It's heeeeeeeeeere . . . .

Today's the official publication date of Once Upon A Project. I hope you've gotten yours! I've already gotten e-mail requests for those free bookplates I've offered (you've gotta be on my mailing list to know what the heck I'm talking about.)
I'm taking the day off to do some deep breathing (it's been just nuts the last couple of weeks), but there's still plenty of Bettye Griffin to go around. (All right, so I'm being spread thinner than the last of the peanut butter, but after this I'm going back under my rock until the release of my next book!)
I did interviews with two of my blog buddies. Shelia Goss' column can be found here, and Patricia Woodside's here.
Those of you who work in downtown Chicago near the Citicorp Center, I hope to see you at my signing at lunchtime this Friday. I also look forward to seeing everyone who's coming to the Slam Jam on Saturday (I'm busy with signings and other things and will only be at the Slam that one day.)
I wish you good reading! And if you read Once Upon A Project and enjoy it, please consider sharing your good opinion about it with an online review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or both!

Dr. Maxine Thompson Live Internet Radio Shows
This Week's Guest - Monday, April 28, 2008
Maxine Thompson

Dr. Maxine's Show provides sponsorship for entrepreneurs and the literary community. Dr. Maxine invites you to join her this week on her various shows where she will be speaking with some interesting people.

ArtistFirstMonday, April 28, 2008 9:00 PM Eastern, 8:00 PM Central

This week's guest: Bettye Griffin, Author of Once Upon A Project
Gone Blogging

Today I've got the guest mike over at Romancing the Blog, so stop by!

And now, for a look at my progress. It's been weeks since I figured this out. This month for the most part has been lost to promotion and various other important stuff, so it's a nice shock to see how those bits and pieces have added up:

Untitled WIP:

Good thing I'm approaching that halfway mark, too. I only have a couple of more months left.

Remembering Ella

The great Ella Fitzgerald was born on this day in 1917. In her honor, I thought I'd share with you my favorite recording of hers. Be forewarned, it's not a happy song, but it's undeniably a beautiful one, and out of all the people who recorded this Cole Porter classic, Ella made it her own, the same way that Etta James made "At Last" her own. Unfortunately, it is not a performance video, so the accompanying pictures don't mean squat, but it shows off the sheer beauty of her vocal gifts. (We all know Ella could scat, but hell, so can Al Jarreau and a whole lot of other folks).

Happy birthday, Ella! And have a wonderful weekend, everyone. Don't forget to check out my interview with talented new novelist Lori Johnson below.

5 Questions for . . . Lori Johnson

Today I'm chewing the fat with talented new novelist Lori Johnson. Lori's debut novel, After The Dance, is fresh off the presses (April 2008) and appears under Kensington's Dafina line. Even though she currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina and grew up an "Air Force brat," Lori has always considered Memphis, TN (her birthplace and where the majority of her kinfolk reside) home. Her stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals, magazines and newspapers, including Upscale Magazine, Memphis Magazine, The Commercial Appeal, The Tri-State Defender, The Emrys Journal, The Best of Memphis Anthology 2003 and Obsidian II: Black Literature In Review.

Here we go:

Bettye: Welcome, Lori! Tell us about your new book.

Lori Johnson: After The Dance is a romantic comedy told from both the male and female perspectives. In the story, thirty-four year old Faye Abrahams, a chain-smoking, cynical, single pharmacist, describes her attempts to keep from falling for Carl Tucker, her charming, next-door neighbor, who is also a financially strapped, divorced father of three. On the flipside, forty-two year old Carl shares his repeated efforts to uncover the "real" Faye, win her affection and prove he's a better catch than her old beau--the now successful, "born-again" celebrity chef, Venard (aka "Scoobie") Payne.

Bettye: I must say that I read an excerpt on your website and found it highly entertaining and amusing as well. I was nodding my head in agreement with Faye's thoughts and chuckling throughout at the humor. It's written in a down-to-earth first person style that feels so honest (in regard to the characters' thoughts) and automatically makes me feel closer to the characters. Which brings me to my next question: What are your feelings of the state of African-American chick lit?

