Sexpert.com is thrilled to have the scoop on the hot new romance novel Sweet Muse, from Ava Cummings, a writer new to romance, but comfortable with the glitz and glamor of magazine editing in Hollywood. We had a chance to catch up with Ms. Cummings to ask her a few questions about her book, her life and what she thinks is the most important element of a romance fiction book.
INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR AVA CUMMINGS:
Sexpert: What do you consider the sexiest part of your new book?
AC: The “Night of Dares” in Chapter 7 has to take the cake for the sexiest part of Sweet Muse. My main character Anna gets swept up in a night of increasingly risqué—and sexy—dares with the city’s hottest (and cockiest!) nightlife reporter. Let’s just say you’ve never read a shower scene quite like this one. There are a few others not to be missed, as well: the scene in her boss’s office…and The Plaza night with her love—the sexy beyond belief, yet tortured artist Damien Wolfe. She finally lets go, opens her heart for the first time, and falls for this man that sees her in a way that she has never seen herself—and what happens is very emotional and intimate.
Sexpert: What do you think is the most important element to ‘get right’ in a romance story?
AC: You’ve got to have page-turning chemistry! And not just physical, but emotional, too. Physically, you have to create hot, steamy situations that really get the fan going—envisioning those fantasies we all have, yet that we might not ever act on. And then the emotional piece is just as, if not more, important. Letting the reader in on how your character is feeling, what’s going on in her head—and heart. Women are emotional creatures. Sure, the physical is a turn on, but not without the emotional, too. It’s all about the main character’s journey to love and taking the reader along for that ride, that discovery process.
Even more, though, I think it’s important to make it a “real girl romance.” What I mean by that is that I’ve always loved romance novels, but tired of the typical plot line where the innocent girl gets taken by the billionaire CEO and he figures everything out for her. I want to shine a light on real girls…who figure it out on their own! The girls, like you and me, who have real guilt for not always making the best decisions, insecurities for not having it all figured out, and shame for just being ourselves.
In Sweet Muse, I really wanted to incorporate this—showing the full spectrum of the agony of figuring yourself out in your 20s. I like stories about women coming of age and owning their experience. Maybe in some way I can inspire women to own their own journey and be themselves, whoever that may be.
Sexpert: How did your magazine editor past inform the book?
AC: I worked as a magazine editor in fashion and at the celebrity magazines in the late nineties to mid 2000s, during the last hurrah of print publishing, before everything went digital. When we still had expense accounts, took town cars all over the city, and controlled the cultural conversation. It was a high-stakes, fast-moving New York world and a rich place of extremes that I wanted as a character in the book in its own right. Many bits and pieces of my experiences are woven into the plot. However, I never had a boss just like Bernie Roberts. Although, I heard stories from friends who did, and I definitely worked with some crazy personalities!
SWEET MUSE synopsis:
Determined to overcome her difficult past, Anna Starr lands a coveted job at the nation’s biggest celebrity magazine in the center of the New York City power scene. She learns early on to make it on her own, and through sheer force of will she does. But frustration sets in when the dark side of tabloid journalism starts to poke through, and she gets duped while dating slicker-than-thou city boys.
Amidst a sea of cocktail parties, Anna meets rising art star Damien Wolfe. Their connection is dangerous, intense, and passionate beyond her imagination. He sees her in a way that she has never seen herself, setting her on a journey toward self-discovery—understanding what it means to be truly loved for the first time in her life. But she may lose it all when her blind ambition and his dark past lead to a crisis that changes everything.
Ava Cummings spent more than 10 years as an editor at some of the biggest and best-known magazines in the world. She fetched coffee, fell in love with fashion, and eventually became a full-fledged editor, covering Hollywood and bringing in stories about bold women that were making a difference in the world. She has spun together the sweep-you-off-your-feet happy endings of fairy tales, the unbelievable headlines she reads in the news, and the quirky personalities that she’s encountered in both the real world and on reality TV in her first novel, Sweet Muse. Ava lives in the leafy suburbs of Boston with her husband and two children.
Now for your exclusive reading pleasure, please enjoy the first juicy chunk of Sweet Muse, courtesy of the author.
EXCERPT: SWEET MUSE – CHAPTER ONE: FALLING STARR
I grab a flute of champagne from a passing cocktail waitress in a skintight black dress.
“It’s Taittinger—the good stuff,” she says, leaning toward me, as if sharing a secret with a girlfriend. “They’re cosponsoring the party.”
I nod, make note of that tidbit for what I pray will be my first news story in Celeb, and guzzle half the glass. As I squeeze through the crowd, I scan the room looking, desperate to register a familiar face in my racing mind.
The bubbles instantly go to my head, and the familiar warm buzz relaxes me a tinge. Enough to bob my head to the rhythm of the thumping lounge music.
My stomach erupts in a growl, a not-so-subtle reminder that I forgot to eat dinner. I sling back the rest of the champagne to quiet it and secure a second Taittinger from another cocktail waitress.
