Saturday, April 25, 2015

A review you can use: The Water Diviner

If you have the opportunity to see Russell Crowe's new film, "The Water Diviner," take it.  Go see this film.

There, now that I have that off my chest, let me explain:

"The Water Diviner" is set primarily in Turkey, four years after the Battle of Galipoli, (1919).  Joshua Conner, an Australian farmer, (Crowe), who is able to find water for his dry home, has now gone to Turkey to find the bodies of the three sons he lost in the battle and bring them home.

"The Water Diviner" does something all really great films do:  It makes me want to know about something I knew nothing about two hours ago.  I knew nothing about the Battle of Galipoli, I don't know what an ANZAC was.  But you can bet by the end of the weekend, I'm going to have read quite of bit about both. That's the mark of a great film...does it make you want to know MORE  about something.  (Think about it...Titanic, Schindler's List, A Beautiful Mind...the list goes on.  Anyone come out of a comic book superhero movie and say, "Hey let's read a book because I'm really interested to know more about history or literature or mathematics?"  No, because it's a comic book hero movie and they've told you everything and blown up everything and there's nothing else to know.)

We know Russell Crowe can tell a very compelling story with his acting.  This time around he also tells the story by directing the film, and it is, I believe, a well done job for a first time.

This is a very Australian film.  If you are familiar with some of Crowe's early work, such as "Heaven's Burning"  (one of my top 50 favorite all time films) or "Romper Stomper"  (One of Crowe's most celebrated early roles) then you understand what I mean. Not all American audiences are going to fully grasp what is happening because the Battle of Galipoli, fought during World War I, is a singularily Australian piece of history.  This is a story told by an Australian for Australians.  

That said, the themes of "The Water Diviner" are universal:  Family, children, hope, God, war, friendships, love.  While the time and place may be foreign, these truths certainly are not and Crowe and his very talented cast bring these themes to light in a surprising, dramatic, and heart wrenching way.

This is a beautifully shot film full of glorious colors, accents, and sounds.  The music is spot on, and, I was pleased to see that not only did Crowe direct and star in the movie, he also co-wrote one of the closing songs.  (I didn't see all the credits, he may have been part of the catering crew.)  Every scene is vivid and engaging and any movie that puts Russell Crowe on a horse is going to be a win because the man can sit a horse.

Probably the most interesting character in the movie is Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) a woman who runs a hotel in Turkey where Conner stays while he tries to cut through British red tape and Turkish hate to find the unmarked graves of his three sons.  She is a woman caught in limbo, not wife or widow, because her husband has not returned from the war, but she is a mother to young Orhan (Dylan Geroglades) a boy who befriends Conner.  Orhan is a shining star in this film, a bright light of hope among cynical, war weary adults.

This movie would do well at an Imax or an Ultra screen because it was filmed to be watched and reveled in.  It's a shame that here in America, it's going to be relegated to a short run on regular screens.  It's a brilliant film, one that made me laugh, and cry.  While everyone else in Hollywood is putting on tights and saving the universe, this film takes a moment to tell a story about a man who simply wanted to save a tiny piece of his soul and wound up finding so much more.

I said it before, I'll say it again:  It you have an opportunity to see, "The Water Diviner"  take it.  Go see this movie.

Sneak Peak Saturday: A Hero's Spark

Good afternoon!

It's been nearly a year since I released my last full length novel.  Seems like time just whizzed by.  I've been busy, as most of you know, finishing my next novel, the first in a series, and now we play the waiting game because this time around I'm trying to find a publisher that's not, you know, me.  We'll see how that plays out, but if I don't hear something from someone soon, you can bet that my Nora Hill books will find their way to your hands without, again, the aid of a traditional publisher.  Let's just say I'm giving traditional publishing a chance I never thought I would simply because it's a new genre for me.

That said, I'm doubtful that many of you have read the final novel in my "Rock Harbor Chronicles" series (Formerly I was calling it my "Wicked Women" series.)  So I thought I'd share a tiny piece of it with you today.  

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And now:  Please enjoy!