Lori Johnson: In all honesty, Bettye, I'm not at all qualified to answer that question. I'm not a regular reader of chick-lit (of any kind) or even romance, for that matter. Even though I am well aware there are those who do and will label my novel as chick-lit, romance and even urban-let, I don't think it's truly a proper fit in any of those categories. I view After The Dance as mainstream African American fiction or a contemporary, humorous love story, if you will. But I'm not opposed to others describing it as any of the aforementioned, if it tickles their fancy.

Bettye: It immediately reminded me of chick lit, or maybe I should say the genre formerly known as chick lit, which I've heard is now called "light women's fiction." (Yeah, another label.) I always felt this genre was under-represented in African-American books, and it's refreshing to see it. However readers want to categorize it, it's a good book that shouldn't be missed!

What's the last DVD you rented? The last theatrical release you saw? What'd you think of them?

Lori Johnson: I can't remember the last time I rented a DVD. Renting them requires making a commitment to watch and return them before their due date. Since I know that's not happening (LOL), I typically buy DVDs and let them collect dust for days, weeks, sometimes months before I get around to watching them. The last theatrical production I saw was Meet The Browns. Even though the "Brown" character got on my nerves a bit, overall, I found the movie enjoyable. Actually, I thought the acting and the storyline made it a much better film than Tyler Perry's last one -- Why Did I Get Married?

Bettye: I know what you mean about renting DVDs -- or maybe I should say bringing them back -- or maybe I should say not bringing them back! The last time I rented a dollar-a-night movie I held it for six days . . . not such a bargain after all.

After The Dance shares its title with a popular R&B/jazz composition. Which is your favorite version: the original by Marvin Gaye or the covers by Fourplay or El DeBarge (or anyone else I might have forgotten about)?

Lori Johnson: I'm a huge fan of Marvin Gaye's music. His version of the song was the only one I had in mind when I gave the book its title. Also, in bestowing the title (After The Dance) on my novel I was attempting to, one, play off the notion that a relationship is a dance of sorts and two, bring attention to the fact that something pivotal occurs after each of the story's four slow dances.

Bettye: Nice connection between the song and your plot. I've gotta tell you, much as I love Marvin Gaye, my favorite version is by El.

Lori, where do you see yourself in five years in regard to your writing?

Lori Johnson: My plans include fine-tuning my writing skills and producing more mainstream, contemporary fiction in the same vein as After The Dance. In addition, I hope to one day publish a collection of short stories and a collection of creative non-fiction. In any and everything I write, I plan to continue shining a light on the Southern, African-American experience and Memphis, in particular.

Bettye: I think you're off to a great start, and I wish you continued success. It's been five questions, Lori, but is there anything else you'd like readers to know?

Lori Johnson: Even though I've published a number of short stories, essays, articles, and now a novel, my background is not in Creative Writing, the Fine Arts or even Journalism, it's in Anthropology. Not unlike Zora Neale Hurston, another Black woman/writer/anthropologist, I think my love of folkways, folk speech and folk symbolism is largely what distinguishes my work from that of other African-American writers of contemporary fiction.

Thanks for inviting me to stop by and chew the fat with you, Bettye! Readers are welcome to visit my web site or my blog, Lori's Old School Mix.

Bettye: Thanks, Lori!

And You Said It Wouldn't Last

It looks like Star Jones Reynolds is dropping her third name, three-and-a-half years after her marriage to investment banker Al Reynolds.

The gossip wheels are turning, with the whispers of, "I told you he was gay!" running rampant. Star is asking that her privacy be respected.

Lots of luck with that request. It's hard to expect people to leave you alone when you insist on putting yourself in the spotlight. Remember how she shared all the details of that circus of a wedding (doing plenty of name dropping along the way to give the product manufacturers publicity) with the world. Do you really think people will keep their noses out of your divorce, Star?

But hey, at least you look great, even if you lost the weight for him.
See You on the Radio

I'll be part of a multi-author interview on Ella Curry's Internet radio show on Blog Talk Radio. The show will air from 8-10PM Eastern, 7-9PM Central. Here's the link:

You can call in to speak to the authors at (646) 200-0402. Here's list of authors scheduled to be on the show:

LaConnie Taylor Jones
JJ Michael
Bettye Griffin
Francis Ray
Gwynne Forster
Mary B. Morrison
Victoria Wells
Evelyn Palfrey
Donna Hill
Michelle Monkou
Monica Anderson
Michele Cameron
Trice Hickman
All About Me

Melissa Blue informed me that she's published the interview I did with her recently, and right on time, too. This past week has been just crazy; I've barely had time to blog. I'd like to tell you about it, but I think I'd rather put it in a book one day. And today is postcard day. At times like these I wish I had a couple of kids around to help me paste stamps on hundreds of postcards. I'm going to time myself, just to see how long it takes, for no other reason than GP. Thank God they now make self-adhesive stamps.

