One day, ages ago, during my high school years when I majored in photography, I wanted to head out before dawn to capture the sunrise. The only one who would join me at that hour, was my beloved grandmother. We got into the car around 4:30 in the morning and headed down to the boardwalk on the South Shore of Staten Island.
It was misty and cool that morning, and the instant I took the lens cap off the camera, the lens fogged. I was disappointed that nature would interfere with my nature photography – go figure – but my grandmother suggested it could make my sunrise pictures different from those of others.
As we walked through the parking lot to the boardwalk we saw this creature lumbering along the sand. We stopped in our tracks. Silent – because, why scream? We were the only people there.
“Raccoon?” I asked in a whisper.
My grandmother snorted a knowing breath. “Rat.”
Beach rat to be precise. About the size of a raccoon.
We were closer to the boardwalk than the car at that point and who knew what was skittering unseen behind us…so we ran. RAN. Myself and my riceball of a grandmother RAN to the boardwalk, up its stairs and over to a bench, laughing the whole way in terror and at the absurdity of it all.
We sat there for a nice long time, with the cool misty air forming our words into puffy little clouds that danced and bowed before our eyes. And then the sun came up, and for those who don’t know, a sunrise is a whole lot faster than a sunset. No time to linger or sigh at the beauty, just time to click the shutter once, twice, maybe 10 times and…done.
I have only one of those pictures now. One that I deliberately trimmed to fit onto a wall clock my grandmother gave me as a gift. It’s not a good shot, by any means, but it might be my favorite of all the pictures I’ve taken through the years.
It was a beautiful sunrise, not because of the sun, but because of the moment. And the person with whom I was fortunate to spend that moment.
As of this morning, this cool misty morning, there have been 10 years of sunrises since my grandmother’s passing. I miss her beyond words. I miss her spunk and biting wit. I miss her encouragement and wisdom. I also miss the question she’d ask repeatedly: “Did you finish your book yet?”
Sadly, my answer was always no, and yet she expressed pride in my efforts every step of the way. While I have many to thank for helping me complete the project – despite work and family and other life events – her constant inquiries still echo in my mind and so to her, today, my book is dedicated. In fact, I believe more than a little bit of her fortitude lives on in my heroine, who never, ever backs down.
At this most uncertain moment in our world’s history, when fear is indescribably elevated for most of us, may we all see many more years of sunrises, and share many more of them with those around us, because it’s the moments, those fleeting blissful moments, that connect us in the here and now, and beyond.
Given the events of this harrowing time in our world’s history, I find myself researching how to write my will. It’s not a doomsday reaction for me as much as what feels like a logical thought. As they say, any moment could be our last, which is why we’re advised to live each to its fullest.
At this moment, I am in the hardest hit area of America. My governor has advised us we are approaching the apex, which could come in 14-21 days. Just typing that tripped my heart like when a panic attack is about to begin.
I’ve had a lot of those lately. The not-so-subtle crushing of my chest and my gut, where it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room. My heart gallops, my body trembles, my legs go weak. I know what it is. Fear of the unknown. Imaginings of the worst kind.
That’s when I’m reminded I did not write my will and I, again, wish I had because then, at least, my wishes would officially be known.
I’m healthy. I am among the fortunate ones who has worked from home and has had little chance of exposure to this deadly virus. I take my part of the preventative measures seriously – to stay-at-home, practice social distancing, wash my hands, not touch my face, clean and disinfect commonly-used surfaces like light switches, door nobs, phones, computers, faucets and the like. I call family members daily, I stay in touch with friends. As extravagantly as I can, I tip the brave, dedicated people who continue to deliver much needed food and other supplies.
And I cry.
Out of fear for what will come, and out of grief for what already has.
Dreams put in perspective
This was going to be my year. I was finally going to release my first book. A romantic suspense novel I hoped people would curl up with, frantically turning the pages, then sighing at the end. I had promo planned, I dedicated hours to a book trailer, I fell in love with the cover and feverishly worked to make my print and ebook files as perfect as they could be.