Mira wiped one angry tear from her cheek as she stormed up the stairs to the loft. She slammed the door behind her and started stuffing her few belongings into her duffle bag. Shara's promised him the loft. Now I have no choice but to go back to that house.
            She slapped away another tear and took a deep breath. Loneliness engulfed her. Even with the uneasy relationship she had with Shara, the loft was a much happier place than the house.
            She thought about the fall and how Madelyn liked to come up some weekends to enjoy the solitude.
And she’ll probably bring The Senator with her.
Fear and shame shuddered through her.
            She struggled to stuff a pair of jeans into the already over-full bag when suddenly Collier tapped her shoulder. She startled and glared at him. "What the hell do you want?" She regretted her sharp tone for a moment. Then she remembered he was the one kicking her out of the loft.
            "I'm sorry. I did knock. You must have...not heard me."
            "You're leaving?"
            She yanked unsuccessfully at the duffle zipper. "Yes, I'm leaving. You're the new project, so I'm out and you get to live here while Shara and her band of misfits make you the next rising star."
            "You heard everything, then." He didn’t seem surprised. He had a calm, old soul way of speaking.
            Right now his voice annoyed her. "Of course I heard everything. I knew the minute I saw you lying in that bed last night what was going on. I can't blame Shara, she's been great to me, but...dammit.” She swiped her hand across her eyes and inhaled. “I’ll be stuck in this stupid town forever playing for tips at Dave’s.” A new thought, and a new anger flooded her. “And you’ve managed to screw that up for me, too.”
            “What are you talking about?”
            She liked the worry in his eyes. “You distracted me last night. I didn’t get half the tips I normally do.  I figure I was short eighty bucks.”
            “Oh, you figure that, do you?” His steel gray eyes cooled and his posture stiffened. “So if I hand you eighty bucks, you’ll somehow turn into a sweatheart?”
            “Guess we’ll have to see what happens. I mean, it would be the gentlemanly thing to do.  That and, of course, not forcing me to go home.”
            “Oh, home? Home? So you do have someplace to go?"
            There was no point in lying. "I do. I have a place, a house. My parents’ house.”
“And you’d rather stay here why?”
She bit her lip. “Look, none of this is any of your business so just get out and let me finish packing and then I’ll be out of your way.”
“Did I do something to piss you off that I’m not aware, or is this just how Wisconsin girls treat men?” His voice was soft, there was no trace of combativeness.
 “I can’t expect you to understand, and I’m not in the mood to explain.” She raised stinging eyes to him and noticed his face held no trace of malice. Damn...he’s good looking. He's actually got kind eyes. And he seems to be a decent guy. “Is there any chance you can just give me some time here?”
            Collier closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. "Shara says I can stay with Molly Hunter. I'll stay there a couple days and you can, you know, make a more easy transition."
            "Fine. Whatever.” Force of habit, she swallowed down the flood of gratitude and responded with a cold tone she regretted. "Thanks." She blinked trying to keep as much loathing from her expression as possible.
            His eyes clouded for a moment, and he shrugged. "Anything for a...lady."
            He left as quietly as he came. She sat on the bed and glared at the door, annoyed by the sarcasm in his final words. He has nice eyes. He’s a selfish pig with nice eyes.
            She ignored the niggling feeling that she was being unfair to him.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Character quirks...a literary tool or a reflection of our own lives?

Hello all!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, one of the best things that ever happened to me in my writing life was hearing J.A. Konrath speak at a conference and the sitting next to him at a book signing.  He changed my outlook on publishing and writing, and he kept me in the writing life.  I was definitely on my way out, ready to give up, before I met him.

One of the things he talked about in his seminar was character quirks.  In his fantastic alcohol series, his main character Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels has a myriad of personality quirks.  When writing a series, he told us, it's important to have your character have or do something that readers recognize as a character trait, something that winds up being part of the story one way or another.

I took that to heart.  If you read my books, and true, my "Rock Harbor Chronicles" books aren't so much a series as books with similar locales and characters, you'll find people who are all riddled with character traits and quirks.  And my most recent work, the start of my Nora Hill series, I find that my main character, Nora Hill, is a ball of walking, talking quirks.
The other night I was getting ready for bed and I put on a tank top, some call it a wife beater, under my t-shirt. I've been wearing this tank top for a while.  It's a nice extra layer for those nights when I need to slather an extra amount of baby oil or lotion for my skin.  Wearing two shirts instead of one

cuts down on the amount of seepage onto the sheets.  Yeah, that tank top is pretty ratty.  

