Alert the Town…I Have My Gown!

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My daughter recently got engaged, and already a flurry of activity has occurred, especially choosing the date and booking the venue. I know the next months will be fun and exhilarating and special as we countdown to her July wedding.

Yesterday, we went dress shopping with one of her bridesmaids. She wanted to hit 3 different places so she’d be able to see a good variety, but she wanted to limit it to 3. No sense in getting overwhelmed. She could’ve gone to 17 more places, but I believe we would’ve seen a lot of the same, with very few different designs.

So going with the Rule of 3, we hit 1 place in the morning and after a quick lunch fuel stop, we visited 2 more. She tried on probably 10 dresses at each place, everything from modern to classic to vintage to traditional. We saw her in A-Line, Mermaid, Princess Gowns, and more. Strapless. With straps. With cap sleeves and without. No lace. Some lace. Some ridiculous amounts of lace. Some tulle, some not. No satin—that wasn’t her cup of tea.

Of the 3 bridal shops we spent time in, 1 had the best salesperson by far. She was friendly, knowledgeable, and asked questions throughout the fitting. She didn’t rush things, and she even brought over a couple of styles that hadn’t been considered that became real contenders. She did her best to stay within our price range, which I really appreciated.

One boutique (even though they served us champagne, albeit in a plastic cup) totally turned me off. I worked retail back in the day, so I get that many people are on commission. Especially in these bridal shops, I know that every salesperson wants to sell the most expensive gown possible to up the commission. But I had a problem with “Stella’s” reaction—yes, changing names to protect the so-called innocent.

Stella was all smiles, leading us back through a maze of a shop awash in gowns of white, ivory, champagne, blush, and taupe. She asked a few questions about the date and venue (I quickly learned in wedding dress shopping that you MUST consider the venue because of the all-important pictures of that dress IN that venue). That was all well and good, as she was getting to know my daughter and ask about her taste in silhouettes, materials, etc.

Then came the question that they all ask, and I believe they should. They NEED to know your budget. So Stella asked what price range we were looking at, and my daughter responded.

And Stella looked like she’d bitten into a sour lemon—and drank a swig of spoiled milk on top of it.

Okay—it’s one thing to be personally disappointed that your potential wedding gown buyer isn’t going with a $10,000 budget—but it’s another thing to visibly react that way to a young woman who’s starry-eyed about her upcoming nuptials, trying to find that perfect dress that her groom will be blow away by when he sees her gliding down the aisle.

But to show it? I’m not exaggerating here. She was visibly put-out by our price range. Such a physical reaction was in poor taste, IMHO. How could she be a downer on such a marvelous day? She even had the gall to snobbishly say, “Have you tried on any dresses? Were you able to find anything in that price range?” (in her haughtiest voice)

Couldn’t have been prouder as my daughter graciously smiled at her and said, “Yes, I have—and I’ve found quite a few that I liked at that price.”

(SCORE!)

Stella did pull several dresses. Dutiful Daughter tried them on. Bridesmaid & Mom studied, commented, and took pictures. Thanked Stella for her time and left.

And as we headed for home and began talking about it, we knew it was between 2 beautiful (and reasonable) choices at our very 1st stop. We headed back that way to our 1st pit stop, calling our wonderful, kind, and understanding salesperson named Sarah to let her know we were returning and which 2 gowns to pull as we made the final decision.

Daughter tried on both selections again. Both were a dream. Both made her look beautiful and feel special. I loved both, but one was that right dress. The one that created a beautiful silhouette. The one that was light and romantic and would photograph lovely. Sarah gave us space and time to decide. When the decision was made, we all felt happy, relieved, and most of all…EXCITED!

My hat is off to Sarah for being patient and making the dress selection such a wonderful experience. For taking the time to get to know my daughter personally in a short space of time. To glean enough from her figure and answers to pull what became The Dress. To smile and be genuinely happy for Daughter and her choice. To take pictures of the happy event, commemorating that special shopping day with a sign saying, “Alert the Town—I’ve Found My Gown.”

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Now it’s on to other wedding-related things. There are photographers to consider, food & cakes to taste, DJ’s to think about.

But I’ll always treasure Wedding Dress Shopping Day. It was the best!

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Singing in the Car (an American Past Time

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I’m not a singer. Well, at least not a good one. Not even fair. I’d pretty much classify me in the one notch above rotten category—but I’ve never let that stop me from singing.

When I was young, I did what so many other little girls did in their bedroom. I’d hold my brush in my hand, pretending it was a microphone, and I’d sing my heart out to whatever song played on the radio, pretending to be talented and famous. I actually could stay on pitch back then, so I sang in my church’s choir, though never as a soloist. I played the piano and read music (obviously!), and my choir director would often have me sing with the tenors when we were learning a new song. My voice was pretty darn low, and the tenor guys could follow me and stumble along till they picked up their part. Once they had their harmony down, I could return to my alto comfort zone. Even as an adult, my voice is pretty low. I have trouble hitting high notes on any Adam Levine song.

I suppose playing the piano as I grew up gave me an appreciation for music. I’ve loved different genres over the years. My iPod is probably one of the most eclectic you’ve ever seen, with everything from Broadway show tunes to 70s rock to R&B to 21st century alternative bands.

Singing in the shower is always great because the acoustics make even the poorest singer seem spot on. I’ll also do a mixture of singing and humming while I cook. I’ve caught myself singing under my breath while out walking in the mornings.

But my favorite place to sing? Hands down, it’s in the car.

I don’t know what it is that makes that so much fun, but I love it when a cool song comes on the radio. I crank it up and sing along, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel. I used to carpool to work with a friend, and I still remember two occasions when we immediately stopped our conversation to belt out “Only the Good Die Young” and “American Pie.” Once the song was over, we grinned and picked up our conversation right where we left off without missing a beat. It was a sweet bonding experience.

I’m not a huge Madonna fan, but I absolutely love to sing “Like a Prayer.” Notice I don’t say “sing along with.” When that song comes on, I AM the lead singer. I guess I enjoy the feeling of having that gospel choir backs me up. My recent favs to sing along with in the car are Bastille’s “Pompeii” and One Republic’s “Counting Stars” and “When the Love is Gone.” It’s fun to know the words and hit every little key change. And with a good beat? I’m a goner.

I used to own a convertible and would turn up the music every time a great song came on. If it was top-down weather, that was a plus. Nowadays, I have a sun roof, so I enjoy having it open in nice weather. Today was one of those good days, as fall is slowly coming to Texas. And today, I got caught singing along.

I pulled up at a stoplight. No one was around me. And the new Fallout Boy song came on as I button punched. So yes, I started left foot tapping and head bobbing and wheel pumping, thoroughly enjoying myself.

And then another car pulled up. Unbeknownst to me. But then I had that eerie, ooh-somebody’s watching-me feeling. I glanced over and saw a guy chuckling at the show I was putting on. I grinned sheepishly. The light changed. I accelerated and hurriedly turned into Kroger a few blocks down.

So—I got caught enjoying myself. You know what? It was worth it!

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Boob Masher? Sign Me Up, Please!

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All women know that being a woman is a pain in the butt sometimes. While our men can jump in and out of the shower, towel off, run a hand through their hair, and throw on some clothes in order to walk out the door . . . we . . . just . . . can’t!

The shower alone takes way more time than I like (and I have short hair, to boot!). Shampooing, conditioning, and shaving our legs all adds up—though I will admit to only once-a-week shaving in the winter. Even a low-maintenance gal like I am still has to take time to slather on moisturizer, put on some tasteful make-up, and blow dry my hair. At least getting dressed is easier than it was just a decade ago, thanks to pantyhose being out of fashion, not to mention no girdle to shimmy into!

Women also draw the short end of the stick thanks to our inner body parts. We’re the ones that suffer the menstrual cramps. We’re the ones that are (lucky?) enough to give birth—usually after hours and hours in labor. And as we age, we get all the fun of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and insomnia. All thanks to being female.

We also tend to be the most stressed in our families. While my husband doesn’t seem to worry about much of anything, I worry about if we have our tickets to the event we’re driving to. Did I unplug the Keurig before we left for the airport on vacation? Did I sign all the permission slips and pack the right stuff in lunches and get the bills paid and remember my grocery coupons (and the grocery list!). When he might be out late without me, I have to worry about him making it home. Did he run out of gas? Was he mugged? Did he have an accident? He should have a spectacular funeral—because I’ve planned it a good three dozen times in my head over the years before he walks in, happy as a lark, oblivious to all my worrying on his behalf.

I just completed my well woman exam last week, another thing I never seem to hear guys thinking about. I was poked and prodded, feet in those stirrups, and glad to hear all my labs checked out. Just another fun day in the life of being female.

But tomorrow is the un-fun thing women do that men would definitely be sissies about.

Mammogram time.

First, I hate the not being about to put deodorant and perfume on. It’s like forgetting to slip on my rings or earrings because I feel half-dressed without these essentials. Then it’s the actual, physical, lift your boob and place it on the (always cold) plate as you awkwardly hug the machine, twisted like a contortionist auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. THEN your boob is squished and squashed and mashed and painfully flattened as you’re told to hold your breath for the X-ray. Repeat, angle after angle, before the sweet release.

Nope, not fun at all. Being a woman is certainly not fun on these occasions.

Yet tomorrow when I go in for my mammogram, I will say a little prayer of thanks that this process is even possible. That going through a bit of being uncomfortable for a few minutes is worth it. Because early detection saves lives.

I have a good friend who has battled breast cancer this past year, and I mean literally battled it. She has gone into this war with courage, humility, and a positive attitude. She has been lower that low but always fought back with a brave smile. She has conquered this beast with grace and a stunning sense of humor. I admire her every day for fighting through her struggles and coming out victoriously on the other side.

I hope never to take the journey that she’s been on. I hope to receive a clean bill of health and a shot at another year of life that’s cancer-free (Even if I do over-worry and sweat the small—and large—stuff sometimes).

And no matter what tomorrow brings, I hope to always appreciate being a woman. Despite all the little things, I like belonging to the sisterhood of women everywhere.

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I Run Away Often . . . Especially to the Old West

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When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money to use for traveling–so I did the next best thing. I read about all the places I wanted to go. I sailed down the Nile and saw the pyramids. I ventured to the Tower of London and saw Queen Anne Boleyn beheaded. I peered out across Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower. I went on safari in Kenya and spotted everything from hyenas to lions. I went backward and forward in time and traveled from the Seven Seas to outer space with interesting companions. Reading helped me escape to different continents and eras.

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Fast-forward to my adult years, and I still love to read. More importantly, I’ve become a writer. It’s my mission to take others on adventures now, along with my characters. And one of my favorite places to travel is the American West in the years after the Civil War. So many Americans—many of the Civil War veterans—ventured from the safety of the cities they’d grown up in to make a new life for themselves on the Great Plains and beyond.

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If I had Marty McFly’s Delorean to help me travel back in time, I’d enjoy visiting the Old West. Notice I said visit. Not stay. I love my modern creature comforts. I consider things such as flush toilets, running water for my ultra-hot showers, and my blow dryer as necessities in life, while luxuries  include the Internet, cable television, and air travel.

So when I daydream that I’ve run away to the West, I think about the people I’d encounter. The transportation I’d take. The food I’d eat and how difficult even a simple meal might be to prepare. I think about the clothes and customs and a dozen other things—and then I follow it up with research. That’s when my little luxury of the Internet and my laptop come in handy. Pulling all of these ideas together help me build plots and characters that I  put into all kinds of situations. Coming up with conflicts never seems to be a problem in this era.

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I’ve had three western historical romances published so far. My heroes and heroines have been writers, gamblers, teachers, and even a whorehouse owner! I’ve gotten to research gambling, cattle drives, dime novels, and the layout of cow towns and 1870s San Francisco. I try to slip in just enough research to give my books the flavor of being in the West without banging a reader over the head and screaming, “Hey, Reader—like my research?”

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I’ve published one medieval romance and have another one come out in a few months. That’s been a wild era to run away to in my mind—all the fighting and weapons and castles and different, complicated clothing. Still, both medievals were a fun place to travel to as I wrote these novels, and I hope my readers will enjoy the setting of the Hundred Years’ War as a backdrop to my upcoming story, A Bit of Heaven on Earth.

I’m off now to run away again. Another place and time far away are calling my name—and I can’t resist that siren’s call!

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I Want to be Diane Sawyer–or Emma Stone–When I Grow Up

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Don’t get me wrong. I like who I am. I really, really like who I am (Thank you, Sally Field).

I’ve been a teacher and a writer and a wife and a mom. Advantages and disadvantages to all those occupations, but in the long run? I wouldn’t trade my experience being all of those.

Growing up, I believed—as most children do—that I could become anything I wanted. The sky was not even the limit because I could maybe become an astronaut! My grandfather wanted me to be an airline pilot, but when I couldn’t even see the appendages on the big “E” on the eye chart—just a dark, fuzzy blob—that wrecked that dream. It was his dream, anyway. Not mine. I enjoy flying, but I didn’t want to be the flyer—just the flyee.

I went through a phase when I wanted to be a spy. I read spy novels and watched spy movies and TV shows. I thought there was nothing cooler than being a spy. Fortunately, I wised up and discovered I’m pretty much a wimp. If I’d been captured and the Secretary disavowed any knowledge of me, I would’ve folded under torture. Just a scary look would’ve probably done me in, so I’m sure my country is glad I didn’t decided to serve in the CIA. Just watching Homeland lets me know I’m not cut out for that kind of life.

When I was in high school, I thought I would be a journalist. I’d light the world on fire, like a Woodward or Bernstein. I also thought about becoming a lawyer, but between the extra 3 years in school and all the money I’d borrow to get through those law school years, I didn’t want to put off life any longer—much less drown in debt. So I eventually settled on a calling from the time I was very young and played school with my stuffed animals and dolls (Chatty Kathy & Suzie Smart were 2 of my prized pupils in my bedroom schoolroom).

I discovered teaching was where I was meant to be, and I’m lucky enough now to have added “published author” onto my resume. Both have given me immense satisfaction.

But every now and then, I get a hankering to be either Diane Sawyer or Emma Stone.

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Diane is all class—that polished manner, ethereal beauty, whip-smart intelligence. I’ve followed her career over the years. Cried when she left GMA. Was happy for her promotion, but sad for her morning audience. She and Charlie were simply magic during their years together. She did an amazing job on the ABC national news desk, and I look forward to her new chapter as a special correspondent.

But what I like about her most? Not the gravitas she brought to the anchor desk or her quick thinking and skilled reporting. Nope, I like her quirky, fun, down-home, goofy sense of humor. Over the years, watching her on TV and reading interviews with her, she just is a happy, funny, and there’s no other way to say this . . . dork! She’d be the first to tell you what a dorky klutz she is. But she’s funny and real and maybe one day when I’m visiting New York City, I’ll run into her somewhere. We’ll sit and have a glass of wine and laugh like old friends—because she’s got that ability to be there, right there, with someone, in the moment.

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Another, different beauty that I think is just precious is Emma Stone. She’s gorgeous. Talented. So natural on screen. So stylish on the red carpet. And . . . another quirky, dorky gal. Just listening to her when she’s being interviewed, she is a fun and funny person. I love a sense of humor more than any other quality in a person, and Emma seems to have one a mile long and two miles wide. She seems as if she loves to laugh—whether it’s at herself or along with you. Maybe she’ll drop by that table where Diane & I are sipping a smooth cab and join us for some good conversation and plenty of laughter.

These women are very different from me. One, a journalist. One, an actor. Occupations I would have liked to try but never will (Unless I write a book about one—which I did just sell a manuscript about an actress pursued by a serial killer—hmm…maybe Emma could play the lead in the movie version and Diane could interview her?). Still, whenever I have trouble sleeping at night, I think I just might pretend to be Diane or Emma in my daydreams . . . if only for a little while.

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Back from Vacay—and Back into the Swing of Things

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I just got home from 13 wonderful days of vacation, escaping the triple s that hit Texas and visiting 2 different friends in Idaho and Colorado. Both legs of trip went extremely well, with even my luggage making it to each stop. You know what I mean—the minute the horn blasts and the baggage carousel starts—and you get that sinking feeling as more and more bags come out and pass you by. You hope your suitcase made it your destination instead of heading off to Chicago or Atlanta.

About the only glitch in the entire trip was arriving back in Dallas a tad late. I made my way to baggage claim, and our flight’s luggage didn’t come and didn’t come. After a long wait, they announced one number to head toward and then another before telling us there was a jam, so head back to the original carousel instead, where 3 other flights had luggage being dumped out. As more and more suitcases came out, I got that sick feeling. Then the P.A. said the jam had been cleared—and Flight 144’s bags might be coming out either here or at the original carousel. It was a little frustrating for me (and terrible hot as my husband waited for me in the cell phone parking lot, awaiting my call as he sweated in the heat). But all is well, and I’m back at home.

I’m fortunate that I have friends who have moved to such incredibly beautiful places and were eager for me to come and visit them. In Idaho, we did lots of hiking at places such as Priest Lake and around Sandpoint, both around Lake Pend Oreille and at a nearby national park.

148 We also took a day trip over to Montana, and these falls were an incredible sight. You hear that something “took my breath away.” Well, this did!

199 I really enjoyed crossing over into Canada for the day and following the International Selkirk Loop. We even rode the longest (45 minutes) free ferry in North America as part of that day.

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Lots of hiking happened in Colorado, too, along places such as Horsetooth Rock Trail and Devil’s Backbone. Again, the beauty of nature surrounded me everywhere we went.

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I’m glad we hiked so much because in-between? It was all about the food & drink! On the Idaho portion, I had everything from maple walnut ice cream in Canada to huckleberry cheesecake.

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Colorado proved just as tempting, with my favorite being white chocolate bread pudding made with croissants. That dessert was worth the trip alone!

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Of course, even breakfast was a sweet deal, as you can see in this pancake flight

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Tons of little breweries dotted Ft. Collins, and I got to visit Budweiser and take the tour. I’m always fascinated with the process of things and how they are made. That dates back to the 1st tour I took as a 7-year-old Bluebird, where we went through a plant that made melamine plates and cups—and even got a free plate at the end of the tour! I will definitely have to return here because the Clydesdales were on tour in California, so all I saw was the meadow where they gallop and their stalls where they sleep.

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I also sampled hard cider for the 1st time. They have flights of these, so you can sample and then read about what you’ve tasted. Many were tasty, and I loved the flavors that came out (such as apples, pears, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg).

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I’m happy, though, to finally be home again. My 1st full day back was yesterday, and I did laundry and shopped for groceries. I made my family shrimp enchiladas, and everyone seemed appreciative. I reactivated my library hold list, so I hope I won’t check today and find I have 10 books that have come in at the same time!

Of course, I also have a lot of TV to catch up on. Suits finished up their season while I was gone. I need to see what Ray Donovan and Sookie Stackhouse have been up to. And I have my fingers crossed that the detectives from Murder in the First have finally nailed that weasel Eric Blunt (Kudos to Tom Felton for making the transition from child actor to adult one. He’s been terrific in this role).

And what was probably the best thing of the 1st day back? Hearing from my editor Debby Gilbert. She’s published 4 of my historical romances, with another medieval set to come out in December and a western next March. Just before I’d left on my trip, I’d sent her a different kind of manuscript—my 1st romantic suspense. She emailed me yesterday and told me how she kept saying to herself, “Wow, this is SO good,” as she read it. It’s nice to know I stepped out of my comfort zone, and it paid off. I’m very happy that she bought this new effort.

So here I am, Texas. My trip has recharged my writing batteries. Ready to get back up on that horse and ride hard and fast and see where my next manuscript takes me!

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Packing for Vacay (and Packing a Plot)

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I’m about to leave Texas for summer vacation. I’m headed to Idaho and Colorado. I thought it was smart planning on my part to beat the August heat and head to cooler climes. Wouldn’t you know it? Texas has experienced two “polar vortex” fronts in July, making summer temps here almost bearable. We’ve only reached triple digits a couple of times instead of having them for a couple of weeks in a row. On the other hand, both Idaho and Colorado are unseasonably warm this summer. Maybe I’ll bring a little of the cooler weather with me as I head northwest.

I’ll be gone 13 days, which means I really need to consider carefully what to pack. I need shorts & T-shirts for my usual morning walk and for the hiking we have planned (although last year my morning walk in Idaho saw temps in the high 40s, so I might need to throw in some sweatpants!). I’ll also need some nicer tops and capris for going out to eat, hitting a museum, or other outings that call for more than my usual summer wardrobe of shorts and T’s. I’ll have to throw in a skirt or dress—just in case—because you never know if something a bit fancier might come up. A woman always should be prepared for every occasion.