I look back now and shake my head because while I had always dreamed of publishing a book, I realize what matters more. The people in my life, the love of family and the bond we forge with friends and neighbors.
When this nightmare finally ends, we will have so many pieces to pick up, so many hearts to help reassemble, so many tears to help dry. And so many hugs to give. If this has taught us anything I hope it is that we can do all of the above together, for each other, without litmus tests for who is deserving, and without resentment if some need or get more than others. Because, as this virus has shown us, we are all in this together. Every one of us.
E pluribus unum.
Of many one.
That is how it should be. I should include those thoughts when I write my will.
NY State Mental Health Line: 1-844-863-9314
National Suicide Hotline: – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate my cover reveal last week. And thank you for your PM’s telling me how much you love it – I do, too! This week, I’m thrilled to announce the winner of my small contest for a free e-copy of Surrender at Canyon Road.
Fittingly, the winner replied to this question via FACEBOOK:
“Happiness” & “freedom” are synonymous to my heroine. Tell me what ONE word describes YOUR personal happiness?
With this reply:
Now, of course, with the world in the midst of a terrifying and deadly pandemic, many of us are staying home to avoid infecting the most vulnerable among us. Our families are especially important at this moment since we’ll likely be spending an inordinate amount of time together over the next few weeks or more. As wonderful as that can be, is as stressful as it can be as well.
A book can offer a safe small break, a temporary escape. While it’s certainly not something that can live up to the challenges we’re facing now, opening a book and being swept into its world, with its promise of a happily ever after, can offer a healthy bit of “me time”.
At least, that is my hope.
The journey from dreaming about being a published author to becoming one has been long, detoured and filled with unexpected speed bumps. But now, today, it feels like I am finally coasting to a smooth stop at the first vista. I intend to soak in the view for as long as I can before getting back on the road toward Vista #2.
I’ve been eager to share this cover reveal post for a few weeks now but somehow managed to hold back. Depositphotos has been my go-to source for fantastic images but, and this makes me quite proud indeed, the main image on my cover, the picture of the mountains and sky, is one of my own, taken during a trip to visit my family in Colorado. Add all the exciting images together, and an animated though short-on-detail description of my vision for the cover and it would be enough to drive any graphic designer mad. Except MY graphic designer. Just look at what she did:
In my opinion, she’s a master. Kolleen Shallcross of Shallcross Web Design, took my vision and my images, and created a look that captured the mood, the tone and movement of my story. I could not be happier…or more grateful to her…for this beautiful creation:
Surrender at Canyon Road is available now for pre-order at your favorite eBook retailer: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, KOBO, Apple Books and more. To celebrate, I’m giving away one copy. Interested? Of course you are–what reader wouldn’t love the chance to win a free book? All you need to do is answer a specific question I ask in this Facebook, Twitter, OR Instagram post by Monday March 16th, 2020. All names will be combined, and then one will be randomly selected by this time next week. Check back here then to see if YOU are the winner!
Lest you think the suffering I mounted onto my characters was unfairly balanced upon my heroine’s shoulders, in this excerpt you’ll get a taste of what I forced my hero to endure:
“Drop it. And go.”
If he didn’t drop the backpack, they’d shoot him and take the money anyway. And then his sister would be at their mercy.
Inching his arm out to the side Blake held the backpack by the strap. Let it dangle for a second, not wanting to surprise them with any sudden moves. And then he dropped it, waited a full second, and took a slow step back, starring past the gun, trying to see inside the SUV. Hoping to catch a glimpse of his family.
The window went up. The engine revved and the SUV turned, inching closer until it stopped between him and the backpack. He waited, needing some sign of his sister. Some sign of his young nephew.
When it moved again, the backpack was gone. And then SUV turned, headed straight for him. Sped up. Circled him like a dog herding sheep. Around and around. Covered him in a thick fog of dust. He tried to out-maneuver it, to duck out of the way. He dove to one side, scrambled to his feet only to dive out of the way again. It was a game of chicken and he was losing.