Not that it ever fit me.  I didn't buy it. It sort of wound up in my laundry one day. I gave it to my daughter...not hears.  I thought it might belong to one of my son's friends, nope.  So now it's mine.

Except I'm pretty sure I know where it came from. 

A couple years ago my children befriended a girl who needed friends.  Her parents, divorced, had all but kicked her out of the house.  She worked where my daughter worked and she and her younger brother befriended my two children.  She spent many nights at my house, almost became one of the family.


Then one day she told my son she wanted to date him.  My son said he liked her, but they were friends and that was all they would ever be.  And that's when it all went wrong.  I can't prove any of it, but one day she showed up to work with fresh bruises on her arm, and told my daughter that my son had hit her.

My daughter believed her.  After all, who would lie about that?

Except for one thing:  Anyone who knows my son knows that the one thing he is passionate about is hating those who are violent to women and girls. When he was very young the father of a classmate of his threw a bowl of soup at his wife and hit my son's classmate.  The girl came to school, because it was the safest place for her to be.  My son never, ever forgave the man.  Violence against women and girls is the one thing he hates more than anything else.

After a short period of time, my daughter realized this.  She spoke out against her friend.  And her friend, a girl I'd fed and housed countless times, turned on my daughter and began bullying her mentally and physically at work.  My daughter had to quit her job because it was no longer safe for her to go to work.

That girl has since faded from our lives.  I don't know where she is and frankly I don't care.  So why do I keep the ratty tank top?  Why do I keep it close to me at night?

She was my worst nightmare, that girl. The power she had over my daughter for a time nearly tore the family apart and what she could have done to my family scares me to my core.  I keep the shirt to remind myself that life and peace is fragile and that even the tightest family bonds can be tested by a whispered word.  I hold on to that shirt to remind myself that not everyone who comes through my door is as kind hearted as we've raised our children to be.  Most of all, I keep the shirt to remind myself that knowing my children is the best thing I can do to defend them.

So is that a personality quirk?  If I were a character in a novel...and why wouldn't you want to write about me...this would be something that would come up, this ratty tank top.

Look around.  Everyone has something, be it a diagnosis or just something they do, that defines them, helps the world recognize them.  When we read books that involve characters like this, is it a good literary tool, something just for the purpose of making the character a well defined picture for us or is it a reflection of our own lives?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sneak Peak Sunday: Love is Elementary

Good morning!

I'm in a sharing mood today, mostly because I'm working hard on the third novella in my "Rock Harbor Short Romance" series.  In truth, only two of the novellas are romances, in the strictest definition of the word.  The third, the one I'm working on, bends that definition a bit.  But, while we wait for "Love is Eternal" to arrive, I thought I'd share a bit from the first in the series, "Love is Elementary."

Remember, all my novellas, my novels, and my humor books are available in print and e-book form. Just click on the covers to the right of this post and check them out!


