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The Story Behind the Story
What It's About
Lucy Olivera, ten-year veteran of Denver PD, is about to do something she never thought she would—get married! The problem? Lucy believes her family is cursed. Every single first marriage in her large clan has ended in divorce. Her three childhood friends are determined to get Lucy to the altar, but each of them is running away from her own set of problems.
When Lucy bolts after the wedding, her friends' secrets all come out as they go in search of a reclusive spiritual guru in the New Mexico mountains, renowned for changing people's lives. The quest isn't what they expect, but it's an odyssey that strengthens their friendships and ultimately enables them to begin accepting who they are and the lives they lead.
Part Thelma and Louise, part The Wizard of Oz, Unsettling mixes laughter, love, and a wee bit of magic in a tale about the bonds of friendship that will make you want to grab the phone and call every woman you've ever felt close to.
Genre: Women's Fiction
Hardcover ISBN 0060546875
Trade Paperback ISBN 0060546905
In Spanish ("Desesperada") ISBN 0060751495
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The Story Behind the Story
BOY, this book came to me piecemeal, and then again all at once. Hard to explain. I started with the characters, who I came to know in full VERY quickly, and a vague idea of a fight at a wedding. That's IT. The book ended up being so much more than a fight at a wedding, but the scene in my mind sure worked as a springboard.
My favorite story about Unsettling, though, was how I sold it. I was about five days from finishing the proposal (which is three chapters and a synopsis, for those of you not in the biz) when the Sunday Denver Post book section ran a profile on me and my career on August 11, 2002. In it, the reporter, Robin Vidimos, mentioned my current work-in-progress, Unsettling. A couple of days later, Rene Alegria (who is now my esteemed editor at Harper Collins) contacted the paper, who subsequently got in touch with me. I forwarded all the correspondence on to my agent, and SHE contacted Rene (I know, I know, who's on first?). Bottom line, he wanted to see Unsettling. I finished the proposal on August 19, we mailed it to him on August 20, and I had an offer on August 21. It still seems surreal to me!
"Crisp, imaginative, and hilarious."
The New York Post
"Sandoval's knowledge of Denver haunts and local bars will be enjoyable to those who know the city. Moreover, as a former police officer, it's fun to get an enter-through-the-backdoor view of cops' thoughts."
Rocky Mountain News
"[Sandoval] has a keen understanding of the complicated ways women relate. [She] captures all the shades of love, hate and jealousy between bridesmaids and estranged friends Mercedes and Cristina."
"Sandoval's protagonists are complex and pleasingly unpredictable."
"This is one of those tales that leaves readers feeling satisfied, happy and richer for having read the book."
Rashmi Srinivas for BookLoons Reviews
"The First Wives Club and Waiting to Exhale meets 'Real Women Have Curves,' 'Stand By Me,' and 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' It's 'Life Lessons for my Latina Girls,' with life lessons for us all mixed in a curandera's brew of magic, friendship, family, and truth. Don't settle for any novel but Unsettling."
Kristen Johnson, for MyShelf.com Reviews
"Sandoval's novel is spiced with humor and grounded in the ups and downs of realistic relationships. Engaging until the very last page, this novel will find women everywhere identifying with its enigmatic characters." 4 STARS!
Romantic Times BOOKclub
"Author Lynda Sandoval takes the standard group-of-woman-friends subplot that woman's fiction has hammered to death and breathes new life into it. The epic quest that the four woman travel is sometimes Oz-like, as each discovers the courage, wisdom, or love that they know they need and have been denying. As each woman struggles to come to terms with their own issues, the bonds that connected them in high school reconnect and strengthen all four of them. Sandoval's strong and sympathetic writing makes each character feel real and emotionally complex.
Sandoval deals with real issues—drug addiction, compulsive shoplifting, low self-worth, and family conflicts, and she doesn't offer easy ways out. But she does offer hope—hope that doesn't depend on magic but that really is magic."
Rob Preece, Publisher and Reviews Coordinator, at BooksForABuck.com
Unsettling was chosen by Latina magazine as a "book to read" for the month of June!