He had no choice but to run – for his life and the life of his family. The only thing he could do was follow their instructions. They said, ‘go’ and they meant it. They chased him. Down the dirt road, back into the lot. When he thought they’d catch him and run him down, they passed him, so close, so fast, the breeze of the vehicle nearly spun him around.
Heaving breaths of fury, exertion and despair, he stared after them as they disappeared down the road. Maggie. He let her down. What did they want from him? He did everything they asked. He gave them their money. They took the bag…
“Where are they!”
Imagine being a child, 10 years of age, and suddenly responsible for the wellbeing of a baby brother or sister. While seeing children as caretakers is not that uncommon, when children take on the role of parent for their siblings, teaching them to walk, talk, brush their teeth, read, write, cook, drive… the same emotional parent-child bond is often formed.
Each step of the way, they’re proud of their baby brother or sister’s accomplishments, putting aside their own youthful milestones in favor of cheering their sibling’s, hoping, like the guardian they’ve become, that what they’ve tried to teach the child is enough to carry them forward, into their own life, without them stumbling too much.
But knowing they will stumble, as we all do, is tough for even some of the most stoic guardians. We’ll eagerly wait for their call, their check in, so we know they’re okay, so they can share some moments of their lives with us again.
So it is for my hero in my soon-to-be-released romantic suspense novel, SURRENDER AT CANYON ROAD, when, after months of silence, he receives a call, a desperate plea for help – not from his sister, but from her husband and the father of her child.
Blake feels responsible for his younger sister. He always has because he always was. Having helped raise her, he watched her grow. He tended her scraped knees, let her fly while their mother acted as full-time nurse to her own ailing parents, and their father worked multiple jobs to support them all. Blake put his sister first the way his parents put family first, protected her, made decisions for her, even after she was old enough to make her own. The more she rebelled, the tighter he held. After all, he had been her world at one time, her hero, there to see to her every need as any parent would.
Even after she married…the wrong man…a man Blake had introduced her to…and had a child of her own, he still thought of her as the baby sister who needed him.
The more he reached out, the further she ran, teaching him some hard lessons of her own—namely that she needed to be her own person. To make her own mistakes, brush off her own knees and get back on her own feet. He had to step back, like parents must, begrudgingly though it may be.
But she’s in trouble now. Desperate trouble. And so is her young son. Their lives threatened, and the man Blake introduced his sister to, seemingly the cause of all their woes. Unlike fictional romantic hero from the past, Blake is an ordinary man forced to do extraordinary things. He doesn’t stop to think how, he just forges ahead, knowing only that he must protect his family.
In his feverish search for them, Blake reminds himself of the life lessons he taught his sister. He hopes she remembers them, too. Hopes those lessons will be enough to get her through these days fraught with fear and peril. That is, until he can find her, save her, and protect her as he did all those years ago and for all those moments. Before he lets her fly away again.
As the youngest in my family, I didn’t become caretaker to anyone until my adulthood when I rescued my first furbaby–a 5-year-old shih tzu princess. Were you the child guardian of a sibling or other youngster? Did you struggle to let go and let that child fly on their own? Or were you a child raised by an older child, sibling or otherwise? How difficult was it for you to set out on your own? Did they let go easily or hold tighter, fearful to let you fly? Did you know other children as caretakers? How tight was their bond? The same as parent and child? Tighter? Let me know, join the conversation on Twitter or FACEBOOK
We’ve all heard of them, most of us have read them – many of us enjoyed them. What were they? Romance novels from decades ago, dime-store books, mass-market paperbacks we eagerly devoured, shared and discussed, where the hero swept the heroine off her feet – often quite literally – and she fell hopelessly in love with him.
The bad-boy hero was the norm. He was aggressive, arrogant, aloof. Alpha. On some level, we might have cringed at his heavy-handed ways. Held our breath. Cowered even. But we also laughed at him, on some level, because we knew – we KNEW – for all his bluster and brawn, he would eventually be putty in the hands of a heroine who slowly comes into her own.
Those alpha heroes were pirates, sheiks, ship captains, leaders of their clan, lords, earls… entitled men with power and, often, no sense of compassion. Or common decency. They were the romantic lead who did not deserve to be so.