While my fingers are working, check out my interview at Mel's blog, and while you're there stick around a while and check it out. Mel can be a real scream.

Wishing you a wonderful Monday!
A Mary by Any Other Name Can Also be a Rose

Naming characters is an important part of the writing process. You always want to give your character just the right name, not too outlandish and not too plain. It can't be that far off from naming a new baby.

This is something I thought about long before I was published, when my writing was still in the note-taking stage. (I always knew that one day there'd be a book with my name on it.) When I heard a name I really liked a made a note of it for future use. I wasn't worried about using the name of a real person. Names aren't copyrighted. There are plenty of people out there who have identical names, including famous people. Does anyone really think that there's only one Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, or Michael Douglas? What about names of politicians, like John Kennedy (although not always with the "F") and George Bush? Of course not.

I heard the name Spencer Barnes in a minor Charles Grodin/Jim Belushi movie about stolen identity and gave that name to my very first hero in At Long Last Love. Other names from my list followed, like Austin Hughes (hero of Love Affair) and Schuyler "Skye" Audsley (From This Day Forward). I'm not even sure where I encountered these people, but their names lingered. I'm using another of the names I've compiled, Tanis Montgomery, for a character in my WIP. I heard that name being paged while shopping at a department store years ago and said, Hmmmmmmm, gotta write that one down.

But another character in this same book is called Beverline Wilson, the maiden name of one of my paternal great-aunts. This brings me to another source for names: my circle of family and friends. Hilton White, the hero of my novel A Love of Her Own, was named after the deceased father of my best friend from childhood (to whom I am still close after 40+ years.) I thought it was a nice tribute to a man who constantly included me in their family outings like I was his fourth child, and his family (from whom I'd received permission) was tickled.

In that same book I named grandparents Eva Mae and Wilburn, the names of my own maternal grandparents. I was trying to come up with a name for a drug-abusing neglectful mother when my friend Glenda called me. Guess what I called the character? I did redeem myself by assigning that same name to a more respectul character in my fourth novel, the romantic comedy Prelude to a Kiss. Speaking of Prelude, the plot of that story involved my heroine going on a series of disastrous dates that usually ended up with a trip to the ER, where the hero worked. I named the unfortunate gentlemen Gary, Gordon, Bernard, and Thomas, after two of my brothers, my husband, and my brother-in-law. Tee-hee.

I've used the names of people I know who are living for more prominent characters as well. The name Cornelia Hatchet, heroine of From This Day Forward, was borrowed from the maiden name of my husband's former mother-in-law, who is one of my biggest cheerleaders. I even applied her nickname, "Hatch," to my heroine. (Of course, I call her Mrs. [Married Name], not Hatch.)

Writers and aspiring writers, how do you choose names for your characters?
It's April 15th . . . Have You Done Your Taxes?

I hate this time of year. Every year I say I'm going to get the tax return done well before the deadline. I bought the software back in February.

Once more I waited until the last possible minute. It's 3:52 AM, and I just finished. (No, I haven't been up nonstop; I often sleep for three or four hours and then get up around midnight, but usually I'm doing something more valuable than my tax return . . . like a chapter.)

This time of year always gives me the blues. I deal with it the way I usually do, with a blues song. Here's one of my favorites, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton singing Hound Dog. She likely was the composer of this blues classic and would have made a fortune from the sanitized Elvis Presley version, had she only registered it at the copyright office. Woof woof to you, Big Mama!

Have a happy tax day! In the meantime, I'm going to get some sleep.

Don't Shake It, Don't Break It

It's been two blissful years since my last problem with lost data. I've dismissed thumb drives as being too easily bent (the laptop I had at the time only had a port in the back, and I kept forgetting the damn thing was there). After bending two of them beyond repair, I looked for another solution.