They were preparing for the big ceremony in Mercy's suite, because the men had Eisenhower and Mercy had drawn the line at entering the Roosevelt after she'd been boxed out of it in the first place. The others didn't care. Either way, it was only moderately satisfying when Cristina commented how much she adored the Reagan suite, what with Lucy losing her mind and all. Mercy tucked that little coup away to revel in later.
Mercedes checked the clock on the nightstand. They really needed to get this show on the road, but she didn't want to mention that fact and catapult Lucy over the edge. Through the fittings, the rehearsal, the last minute checks, she had grown exponentially more freaked. Last night at the rehearsal, her doubts had been crystal clear on her face, evident to everyone in the room. In other words, they had seen this coming. But now that she was a certifiable basket case and the wedding was scheduled to commence in mere minutes, none of them were quite sure what to do. Mercedes had to admit, she had some serious doubts whether or not they'd pull this off.
Poor Ruben. Who'd leave a man like him at the altar?
"I can't do it," Lucy said, her voice muffled because Cristina had shoved her head between her knees when she'd started to hyperventilate during attempt number five to slip that gown over her head. The beaded satin lay in a limp pile over one of the leather chairs. "I don't want a divorce. I can't do it."
"You can and you will. And there will be no divorce," Cristina said, in a matter-of-fact tone that would brook no argument. Cris kept a hand pressed gently against Lucy's head to prevent her from sitting back up. Mercedes noticed Cristina's wrist bruises were virtually undetectable beneath the expertly applied make-up she had used. Obviously she'd had plenty of practice covering the ugliness of her life. "Besides, it's not a divorce, it's a wedding. Now, take slow, deep breaths."
Mercedes rolled her eyes. Oh, give me a break. She'd given up on the placating and was sitting at the top of the bed, legs and arms crossed. Screw her dress. This day was about Lucy looking perfect, not her, and a little tough love was in order.
"Maybe a slow, deep shot of bourbon would be more effective at this point," she suggested, in a sarcastic tone. She toyed with the ethical dilemma of strongarming a woman into marriage, but decided, in this case, it was more than warranted. Ruben was the grand slam, not a booby prize. "How about it, Lucky girl? Want a quick hair of the dog that bit ya?"
Annette, standing near the end of the huge bed, planted her fists on her hips and glared. "Don't be insane. Last night was one thing, but she can't be drunk at her wedding!"
Mercedes pointed at Lucy, raising her brows, as if that said everything. "You have any better ideas? Besides, one shot isn't going to intoxicate the woman. If we don't do something, there isn't going to be a wedding."
"No shots. Just...give...me a minute," Lucy muttered, from between her knees. In her strapless bustier, lacy, white thong, and thigh-highs, she looked quite ridiculous. The scene would be funny, except that it simply...wasn't. She was going to miss her own wedding over a stupid curse that didn't even exist. "I'm fine. Really. There will be a wedding. I'm going to get married. I love him. Oh, God." Lucy shrugged off Cristina's hand, jolted to her feet, and lurched toward the bathroom to toss her cookies—again.
They all listened, cringing.
"I swear, if she pukes on that gown of hers..." Cristina said, crossing her arms.
"She won't," Annette said. "She'll be fine."
Mercedes snorted. If that was what fine looked like, she'd hate to witness a full-on mental break. Lucy's fretful mother had finally given up and gone to the Eisenhower Suite to assure Ruben that Lucy was almost ready, not to panic. Mercedes was surprised Ruben hadn't said, "To hell with tradition," and stormed the room himself. Come to think of it, didn't they used to tie up reluctant brides in the old West and marry them off at gunpoint? Ruben had a gun. It was a thought....
They all waited in thick, dubious silence until Lucy returned, pale-faced and shaky. Black mascara was smeared down below her eyes and her lipstick was half off and half on. Plus, her hair had gone askew, as if she were standing in a strong side wind. She sank onto the end of bed and waited for her breathing to slow, but soon she flopped back and stared glazed-eyed at the ceiling, her chest rising and falling rapidly.
"You're squashing your veil, m'ija," said Cris, gently.
"I don't care. I'm an idiot."
"We know," the three chimed.
"I love him."
"Of course you do, chica," Annette said, soothingly, as she patted Lucy's knee. "That's why you're going to go through with this wedding and you'll see, everything will turn out perfectly. Look at Cris and me. We're both happily married."
