Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Another Great Review!

Thanks so much to Sheila at "Why Not? Because I Said So." If you'd like to read her review of "Aglow," go check out her blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hunky and Human

Let's face it...creating the perfect leading man is not easy. You would think it would be, wouldn't you? I mean, the recipe seems pretty standard. Mix together a tall man, broad, shoulders, a glinting smile, and speaking eyes. Add a dash of humor, sensitivity, and intelligence. Dimples are optional, but generally appreciated. Combine this mixture with muscles, good kissing techniques, and more than his fair share of good looks. Voila! Place in story and allow to steam for at least 150 pages.

If you want to stay in the category of standard and cliche, go for it. The tricky part begins when you want him to not be perfect. I want my heroes to be human and still be swoon-worthy. However, it's our failings, our struggles, and needing to grow into something better that makes us human. So how do you give your hero faults? Many go with the whole bad boy thing. It works, but it's almost cliche too. Plus, I don't personally admire a bad boy. I might find him charming and alluring, but not someone I could respect and build a life with. (Unless, of course, he changes completely through his desire to be worthy of my love.)

You could make him shy, vulnerable, tortured, or unavailable. You can make him arrogant, quiet, immature, or driven. I've seen them all done successfully. However, you should never make him lazy, stupid, boorish or oblivious. In the same vein, you should probably avoid having him fart, belch, pick his nose, or chew with his mouth open. Don't give him too big of a nose ( though hawk noses seem popular in 70's harlequins for some reason), squinty eyes, a spare tire or man boobs. (hope I don't offend.)

Why? Many men have some (though I hope not all) of these less than desirable attributes, and they find love. Shoot, I love my husband more than life itself, and there are often less than desirable sounds and smells in our bedroom. Let's face it - real love and real life mean waking up to see your loved one's face and quickly diving under the covers to avoid his/her morning breath. But that's just it. A romance novel isn't real life. It's fantasy. When people read romance, they're looking for something a little more perfect, a little more sublime.

Yet to connect with it and believe the story, they have to feel that it's real. They have to miss the characters like they know them, and they need to believe that they might run into them at the mall someday. It's a conundrum to say the least. But the most important thing to keep in mind when you're creating Mr. Right, is who he needs to be right for. He needs to be right for the reader, but mostly for your heroine. Now you just need to hope you didn't screw her up. But that discussion is for another day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Peanut Butter goes with Jelly like Writing goes with...

Some things just go well together. Bubble baths and candles work. I gag every time I see chocolate covered potato chips on pinterst, however. Here are somethings that I feel work with a writing career, and some that don't.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Once Upon a Christmas by Nancy Lawrence

Once Upon A Christmas
A sparkling Christmas romance set in Regency England.

Miss Nerissa Raleigh isn't interested in finding a husband, but she's in desperate need of a hero! She has written a Gothic romance and it's her dearest Christmas wish to see her book published. If she can support herself as an authoress, she'll be saved from having to make a loveless marriage as her sisters have before her. But the publisher won't buy her book until she makes the story's hero more dashing, daring, and fearless. Nerissa needs a real-life example, a patterncard of a hero. But where can she find such a man in the beau monde?

She finds him driving his curricle in a neck-or-nothing fashion through the streets of London. Handsome Breck Davenant is a wealthy, undisputed leader of fashion and a confirmed bachelor. Breck has no intention of serving as the model for Nerissa's romance nor is he willing to listen to her absurd notions of heroes and love. When Nerissa assures him she's interested only in his hero-like qualities and not at all in him as a man, he's appalled . . . and intrigued.

Before long, Breck is driving his curricle at hair-raising speeds through London with Nerissa by his side. In a Yule season filled with festivities, Breck's amusement over Nerissa's romantic notions slowly turns to love. He wants her for his wife, but first he'll have to prove himself a real hero by capturing her heart.

I'm always looking for a good, clean regency novel. This time of year, I especially enjoy a Christmas themed one. Overall, I enjoyed this romance and thought that the characters were developed well and changed over the story. At first I thought that Nerissa was too naive, which I thought the author used to explain some of the rules of society. She grew on me throughout the book however, and I kind of liked that she was so young and oblivious. Though I have to say, I get it already! Breck is a hero. I didn't need to be hit over the head with it. I liked Breck, and looked forward to his interactions with Nerissa. I also enjoyed his sister and wished she'd made more appearances in the story. This author needs to learn not to head hop though. The POV changed rapidly from one paragraph to another and it was very distracting. There were some typos but nothing that bothered me too much, and some flaunting of society's rules that I thought unfortunate and improbable, but nothing like I've seen in other stories. In general a good story. For my own blog, where I can do what I want, I'll give it 3.5 stars, but on Amazon, I'll round it up to 4 to encourage the author to keep writing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Twelve Months of Christmas

January – I hit the clearance sales. Since there wasn’t enough room to put up all of our decorations (and only two tubs of them left unused in the garage) I know I need to buy more. Luckily they’re all super cheap in January. Wrapping paper is also an important purchase because you can never have too much wrapping paper. I’m so glad my kids don’t mind if their birthday presents are wrapped in reindeer and santa prints.