Then I went to the pocket drive and thought it would be happily ever after, until two weeks ago, when it fell from the top of my desktop tower to the uncarpeted floor. It worked fine after that for about a week, but suddenly it died, leaving me with dozens of files that were on that drive and had yet to be stored on my laptop's hard drive.

One hundred and twenty-five dollars later (for data recovery), I will caution all of you to make sure you back up your data regularly. Make time to do it at least once a week, and twice is better.

Now, if only I can take my own advice . . . .
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bettye . . .

Well, not everything, but I've been interviewed by LaShaunda Hoffman over at her web site, SORMAG (Shades of Romance).

Have a great weekend!

Like Romantic Comedy Movies? Have I Got One For You!

A fabulous one comes on TV tomorrow night, Thursday, April 10th. No, I'm not talking about What Women Want or When Harry Met Sally. I'm talking about a much older movie, one made in 1941.

"Come live with me and be my love" begins a sonnet by Christopher Marlowe. Someone at MGM had a brilliant idea of taking the first four lines and applying it to a little film they were making, one so obscure it doesn't even have a movie poster. (I had to get this still from someone's Web site.) But it's absolutely charming.
The movie, running a scant 90 minutes, stars the gorgeous Hedy Lamarr as an illegal alien who took her considerable financial assets (she lives pretty good) out of "what used to be Austria" and is hiding in New York, where she takes the ordinary name of Joanna "Johnny" Jones. James Stewart, tall, lanky, and not at all bad-looking in his younger years, plays a down-on-his-luck struggling writer named William Smith. They meet by chance, and then the fun starts.
I admit that I borrowed the "Smith and Jones" angle for my 2003 romance Closer Than Close, where I named the heroine and hero Ivy Smith and Ray Jones. As for the rest of the story, it did inspire me to outline an as-yet-unsold project that probably would have sold had I been willing to give my heroine a more frivolous reason for her behavior . . . which would have been silly. I liked Johnny's reason. This movie proves that it's possible to mix the serious (Europe was waging a war in which the U.S. was not yet involved when this film was made in 1941, which plays a major role in Johnny's actions) with the lighthearted, with wonderfully real results. My favorite scene - aside from the very last - is when Jimmy Stewart's milkman gives him romantic advice. He says he's an expert, that he and his wife have eight children. Jimmy Stewart, clearly looking impressed, says, "You really are an expert," in that wonderfully understated way of sexual innuendo movies of the era hinted at. It's not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.
Watch it on Turner Classic Movies at 8:00PM Eastern, 7:00PM Central, and see what I mean.
Presenting Once Upon A Project . . . the book trailer

In stores everywhere just 3 weeks from tomorrow!

Feelings . . . oh, oh, oh, feelings

As I drafted Once Upon A Project, it occurred to me that some of the subjects addressed in this story might provoke unpleasant memories for some readers, particularly those parts of the plot that revolve around failing marriages, illnesses, and worries about the health of spouses who are considerably older.

This is always ticklish for me. The last thing I want to do is be a source of emotional stress or despair for anyone. But no one wants to read a book about people whose lives are hunky-dory; there must be conflict to stand in one's way, secrets one hopes to keep quiet but which threaten to be revealed, with all the consequences.

Fortunately, my husband and I are reasonably healthy - something that can change at any time - but I had a marriage that failed myself, even if it was a long time ago, and I do remember my anguish at making up my mind that it wasn't working and I needed to end it.

Then I thought back to the reader mail I received when my second novel, the romance A Love of Her Own, was published in 1999. I did this book for therapeutic reasons, having suffered that condition myself without a happy ending. I always said that when I hit 40, published or not, I would write a romance about this topic, since that was the age where I let those hopes fade away. Women who had suffered infertility wrote me and said how much they loved the story. (Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, women who had given birth to healthy children also wrote to say how much they loved the story, but we're not talking about them right now.) I remember some of the comments the readers made: "You gave me hope." "Thank you for not ending this beautiful story by having her miraculously get pregnant." "I'm glad I'm not the only one."

That last comment is the most telling. I'm not the only one. I'm not alone. And I began to feel better, more confident. I sat down and wrote the synopsis. When my editor greenlighted it, I wrote the story and allowed the characters' emotions to run free.

At least one person who read the ARC and who has been personally affected by one of the situations mentioned in the book told me that I did a fine job.

