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!”
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.
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.
When I think of the Romantic Suspense genre from days gone by, the kind I once loved to read, I think of the innocent heroine, oblivious to the ways of the world, coddled and naïve, unaware of her own body and certainly oblivious about sex. Her role in the story wasn’t as much to follow her own dreams as to become the hero’s lover—by choice or by force. Of course, she’d eventually fall madly in love with the rogue, tame him then happily settle into her duties as wife and lady of the house. Naturally, some of the heroines did hold their own. As they tamed their hero, they absorbed some of his cunning, thus assuring us, the readers, things would be interesting for this couple beyond the confines of their book.
These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity.
The heroes who populated those works were strong silent alpha-males. Big and burly, they answered to no one but themselves. Everyone jumped or cowered at their barked commands. They were mysterious, angsty, and full of envious manly muscles. Everywhere. These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity. No matter the mess in which our heroine found herself, we always knew the hero would come to her rescue. It wouldn’t surprise us if the hero resented having to do so, nor would it surprise us if the heroine spent a good part of the following chapters ‘thanking’ him.
The villains of that period were rarely as dimensional, as cunning or powerful – or handsome – as the hero. As if all evil was flat, a prop that came out of a mist wrapped in a black cloak, face either hidden or hideous, with bad breath, bad intent, and no clear motivation beyond lust for power, revenge, or destruction.
I’d be surprised to find those kinds of characters in today’s romantic suspense novels. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find layered, even sympathetic villains, heroes who are extraordinarily ordinary men who learn as they go, who show fear and tenderness along with wit and determination, and heroines who not only outsmart, out maneuver, and out sex, but also kick ass.
Yesteryear’s romantic suspense still holds a special place in my heart. I devoured those books. I adored the adventure, the possibility of an innocent heroine being loved by a worldly man who’d never given his heart to another – or who had, and since vowed never to do so again.
Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.
But today’s romantic suspense, the kind I now love to read and write, thrills me with a kind of intrigue of mind. A hero and heroine on equal footing is exciting to me. Their mental duels, and how they’re an integral part of the budding romance, are delicious.
Mostly, I enjoy discovering who the characters were prior to their being perilously thrust together. I especially love unraveling the intricacies of their pasts and seeing how those pasts stop them from forging ahead or spur them on; equally, because now, the heroine’s backstory is as rich and vital as the hero’s, with flaws, strengths and challenges.
The wounded sullen hero of today, whether alpha, beta or somewhere in between, is as layered as any man might be. He has his own flaws and strengths. He also has compassion. Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.
Do you look for a specific type of hero or heroine to populate your romantic suspense? Do you prefer heroes who appear on the page ready to take on the world or would you rather watch them come into their own as their story progresses? And your heroine…do you prefer her to be kickass, passive or somewhere in between? I’d love to know your thoughts. Share them with me on twitter, or Facebook.
Once the true horror of the attacks of September 11, 2001 became clear, once the magnitude of the attack, of the hate, of the vengeance against the West, had awakened us all, a true and gripping sense of community poured out. We saw it in the American flags so many in the States wore on their lapels, hung from poles, or secured magnetically to their bumpers. We saw it in the silence that followed, in the acceptance and warmth of neighbor to neighbor. In the support for our first responders, who had so much to lose and lost even more.
Sadly, what brought out the best in us, also brought out the worst. The acceptance and warmth of neighbors turned to suspicion and violence for some. For too many. Rather than truly pull together, some among us chose to wage their own attacks on people they deemed responsible. That suspicion and rage lingers still, all these years later, most noticeably from the people who are supposed to lead us, to assure us, but who have, of late, chosen to divide us.
Of course we can never assume 9/11 was an anomaly, a catastrophe the likes of which will never happen again. But neither was that sense of community, of a shared experience. That’s part of what America is about–an awareness and appreciation of our diversity, commonality in our unique experiences. That’s what has always been the secret to America’s “greatness”.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum displays, in rich profound detail, the many faces of NYC and her neighbors. People who worked here, lived here, protected here, came here to help in any way possible. During a recent tour of the museum, I was struck by the varied accents heard on recordings captured that day–of voice messages left for loved ones, of first responders calling out to their units, of reporters and witnesses.
I live here in NYC. I hear a wide variety of languages and accents daily, so much so that I no longer notice them. But while there, in the museum, listening to one account after another in full-throated and brusque New York-ese, in broken English, in Spanish, in a New England drawl and other accents not so easily identifiable, I felt at home. One among many. Sharing the same memories, the same pain, the same hope for a better future.
Every year, on the anniversary of this heartbreaking day, we come together to remember those who perished. We remember their lives, their sacrifices and their humanity. In doing so, in standing together in remembrance, we’re reminded of the bond we have as citizens of this world. How I wish that understanding, that bond, held during our every-day existence and not just in times of tumult and pain.
Hedwig’s Theme, Opening Notes
On July 31st, 1991, Harry Potter turned 11. It was on that day, 27 years ago today, when Hagrid presented Harry with his Hogwarts’ letter. The same day Harry received his letter, his life – and the lives of nearly an entire generation of children – was forever changed.
