A Fictional Character Inspired by Real Life : Or “I’m Batman”

His milk chocolate eyes were a little on the buggy side. His ears were a tremendous feature, stuck up high on his little head, and he had a mole on his chin. A hair stuck out of that mole. I used to poke it with my fingertip. His hair was so soft.

Budman 1From the start, he was there, when I first got into the writing scene, when it moved beyond keeping a sporadic journal, or writing letters. I would write and he was there, watching me, hoping at some point that I would get tired and peanut butter would eventuate. He liked to sit beside me, and by beside me I mean he got as close to the edge of the mattress as he could because my desk was right next to the bed. Later, when I moved the bed into another room and turned the front bedroom into my study, he’d hop up on the little couch and have a lie down, keeping his slightly buggy eyes on me as I hammered away at a story, hoping for peanut butter. Or a carrot, or cheese, but mostly for peanut butter.

My Little Buddy, my Budman was my companion for every book I have written. Every book. When I wrote him into Next to You he was 3. Caroline, the book’s heroine needed a companion, one who loved her unconditionally and fiercely. I gave her a Rat Terrier–my Rat Terrier. By the time I had three other books published, and Next to You was with my editor, Budman was almost 16, and he’d CHIN NextToYou1920_1920x3022_1024gone grey and blind. But he still sat beside me, his clouded, sightless eyes still set in my direction, hoping I’d break for peanut butter. He’s been gone since last August. I miss him, his warm little black and white body, his erect, bat-like ears, his slightly buggy brown eyes framed by a black mask that made him look like a canine version of Batman.

I didn’t realise that when I wrote him into Next to You, all those years ago, that I’d have such a bittersweet memorial to to my dog now. It’s weirdly fitting that Next to You deals with grief and the expectations that surround all that grief does or doesn’t entail, ideas of how one ought to behave when grieving, what’s considered appropriate, what’s considered crazy. Losing a companion animal, a dog, cat, ferret, whatever animal that was a loved part of your family hurts. A lot. The grief isn’t any different than losing a human family member. There is still an expectation of how one ought to behave when grieving, what’s considered appropriate, what’s considered crazy, yet there is also often an expectation that you only “lost a dog”  and that you should “Get over it” or just “get another dog.”

Expectations blow as much as the asshats who tell you that you should be grateful that you only lost a dog.

Whether it’s for a human friend or a canine companion you lost, grief is different for everyone. It’s a mystery to why there are expectations around how to grieve and how to act when you grieve. I tried to show that as part of Caroline’s story. Part of her grieving process meant having Batman.

This post is part of my grieving process. It’s been nine months and it still hurts. I’m not ‘over’ losing my dog. I’m not done crying about it. I’m ready to get a another dog, but my husband isn’t. You know, in some way I’m grateful that my little peanut butter-loving dog lives on as Batman in Next to You.

I’ve immortalised him.

Next to You Coming July 25th.

A love of ‘70s Bubblegum pop music isn’t the only unusual thing about William Murphy—being a six-foot-three albino tends to make a man stand out. Will’s life is simple and he likes it that way. But when he meets his new next-door neighbor, complicated begins to look mighty attractive.

Caroline’s left the past behind and is trying to grab life by the balls, which means finding new friends besides her dog, Batman. Will offers her neighborly friendship, and as they bond over old movies, Caroline regains her confidence. Unexpected love blooms. But real life’s not like the movies.

Their cute romantic comedy goes all Fatal Attraction and Will learns that nothing about Caroline is quite the way it looks. His simple life turns more complicated than he could ever imagine.

Thirty-one Days of Halloweenie – Day 1: Mashing Books and Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett


Welcome to Day 1 of the Thirty-one Days of Halloween. Why Halloween you ask? Well, I love me a good series that has a bit of fun, facts, fear, giveaways, and thirty-one days is hell of a lot shorter than seventy-five. So join me and my very special guests over the next month as we celebrate our take on Halloween, with occasional ghoulish and gleeful gusto!

We all have our favourite holidays. My tiny little mom is all about Christmas, and while I really get my cookies on for Christmas (You’ll find out more about that come late November) my heart belongs to Halloween, which, incidentally, my tiny little mom hates.

