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.
Lord Voldemort is no Gellert Grindelwald.
Why? Because as a villain, a dark lord, Lord Voldemort was so extreme, so vile and hateful and cruel, that he was easier to see as fictional than the insidious Gellert Grindelwald who easily wins people over to the dark side with soft words, a gentle touch and a deceptively calm demeanor.
Anyone who has stopped by here knows my love for the Harry Potter stories, and how much I admire the way they shaped the reading habits of an entire generation. My own daughter grew up with the books – reading them numerous times in English and in Russian.
Naturally when Fantastic Beasts came out, we were eager to dig into that adventure as well. Though not as spellbinding as Harry’s story had been – with the newness of it all: Hogwarts, Hedwig’s Theme, wands, cloaks, magical spells and good against evil – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as The Crimes of Grindelwald, do have their own magic. Their own newness. Their own sense of foreboding.
As a charismatic and cunning villain, Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald confidently stood in the center of a crowded arena and told the people who had come to hear him speak of the evil that we, the ‘others’ – the muggles/no-majes – would inflict upon the world. He did not lie to them. He had no need to. Instead, in a blinding and vivid vision, Grindelwald showed them the coming horrors and destruction.
Horrors and destruction described in our own history books. Horrors and destruction we cannot ignore, forget or deny.
Yet Grindelwald’s plan to prevent it all – a plan willfully applauded by many in attendance – was darker, more horrific and destructive than what already seemed fated to come.
Sadly, he offered only one of two nightmare scenarios. And each was tainted by the lust for total dominion of one people over another ‘lesser’ kind.
The pitting of one people against another, the vilifying of whole groups, of blaming them for all the world’s ails…is as old as time. That’s why I find Johnny Depp’s spellblindingly understated portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald so terrifying. He’s refined. Beautiful. Charming. Yet beneath that compelling mystique are hints of a bubbling cauldron’s worth of power and emotion.
Warnings signs are all around us, in plain sight. They have always been. Yet while generation after generation adopts the slogan: “Never Again”, that same frightening and divisive call to arms is too often repeated. In film as in real life.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of creepy critters. Of course, I realize if they’re not in my home but rather somewhere outside, then they’re where they’re supposed to be, and I will, mostly, leave them alone.
However, about a week ago, I happened to look out my dining room window and noticed a nest of some sort in the city tree at the curb in front of my house. It was quite large – and quite active, with what I thought were bees or yellow jackets busily flying in and out of it non-stop.
Turns out, they weren’t bees or yellow jackets. They were hornets.
I would assume this would frighten most people. However, for someone like me, with allergic reactions to simple mosquito bites, this was an absolutely terrifying discovery.
I calmed myself, though, after realizing, again, that this nest was in a city tree. Naturally, I ASSumed, the city would be responsible for it. I figured they’d want to know about it right away so they could take care of the situation before someone got hurt.
NYC – and other cities, I’m sure – has a policy that hornets fall into the category of “beneficial pests”, which I find both oxymoronic and ridiculous. Yes, I get it. Hornets, as predators, rid us of other pesky flying insects. In fact, hornets are so adept at reducing the number of destructive garden pests that the agricultural industry voluntarily uses them as a natural weapon to protect crops.
Yes. You read that right; they voluntarily deploy hornets into their gardens/fields as a natural pesticide.
That’s all well and fine, I suppose, and I do feel a certain respect for them now that I’ve learned that they are, indeed, ‘beneficial pests’. But they can also kill someone like me –yes, KILL – if provoked, agitated or otherwise disturbed. And hornets attack as a group, each releasing a chemical to alert the others of a rumble, and the others will swarm with a ‘one-for-all-all-for-one’ focus. They will die for the hive. As if that isn’t enough to fuel nightmares for weeks to come, each one of those things can sting repeatedly so…
Not my idea of beneficial…not when they’re as close as this colony is to my front door, and not when their nest is sitting above a very busy street/walkway where kids ride their bikes and neighbors walk their dogs.
So back to my efforts to make some headway with City Hall…
I spent this past week on the phone hoping to find a way to get rid of this nest. While I now realize killing the colony isn’t the way to go, my first thought was just that. Destroy the damn thing. I truly believed the city would feel the same way and send someone to spray the nest with something that would completely destroy it and everything inside.
Upon calling the city, I was informed that to do anything with this nest, I would first need to apply for a “tree-work permit”. That permit would come from the city, and it would be free. However, I would then have to find someone, on my own, who would not destroy the nest but *relocate* it. And…all costs related to that would fall on me. Once I found someone who would indeed relocate the nest, I’d have to provide their name to the city…and hope for their approval. If they did approve, then I would have to wait for the permit to arrive before any work could be started.
Knowing how speedy the city can be, I figured all that might happen somewhere around the winter holidays. If I were lucky.
Well, after three days and several more phone calls to 311, I finally received the application for the permit that was supposed to have arrived in my inbox within 24 hours of my first call.
Step one – done.
Step two – ha. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find someone to relocate a hornet’s nest?
For me, it was impossible.
I called various city offices with no luck, and then I called the state. The state was surprisingly easy and pleasant to deal with, and they showed concern and interest regarding my plight. A lovely gentleman I managed to reach by phone even provided me with an email for a beekeepers association. Additionally, through the state’s website, I found emails for a local arborist and for the city’s Parks Department.