I’ll also need to gather up PJs, sports & regular bras, undies, and shoes.  It’s the shoes that do me in every time. I like to have several pairs of sandals, hiking boots, tennis shoes, and even flipflops to throw on when in a rush. I’ll even pick out a couple of scarves so that I can throw one on to change up and dress up or down an outfit. I’ll definitely need items for when things turn cooler—jeans, my windbreaker (for rain), a sweater, and light jacket. Then there’s the inevitable make-up bag with everything from toothpaste to bandages to lipsticks to moisturizer.

With everything going into my suitcase, I have to be careful not to exceed the 50-pound limit! I definitely don’t want that additional fee tacked onto my trip. The airline even charges for a carry-on, so my backpack will double as my purse/computer/Kindle/charger bag. With all that needs to go in this, carrying it alone will be workout enough!

I always wind up taking my favorite pieces of clothing on vacation—clothes I’m comfortable in and that fit well. My biggest fear is that the airline will lose my bag, and I’ll return home to the ratty underwear and stretched-out bra and T-shirt with a hole in it that I wore the day before I left so that I could wash and pack all the good stuff in my luggage.

That got me to thinking. I pack The Good Stuff when I go on vacation. And when readers pick up a book, they want The Good Stuff in that book. It’s my job as a writer to give them all the good that I’ve got. As I outline my plot, I’ve got to pack it with interesting characters, internal and external conflicts, and twists and turns to keep them reading. I must pack carefully, not putting in too much of one thing and leaving out another. Readers need great descriptions to help their minds set the stage, but if all I do is write great descriptions and neglect dialog, a critical piece of any book, then I’m doing my readers a disservice.

So I have to pack my work-in-progress with as much care as I pack my suitcase!

An important part about packing is leaving room for souvenirs. You never know what you might run across that you’ll want to bring home with you. Writing a book, to me, is the same way. While I outline my plot and create my characters, I always leave lots of wriggle room. I want to be flexible and spontaneous enough to insert new ideas as they come to me during the writing process. If I’m too rigid in the construction, I may be reluctant to add fun bits that come as the novel progresses. Many times (too many to count!) my characters have gone off in unplanned directions. Like a dog on a retractable leash, I give them some room to wander off and explore. They’ve taken me to places in the story I wouldn’t have imagined—and it’s become a better book for it. So I realize it’s important as I “pack” my book to leave room for the unexpected to occur.

I’m off to do laundry now, the first step of packing for my upcoming vacay. I’m also ready to start writing a new book, so I hope I remember these pack-the-plot lessons. Both packing jobs require thought. They can be challenging to work everything in. And by the end—whether it’s the trip I’ve experienced or the book I’ve just completed writing—both will be rewarding.

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Moving Day

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My daughter moved from one apartment to another today. That means I was appointed as a helper girl. Helper girls do as they’re told. They only make recs if asked (and then do so reluctantly). They stay positive and focused. I think I was good at my job!

 

This move was different from her other ones in the past because . . . she hired professional movers—woo-hoo! No, make that WOO-HOO!!!!

 

I remember the first time we moved her from home to college. We jampacked her hand-me-down SUV and my husband’s SUV till only shallow breathing could occur. There was literally no room to take a deep breath! We arrived to triple digit heat (I don’t remember—nor do I want to remember—what the heat index was. Let’s just say it was incredibly miserable. The fires of Hell seemed appetizing after that day).

 

Countless trips were made from a car that was parked almost a state away. At least it seemed that far away since everyone was moving in at the same time. Legs became dead going up and down the stairs a bazillion times. I think it’s a corollary of Murphy’s Law that all college dorm elevators immediately go out of service when they sense freshmen families approaching.

 

How we got everything she brought into that tiny dorm room is beyond me, especially when you factored in her roommate, who had massive loads equal to what she had brought, that needed to be placed in the other side’s half. Still, we did and I felt so satisfied, knowing we’d done a good job and she had all she needed.

 

Until it was May. And we had to reverse the process. And then August. And we did it again. And so on and so on and so on and so on . . . you get the drift. We moved her from dorms to apartments to houses and back home several times. And again from apartment to apartment after she graduated.

 

But today she finally saw the light and hired pros . . . not that I don’t consider myself a pro after all those moves! These 2 guys were quiet, polite, unassuming, and fast. Strong. Like machines. They could dismantle a bed frame before you blinked twice. They had dolleys and pads and shrink wrap. They also had an elevator at the new place, so things went swimmingly.

 

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My role? Helping to take to the cars and bring up the stairs clothes. My daughter is like every woman in America—she never has anything to wear. Last week, she brought over 3 ginormous trash bags of giveaway clothes for charity. And still we made trip after trip today with her clothes. I may have nightmares tonight of dresses or sweaters on hangers chasing me across parking lots and up staircases!

 

I also got to help unpack boxes the movers brought up—kitchen items, toiletries, etc. I was the take it out of the boxer, while she was the put it in the cabineter. That system worked pretty darn well. I also stacked books and DVDs on her bookcase. She can sort them out later by alphabetizing or grouping them by color or whatever her little heart desires. We got the bed made, which always makes it seem as if you’ve made a lot of progress. Placed magazines put on the coffee table. Everything came together fairly quickly. Not that I won’t be a little sore tomorrow, but my usual on a scale of 1-10 exhaustion where I’m feeling about a 17? Nope. I think I’ll be fine in the morning.

 

I believe I’ll have 2 prayers tonight—1—that she doesn’t move anytime soon—and 2—giving thanks for those movers!

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Are You Serious? What Will They Think of Next?

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Okay, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I’m behind the times. The biggest reason?

I don’t do commercials. Period.

If I’m listening to the radio in the car or while I’m getting ready in the morning and the DJ goes to commercial, I simply change the station. If I’m watching TV, I tend to DVR practically everything I watch. That means I run through commercials. On the fastest speed possible. The rare time I might flip on the TV and watch something live (like at night when I put Letterman on as I’m winding down for the day), I’ll be productive during commercials—I’ll go brush & floss, pick out my clothes for the next day, or even flip through the guide to see what I have scheduled to DVR the rest of the week.

In other words, I really, really don’t do commercials!

It frustrates my husband to no end when he references something that happened in some commercial, and I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. The marketing major in him goes nuts with people like me. Or I’ll actually walk through the room and catch the tail-end of a commercial on a program he’s watching, and I’ll (foolishly) comment on how cute it is or different or whatever. I always get zapped because he tells me it’s been out over 2 years and he simply cannot BELIEVE that I have never seen it in the hundreds of times that it’s run.

But I haven’t!

Which leads me to stumbling upon something that I’d never heard of before. Frankly, I can’t imagine this running anywhere, but I saw it today because I was a captive audience. I’d gone to see Jersey Boys with my parents and my daughter. We got there in plenty of time to see First Look and then a zillion commercials before the previews started. BTW—I adore coming attractions—but that’s another blog.

One of the commercials that ran before our movie was for RunPee. Yup, you read that right. RunPee. This is a free app for your iPhone that is continually updated. What does it do?

It tells you the best times to run and pee during a movie . . . without missing the best scenes!

Heck, it even gives you a synopsis so you’ll know what you missed! And . . . drum roll . . . it also informs you if something extra occurs during the end credits. Bonus!

How does this work? Apparently if you download the app, it comes with a RunPee timer that alerts you (by vibration) when you can go pee. You can look in advance to see:

-how far into the movie your “time-out” will occur

-how long you’ll have to make it the restroom and back

-what visual clue to look for . . . and that’s in addition to your vibrating alert!

 I had to search this when I got home. I discovered that there’s not only a free app, but you can pay 99 cents for a similar one. I didn’t take the time to research the difference between the two.

Maybe I’m a purist because I always do a potty stop before I go into my movie theater. Sometimes I also have to make a pit stop after the movie ends. But I never, ever want to leave during a movie. I figure the director is putting up everything I need to see to make sense of the film, and the editor has trimmed the film until it’s seamless. Movies are expensive enough nowadays without me missing out on any scene, regardless of what RunPee says!

So this is not an app I’ll be downloading. It still amazing me that someone (who had too much time on his or her hands) actually thought to create this, much less created it. I think I’ll stick with Aerosmith’s song from (a film!) Armageddon—I don’t wanna miss a thing!

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I Kinda Like Being Someone’s Mom

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For years, I barely remembered that I had a first name because it didn’t get used very often.

I feel into that trio of roles—wife / mom / teacher. So I was always being introduced as either John’s wife / Jessica’s mom / or Mrs. Linwood (Miz L to a lot of my students).

I would attend my husband’s company parties since that’s the thing supportive spouses do. Now mind you, the majority of the employees didn’t care if I (or any spouse) came to this event. They didn’t know us. They usually talked shop (which we knew very little about). But as I would circulate, making my way from group to group, from the mashed potato bar to the dessert carts, I would be friendly and accessible. I would introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Lauren. John’s wife.” I would get a few nods, maybe a question or two directed my way, but then I’d be able to wander off since I really wasn’t part of any conversation. Later, a fellow worker might not know my name or face, but he’d remember meeting John’s wife. I’d done my obligatory duty as a company spouse.

At school and sporting events (my daughter played everything from volleyball to basketball to softball and tennis), I was Jessica’s mom. Every now and then I might get a Mrs. Linwood from a kid, but for years my identity was as Jessica’s mom. I was just as guilty. My husband and I went to every game and match, and we would see other parents in the stands. When Amy went up to serve, I’d glance over at Amy’s mom. If Ginger went up to bat, I’d watch Ginger’s dad jump for joy after she hit a double. I knew a few of their names, but I usually thought of the kid and then the parents/siblings as a family unit, as in Amy’s family has the flu this week.

*The lone exception would be my own child. If we were in a huge crowd, most kids would yell out, “MOM!” – and 79 women would turn around. My smart child would shout out one very loud, “Lauren!” – and she could find me every time.

Teaching is different from the corporate world, where everyone casually uses first names throughout the work day. Teachers spend the largest chunk of their time with students. Unless you teach in a very, very progressive school, your students will use a title and your last name. I remember being in elementary school and discovering my 3rd grade teacher had a first name. Incredible! Even if I ran into students at church, the grocery store, or a ball game, they always gave a polite, “Hi, Mrs. Linwood!” greeting.

Then as I got older, things morphed. My husband worked for the same company for so long that after all those parties, I actually knew the names of some of his fellow employees—and even their spouses! We’d been coming to things long enough that we were comfortable with one another and actually had things to talk about. John’s wife became a thing of the past beyond when meeting someone new on staff.

More time passed, and my daughter graduated and left home, so no one addressed me as Jessica’s mom for years. I finished up my teaching career. As I joined civic organizations and book clubs, people referred to me by my first name. People took the time to learn my name. I was Lauren again!

And then the other day, one of my daughter’s friends read Outlaw Muse, my 2nd published book, while she was on vacation in Europe. I knew this because she told me via Facebook. Her mom is one of my critique partners. When we had our last session the other night, my CP mentioned her daughter reading and enjoying my book. And then she said words I hadn’t heard in quite awhile—“It was funny. She said it was weird thinking Jessica’s mom wrote it!”

It seemed like forever and a day since I’d been Jessica’s mom. And you know what? It was kinda nice hearing that again.

So while I like being known as Lauren, I still take pride knowing that I’m John’s wife and Jessica’s mom.

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A Little Spoiling Every Now & Then Does a Girl Good

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Most women don’t take a lot of time for themselves. I’ve spent most of my life being a mom, wife, and teacher—and believe me, those occupations kept me juggling balls all the time—with very little time left just for me.

As a teacher, I wanted to devote as much individual attention to students as possible and to the group as a whole. Factor in lesson planning, grading, parent conferences, meetings, and staff trainings? That ate up a whole bunch of time. With barely anything left for me. It was hard enough squeezing in a dental and doctor’s appointment, much less having bonus time to pick up People to read!

Then I got married (and still was teaching). I wanted to be the best wife I could be, and I devoted any “surplus” time (I can hear teachers out there laughing now) to my wonderful new husband. It was a balancing act, but manageable, mostly because I married the right guy who really understood my commitment to my students.

Four years later, things changed again when we brought our daughter home from the hospital. With a baby, your life is turned upside down and inside out and right side wrong side and sideways in a loop. What little “free” time I had certainly wasn’t spent on watching football games or TV or reading (Forget about shaving my legs!). And I still was teaching, so I’m afraid between focusing on my newborn and my “babies” at school (Yes, I considered my hormonal high schoolers my babies since I saw them more that their own parents did), I’m afraid my husband got shortchanged for a blur of time there—but he always did have clean underwear and socks, I’m proud to say, if not exactly ironed shirts. Let’s just say when Casual Friday took over 5 days a week and he could wear golf shirts and no-iron khakis, my prayers were answered.

Gradually, I learned to eke out time for me. It might mean going to a movie now and then or watching something on TV. During the summers (when I wasn’t in teacher training or prepping for the upcoming school year), I would luxuriate because I had a little time to read. I also started carving out time for my writing and not to brag, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve published 4 historical romances and will see another one come out this fall.

But as my responsibilities have shifted over the years, I’ve gained more time for me. Frankly, I love it. And today, I did one of my favorite things that’s just for me.

I got a pedicure.

I’d never even gotten one till about 5-6 years ago. I really had no idea what they involved, other than trimming my toenails and polishing my toes. Now I’ve learned that it’s a true hour of pampering ME! I sit in that comfy chair and set it to a lower back massage that kneads knots out of me like there’s no tomorrow. My pedicurist gives me a fantastic leg & foot massage that practically has me whimpering. The bonus is the trim & polish that I leave the salon with. It’s my once a month splurge that makes me feel pretty . . . and pretty darn good. I think a little spoiling every now and then is good for my soul.

So here I am at home now, enjoying that relaxed feeling, with my feet propped up, surveying my toes and their new OPI color—My Address is Hollywood. And the bonus? Watching Adam Levine on Live With Kelly & Michael while I admire my toes!

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My New Goal in Life: Rock Leopard Velour Pants

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One of my greatest pleasures in life is my morning walk. It’s Me Time. I only answer to me. I walk as long as I wish (or as long as my schedule that day will allow). I listen to music. Think. Pray. Plot. Pray that a plot point will come. You get the idea.

I have routes that take me anywhere from 20-75 minutes to accomplish. I can tell you who’s planted new zinnias or begonias in my neighborhood. When a house went on the market and how long it took to sell. Which dogs live up to the “Beware of Dog” sign—and which ones are pussycats in disguise.

I’m a writer, so by nature, I observe.

My favorite beat takes me to a park with baseball diamonds and a pathway that circles two man-made lakes. Spring is the absolute best time to be there because I see the new ducklings born and stop to feed them. Since I walk this path frequently, I have that nodding acquaintance with others who are out and about at the same time I am.

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There’s the sweet couple who walk holding hands. The mom and her young home-schooled daughter who always seem to be in the midst of a lesson when we pass. The guy in his 60s who wears his Marine cap (never backwards!) and looks as lean & mean as I’m sure he did in his 20s. The two Asian ladies who both wear hats as big as houses—and their complexions always look lovely. I pass walkers, joggers, runners, and roller-bladers. People with dogs and moms pushing strollers.

But the most interesting woman I pass is a shy bike rider. She makes her way slowly along the sidewalk, stopping frequently. She’ll pedal off to the side and let others pass by while she rests. She looks to be in her mid-70s, but she could be older. It took many times of passing her and smiling before I got a return smile and a nod out of her. Nowadays, we can cross paths and I’ll say, “Good morning,” and she’ll grin back.

This woman always layers. You’d expect that in colder weather, but today it’s in the 80s and she had on long-sleeves, a sweater on top of that, a knitted watchman’s cap pulled so low on her forehead that you couldn’t even see her eyebrows, and leopard velour pants. Yes, you read that right.

Leopard velour pants.

I’ve never been one to jump on fashion trends. My wardrobe is fairly boring, consisting of mostly black, navy, and beige solids. I use scarves to liven up things with a bit of color, but I have never tried on leopard-print pants. I’ve never even thought of trying on leopard-print pants—much less ones in velour.

But there my sweet bike-riding lady had them on this morning. And she’s out there every day, plugging away. I don’t know if she rides for her health or her sanity (or a combination of the two as I do), but she is doggedly determined and a constant fixture on that path.

And I’ve decided I want to be her. I hope that in my 70s I will still be out there, pursuing my writing career with a passion. Still telling stories. Still thinking about plots and creating characters and dropping in all kinds of conflicts for them to face.

Who knows? But my fervent hope is that I’m still writing at 75 . . . and I’m doing it while rocking a pair of leopard velour pants!

In my recent historical romance release, Written in the Cards, my heroine Maggie Rutherford was a writer. She authored dime novels, traveling to the West to experience all the things she wanted to put into her books. She was feisty and funny and would be writing stories on her deathbed, trying to tell just one more tale before she passed on to her next adventure.

I believe Maggie would’ve been the first to put on leopard velour pants and wear them with pride—and a bit of sass. Maybe besides my bike-riding acquaintance, I need to take a lesson from my heroine, as well. We can learn from everyone around us—and that even includes our fictional characters.

So as I drift over to Google leopard velour pants, I think I might just hear Maggie’s laughter echoing and see my lake friend’s encouraging smile.   Hah! Found ’em–at Nordstrom’s!leopard

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When You Simply Have to Give in to Your Characters

Written in the Cards

As an author, I’ve tried both pantsing and planning when getting ready to start a new novel.

I’ve figured out that pantsing—author-speak for flying by the seat of your pants—doesn’t work for me. If I don’t have any firm direction to go, things spin out of control fast. I get backed into corners, or I find myself in the midst of a saggy middle, or I run out of ideas for the plot. Believe me, sitting at my keyboard, floundering, is not a fun way to pass the time.

Yet intense outlining doesn’t work for me, either. I met a New York Times best-selling author who was so anal to the nth degree that she wrote 40-50 page outlines for her books. Sure, after all of that detail was done, it made her writing job a breeze—but part of what I enjoy is the spontaneity that comes with creating characters and seeing how they’ll maneuver around whatever I throw at them. I feel like outlining in that amount of detail takes out all the joy for me when I write.

So I’ve hit on a cross between these two methods. I always do character sketches for my hero & heroine (and sometimes the antagonist). I come up with their back story, their physical description, and their personalities. I think about their internal and external conflicts and directions to go with both of these. I really put quite a bit of thought into these creations, and I know my people very well by the time I begin writing their love story.

And the plot? Well, I do outline—in very broad terms. I have anywhere from half a page to a page on a single yellow legal pad sheet. I list some of the events that I want to occur in the novel. That way, I have an idea of the direction, but it leaves plenty of room for creativity to blossom and events to change along the way. I start my characters hustling down the interstate to the finish line, but many times (okay—every single time) they get off at the state highways or farm-to-market roads. They do whatever they need to do there. I let them get it out of their systems. Then they meander back and return to my master plan.

I don’t mind them doing this. When I travel I enjoy the speed of an interstate highway, but I have taken time every now and then to slow down and get off the super highway. I might eat at a tiny diner with amazing pies or find a cool antique shop to peruse or see some breathtaking scenery that way. I always make my way back to the interstate and reach my destination, so all is well in the long run.

In my latest western historical romance, Written in the Cards, I decided to have dime novels play a part in the story. With public education growing by leaps and bounds and the literacy rate rising in the US, many people were hungering to get their hands on anything to read. Dime novels were fun, quick reads and very inexpensive.

I decided my hero Ben Morgan would be the popular author of a dime novel series, and he would somehow anger a gunslinger and have to make a run for it. But before I could begin, my heroine Maggie Rutherford totally objected to those plans. She was a bit of a tomboy from a wealthy New York publishing family.  She told me—no, actually demanded—that she be the dime novel author. She believed a woman could be just as good a writer as a man.

So here I hadn’t even put my couple on their road to romance, and the heroine was already balking at my plans!

But do you know what? Maggie was absolutely right. She’s smart and creative, and it added a great twist having a female be the author of these exciting adventure tales. First, I could bring into the story information about how many women wrote under male pen names in this era. Also, Maggie’s family owns a publishing house. I have her submit her manuscript under a male name to Rutherford House, and they choose to publish her. So it’s her big secret that she’s one of their authors, and they have no idea! More importantly, it’s the catalyst that gets Maggie to the West. She decides she needs to visit the places she writes about and experience them in person.