Drew set his brief case on the battered industrial sized desk and sighed. Not one often given to self-analysis, he wondered now if he should have his head examined.
          It was a good job. I left a perfectly good job, because I was an idiot about Rachel.  And now I’m the principal of…
          He looked out the window on the left side of the expansive classroom that now was his. Then he looked out the window on the right.
          I’m the principal of a cow pasture.
          He tapped the pocket of his dress shirt, a habit from his days as a collegiate smoker. No, you only get to smoke if you answer a really tough question.
          How about this? What the HELL am I doing here?
          “Careful, no swearing allowed here at Rock Harbor Community School.”
          Startled, Drew looked up from his reverie, eye to eye with possibly the most cheerful woman he had ever seen. “I’m sorry, did I say something?”
          The young woman at the door laughed. “No, but you sure looked like you wanted to. And from that dark look on your face, I’m bettin’ it wasn’t the Lord’s Prayer you had on your mind.” She crossed the room, walking right up to him without hesitation.
          Drew sighed. That’s right. I’m the principal of a practically parochial cow pasture now.
          “Joanna Huber. School secretary…and girls’ soccer coach…church organist next door at Rock Harbor Community Church. No affiliation to the school, except that everyone who lives in Rock Harbor attends services there.” She stuck her hand out.
          Drew took her hand in his, and was struck by how tiny her hand was. His hand felt like a massive paw covering hers. He shook her hand as gently as he knew how, afraid he might break it. “Drew, Drew Shepaski. I’m the principal, I guess.” He blinked, well aware that he must look like a thundering oaf to a woman so petite, so lively and so…pretty.
          “Well, if you aren’t, then you have some explaining to do to the school board!” She giggled, hiding her mouth behind her tiny hand, her dark blue eyes snapping with mischief.  “Let me show you around.”
          “Oh, okay. I mean, sure.”   If I stop saying words, maybe she will stop looking at me like I’m a moron.
          “Come on. It’s a short tour, but I promise you’ll drink some really terrible coffee at the end.” Joanna laughed again and led the way out of the room.
          “Well, only if it’s really terrible.” There, that seemed sort of funny.
          “It will be, I promise. The worst.” Joanna pointed to the rooms as they walked down the hallway. “First grade, that’s Tina. She’s the school art teacher. Don’t let her EVER make coffee if she’s done a project involving paste.”
          “Why not?”
          Joanne made a sour face and gave an exaggerated shudder. “Trust me. Oh, and Mrs. King teaches Kindergarten. She’s the pastor’s wife next door.”
          “We’ve met.”
          “Ah.” Joanna wrinkled her nose. “So you know. Bonus, she’s on the school board.”
          “Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”
“Some might think so, but no one questions Mrs. King.  Everyone’s pretty much afraid of her.” She kept a completely serious face for about a heartbeat and then burst out laughing. She pointed out several more classrooms, naming teachers and giving personal history about each teacher until they’d done a loop of the long hallway and were nearly back at his classroom.
           “So what, no fifth grade?”
          “New guy gets a gold star. Nope, we don’t have a fifth grade teacher just yet. Well, I mean we had one last year, obviously. But she got herself pregnant, and married…in that order.” Joanna’s eyes sparkled again as she cocked her head to one side, as if waiting for a response from him.
          Drew swallowed, unsure of what, exactly to say to this pert, pretty girl with the dark auburn hair that seemed to glow in the dim daylight of the hallway.
          Seemingly unphased by his lack of response, Joanna continued. “See, doing things backwards like that, that’s frowned on by the good families of Rock Harbor. Morals clause, you know.”
          Drew nodded. Weirdest thing I ever had to sign in a teaching contract. Felt like Sunday school with all the “You will not’s.”
          “So anyway, she moved away because…of the shame…” Joanna whispered the last words, her eyes sparkling with suppressed mirth. “And, here we are, mid July, hoping against hope that some teacher will magically drop out of the sky to fill the position. “ She shrugged.  “The sixth grade teacher is ready to take on two grades. Meanwhile, we wait.”
          Drew followed Joanna through the last door in the hall, the teachers’ lounge. This was a wide room that covered most of the very end of the building. The principals’ office, his office, took up the corner nearest the door, and was a sort of pass through room to his classroom. He glanced in the office, noting the partition windows in his office gave the room the feel of a guard shack at a POW camp.
          “Sorta like an air traffic controllers’ space, isn’t it?” Joanna picked up a coffee mug from the wide table beneath the window opposite of Drew’s office. “You can watch your classroom and the teachers all at the same time.”
          The description fits my line of thinking far better than yours. “It’s an interesting floor plan.”
          “The office was added way after these two rooms were built. This room and yours were actually the original school like a hundred years ago. Here,” she handed a steaming cup of coffee. “The office was added when this room became the teachers’ lounge and we realized that a principal might just need an office, like everyone else.”
          Drew held the coffee cup up, pausing before drinking out of a mug that looked more like a yard sale reject.
          “I know. Ugliest cups on earth. But what can you say? Everyone cleans out their kitchens and says, ‘Well, those nice teachers, they always need coffee cups.’  The result is we’re loaded with ugly coffee cups.”
          She sat down on a lumpy brown couch that also resembled many yard sales gems Drew recalled from his childhood. “Come on. You must have some questions.”
