickins.

The one exception was a fabulous AP English class where the kids finished their work without complaint, then pulled out novels they were reading. When they started chatting, they were recommending books to each other and making ironic jokes. Of course the best part for me was that they got my jokes and then played off them with funny remarks of their own.. But that only happened once so sometimes I think it was a dream.

So, like Abbie, I never thought I was good with kids, but when I ended up tutoring reading after my daughter was born, parents treated me like the kid whisperer. Our local schools weren't teachig phonics and there were many below level readers with no learning disabilities as wall as some who did have them. I kept getting more and more referrals to the point where moms hunted me down--one in an illegal way--even after I tried to stop tutoring.

Once I went by the home of a neighbor whose son I'd tutored, and she insisted I stay and meet all her visiting relatives. When I walked in she announced, "This is the lady who taught Justin to read!"

Everyone made some sort of "Ooooo," or "Ahhh" sound and they looked at me like a bunch of Germans who were meeting David Hasselhoff for the first time.

So, like Abbie, I guess I do a bit better with children when I can make more of a personal connection. And, like Abbie, I managed to pull off the motherly duties pretty well , despite the fact that I never really felt like I knew what I was doing. My daughter has certainly turned out better than I thought a teenager could possibly be.

However, whenever I hear a woman is pregnant, instead of giving the appropriate squeal of delight, I have a flashback of the first five years of screaming, tantrums, and extreme drama my daugther put me through. (I'm obviously still suffering from PCSD--Post Child Stress Disorder.) I'm afraid sometimes my response to the blessed announcement may not be much different than Abbie's is when her sister tells her she's trying to have a baby.

My apologies to baby huggers and anyone who didn't think I acted thrilled enough when they told me they were knocked up.

Just know, it's not that I thought you'd be a bad mother or anything, I'm just scared $#!^less for you. In other words, "It's not you... It's me."

Am I the only woman in the world who's felt uncomfortable or inadequate when it comes to babies and children? Or am I the only one politically incorrect enough to admit to it?


posted by Nina 7 Comments

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