And Ben? Oh, he became a gambler who calls out a man who’s cheating at cards. When the man whips out a gun to kill him, Ben shoots him in self-defense—and then Ben discovers the cheater is the brother of the meanest gunslinger in Texas. Black Tex Lonnegan swears revenge on his brother’s killer, so Ben still gets to go on the run from the killer. Problem solved!

In the long run, I’m glad I listened to my character. She knew best, and it made for a fun story to write!

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Dime Novels–the 19th Century Harry Potter

Dime novels

When I began writing Written in the Cards, my latest western historical romance, I decided to have my heroine be the author of dime novels. These cheap paperbacks flourished during the 19th century, as increased mechanization made printing them easy. But what really put things over the top? The growing literacy rate in the United States.

Dime novels were aimed at young, working-class readers. They were sold at newsstands, which were popping up everywhere—and even at dry goods stores! Beadle’s Dime Novels began the craze by publishing Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, in the summer of 1860. Priced at ten cents, these paperbacks soon earned the nickname of dime novels.

Although critics bad-mouthed them for being cheap and sensational, they captured the reading public, much like JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series turned a new generation on to reading. But like the Potter books, they soon gained a widespread audience.

My heroine Maggie Rutherford is the daughter of a New York publisher. She decides to submit her first effort at a dime novel to Rutherford House, but she does so under the pen name of Lud Madison. She doesn’t want to be shown any favoritism, and she also thinks keeping her identity a secret and publishing under a man’s name will guarantee more sales. As she continues to write and her editor wants more stories from her, Maggie leaves New York to experience all the adventures the Wild West has to offer so she can write about them more realistically. A talented artist, she also illustrates her covers.

Dime novels grew from mere tales of the American frontier. By the dawn of the 20th century, they included detective stories, novels about urban outlaws, and even costume romances.

In England, dime novels went by the name penny dreadfuls and were considerably more lurid and sensational than their American counterparts. Showtime has recently launched a new series entitled Penny Dreadful, starring Josh Hartnett and Eva Green, which weaves stories of classic monsters (such as Frankenstein and Dracula) into the narrative.

I enjoyed making my heroine an author and loved getting to delve into research about dime novels!

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Dedicating My Novel – This Time It’s To My Own Daughter

WrittenintheCards_850HIGH

Today is my 4th published book’s birthday! I’m starting to enjoy this whole release day stuff.

Written in the Cards is the story of Maggie Rutherford and Ben Morgan, both Yankees who have made their way west. Maggie is from a wealthy New York City family, and she jilts her society groom (whom she never loved) at the altar and flees much like Julia Roberts did (numerous times) in The Runaway Bride. Maggie has a secret—she is writing and illustrating dime novels under the male pen name of Lud Madison. She heads west to experience the adventures that she writes about, and it lights her writing on fire.

Ben, a Boston Civil War veteran, came to the prairie to homestead after the war, bringing with him his childhood sweetheart. When his wife is killed during the infamous Indian raids, he detaches from all emotion and becomes a roaming gambler. Ben meets Maggie as he’s fleeing from a gunslinger who wants him dead, and the issue at the heart of the book is whether Ben will run from his growing attraction to Maggie and the outlaw’s promise of death—or will he make a stand for his life—and love?

Written in the Cards was fun to write in part because I’m an author just like Maggie. I liked seeing how she would approach research and writing since she’s living in the 1870s without the advantage I have of using the Internet. Few public libraries existed in her era, and for the most part Maggie relies on both her imagination and interviewing people who have first-hand knowledge of the topics she wants to write about.

I feel blessed that I’ve been able to publish 3 other historical romances prior to this book. One thing that feels like the icing on the cake is being able to dedicate my novel to someone close to me.

I didn’t have a doubt in my mind who deserved the 1st book’s dedication. Music For My Soul recognized my critique partners—Lynn, Wendy, and Suzanne. Their fine eye to detail and constant feedback propelled me to not only completing manuscripts, but making sure they were the best possible before I submitted them for consideration. I literally couldn’t have done it without them.

Music_for_my_Soul_cover_550x825

Book #2, Outlaw Muse, was in honor of my parents. I’m lucky to still have them around and in my life, and I wanted to make sure I recognized their wonderful support of my writing over the years.

Outlaw Muse (smaller)

My last release was dedicated to my wonderful husband. Romance writers get SO many questions, but THE one question always seems to be whether or not I’ve used my husband in “researching” the . . . um . . . action in my books—namely the bedroom action. A Game of Chance actually had its germ of a beginning when my husband shaved his mustache. It gave him a totally different appearance, which spurred countless ideas and became a book about twins separated at birth who don’t know the other one exists and mistaken identities. As for the love scenes? Let’s just say I don’t might putting in the practice hours with my better half. After all, practice makes perfect!

A Game of Chance large cover

But for Written in the Cards, I knew immediately as I wrote it that the dedication would be for my daughter. I created a strong heroine in Maggie. She is smart, talented, courageous, and loyal—all things I see in my own child. I raised my kid to think for herself. To pursue her passions. To believe in herself. To be open to new situations. And I incorporated all those characteristics into Maggie Rutherford. While physically they may not match, their hearts and souls do mirror one another.

So as I celebrate the publication of another novel today, I also celebrate the woman my daughter has become.

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Happy Birthday To Me – I’m One Year Old!

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Yes, it’s true—I’m officially one. A single digit.

No, not me The Person. Me—The Author.

It was May 2013 when I published my 1st historical romance, Music For My Soul.  I’d met my editor, Debby Gilbert of Soul Mate Publishing, at a conference the previous fall. The day she offered me a contract for my medieval historical manuscript had to be one of the happiest moments of my life! I’d always wanted to move from unpublished writer to published author. Having achieved that accomplishment was truly a dream come true.

I’ve been fortunate to have 2 other books come out in the past year. Both Outlaw Muse (October 2013) and A Game of Chance (January 2014) were western historical romances, set after the Civil War.

I’ve had friends ask, “Which is your favorite book that you’ve written?” That’s hard to answer. It’s the same as when my students would ask me, “Who’s your favorite class? It’s us, right?” I would cleverly tell them “My favorite class is the same as yours. Lunch – because I get to eat and visit with my friends.” In truth, at one time or another, each class would be my favorite for one reason or another.

It’s the same with my heroes and heroines. Usually, my favorite book is the one I’m currently writing. I’m so into those characters and telling their story. It’s easy to get wrapped up in something I’m creating, being in the moment, experiencing events as my characters are doing so.

Of my published novels, I have a tendency to favor the book which has just been released. While I’m sentimental about a book that’s already come out, the new release is like the underdog. It doesn’t have a track record. It’s looking for a home. It wants to find readers who will love the characters and root for them through thick and thin.

So while I keep Madeline & Garrett, Serena & Daman, and Lily & Jed close to my heart . . . I’m about to release Written in the Cards next week—so it looks like Maggie & Ben will be my favs for the near future.

I’m just happy that I’ve had the great fortune to celebrate Year One of being an author this week. I hope I’ll be celebrating my time in publishing for many years to come.

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Pen Names—For Me . . . and My Heroine!

 

Written in the Cards

 

Many writers choose to use a pen name when they become published authors. By now, everyone knows that Samuel Clemens became more famous writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as Mark Twain, while Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Charles Dodgson—aka Lewis Carroll.

Authors take on pen names for various reasons. Joanne Rowling’s publisher told her that her Harry Potter series wouldn’t be popular with boys if a woman’s name appeared on the cover, so she went with gender-neutral initials and became J. K. Rowling—smiling all the way to the bank—numerous times! Some writers have already established themselves in a certain genre, as popular romance novelist Nora Roberts. Her publisher convinced her to take a pen name when she wished to branch out into detective fiction with her In Death series—and thus was born J. D. Robb.

Even within romance, some authors create different personas and pseudonyms when they jump from different types of romance. One of my favorites, Jayne Ann Krentz, writes contemporary romantic suspense under her married name. Her historical romantic suspense novels are under the Amanda Quick umbrella. Jayne Castle is responsible for her futuristic and paranormal stories. She does this so readers will know exactly what they’re buying and which of her “worlds” they are entering when they pick up one of her books.

In my upcoming western historical romance Written in the Cards, my heroine Maggie Rutherford decides to write dime novels under a pen name. She submits her first effort to Rutherford House, her family’s publishing business, and she doesn’t want to be shown any favoritism. She also realizes that in many ways that it’s a man’s world—and she’s a practical woman who wants to sell some books! Just as the Brontë sisters first published as Ellis, Acton, and Currer Bell (for Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë), Maggie selects a man’s pen name for her stories. Since many dime novels in her era focused on adventures in the Wild West, Maggie believes a male pen name will lead to success—thus, Lud Madison was born in her imagination.

Like Maggie, I’ve chosen to publish under my pen name of Lauren Linwood. My last name is hard to pronounce, and I already had a Facebook page. Allowing “Lauren” to have her own Facebook page, Twitter account, email, and blog keeps a little bit of separation between us and helps me maintain the separation between business and pleasure (although writing is a heck of a lot of fun!).

Here’s an excerpt from Written in the Cards. Maggie has just received one of those newfangled inventions called a typewriter from her editor.

Maggie squealed with delight. “I saw this contraption demonstrated when I was in Denver this past spring. The man’s fingers flew over . . . oh, what is it called? A keyboard, I think. He punched keys marked with letters of the alphabet, and they struck a piece of paper. The words formed along a line almost by magic. It was amazing!”
“Then let’s open the parcel and see it for ourselves.” Ben used his pocketknife to open the box. He extracted the typewriter, a small pamphlet that accompanied it, some black ribbons in cases, and a ream of paper.

“It’s heavy,” he told her. “It would be bulky for a woman to carry, much less travel with.”

She struck a pose with her good left arm, flexing a muscle. “I am stronger than I look, Mr. Morgan. I’ve had actual boxing lessons from an Irish brawler. I could probably take you on and knock you down before you knew what hit you.”

Ben’s lazy smile warmed her inside, all the way down to her toes. “You are a constant surprise to me, Maggie Rutherford.”

They unfolded the instructions, and she read them aloud while he affixed the ribbon in the prescribed manner. He then loaded the typewriter with a piece of white paper that sat upon a roll. They took turns striking the keys, marveling at the words that appeared upon the page. The pamphlet illustrated how certain fingers were designated to strike individual keys.

“Once the pattern is learned, this will be a remarkable way for me to write my novels. I’ll have to come up with stories at a faster rate, but that won’t be a problem at all. I have so many ideas that run through my brain now, I sometimes have trouble getting them all down on paper.”

“You can type out your ideas, Maggie, as well as your novels. That way you won’t lose any of them.”

She beamed at him, elated at the idea he proposed. She wished her wrist would be healed immediately. She couldn’t wait to teach her fingers to dance across the keyboard. Nothing would make her happier than quickly setting down all the storylines that skittered through her head. Nothing.

Until Ben leaned over and kissed her.

Then her idea of happiness took a seismic shift.

When dime novelist Maggie Rutherford interviews cowboy Ben Morgan for her next book, she falls fast . . . and then learns he’s actually a gambler with a gunslinger hot on his trail. Will Ben run from his growing attraction to Maggie and an outlaw’s promise of death—or will he make a stand for his life—and love?

Written in the Cards will be available May 21 through Amazon.

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I Only Vote Early—Never Late!

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Growing up, my dad drilled into me the importance of being on time. I’m sure it’s because he was in the military, starting with JROTC in high school. The military is highly conscious of time, and so was my dad. I learned to get ready in record time (for a girl) and be in the car at least 5 minutes before the scheduled time to depart. If Dad said we’re leaving at 7 PM, that meant all kids better be inside the car and buckled up at 6:55—because he’d be backing out of the garage and heading to our destination. He was always a man on a mission when it came to getting places.

I was on drill team, and that’s another organization that emphasized being on time. Tardiness wasn’t tolerated because too much had to get done! I didn’t want to rack up any demerits, so I made my carpool know that we’d be on time . . . or else. Fortunately, I rode with girls that didn’t think me totally insane . . . and they always got me to practice without a problem.

Going to college, I made it a priority to get to class on time because I had a few professors with a withering gaze and/or biting sarcasm who would shred students into merciless pieces if they tried to slip in late and unnoticed. My dorm was close to some classes (only a quarter of a mile), but it took longer to get to other buildings (not quite a 5K). I had to factor in not only the day of the week (so I’d head in the right class’s direction), but I also had to time eating downstairs and any inclement weather into the mix.

The same thing was important to get to my summer jobs and finally the teaching job that I landed when I graduated. Dallas traffic is heavy, congested, and can be eternally slow. It might only take 20 minutes to get to my school—but I never left without a sizeable cushion of time on my side. A wreck could double the drive time, while heavy rain (which caused wrecks) could easily triple it.

When I started dating my husband, the whole “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” phrase applied. Obviously he wasn’t raised by my dad to regard punctuality as the holy grail. For our 1st date at 7 PM, I was ready by 6:40—dressed, perfumed, lip glossed to the max, every hair in place. The clock chimed the hour. No date. It chimed the quarter hour—and my nerves, which had begun spiraling out of control by 7:05—now went berserk. He finally arrived at 7:25, smiling, happy, ready to see me. I pretty much read him the riot act (and he still took me out and proposed down the line, so it must’ve been love). I can say after all these years of marriage, he’s much better at being aware about time.

That leads me to voting.

I turned 18 my freshman year in college, 3 days before a presidential election. I was ecstatic to be able to vote. To have my voice heard. To be a responsible adult. But, my gosh—the lines! Being on a college campus where thousands were eligible to vote? All in the same precinct? Let’s just say I stood there a long time in order to exercise my right to vote!

That’s why I make an effort nowadays to participate in early voting. My community has an upcoming election in May to elect local leaders to our city council and school board. Even though it’s not a large town, I seem to grow more impatient as I grow older. I’ll say waiting isn’t my strong suit. So with it being a beautiful day today, cool with plenty of sunshine, I threw on my tennis shoes, stretched a little, and then walked up to City Hall. I breezed right in (no line) and was ID checked, given a ballot, and voted in about 90 seconds. Maybe less. I didn’t think to time the whole process. I still enjoyed walking across the street to feed the baby ducks at the lake and then head home. Exercise done. Voting over.

And no lines!

Yes, I’m grateful for the invention of the early voting process. I’ve never found out anything shocking or scandalous about a candidate that would have made me wish I’d waited to vote.

So think about and do your civic duty—go early vote!

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Pets Make For Better People

Encore & Dickens

Yesterday was National Sibling Day. I almost posted a picture of my first dog, Ray. He was my brother and constant companion for the first 6 years of my life. I talked to him and played with him. He was the brother of my heart—if not my flesh!

Ray went everywhere with us. He lived to ride in the car. He loved for the windows to be rolled down so he could rest his head and feel the cool breeze blowing on his face. He even went to the drive-in with us. One night as I sat in the front seat between my parents watching the movie, Ray saw a cat run by . . . and so he leaped out the window to give chase.

Suddenly, both the driver’s door and front passenger’s door flew open. My parents jumped out of the car. Up and down the aisles went the cat. Followed by Ray. Then my dad. And my mom bringing up the rear. It was almost like a Pied Piper run, with each running after the one in front of them. Horns began honking. Lights were flashed. My family (minus me) put on a better show than the actual movie! I felt like I was watching a tennis match as my head would turn from side to side as they raced up one aisle and down another. The cat eventually got away. Dad grabbed Ray. Everyone returned to the car. It was quite a night of excitement.

My sister and brother arrived in quick succession after that, so I had true flesh & blood sibs, not just a furry cocker spaniel one. But frankly, growing up I always considered our pets if not siblings—then at least family members. We had Mummy, who gave birth to several litters of kittens. We kept one of her kittens, and his named morphed into Roosa, after Edwin Roosa, an astronaut. We had a walking disaster of a dog called Poochie, and then I left for college. My mom used to accuse me of coming home on a weekend to (a) see my friends, (b) wash some clothes, and (c) cuddle with Roosa.

One of my favorite stories is how I decided to come home early one weekend from school. Roosa never, ever slept on my bed . . . until right before I came home each time. My mom walked down the hall and saw him on my bed. She told him it was Thursday, and she wasn’t expecting me until Friday. Much to her surprise, I arrived minutes after that. Somehow my pet & I were in tune, and he knew when I’d be there to stroke his soft fur and tell him all about life as a college freshman.

When I married my husband, I just assumed we would have pets. That was a part of my life. Our first together pet was a kitten named Biscuit, who was golden on top and had a white underbelly. She reminded me of a biscuit! I remember coming home from a tough day of teaching once and looking up to our 2nd story apartment. There in the window sat Miss Bisc, waiting for me to come home. Suddenly, everything seemed much better.

Naming pets is almost as hard as naming characters in my novels. It has to be just right. One time I adopted a cat from a shelter that favored Biscuit so much, but I didn’t feel it would be right to have a Biscuit II. So this one got the original name of Encore! We also brought home his brother, Dickens, named because for years I’d always wanted a pet named after Charles Dickens. This was the 1st one that fit the bill—plus, he was just under a pound—so he was a Little Dickens (who turned out to be 16 pounds in the long run and live almost 16 years!).

I’ve been a better person for having had cats & dogs in my life as treasured family members. They’ve been a comfort to me, and they’ve provided unconditional love throughout the years. They’ve sat in my lap while I’ve read the newspaper or watched TV. They’ve snuggled with me in bed, sometimes even getting under the covers on cold nights. They’ve gone on walks with me as I’ve plotted out new books in my head. I can’t imagine my life without animals in it.

So here’s to all the pets everywhere as today we celebrate your existence. You bring joy into our lives, and we people are happy we share them with you. And yes, I’ve even gotten on board with the idea of grand-dogs, simply because my daughter’s dog Jake is about the cutest little guy to ever walk the planet. Not that I’m prejudice or anything. I know cute when I see it, and Jake has that special something. If he were a person and sang well, he’d be a shoo-in as the next American Idol.

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So hug your pet today and give him or her a treat. Hats off to National Pet Day!

 

 

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Sore…But In A Good Way, I Suppose

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I do not enjoy being sore. I was never into the Jane Fonda feel the burn thing, where if you didn’t ache miserably after a workout, you hadn’t done enough exercise.

I don’t become sore very often. I’m all about the stretching. I’ve watched my cats and dogs take stretching to a new art level for years now and figured that they must know something we humans don’t. So when I wake up every morning, I tried to stretch as a pet would, elongating my limbs with a feeling of satisfaction. It’s also a pretty nice way to start the day!

I also love, love, LOVE yoga. I love to stretch into downward dog or stork or triangle pose (at least as much as I can). Yoga doesn’t judge. It just says stretch and zone out and feel good about yourself. After a great yoga session, I feel limber and loose and ready to take on the world.

I remember one time, years ago, being so sore that I could barely move without crying. It was way back in 8th grade when I tried out for cheerleader. Now don’t think I thought I could actually be a cheerleader. It was a well-known fact that tons of girls at my school went out for cheerleader as a warm-up for drill team tryouts. Just getting to learn routines, seeing if you were in any way coordinated, hoping you could stay with the group—that was my goal.

So I went to the first after school session. It was about 2 hours long. We learned 4 different cheers—2 that I loved doing the motions, 1 that was so-so because the moves were a bit awkward, and 1 that was complicated but I got it! I could remember the steps when a lot of others couldn’t, so I had high hopes when drill team tryouts rolled around a couple of weeks later that I would do well.

But we also practiced jumps that afternoon, both before and after we learned the 4 cheers. All kinds of jumps. And yes, I could get maybe (and I’m not exaggerating here) four inches off the ground. I was not meant to soar through the air, leaping to new heights when a touchdown occurred. Yet I gamely jumped and jumped and jumped some more. Sure, I was pretty embarrassed at how I couldn’t get far off the ground, but being a cheerleader was never my final goal.

I went home, ravenous, and gobbled down a huge dinner after burning all those calories. I did my homework, showered, and climbed into bed.

The next morning when the alarm went off? I started to toss back the covers—and I could barely lift my arm. Then I actually had to attempt to get out of bed. AGONY! ABSOLUTE AGONY!!! Each step I took was more miserable than the previous one. I could barely walk without tears welling in my eyes. Once I got to school, climbing stairs was the most diabolical invention man had created (and my school had three stories—that’s a heckuva lotta stairs!).

Needless to say, I sucked it up at practice that afternoon. I wasn’t going to complain. But I ached with a soreness I’d never experienced.

