Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writing Romance in the MeToo Era

I have to say the headlines, especially in the last couple of weeks, have impacted me quite a bit, to the point where I questioned the wisdom of trying to write romance in a fractured world. I've heard several other romance writers express the same frustration, the same crippling sense of helplessness in a world of male entitlement that makes bringing two people together a challenge. I want to share with you what one of my friends told me, something that has helped me move forward. She put it so eloquently, I had to share.

"In contemporary books with strong female characters like yours, it's important to give women hope and an escape from the news... Imagine how sad our world would be if women gave up on the hope of a beautiful romance in their lives.  Your last book ... showed a woman surviving what so many women go through and coming out stronger on the other side with the help of a man who truly loves her. There will always be ups and downs in every romance, be it fictional or true life, but ... I think it's important to write those stories. I hate to see a woman's choice become all or nothing."
 Thanks, Jennifer. Me Too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The perfect apple

A couple of years ago, my son took us to an apple orchard in Wisconsin. It's just a small place, not like some of the mega-farms and orchards where they have mini-carnivals and a shop full of overpriced accouterments and mixes and what-have-yous. They sell apples, and make cider donuts, and have other apple related food -- and yes, they have a couple of the mixes and what-have-yous. I sampled some of their apples and bought some. Nice texture (not chewy or mealy), nice flavor (not too tart, not too sweet but definitely flavor). 

This year, on an excursion north, DH and I stopped at the orchard again and I got more apples, and I remembered why I liked them so much. The problem is I only bought one pound (for $1.00 a pound!). I checked the grocery stores around my house for that variety and came up short, so I went to our local pumpkin farm and bought a peck of apples I thought would be similar in taste. BOY was I wrong. Nevertheless, I was eating them. Then I stopped at a grocery store I don't frequent very often and discovered - MY APPLES! So I bought three pounds (for $2.49 a pound). Brought them home and they were .... mealy. More disappointment.

Last weekend, we took another excursion north and stopped at the orchard. Oh wait. I already have a peck from the pumpkin farm and three pounds from the grocery. (counting on my fingers - how many apples is that?) But these are the GOOD apples. So now what do I do? I bought a five-pound bag. 

I've been eating the apples from the orchard first (obviously), but I don't want to waste the others. So I started looking up recipes and found one for apple rings. Perfect for the chewy apples, I'm thinking (and I was right!) So I thought I'd share the recipe with all of you!  Happy October - happy autumn!

Spiced Apple Rings

Apples (My baking sheet fits about two apples, so you can plan accordingly for how many you want to make)
2 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves

Preheat oven to 200 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Wash and core the apples, slice them thin and place them in a single layer on the baking sheet (you might prefer to eat the ends raw rather than bake them).

Mix the spices together and sprinkle over the apples (I use an empty salt shaker to keep the spice mix). 

Bake the chips for an hour and a half. (Your house is going to smell heavenly while they're baking!). Remove them from the oven and flip them to the other side, sprinkle some more, and bake for another hour (up to an hour and a half). Check the crispiness for how you prefer them and cook them longer or turn the oven off. Leave the apples in the oven while it cools down. That allows them to get crunchier.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

  A | BN | iB | K     A | BN | iB | K  

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Life in the Big City - Chicago

As part of the day job, I frequently make trips into The Big City of Chicago. Some people love the city, and I'll admit, there are days I look forward to the adventure, but it's a long commute, and most days, its "the Big City." I'm not a city sort of person. Give me the wide open spaces. With that being said, there are lots of things you see in the city that you don't see in the suburbs or those wide open spaces.

Frequently, man-on-the-street marketers hang around the train stations at rush hour handing out free
samples. Most recently, they handed me two milk chocolate Lindor balls. How can you go wrong with chocolate? And Lindt? My Favorite! Those fine people started my day off with a smile.

As I continued my trek over the bridge that crosses the Chicago River, I encountered a busker playing bagpipes. I didn't stop to take a picture because, contrary to the picture I'm showing you here, he was NOT wearing a kilt or any sort of traditional garb (or blowing flames from his pipes), but he was very good, and he was playing Scotland The Brave. With chocolates in hand, he made me smile and want to cry out "Wha-Hae!" (but again, I didn't.)


There are often buskers, from the Bucket Boys who pay plastic buckets like drums, to violinists, to saxophones to trumpets and beyond. I have yet to hear one that isn't impressive. There are festivals and open-air markets, and you never know who you might see walking the streets. These are the things that make going to the city an experience, things that make you smile rather than clutching your belongings tightly and putting your head down.

At the end of my day, I frequently encounter a woman sitting on the bridge reading a book. There are also veterans outside the train stations, down on their luck, many of them missing limbs. They are a stark reminder that we have much to do to help those in need.

The city. An adventure any day of the week. I may not be a "city person," but I am proud to call Chicago and the surrounding area my home.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Writing as Therapy

One of the reasons I started my writing journey is because it was cathartic. I could escape from life for short spans of time and let my imagination run wild. Make up an alternate reality. There were years when I didn't write, when I was exploring who I was going to become when I finally grew up, but I always came back to writing. It has always been a part of me.

