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by Paul Lonardo
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Something otherworldly is happening in a small Texas town.
As a small Texas town mourns the tragic death of its high school football star, Alecia is struggling to adjust to life without the boy she has dated since sixth grade and thought she would be with forever.
When Braden comes to her as an apparition, she finds herself falling for Riley, Braden’s best friend and teammate. Has Braden returned to spy on her, or for some other reason?
Alecia’s not sure, but she soon realizes she must find a way to accept Braden’s death and welcome love back into her life, or risk losing everything.
The Power of Secret Love changes everything…
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Tell us about Soul Awakening.
Soul Awakening is essentially a story with a love triangle at its core, with a twist. It so happens that one of the three people is a ghost. Soul Awakening is a sweet, contemporary romance about a high school girl named Alecia who has recently lost her boyfriend in a tragic car accident. Besides this sudden trauma in her life, she is dealing with other personal issues, including sour relationships with her mother as well as her best friend. Her classmates at school are less than sympathetic, and everyone thinks she should just get over Braden’s death already and get on with her life. She can’t forget him, however. They had been together since the sixth grade. He is the quarterback of the school’s football team and she is a cheerleader. They are the “it” couple and she is in crisis because she always thought they would be together forever and she does not have an identity without Braden.
She is still in mourning when her dead boyfriend appears. She sees Braden from afar and thinks she is imagining him, and then she sees him up close and speaks with him. The reason for his visit is not what you might think. This calls for a SPOILER ALERT. What Alecia learns is that there is someone else who loves her very much, someone quite alive, who could make her very happy. It is Braden’s best friend (Riley; who also happens to be the boyfriend of Alecia’s best girlfriend). She discovers that Riley has had a secret crush on her for years, and she must admit to herself that she has always harbored feelings for Riley. Both of them had been unable to act on these feelings, until Braden return as a ghost to see to it that Alecia and Riley get together without any guilt or feelings of betrayal. The couple is perfect for each other, and when they do finally kiss for the first time, they both realize it. Braden’s work concluded, he leaves them forever, but never to be forgotten.
What initially inspired you to write Soul Awakening?
I had seen a photograph somewhere of two hands, the fingers intertwined lovingly. One was a woman’s hand, the other a man. One was flesh and blood, and the other was translucent and ghostly. It got me thinking about a romance story involving two young people head over heels in love with each other when a tragic accident separated one from the other in death. Maybe I was thinking about it because I had recently lost someone in my family, a brother, and those emotions were still very close to the surface for me. Initially, I did not envision the love triangle aspect. That occurred to me after I began writing the first draft. I’m glad it did, because it really is what makes the story unique, and gives it an added dimension (pun intended).
Tell us little about the characters in Soul Awakening.
Starting with Braden, he is a prototypical big-time high school quarterback in the state of Texas. He owns not only all the school’s records, but many all-time county passing marks. He is being recruited by some of the biggest football colleges and universities around the country. He is tall, handsome, with an engaging personality that everyone likes.
All of Braden’s qualities seem really off the chart, and that is intentional. Which brings us to Alecia, a young woman who has a lot going for herself, as well, even as she is struggling to find her identity after losing Braden. Having to confront this sudden shift in direction her life was headed, she is forced to reflect on her relationship with Braden. She has very strong feelings for him, and loves him, but when she notices Riley she begins to wonder if what had been keeping her and Braden together for all those was years was more a matter of convenience and what was expected. Did she really love him, or was he just too wonderful to give up? Braden, in death, helps her see the truth and guides her into the arms of a person who can make her truly happy.