February - My kids generally break about half of our precious, memory rich ornaments and decorations every year. I put them in a basket and spend January thinking about gluing them back together. By February, I usually get tired enough of looking at them to sit down and do it.

March – Now that everything is glued back together, I can pack up all the decorations that have been dumped in the garage. If I find anything else broken at this point, it stays that way till next year. I also buy another tub or two for the new purchases I made in January.

April – Time to get down the Easter decorations. While my husband’s up in the attic, I ask him to put up the Christmas decorations. He takes one look at the massive stack, mentally measures it, and replies, “Look, let’s do that later. We’re not doing anything next Saturday.”

May – I decide to have a garage sale and push all the Christmas decorations aside. I cover them with a sheet and a sign saying “Not for sale.” Sometime into the morning, I turn around and both the sheet and sign have mysteriously disappeared. So has my husband, I realize, as I try to explain that there’s been a mistake and I’m not selling my stuff.

June – My kids go into the garage to get their bikes and find the Christmas decorations. I find them later in a jumble of garland, ornaments, and singing reindeer. I chase them outside. Gather up the mess, dump it in a box, and try to forget about all the things they’ve re-broken.

July – Stepping outside is like walking into an oven. Nothing sounds better than a winter wonderland. I start playing Christmas carols full blast get out my balsam and pine candles. Sure the neighborhood kids think I’m nuts, but they don’t seem to mind. They run around singing along to Jingle Bells in their swimming suits while eating popsicles with my kids.

August – I make my gift list far in advance. Browsing the wonderful array of tutorials for homemade gifts, I carefully decide which treasure to craft for each person on your list. For a blissful moment, I’m on top of things.

September- Losing weight becomes imperative. I know I’ll put on a good five pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I lose five pounds before the holidays, I break even. I also decide that at this point, there’s not much point in putting the Christmas decorations up in the attic.

October – While decorating for Halloween, I always reflect on how weird I am. I hang ghosts from my trees and lay out my Barbie Zombie Graveyard while listening to Christmas music. Deciding that I should give it a break for a while, I switch to something else. This usually only lasts a couple of weeks.

November- I start to freak out a little bit. The stores are decorated for Christmas, festive merchandise is everywhere, and the new toys are coming out. It’s finally almost here. Wait, I haven’t started all those homemade gifts yet! I haven’t sewn a single candy cane striped pot holder or spent any quality time making kid friends decorations with my children yet. Hurry!

December – I rush out and buy all my presents (homemade is over-rated), throw up as many decorations as I can, spin into a crazy frenzy of trying to get everything done. Then I panic that Christmas is practically here and I haven’t enjoyed the season yet. I realize abruptly that I am not in the mood. I’m not sensing the magic. I need to feel jolly. Help!

And this is why I wrote Aglow. I focused all my Christmas yearning into one sweet, festive romance. Now when I need a dose of Christmas spirit, it’s there waiting for me. I hope it will work the same magic on you – even if you aren’t crazy like me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is there an Organization Expert in the house?

That's right. It only took eight hours to clean this mess. Every minute of it, I was wishing that I hadn't let it get like this. Why hadn't I kept it clean that last time I'd cleaned it? The truth is that I'm a creative person, not an organized person. Luckily, I know how to organize, I just don't automatically do it.

What does this have to do with writing? EVERYTHING! Sorry. I know that I yelled, but I'm a little high strung right now. With my first novel, Aglow, I learned a hard lesson. Creativity isn't enough to make story work. After months of rewrite, I sent it to my editors and they bravely informed me that I didn't have enough conflict to drive the plot or keep the readers interested. What? How did that happen? To fix it, I went back to the basics and diagrammed my story. Sure enough, the rising conflict only rose a couple of inches on the chart, nowhere near the climatic peak. I had to start from scratch.

Well, I've learned my lesson from that story and this garage episode. Don't wait till everything is in a tangled, hopeless mess to wish you'd been more organized. To that purpose I have a giant story chart on my bedroom wall and recipe cards spelling out the important points. I'm diagramming my next story so that I can look at it everyday and plan it all out. Now, when I sit down to be creative, I will have a clear road map to follow and no regrets down the road. I won't be heading into a fourth rewrite thinking, "What the heck is wrong with me?"

Coming Soon

Complete Guide to the LDS Lingo!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paperbacks and People Watching

Now Available on Paperback!

How exciting it was to hold it in my hands- to feel the smooth, glossy cover and see my words in print. This milestone in my life didn't come the way I expected it to, but it's exciting nevertheless. A dream has been realized, and I've joined the ranks of all the other courageous and slightly crazy souls out their who put their souls in print for others to peruse.