A few days later, we tried out in pairs before judges. I did my cheer’s motions to perfection, and I hollered as loudly as I could. My jumps? Pitiful. I’m sure there had to be at least 1 person worse at jumps than me. Maybe. A big maybe…

Drill team tryouts happened two weeks after that, and I did catch on pretty quickly. Although I’d never had dance lessons, I could actually do the steps. I knew where to be on what count, and I made the squad for the upcoming year. But even all my years of dancing in drill team never saw me as sore as I was during cheer tryouts.

Fast-forward to today. As I said, I’m not sore very often—but I did plant spring flowers two days ago. Back sore? Check. Buttocks sore? Sure are. Calves sore? That’s a big 10-4. But my begonias and periwinkles bring such a nice color to my flowerbeds. So I’ll take a little good soreness…at least every now and then. And the only jumping I do now? In the stands at a football or basketball game, where my two inch jumps of joy are just fine.

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March Madness . . . and the Madness of Giving Birth

imagesI could identify every Dallas Cowboy by name and number by the time I was 6. Being the first-born child, my dad didn’t exactly know what to do with a girl. So he taught me about the things he thought all kids should know. We watched scary movies together (Dracula and The Mummy were special favorites). We read comic books—and I’m not talking Archie & Jughead. Dad was hard-core, so it was Superman, Batman, and sometimes the Green Lantern. But most of all, he taught me about sports—football, in particular.

I grew up reading the sports section. I watched college football games with a passion every Saturday and listened to my favorite teams on the radio. Sitting in the pep squad or drill team section at middle school and high school games, girls would turn and observe me after each play. I knew when to cheer, so they would also yell and clap. I could explain what a penalty such as interference was and why we’d been called for it, and they’d listen, nod, and then boo the ref.

I found like-minded roommates in college, and we went to many sporting events. All you had to do was pay a small activity fee, and you could show your ID to get into any athletic event. Talk about free entertainment! I didn’t miss many games those 4 years, be it football, basketball, or baseball. In fact, I still go to games with my college roomies and scream my head off.

It didn’t surprise me when I met and married a man who worked in the front office of an NBA team and later slid over to a TV sports network. We always have several TVs on tuned in to sports from tennis to volleyball to the Olympics, especially on weekends.

Every year we’re glued to the NCAA Basketball Tournament during March Madness. Yes, as Americans go bracket-crazy from college dorms to offices, we watch games till our eyes go bleary. And every year as we do this, I’m reminded about giving birth. You see, I went into labor during the tourney.

Actually, I didn’t go into labor. I’d stayed up till 1 AM in that nesting mode, fiddling and fixing things in the nursery that Saturday between games. I finally fell into bed and around 4 AM, my water broke. But no contractions followed. We went to the hospital on my exact due date (which I’d heard NEVER happens with a 1st baby—but I’d been determined to make my due date since it was my dad’s birthday, and this would be his 1st grandchild—best birthday gift ever).

So I was put on the Pitocin drip to induce labor. YIKES! No build-up in this case. We’re talking tough labor from the get-go. And my body wasn’t happy. Basically, it refused to dilate (I never got past a 2, even with drugs).

What did we do to pass the hours? We watched the tournament, of course!

The pain got pretty bad, and after a little Demerol (and 11 hours after my water broke), I got an epidural—yea!  I was ready to run away with the guy who’d administered it to me. The epidural made the contractions bearable, but I was getting tired. So tired I was sick of b-ball. I wanted this baby to be born. I wanted my husband to stop watching those stupid men bounce that stupid little orange ball around and commiserate with me about how awful I felt.  I was NOT a happy camper.

Finally, after 16 hours and with the games winding down for that Sunday night, my doctor decided to go C-Section—which I wished SOMEONE would’ve thought about, oh, say—15 HOURS AGO!! I guess you see a pattern here. Mama-to-Be’s ain’t happy, and somebody gotta fix it NOW!

So they wheeled me into the delivery room, and pretty soon after I had a 22-inch, 9-plus pounds of baby girl with thick, dark hair cooing in my arms. And yes, she grew up knowing and loving sports, playing basketball, soccer, softball, and her favorite—volleyball.

Now here it is NCAA tourney time once again. Our brackets are completed. Our game-watching has begun. My sweet baby girl is grown now. But every spring when March Madness begins, I remember when she came into our lives.

Oh, did I mention I named her after a famous sports player? But you probably could’ve figured that out. 00

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Feeling Like One of the Cool Kids

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I was never one of the cool kids growing up.

You know the kind I’m talking about. Pretty. Popular. The ones that always dressed well in the latest fashions. Knew the right slang catch phrases before everyone else did. Hung out with all of the other cool people, doing whatever cool people did. They sat at certain lunch tables that people like me didn’t even want to walk by. They dated other cool people and went to each other’s parties. They were a breed unto themselves.

If you remember the old Robert Redford / Barbra Streisand movie The Way We Were, you know what I’m talking about. Redford (in all his glorious perfection) was Hubbell. He was the ultimate in cool. Streisand was Katie—smart, frizzy-haired, abrasive—and madly in love with Hubbell. Opposites actually attracted in that movie, and Katie and Hubbell married. Of course, it was doomed from the start because they were so different. Years later, they run into one another at the movie’s end. Both had remarried and were happy—because they’d married people like them. Hubbell’s wife was picture-perfect; Katie’s husband was a smart and likeable nerd. Like was simply meant to be with like.

Growing up, I found that some of the cool, popular kids were actually nice to people outside the Cool Circle. They wore their popularity with ease, almost as if they weren’t aware of it. They were kind to everyone simply because they were nice people. It was refreshing to get to know one of them every now and then because it helped little Nerd Girl me realize that they were people, too. Even though I knew I could never be one of them, it was fun to get to know one of them away from their pack. A smart, athletic, handsome, and very kind popular guy named Gregg Golden comes to mind. He never seemed to judge me for my stupid glasses or skinny legs or bad haircut. He sat across the aisle from me in English and would joke around, ask questions, and basically treated me as if I were normal. That went a long way with my self-esteem (which seemed to hover around zero when I was 13).

I grew up to be a fairly well-adjusted adult and am happy with the way I turned out. Yet I suppose there’ll always be a small part of me that wished I were cool.

Well, today . . . I feel cool. Writers have very fragile egos. We have a lot of self-doubt and angst. But today I’m celebrating a small victory as a writer.

My first two historical romances have been nominated for RONE Awards! That makes me feel as if I’ve joined the Cool Kids’ table for lunch!!

RONE—Reward of Novel Excellence—is a prestigious honor for small and independent press authors. Like the Oscars, just being nominated is an honor. Of course, as many things in life, it will come down to popularity. The nominated books are opened to a readers’ vote, with the books receiving the most votes becoming finalists. Industry professionals read the finalists’ novels and then declare a winner this summer in various categories.

My first book, Music For My Soul, is in the medieval category, while my second published book, Outlaw Muse, is up for best American historical. It’s as if I’ve been nominated for Best Actress for two different movies in the same year. Not even Meryl Streep has accomplished that!

In the long run, I realize I probably won’t be a finalist—much less win. But right now, I feel like The Cool Kid who’s just been voted Most Popular or Homecoming Queen by the senior class. So I’m going to savor the feeling while it lasts…ahh…

In case you’d like to vote?

Outlaw Muse is up March 10-16:

http://indtale.com/2014-rone-awards-week-one

Outlaw Muse (smaller)

Music For My Soul is up March 24-30:

http://indtale.com/2014-rone-awards-week-three

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Loving Me Some Peanut Butter

1As I turn the calendar from February to March, escaping winter is on my mind.

I know—I live in Texas—so my Northern friends tell me I don’t really understand what winter is. Winter in Texas ranges from today’s high of 77 to tomorrow’s low of 19. Yes, we do have our swings in temps in Texas! There are some winters where I’ve only worn my coat a handful of times (I’m talking single digits—don’t kill me!), while others have seen me bundle up with hat, gloves, coat and boots several times over the winter months.

So I shouldn’t complain about it still being winter as I do my morning walk in shorts today because I know large parts of the country experience winter from October into April—and even beyond at times.

But flipping my calendar to March just now reminds me of spring being just around the corner. My dad and daughter were born on the first day of spring. March means I see the warming trend become a reality and get excited because I get to wear things that are non-sweaters and non-boots. I get to paint my toenails and show off the color in a toe-liberating pair of sandals. I change out flannel sheets for cotton ones. I dream about getting organized and doing spring cleaning of all closets and drawers (whether that really happens or not remains to be seen each year).

And yet there is one item that I won’t give up that helps me get through each winter. I stick with it in the spring, summer, and fall, as well. Yes, I am remarkably loyal to it.

Peanut butter.

That’s right. Peanut butter is my go-to. My stand-by. My dependable food that tastes great no matter what the weather is outside. I love a peanut butter sandwich, and like people eat ketchup on lots of things? I do the same with peanut butter.

Try it sometime on celery. On your waffle (with honey). On a toasted English muffin. On a banana. Especially on a sliced and tart Granny Smith apple. The melding of tastes and textures just make my taste buds smile. I will even open my pantry on occasion and slip out the jar of peanut butter (chunky is a fav). Open it. Stick my finger in and twirl it about. Then savor it—all by itself. Like some enjoy the smell of coffee in the morning, I love to inhale the rich aroma of peanut butter.

Peanut butter is a simple food. A comfort food. It reminds me of my happy childhood. I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches growing up. It was the staple in my little brown lunch sack that I took to school every day for years and years. And years—because I became a teacher—so I’ve been to school a LONG time!

And when I was pregnant? I didn’t get morning sickness like the books say and 98% of women experience. I got “around 8:30 every night queasiness.” The only thing that calmed my stomach and made me happy again? You got it—peanut butter. My husband would smear it on crackers for me. That dependable snack helped me keep down dinner and go to bed a happy camper (at least until I had to get up and hit the bathroom five times a night!).

So as I see it’s a new day and a new month today, I lift a tablespoon of peanut butter up in salute, for you see, today is National Peanut Butter Lovers’ Day! Enjoy!!

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Character Interview with Jed Stone

Today I give a little insight into Jed Stone, the hero from A Game of Chance. This character interview originally appeared on historical romance author Collette Cameron’s Blue Rose Romance blog, Divine Encounters with Love.

A Game of Chance large cover

I’m here today with one of San Francisco’s newest residents, Jed Stone. Good morning, Jed. How are you today?

Frankly, it’s a bit early for me. I’m a gambler by trade, so I tend to have a lot of late nights. Games of chance seem to start late and continue till the wee hours of the morning. I’ve also recently come into some property, and taking care of it has kept me busy.

Would that be Lucky Lil’s? I’ve heard it’s the most famous whorehouse in San Francisco. Not that I’ve ever been there before.

You’ve heard right. I won the deed to Lucky Lil’s in a poker game down on the square. I’m not sure why the deed was floating around, but Madam Lil is none too happy with the new change in ownership.

Really? I’d think she’d be happy that a strong man with electric blue eyes and a smile that lights up a room would be the new owner. I’ve heard she’s fallen on hard times.

Lil’s a hard woman to figure out. We’ve already butted heads a few times. I want to make a few changes, and she’s unhappy with me for that. But on the other hand, her daughter Lily and I are getting along just fine.

Lil has a daughter? Who knew?

Yes, she’s been back east visiting old school friends. From what I gather, Lil shielded her from house life by sending her away to boarding school. Lily is a bit naïve, but she’s a sweet girl. I’ve enjoyed learning about San Francisco from her. In fact, we’re going to a big society ball tonight.

Sounds like you might be taken with her.

No, I don’t have time for affairs of the heart. I’m actually here in San Francisco to find the man who caused my best friend to hang for a murder he didn’t commit. I plan on getting sweet revenge on Simon Morgan. After that, I might sell Lucky Lil’s and move on. Getting out of California might be the smart move.

Why? You haven’t been here long.

Well, I’m keeping this close to the vest, but I was arrested when I first arrived. I look exactly like a man who’s a train robber and murderer. It was pretty darn spooky, seeing my face looking back at me from a wanted poster. So I plan to take care of Morgan and move on. I don’t want to hang for another man’s crimes. Still . . .

What? More unfinished business?

I feel sheepish admitting this, but I can’t seem to get Lily out of my mind. She’s funny and feisty and about the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. And when I kissed her . . . excuse me, but a gentleman shouldn’t kiss and tell. I think we better wrap up this interview. I’ve got plenty of business to discuss with Madam Lil, plus I’ve got to see my new lawyer about some investments.

Thank you, Jed, for stopping by and chatting today. I hope things work out for the best with Simon Morgan . . . and with Lily Frontiere.

You can buy A Game of Chance at Amazon for $2.99 using this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Game-Chance-Lauren-Linwood-ebook/dp/B00HQVHR98/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1389154811&sr=1-2&keywords=a+game+of+chance

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A Special Valentine’s Day With My Own Hero

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Lots of people make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day. Okay—not lots of people—just lots of women.

For many guys, Valentine’s Day isn’t even on their radar until they start picking up on hints from their Significant Other or even finally pay attention to all the signs around them—commercials on TV or the radio, ads in the newspaper, and conversations around the office (either among women gathering in the break room or panicked men in the restroom who’ve just realized the February 14th deadline is looming).

My local Kroger started making it incredibly easy for men in recent years. They pitch a huge, you-can’t-miss-it, white tent in their parking lot 2 weeks before the Big Day. Then on Valentine’s Day, a man can drive through, pick up, and pay for a dozen roses and/or candy. Think about that—the perfect Lazy Man’s Way to bring flowers to his loved one—all without stepping out of his car!

I’ve never been focused on that single day to celebrate love. It’s nice if my husband brings me flowers or takes me to dinner, but it’s not a requirement for our marriage to continue to February 15th and beyond each year. I’m actually happy with a simple card from him. Some years it’s a funny one (I did fall in love with him in part because of his wicked sense of humor). Other years it’s appropriately mushy and makes me tear up. Either way, it’s a nice gesture and a special keepsake. I have every Valentine’s card he’s given me through the years.

This year I won’t be receiving a card from him. But I have already received a far greater gift from him than ever before.

What? The gift of another day with him in my life.

I think many of us take for granted those we love. We fall into daily routines alongside our mates, and days lead into other days, often with us not expressing how much we really love that special someone in our lives.

A week ago, my safe and secure world was rocked to its core. My husband suffered a stroke. He realized something was off, and we got him proper medical care in time. He’s already making amazing progress. In fact, if you’d just met him for the first time and held a conversation, you wouldn’t have a clue he’d suffered any kind of recent trauma. He will need to learn how to use his dominant hand again to write and eat, but it’s the best prognosis we could’ve hoped for. The outpouring of love from our friends and families and their round-the-clock prayers have made such a difference.

He’s not the kind of guy who shops for a card in advance, so I know I won’t receive my usual Valentine from him this year as in years past.

But what I am getting is a more valuable treasure than all the cards and candy and flowers and romantic dinners in the world.

I have my husband this February 14th. And that’s the best Valentine’s Day gift of all. He was the inspiration for my hero Jed in my recent release, A Game of Chance, and as I write my historical romances, I hope we’ll continue to write our own love story for many more years to come.

A Game of Chance large cover

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Lauren Linwood – In a Nutshell!

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It’s easier to get to know authors now than in the pre-Internet days. Most authors aim to have a media presence, and readers can find out lots about them via these sources. I share random things right here on my Write Up My Alley blog, and I also have an author Facebook page (http://facebook.com/laurenlinwood) and even tweet (http://twitter.com/LaurenLinwood).

But here are some tidbits about me that you may not have seen before:

  1. When I was four, I broke my collarbone while climbing a chinaberry tree. I slipped and hit the picnic table beneath the tree, rolled and hit the bench, then finally came to halt when I plopped face down on the ground. I didn’t get to wear a cast with this type of injury, and I was jealous of people who sported arm & leg casts because people could sign these. Looking back, I’m feeling lucky that I never broke either an arm or a leg!
  2. My favorite album is Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View. Not a bad song on it.
  3. Every Christmas Eve after church, we sit down to a breakfast supper, which includes this crazy-good sausage/egg/cheese/mushroom casserole, and then we open presents and watch a couple of Christmas movies such as Home Alone, Elf, or Love, Actually. And yes, the next morning we find that Santa has come. He’s really gotten into the gift card spirit the last few years, so stocking time is memorable.
  4. My birthday is on Halloween, which was terrific as a kid because I got to go trick-or-treating and score tons of candy while dressed up (usually as a vampire).
  5. I thought I was going to be a journalist after I was editor-in-chief of my junior high and high school newspapers. Instead, I became a history teacher (pretty convenient since I write historical romance novels and love to research).
  6. My mom wanted me to wear her wedding gown when I got married. The only glitch? She was 92 pounds on her wedding day, and the last time I fit into her gown was in 8th grade! Getting married at 13 just didn’t seem like an option—even if it was a cool dress.
  7. My favorite band is The Eagles. I love their harmonies, especially on Seven Bridges Road. And I would end every school year driving out of the teacher parking lot for the summer blaring Already Gone, sing at the top of my lungs.
  8. Even though I don’t believe in reincarnation, I felt right at home when I visited London. I’m worse than horrible with directions, yet I seemed to know which way to turn and where things were located, almost as if I’d lived there before. Eerie, I know.
  9. I’ve never played Words with Friends. I think I would like it too much to start playing. I can see it taking over my life like that scary-creepy vine from The Ruins.
  10. I sing the same song in the shower every time my editor buys a book from me. And I sound fabulous while doing it! Well, definitely not fabulous, but I’m home alone when I do it and enjoy belting it out.

So there you have it—random Lauren Linwood in a nutshell!

 

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Happy B-Day, Facebook!

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Today is the 10th anniversary of something that has revolutionized our world. Yes, Facebook is now 10 years old. Mark Zuckerberg launched this social media site from his Harvard dorm room, and it has changed the habits of people everywhere in this past decade.

FB gets 6 billion likes per day. It’s connected over 201 billion people around the planet together. Numbers like these simply blow my mind. I can’t begin to comprehend how vast FB has become.

I remember vaguely hearing about FB and not really paying much attention to it at first. I finally got on  and created a profile when my daughter was in college. She’d tell me about things she’d been doing, and I’d ask her to send me a picture. Exasperated, she finally demanded, “Mom, just get on FB. You can see my pictures there.”

So I did. Not only was it a fun way to see what events she was participating in, but all of a sudden I started getting friend requests from people throughout various times in my life. I’d thought email was a nice way to stay in touch with friends and family, but FB has made everything easy and fun with just a few clicks of my mouse.

I scroll through FB each day to see what my friends have posted. I might view a picture of a newly-adopted pet from an animal shelter. Vacation shots from Italy or Florida. A funnyYou Tube video. Cartoons that make me smile. Graduation or family reunion pictures. Every day my friends and family post dozens of items. I know who’s sick or getting married or celebrating an anniversary—all thanks to FB. Even long-distance, I can share in my friends and families’ life events, be it big or small. The world has grown closer, thanks to the miracles of social media, and FB, in particular.

As an author, I post all kinds of things—info about my latest release; pictures of a great meal; places I’m traveling; inspirational quotes; and especially anything with animals or humor. It’s a nice way to allow readers to get to know me—not just Lauren, the writer—but Lauren, the person.

Kudos to you, Mark Zuckerberg. You ran with an innovative idea that changed our world. It’s been a fun 10 year ride. I can’t wait to see what FB will come up with next!1

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Ten Things I Didn’t Know About Before I Became a Published Author

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Ignorance is bliss . . . especially to a non-pubbed writer! Once I signed a contract for my debut, a medieval historical romance called Music For My Soul, I faced trial by fire as I gingerly placed my big toe into the publishing pool and then shrugged, threw my arms up, and dived in head-first.

What have I learned so far that I didn’t know before?

10.  The Brave New World of e-publishing has opened the floodgates to many books—both good and bad—and to complete? You’ve got to have a media presence. I understood I’d need to create an author website, and I found a web designer who is knowledgeable and helpful. No problems on doing that (http://www.laurenlinwood.com). But to scratch the surface of survival, authors also need to have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Frankly, I don’t think I’m interesting enough to tweet. It’s one thing for Ashton Kutcher to tweet what kind of coffee he picked up for him and Mila, but I doubt anyone cares what I’m downing on a daily basis. Still, I created a FB author page (http://www.facebook.com/laurenlinwood) and a Twitter account (http://twitter.com/LaurenLinwood). I post about books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, or cartoons I find funny. Hopefully, I have some readers out there who enjoy seeing those posts!