People like to hide behind masks. It helps them ward off evil, grow balls, be anonymous, do stuff they would never dream of doing. Why do I like Halloween? Perhaps it’s because it’s about wearing masks to scare off evil, being anonymous, growing balls, doing stuff one would never dream of doing.

Writing is a little like Halloween. What I mean by this is that writing allows you to be, in a way, multipbudanother person. When you craft a character, you get to try on what it’s like to be the hero or vile villain. You get to dip your toe into the world of power tools, Quantum Physics, Police and FBI procedure, which is what I did with my research for my previous books, A Basic Renovation and For Your Eyes Only. For Driving in Neutral, I got into the headspace of a claustrophobic man and emotionally flat woman who both slip into the hell of a panic attack. OH, WHAT FUN!!

SandrabooksAs for warding off evil?  Hello escapism! You wanna be a quantum physicist, but lack the science and totally suck at the whole math background thing? No problem. You can pretend you are a quantum physicist because you’re WRITING about two characters who possess these amazing-ass qualities you don’t have!

oldbitey1.jpgSimilarly, reading can be a great way to ward off evil, which totally means reading is like a mask too. Reading is a great way to escape the bullshit that life throws your way. Try on different genres and different books to live in another time, be a spy and save the world, or save the bad boy from a lonely, loveless life.

Mostly, I love Halloween because of Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the line I managed to work into For Your Eyes Only.

She looked a lot like The Bride of Frankenstein and, Jesus God in heaven, he wanted to dive on top of her and do a little ‘Monster Mash’.

Plus, the song is just so damn catchy. You’re gonna hum it for the rest of the day.

Seventy-five Days of Phobias Day 66: Melanie Milburne’s Musophobia is Not Musical or Pretty

Driving_Final[3] 12.45.14 pmTo celebrate the upcoming release of my rom com Driving in Neutral —a love story about claustrophobia— I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series, where we’ve been talking phobias for 66 days. The mere thought of climbing into an elevator scares the hell out of Driving in Neutral’s Emerson Maxwell, and results in some references to wet rodents and rabbits, but for Chris Hemsworth-shoulder-rubbing, bestselling, RUBY award-winning Romance author Melanie Milburne, the mere thought of anything to do with a rodent might just make her climb up on a stool or table and scream.

I grew up on a hobby farm north west of Sydney. We had chickens and ducks, cows and pigs and horses and every other type of animal you can think of including goannas and snakes. Not as pets, although I did have a water dragon called Macbeth.

My parents bred fox terriers, and given that we had a constant supply of rats and mice about the place it was a wise choice of breed!


Melanie is, the “one with the skinny legs and glasses.”

We also had lots of cats. I mean LOTS of cats. Most of them were strays and half wild and hung like feline gargoyles off the farm sheds.

We lived on an isolated road and were a sort of catchment area for dumped dogs and cats. We got used to watching out for strays before the onset of school holidays or late January or February when the cute puppy someone had bought their kid for Christmas turned into a not so cute hair and poop machine. We rescued a lot of those and some of them were the best dogs ever – loyal and devoted. One kelpie cross we called Tippy Toes (because she had cute white toes) alerted me to a snake she had just wounded near her water dish. I might well have been bitten if she hadn’t warned me by growling and shepherding me away.

I was a sensitive child. Some members of my family would say too sensitive. I freaked out at the sound of the pigs squealing before they were butchered. I fretted over the cows when their calves were taken away from them and fed from a bucket so the cows could be milked. I wept over being served Gertrude (the duck I’d reared since a duckling) for Sunday lunch.

But the thing that made my childhood particularly memorable was my aversion to rats and mice. I remember being about three years old when my father came in with a handful of baby mice he’d found in the barn. Their tiny pink naked bodies were squirming inside the cup of his hand. I’m not sure what upset me about that. Maybe it was when he proceeded to feed them to the nearest cat. Whatever it was, from that moment on I had a phobia that gripped me with Ris2462paralyzing fear every time I saw a rodent.

My no-nonsense mother thought the best way to handle this sensitivity was exposure. I’m not talking gradual exposure like they do in a desensitization program. I’m talking immersion. Needless to say it didn’t work. I got worse. Much worse. So Mum got my three siblings in on the mission to desensitize me. That didn’t work either. I just learned to run faster and scream louder.