I was introduced to the Harry Potter franchise when my daughter was in first grade. It was Halloween, and there was a parade at her elementary school. Children and teachers alike wore costumes – pirates, Power Puff Girls, Ninja Turtles, and more. Most memorable, however, was the school principal’s costume, which was a long black hooded robe, round glasses, a wand and a hand-drawn lightning-bolt scar on her forehead. I confess, I had to ask her who she was supposed to be. She looked at me, dumbfounded, and said, “Well…Harry Potter, of course!”
But of course.
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” ―Albus Dumbledore
Immediately after that, I introduced my daughter to the books, and then to the movies. And that was when we became a Harry Potter family. We watched in awe and wonder as Harry, Ron, Hermione – and all the rest – grew from wide-eyed wizards studying potions and wand-work, to young adults bravely fighting demons so fierce, so cruel, even the elders among them doubted their chance for success.
“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” ―Sirius Black
As adults, we often teach our children that the world is not black and white, that our foes are sketched in as many shades of gray as our friends. Yet, I wonder whether we teach that lesson in word only, rather than by example. And I wonder, too, whether our children are wiser than we might expect and see those shades of gray all on their own.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” ―Sirius Black
As we read the books and watched the movies, Harry, his friends, and even Draco, grew into young adults with a healthy skepticism of those around them. They had a keen awareness of a complacent media unwilling to address the first hints of danger. They also harbored a healthy rebelliousness against language and ideas that were divisive, bitter, and cruel, even when that language and those ideas came from authority figures.
We watched young Harry become a man as he learned that while those who chose to be Death Eaters were one form of evil, so too were those who willingly ignored the slow and steady rise of evil in favor of personal gain. We even watched as Draco came into his own as he learned, too late, that ‘otherness’, which was so passionately loathed by the elders he idolized, was not, in fact a “crime” at all, nor was it an offense worthy of death.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” ―Albus Dumbledore
I wish our kids the same fortitude displayed by Harry and the gang as they face the challenges this world presents. I wish them stamina, foresight, and trust in themselves – no matter what others say – to know they have the ability to change the world. To turn on the lights when times are dark. To see the value in friends, family, and strangers – both familiar and unique. And I wish them the wisdom to know that, while they each have those abilities within themselves, we are all so much stronger together.
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” ―Albus Dumbledore
Happy Birthday, Harry… or perhaps I should say “Happee Birthdae, Harry”, as Hagrid did that magical day so long ago. And thank you.
My muse has been known to take wrong turns now and then, wandering as it does in a never-ending search for something dark and mysterious or sparkley and fun to play with. Because of that never-ending quest, it’s not uncommon for my wandering muse to wind up caught in some murky, quick-sandy bit of gray matter. How do I lure it out? Exercise, coffee, daydreaming… and writing prompts. Bits of story fodder lie everywhere but when the muse is otherwise occupied, they can be hard to find, or, once found, impossible to develop.
A story prompt sits right in front of your eyes, luring the muse from that darkened corner, tempting it with just what it’s been seeking. A dark and mysterious idea or a fun playful place in which to frolic.
Today, my muse has been lured by Jon Nathanial Corres and Willow Raven and my thanks go to them for providing a beautiful and magical writing prompt. You should see it full size – and can find it here – Willow Raven – BLUE SATIN SASHES.
Along with the prompt came a challenge which was, actually, posted in June even though I’ve just found it now. The challenge is to write a short piece inspired by the Blue Satin Sashes image… and, of course, a short piece has the potential to grow into a larger piece… unless the muse steps into quicksand again.
I’ve accepted the much-needed challenge, and I have titled my short piece: His Again. This was fun to write and I hope you find it fun to read.
Here’s a small version of Willow’s stunning visual prompt:
Snow filled the air like down from a pillow, softly floating in waves playful and billowy. White and innocent, it shimmered in the moonlight, unfazed by the cold and dark.
He held out his hand, palm up, to capture the beauty. It faded, wounded by his heat, writhing until only a single droplet remained. Cold, small. Gone.
A low rumble of hooves broke through the silence, and a golden light bobbed in the distance. Snow stirred from the ground as the carriage neared and falling flakes scattered as to clear a path far and wide.
With a small nod and a touch to the brim of his hat, he welcomed the bundled coachman. And then on he strode to the carriage door.
Through the small window, he saw her. Her white winter cloak, as innocent as snow. Her bonnet tied beneath her chin with a blue satin sash.
He met her gaze, and saw moisture there. It was from cold, he would believe, for despite the past, she had chosen to see him again.
She rose and he hesitated, not wishing to mar such exquisite beauty. She waited. Her eyes, blue as the satin, challenged.
He dared hold out his hand, palm up, to capture the beauty. And she laid her hand upon it. Cold. Small. It did not fade but remained. Solid and warming. His to hold once again.
What do you think? Did the image stir your muse? I loved writing this short and would love to read yours, too. If you write one, please let me know in the comments.