9. I’m supposed to also be a blogger. Really? As if researching and writing novels don’t take up enough time (not to mention FB & Twitter!), I’m also required to write a blog. It seems every writer does this nowadays in order to let readers see who they are behind the writer persona. So I started Write Up My Alley (https://laurenlinwood.wordpress.com) and have blogged about everything from skinning my knee to having a flat tire to why I howled at the moon on live radio. It’s been a different outlet from my historical romance fiction writing, one I didn’t know I’d be doing, but I’ve come to enjoy it.

8. Contracts are just as long and boring as they’re made out to be, but you need to go over them carefully (and possibly obtain legal help) to be sure your deal is fair and square.

7. Marketing is now largely an author’s responsibility, with no advertising departments to walk you through—or even do the marketing for you. I had no idea that virtual book tours (such as this one) existed, and now I’m on my 3rd book, I’m doing my 3rd tour!

6. I do have a say on my cover art! I’d always heard authors got zero input, but I’ve worked with Covers by Ramona on all three releases, and she is amazing. Ramona listens well, is extremely collaborative, and transforms my written vision into a stunning visual image. That rocks!

5. There are SO MANY nice authors out there! I thought the world of published authors would be snobby, yet I’ve found them very giving and friendly, providing great advice and encouragement.

4. Everyone who finds out I’m a writer asks where I get my ideas from and wants to know how long it takes to write a book.

3. About half the people who learn I’m a writer tell me they, too, could be a fabulous writer—but they just don’t have the time for that kind of thing. So what does that say about me?!?!

2. I get more emails in a single day than I used to get in a week—from other authors, from those who want me to advertise with them, and from so many spammers my head spins like Regan in The Exorcist!

1. But the absolutely best thing I’ve learned is how supportive everyone is of my dream. Not just my family and friends, but mere acquaintances and total strangers have been encouraging. It’s almost been like a love fest—and I’m the star getting all those hugs.

Now that I’m on The Published Road, every day is unique. I’m still learning as I travel on this beautiful journey.

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Feeling Icky in a Modern World

0Even though I was a history teacher, I’m not one of those who longed to go back to the past.

First of all, you can’t change the past—just look at Stephen King’s protagonist in 11/23/1963 and the heap of trouble he brought upon the world by trying to prevent JFK’s death. And even if you can’t change it, something could go terribly wrong if you jumped into a time machine and just went back for a peak—once again, read Michael Crichton’s Timeline—people dying, people literally (molecularly) coming apart, etc. Not good, folks. Not good.

And if I went back for a short while? I’d miss modern conveniences almost immediately. I happen to like central heat & air. Cable TV. Cell phones. Microwaves. Booster shots against diseases. Cars. Planes. Refrigerators. iPods. Computers. And especially a modern bathroom. I can’t imagine not luxuriating in a hot shower every morning, much less taking advantage of my flush toilet and electrical outlets to blow dry my hair.

So yes, I enjoyed studying and then teaching history . . . from a distance. I can appreciate the events and what people went through (and hopefully learn something valuable from the past), but I have no desire to partake of it first-hand. I get enough pleasure writing my historical romances and visiting the past that way.

But even in my modern world of comfort, today I felt . . . icky. Why? Someone tried to break into my social media accounts. I’d already had my Twitter account jacked once while I was on vacation, and that was a horrible mess. This time? Someone in Romania was trying to log into my email account.

Thank goodness Google noticed that I’d logged on here in Texas only hours earlier, where I log in from every day unless I’m on the road somewhere, which is infrequent—and certainly not as far-flung as Romania! Google wouldn’t allow the hacker in and notified me ASAP. I was able to change my email password, and I went a step further and added on the 2-step verification. Now every time I want to log-in to my email, I’ll have to wait to receive a text message with a code that allows me to do so. One extra layer of safety in the long run won’t bother me a bit.

Hurrah that I did that previously when the Twitter account got hacked. I set up the needed verification code when that incident occurred. I’m glad I did because Mr. or Ms. Romania (I’m assuming) then tried to gain access to my Twitter account. My phone beeped, sending me my Twitter code . . . but I hadn’t tried to tweet. So I knew someone, somewhere in the world, was. It made me extremely happy that I’d put that block into place to prevent something like that from happening again.

This incident also spurred me on to change my FB and blog account user names and passwords. I only wish I had the extra layer of protection for those social media platforms, as well.

The whole incident, while not ugly, just made me feel violated. I’ve had an identity thief steal my identity before, and it brought back all those horrible memories of feeling helpless . . . and realizing just how vulnerable a person can be in this modern world of convenient technology.

I guess I’m hoping that day in the future happens soon when it takes my thumbprint to access anything. It’s already arrived with my new iPhone. I have to tap my thumb in order to use my phone nowadays, whether I want to text someone or check my calendar. I’m actually ready for the day that happens at the grocery store when I want to pay for my groceries. Or I’d be willing to flash my thumb to get on a flight or enter a stadium or concert.  I love my freedoms in the good old USA, but I also value my safety and those around me. I’d give up a little freedom and be inconvenienced on occasion if it meant more protection for me and my family—and those around me, as well.

So I’m ready to post this little incident to Write Up My Alley. But wait . . . what was my new user name and password? Sigh . . .

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I’m Luckier Than I Thought

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There are lucky people in this world. And then there are those like me.

I’m the one who never finds a parking place right in front of where I’m going. If I go to a company picnic, my name is never the one called out for a door prize. When I go to Vegas, I set aside twenty bucks—to lose—at the nickel slot machines. And believe me, I can lose that money faster than Linda Blair’s head spins in The Exorcist.

Even when I introduced my daughter to board games when she was three, she would beat me every time at Chutes & Ladders, Candy Land, or Trouble. It only got worse when she was older and could stomp me at games such as Yahtzee or Life. I don’t roll the magic combinations. I don’t draw the right cards. I just don’t win. Unlucky people like me stay consistent in our “un-luck.”

But after seeing August: Osage County this week? I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.

The Golden Globes put this movie in the comedy category, so I was expecting something a bit different than the movie I saw. Sure, there were a few funny lines, but the humor was dark. WAY dark. And while I thought the all-star cast gave a master class in acting, I sure was depressed when I left the theater after spending over two hours with this incredibly dysfunctional family.

I was with Chris Cooper’s character—did they really have to be so mean to each other? Did they really have to say the things they did, as viciously and scathingly as they did?

But it got me to thinking that…I’m pretty lucky after all.

I come from a loving family. Sure, we’ve had disagreements before, but we haven’t literally knocked each other down from the dinner table, straddling someone, screaming, trying to make a point (I’m sure Julia Roberts had a blast tackling Meryl Streep, though.).

No, my family was kind and still behaves decently toward one another. I’m lucky in that regard. I’m lucky because I was the first in my family to complete a college degree. I’m lucky because I became a teacher and worked with wonderful students and terrific professionals in great schools.

I’m lucky because I gave birth to a healthy child, even after my doctor thought I’d have a rough time becoming pregnant. I’m lucky that she turned out to be a cool kid—smart, funny, and fun to be around—although I wouldn’t relish doing a few of those teenage years with her again.

I’m lucky to have been married to the same loving man for a long time, one who makes me laugh and gives me room to be me. I’m lucky to live in a wonderful town in a nice house. I’m lucky that I have friends whom I’d trust with my life. My friends keep me sane and grounded.

I’m lucky to have good health, even if my knees are a little creaky every now and then. I’m lucky to live in a country where I have the freedoms I do.

I’m really lucky that I can express myself through my writing, whether it’s on this blog or through my fictional characters. I’m lucky to have found my passion and have the ability to pursue it.

So the next time my scratch-off lottery tickets don’t pan out or I don’t win either of the contests I’m entering daily (one is winning a trip to Downton Abbey; the other is winning HGTV’s Dream House in Taos – hey, even an unlucky girl can dream!), all I’m going to do is think of that fictional family in Osage County…and count my blessings.

Because in the end, I’m truly fortunate.

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The King & I Have Something in Common

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Rock ‘n roll fans know that today is a watershed day in history—the anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley, The King of Rock ‘n Roll.

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Today is also a landmark for me—the birth of my baby. No, not an infant that needs changing and feeding. Been there, done that. Instead, it’s the book birthday of my third historical romance.

A Game of Chance releases today, January 8, and an author having a book come out is a lot like producing a new life. Just as when I gave birth to my daughter, I was looking forward to her arrival. I had hopes and dreams for her. I wanted people to like her. Even love her unconditionally as I did before I ever saw her sweet face and chubby cheeks.

My novel marched along a parallel path. I took the single phrase “separated at birth” and developed a plotline of twin boys who are literally separated at birth. One is born, and the scum of a father takes off with the baby, leaving the dying mother behind. What he doesn’t know is that before she passes on, she gives birth to an identical twin boy. I had creative fun in bringing these two men together as they meet twenty-five years down the road, with neither knowing of the other’s existence. Throw in a beautiful heroine along with a high stakes poker game, and the challenge was on.

I nurtured the book and its characters as any mother would her newborn child. I saw it through a complicated adolescence, with those tricky parts in the middle, trying to keep the plot moving and my readers guessing, until I could find a way to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. After the gestation process of brainstorming, writing and editing, I’ve enjoyed working with my cover artist and seeing the cover developed as the characters were brought to life both through my written words and reflected now in art.

And as I held high expectations and wished the best for my own flesh-and-blood child, I have hopes that my novel finds an audience who will be entertained and simply enjoy reading my story and growing close to its characters. Just as I wanted people to come to know my fabulous daughter as she grew up and appreciate the individual she was, I desire readers who will wrap their arms around my hero Jed and my heroine Lily and hold them close. I feel I’ve grown as a writer, and my editor believes this is my best effort yet—but only time will tell. As a mother has to let go of that child she holds dearest as it flies from the nest, I’ve got to step back and let my book grow its own wings, too—and hopefully soar.

So on The King’s birthday today, I feel a little like Jack Dawson in Titanic as my book is brought into the world. Yes, for this one day I’ll shout to the rooftops—“I’m the King of the World!”

A Game of Chance large cover

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Resolutions—Make ‘Em or Break ‘Em?

resolutions

We’re three days into 2014 now, and I’ll bet half of you have already broken a New Year’s Resolution that you made. The other half? You didn’t bother to make any—because you knew you’d break them!

I used to make specific ones each year—the eternal lose 5 pounds (which then changed to 10 as time went by) or walk 5 miles a day. I do that one pretty much anyway, but life gets in the way sometimes, so I didn’t always meet my miles per week. Let’s face it—no one should be out walking if the sidewalks are covered in ice or if you’re suffering from strep. Which means no one should feel too bad if a resolution is broken or not met.

Actually, I think it’s smart to have resolutions each year. Call ‘em goals if “resolution” scares you off. And something I’ve learned about goals is that . . . they’re flexible! As you move through a new year, what applied back in January may not really pertain to you by May. If that’s the case, alter your goals somewhat—or toss them out! No one says you must make solid, stick-with-it resolutions on January 1 only. You can re-evaluate situations throughout the year and make changes accordingly.

So that “Lose 10 pounds” one? Why don’t you just vow to try and eat more healthy, say 4 days a week? That’s about every other day. It lets you have cheat days. And you might get into the good habit of eating better more often than not. Who cares about the number on a scale? If you feel fit and fab and you’re rockin’ the jeans, you’ve met your goal.

I made easy-to-keep resolutions for 2013. One was to travel somewhere I’d never been. My college roommate built a new house in Idaho, so I went to see her this past summer. I’d been to southern Idaho before, but not up in the Panhandle. We explored all kinds of places, and then my hubby joined us. We took off for Oregon, which was beautiful, and I got to add a new state since I’d never visited there. More importantly, I experienced not only Powell’s Bookstore but VooDoo Donuts in Portland. Let me tell you, folks—if you haven’t been to VooDoo, you haven’t lived!

Going a new place made for a simple resolution. It didn’t have to be a new state. It could’ve been a new museum, a new state park, or even a new outlet mall. It was something fun and easy to check off my New Year’s Resolutions List (and believe me, I love to check things off a list).

I also set writing resolutions for each year. I’m happy to report that 2014’s “get a book published” will happen next week (when A Game of Chance comes out January 8) and this coming summer (A Change of Plans). What a way to start a new year!

A Game of Chance large cover

So take some time and make a few 2014 resolutions today, especially if you didn’t a couple of days ago. Remember that the goals you set for writing or in your personal life should be flexible and attainable. You can ditch them at any time and make new ones if your situation changes because—after all—it’s all about your journey.

***

Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming January release, A Game of Chance. It’s the story of gambler Jed Stone, who is arrested for a murder his twin brother committed, a man he never knew existed. After escaping, Jed wins the deed to Lucky Lil’s, San Francisco’s most famous whorehouse. He falls in love with the madam’s daughter Lily, who’s always been shielded from house life. Will Jed be able to start a new life with Lily and bring his outlaw brother to justice?

***

Gordon took out his money clip. He placed a few bills on the bed, soaked in her sweat and water and blood.

“That’s enough to satisfy the midwife. Sorry I don’t have enough for your funeral, love.”

Cara Lee bit back the scream and held it in her throat. The contraction ended. She refused to give him another reason to belittle her.

The midwife came to the bed and lifted the covers. “The head! My God, the baby’s coming out. Push, missus, push. Push for your life!”

Cara Lee gritted her teeth and bore down hard. A great relief washed over her. She closed her eyes, unwilling to see the man who had meant everything to her and who now betrayed her in her greatest hour of need.

“There, little one, there you go.”

She heard a slap and a hearty cry. She opened her eyes and saw her baby. Love burst from her.

“It’s a boy, missus. Hale and hearty. Even got a nice head of hair on him.”

“He’s mine,” she spit out, glaring at Gordon Fisher. “You can’t take him.”

“Oh, I can and I will, dear girl. This child is the meal ticket to my trust fund.”

He took the baby, now clean and wrapped in his mother’s ivory shawl, and spoke in low tones to the midwife before turning back to her. “This child will prove I’m respectable. I thank you for all you did, my dear.”

Gordon retreated from the room. She let out an anguished cry.

“Well, I never . . .” The midwife shook her head. “Let’s make you comfortable, dearie.”

Cara Lee moaned as the woman fussed over her, having trouble breathing again. A great weight pressed upon her.

“The worst is over, missus. Let me deal with the afterbirth. Maybe I can staunch the bleeding.”

As the midwife lifted the sheet again, she gasped. “Oh, no. Oh, my lord.”

Cara Lee broke out in a cold sweat. The pain was back again, this time even worse. Her body, her spirit, her faith in her husband. All had been broken. How much more could she bear?

The woman clucked loudly. “Another one’s coming, child. You’ll have to be strong a little bit longer.”

She sat up again. The burning urge to push had returned, stronger than the first time. She bit her lip hard and willed the baby to exit the birth canal. The burden eased from her, and the midwife cut the cord as before.

“It’s another boy. Spittin’ image of the other tyke.”

The baby gurgled happily.

“You mustn’t call him back. Don’t ever let . . .” Her voice trailed off.

A wet cloth glided across her forehead. What I wouldn’t give for a sip of cool water.

A few minutes later the midwife pulled the stained bed sheet over the woman’s head. She stared blankly at the wide-eyed baby in her arms.

“Lord Almighty. I never even knew your mama’s name.”

***

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Skyping with Katie Got Me Sky-High

bookworm

All my life I’ve been a voracious reader. I read absolutely everything, starting with the newspaper in the morning over my hot tea and Greek yogurt. I have a magazine addiction (Yes, I live for People arriving on a Friday afternoon and hunker down with it and a glass of wine). I also read in many different genres. I love my happily ever after romances, but I also enjoy thrillers (be they legal, medical, or adventures), biographies, and many books off the NY Times best seller list.

Recently, I’ve joined a book club—my first ever. I’d always wanted to and found the opportunity to become a Book Worm. It’s a lovely group of women, and they have pulled me from my comfort zone. Instead of gravitating toward my typical authors (David Baldacci, Steven Berry, Stuart Woods, Mary Jo Putney, Diana Gabaldon, and the likes), members have chosen books I’ve either never heard of or probably would never have picked up, given the choice. I thank my fellow Book Worms for expanding my horizons and broadening my reading tastes!

Our December selection was Katie Hafner’s Mother Daughter Me, which I’d highly recommend to any woman. A journalist by trade, Hafner was in her 50s and living with her teenage daughter (her husband had died unexpectedly from a heart attack a few years previously) when she asked her mother to move in with them (As one Book Worm put it, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”) . Now it would be hard for any family unit to change by bring in a woman in her 70s and set in her ways, but Hafner hadn’t lived with her mom since she’d been removed from her care over 40 years earlier, due to neglect by this alcoholic mother. Talk about dynamics—3 women. 1 small house. A multitude of feelings.Yes, let the fur fly!

katie

Hafner’s memoir focuses on the brief, just short of a year that these females lived together. While Hafner wanted to start anew and build a fresh relationship with her elderly parent, the baggage from the past came roaring back. Add teenage hormones to the mix, and you have a formula for disaster. Then factor in that Katie started dating a new man? You have to read it to believe it.

My book group had a terrific discussion about the book (and the brunch before was to DIE for—especially the French toast casserole), but the highlight of our time together came when we Skyped with the author for half an hour from her home in San Francisco. Technology still amazes me at times, and to have a group of 15 women visiting with an author was a thrill. Katie was gracious, quick-witted, and very cordial as she talked about her experiences during what she called her “Year in Provence” (SO not!) and what’s happened since the book was published. Not to ruin it for anyone, but she did have a ring on her left hand and seems very happy in her personal life!

I appreciate the time she took to share her life with us. As an author myself, I know how time-consuming writing can be. And yes, I felt like a Fan Girl Groupie as we all gathered around the TV and asked her our questions. Even when we had technical difficulties and she disappeared, we were able to call right back and continue our discussion.

It might have been a small thing in Katie’s life to speak with our club, but it’s an experience I’ll always treasure. Not something that could be bought—simply a gift of her time with us. I hope in the future I’ll always be generous with my time—whether it’s with my own mother, my daughter, or my fellow Book Worms!

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Fist Fights . . . and Santa Claus

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As a teacher, I broke up my fair share of fist fights. They usually occurred during a passing period, near the end of the year, as the weather heated up and tempers tended to flair with impatience.

Half my friends thought me brave for intervening, while the other half thought I was simply crazy. I guess I had a sixth sense about what to say and do to get the warring teenagers to come to a halt.

I did, however, adhere by that unwritten teacher rule…NEVER, EVER interrupt a girl fight.

While the boys I broke up never attempted to throw a punch at me, I’d heard that girls were totally different. Their fights always began over some guy, and any female coming between them and their sense of gaining retribution or justice would be challenged. Biting, hair pulling, kicking, and punching? All fair game.

Fortunately, I never personally saw two girls at war. I only heard secondhand stories about their fights, either from students in my class who’d witnessed it or teachers in the faculty workroom.

I have to admit, though, that I actually was in a fist fight myself.

I was four. And it was over after I threw a single punch.

I remained an only child for almost six years, and so I played a lot with my cousin David, who was two years older. I was always pretty mature for my age (sometimes I think I was an old soul born into a tiny baby’s body), so we got along well. He and I loved to read comic books (although I leaned toward Superman and Batman, David was more into Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and The Hulk). David also shared his love of little green army men with me, so I was well-versed in battle at an early age.

Our favorite pastime involved throwing a heavy blanket or quilt over my aunt’s dining room table. A sheet wouldn’t do. It was too sheer. We needed to be trapped into a dark world – that of a space capsule. We’d drag pillows and blankets underneath the table, lie on our backs, and push the buttons on our imaginary console (the table’s underside), rocketing to the stars.

Then both our worlds changed. David went to school, and I was left behind. And like so many kids before him, he learned a lot about a lot of things when he went to school. And he wanted to share it with me.

Older children seem to delight in disillusioning younger ones, especially when it comes to fantasies and dreams. Sure enough, after Thanksgiving, talk broke out at school. David learned the unvarnished truth.

There was no Santa Claus.

I don’t know who told him or what was said, but David couldn’t wait to get home and share this important bit of earth-shattering news with me.

He blurted it out. I was stunned.

Then I did what any red-blooded, All-American girl would do – I pulled back my fisted hand and then punched him in the nose as hard as I could for speaking such an awful lie.