I remember panicking about a science lesson in Year Ten. I’d heard we were going to dissect white lab rats. I decided the only way I could handle the lesson would be to use another animal. We bred rabbits on the farm so I put forth a proposal to my science teacher who agreed to use rabbits instead. Phew! I was so relieved. So I dutifully turned up at school with a crate of rabbits and he proceeded to euthanize them. Well, I wasn’t at the top of my science class or anything but even I could see a rabbit was a lot bigger than a rat, although some of the rats down near the pigsties at home were pretty big, but more on that later.

So, there was Mr Tanner with his bottle of ether and cloths and the rabbits swaying as if there were drunk or stoned. None of them gave up the ghost. Not one. I took them all home again at the end of the day and they hopped out of the crate and began munching and twitching as if nothing unusual had happened.

My dad had a novel way of getting rid of rats out of the pigsties. He would pour petrol down the hole and throw a lighted match in and boom! Out would blow the rats. I’m not joking. It really happened. Regularly. On one particularly memorable occasion he had just cleaned out the sties and spread fresh straw out for the sows. He caught sight of a beady-eyed rat and did the petrol and match thing. The rat and its large family came out on fire and proceeded to set the sties alight. It was a circus. Luckily Dad had a hose nearby!

Ris3All these years on and I still can’t bear to even look at a picture of a rat let alone see one in the flesh. I don’t even like guinea pigs or hamsters. To me they are just posh tailless rats. I’m on the one up on the table screaming if the cat brings a mouse in. I have to call in neighbours or a friend to remove it if my husband isn’t around.

Thing is, I have this uncanny ability to predict when a mouse or rat is going to appear in a movie. I say to my husband: ‘I can feel a rat coming on.’ And hey, presto –there it is.

I have no fear of snakes or spiders. I can handle heights and public speaking and live television interviews. For most of my adult life I’ve felt the fear and done it anyway… except when it comes to rodents.

I read somewhere recently that at any one time we are only a metre away from a rat. A metre! Eeek! Now that is scary!

Ris4Melanie Milburne is an award winning, best selling, USA TODAY author of over sixty romance novels with Harlequin Mills and Boon. She is an official ambassador (along with Chris Hemsworth and Eric Bana) for The Australian Childhood Foundation and is as passionate about the needs and protection of children at risk as she is about writing romance. In 2011 she won the prestigious Romance Writers of Australia R*BY (Romantic Book of the Year).

Melanie lives in Hobart, Tasmania with her surgeon husband and three miniature black poodles.

Melanie’s next series, The Argentinian Playboys Duet Book One: The Valquez Bride is out October 2014. Book Two: The Valquez Seduction arrives November 2014

Seventy-five Days of Phobias Day 51: Alexa Bravo Sees The Light

Driving_Final[3] 12.45.14 pmIn the 75 days leading up to the release of my romantic smartass comedy Driving in Neutral, a love story about claustrophobia, I’ve been running a series on, well, phobias. Over the last 51 days, a few authors have dropped by to confess to all sorts of phobias, from arachnophobia, to a fear of escalators, to the horror of what lurks beneath a teenage boy’s bed. Today I welcome a psychologist to the blog. No, it’s not my beloved Dr Shrinkee.

It’s the woman with the awesome surname, author Alexa Bravo. Her training in Psychology may put Alexa in control of her fear, like Olivia in Driving in Neutral, but as Olivia says, “Everyone’s afraid of something.”

Hmmm, well, when Sandra invited me to talk about phobias the traditional came to mind first, I must confess…spiders. Unfortunately that isn’t going to work for me. You see, I actually like spiders. I know, shock, horror. I’m the first to admit that I’ll jump on the nearest piece of furniture and scream like a banshee if I see a cockroach but spiders…well. I had a pet spider once. Wolfie. OK, if you’re thinking, “PET SPIDER!!! Is she certifiable?” That’s pretty understandable. If you wondering, however, what my non-typical liking for spiders has to do with my phobia…read on.Alexa-Bravo-colour-200x300

You might know that one of the techniques used to help people overcome their phobias is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, CBT for short. This strategy is all about replacing unhelpful cognitions (or thoughts) with more helpful ones. As a trained Psychologist, I’m all about using techniques that work and for me, talking about something I don’t fear (but which a lot of people do) helps me talk about something I DO fear (which most people don’t). So, before I tell you about my absolutely obscure phobia (so obscure, in fact, that there is no name for it), let me tell you about Wolfie.