Mercedes couldn't help it. Her gaze immediately cut to Cristina's face to check for a reaction, but she saw none. Well, other than a small, corner-of-the-eye glance in her direction and a slight tightening of Cristina's jaw. They hadn't exchanged so much as a single direct word since their blow up at the Elk Bugle, which was fine with Mercedes. Annette and Lucy didn't have an inkling about what had occurred, and they wouldn't, if Mercedes had anything to say about it. But she knew in her gut, Cristina had something to hide.
Then again, she thought, so do I.
Hmmm. Sobering concept. Maybe the smartest choice would be to lay off Operation: Expose Cristina for awhile. If they kept up their current tug-of-war on the 'dirty laundry' basket, her tattered drawers were just as likely as Cristina's to end up splayed out on the floor, crotch up, for everyone to see.
Annette went on, trying to soothe Lucy. With five girls of her own, she really was the expert. Although this speech left a little to be desired.... "I mean, sure, you have to face the fact that you're marrying a man. He's going to be annoying a lot of the time, but it's in his DNA. He won't mean to be. You and Ruben will be very happy."
Whoo-boy. Mercedes clonked the back of her head against the headboard. Enough of this touchy-feely shit. Her brain was ready to explode from sugarcoat overdose. If she had to kick Lucy's ass all the way across the hotel atrium above Tremont Street to the Grand Ballroom on the other side, she would. This wedding would happen, goddamnit. Someone in this miserable hellhole called life deserved to be happy.
Before she resorted to ass-kicking, however, she had another plan, but she needed to get rid of the other two for a few minutes to pull it off. Mercedes stretched her leg down and tapped Lucy's forehead with her toes. "Sit up, Lucky Girl. Let's talk about this." Mercy leaned to the side and filled a glass with water from the bedside pitcher. Handing the water to Lucy, she glanced up at Annette. "Annette, do you mind running for some more ice?"
"Not at all." Annette, seeming relieved for the break, grabbed the ice bucket and headed out the door.
Without looking at her directly, Mercedes said, "Cristina, why don't you run over to the Grand Ballroom and let them know...something. Anything. Maybe tell them the bride is experiencing some last minute jitters and not feeling well. But, she'll be there. Let them know where we stand."
Cristina stared at Lucy for a moment, chewing her lip, then looked toward Mercedes. "But she's—"
"Just give me a minute with her," Mercedes said, her tone soft and firm at the same time. "Please."
Cristina shot Mercedes a narrowed gaze, then nodded. She picked up her small, beaded bag, spun on her heels, and left.
Alone with Lucy at last, Mercedes breathed a sigh of relief. She could work this out the quick and easy way. She leaned over the side of the bed for her own bag and fished out the small vial of white pills. She didn't want to get Lucy stoned out of her gourd, but the woman needed something to take the edge off, and Mercedes was an expert at that. She knocked two Vicodin tablets into her palm and then sat up. "Come on, Lucky girl. Buck up." Leaning forward, she placed the pills into Lucy's palm. Lucy stared vacantly down at them.
"Just take them," Mercy said. "Trust me on this one."
"Vicodin?" Lucy asked, studying the pills.
"Why do you have these?"
"I...pulled a hamstring in spinning class," Mercedes lied, easily. "They're left over from that. Sometimes the leg still gives me pain."
Lucy stared down at the innocent looking pills a moment longer, then tipped her head back and threw them in her mouth.
"If you can stand it, chew them."
"Are you trying to get me high?" Lucy asked, around a mouthful of pills. She lifted the glass Mercedes had handed her earlier, made a face while she chewed, then washed them down with the water.
"I'm trying to get you married, hon. To a man who loves you so much...it's actually painful for me to even see you guys together." Her stomach clenched. She hadn't meant to barf out her emotional dreck like that. Just what Lucy needed to hear, a bunch of thinly-veiled, woe-is-me crap.
But, to her surprise, Lucy reached back and laid a hand on Mercedes's leg. She looked more alert and in control than she had all morning, probably because the focus was momentarily off her. "Do you really mean that?"