I hope other readers who can identify more closely with the plight of my characters because of personal experience will feel less alone . . . and will feel hopeful as well.

As Morgan Freeman said in The Shawshank Redemption . . . "I hope."

5 Questions For . . . Adrianne Byrd

Today please welcome bestselling author Adrianne Byrd, who has graciously agreed to take five questions.

I have not actually met Adrianne, but we’ve “chatted” a bit on-line over the years. I read one of her books, the Kimani Romance She’s My Baby, and it renewed my faith that all romance novels do not have to be cut from the same cloth (or, as I was starting to feel, from the same piece of cloth). I found it refreshing in a field where so many books are structured in a similar manner (and if she did a sequel, I sure wasn’t able to sniff it out, where usually I can spot the author’s intent to do spin-offs the moment they bring in unattached family members or friends, which is starting to happen earlier and earlier).

I had intended to ask Adrianne for an interview next month (in May) to coincide with the release of her new Arabesque, Controversy. Unfortunately, when two authors with April releases did not respond to my request for interviews and the third one’s e-mail bounced back undeliverable, I reached into the future and contacted Adrianne, who responded promptly and in doing so kept my every-three-weeks interview cycle going unbroken. Thanks, Adrianne!

Adrianne is one of a handful of authors who is writing both category romance for Kimani Romances plus single-title contemporary romance for Arabesque. In addition, the year 2008 finds some of Adrianne’s earlier novels being re-released by Arabesque, so that new Byrd Watchers can discover Defenseless (re-issued just this month) and Forget-Me-Not (and her current readers can replace their worn-out copies with new ones). Not one to rest on her laurels, Adrianne is continuing to produce new work on a frequent basis. In the last 12 months alone she has penned Blue Skies, Feel the Fire, To Love A Stranger, Two Grooms and a Wedding and is rounding it out with Controversy, her fifth romance since last June.

Adrianne also has an alter ego of Denesha Diamond the pen name under which she has created the Bentley Manor housing project for a three-book series written with her writing partner, Meesha Mink (nom de plume of well-known author Niobia Bryant). Check out the Hoodwives, y'all!

Here we go!

Bettye: Adrianne, your novel Defenseless is being reissued this month. You have a brand new Arabesque coming out in May with the intriguing title Controversy. (I’m humming the Prince tune as I write this.) Can you share with us the plot of the story? Is it . . . controversial? Why?

Adrianne Byrd: Controversy is book 3 in my Adams sisters series. The story revolves around Michael Adams, the intentioned troublemaker of the family. With a rap sheet about three inches thick, Michael lands in trouble when she may or may not have hired hitmen to knock off her ex-husband. It’s all a blur since she was drunk at the time. The minute Homicide Detective Kyson Dekker shows up on her door, she knows she’s in trouble-not just because of the case, but because of an undeniable attraction.

Bettye: Sounds sexy. And you gotta love those handcuffs on the cover.

As someone who marvels at the speed with which some authors write, I must ask you: How long does it take you to write a Kimani Romance? Your single-title Arabesques?

Adrianne Byrd: It depends. If I have plenty of time, I write incredibly slow. If it’s due next week. I can be done in a week. Some times I need the horror of an approaching deadline to get my butt planted in the chair. Maybe I’m addicted to the challenge. I don’t know.

Bettye: You write different genres: Romance, Urban Fiction, Romantic Suspense, usually at the same time. I use music to get myself in the right mood if I’m writing two projects simultaneously. Do you follow any special preparations to set the stage for the genre you’re going to work in, or do you just sit down and write?

Adrianne Byrd: When I’m switching genres-I usually go and read a bunch of books in that genre real quick to get my mind to think along those lines. I tend to have ADD when I write. My mind drifts about every 15-20 minutes. So I write for 20 minutes then go do something else for 20 minutes, the write for 20 minutes. You get the picture.

Bettye: Oh, yeah. I tend to have a short attention span myself.
One of the reasons I enjoyed She’s My Baby so much is that I know zilch about babies (and I’ve always objected to the notion that being female is supposed to give you some kind of built-in knowledge) and neither did your heroine. I could really relate to someone as inept as me. Are you familiar with infant care, or did you learn when you wrote this book?