One such hero, created by one of my otherwise-favorite historical romance authors, declares his undying love for his mistress – ON HIS WEDDING DAY – as his new wife looks on. When said wife confronts him, he accuses her of spying, backhands her across the face and watches as she falls to the ground from the force of the blow. As if that were not enough to make this man unworthy of his ‘hero’ or leading man title, we see his fury with his new wife build further. He thinks to himself:
A husband was a woman’s god, and the sooner this one learned that the better.
Lest you think his interior monologue ended the horror, note what happened next:
[He] grabbed a handful of [her] hair and jerked her to him. “I will take whatever I want whenever I want, and if I take it from you, you will be grateful.” He released her and pushed her back to the ground. “Now get up and prepare yourself to become my wife.”
Oh, yeah. Sexy, right?
Naturally, this hero rapes the heroine in their marriage bed. But let’s get over that, because she did. Like…immediately, because during round two, he was gentle, affectionate. Contrite. And, since there are three more books in the series (all of which I happen to love), with these two showing up in all of them, together, we understand they somehow overcame their…differences?…and lived happily ever after.
I talked about alpha heroes of yesteryear in an earlier post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense. We expect them to get angry, to possess the strength – physical and intellectual – to outwit and out maneuver any villain. But what helps to make today’s hero actually heroic, is his ability to restrain himself – his anger, his physicality, his sexual urges.
That’s how it is for my hero in Surrender at Canyon Road.
Blake, as everyone calls him, helped raise his baby sister. She’s a woman now, with a child of her own. And they’re in trouble, their lives threatened.
When all seems lost, Blake becomes desperate. And determined. He makes mistakes, of course, and he’s no angel. He’s aggressive and focused, and he’ll do whatever it takes to save his family.
From the back cover blurb:
Ransom in hand, Johnny “Blake” races to the drop point to rescue his sister and nephew only to wind up blindsided by a terrible double-cross. Now he’s stranded in the Colorado Rockies in the dead of night with no car and no options. Then the kidnappers call with new demands and Blake is forced to do the unthinkable.
Without the heroine’s help, he doesn’t stand a chance. She knows it. But she also needs him. And he knows it. How he convinces her of that, how he works toward forming a truce rather than take what he wants simply because he can, is what makes him a hero…worthy of a heroine’s love.
Have you read stories where a hero behaves – unapologetically – less than heroic? Where his actions – especially toward the heroine – are cringe-worthy? Were those books wall-bangers for you or did you find yourself reading on, silently hoping hero and heroine would find their way back toward the center and live happily ever after? Let me know – find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
For this Teaser Tuesday, here’s a little taste of the terror my heroine is forced to endure in Surrender at Canyon Road (available May 2020!).
With nowhere to go, she shoved the car in reverse, waiting for her chance to escape, a chance that had to come.
Men. Three of them. Two from the SUV at her door, one from the other car at the passenger’s. Why? Damn them! What did they want from her? She stomped on the gas, rammed back into the grill of the SUV, bounced forward. Trapped.
They shattered the driver’s window, shards flew everywhere. She covered her face, clenched her eyes. Screamed and fought as hands clutched her and dragged her from the car. She made herself limp and heavy so she couldn’t be lifted.
Then her feet left the ground. “No!”
A hand slapped over her mouth. Another grabbed her wrists, bound them.
Don’t let them take you! Don’t let them take you!
It meant certain death. She wouldn’t let them. Couldn’t. She bucked and kicked but hands were on her everywhere. She couldn’t fight them off. Couldn’t feel the ground.
She was hoisted higher, saw only the sky, then nothing but black as she was shoved into the SUV, face down on leather.
The door slammed. She tried to right herself. Was held in place by a heavy hand at her back.
They were driving. Fast. She heard bits of road kick up beneath them.
No! No, no, no!
The heroine in my romantic suspense novel, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!) survived trauma as a child through sheer wit, determination and courage. As a young girl, she was forced to adapt to the fluctuating moods of a severely ill parent who self-medicated rather than medicate properly. She had to endure the unpredictable rages of a parent who tried to drink his pain away. This left her fearful and perpetually on edge, always trying to appease, to hide, and to escape. She, as most children in unstable situations, carried the scars of that chaotic and frightening upbringing into adulthood.
