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My Parents' Happiest Place

This past Thanksgiving week, my family took a fantastical vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary!

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Disney is definitely my happiest place on earth. Between Disney fairy tales and Star Wars, my childhood imagination was formed. If you look closely enough, you can probably see that in my books.

In addition, I’m a ride junkie. Especially roller coasters. And Orlando has plenty of those. Between the 2 multi-parks, my favorite rides include… Everest, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Kong. And, despite it not being one of my favorite movies, my all-time favorite ride is Peter Pan.

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I also LOVE the immersive worlds these theme parks have started creating. Getting lost in the worlds of Harry Potter, Avatar, and now Star Wars is incredible. I could spend days just looking at all the details.

But this trip, what I loved most above all was watching my parents!

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They hadn’t been to Disney since they took me when I was 8 (so a decade or 2…or 3). At that time, Epcot was still fairly new and Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios didn’t yet exist (at least as part of Disney). Seeing them enjoy the rides and, in particular, enjoy the time with family, was fantastic. Watching them light up when we all sang them “happy anniversary” to the tune of “happy birthday” was even better.

My parents met in high school in Venezuela. Their parents were ex-pats working in country. Mom & Dad were the prom king and queen. When they went off to college, their parents happened to move relatively close together in the US, near where Mom went to school, and Dad decided then and there, when visiting for Christmas, that she was meant to be his. He proposed in Central Park.

50 years together.

Amazing isn’t it? I only hope that my husband and I can be as lucky. It’s practically a miracle that we both grew up with parents who made it to 50 years. Both sets of my grandparents also celebrated 50 years together. What an example to follow!

Here’s to celebrating true love, soul mates. 

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Halloween Decorating Obsession

So, after maxing out the way I decorate for Christmas, I’ve moved on to my other favorite holiday, Halloween. I’m a paranormal romance author as one of my other pen names, y’all. Are you really that surprised?

I LOVE the colors, and the themes, and the funny signs, and all the different things you can do to decorate for Halloween. I don’t tend to go for spooky. More colorful. But I thought I’d share some of my best Halloween interior decorating tips.

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Glittery cheap boas from grocery stores. I have ones with pumpkins, one with ghosts, and one with witches. They take up a space so nicely. You can see parts of this one behind other decorations on the mantle. They’re also good for long tables, entertainment hutches, and wrapping around banisters.

Wall Signs

The biggest impact to holiday decorations I’ve found (for every holiday) are wall signs. Something about taking down the usual stuff to put up something seasonal and unique really stands out.

Combine Smaller Items on a Larger Item

I love to put some of my smaller items together on a runner or tablecloth.

Trees Aren’t Just for Christmas

Hey, they were a pagan hold over for the jolly holiday to begin with (sorry! I know that’s a hard truth). I find that a Halloween version adds some sparkle. Thinking of doing a life sized kind.

Table Clothes Are My Jam

Tablecloths decorate a very large/long space quickly and easily. I love this tablecloth (and finding fun ones for each holiday actually. I also loved finding the pieces to make the centerpiece!

Things That Light Up

A must at Halloween. After all, the actual celebration is held in the dark.

What about you? Are you a Halloween decorating nut like me? What are some of your favorite holiday decorating tricks?

Heart of ATX Romance Reading Salon

Y’all, I had the best dang time last night!

Granted, I always have a good time when I get to hang with fellow authors and with readers and friends, and that’s exactly what I got to do Friday night in Buda, TX.

Cathy Maxwell (not enough raves can I give this woman) organizes these fantastic reading salons, and I was lucky enough to be one of the authors invited this year. Located at the beautiful Assmemblage, this fantastic gallery in Buda, 50+ folks who preordered tickets came out to enjoy wine, cookies, and hear readings from the authors!

Donations and all book sales went to benefit the local YMCA and, in particular, Camp Goody, a new 85 acre location for YMCA camps, local swim meets, and more.

I joined authors Kharma Kelley, Teri Wilson, and Tessa Dare (oh what fabulous, aspirational company to keep) in reading short excerpts from our most recent books, and then spent time signing copies for folks and getting to say hello.

I apologize now for attendees about my ultra-fast, nervous reading style, and hoped you enjoyed the excerpt from The Rogue King. I was definitely the straight man in the group of ladies who had the room rolling with laughs (in a good way).