Mercedes rolled her eyes, really trying to sound nonchalant. "Yes, you dolt. I see the two of you together, or your face when you talk to him on the phone, and I wonder if I'll ever feel that way about a man." Sadness plagued her, and she found she couldn't keep her traitorous emotions reined in, no matter how much she wanted to. Lucy did that to her; scratched through her hardened veneer to the soft vulnerability beneath it. "Or if one will ever feel that way about me—pure love, without strings." She sighed, then tossed her hair, trying to refocus on the matter at hand. "It seems like the impossible dream. But, it isn't impossible for you. He's waiting downstairs. You really are a lucky girl, you know."
"I am. I really am."
"You need to marry that man, Lucy, for those of us who'll never be so fortunate."
Lucy's face registered recognition, then crumpled into a mask of regret. "Oh, Mercy, I'm so sorry. Jesus, I'm such a self-centered asshole. And a horrible friend. Do you want to talk about Damian?"
Mercedes laughed. "For God's sake, it's your wedding day, you twit. No, I do not want to talk about Damian." That piece of shit. "Can you please stay focused for a few minutes? What I want is to get you into that gown and across the street to the Grand Ballroom to marry Ruben."
"I know, I know. Okay fine." Lucy stood.
"And don't tell the others about our little pharmaceutical exchange. I don't think they'd understand."
Lucy nodded, and then plopped back down on the edge of the bed. Her eyes searched Mercy's face. "Wait. I have to ask you something, okay?"
"Go for it."
"Am I doing the right thing? I mean, really."
"But what about the curse?"
"There is no curse. It's all in your head."
"Okay, but I'm 38-years-old, Mercy. Set in my ways."
"And Ruben loves you anyway."
Lucy lowered her chin, pinning Mercy with a stare. "I know you'd tell me if you thought I was making a mistake. Right?"
"Of course I would. I'll always be honest with you." Well, sort of. As long as it didn't have to do with her own life. She flipped her hand. "Like, for example, your eyes are bloodshot and your makeup looks like ass, thanks to all your repeated puking. In fact, right at the moment, you look a whole lot like a bulimic, dime-bag whore, and unless you want your wedding photos to record that lovely image, we're going to have to work on some serious reparations, and quickly."
Lucy's eyes widened with surprise, then she leaned her head back and laughed, long and hard. They sat in companionable silence for several minutes. Finally, Lucy smiled at her, all soft and...unfocused?
Mercedes's gut jumped. Did Lucy's eyes already have that dopey narcotic glaze? "Are you okay, Lucy?"
"Fan-fucking-tastic, I think. I love you, Mercy. But—" she gave a cartoon gasp and covered her mouth for a moment, before giggling "—I just broke the law taking someone else's prescription meds, and I'm a cop. Not just a cop, I'm a freakin' Narc, in case you forgot."
Gulp. "I love you, too, babe, and you'll live through two little pills." Hopefully. "Now how about that gown?" she asked, in a jovial, completely un-Mercedes tone. Lucy's slurring had her alarmed. At this rate, the woman wouldn't have to tell Annette and Cristina about the Vicodin. Anyone who wasn't catatonic would notice the drastic change in Lucy's demeanor right off. Mercedes was going to be up shit creek. The least she could do was get Lucy dressed before she paddled off. "Won't the others be impressed if you're all dolled up and ready to go by the time they return?"
Lucy wobbled to her feet. "You know what? Bring it on."
Mercy retrieved the gown, saying silent prayers that this might actually work. "You got it."
"I'm going to marry my soulmate."
"Damn straight, babe. Lift your arms."
"Screw the Olivera curse."
"Twice, for good measure. Lift."
"Oooh." She raised the pads of her fingers to her face and tappity-tapped the skin lightly. "I feel fuzzy. Or something." She cut a glance at Mercedes. "Do I look fuzzy? Come to think of it, you look fuzzy, too."
Uh-oh. That Vitamin-V had hit her harder and faster than expected, Mercy thought with a twinge of guilt, as Lucy obligingly raised her arms and Mercy slipped the gown over her head. As she did up the back, catching Lucy each time she started to sway, she wondered if perhaps she should've given Lucy only one pill. Ah, well. Lucy was a lightweight. Who knew? At least they'd get her to the altar on time. She didn't have time to feel guilty about drugging her best friend right now. Sometimes the end did justify the means.