Riley is a loyal friend, who respects Braden as a person and as an athlete, but he has had to p lay second fiddle to his friend. For four years in high school he has been the team’s backup quarterback, and during that same time he has had to keep his feelings for Alecia hidden. Dating Alecia’s best friend was just a way he could be around her more. Braden has always known Riley had been harboring a secret love for Alecia, and he not only ensures that Riley and Alecia get together, but he sees to it that Riley plays in the championship game, ultimately quarterbacking the team to victory.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Clearly this is a romance book with a happily-ever-after ending, but the hardest part of writing it was dredging up the personal feelings of loss I experienced less than a year before. While the characters and relationship was very different from the experience I went through, the emotions and feelings of loss are the same, and it was something I had to work through, and in the end draw from in a positive way to bring Alecia’s character to life. I think it was useful in helping readers empathize with what Alecia is going through.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
My favorite part of the book did not involve Braden or Riley. It was a scene in which Alecia was forced to talk with a school counselor about her grief. Mr. Day was also teacher at the school, and based upon rumor and conjecture Alecia had formed a preconceived notion that he was a vile and corrupt person. She did permit herself to give him the benefit of the doubt until she was forced to sit down with him alone and talk one on one. He soon proved to be a sensitive and understanding man who was filled with compassion for her and her situation. This, of course, took Alecia by complete surprise and proved a valuable life lesson. It made her understand that people are not always what they appear, and you cannot make rash judgements about anyone until you get to know them.
What are your future project(s)?
I’ve been writing in various forms my entire adult life. I really began telling stories in the medium of film when I was a teen, making movies with my friends around the neighborhood. I attended a film school in California and came away with an interest in screenwriting. Gradually, I turned to other forms of writing, including short fiction, typically in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. My first novel was in that vein. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of ghostwriting and collaborative nonfiction. As much as I enjoy creating my own characters and stories, I’ve found that the truth really is stranger than fiction, and have been fortunate to work on a number of very interesting projects with people with amazing stories to share. Writing romance began as somewhat of an experimental phase for me, and also I believe as a way to get back into fiction writing again. Having been working on nonfiction projects for so long, with the fortune of having several published by larger houses, I was unsure that I would have any success writing and placing my fiction. In 2015, with my first romance novella, Reunion of Souls, finding a home with a romance publisher, it gave me the confidence to continue writing, in the romance genre, which led to the publishing of my second romance, Enchanted Desire, published by Wild Rose Press last year. I now have several fiction ideas I am currently working on along with my nonfiction projects. The fiction will be young adult, possibly romance, and even some middle grade adventure for my school-age son, who has become my inspiration.
Alecia was amazed how fresh this memory was in her mind. She felt as if they were reliving the moment now.
“You know, Alecia, I really wanted to kiss you that day.” Riley’s face was in partial shadow, but his eyes were fixed on hers.
“I wanted you to kiss me,” Alecia admitted, and with those two statements all the romantic tension and nervous energy they’d been feeling instantly abated.
“I have to confess you’re the real reason I didn’t want to play the game. It wasn’t because of Braden.”
“Me?” Alecia had a lump in her throat.
“I couldn’t focus on anything because I was thinking about you.” Riley shifted forward slightly, his entire face illuminated in a shaft a light. His eyes looked green and were filled with intensity. “I’m in love with you. I always have been.”
It was like being on a roller coaster again; her head was spinning. “What about Beth?”
“We had a fight a few days ago. About you. We broke up.”
That would explain Luke, Alecia thought, and why Beth had been acting so strange toward her all week.
“And with you being best friends with Beth, I got to be around you more.”
Sensing motion again out of the corner of her eye, Alecia quickly turned her head in that direction.
Riley looked around briefly. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s nothing.” Alecia gazed into Riley’s eyes and was instantly distracted by the way the green and brown flecks glinted in the waning afternoon sunlight that penetrated the old barn from many shallow angles.
As Riley pressed his lips against hers and she felt his hot breath in her mouth, nothing else mattered. When he wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her tight against him, their front teeth briefly rubbed together. As if in response to this contact, their tongues came to the rescue, intertwining in a tender and comforting embrace.
Alecia closed her eyes, and in her mind she and Riley were back inside the small wooden hut in Galveston, wet and cold from the rain.
Soul Awakening is his third romance novella. Reunion of Souls was published by Liquid Silver Press in 2105, and last summer Wild Rose Press released Enchanted Desire.
From the Ashes, a collaborative book written with a Gina Russo, is a true story of her survival from the deadly 2003 Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island which claimed the lives of 100 people, became the basis of a 2013 documentary web series, The Station, which Paul produced.
Paul has been interviewed as part of several documentaries, including NBCUniveral’s I Survived a Serial Killer, featuring the true crime story depicted in the book Caught in the Act, A Courageous Family’s Fight to Save their Daughter from a Serial Killer.