And if you’ve interacted on social media with me and I didn’t recognize you, I am sending you extra hugs. I’ve realized that most of us post book covers and memes and not images of ourselves. Lol. Mental note to go look at the tiny personal photo on Instagram before these events. 🙂

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After the readings, I now have 3 more books (and a whole backlist) that I have to read, because I have to know what happens next. I also now know what I want to be when I grow up in romancelandia–any one of the authors part of this event.

What a night!

Thank you so much to Cathy and the ladies who own the Assemblage for such a fantastic event!

xoxo

Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions

I find that between interviews, podcasts, and conversations with people who find out I’m a romance writer, that there are several common questions that invariably pop up in every one of these moments. Here are my top 10 most frequently asked questions (and answers). 

What do you like to read?

First and foremost I’m a romance junky. I can read books without romance, but usually, I need a good love story to really lock me in. My favorites, of course, are the ones I write–contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and paranormal romance. However, I also get lost in just about every other genre of romance–historical, new adult, young adult, scifi, even erotic if done well. I also love books with history to them. I love learning about other cultures and/or other times. In the non-romance space, I also love science fiction, action/adventure, biographies, women’s fiction, mysteries, and some classics.

What is your typical day like?  

All over the map. Hah! I work from home as a full-time author and mom, as well as running my own business, Authors On A Dime, to help other self-pub’d authors.

After I get the kids up, ready, and out the door, it’s walk the dog and then time to pick up the house, start laundry, etc. Then I spend several hours working on the latest book(s). I spend some time on social media for marketing purposes. Most days have Authors On A Dime stuff to do (run the business or work on projects–mostly book covers). I’m a VPA for Alyssa Day, so if she has anything for me, I also work on that. Kids get home and it’s activities for them (depending on the day) and homework. Then the night time stuff (dinner, downtime, bet time, etc.). My evenings are usually spent with my hubby in front of the TV binge watching shows, usually with my computer in my lap. While watching I work more on whatever didn’t get done that day, be it books, social media, or work. Phew!

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Who or what inspired you to become an author?

I’m not sure there was any one point of inspiration. I’ve always been a writer. In 4th grade, I place second in a school essay contest. Maybe that gave me the bug to keep going. But there have always been stories in my head that wanted to come out.

When did you consider yourself to be a writer?

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Ive always considered myself a writer. I feel like I became an author the day a total stranger purchased a copy of Blue Violet, my first self-published novel.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I was 90% pantser / 10% plotter. These days it’s more a 50/50 split. I’m a plantser.

Its an evolving process for me. My first completed book, Blue Violet, was 100% pantser. In fact, I didn’t even write the scenes in order, but skipped around. I do a lot more preparing ahead of time these days, using bits and pieces from various workshops and theories I’ve tried over time. After some amount of preparation, I write the first draft, and my characters take that opportunity to tell me how to get from A to B (and sometimes B becomes C). The end book never looks exactly like what I plotted to start with.

How long does it take you to write a book?

I write a very fast first draft in 4-6 weeks depending on the length of the book.  The first draft for me is my least favorite part of the process so I try to get it over with as quickly as possible. The first draft lays out the bare bones of the book and is usually about 80% of the story. Depending on deadlines and how I feel about the quality of the first draft, I spend another 2-6 weeks on subsequent drafts where I fill the blanks, adjust any issues, and add the spit and polish. I LOVE the drafting and editing phases where I really get to tweak and then perfect.

How do you come up with your ideas?

All over the place. Sometimes its dreams. I have very vivid dreams. Sometimes it’s being inspired by one particular aspect of a book or movie and taking that detail and making it into my own world. Mostly I think in scenes. I’ll picture a moment between two characters, or a situation my heroine might be stuck in, and I build from there. I find the more I write, the more ideas pop into my head. I keep a list now for when I’m between books (though that’s rare since I write series).

Is there anything based on real-life experiences? Or is it all imagination?

Most of it is pure imagination. There are little things I take from real life. Funny moments from one of my kids or my husband. Quirks of my own. Most often it’s my personal goofiness that ends up in stories. Ellie, my heroine in Blue Violet, especially. I’m told by friends that reading her is like reading me on the page.

What genre have you never written that you’d like to write?

I would LOVE to write historical romance, but I have very little patience for all the research involved (despite the fact that I minored in history in college). And I like multiple eras – Regency England, Ancient Rome, Middle Ages, Vikings, Wild West, WWII.

What is your favorite book(s) that you’ve written so far?