Blood spurted. My mom and aunt stepped in to quell the violence. I sulked. David sulked.

I experienced vindication a few weeks later when Santa arrived and left me some wonderful presents for having been such a good little girl all year.

And for believing in him.

I started school shortly afterward at age five and heard the same awful rumors. I kept my fists to myself (having been warned never to do that again by my horrified mother) – as well as my opinions. I had to believe because by this time I had a little six months old sister. I needed to believe enough for both of us.

By the next Christmas, a brother had been added to our family. Even I began to understand by this point the utter madness in believing that one man could make all those visits in a single night – but I kept quiet. I told myself it was for the sake of my brother and sister, but as long as I didn’t say a word, Santa kept coming. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long he remained on the scene, bringing me gifts.

Now I use the pen, which truly is far mightier than the sword, so my puny fists have never struck a blow against another human being.

And every time I see a jolly man in a red suit, be it in the mall or ringing a bell on a street corner, I have to smile…because I really do still believe.

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Posted in History, Personal | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Magic and Amazing . . . and My New Best Friend

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I don’t like hot weather. At all. The older I get, the less I can tolerate the heat. Living in Texas, summers are hot. I’m always hoping one of those lottery tickets my husband buys will be a winner so that we can relocate to somewhere wonderful every summer and allow me to escape all those 100+ days.

But I don’t enjoy cold weather either. I’m cold-natured and from about October 1 on, my hands and feet feel like a block of ice. I pretty much live in layers. Pullover sweaters are my go-to necessities, and wear socks 24/7 (okay—maybe not when I’m in the shower—but it’s close).

If I could live somewhere that averaged 65-70 during the day, those temperatures would be ideal. Even if the nights dropped to 50-60, I wouldn’t mind that a bit. When I sleep (which seems to be less and less these days), I do better when it’s colder temps and I can bury myself under flannel sheets, a blanket, and a comforter.

Yet cold weather may just be manageable for me in the future. Why?

I discovered foot warmers.

I’d vaguely heard of them before. And I needed them desperately as I went to a football game this weekend. Not just any game. A game for the Big 12 Conference Championship (which my school had never won). A game that would be the last held in a stadium that had seen over 60 years of games played. I have lots of terrific memories of games in that stadium, and I really wanted to cheer my team on as they won a conference championship.

That meant sitting out in some pretty darn cold weather. Texas in December might find you in a short-sleeve T-shirt running your A/C (as I did last Wednesday)—or it could mean turtlenecks and boots and wool sweaters (as when Thursday’s temps dropped about 60 degrees and a wintry mix of sleet and ice barreled through the area). I escaped the ice and got out of town just ahead of the storm, heading south to where the game would be played.

At game time it was 24 with a wind chill of 11. The good news was that my friends I traveled with had brought hand and foot warmers. I’m not a hunter and I’m not married to one, so these little packets holding a small miracle simply weren’t on my radar. Let me tell you—now that I know about them—my life may never be the same again!

We tore those babies open. Shook them around to activate them. Then stuck them all kinds of places. Inside our boots. In the back pockets of our jeans. Inside our gloves – snap! It was all about being creative and finding interesting places to slip them.

You know what? I wasn’t cold! Of course, I had on Cuddl Duds, a turtleneck, a sweater, a sweatshirt, AND my coat, hat, hood pulled up, scarf, and gloves. But still . . . until the last quarter when my toes got a little bit cold . . . I was fine. Comfortable. Every time my team scored and I jumped around and clapped, those warmers got downright toasty. The shaking and moving keeps them heating like the Energizer Bunny. I could enjoy the game and not worry about the cold.

My Baylor Bears won their championship and are now BCS-bowl bound, headed to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl just outside of Phoenix. It’s an indoor game, so I won’t need my trusty little foot warmers.

But you never know. Phoenix in January? Could be a little cool outside. I think I’ll pack some warmers.

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Just in case.

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My Blog-A-Thon with Soul Mate Publishing

SMP authors blogSMP:  Lauren, welcome! Please tell us a little bit about yourself, such as: your family, where you live, pets, favorite color, favorite film, favorite book, favorite scent.

Lauren:  I’m a native Texan who loves to walk in the morning and come home to a hot cup of tea and the newspaper. I’ve been crazy about the color red since I was pregnant with my daughter, and I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird every year. I love everything from romantic comedies to thrillers, and my favorite movie is The Usual Suspects because I went nuts over its twisty ending! Burning candles (pumpkin, cinnamon, and apple are some favorites) while I read or write is a must. My husband works in sports television, so we often go to sporting events. I enjoy traveling to new places as well as familiar favorites, and I have never met a piece of bread or dark chocolate that I don’t like!

SMP:  Please share your favorite holiday memory.

Lauren:  For most teenagers, getting behind the wheel and driving spells freedom. But I was already thinking about that years earlier. I’d traded in my tricycle for a little red bike with training wheels, then learned to ride without them. By the Christmas that I was 7, I was ready to graduate to a big girl bike.

And Santa came through! Of course, I already knew there was no Santa Claus, courtesy of my cousin David. He was 2 years older than I was and once he started school and found out the devastating truth, he’d shared it with me. I had a brother and a sister much younger than I was, so I pretended to keep believing . . . and I milked that for years!

Anyway, I got my bike. In blue–my favorite color. As a bonus, Santa had attached a basket and these cool silver hand grips that had silver streamers dangling from them. I went out all bundled up on Christmas morning since it was cold in Texas that year, and I literally felt as if I was flying down the street on that bike. I felt free and alive and wanted to spend every waking moment on that bike. It’s still my favorite present from a holiday.

SMP:  How long have you been writing? Have you always wanted to write?

Lauren:  I was writing before I could hold a pencil and spell out words on paper because I was writing in my head. I was an only child for six years and had to entertain myself, so my active imagination created all kinds of stories, which I would act out with my stuffed animals and Barbie dolls.

I wrote short stories and poetry growing up, was the editor-in-chief of my junior high and high school newspapers, and wrote my first novel while in college. I’m sure it was terrible. It’s hiding high on a shelf in my bedroom closet. Maybe I’ll bring it down some day and have a good laugh!

SMP:  Do you write in a single genre, or more than one? What do you find most compelling about your genre(s)?

Lauren:  Right now I’m focusing on writing historical romance. I love both medieval times and the American West after the Civil War, so these are the settings for my novels. I find history fascinating and enjoy researching events, customs, and culture from those eras so I can incorporate interesting tidbits into the tapestry of my writing. In both those time periods, women were resilient and decisive. Those are the kind of heroines I like to get to know as I write them and their stories.

SMP:  Tell us a little about your writing journey.

Lauren:  I became a history teacher with a plan to teach by day and write by night. That proved to be impossible. People don’t realize how much time teachers spend working on lesson planning, grading, and attending meetings once students have left for the day. Add grad school, getting married, and having a family on top of that–and writing took a back seat for years.

Then the need to write became overwhelming, and I found like-minded women. I carved out precious time every week to write and then meet with my critique group. I attended the Lone Star Conference in Houston last fall and landed an editor appointment with Debby Gilbert of Soul Mate Publishing. We just clicked, and she asked for the entire manuscript after my pitch. Two weeks later, she offered me my first publishing contract for Music For My Soul, which came out in May 2013. Since then Debby’s bought three more books! Outlaw Muse was an October 2013 release. A Game of Chance comes next month on January 8, while A Change of Plans will be out later in 2014. Debby has been my guardian angel!

SMP:  Tell us about your process. Do you plot/make outlines for your WIPS, or are you a total pantser?

Lauren:  I’ve learned to do character sketches, know what my book is about in 25 words (or less), and have a brief outline. The sketches help me learn about my hero and heroine in-depth. The outline gives me direction, but it’s very flexible. Many times my characters gallop off in a different direction from the outline, which is exasperating and inspiring at the same time!

SMP:  What has been your most significant inspiration on the road to publication?

Lauren:  Kudos to my critique group! They have inspired me, kept me on the right track, given me terrific advice, and read multiple versions of  chapters. Without their critical, loving eye? I would never have been published.

SMP:  What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Lauren:  Write your heart out! Keep on writing, writing, writing. Give yourself permission to write poorly–because those days will happen. But it’s better to get something down on the page and then revise it than to stare at a blank page and have nothing at all to work with.

SMP:  Tell us a little about your current or upcoming release: your inspiration, main characters, setting, etc. What was the most difficult process? The easiest?

Lauren:  A Game of Chance comes out January 8, and part of it was inspired by the phrase “separated at birth.” The book opens with a young mother in labor and a midwife who tells the man standing over here she’ll die in the process. She gives birth to a boy, and the man takes the infant and leaves. Another boy arrives just before she dies. Twenty-five years later, hero Jed Stone is arrested for murder because he looks exactly like the man on the wanted poster–who happens to be his twin that he knows nothing about!

I call it a western with a twist because it takes place not on the prairie, but in the cosmopolitan city of San Francisco. Jed wins the deed to the most famous whorehouse in the city in a rigged card game. His twin was supposed to walk away with that prize. Jed falls in love with Lily Frontiere, the daughter of the house madam. Lily has spent most of her life away at boarding school and knows very little about what goes on at her mother’s establishment.

While writing is always a tough process, this was an enjoyable book to write. I loved researching what San Francisco was like during the 1870s, from where the gaming houses were to local gossip to the best-known cemetery to be buried in!

SMP:  Any final thoughts you’d like your readers to know about you or your books?

Lauren:  I’m a former history teacher who always tried to bring history to life to my teenaged students. As an author of historical romance, I’m still trying to let readers know about what it was like to live in a certain time and place–and still bring an interesting and tender love story for them to enjoy.

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Sink Your Teeth into This Exchange (Or Maybe Slide a Spoon Instead)

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When the holidays roll around, I seem to get invites to a lot of Christmas Cookie Exchanges. When these first became the rage years and years ago, I thought it was a great idea. Bake a dozen (or maybe two dozen) of your best cookie recipe. Bring that recipe, along with the 12-24 cookies, and spend some time with friends. Trade cookies so that you have all kinds of different cookies at home for when people stop by. Get some pretty nifty recipes in turn since everyone’s bring their A game cookies.

But what typically happened? I sat around with friends and friends of friends, eating a bunch of cookies I didn’t need (I’d already packed on the Thanksgiving pounds), and I’d come home with some cookies. A variety of about 4-5 cookies. That was all that remained after my afternoon or evening of sampling. And then my family would scarf those pitiful few down in the blink of an eye. Back to zero cookies for the times people stopped by. I got to where I didn’t even go to cookie exchanges anymore. They became passé.

But I went to a different exchange the other day. I’m hoping this idea will catch on. What was it? A soup exchange!

Now I love soup, year-round. I know some people only touch it when the temperatures drop, but I could eat soup any day of the year. I can freeze it in small, individual containers and pull out a different kind every day to go with my salad or sandwich for lunch. I can even do soup for breakfast or a snack. I know, I’m weird in that respect. But I digress . . .

I whipped up a pot of my chicken tortilla soup. It’s easy to make (my 1st requirement of any recipe) and very tasty (my 2nd requirement). I printed up copies of the recipe to trade like baseball cards. The exchange was a blast—the hostess showed us how to make a super-simple soup composed of roasted vegetables (which we then tasted)—then she put together a more complicated one and left it to simmer for half an hour.

In the meantime? We went around and heard about the different soups people brought. We grabbed samples of each. One gal had baked 3 different types of breads instead of the soups, so we added slices of each to our booty, opened up a couple of different kinds of wines, and sat around gabbing as we did our taste testing. By that time we were able to sample the one our hostess had made, a potato soup that could be served hot or cold. It was delicious hot, and I couldn’t wait to try it cold. Afterwards, we even got dessert, a yummy apple-spiced cake that was moist and the perfect way to top of our time together.

Before we left, we’d each brought containers from home, so we divvied up and took portions of the soups we liked. Everyone got generous portions of each kind available. I liked bringing home something healthy and tasty, and I have several recipes to try out now that I didn’t have in my repertoire before. Let me tell you, that sweet potato and pecan soup? To die for!

So think about holding a different kind of exchange this holiday season. I’d recommend a soup exchange after participating in this one. I’m hoping this will become a yearly event.

P.S. In case you like easy as much as I do, here’s my soup recipe that I shared with the group.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

3 cans low sodium chicken broth

3 cans cream of chicken soup

1 can Rotel

1 onion

1 green pepper

2 T butter

2 lbs frozen diced chicken breasts or fajita strips (dice strips after cooking)

Garlic powder and black pepper, to taste

Tortilla chips

Shredded cheese

-Microwave chicken while sautéing chopped onion and green pepper in butter till softened

-Stir into veggie mix the 7 cans, along with the seasonings and chicken

-Simmer 30 minutes

-Place crushed tortilla chips in a bowl and ladle soup over them; top with grated cheese

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Reading Habits – Yours and Mine!

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I was sad today when I read that The Goddesses Blog would end this coming weekend. It’s a group of romance writers who blog about all kinds of things. To celebrate bringing their blogging adventure to an end, they asked their readers to answer a few questions in order to be placed in a drawing for free books. Hey—I’m ALL about the free—so I answered their questions. I thought I’d share with you and see what your reading habits are like!

Here’s a list of their questions and my answers:

1.  Do you skim books? Skim books? That’s sacrilege! If I have an urge to skim, then that book isn’t doing me any favors. No        amount of skimming will make me like it. I read for the magic and adventure. If a book truly holds my attention, then I want to savor each word.

2. Read the last chapter first? Don’t they put people in prison for that? I heard it’s a felony, not a misdemeanor. And I don’t want to do jail time. Ever.

3.  Only break off a reading session at the end of a scene or chapter? I prefer a natural break such as the chapter’s end, but sometimes the drying goes off or the nurse calls my name, so I’ve got other things to do and places to be. Isn’t that what bookmarks are for?

4.  Wait for the whole series to be published before starting book #1 of the series? No, but I absolutely must start with Book #1. No exceptions. I know many books in a series can be read as stand-alones, but I like to know that rich history involved, and that means starting at the very beginning with Book #1. A very good place to start!

5.  Skip ahead to see what is coming? That’s just plain wrong. You should be arrested by The Reading Police. Do not pass GO. Do not collect anything worthwhile. GO STRAIGHT TO JAIL (where you’ll serve time with the #2’s from above that try to read the last chapter first).

6. Have a special location for reading? I have a favorite place to read, but I can read anywhere. That’s the wonder of books. They’re portable and can be read on the beach / in the bathtub / on a park bench / during your lunch hour / in the car / on a plane / waiting in line anywhere / etc.

7. Listen to music while reading? No. I have a tendency to start humming along and hearing the lyrics in my head. That distracts from the words of the book I’m reading. I like the sound of silence instead.

8. Read more than one novel at a time? Yes. All the time! There’s no crime in that.

So those were my answers to the Goddesses. What are some of your reading habits?

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The Bright Side? I Got More Walking In!

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I’m pretty much a rules follower. I figure rules exist to keep order in society—be it at a pre-school, church, a cafeteria line, or when Congress meets. Well, maybe Congress hasn’t gotten the memo on that—although I’m pretty sure they are supposed to follow Roberts’ Rule of Order.

Sticking to the rules means I try my best to follow the recommendations from my car manufacturer and take my car in for regular check-ups. Last week I did my thing and had my oil changed and tires rotated in a timely fashion. Using my coupon, I got out with a $19.95 bill. I’m a firm believer in preventative medicine where my car is concerned.

So everything’s great on my car, right? Nope. Not so much. At least not as of 90 minutes ago.

I am a huge animal lover. I’ve had cats and dogs over the years and consider them members of my family. I love to go to the zoo. I drool over Internet pictures of baby tigers, hippos, or bears. And 3 times in the last year I’ve played Dog Whisperer while I’ve been out on my daily walk, finding loose (but friendly) dogs and corralling them. One was itty-bitty,  probably not even 8 pounds, so he got scooped up into my arms—even if he was a sweaty little mess on that hot July day. Another was medium size. The other I’d put in the Seriously Ginormous category (the owner told me he was 85 pounds at his last vet visit). All 3 had escaped back yards. All 3 owners expressed tremendous gratitude for me finding and notifying them about their lost pet. It made me feel great that I had done a good deed.

Then we come to today.

I wanted to get a few errands in. The new Johnny Carson biography was waiting for me at the library. I wanted to get some groceries picked up since my daughter and her boyfriend are coming for dinner tomorrow night. She wants shrimp enchiladas, and I didn’t have any shrimp on hand, much less the cream cheese, so I needed to do a quick grocery run.

Got the book. Headed toward Kroger. And that’s when disaster struck.

From out of nowhere, a loose dog appeared, running fast and furious. Right in my direction.  I swerved, cutting the wheel as tightly as I could, hoping I avoided hitting him. I did, and he galloped off. Did I jump out to track him down and play Dog Whisperer, making sure he got back to his loving family?

Nope.

Because when I swerved, I hit the curb. Fast. And hard. I mean really, really hard. So hard that it caused a flat tire. And while cruising at 5 mph to Firestone with my hazard lights blinking, I could tell my front end is all out of whack.

The wait just to have the tire looked at was between 2-3 hours. The bright side? I got in an extra 20 minute walk back to my house. I could’ve sat and read the entire Carson biography in that time in their waiting room, but I was starving, so I hoofed it home. I’ll probably hoof it back, too.

They say no good deed goes unpunished.

Even though I really hadn’t budgeted for getting my front end aligned and whatever will be done to the tire (hoping it’s a patch job and not the expense of an entire new tire, fingers crossed), I still think I did the right thing by making sure I didn’t hit that runaway dog. That little dog (with the bright yellow collar) is someone’s friend. Someone’s confidant. Someone’s reason to come home at night.

Here’s hoping he makes it back to his family.

P.S. The shrimp enchiladas are really good! Here’s the recipe:

Shrimp Enchiladas (Prep 20 / Bake 20 / 8 servings):

1 chopped medium onion

2 T olive oil

¾ to just under a pound uncooked medium shrimp

1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies

1 T chili powder

½ t salt

½ t pepper

1 pkg (8 oz) cubed cream cheese (Weight Watchers works great)

8 carb-balance flour tortillas, warmed

1 ½ c chunky salsa

1 ½ c shredded low-fat Monterey Jack cheese

Directions:

-In a large skillet sauté onion in oil till tender

-Add shrimp, green chilies, chili powder, salt, and pepper; cook 2-3 min until shrimp turn pink

-Stir in cream cheese till it melts

-Place 1/3 c shrimp mixture down the center of each tortilla

-Roll up and place seam side down in greased 9×13 baking dish

-Pour salsa over the top; sprinkle with MJ cheese

-Bake uncovered at 350 for 20-25 minutes

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November 19th – Celebrating the Gettysburg Address (and my husband!)

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November 19th is a special day to me. First and foremost, it’s my husband’s birthday. Although he’s very low-key and doesn’t make a big deal about his birthday, it’s special to me. Each year we’re together and celebrate this event becomes more precious as the years pass.

But as a former history teacher and someone who still has a passion for history, November 19th is also the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which I consider the most brilliant American speech ever given.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought the first three days in July of 1863, became the turning point of the American Civil War. The devastating loss of life and injuries to soldiers affected both sides, but the South didn’t have the population needed to replace the thousands of men lost in Pennsylvania. After this bloody battle, the Confederacy fought a defensive war, always on the run from Union forces.

President Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak at the afternoon dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the featured attraction on the bill! That honor belonged to the leading orator of the day, Edward Everett. He spoke first to the assembled crowd in a speech that clocked in at 13,607 words and lasted two hours. Everett’s speech made newspaper headlines the next day, receiving accolades for his skill and the speech’s content.

After the Marine Band played a hymn, Lincoln rose and stepped forward. He spoke only ten sentences, barely speaking two minutes. Reviews? They were mixed, at best. Yet the president’s words deeply moved Everett, who wrote to Lincoln the very next day, saying, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Personally, I like—and respect—Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address because it’s to the point. His simple language is precise, crafted for brevity, yet it flows like a magical river of honey. He captures the ideas that honor both the roots of our nation’s birth and those who gave their very lives at Gettysburg in hope the ideals of freedom would live on through their sacrifice.

Lincoln left five copies in his own handwriting of these ten sentences, each with slightly different text. He composed two of those copies before that November day at the cemetery, and both reside in the Library of Congress now. The first draft went to his personal secretary, John G. Nicolay, with the first page on White House stationery and the second on a different type of paper stock. White House assistant John Hay received the second draft, which noted the president’s handwritten changes. Both men accompanied Lincoln to Pennsylvania and witnessed him giving his brief address.

