Do you enjoy cruises? My guest today doesn’t…until she does. So what changed? Please welcome journalist Donna, visiting from author Mary Tilghman’s The Last Gift! First a quick peek at Mary’s background and then we’ll find out more about Donna. Ready? Here we go!
Mary K. Tilghman, a journalist for forty years, finds inspiration for her books in the sites she visited when she wrote six travel guides for Frommer’s. These places and their history set the scene for her novels, both historical and contemporary.
Mary is the author of two Maryland-based historical novels, Divided Loyalties, set during the Civil War in Sharpsburg, and Love Letters & Gingerbread, set in 19th Century Annapolis.
Divided Loyalties was cited in CBSBaltimore’s “Five Baltimore Authors To Put On Your Summer Reading List.”
The mountains of Western Maryland serve as the backdrop for Inn By The Lake. Her newest novel, The Last Gift, published as an e-book by Champagne Book Group, takes place during an Adriatic cruise. It is due out in paperback this summer.
Mary is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, Maryland Romance Writers, and the Maryland Writers Association.
A Maryland native, Mary and her husband Ray have three grown children, all of whom still live in Maryland.
Character Interview: Donna
Betty: How would you describe your childhood?
Donna: Idyllic. My sister and I were very close, even though she’s much older than me. I had friends, of course, but I confided all my hopes and dreams, angers and frustrations with Karen. I was so sad when she fell in love and got married. I was happy for her, of course, but that close sister friendship faded away as she got caught up in marriage and then babies.
Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?
Donna: I loved school. I loved to read and I realized—well, Karen realized—I had a knack for writing. I didn’t go to any special schools, just my neighborhood school and the local university. But I was always a diligent student. Do you think that’s how I became an unattached, workaholic adult?
Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?
Donna: Men, it seemed, didn’t want to make room for my hopes and dreams. Even in high school, they seemed preoccupied with their own futures. So it took a long time for me to give a guy a chance. His name was Gary. We went to the senior prom together—our first date. After our first slow dance together, he didn’t let go. There on the dance floor he took my face in his hands, looked at me deeply as if this was an important moment. I realized what was happening, forgot the room was full of teenagers, and closed my eyes. The kiss was tender, soft, and lovely. But then some smart-aleck made a rude comment and ruined it all. We broke apart, both of our faces red, and hurried off the dance floor. The second kiss later that night was even better. I thought I was falling in love that night.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?
Donna: Being an aunt to Jake and Madison, my sister’s children. I was going to say becoming a real journalist because that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. But over the years I have always made time for those two children. I’m so proud that they’ve decided I can be their friend, their confidant. Jake is a teenager and Madison is in middle school so that’s huge. I’ve gone to their sporting events and in the last year since their father died I’ve done all I could to support them. I can’t fill the hole left since Brian passed away but I can make sure they know they are loved.
Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
Donna: I was terrified the moment I reached the gangplank for this cruise. I’d promised Karen I would go but the closer we got to the ship, the more frightened I became. I knew I didn’t like boats but I hadn’t expected to have a panic attack. If it weren’t for the kindness of that ship’s officer, I might have missed the most wonderful trip of my life. And I don’t think Karen would have forgiven me.
Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?
Donna: When I was eleven or twelve, I went on a friend’s sailboat. He was showing off, making it lean over as we skipped over the ripples on the river. It was too fast for me but all he did was make fun of me and tell me to relax. I wish I had been able to gain control of my fears that day and told that kid off.
Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?
Donna: Fear of failure. Nobody gets in my way. Nobody gets the best of me. I can’t stand the idea of failing so when I found myself falling apart on a stupid boat—I know it’s a ship—I had to figure out quickly how I was going to overcome my fears so that my sister Karen would have a good trip. That was so important.
Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?
Donna: I’m pretty private. Okay, I’m shy. Only a few people know me well. My sister always. When I found Scottie was so easy to talk to I guess I kind of opened up to him.
Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?
Donna: I miss my parents. We were a close-knit family. Just the four of us. Now it’s just Karen and me. I think Mom especially would be glad to see how we’ve remained so close—and she would have loved Jake and Madison.
Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?
Donna: I always think of Rita in “Groundhog Day” when she describes her perfect mate: Well, first of all, he’s too humble to know he’s perfect…He’s intelligent, supportive, funny…He’s romantic and courageous.” Never mind that Bill Murray keeps commenting as she talks—I always liked that list of attributes.
Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?
Donna: Relax? Who has time to relax? I work and then I crash. Sleep and repeat. I do like to keep novels on my phone. I love Scottish romances and historical novels.
Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?
Donna: Maybe I should learn to relax. Seriously, I realized on the cruise I was too focused on work. My sister lives in the moment. She’s good at living in the past—she is newly widowed—but she enjoys her time with her children. She savors every course at dinner. She stops to smell the roses. She literally stops to smell the roses. Drives me crazy when we’re in a hurry.
Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?
Donna: I’m a great planner. I love details. I guess that’s why the boss asked me to organize the upcoming press convention. So many things to think about. I had a great time getting everything together. Even though I’m shy, when I get to working those phones, it’s really fun. And I do love seeing all the arrangements work out.
Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?
Donna: Always a handful of pens and a notebook. I’m old school, writing down all my notes for a story. I don’t go anywhere without my cell phone. I carry a wallet with nothing in it but my driver’s license and credit card and a couple of dollars for the kids who wash car windows at the stop lights. That’s all.
Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?
Donna: Leftovers from the previous night’s take-out. I’d love to say champagne and aged cheese but I don’t keep any of that there. I never have anyone over. I’m barely at home.
Sail away with Donna, an up-and-coming journalist who tears herself away from work—but not her laptop—to join her sister on a Mediterranean cruise. The trip is a big step for Karen whose husband booked the voyage just before his sudden death a year ago.
There’s only one thing, Karen warns her forever-single sister: Donna won’t find love on this ship.
Scottie, a ship’s officer, has given his life to the sea but when Donna discovers she’s afraid of boats, he lends her a hand and loses his heart.
Thanks for stopping by, Donna! It’s been nice getting to know you. Thanks also to Mary for letting you have a few minutes away to join us.
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