          Drew pulled a hard wooden chair up to a table loaded down with stacks of construction paper and jars of paste. He took a sip of coffee and nearly spat it out. “Wow…”
          Joanna laughed out loud as she stirred several teaspoons of sugar into her own cup. “I told you, terrible coffee.”
          “You drink this? Every day?” Drew ran his tongue on the inside of his mouth, trying to clean away the black, bitter taste.
          Joanna nodded. “Actually, with enough sugar and some of this,” she held up a canister of what looked like powdered coffee creamer. “It’s not quite as terrible. That and you’ll get used to it.”
          Drew doubted both points.
          Joanna sat across the table and took another sip of coffee. Leaning back, she was the very picture of someone completely at ease with herself.   Drew shifted in his chair, a bit uncomfortable as she took a long hard look at him. He wasn’t sure if from her unrelenting inspection or his system’s reaction to a second sip of the brutal brew.
          “You’re not much of a talker.”
          The last time I had anything to say to a woman, she rejected my marriage proposal. Doubtful I’ll be making that mistake twice.
          “You should probably know, Drew, I read your file.”
          The third sip of high octane black stuck in his throat. “You did…you what?” He coughed.
          Joanna put a hand on his arm then, and her face settled into an expression far older than her actual age. “Drew, a guy doesn’t leave a job like you did and come here for a simple change of scenery.”
          “Well, I did.”
          “Oh really. You got yourself a job teaching History your first shot out of college at the most prestigious private elementary school on the eastern seaboard.  Shoot, probably the most prestigious school in the country. You finish your masters, start on a doctorate. Couple years go by. You win all sorts of teaching awards. And then, in the middle of what pretty much every teacher on the planet would consider a rock star career, you pull the plug and take a job teaching at a very obscure parochial grade school in a tiny town in the armpit of Wisconsin.”
          “Just which file were you reading?”
          She patted his hand and leaned back, the smile and cheerful glow back on her face. “Okay, I didn’t see your file. I did a web search on you.”
          “Oh, nice to know my life is such an open book, at least on the internet.” And it’s time to change my name and move to an even more obscure place, obviously.
          “So why the turned around? Why take this job?”
          “I love teaching. “ He looked out the window. “I like cows. I was in search of the worst coffee in a teachers’ lounge.”
          Joanna nodded and laughed, but her eyes never left his and Drew shifted again, trying to break away from her direct gaze. “Drew, you do get that I’m like you’re right hand man, right? You’re teaching in the mornings, and I take some of your afternoon classes so you can be all principally.”
          “Wait, you’re a teacher?”
          “I love how the school board is so forthcoming with little things like duties and job descriptions.” Joanna nodded, still smiling. “Yes, I’m a teacher. Teacher, secretary, coach, we all do double and triple duty here, because of all the budget cuts. You’ll be coaching boys’ baseball in the spring…provided…” she frowned.
          The cloud cleared from her face and she smiled again. “Never mind. There are always enough kids for baseball. So unless you get a parent to volunteer for that duty, you’ll be coaching. Best brush up on your batting stance.” She raised an eyebrow at him.
          Drew didn’t want to stare too long at her, but he was certain there was quite a bit she was trying to communicate with him in that look. “Anyway, you were saying about my right hand man?”
“Oh right.  So I’m thinking we should be completely honest with each other.”
          Not likely. Sorry. “Fine.”
          “You probably think I already know everything about you right? And I should tell you a bit about myself?”
          “If you want.” He was amazed at the woman’s power to keep talking.
          Joanne giggled, a girlish, musical sound. “My story is simple. I’m a local girl. My father owned the only barbershop in town until he retired. He and mom tried living in Florida, but the humidity was too much for mom’s arthritis. They live in Arizona now. No brothers or sisters. Guess that’s why I talk to so much. No one told me to be quiet. I’ve wanted to teach here since I was in second grade. I’ve been here two years. I started out as the fourth grade teacher, but as things change, we all have to change with them.” She paused here, giving Drew that expressive look again that confused and interested him at the same time. Rested from her brief stoppage of speech, she continued. “I still live in my parents’ house, out near the highway, but I have a four wheel drive, so I get in here no matter how much snow falls, you don’t have to worry about that.”
          Snow might stop teachers from getting to school? How far in the country am I?   
“My favorite movie of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ “ She cocked her head to one side, chestnut locks falling low over one shoulder. “And no, in answer to your biggest question, I’ve never been in love.”
          Drew nearly dropped the coffee cup. “What? I-“
          Joanna burst out laughing. “I was just checking to see if you were listening! Guess you were.”
          And she’s the one I’m sharing a classroom with? Great…
          Joanna looked at her watch. “Oh, geez. I gotta go. Mrs. King wants to go over the music for the next six Sundays in church and if I’m late for that little summit, we’ll be stuck with her favorite version of “There is a Balm in Gilead,” extra tremolo on the organ settings.” She shuddered and wrinkled her nose again.
          “And that’s a bad thing?”
          Joanna gave him a quirky smile. “You’ll see if you go to services. It’s. The. Worst.” She wrinkled her nose again.