At the ripe old age of 21 I moved into my first flat. It was on the third floor of a very old building and there were no screens on the windows. My bedroom window looked out over a huge tree and one of the branches practically sat inside the window frame. It was lovely to sit there in the evenings and listen to the cicadas and know the peace of solitude for the first time in my life. Growing up in a family of five, quiet time was hard to come by.

One night I came home from work and Wolfie was waiting for me on one of my bedroom walls. The light from the moon outside threw his shadow across half the surface and I have to confess that my first sighting was quite intimidating, especially against the white backdrop of the bare wall. Wolfie was twice as big as my hand. He was dark brown and very hairy and I knew from the first moment I saw him that getting him out of my apartment would be a huge battle. He was way too big to fit into a jar, I’d have had to go out and buy a family pack box of ice cream to put him in but there was no way, living on my own, that I’d get through so much dessert. alexa1Besides, I was watching my figure!

So I sat on my bed (which, given how tiny the apartment was probably put me within a metre of Wolfie) and I introduced myself. Wolfie was really shy at first and didn’t have much to say but he was a really good listener. I explained that I was living on my own for the first time and I could really use some company, so I was happy to share my bedroom provided he stayed on his side of the room. I gave him the whole wall (I wasn’t using it) and we came to a quiet truce that stayed in place for months. He wasn’t always there when I came home and sometimes I worried that he might have gotten himself into trouble (there were some huge birds competing for tree space and more than once I had to battle one flying through the window) but he’d always show up a few days later looking none the worse for wear. I confess to missing him when he wasn’t there and it was always nice to fall asleep with him watching over me.

Well, as with most relationships ours hit the skids when Wolfie had to start competing for my attention. Yep, I started dating, and the men in my life were strangely reluctant to share me with Wolfie. It all came crashing down around me when I got engaged and my husband-to-be gave me the final ultimatum – it was either Wolfie or him! It was not an easy choice. I’m still married 19 years later but there’ll always be a special place in my memory for Wolfie.

Phew, that was reaffirming! J OK, now about my phobia…..well, don’t laugh but I am absolutely petrified of…lighthouses. Yep. Don’t make me say it again. Just the thought…shivers up and down my spine. They are huge and intimidating and they…breathe. Have you ever been near one that’s “active”? It pulses…like a heartbeat. And if you stand close you can hear it…growling,alexa2 like a waiting predator ready to strike down the small defenseless humans…I can’t go on, it’s too terrifying. I’ve even managed to get a picture of the actual culprit – this is the very lighthouse that started me on my nightmare journey into fear.

So there you have it, my big, dark secret. Fortunately as a writer I can make sure there are no lighthouses (or spiders for that matter) in my books, just a tall, dark and handsome alpha male and the woman special enough to tame him.

Alexa3A high-flying corporate romance that’s sure to add ‘elevator’ to your list of erotic destinations! In Bed With The Boss

Trish Carter is chasing the career opportunity of a lifetime, and nothing is going to stand in her way.  After a failed marriage and years of self-doubt, she needs her business proposal to succeed, and there’s only one hurdle left: presenting to the Board of Directors and charismatic CEO, Keith Donnelli.  So it can only be the stress and extreme tension that leads her to jump the hot stranger in the elevator.

But the unexpectedly explosive encounter puts all her plans in jeopardy, when the stranger isn’t a stranger at all.  Now, her whole future rides on how well she can resist the temptation of sleeping with her boss.   Will Trish finally have the chance to make her secret dreams come true or will following her heart destroy her chance at a future?

Find out more about Alexa www.alexabravo.com and her books



Round Two: The Other Side of the Fence or When Elvie Met Budman

To begin, lemme clear this up. His Royal Schwanschtucker, AKA the new backyard neighbour’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier, AKA the Muscle-bound terror-re-er, AKA Elvin, is actually called ELVIE. I got the hunk o’ canine’s handle wrong because Angela, the new neighbour’s adorable three year old with a pretty mop of golden curls, told me the chained-up, brindle, snorting monster’s name.