The remaining three copies Lincoln wrote out all were used in fundraising efforts to aid soldiers. These copies are displayed in the Lincoln Room in the White House, at his presidential library, and at Cornell University. The copy known as the Bliss version is what most historians refer to as the official text since it’s the only one Lincoln signed his name to.

I admire Lincoln as a man and a president, and I think November 19th is a perfect day to remember him as both. And because I love the beauty of his writing (especially in a day when most politicians do not write their own copy, much left craft it as lovingly as Abraham Lincoln did), here are his words once again:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Where Did Our Thanksgiving Really Come From?

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I’ve always thought it was a time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. Of course, being the former history teacher and current historical romance writer, I like to look back at the roots of the holiday in the US.

Most of us picture the 1621 celebration at Plymouth Plantation when we think about Thanksgiving. The settlers held a 3-day feast, with both Pilgrims and Native Americans jointly celebrating a bountiful harvest and successful growing season. Can you imagine a marathon of 3 days today, with food, football, and relatives? My scales are grateful we keep it to a single day!

But it wasn’t until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the final Thursday of November as a national holiday that Americans settled on an annual tradition of giving thanks. Poor Mr. Lincoln’s presidency was haunted by the specter of civil war, so I appreciate that he could look on the bright side and help people focus on whatever blessings their lives held.

Every president following Lincoln kept with his example of proclaiming the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving–that is, until Depression-era President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed tradition in 1939. Usually, November has four Thursdays, but this particular year it held five. FDR declared the 4th Thursday as Thanksgiving. He believed an earlier holiday would help provide a longer timeframe to sell goods before Christmas. If citizens had longer to buy more products, merchants might increase their profits–which might help America shake off the hard times of a depressed economy that had lingered for a decade.

Ironically, it wasn’t FDR’s idea to do this. He was advised by Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores chain, to try this. At the time, no one dared advertise goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving (it was considered bad taste to do that), so this would give shoppers some extra time. I’m sure those 1939 merchants and consumers would be shocked if they saw how Christmas advertising and merchandise goes up in some stores before Halloween!

Nowadays, Thanksgiving is, by law, the 4th Thursday of November. And starting in 1947, the National Turkey Federation gifts the President with 1 live turkey and 2 dressed turkeys. In 1987, President Reagan issued a presidential pardon to the live one and sent him to a petting zoo! President Bush, who entered office after Reagan, made the turkey’s pardon an annual tradition, which Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have since continued.

So what am I most thankful for as this time of year rolls around?

As a writer, I’m thankful for the trio of wonderful people who help get my stories into the hands of readers, my editor Debby Gilbert and my cover artist Ramona Lockwood, as well as my web designer Jay Fox, who pulls everything together in a cohesive manner. I’m also thankful that I have these interesting characters having conversations in my head that help me capture and create their stories. And definitely ecstatic that the Internet makes my research so easy to do.

As an individual, I’m blessed with a terrific, thoughtful, loving family. I have my health. I live in a great town and have wonderful friends who enrich my life.

As an American, I’m grateful for living in a country with so many freedoms–and especially grateful for those who protect those freedoms.

So here’s to a month of reflecting on what blessings are in my life and looking forward to the traditions of Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I’m talking about you, pumpkin pie, and plenty of football!

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Bingeing . . . It’s the New American Addiction

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When most people hear the word bingeing, certain images come to mind. It might be some poor girl scarfing down everything in her refrigerator and freezer, only to bow before the Porcelain God soon after and return it all in liquid form. Or maybe pictures of drunken college students in a bar form, with one lucky (?) person downing 21 Jello shots in honor of reaching adulthood.

But food and drink bingeing are so passé.

The new bingeing has everything to do with visual media—in this case—watching. From empty nesters with time on their hands to college freshmen who just think they have time on their hands (and haven’t learned how to study), the new American pastime is gorging (via Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Hulu, or Showtime on Demand, to name a few) on series TV. Everything from Newsday to the AARP is making recommendations on what to binge view.

But just like a great book with cliffhanger chapters where you simply have to turn that page, people are now doing the same with binge-watching on their TV sets, iPads, or laptops.

I became familiar with this several years ago when I recommended to a friend that she and her husband would enjoy 24. Every week my family followed the adventures of Jack Bauer as he found new ways to save our dismal world, losing a little bit of his humanity by the end of each “day.” Sometimes it was torture to have to wait until the next week to find out what would happen. Boxed sets of TV shows were just started to be the rage and since our 2-week Christmas break from teaching was coming up, my friend said she might just give 24 a try.

We returned to school after our vacation, and she was hooked! They had watched not just a few episodes of the 1st season, but they’d devoured Seasons 2 & 3, as well. In thinking about how many hours they spent with Jack & Chloe, I wondered how they’d had time to sleep—much less open presents and visit with relatives. Yes, an addiction had been born.

When Game of Thrones started, I was eager to see how HBO would bring this series of books alive for the small screen. Not my husband. He had zero interest (even though I told him every week he was missing out on incredible TV). After the 1st season ended, he must’ve been bored or couldn’t sleep or wasn’t thinking clearly . . . because he went to HBO on Demand and called up that 1st grab you by the seat of your pants episode until you freaked out. He not only watched it, but he FINISHED the entire 1st season within 3 days! Now we faithfully watch Game of Thrones together, and I try my best to keep the smug “told ya so” look off my face.

He also decided to binge on Breaking Bad when AMC re-ran every season leading up to this last one. With it being summer and not as much on TV, he was watching 2 & 3 shows a night, trying to get caught up and become part of the national phenomenon before the final season began airing. He made it, then had to agonizingly wait each week for a single episode until the sounds of Badfinger’s Baby Blue played in the gripping finale.

My only binge experience has been with The Vampire Diaries. I’ve always been fascinated with vampires, long before pop culture climbed aboard the speeding freight train, but this series came on at a time when I was really busy and just couldn’t start a new TV show.

Until my daughter bought the 1st 3 seasons and started watching them. She kept telling me it was the most amazing show. She loaned me Season 1, and . . . so it began. I put everything on hold for this love triangle in Mystic Falls. The 1st 6 shows? Those writers crammed so much in, I thought it was an entire season’s worth of drama. And since in bingeing you have no commercials, I could watch an episode in about 40 minutes. Suddenly, I was watching 2, 3, 4 a day. I couldn’t get enough of the Salvatore brothers (Team Damon!) and sweet Elena, caught in the middle of them. It was intriguing, interesting, frightening, maddening fun.

I’m happy to report I caught up on those 3 seasons in binge-worthy record time, then began watching Season 4, which had stacked up on the Tivo. Once again, I could zip through commercials because it was on the DVR.

But that’s where the frustration began. I finished everything there . . . then I HAD TO WAIT FOR THE NEXT SHOW TO COME ON! TVD always ends on a cliffhanger, like any good serialized show should, and it was torture waiting for the next one to come on. Even worse, the show would take a break due to holidays, so sometimes I might have to wait 3 WEEKS before an episode appeared. Not good, people. Not good at all. At least this season I’m slightly mollified because not only do I get my Thursday night dose of TVD, but the producers have been quite cooperative and scheduled the spin-off, The Originals, on Tuesdays for me and my viewing pleasure.

My daughter is now bingeing on Scandal and Homeland, 2 shows I’ve recommended for her as absolute, must-see TV. Other popular and binge-worthy series I’ve heard people gobbling down are Firefly, Downton Abbey, Lost, Justified, In Treatment, Ray Donovan, and even older mini-series such as John Adams, Band of Brothers, and Rome. Even series such as The Sopranos, In Treatment, MI:5, and Torchwood are seeing new life and gaining new fans through . . . bingeing.

And me? I recently signed up for Amazon Prime and have started streaming Friday Night Lights. At least this kind of bingeing has no calories!

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Interview at My Nook, Books, & More

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I had a lovely visit today with Kathy from My Nook, Books, & More. Here is our interview.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a movie buff who loves everything from The Usual Suspects to Pretty Woman. I live to eat dark chocolate and wish instead of a Starbucks on every corner that it would be a gelato stand instead. My favorite place I’ve visited is The Tower of London. I drove a little Mazda convertible for 12 years and looked awfully good behind the wheel until a Texas hailstorm pummeled it into oblivion. I walk almost every morning, no matter what the weather, and I prefer texting to talking on the phone.

Did you always want to be an author?

I think in the secret recesses of my mind, I believed I’d be an author one day. For almost six years I was an only child with a lively imagination, so I constantly made up stories for my dolls and stuffed animals to perform. Once I could read and write, I scribbled stories that I’d have my friends act out. I wrote a novel in college and thought when I graduated that I’d teach by day and write by night. Hah! A few things got in the way of that–lesson plans, grading, parent conferences, meetings. Then I took on grad school while teaching and got married and had my daughter. Life definitely got in the way of trying to be an author. So bit by bit, I began carving out time to start capturing the stories in my head and got myself into a critique group. When the time was right in my life, I pursued being published. Nowadays? I feel I’m living my dream.

What made you choose to write a romance?

Although I love to read in many genres, writing romance is the most rewarding. I get to tell wonderful stories and have a hero and heroine do the best thing in life–fall in love. They overcome all kinds of obstacles and odds, and I get to gift them with their very own happily-ever-after. Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face!

Is there another genre you would want to write for?

If I could come up with a great idea, I’d love to try my hand one day at a thriller with historical elements. I enjoy authors such as Steve Berry or Brad Meltzer and how they create a fantastic story that gallops at warp-speed and incorporates tidbits of history that become integral to the plot.

Please tell us about your writing process.

I start with choosing names for my hero and heroine. Names convey meaning, so I have to have their names in place before anything else occurs. Their physical appearance follows. In my mind, a Jane is very different looking from a Janet! Then once I see them in my mind, I begin creating their personalities, character traits, and back story. Once I fully flesh all this out, then I turn to plot and conflict.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Write. Write more. And keep writing! It’s important to write on a regular basis and give yourself permission to write junk. You can always go back and add to it, delete from it, revise it, ramp it up–whatever! But you can’t do any of those things if you haven’t gotten anything down on paper. Also, I advise going to conferences and attending workshops. You can learn so much about the craft and also meet some wonderful people there . . . who just happen to be fellow writers!

Describe Outlaw Muse in a tweet (140 characters or less)

A hero prevents a stranger’s execution and flees with her, finding love and a muse for his writing as he proves her innocence.

What was your inspiration for Outlaw Muse?

I did some research about the Orphan Trains to share with my classes, and it spurred the idea for Serena and her twin brother to be on one of these trains. They’re separated during the selection process, and she is determined to find him. I also spent time reading about cattle drives, and my hero Daman comes to the American West and rides on a cattle trail. Their lives intersect near one of the railheads, a town where a cattle drive comes to an end and the cattle are shipped by rail to Northern markets.

This novel is set in the American Old West, did you face any challenges (research, historical, etc.) when writing this novel?

I’d already taught about this time in history for several years, so I was quite familiar with it. With the Internet, it’s so much easier to find information. At my fingertips I can see maps, tour museum exhibits, find historical letters, and even graphs on how many cattle survived on the trail and what price they would bring in upon arrival.  The biggest challenge isn’t research-driven at all. It’s trying to corral my characters and get them to do what I want them to do. Many times I have ideas of what should happen, but they start venturing off on paths and forging their own trail! I have to rush to catch up so I won’t get left behind.

Your biography states medieval times is another favorite era of yours. So if you were given a time machine and can only choose one era, which would it be and why?

That’s a great question, Kathy! It reminds me of Timeline, a book (and subsequent movie) by Michael Crichton. The members of an archaeological dig wind up going back in history for six hours to a day where a medieval battle will occur, right on the site of their dig. Just about everything you can imagine could go wrong does, especially with a language barrier. Maybe because I’ve read and seen that, my safer choice would be to visit our own American West. I think there’s just something romantic about the era. The people who moved from the confines of the urban cities at that time to the wide frontier really blazed a new trail and new way of life. They were risk takers and adventurers and had a true spirit and love of life about them. I’d like to be a part of that . . . for a limited time, of course. I think after a week I’d miss my hot showers and central heat and air and iPhone!

What are you currently working on?

Right now my work-in-progress is another Western. I’ve created a Pinkerton detective guarding an opera diva who’s come to Denver to sing in their great opera house, and they’ll travel to other cities. Many people don’t realize the West was full of opera houses (Salt Lake City and San Francisco, for example) where opera companies played. They also hosted touring theatre groups and vaudeville shows. Along the way, the Pinkerton meets a Yankee heiress traveling to California, and the sparks fly!

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

I think I’ve probably over-shared, Kathy! I do want to thank you for hosting me. I look forward to interacting with your site’s readers and telling them a little more about Outlaw Muse.

 

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Putting the History into Historical Romance

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Here’s a guest post I did for The Reading Cafe. They are true book lovers, and I cherish their friendship:

I’ll admit it. I’m a nerd. I was the girl who liked school. Really liked it. The priority for most kids on a school day is to see their friends—then think (or worry) about school stuff. I loved seeing my friends, but I really enjoyed learning. And nothing fascinated me more than history.

I soaked up all the fun stuff, especially about US presidents. Did you know that Grant got a speeding ticket for racing his horse and buggy too fast down the streets of Washington, D.C.? Or that Taft’s 300+ pounds didn’t fit inside the White House bathtub, so they installed a larger one!

And Garfield could write the same words in Latin with one hand and Greek with the other . . . at the same time. Naturally, I also learned about political history and economic policies and felt a thrill when I connected those things to the big picture.

I realized my first dream when I became a history teacher (bet you didn’t see that one coming!). I loved watching documentaries or scouring biographies to look for interesting tidbits to share with my students that would help bring history alive to hormonal, self-centered teens.

And when I came up for air from all of the grading and lesson planning and parent conferences, I learned by reading historical romances that I could have my cake and eat it, too. Historicals not only told great love stories in long-ago places, but I actually learned a few things as I read (and sighed and lusted after the hero).

Writing my own historical romances, I wanted to bring that air of verisimilitude to my novels – but I don’t want to preach to my readers and insert dry, boring facts simply because it’s historical romance. My goal is to integrate facts from the past and let them add depth and texture to an interesting plot and great romance.

Researching for my novels is a pleasure. Sometimes I have to limit my research time because I get so caught up in it—and my editor is waiting for a book—so I need to put in the writing time.

I’ve read biographies and history books, along with newspapers. Watched documentaries. Studied old photographs online. Read letters. Looked at maps. Found brochures. Gone to museums. Research opportunities are endless and all around if you’re willing to dig deeply and utilize a variety of sources.

For my October release, Outlaw Muse, I spent time reading about the orphan trains that took children from the ages of 5-18 out west to start a new life. I found emigration rosters with children’s names and ages and pamphlets about foster care for these orphans, along with photographs of them, their faces both hopeful and fearful at the same time. I incorporated bits and pieces of this as my heroine and her twin brother ride the Orphan Train to Missouri as children, hoping to be adopted by a wonderful set of parents and find a stable family life.

While researching aspects for A Game of Chance, my January 2014 release, I had to understand different poker hands since my hero is an ace gambler. About the only thing I knew about poker hands came from playing Yahtzee with my daughter when she was young. I learned the difference between a flush (any five cards of the same suit) and a royal flush (an ace-high straight of the same suit and the rarest hand in poker). I also studied maps of San Francisco in the 1870s to learn where the best-known gaming halls were located. I wrote about the death of  one character, so I even researched cemeteries to see where she might be buried.

For A Change of Plans (coming sometime in 2014), my heroine Maggie is a dime novelist. I found all kinds of facts about dime novels and the publishing world at that time. Maggie writes under a man’s pen name, as many women of that era did. She wants to write a novel about cowboys on the cattle trail and interviews my hero Ben, fresh off a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. Through their dialogue, I’m able to drop several interesting tidbits about what it’s like to be a cowboy riding along the ChisholmTrail.

History is full of untold stories, and I mine research and treasure it as a Forty-Niner might a precious gold nugget, for those nuggets help bring life to my characters and plot!

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I Only Get Lucky When I Howl At The Moon

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Some people are born lucky. Some acquire luck.

Then there are those of us like me . . . The Unlucky.

Yes, I pick the wrong line to check out at Target. Always choose the wrong line at the bank (whether I’m walking in or driving through). I catch every light. I buy lottery tickets that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. I lose at cards and board games and Sweet 16 pools.

But one time in my life, I won something. All because I howled at the moon.

I’ve never been able to resist when a DJ says, “Be the 10th caller.” I don’t care if he’s offering cash, concert tickets, a free T-shirt from the station, a 4-pack to Six Flags . . . you name it. I want it. I’m all about the freebie!

That was especially true when I was a poor college student. You know, scraping by the best I could. A couple of times even selling a textbook (or two) back early just to get some much-needed cash. So when the DJ said call now, I did.

The trouble was–I didn’t know what I was calling in to win.

I’d just come in from a pep rally and bonfire for my college team. It was the week of Halloween, which is my birthday, so I was in a great mood. I’d had fun with my friends at the gathering, I’d aced a test that day, and life was good. I was about to be 20. NOT a teenager anymore! So when I flipped on my radio and heard “So be the 13th caller,” I automatically started dialing. I did it all the time. I knew I wouldn’t win, but it’s hard to break old habits.

When I didn’t get the usual busy signal and heard the ringing, my hopes rose. Slightly. I’d gotten through other times, only to be a call or two away from being the actual winner. But then the DJ answered and said, “YOU’RE THE 13TH CALLER!” (in that DJ-tone they have), I about fainted away. He told me hold on the line. My heart fluttered wildly. I was so stunned, I didn’t even call out for my roommates to come in and hear my moment of victory.

Then he clicked back on, asked me my name, where I was from, and told me I’d WON THE CONCERT TICKETS!!! Of course, I had no idea what tickets since I’d missed that part, but I showed the proper enthusiasm and screamed and squealed as all good radio winners should.

Oh, yeah . . . I’d also missed the other part before I’d tuned in. There was a catch to being the winner. He told me the tickets were mine. All I had to do–in honor of Halloween–was howl at the moon. Me. Shy, retiring, and now unlucky me, having to totally embarrass myself and behave like an idiot on a Friday night with who knows how many people were listening. I tried to get out of it. Told him I saved my howls for the night of Halloween alone. But he wasn’t buying it. In order to win, I had to howl at the moon. So I did. With enthusiasm and energy and volume to spare. Hey, I had to go all out. I wanted those tickets!

He cackled like a maniac. I probably turned redder than a fire truck. He told me I was a great sport and to stay on the line. He put a song on and came back, getting my personal info and letting me know where to pick up the tickets at the station. By then, my roommates had slipped in, muffling giggles. They were the only witnesses to my total humiliation. Or so I thought.

Yes, for over a week, I ran into all kinds of people who’d heard me howl at the moon on KRZI. Even people I didn’t know would stop me as I was walking to class and comment about it. Total mortification. Being famous for a dumb stunt that was played multiple times over the next week.

I did go to the concert and had a lot of fun. But nowadays? I make sure I’ve heard everything that DJ says before I even think about picking up my phone.

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I Don’t Do Orange . . . Unless It’s October

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I hate the color orange.

Okay, maybe hate is too strong, but I really, really dislike orange. A lot.

I think it probably started with baby aspirin and associating memories of that yucky orange taste and color with being sick. And I positively couldn’t stand orange Kool-Aid. I was mad for grape and strawberry, but orange just tasted icky. I remember going to a birthday party when I was about 4 or 5. I loved the cake, but when the hosting mom tried to press a plastic cup of orange Kool-Aid on me after I’d refused politely several times, I finally yelled at her and walked away. Of course, I got in trouble, but how do you explain to your own mom a strong aversion to anything orange?

I’ve had my colors “done” and taken numerous quizzes to see what shades I look best in. I’m a summer or a cool, which means I look better in pastels (blush, mint green, sky blue) or hues of blue and purple (think  fuchsia, navy, violet). But put me in anything orange, from a T-shirt to sweater to a silk blouse? My gosh, zombies from The Walking Dead look better than the reflection of a washed-out me in the mirror.

But . . . give me October, and then orange is a whole ‘nother ball game.

My birthday is on Halloween, so I’m partial to October to begin with. Add to it that fall is my absolute favorite season, and you can see why I cheer for October to arrive each year with its cooler temps and building a fire at night and getting to finally wear clothes for a different season. And with October comes . . . pumpkins!