Holding the glass keeps me from chewing my nails. Peering down at my hand, I cringe. My nails are jagged and stubby. Another giveaway. They should be squared off just beyond my fingertips, gleaming in Essie Ballet Slippers, a soft pink polish all the editors at work wear. But I hardly had time to get ready, let alone get a manicure.
I take a minute to survey the scene, noting details for my story. Decked out in dark mahogany, oversized ornate chandeliers, and rich reds from the carpet to the walls, the Bubble Lounge reminds me of an opulent turn-of-the- century library that I saw pictured in a coffee-table book at my friend’s house, a long time ago. The richness of the image seared itself into my brain. I wanted to go to that place, so perfect in its stately elegance. A quiet chuckle escapes me. It happened, after all. I really did just land in that library.
While the other guests air-kiss and chat like old friends, I plant my feet behind a side table and hang by my lonesome self. After reading the gossip columns and studying magazine mastheads religiously for the past few months, I recognize a face or two, but I can’t move through the crowd with the same confidence and nonchalance everyone else exudes. There’s no way that I’ll ever possess the born-to-it sophistication of a real New Yorker.
Almost without thinking, I raise my hand to my mouth and start to nibble the skin around my nails. The tiny act of self-mutilation somehow quells the anxiety growing inside me. Oh, it’s so high school all over again. I can’t bear it. I’m starting over. Again. But this time it’s not Clark Central Valley High School. It’s the celebrity-laden center of the universe.
Amid the throngs of people, I spot Carey Taylor, Hollywood’s action hero of the moment, holding court in the corner with a claque of models. He’s perpetually single and, when not busy filming the latest blockbuster, trots around the globe in an endless party with his buddies. Carey Taylor picking up his dry cleaning is material enough for an item in Celeb. If I can get a quote from him, I’ll be guaranteed a story. But the thought of going up and talking to a bona fide celebrity makes my hand fly to my mouth again, and a hot, itchy feeling slowly spreads across my skin.
Standing there, awkwardly solo, I quietly gulp another glass of champagne. I feel my cheeks flush and second-guess the decision to guzzle champagne for dinner. If I want to keep my job, I need to work this party.
A series of bright flashes go off near me. I dart my eyes to either side to see if I’m standing next to someone famous. Maybe it’s my insecurity taking over, but I feel like the entire room is staring at me, wondering why a girl from nowhere is at a party where everyone is someone.
It’s the craziest thing. One day, I’m living at the end of a dirt road in rural Pennsylvania, sitting around watching Law & Order reruns; barely a few months later, I’m at the pinnacle of New York nightlife, going to a party attended by all the biggest celebrities. It’s like winning the lottery: suddenly life completely changes, does a one-eighty.
Things never work out well for those lottery winners, though. They always seem to gamble the whole jackpot away and wind up homeless and broke. Maybe it’s not good to get your wish.
Rattled and partially blinded, I squint my eyes like an old lady, desperate to find someone I know. I remind myself—for the zillionth time—not to bite my nails. Releasing an audible breath, I spot a stylist I met recently at a photo shoot we did for the magazine.
In my determination to reach her, I stumble in my four- inch heels. As if in some kind of horrifying slow-motion free fall, I go flying back toward a group of innocent bystanders sitting at a nearby table.
Stifling a yelp, I squeeze my eyes shut and give in to the inevitable: making contact with the floor in the middle of the city’s hottest party. But instead of hitting the deck, I feel myself being caught from behind—like in a trust fall—by two exquisitely strong, muscled arms. They wrap safely around me, under my arms, breaking my fall. My body instantly relaxes. Then I swear I feel a squeeze, like a hug. The sculpted biceps flex, turning into firm cushions of strength. When they graze my breasts in the tumult, I gasp slightly.
I slowly turn my head and steal a look up. My eyes rest on a sexy half smile, framed by a beautifully chiseled face and jaw. “You okay?” he says, as my shoulders slump deeper into his arms. Oh God, what if someone from Celeb saw me and reports back to Bernie? I can picture the headline now in the gossip columns: Falling Starr! Bernadette Roberts’s Assistant Falls OM Celeb Masthead After Tipsy Tumble at Bubble Lounge Opening.
“Uh, I think so…I’m so sorry. I…I… ” I babble.
“Perfect timing, actually,” he says, lifting me up gently in one smooth move and setting me back on my feet. “Dying to get out of that conversation.” He nods his head back toward the table, where two guys and a chic-looking girl sit chatting.
As I take him in, I begin to tingle from the crown of my head right down to my littlest pinkie toe. He’s wearing—no, more like owning—a pair of dark-wash low-slung jeans that hug muscular thighs, a fitted, slightly rumpled black button- down with the sleeves rolled up, showing off those sculpted arms, and black biker boots. He’s got a raw sexiness that’s…well, hot. Hotter than a wood-burning stove on the coldest day of winter. Even hotter than a piping fresh bag of microwave popcorn, for God’s sake.
He seems like the guy who attracts people simply by being himself. A feeling of calm washes over me—something about his presence puts me at ease. And I never feel at ease. It’s like there’s a halo of goodness around him that affects anyone in his orbit. I want to be in his orbit. I like it here.