You may recall that Elvie has a deathly fear of crying babies. You may also recall that, two days ago, when Angela’s baby brother was crying, Elvie’s fight or flight response kicked in and Elvie took off like a rocket to escape the noise. Escaping for Elvie means pulling at the chain that keeps him in yard and launching himself, repeatedly, at the fence between my yard and his. Elvie throws himself at the fence until he gets his paws over hooked on the top of the cyclone fencing and then pulls himself over. Then, busted chain trailing behind him, he’s in my backyard and still desperate to get out, to run free, to flee from sound of shrieking baby.

Friday morning, while my li’l Rat Terrier, Budman, was inside going bonkers, Elvie was outside going bonkers, snorting, panicking, leaping like a clumsy weightlifter doing ballet. When Elvie did an impressive Houdini and snapped his chain, vaulted over the fence into my yard, and then managed to get over my side gate, Budman went into hackles-up mode. His territory was being invaded and, dammit, he was going to protect it. Unfortunately, his fear makes him aggressive. And my fear makes me stupid. Without thinking of my own safety, and ignoring the fact Elvie might bite the shit out of me, I decided to be protective AND save the day. Budman may have been safely inside, but images of my dog being torn apart by Mr Dog Muscle meant I went out to grab Elvie. Before I could, he took off over the gate and ran to freedom.

This morning was a little different. My fear was nearly realised. Budman was in the yard takin’ care of some naturely business when the baby started crying. Within a few seconds, Elvie went nutso. Budman went nutso. Elvie was over the fence. Shrinky was down the back stairs and I…was in the shower. Once I made it outside, in a towel, the new neighbour was yelling, Shrinky was shouting, and Budman was barking like a good little faker who’s all noise and no action, just before shooting up the back stairs between my dripping wet legs. Elvie had his rump balanced on top of the gate when Shrinky grabbed him. In my saturated state, and full o’ blood-soaked fear fantasies, I expected snarling dog, snapping jaw, teeth clamping down on my husband’s arms, but Elvie didn’t struggle. In fact, he sort of, well, snuggled up in Shrinky’s arms.

And what a good place to be. I know what snuggled up with Shrinky is like. While’s he not a facial-hair sculpted Hispanic Dog Whisperer, and Budman pays very little attention to him when I’m around, Shrinky’s arms can have a calming effect. That’s Shrinky, that’s the nature of his cuddle power. But you know I’m biased when it comes to my Shrinky.

Anyhow, things did not go as I had feared. Elvie was not interested in Budman. At all. The Staffy was completely focused on escaping. He had tuned out everything but his freedom and getting over that gate. I think we were lucky this time. Despite a decidedly non-bloody outcome, the next Elvie in the backyard dog match might not turn out that way.
My writer’s mind will continue to churn out vivid scenes of vicious dog fights and painful bites.

Even though Elvie’s quite the Steve McQueen of backyard escapes, and my new neighbour continues to chain him up in The Cooler, instead of the theme from the Great Escape playing in my ears, I keep hearing the word mauled.

When Dogfish Go Bad

Thanks to new motherhood, my dear Canadian friend was up late-ish waiting for her sprogette to waken for a feed. During that pre-feed time Katie-Sue kept busy by reading the wikipedia page on Unprovoked Shark Attacks. 

As if one would WANT to provoke a shark attack?

In case you were wondering, instead of the word squalo, some Italians use the expression pesci di cane, or pesci cane for shark. Pesci cane translastes to dog fish. Now, you may ask, "Yo, Oldbitey, where are you goin’ wit dis?"  Bear with me and you’ll see because I was curious enough to have a look at what was keeping Katie-Sue occupied. You might be too.

If you’re not game to check out the link, what you’re missing are documented reports of people who met their fate thanks to a really big fish with really big teeth.  Really. Big. Teeth.

Some reports are more gruesome than others. There were words and phrases like, pieces, and washed up on the shore, and eaten feet first.

I could not stop reading.

After a few minutes of morbid, can’t-look-away-from-the-train-wreck-osity of it all, the fish-eating-man stories led me back to my earlier fear of the day; the Bull Terrier eating Rat Terrier terror (See yesterday’s blog post for details, Kids!).  As I brushed my teeth and washed my face, I vacillated between picturing Jaws and Bull Terriers, Sharks that turned into Bull Terriers, and Elvin Elvie, my neighbour’s muscled-up Bull Terrier, as a Bull shark zipping after a scrawny snack in the form of my widdle dawg, Budman. I went to bed convinced of nightmares to come. I prepared myself for a dream onslaught of Great Whites, Tigers, Bulls, Oceanic White Tips, and Budman-eating Elvies.