As a survivor of a toxic prior relationship myself, I realize victims of abuse or other continuing trauma, whether child or adult, are often more focused on surviving each day than on anything else. They’re hopeful help is out there, but they’re often closed off from it, whether by their own fear or from the perilousness of their situation.
Once they’ve escaped, it’s often easier to pretend, on some level, that it never happened. Seeking help means looking back and facing the trauma, when in fact, the instinct is to keep going forward; taking with you all the survival techniques you had previously been forced to employ.
In a recent post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, I discussed the heroines of the past and present. It seems to me, a heroine abused or traumatized as a child or young adult in an old dime-story novel would see that abuse continue at the hands of the “hero”. Those heroes were all “alpha”, they commanded the world around them and gave pittance in return for loyalty and dedication. It wasn’t until the heroine soothed him, that we’d glimpse his more tender side. Yet, in the end, her past demons were never excised. Rather, she suddenly overcame the trauma once her bad boy was tamed. And they lived happily ever after. The pain of what brought that heroine to this point, of what created the person she now was in that story, forgotten, rather than addressed.
When things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past
As Surrender at Canyon Road opens, Dani is about to taste freedom and opportunity for the first time. She embraces the newness of it all with cautious glee. But she is fully aware of why she’s running; her wounds are still fresh. Despite that, she believes she’s distanced herself from it all enough to move forward. Naturally, she hasn’t.
Her past has colored the way she sees the world now. And when things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past, hoping, once modified and applied to fit new and escalating peril –not just for herself but for others in need of her help—she, and they, will somehow survive.
Have there been moments in your life so difficult you’re unsure how you came out of them whole? Do you try to ignore that they ever occurred, or have you dealt with the trauma of them in time? Perhaps you’ve gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. My hope is whatever the trauma from your past, in the present you’ve found inner peace, stability, and…one step beyond acceptance…happiness. Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.
In my new romantic suspense, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!), my heroine is faced with a harrowing choice. She must save herself or save her meager possessions.
Logically, we’d scream for her—for anyone—to save themselves. But in Dani’s case, giving up her possessions meant giving up everything she hoped to be, to achieve, and to escape. To her, those possessions were her life. They were the vehicle, literally and figuratively, to steer her away from her painful past and on to her hopeful future.
Given time to reassess, of course, Dani understands her possessions would be of no use to her if she were killed.
However, a few lines from the story’s back cover blurb offers the tiniest hint of Dani’s emotional battle, and some insight to her initial, instinctual reaction – to save her stuff, and risk her life.
Dani Moyer is only a few good photographs and some winding mountain roads away from winning a contest that will change her life–until a stranger kidnaps her. She doesn’t believe his story about a kidnapped sister and her child. And she’s not giving up her dreams without a fight.
To Dani, it’s not just a contest. It’s a new life – her life. Her dreams. Her way to avoid tumbling back into the life she’d endured. Of course, she doesn’t realize driving away from that life won’t erase it from her mind, from her past or from reality. But escape is her initial plan, and she’d risk all to achieve it.
It makes sense to me that my heroine, given her circumstances, would behave as she did. But I then wonder where the line is for the rest of us. What determines when you should defend your possessions and when you should abandon them to save yourself?
My last post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, touched on the way romance heroes and heroines were once portrayed versus how they’re portrayed now. I believe a heroine from past works would enter the story naïve, and cause us to shake our heads at her decision to remain with her belongings. But today’s heroine has a different mindset. A different attitude and expectation for life. She’s unafraid to fight for herself. But, would she still be considered TSTL (too stupid to live) for standing her ground, for instinctually defending her possessions? Or would she be considered brave? Or…would that depend on whether she survives? Would perception change if she were a he; hero not heroine? Have you ever done something that seemed irrational to others—or even to yourself looking back—but felt perfectly logical and necessary to you at the time? Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.