She’s My Baby was based on what was going on in my life at the time. One of my younger sisters (who was staying with me at the time) informed me that she was pregnant about 10 days before she delivered. (Tells you how much I pay attention.) And was seized with this fear that I was also going be stuck taking care of a newborn as well. I hadn’t been around babies since well, since my sister was a baby. I didn’t remember how to do anything.

Bettye: I'll bet that's your sister's favorite book by you.
What lies ahead for Adrianne Byrd? Byrd Watchers want to know!
Adrianne Byrd: More books. I don’t know why people even call asking me what I’m doing. I’m writing. I have a deadline. I’m blessed enough to have my back list being re-issued along with 7 new titles, including my first venture into YA as A.J. Byrd. So people are either going to fall in love with me or get real sick of me. But either way people can drop me a line over at my websites: or .
Bettye: I know what you mean. I always think it's silly to call someone at work and ask, "What're you doing?"
Adrianne, thanks so much for answering my questions! Continued success to you.
So what's in that food, anyway?

Kirstie Alley, Whoopi Goldberg, Valerie Bertinelli, Queen Latifah, Marie Osmond . . . Celebrity after celebrity is endorsing different diet plans, all of which seem to have one thing in common: They make their own meals, which are part of the plan.

Did you ever wonder why eating food products from a particular diet plan melts off pounds? I mean, what's the difference between eating a microwaved frozen meal of meat and vegetables vs. eating meat and vegetables you cooked at home? Heck, I've got a kitchen scale to measure portions. Are they adding a little somethin'-somethin' to those meals . . . like maybe appetite suppressants?


What A Character, Part 4 of 4

It's the 1st of April, time for the last of my character sketches. And that's no April fool.

Once Upon A Project makes its debut four weeks from today, so mark your calendars! If you're in the Chicago area or will be attending Slam Jam, I hope to see you at one of my signings in the area (which will include downtown Chicago, the Slam Jam in Rosemont (near O'Hare), W. 95th Street, Matteson, and Merrillville, Indiana).
Romantic Times gave it 4 stars and says: "The four main characters are expertly described and their pain, fear and joy practically leaps off the pages. A well-written story that you will hate to see end." This review got kicked out of the May issue due to space limitations, but it'll be there in June.

Here we go!

Name: Elyse (Hughes) Reavis
Setting: Lake Forest, Illinois, Spring 2007

I smiled as I responded to my daughter's offer. "That’s sweet of you, Brönte, but don’t you worry about giving Daddy and me an anniversary party."

"But twenty-five years, Mom! That deserves a celebration, don’t you think?"

"It's actually twenty-six years, Brönte. Somewhere along the line you missed a year."


She sounded so disappointed. "It's all right. It's not like you were at our wedding." I chuckled at my little joke. "And don't you worry. Daddy and I will have a wonderful anniversary, just the two of us."

"Oh, Mom." The disappointment in her tone just a moment ago was suddenly replaced with distaste. I could picture her making a face like she'd just eaten a mouthful of liver and onions at the thought of Franklin and me getting romantic, although I don't see what the big deal is. How does she think she got here? Kids. Funny how they think they're the ones who invented love and sex, and that one is finished with such things by the time they reach the ancient age of, say, 40. Brönte is all of 18 years old and is out in the world for the first time. It makes me a little nauseated to think she's doing what most girls her age are doing, but at least her brother is at the same university. He keeps an eye on her.

It seems weird to think that come June I'll have been married to Franklin for 26 years. They’ve been good years, every one of them. I can truly say that all my dreams have come true with Franklin Reavis. The most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with was an occasional run-in with his first wife – I think she still regards me as a passing phase, even after all these years – usually over something involving her kids. I haven’t even had to deal with that for years – like all kids eventually do, my stepchildren have grown up and gotten their own lives.

We became empty nesters last year when Brönte joined her brother Todd at the Champaign/Urbana campus of U of I (that’s University of Illinois). We celebrated the change in lifestyle by taking a cruise last October. Nowadays we’re just as likely to dine out on a Tuesday than we are on Saturday. For the first couple of months it was wonderful – like newlyweds again, but lately things have changed. Franklin doesn’t want to do as much as he used to. No, change that. Franklin doesn’t want to do much at all. He’s been complaining of some vague discomfort, usually just before we’re supposed to leave for the restaurant or the movie or for our walk or bike riding. I’m worried. Not about him – he conveniently has no such problem when it’s time for him to play golf or bowl – but about his reasons for begging off. The thought that nags at me is . . . could he be messing with another woman?