Lol. It’s always the one I just finished or just released. This is partly because I learn more with each book written, and so feel like each new one is better than the last. It’s not always true, because some books are harder and some easier than the others to write. So I do have a favorite just for me. I love Taming the Troublemaker because of the dynamic between Beth and Autry. Writing that was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.

By the way, my answer on this is a little different for my other pen names. Check out the answers for Abigail Owen and Kristen McKanagh

Top 5 On My Bucket List

We all have one (or we should). A bucket list. That list of things we want to do/experience/accomplish before we kick the bucket.

I love the idea of a bucket list because it means that, right up to the end, you never stop trying new things or looking for new experiences. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who loved to travel, to experience other cultures, to try new things, and encouraged us to do so as well. I’ve continued that practice into my adult life. As you can imagine, my bucket list is a long one. 

I don’t number them or have them in any particular order though. And I should mention that travel is a huge part of my list. I’ve mentioned one below, but there’s also Australia/New Zealand, Austria, Holland, Iceland, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, the Galapagos, more time in Japan, Russia, and many many other places. Still, for fun, I tried to figure out my top 5.

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5. Photo Safari in Kenya

I’ve wanted to go to Africa and see those amazing animals and the beautiful (and varied) topography for ages. I’d love to experience some of the (safer) cultures and try the food and be out in the quiet of the plains or see the jungles. But especially those animals. I’ve seen them in zoos, but no way is that the same.

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4. Find the Best Dessert Ever

Okay, so this is a weird one. But I LOVE dessert. I find the best one at every restaurant I visit. I figure, with all the traveling, I have many more to try, right? So far, the one to beat is the Triple Pot de Crème at Back Bistro in Folsom, CA. I’m actually not a creme brulee person, but this isn’t exactly creme brulee. It’s the creme part of vanilla custard then covered by a layer of caramel, and then dark chocolate ganache and sea salt. It is incredible.

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3. Support Myself as an Author

I love my dream of being an author, I’ve crossed so many accomplishments and goals off my bucket list over the last 10 years. More than that, I am so, so lucky that I get to pursue it full time. For now. But I won’t be able to keep this up if I can’t make it contribute to my family. It doesn’t have to be huge. I’m not looking to be the next Nora Roberts or multi-million earning writer. But an income that contributes… it’s the only way I get to keep doing this. To me, this means continuing to work on my craft and keep publishing the best works I can, and pray that the luck side of this business comes my way.

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2. Live in Estes Park, CO

I’ve wanted this as long as I can remember. Convincing my husband to retire there might take some work. Leaving friends to move would also be hard. It would be awesome if the lottery could strike and, boom, vacation home where we can stay a lot!

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1. Meet My Great Grandkids

I want to live long enough to see my kids live through major life moments–prom, high school graduation, going to college, getting married, and having children. But I’m selfish. I want to see this for my grandkids too. And to meet my great grandkids. I got to know my great grandmother until I was 12. Hearing about and imagining her life, and knowing she touched mine, is one of my favorite life experiences. I’d love to have it again, on the other side.

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Those are my top 5 (for now). What about you? What’s one your bucket list?

Crested Butte | Spring Break 2019

Keeping up our spring break skiing vacation tradition, this year we tried out a new spot. Crested Butte, Colorado (or, as my kids like to call it… crusty butt), might be my new favorite Colorado spot. Or 2nd behind Estes Park, at least.

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This spring break as an adventure, given that five feet of snow had dumped on Crested Butte over the 2 weeks leading up to us getting there. So there was snow everywhere. Even with our easy access to mountains in California for 10 years, I’ve never seen so much snow. 

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We rented a gorgeous house that offered ski in/ski out (though that ended up being more for the advanced skiers). It took some getting used to skiing in powder conditions, especially for the kids. With spring skiing, we’re usually on super groomed, icy runs. Not this year!

Oh! ANd I got to break in my new ski boots (which I lurv, but breaking them in was a process. Lol. Yes, I did wear them all around the house for weeks leading up to it, to help. Unfortunately, I still have a nice knot where that horse kicked me in the shin last July. That happens to be right at boot height. So, not comfortable, but I was able to ski fine, so yay.

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It snowed our first three days of skiing. 3-5 inches a day, but surprisingly not super cold with it. While there the cyclone bomb hit the northeastern plains of Colorado (more up Denver way). We lucked out and just got the little bit of extra snow. And we really lucked out when our last day was beautiful blue skies and perfect weather, which also cleared the roads up nicely to drive back home to Texas (which we did in one long, long, long 16-hour haul). 