On the flip side, there were times I couldn't write, during those peak stress times in life. Some of the more popular stressors - Buying a house. Changing jobs. Death. Getting married/divorced. The birth of a child.

There's a delicate balance. While I often use writing as stress relief - an escape from the pressures and stress of the day job, I have discovered there are certain stresses that require a different outlet. Like walking, or exercise. Some distractions demand more "head space," which crowds out the imagination required to write. This is where discipline kicks in.

As an author, I try to write every day. Create habits. It's a job, and it needs to be done. There are days when it's impossible to write depending on where life decides to insert itself into my schedule, and like exercise or sports, when you don't do something regularly, you get "out of shape." The key is to not get too lazy, to get back into the routine as quickly as possible.

So what's this all about? DH and I have been trying to buy a new house, and I've been through a week of offers and counteroffers and -- hello? -- buying a house is a major life stressor. I'm also trying to write the final Epitaph installment, a book I have a thin outline sketch for but I can't seem to get off the proverbial runway. I have all the information I need to dive him and write like a fiend, but the words aren't working the way they're supposed to! Every book has its idiosyncrasies. I didn't think I'd finish THE SCULPTOR as quickly as I did, but those words practically flew from my fingers to the page. (Hey, did I mention that book released yesterday?? Do you have a copy yet? I personally think it's one of the best ones in the series.) Yes, this book will get written. Routine means I'm putting words down, even if they aren't the best words. It's okay to write crap in a first draft. I'll clean it up later, when my focus is back. The important part is to keep the discipline, not to break from the routine.

Now! In case you didn't know it, the first in the Epitaph series has been free all summer, but that's going to end soon. If you don't have a copy, now is the time to go get it! And as my final hurrah to summer, I've teamed up with a bunch of other authors of small-town steamy romances. Two lucky winners can win a HUGE collection of books (my contribution is THE SELKIE), and we're giving away an ereader to a grand prize winner. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you got this information in your mailbox. Enter the contest by clicking here: Good luck!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

To plot or not to plot

As an author, I've generally written by the seat of my pants, stopping only when I realize the story isn't going anywhere. I do like diving in without a direction, but even as far back as Living Canvas, I discovered there needs to be a road map. I seem to be needing one sooner in the process these days. While I still like to start out blind to get to know my characters, my companions on the journey, I need to figure out what’s going on before I write too many words. 

As I work on the final EPITAPH installment, I have discovered there’s no shame in plotting. I can still be amused with detours that will undoubtedly happen along the writing process. Plotting/an outline is just a general direction to travel, not the only road to get there! 

Some authors (myself included) like to be surprised while we're writing by an unexpected turn of events, and that can be incorporated into an outline simply by adding "something bad happens here." That leaves the road open for creativity and subconscious cues that come from the characters on the page. 

The answer to the age-old question? In my humble opinion, you can have the best of both worlds. Take along your atlas on that road trip, but be prepared for a detour or an uncharted point of interest. Those unplanned stops are generally what makes the trip the most fun.
Click here for buy links

Meanwhile, I have to tell you (cuz I'm SO EXCITED) that the penultimate EPITAPH book is coming out NEXT WEEK! Here's a link for you to buy it now so you don't forget!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Gardens and Topiaries

My latest obsession is topiaries. This from someone who definitely does NOT have a green thumb.

I'm very fortunate to have a house once inhabited by someone who knew how to garden. I've been able to plant and have success, although not nearly as much as the previous owner. With very little maintenance, I can actually grow things! I have tremendous respect for people who take the time to make their plants more beautiful. When I walk around my neighborhood, many of the yards have beautifully landscaped gardens.

With a little fresh air and sunshine, this is what my vegetable gardens look like. For a number of years, I had a strawberry patch that thrived out there, but with a couple of years where I was unable to do any gardening, even the strawberries suffered from lack of attention.

Inside, I've had *this* plant for probably 20 years. It's an ivy, and I have it creeping over my cupboards. It keeps growing, but this is what it looks like. Bare vine on one side, leaves on the other.

When I visited Disney, these sculptures were made from flowers and plants. Aren't they amazing?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tall Tales

How many people are familiar with the tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox? I grew up with these stories in the upper Midwest, but it occurs to me that to people in the lower half of the United States (or outside) he might not be as recognizable.

The legend of Paul Bunyan is a tall tale about a giant lumberjack, perhaps more well-known in the north woods. It is said the 10,000 lakes that make Minnesota famous are Paul's footsteps.

On a recent trip to spend time with relatives, we stopped at a "cook shanty" for breakfast, lumberjack style, complete with this lovely statue of Paul and his sidekick, Babe, the blue ox. It brought to mind lumberjack cartoons I used to watch on Saturday mornings when I was a kid.

In the Epitaph series, I've made several references to the Benson brothers as "built like football linemen," but in the upcoming installment, the "new girl in town" envisions Thad Benson as Paul Bunyan (as an avid reader, she has a very active imagination).

I always enjoy revisiting old legends and folklore when I write. What are some of your favorites?

Watch for the next in the Epitaph series, coming this fall.
The first five EPITAPH books