He's never given any signs of being tired of me, nor has he ever had suspicious periods of "working late at the office." But one never knows. Sometimes people do a great job of concealing affairs. How do I know he's not rendezvousing with someone when he tells me he's going bowling? He's a software developer, and I do know from attending his job's holiday parties that there's no shortage of attractive female IT professionals at the office, a good portion of whom are unattached. Franklin's youth is behind him, but he's handsome and reasonably fit. The women he works with are slim and young, and I'm neither anymore.

Franklin is 62, and I’m 49. He was in his early thirties when I met him at a college basketball game my junior year, divorced with two children. My parents were against the relationship from the beginning, saying he was too old and that I needed to find a man who didn't already have children. They tried their best to turn me away from him, but I wouldn't be swayed. We got married when I was 23.

Like I said, it's been a good run. I can’t help thinking that I've had the least tumultuous love life of all my friends. Susan is happily married, but it didn’t happen until she was in her mid-thirties, when she finally met someone who made her stop thinking about Charles Valentine. It’ll be at least another ten years before both her kids will be in college. Of course, her husband is rich, so it’s not like she has to worry about working until their educations are complete, like Franklin and I do. She hasn’t worked since she had her first baby. But I'll tell the truth. I wouldn't want to be a soccer mom at 49.

Grace was the envy of all of us when she got married right after high school and had a baby right away (she was pregnant when she got married). It was seeing Grace cooing over little Shavonne that made me want kids so badly, but Franklin insisted that we wait until after I had my physical therapy degree. He was right, of course. I was still fairly young when I had my kids, in my late 20s/early 30s. By the time Grace was in her mid-30s, Shavonne was already going to college. Grace got married again after her first marriage went bust, but she never had any more kids. Her responsibilities of child raising were over by the time she was 40. From the time Shavonne got to middle school, Grace put all her energies into her career, and her ambition is what broke up her second marriage. Since then she's looked under every rock and bush in Chicago trying to find a third husband, but I don't see it happening. Because Grace likes men so much, she frequently goes out with blue collar guys and white collar guys who make a lot less than she does. It never lasts.

As for Pat, she never got married. Her parents disapproved when she wanted to get engaged to Ricky Suarez, and she couldn't bring herself to go against them. I know that one of their family members got lynched in Arkansas back in the 50s, but hell, that seems more of a reason to try to prevent your son from marrying a white girl than it does to try to convince your daughter not to marry a dark-skinned Latino. I mean, who the hell cares about a match like that? Even die-hard rednecks in Arkansas wouldn't blink. The fact that both of Pat's brothers died young might have something to do with her parents' disapproval. I guess no black person wants to picture their descendants a few generations down the road sitting around the dinner table white as eggshells, talking about how much they hate niggers. Pat was her parents' only chance to keep their line going. It's too bad that she didn't stand up to them. My own parents got over their disappointment about Franklin's age and fatherhood years ago and love him like a son. But not only did Pat never get married, but she never had kids. Her parents won't live forever, and with no living siblings, who will she have?

Yes, I suppose my life hasn't turned out too badly. I got a wonderful husband, two great kids, and a nice house in Lake Forest - a house Franklin has already warned me we'll have to sell once he retires because the taxes will be too much for a reduced income. I don't care. My parents and my brothers have all relocated to the Sunbelt. I kind of look forward to saying goodbye to these harsh Chicago winters.

Things worked out pretty well for this girl from the projects. I might be 40 lb. overweight, but at least I'm credited with being nice looking. I grew up in an era where dark-skinned women weren't recognized as being beautiful, unless you counted that insulting, patronizing phrase that light-skinned people used so often, "What a pretty dark-skinned girl!" Yuck.

I've got nice neighbors and friends I've known all my life, like Kevin Nash, who, true to his word, never told anybody about the time when I peed on myself as we walked home from school in the third grade. Gosh, I wonder whatever happened to him.

It almost seems unfair that I should be facing this possible crisis with Franklin now, after a life that's been remarkably free of stress and has the future mapped out. Because Franklin is my whole life. Whatever would I do without him?