In addition to great skiing on the mountain for all levels of skiers, we also LOVED the town of Crested Butte. Lots of adorable shops and fantastic restaurants. Make sure to go into Montanayas and get the Lavender Blitz cocktail. You’ll thank me for it. 

For you family skiers out there, we really recommend Crested Butte. You’ll love it!

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Book That Influenced My Life

What books have influenced my life? This is a difficult question for me. Partly because I read so much, it’ll be hard to narrow the list. Partly because I don’t know that I’ve had any profound moment of change.

I’ve lost myself in books, escaping into the worlds and falling in love with the characters until they feel like old friends. Books can do more, absolutely. THey can teach, inspire, reveal, expose, and so much more. Important roles. But mostly, if they are like me, any author would be happy to hear that a book simply touched a reader in some way.

With that in mind, rather that go into depth, I’ve listed the books with the most impact on me and why. (In the order that I thought of them.) What books would you put on your list and why? I’d love to know!

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – The first time I learned that quote-unquote serious literature could involve a love story.

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy – The book I read to prove to a doubting teacher that I could.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – The book that convinced me I didn’t like anything by Hemingway. All his characters are assholes. And that’s when I learned that I need at least one redeeming character in a story. Even if they don’t win.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – The first book where I lost myself in the characters. I re-read it every so often.

Twilight by Stephenie Myer – The book that introduced me to the world of paranormal romance.

Love Comes Softly by Janette Oak – My first inspirational romance. 

A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – The arguments posed are still ones I consider daily.

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn – These Star Wars books took my favorite world and made it mine.

Inferno by Dan Brown – Best book club discussion I’ve ever had.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – Another book where I lost myself in the character and her journey.

Summer Rainfall by Kerry Allyne – From the 70s. Still the category romance I reread the most. 

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin – Still the best epic saga, with a myriad of fantastic characters.

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare – The best flirting on paper.

Blue Violet by Abigail Owen – The first book I ever finished writing.

My Contest Experiences

So… I have to admit that my enjoyment (perhaps it could be termed an addiction) to writing contests started at a young age.

When I was 9 years old, I won a writing contest in my school district for an essay about Abraham Lincoln. What? Someone thinks I’m a good writer? Well, then, I must be. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Granted, I didn’t win another contest until after I wrote my first book. So there was a bit of a time gap. In 2013 I placed 3rd at the IPPYs and the eLit Awards (for best scifi/fantasy) for the first book I ever finished (and had self-published at the time)–Blue Violet. Since then, I’ve won several more contests or been chosen as a reviewer’s favorite for a given year. (See Abigail Owen awards and Kadie Scott awards.)

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You wouldn’t think it would feel like that big of a deal. But to me those wins were a validation. After all, this was the first book I’d finished. While I’d had it professionally edited (I still credit Wendy with showing me the ropes), I still wasn’t sure if it was any good. Not like I was going to trust my family to be brutally honest, right? But it won, and that gave me a sort of validation that I’d needed. Like I was legit somehow.

I’d love to tell you that I didn’t need that. That I had the confidence in myself to believe I was a good writer. Now, 6 years and 29 books later, you’d think I’d definitely have the confidence. And I do. I know I’m a good writer. I’ve grown and continued to study my craft, always striving for the next book to be even better than the last.

But I still love the validation that placing in a contest can bring. These days it can often be that little nudge I need when I’m knee deep in a manuscript and at the “this sucks and I suck” phase that inevitably happens.

I will say that I don’t particularly care for the contests that involve reader voting. To me, that is a popularity contest to see who has the biggest network (and not necessarily of readers who’ve actually read the book). But the ones judged by people who read the books, and where industry professionals judge the finals? When I place in those, that’s that boost my confidence loves.

Another question you might ask is, did I see any results from winning the contest? Shrug. Sometimes I’ll see a small pop to my sales after winners are announced. I know some authors have found agents or editors via contest wins. I have not. Some of the more helpful contests, the judges provide notes back to the authors, which I do find valuable.  Also, I get to put “award-winning author” in my author title, and that, for what ever arguable reasons, helps legitimize me in the eyes of readers first thinking of picking up one of my books.

To me, contests are also a bit of a litmus test. It helps me know that my writing is continuing to be consistently good. I write so much faster these days. Blue Violet took me three years from word one to publication. Book 2, Hyacinth, took 6 months. Now I write a new book every 2-4 months (rarely as many as 4, I don’t have time). But I still want to produce quality reads.