Unfortunately, after contacting each of these groups, showing pictures and explaining to them how large and active this (to-me) terrifying nest was, and how close it was to my house, they all said that it was too high for them to reach. It seems 25-30 feet – which is about the height of this nest – is the natural height for a hornet’s nest and, as such, is unlikely to be dangerous to passersby. Or so I was told. My personal jury is not buying that fact. I was also told, repeatedly, that I should realize – and be comforted by – how beneficial these insects are.
I do realize. I’m not comforted.
And yet, it seems, I will need to wait until November, by which time the colony should die out, leaving only the queen to hibernate through the winter. Come spring, she’ll go to a new nest somewhere far from my tree.
And that is the only plus I see in this whole frightening scenario – that a hornet’s nest is built for single use. Once the colony abandons this one, no hornet will ever come back to it.
Until they leave, however, everyone will know where to find me – cowering behind the curtains in my dining room, counting off the days until those killer stinging machines have gone.
By the way – while the sight of this nest has me breaking into a fear-filled sweat, it seems these nests are often seen as works of art. It’s true, I suppose, they are magnificent structures – the one in front of my home is the size of a football and the external layers are indeed compelling to gaze upon.
But, apparently, once abandoned, there are some people who have actually taken hornets’ nests down from their trees – or eaves or wherever they happen to be hanging – slice them in half and display them as wall art.
FYI – I will not be doing that.
One hundred and ten people in Somalia died of starvation within the last 48 hours. Starvation due to drought. Starvation. In 2017.
But it’s happening “over there”, so we don’t see it, we don’t feel it. It seems we don’t even know about it or… dare I say… care about it.
About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. – Associated Press
Is it because we’re overwhelmed? Is it because we feel we’re incapable of preventing such horror? Is it because we’ve grown immune to the suffering of our fellow human beings? Of the aged, the infants, the mothers watching their children die?
Have we grown that cold or have we always been that way?
I’m editing this here to add an update regarding the cold reality of our times as the Trump Administration just, heartlessly, announced cuts in aid to starving nations. A question was asked during the budget director’s conference: “Are you worried that some of the most vulnerable people on earth will suffer?” To which Director Mulvaney callously responded: “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs. That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.”
You can watch the video here (please do look past the liberties the poster of this video has taken with graphics and other special effect and listen to what’s actually being said):
We have to demand our tax dollars leave a detailed trail from our hands to their destinations. I want to know my money – money I don’t really have but spend because I am obligated to do so as a citizen of the US, and because I want to be part of the betterment of my community, both local and global – is going to places where it can do good. Where it can provide shelter, food and clean water to those in need. Where it can provide roads and education. Where it can provide proper, unrestricted healthcare. Where it will help to see that everyone has at least a chance to thrive.
If we can’t muster some concern for our extended human family then maybe we need to look closer. What would you do if your family were suffering as these people are? I wonder what would I do if I had to leave whatever I had – everything I had – carry my famished children as I struggle to take my family where help might be. What would I do if I arrived there, after watching others take that trek with me – some making it the whole way, others dying en route – only to realize there are too many of us seeking aid – medicine, food, water. What if I were told there was no help in sight. The drought that devastated my community had spread. There simply is no water.
The death toll, which was announced Saturday, was the first Somalia’s government has made public since it declared the drought a national disaster on Tuesday. The United Nations estimates that 5 million people in this Horn of Africa nation need aid, amid warnings of a full-blown famine. – Associated Press
We can’t pretend it won’t happen here. Our climate is changing. Temperatures are rising – as are sea levels. Crops are failing. Droughts alternate with flooding, each wreaking havoc. Scientists warn us it will get worse… that means there will be more climate refugees as times goes on.
When we find ourselves in need because of this, who will help us? Who will feed our crying children? Who will provide a sip, a life-saving sip, of clean water?
And why should they? Especially if we turn our back on them, on the cause of their plight and on what we could have done to mitigate at least some of these destructive changes to our climate.
We are one world. One people. Oceans may separate us. Walls may hinder us. Ideology might spark contention…or, perhaps, conversation. But we are supposed to be our brother’s keeper, are we not? And we are taught that we should treat our brothers and sisters as we wish to be treated.
Well, I wish to be cared for in my time of need. I wish to be celebrated in my time of joy. I wish to be someone who cares for and celebrates others the same.
These people wish only for food and water so they might survive.
What is your wish?
Today would have been Freddie Mercury’s 70th birthday. As a life-long fan of the man, I know he wouldn’t have been on stage “prancing” about at this age, but I have no doubt he’d still be creating beautiful music. He might have even recorded a few songs himself – with that voice. That amazing, soaring voice.
No one knew it for sure, but he had less than a year of life left in him when he recorded this song. He was exhausted and in pain, yet he stuck with it, “downed some vodka” and, according to Brian May, Queen’s guitarist, he “lacerated the song” with his voice.
And that he did.
This one has always given me chills.
If you’re a Fred-aholic like I am, then you might also want to listen to this version of the same song – with Freddie’s vocals isolated:
My sincere thanks to QUEEN and to bart1997rinaz for posting these videos on Youtube.
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.