What I dreamed of instead, were Zombies.

All The Bull With No Horns

Last week we bid farewell to our backyard neighbours and their skittish German Shepard, Lucy. The funny thing about Lucy was how she was afraid of Budman. Lean Lucy was three times Budman’s size and, despite her girlish figure, had, I’m guessing, 60 pounds to his measly 11. Image is everything. Faking it is a key factor in life. My dog seems to understand this. Fear-aggression is all about being a fake. The l’il rat terrier thinks he’s 7 feet tall and 200 pounds of rippling muscle. It’s all in how you fake it. I know I’m to blame for that because, as the adage goes, it’s like person like doggie. I pretend to be a five-foot-six blonde goddess with a shapely ass that puts Sting’s tight little Yoga naked butt to shame.

Thanks for that pic Annie Leibovitz!

Mmmm Sting…Sigh….

Um…what was I about to say?

Oh, yes. Faking it. Budman’s all front. All noise. All darting quick movement and flashing teeth. This is especially so now since my new backyard neighbour’s have a dog. His name is Elvin Elvie.  A new dog, one who is not timid Lucy, means Budman has now become the size of Optimus Prime in his own mind.

The thing is, where Lucy was lean, Elvin Elvie is a muscled mass of dog bodybuilder and he has, I’m sorry, I have to say this because it’s just so OUT THERE, an enormous schwanzschtucker. I’m talking the biggest I’ve ever seen on a dog his size. Of course there was Walter the Basset hound who possessed a set of the most impressive dogie nuts I’ve ever seen, but this is about Elvie.  I estimate this Bull Terrier weighs more that I do. Like Lucy, he’s also skittish and afraid, but not of Budman the Not-so-Big Fat Faker.

Elvie is terrified of crying babies. Our new neighbours have two children, one 15 months, the other 3. When the wee one cries. Elvie runs.

Well, Elvie barrels really.

Barreling Elvie whimpers and leaps at the cyclone fence that divides our properties. Elvie, snorting like a asthmatic pig, keeps whimpering and leaping at the fence until he’s made it over the metal structure. Then, in the next moment, while Budman is doing his best impersonation of a 11 pound, tri colour, Raging Rhino–from the safety of inside the house–Elvie is snorting and whimpering and leaping at my side gate. Before I can make it down the back steps to grab his harness, the one I see has a length of broken chain hanging from it, he’s hauled his muscled frame over the gate and run off down the street.

You may wonder what all of this has to do with writing. Really. It’s not hard to make this con
nection. As a writer I have quite a vivid imagination, or as Shirky puts it, "a rich inner world." To be honest, for the past 10 years the two things I have worried about when it comes to my dinky 11 pound dog are carpet pythons and cane toads because both creatures could kill Budman in just a couple of minutes. I’ve had those awful imaginings that my Little Wind-up dog would wind up…do ya really need me to go into detail? Now, thanks to Shrinky and Elvie, I get to add Budman’s biting it by Bull Terrier (
Staffordshire Bull Terrier that is) to my occasional flights into my rich inner world. My writer’s mind goes into overdrive on this one. I was home today when Elvie launched himself over the fence, but what if I hadn’t been? Crying baby = fear for Elvie. Foreign dog in his backyard = fear-aggression for Budman. Oh, the scenes my writerly brain has come up with are just too horrible–and that’s not including the scenes where I step in to save Napoleon Budman and wind up with my throat torn out by Elvie.

You see, not only does Elvie out-weigh me, he out-muscles me too. I’m no match for him anymore than Budman is. It’d be chomp, chomp, chomp for Oldbitey. Still, if something happened, if babies cried and Elvie vaulted the fence again when Budman was in the backyard, I know my inner Napoleon would rise up. I’d move my bony anti-ass to come to the rescue. I’d dive right into the frightened dogfight…

And then, as my new neighbours put up a higher, Elvie vaulting-proof fence, Sting would visit me in the hospital as I recuperate.

P. S. Thanks, Swellanor, for letting me Gloom & Doom all over you today about Budman.