I love to see clusters of pumpkins on a porch, in a flowerbed, or as I pass a local pumpkin patch. The orange of a pumpkin seems so vibrant and friendly. Same thing when I’m out walking. As the leaves begin to change, I’m attracted to the fiery orange that’s alive against a backdrop of blue skies.

By October, football is in full swing, and that means chips and dips are always on the menu at my house. Homemade queso (mixing Rotel tomatoes with orange-yellow Velveeta) produces something just this side of paradise. Add in some sausage and/or mushrooms? Hey, baby – you’ve got a meal! (Even if it is orange in color)

And no matter how much queso I’ve downed, there’s always room for that special October delight – a pumpkin spiced latte at Starbucks. People live for the day when Starbucks puts it back on the menu.

So I’m enjoying orange. Just for the month of October. In fact, I think I’ll head out now for my own pumpkin spiced latte!

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The Long & Short of Lauren Linwood

I did a guest interview with Long & Short Reviews today, and they asked some incredible questions. I think my favorite one is what I would want to have with me on a deserted island! I also share what pen name I almost chose ImageSee what you think:

How long have you been writing?

If pen and paper had been provided to me in the womb, I’m sure I would’ve started then and there. Instead, I had to wait to come out and learn language and how to grip a pen before I started expressing myself (and getting down all the voices and action in my head) on paper.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

Write. Write some more. And keep on writing! To become skilled at anything takes practice, and writing is no exception. Don’t be afraid to put something down on the page. It’s better to give yourself permission to write poorly than to wring your hands and not capture anything at all. Once you’ve got the words down—a paragraph, a scene, a chapter—you can rework it, revise it, reshape it. The sky’s the limit! But it all boils down to taking that first giant leap of faith and being brave enough to write.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Character is the key component. If readers don’t like and/or relate to my hero and heroine, they won’t continue reading—and I wouldn’t blame them. Next, the plot has to be interesting, exciting, and loaded with both internal and external conflict. The more curveballs you can throw out, the better. If a reader is expecting a zig, do a double zag—followed by a dancing zig for good measure. The last crucial element is dialogue. Readers don’t want the author to tell them everything. They want to see things unfold and hear it “live” for themselves. Dialogue can reveal so much about the characters, as well as let those sparks fly between the hero and heroine!

How do you develop your plot and characters?

Character always comes first with me. I have to hit on the right names for my hero and heroine before anything. From there, I begin to see them physically take shape in my mind. After that, their personalities start speaking to me. Qualities follow. Are they loyal? Stubborn? Creative? Assertive? Candid? Timid?

Once I have created well-rounded characters, I turn to the plot. Sometimes I springboard off a topic I’ve read about, such as the orphan trains in Outlaw Muse or the way San Francisco grew as a result of the Gold Rush in A Game of Chance. A few times I’ve hit upon an occupation and built a story around that. In Music For My Soul, I thought about troubadours in England always being men and questioned, “What if my heroine was the only woman troubadour in the land?” For A Change of Plans, I came up with a dime novelist. The twist? She’s a woman writing under a man’s name. And she lives in New York City! She decides to head west to experience first-hand everything she’s writing about.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to tell us about?

I’m doing final edits on A Game of Chance, which will be released in January 2014. Everyone’s heard the phrase “separated at birth.” I decided to take that literally. The hero’s mother gives birth to a boy, and the father takes off with the baby for greedy reasons, leaving her on her deathbed. Even the midwife is surprised when another boy is born just minutes before she dies. The twins meet years later in San Francisco, and neither knows the other exists.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

When I first started writing, I had to place a fresh piece of gum in my mouth every time I sat down to write. I’d chomp the life out of it as my fingers banged away on the keys. One day I reached into the drawer next to my writing chair, and . . .  no gum! I was already all settled in, though, and I determined I would not let the lack of a little five calorie stick of cinnamon keep me from the scene dancing through my head. So that broke my one quirk. I don’t have to chew gum when I write nowadays, but I know to keep a pack in that drawer just in case I get frustrated and need to toss a piece in.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Besides reading and watching movies or sports, my favorite activity is walking. I walk 4-5 miles most mornings. It is my time. Not only does it help keep me in shape, but it’s the greatest stress reliever in the world. I can think, pray, listen to music, and daydream (within reason—I’m aware enough not to walk mindlessly out into traffic!). If I’m feeling a little blue, it’s the perfect way to swing my mood in the right direction. Sometimes I’ll plot new scenes or think over what I’ve written the day before, but mostly I am chilling and enjoying Me time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I started out wanting to be a teacher in elementary school. By high school, I decided to be a journalist and set the world on fire. Teaching won out in college, so I switched my major and went on to teach history and English in both middle school and high school.

If you were stranded on a desert island and were only allowed to have five modern conveniences with you, what would they be?

Hah! This reminds of the time my daughter was in kindergarten and at Thanksgiving time, her teacher had them draw what they were most thankful for and get up and tell the class about it. All the other kids were thankful for their parents, their pets, stuffed animals, a swimming pool, Disney World—except for my child. She was thankful (at age 5) for flush toilets. Oh, she is SO my kid! With that in mind, my list would include (in no particular order):

1. A flush toilet (and the accompanying TP, without question)

2. Air conditioning (hey, islands can get HOT by mid-afternoon)

3. My Kindle Fire (cheating again – not only would I have my books and magazines, but I could email!

Wait, maybe I should say iPhone here – still has my Kindle app, plus email, Internet, FB, my music)

4. A shower stall with hot and cold water (Don’t tell me I could swim in the ocean – I’ll do that a lot, but I want to feel really clean and not salty and grimy after I get out)

5. A refrigerator (I’ll eventually learn to build a fire and cook stuff, so I’ll pass on a microwave for now)

Do you use a pen name? If so, how did you come up with it?

My last name is hard to pronounce, so I decided to go with a pen name. I wanted to use “Diana Leigh” since that’s the name my mom wanted to name me. When she woke up after the delivery and they brought me to her, she told the nurse that I couldn’t be her baby because her baby was named Diana Leigh. After checking hospital bracelets and locating my dad, he confessed that he’d changed the game plan and named me something else!

So I thought Diana Leigh would be a wonderful tribute to my mom. I Googled it and found that Diana Leigh is a jazz vocalist with a strong Internet presence. As a new author, I didn’t want to start my career competing over a name, so I wound up going with Lauren Linwood. I love alliteration and Googling that name, the only thing popping up was Linwood, NJ. Try Googling me now. You’ll find Lauren Linwood comes up on my website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Do you listen to music while writing?

There’s absolutely no way I could ever listen to music and write. When I’m writing, I’m lost in the world I’ve created and am running a movie in my head, seeing everything and trying to capture it as quickly as possible. Music playing would yank me hard from that world into the real world. I like being in La-La Writing Land! Besides, if a song is playing, I’ll either try to sing along aloud or in my head. Once again, that would keep me from focusing on my people and what mischief they’re up to. Final answer: no music!

What would we find under your bed?

NOT dust bunnies, thank you very much. That makes me sound like some anal perfectionist housekeeper type, and that’s so far from the truth that everyone who knows me has now fallen to the floor, laughing so hysterically hard that they can’t catch a breath. Actually, I have this wonderful king-size bed that has drawers for storage underneath—so no lost shoes, unfinished manuscripts, or pesky dust bunnies can live under there. My two drawers consist of T-shirts on the right and workout pants on the left (sweats, yoga pants, etc.). Who only knows what’s in my husband’s two drawers? That’s his domain, and I’ll plead the 5th.

Say your publisher has offered to fly you anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book, where would you most likely want to go?

Since I write historical romance, I would cheat a little. She couldn’t offer to fly me anywhere. That sounds singular to me. I would insist on flying where I could research castles. So I’d have to start in Ireland, make my way over to Great Britain, cross the English Channel, and I’d continue on—France, Spain, Germany, Romania, etc. You know—the world tour! By the time I “finished” my research, I’d need a new passport because my pages would be filled with so many stamps.

Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, do you ever consider straying outside your genre?

So far, I’ve only published two historical romances and have two more coming out in 2014. I’ve tried my hand at contemporary and romantic suspense, but I haven’t shared those efforts with my editor yet.

If I ever stepped away from romance, I would love to write bite-your-nails, hang-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thrillers. I enjoy thriller authors such as Jeff Abbott, Brad Meltzer, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, and Steve Berry. If I could come up with a terrific plot and some compelling characters, I’d like to give that genre a shot one day.

What is something that you absolutely can’t live without?

This will sound pretty trite, but I can’t get through a day without dark chocolate. Sign me up with the AA for dark chocoholics if you must, but I don’t feel myself if I haven’t had some dark chocolate every day. I flew to Virginia in May to stay with my niece and nephew while my sister had to be out of the country. Yup, she had a bag of Dove chocolates waiting for me. I went to visit my best friend in Idaho this summer. She had a bag calling my name. And yes, I felt obligated to finish the bag during my visit since they were so hospitable to my needs.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you do? What would you ask them?

I’d hang out with Uncle Stevie—AKA Stephen King. I’ve always admired how he’s written so many books with such a wide variety of plots and characters. When he’s contributed lists to Entertainment Weekly regarding his favorite books published that particular year or songs he’s enjoyed or movies he’s liked, I think to myself, “Wow. He’s pretty normal for a famous person. And we like a lot of the same things. I’ll bet we’d have a great time talking about all kinds of stuff.”

I’d definitely spend several hours asking him about writing. His book On Writing is one of my favorite books by an author, for authors. I’d pick his brain about the craft and what he’s learned in all his decades of writing..

If you were on the staff to have a book adapted to movie, what would you pick?

Jeffrey Archer is writing a terrific series entitled The Clifton Chronicles. So far three books have come out covering the decades of the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, with more to come. Instead of a movie, I’d love for a network to pick it up and do a book a season, similar to what HBO’s doing with Game of Thrones. To follow these families against the backdrop of historical events would be simply amazing!

What is a talent you wish you had, but don’t?

It’s a toss-up between singing and drawing/painting. Don’t get me wrong—I DO sing—just not very well. I sing in the car and when I’m cooking. Sometimes I’ll burst out in song while showering. While I almost sound tolerably passable with those acoustics, I know in my heart I’m no Kelly Clarkson.

As far as artistic ability goes, I don’t even draw a good stick person—and that’s a sad but true statement. Now I will say I’ve done one of those “painting with a twist” classes once. I actually created an interesting version of a masterpiece (which is hanging in my closet).

Favorite color?

I always was a blue girl, loving every shade from navy to cerulean to midnight blue. Then when I was pregnant, overnight I fell in love with the color red. It seemed so strong and alive, just like the very active life growing within me. To this day, I like a rich, vibrant red most of all. But a royal purple comes in as an awfully close second.

Weather: Hot or cold?

I have to go with in-between those two seasons. I adore fall—everything about it. I enjoying getting up and walking on an autumn morning that has a touch of cool in the air. I can’t wait for the leaves to change colors into a fiery rainbow of reds, yellows, and oranges. After the triple digit heat of a hot Texas summer, I’m excited to pull out sweaters and jeans and feel I have a brand-new wardrobe. On autumn nights, I love a hot cup of tea and a fire going. Don’t ever put me in charge of world weather. Not only am I fairly bossy (the former teacher in me, I suppose), but I would make every day a fall one.

Favorite place to read?

I kick back on my La-Z-Boy sofa, feet propped up in front of me, an afghan across my lap, and a strong 3-way bulb on high.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink.

I live on herbal, decaf tea! I drink it 3-4 times a day. Some of my favorites are blueberry, pomegranate, peach, and orange.

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Character Interview for Outlaw Muse

ImageHere’s an interview my characters did today on author Cheryl Yeko’s website. Even though I closed the cover on writing their story, it was fun to “hear” them talk about one other in a new light:

Tell us about the first time you saw the h/h.

Daman: I was driving my cart to return to the train in Abilene and saw a crowd gathered. Curiosity got the better of me, and I moved closer. Shock ran through me as I saw a woman with a noose about her neck, about to be executed. I knew I couldn’t abandon her to this barbaric American mob. 

Serena: I caught a glimpse of my rescuer when he yanked the hood off that Sheriff Parker placed over my head just before my execution. Of course, I was coughing and sputtering since Parker had thrown the lever to begin the hanging, and I’d already spent a few seconds swinging from the rope. After I caught my breath, I lost it again–looking into my hero’s eyes.

What drew you to him/her? 

Daman: Something in her eyes reminded me of my sister. I hadn’t been able to save Cynthia, but I refused to let this woman die. Of course, as a connoisseur of women, it didn’t hurt that she had a raven mane of hair, amber eyes, and curves all in the right places.

Serena: I sensed a deep hurt that ran through him and wanted to protect him as he had me. It surprised me to think him vulnerable because he stood over six feet and had a commanding presence, with dark chestnut hair and penetrating blue eyes.

What is your favorite thing about him/her:

Daman: Serena is beautiful inside and out, and her generous spirit has sparked my creativity once again. She makes me not only a better playwright . . . but a better man.

Serena: Daman is innately good and the most creative soul on the planet. There’s nothing he can’t do

Care to share future plans? 

Daman: I want us to travel back to England so Serena can see where I grew up and meet my brother. Of course, she’s already inspired countless ideas, so I’ll have lots of plays to write–in-between making love to her a good three or four times a day.

Serena: I want to get to know my twin brother Bill again, but most of all I want to spend every waking moment I can with the hero of my heart, my husband Daman.

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My Chat with SMP Author Shelley Wall

Why do you write?

Writing is like breathing to me. It’s a part of living. I can’t imagine not writing! For me, I almost have to ask others, “How can you NOT write?”

 What’s your favorite genre?

I’m a voracious reader of many different genres. Naturally, I love romance and read all kinds—historical, contemporary, paranormal—but I’m all about the story and characters. I find great stories everywhere—in mysteries, thrillers, and horror. Even biographies can tell a great story and are a particular favorite of mine.

Do you have a favorite author (if so, please tell us the name)?

That’s like asking if I have a favorite child! Some of my favorite authors include Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Harlan Coben, Mary Jo Putney, Julie Garwood, David Baldacci, Lee Child, Linwood Barclay, Stuart Woods, Jaqueline Winspear, Brad Meltzer, Jeff Abbott, Steve Berry, Julia Quinn, Victoria Thompson, and Diana Gabaldon. That’s just a start!

 To be successful as an author, what do you see as the main goal?

If asked, most people would think of success as being related to material wealth. For an author, that would be landing a place on The New York Times best seller list. I’ve never been driven by money, though, so for me? I view success as it’s defined by the dictionary—a favorable or desired outcome. My desire and goal in life has always been to become a published author and share all my people and their stories with others. In my eyes, I believe that makes me a success.

 What inspires you and how do you channel it when you need inspiration?

I can be inspired by fragments of a dream. Passing someone and creating a story for her in my head. By food I’ve tasted or places I’ve traveled. A song on the radio. Inspiration is all around us. Writers just have a tendency to look at the world a little differently than most people and utilize everything we see.

To channel inspiration, I usually walk at a pretty rapid pace. I find when I’m walking outside that ideas flow more easily in my head. My creativity seems heightened by the physical activity. All my little problems and distractions melt away until I’m focused on the story and people in my head.

 What advice can you give to aspiring authors?

My first advice is write, write, write—and then write some more! If you want to improve at anything, it takes practice. Next, give yourself permission to write badly. Not everything you put on the page will be super-awesome, but you must get something on that page in order to go back and revise and build and turn it into something great. I’d also suggest attending workshops or conferences whenever you can. Not only will the topics hit a wide variety that can benefit writers at all levels, but you will meet the most wonderful people. I’ve found romance writers to be the most generous people on the planet. They’ll share insights with you; they’ll make friends with you!

 What advice would you give to the youth of today (not just authors)?

Read! Read everything you can get your hands on. Reading can help you build your vocabulary, as well as expose you to all types of ideas that can challenge you. It can take you to far-off places; it can introduce you to people who inspire you, motivate you, and entertain you.

Also, if you have the chance, take every opportunity to travel. Whether it’s around the state you live in, your home country, or even beyond its borders, travel enriches your life and exposes you to many things beyond the small bubble of the world you live in.

What’s on your bucket list?

Learn Italian. Travel to Ireland. Hit all 50 states (I’m getting there!). Attend the Kentucky Derby (in a FABULOUS hat!). Ride a horse along a beach (and then get a couples’ massage on the beach afterwards). Ride in a helicopter (preferably hovering over Maui). Parasail. Swim with dolphins. But #1 had always been publish a book. SO glad I’ve been able to check that dream wish off the list!

What would you like people to know about you?

I love to walk and do yoga. I think laughter is the best medicine invented. I watch too many House Hunters and fritter away too much time on Pinterest. I believe dark chocolate (preferably with a glass of wine) will solve just about any problem. I love a good book or movie, rain, and sipping hot tea beside my husband every night.

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Guesting with Author Rachel Brimble

Hi Lauren! It’s great to have you here and I’m looking forward to learning more about you, your writing and your latest release 🙂 Let’s get started with my questions!

 1)   Did you set any goals for 2013?
 
I met my editor Debby Gilbert at the Lone Star Conference in October 2012. She enjoyed my pitch for Music For My Soul and asked for the complete manuscript (WOO-HOO!). Two weeks later, I had a contract in hand, and my debut romance came out in May 2013.
 
I decided to shoot big and stay positive, so my New Year’s resolution was to sell a second manuscript during 2013 and hope it would be published the same year.
 
Flash-forward to today? Not only is Outlaw Muse an October 2013 release, but A Game of Chance will be released in January 2014 AND I sold A Change of Plans, as well. To see my goal met and then exceed my wildest expectations? Priceless!
 
2)   Who or what has been your biggest influence as a writer?
 
Surprisingly enough for a romance writer to say, but Stephen King has made the biggest impact on my writing. I’ve always admired how he puts ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and I’ve tried to emulate that in my own stories.
 
I also learned more than I can say from his non-fiction work On Writing. Google “On Writing and quotes” sometime. The gems of writing wisdom that pop up are only the tip of the iceberg as far as his great advice goes. I think this book should have a prominent place on every writer’s shelf.
 
3)   How long does it take you to write a 50,000-60,000 word manuscript?
 
         Every book has been a different experience for me. I’ve written
         from 70,000-100,000 words. Once when I was on fire I had a first draft
         in three months and revisions done a month after that. At the same time, I’ve
         started a manuscript and hit a wall, tucked it away on a flash drive, and then
         pulled it out months or a couple of years later. And finished it.
 
4)   Tease us with a blurb/short excerpt:Outlaw Muse

 
Separated from her twin during the Orphan Train selection, schoolmarm Serena Sullivan searched for her brother Bill over fifteen years. Just as she gets a lead on his whereabouts, she is railroaded by a crooked sheriff and set to hang for the murder of the sheriff’s best friend.
 
English playwright Daman Rutledge has come to the American West on business for his brother when he witnesses a woman about to be executed. On impulse he rescues the beautiful stranger and goes on the run with her across the Kansas prairie. Along the way Daman finds the muse he’s been missing and loses his heart to the raven-haired beauty with haunting amber eyes.
 
As they try to escape the long arm of the law, Daman seeks to prove Serena’s innocence before it’s too late. They find love—and the truth—on a journey that changes their lives.
5)   Tell us about a new author you’ve recently discovered
 
I read everything from romance to mysteries to thrillers. I think it’s
important to read outside the genre you write in, not only to see what
other authors are up to, but simply to discover the ways great stories
can be told.
 
I stumbled across a fellow Texas author not too long ago by the name of Jeff Abbott. I raced through all three of his Sam Capra novels and hope he’ll keep this series going forever. I love reading a series because you get such great character development over a long period of time. I also like how there can be varying story arcs; some are completed within that book, while others play out over several installments. Sam is a great hero. He doesn’t have time for romance in his life, but I’m hoping down the line he’ll get a chance to create a lasting relationship with the right woman (amidst the bullets, car chases, deaths, and fight or flight scenarios).
 
6)   Name two romances you’ve read more than once
 
         Julie Garwood’s The Bride and The Wedding
         Johanna Lindsey’s Tender is the Storm
 
7)   Tell us about your first car
 
         His name was Robby (I always name my cars. I’ve driven everything from  Sid Civic to Karl
         Convertible.). Robby was a reddish-orange, used Chevy    
         Vega. He didn’t last long (that little old lady who only drove him to church
         on Sundays was a big old lie!), but I have fond memories of him. That
         wonderful feeling of independence and freedom you get when you own your
         first car is simply perfection
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