I don’t submit my books to as many contests as I’d like. That can get horribly expensive, and most aren’t cash prizes. Some will give awards or metals. But most it’s a digital seal to go on my website and the pride. But I love that rush. Even when I don’t win.

Like I said…it’s a bit of an addiction. Much like finishing a book has become one. To me, that’s a huge accomplishment. And release day. Same rush.

Damn, I love being a writer. 🙂

Why Romance?

It’s Valentine’s Day today. Ironically, despite being a romance writer, I can’t stand this holiday. I heartily dislike the idea that my loved ones must be forced to tell me they love me once a year (and vice versa). Please explain why this isn’t happening naturally throughout the year? It’s a retail driven holiday that puts pressure on singles and couples alike, and it sucks.

*Off soap box.* That said, since today is (supposed to be) about love, I think it’s a good day to share my thoughts on something. With a handful of decades reading romance and now 10 years of writing it behind me, the question I still get asked most often is why romance?

I tend to answer with a couple of different reasons. Here are my top 4:

It’s my chances to put a little happiness in a world that has way too much of the opposite.

I can hardly stand to turn on the news these days. It is a rare thing that the stories don’t display a world in chaos filled with hate and violence. By writing romance–stories inherently about HOPE–I am taking the creativity God gifted me with and putting a little happiness back into the world. Out of curiosity, what are you doing to make this a better place?

It makes me happy.

I write and read romance because it…wait for it…makes me happy. I love the interaction between the characters and their growth on the page. I love seeing how finding love makes them happy. And, again, I love the HOPE. For dragon shifters and cowboys and billionaires and nerds and outgoing peole and shy people and people who are hurting alike, the opportunity is out there. Immersing myself in things that turn out beautiful and lovely is a wonderful way to spend some hours. 

Why not? Why aren’t you reading it?

Love is at the center of all relationships (or it should be). It’s at the center of making babies (or it should be). It’s not a female-only past time (guys do feel something other than lust, I hope). And it’s not just escapism for women. Not when mysteries and action/thrillers are also out there. I don’t see most men running around beating up bad guys and solving crimes. Just saying. 

So if these books are about hope and reflecting something that everyone on this planet has the capability to experience. And the have a wish to experience it (traditional forms or not). Please explain to me why more people  don’t read romance? Maybe if more people did, this would be a happier, more hopeful world than it currently is.

Finally… The voices in my head won’t shut up, so I give their mouths something to do. 😉

Come on. You always suspected writers were crazy. I’m just saying…you’re right.  To sit in front of a computer for hours/weeks/months/days/years torturing myself and my characters isn’t exactly an easy task. But I love what I do, and the people I get to meet because I do this, and the happiness it brings. So I guess I’ll continue to put up with Valentine’s Day and sing the praises of love and romance the other 364 days of the year. 

Happy Valentine’s Day! xoxo

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If I Couldn’t Be a Writer?

If I couldn’t be a writer, what would I do?

I think I’ve been asking myself this question since I was old enough to know that there was a choice. One might say that, due to the staggeringly low chances of making a living at this gig, I should have a backup plan.

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There are the practical choices. Ones I’ve already taken at various points of my life. I have a degree in technical writing and did a year long internship. I’ve used that degree in almost every job I’ve had (everyone needs manuals and no one likes to write them). I also have an MBA somewhere in there.

I spent a year as a corporate trainer. I spent five years in a start up web design company doing HTML, graphic arts, and project management. I spent ten years at a major tech company doing business and customer analysis (living in spreadsheets and numbers) and project management again. And now I own a company (Authors On A Dime) where I put all those together with my passion.

I feel like I have the practical covered. That leaves the impractical, which I think is more what this question is about. If I dreamed another dream, what would it look like?

Honestly, I love being a writer so much, it’s a bit of an obsession. But…

I would LOVE to be one of the film historians/introducers/researchers/hosts at TCM (Turner Classic Movies).

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I have watched classic movies all my life. I’m not like 1980s. I’m talking all the way back to the beginning of film. It started with musicals, but that just led me to all the other fantastic films out there. The stories, the acting, the golden age of Hollywood. Love it all! I would be in hog heaven being able to delve into classics, talk about them with other classics lovers, view them, analyze them. In fact, in high school, that was my top job pick. I just had no idea how to go about getting that job.

But…sigh…it’s too late now. Guess I’ll just have to stick with this dream!

What about you? What would you do if you weren’t doing what you do? 😉