          As she scurried out of the room, Drew leaned back in his chair and watched her go. In the quiet left behind, he realized he liked it when she wrinkled her nose.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sneak Peak Saturday: Love is Enticing

Good morning all!

So I'm bashing my head against hard pointy things to try and focus on finishing the final novella in
my "Rock Harbor Short Romance" series.  It's been hard, and I knew this story would be the hardest of the three, which is why I wound up writing them out of order.  "Love is Eternal" is actually the second one in the series, timeline-wise, but it's not done yet.  Why?  Because I have to do something I don't do very often in my stories, and I don't want to do it.  (What is it?  Nope, not spoiling it, you'll just have to read.)

Anyway, since that's going to be done soon-ish, I thought I'd share a bit more of the newest in the series, "Love is Enticing."  Remember, all my novellas, my novels, and my humor books are available in print and e-book where all e-books are sold!  


Bryan Jacobs walked in to the deserted hotel bar looking for something cool to wash away the clinging scent of tedium; the red-head at the end of the bar, he realized, did the job nicely.
As he walked past her, he took in her glossy curls, the color of the deepest flames in a campfire. The wavy hair framed wide emerald eyes and full raspberry lips. That one quick image of her face erased the memory of the throngs of buttoned down, tight pony-tailed women who’d surrounded him endlessly for the past two days. This woman, Bryan knew, was no grade school teacher.

And that was just fine by him.

He had no thought of actually speaking to her. Bryan Jacobs understood too well the annoyances of being attractive. Tall, dark, and the perfect age to be crushed on by students and mothers alike, Bryan had often received adoring attention he neither sought nor cared for. He was friendly, he had to be. He was a teacher in a small school in an even smaller town in the far northeastern reaches of Wisconsin. Friendly was the bare minimum he had to be. Most days he just wanted to be left alone. Having just crossed into his thirties, Bryan found he craved the solitude he found riding his quarter horse stallion, Pepper, across the farm fields surrounding his house.

So, though he sat down at the opposite end of the bar and kept the beauty in his line of sight, Bryan Jacobs had no intention of disturbing her. He just wanted to look at her, to remind himself that there were women in the world who wore clothes and hairstyles because they were colorful or attractive, not because they were comfortable or resisted finger paint stains well.

She seemed to be wearing some sort of costume, flowing black cape that fell away from her body just enough. Bryan let his eyes trail the length of the plunging neckline, taking in the soft curve of her cleavage. He didn’t wonder, nor did he care, why she was dressed the way she was.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bryan noted a sign that said “Happy Halloween.” He smiled and shook his head. Right, some adults still dress up for Halloween.

He’d forgotten it was Halloween, or at least near enough to Halloween for people like the red-head to be wearing a costume in public. He hadn’t thought about Halloween as an adult event much in the last few years. Wisconsin State Teacher’s convention pretty much sucked the life out of him every year during the last weekend of October. He remembered well, in the years he worked in his father’s hotels, people would gather together in costumes of varying degrees of good taste. They would drink, dance, and catcall each other, especially the women, who all seemed to dress as some “sexy” version of normal costumes. Sexy nun, sexy nurse, sexy school girl, all silly, and embarrassing, given how most of the women in the costumes were far too old or large for the costumes. It embarrassed him every year to have to bow and serve and clean up behind them all. Bryan shook his head again. He’d always thought it was ridiculous, completely normal adults dressing up and going out in public.

Even so, in this moment, it didn’t strike him as wrong or out of place when he noted two black cat ears poked out from the wavy sea of flaming hair.

She just looked…right.

Which meant, given his history with women, she was completely wrong.