“Way too scene-y…who you know, what party you’ve been to, who you’ve gone to the Hamptons with. Can’t these people talk about anything of substance? I mean, look at what’s happening out in the real world. Hunger, war, poverty. It’s like they live in a champagne- and caviar-filled bubble.” He has a studied, intense look. It’s serious but alluring. I feel my heart beating a little faster.
He looks back at me, and our eyes meet. Electricity crackles between us as he holds my gaze. I can’t avert my eyes. It feels physical, palpable…and unfamiliar. He smiles. A tidal wave of emotions tumbles over me, and I feel like I could laugh or cry or both.
Finally, I manage to force words out of my mouth. “I’m so embarrassed. I would’ve hit the floor like a brick if it weren’t for you. I had a few glasses of champagne and didn’t eat much today, and it must have gone to my head…” I babble on about how I do this kind of thing all the time—trip on the sidewalk when there’s nothing there, stumble on the subway stairs—and how I was supposed to meet someone from work, but she hasn’t shown, so I’ve probably had more champagne than I should.
Oh God, why can’t I shut up? I’m usually the quiet one who holds back, and now I’m telling this gorgeous stranger that I’m a klutz who drinks too much. A real turn on, no doubt.
“Eat this,” he says, grabbing two mini-burgers and several crostini from a passing server. He places them on a couple of cocktail napkins and hands me the burgers first. His fingers brush mine in the exchange. They are strong, slightly rough. A charged tingle erupts in the spaces where we’ve touched. “You need something in your stomach.”
“Okay.” It’s all I can manage to get out now. His eyes bore into me like they’re seeing not just me on the outside, but into me.
“And then take a deep breath and relax. You’re an incredibly beautiful woman at the hottest party in the city. You’re practically lighting up the room. Everything will be fine. Trust me.”
He’s tender, a little rugged, and starkly honest. Somehow, I believe what he says.
I scarf the two burgers down, each in a single bite. “Heavenly,” I say, chewing.
“Feeling better?” he asks.
I nod my head and swallow the last morsel. He grabs a glass of club soda off another tray and hands it to me. “Now, drink this.”
I gulp the seltzer, starting to feel like myself again.
“So what do you do?” he says, pausing a beat. “No, wait.” His hand moves up and rubs his chin, striking an impossibly sexy pose. He looks skyward, like he’s plucking a thought from the ether. “Forget the ‘What do you do for work?’ thing. Let’s skip the boring cocktail-party banter. I want to learn something about the beautiful, nervous woman who just fell into my arms.”
It might’ve been cheesy coming from someone else, but this guy says it with pure passion and conviction, and it works. It sounds sexy as hell. His charisma, confidence, and charm are totally intoxicating. My body feels electrified.
“Tell me something…about you. Something important, that you don’t normally tell people.”
I don’t like to share. My story’s not pretty, and I hate the pity party. So I usually just listen. It’s my little trick, to avoid telling people about me. But I feel a strong pull, a tight feeling of excitement in the center of my chest, to confide in him.
“My Aunt Sylvie,” I start to say quietly, then gain strength. “My Aunt Sylvie. She’s the reason I’m here. Well, not here at this party, but here in New York.”
“Aunt Sylvie?” He says her name back to me slowly, nodding his head, one eyebrow slightly raised. I just want to wrap myself back up in his arms again. I hug myself, trying to get back that feeling of his strength and safety, sturdiness and softness. “I love her already. Everyone should have an Aunt Sylvie.”
He listens attentively as I tell him how she was my inspiration, an editor at Life magazine and Ladies’ Home Journal.
He’s studying me again. I feel like he’s noting every curve, line, shadow, bump. Somehow, I keep talking, and the words come out of my mouth easily. I feel a freedom to open up—an unfamiliar new desire. I want him to know me.
“I’d come and stay with her in New York for two weeks every summer. One time she took me to dinner at Tavern on the Green. I remember pulling up in the cab and seeing the white lights covering the trees in the garden. It looked like a majestic palace in the urban oasis of Central Park. Dining in the main room, I felt like a princess, like I mattered, like I was someone. And that’s where my romance with New York began. The seed was planted then, and by age nine, I was determined to get myself back here permanently.”
“The lure of a big life. It’s what drives most New Yorkers,” he says in a knowing voice.
“Aunt Sylvie never got to see me follow in her footsteps. But I know that somewhere up there, she’s smiling down on me.”
I look to the floor, suddenly afraid to make eye contact.
He places a finger under my chin, moving my head up so that our eyes meet. The intensity of his presence and of the moment overwhelms me.
“Yeah, it’s just that…” No, I can’t go there. I change my mind and decide to switch subjects. “What about you? Who was your biggest influence?”
I sense a darkness come over him, hidden behind his smile. Pain. I recognize it, an all-too-familiar emotion; I know what it’s like to stifle it.
To buy Sweet Muse or learn more, check out: http://www.avacummingsauthor.com/