I knew I should be a writer when I was very young and realized that at least half of my awareness was always devoted to a different persona. Not in a schizophrenia kind of way, in an imagining I'm someone else kind of way.

For example, I'll take you to the other night when I went to see the off-Broadway Wizard of Oz production with my children. I'm enjoying the moment with them as their mom, relieved that they're behaving themselves. I'm also the cute usher girl flirting with the gorgeous guy taking tickets at the door. I'm a young girl a few rows down going to see a play with her boyfriend and his parents, looking nervous and clinging a little too tightly to his arm. I'm the conductor in the orchestra. I'm the attractive actor playing the Tin Man who looks a little too fondly at Dorothy.

When I'm in public, I am constantly watching people and projecting myself into their lives. I infer or invent feelings, motives, and desires into them based on their body language, dress, and expressions. I notice details about setting and mood that I'm sure most people are oblivious to. I feel like I'm weird, but only because I know very few writers. I'm getting to know more of them though, and they've assured me that while I'm somewhat unique, even among their ranks, we're all avid people watchers. So if you ever get a creepy feeling that you're being watched, there may be a writer around somewhere in the crowd of normal people.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

These Happy, Golden Days

Last weekend, my husband and I enjoyed some time in a cabin on Lake Lucerne, near Eureka Springs, AR. My two sisters and their husbands went as well and we had a great time. Unfortunately for me, I had just put my book up for sale so I had a harder time relaxing than I otherwise would have. Unfortunately for my sister, Cara, she was the only one able to get an internet connection so I was constantly on her phone checking sales, facebook, and my Amazon page.

My husband and I were celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary. I was also celebrating my first ever book sales. I'm looking forward to celebrating many, many more anniversaries and hopefully many, many more book sales in my life. Of course, the golden days of celebration are few and far between. Most days we just have to put our shoulders to the wheel and do the heavy, gritty work that makes them possible. Marriage and parenting are at once the most challenging and most rewarding pursuits in this life. I have to say that writing is not far behind them. Marketing is turning out to be extremely challenging and I have yet to see if it is rewarding. Ugh! I'm going to stare at this picture for a while and try to relax again.

Friday, October 28, 2011


It was scary to hit that button last night. Once you publish, you've put yourself out there for criticism and failure. On the other hand, if you don't try, you'll never know if you're any good or have any success. So, I took hold of my courage and clicked "Save and Publish."

It's too soon to know if people like it, but so far I've been overwhelmed by support from friends and family. I'm sending a heartfelt thanks to all of you.

I'm going to enjoy this ride, even with it's speed bumps and detours. Thanks for being brave enough let me take the wheel.

Stay tuned for giveaways and check out my novel, Aglow on Kindle and Nook.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Read. Review. Repeat.

I read this the other day and it just resonated with me: "Author Jay Lake said: "Sadly, being a professional writer significantly interferes with my reading career."

I've always heard that to write well, you need to read voraciously. That's never been a problem for me. Until now.

I've been so obsessed with my own story that I've really only been living in the real world when I had to. Even when I'm doing other things, my brain is still partially devoted to the story. It's been a moment I wake up till the last fuzzy thoughts before sleep kind of thing. Even then I know my brain works on it while I'm asleep, because I've always got solutions for things when I wake up. Unfortunately, while I wait for my lovely, volunteer editors to get back to me, I feel totally lost. I'm still being mommy, wife, housekeeper, ect..., but that exciting world always on the edge of my consciousness has fallen silent while it speaks to other people.

At first, it was awful! Until I realized that I could read.

It has been fabulous to just enjoy reading again. And when I came to a typo or and badly worded phrase, I could just go one without fixing it. OK, sometimes, I mentally fixed it because it drove me crazy not too, but I was able to avoid this the longer I read.

Since I hope to get reviews on my book, I've realized that I should do the same for other indie authors. My first will be for "Deep Blue Secret", by Christie Anderson, which I finished reading yesterday. All right, I just flat out read it yesterday. Christie is a graduate from BYU and this is apparently her first book. I will be posting my review tomorrow here on my blog, and probably on Amazon and as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hoooo Hoooo loves the Holidays?

This month is turning out to be really cool...literally. It's been so nice to be able to go outside without sweating in .5 seconds! Since I was feeling angsty for fall, I bought a candle by Glade (Cashmere Woods) that I love. I used the same scent for fall last year. I loved it when my daughter got home from school and asked why it smelled like Halloween.

I was thrilled because I realized that my daughter's scent memories are being built. Someday, she will smell this scent or a similar one and think of happy childhood times.

As I've been working on Aglow, I've also used another scent to help me stay in the mood for Christmas. It's a balsam and pine candle that instantly gives me Christmas spirit.

This brings up a question I've been pondering as an author. Who enjoys stories that are set in a certain holiday? Do you like to read them all year, or just at that particular holiday? I'm considering the possibilities of writing a collection of short stories for all the major holidays. What do you think? I wonder what candle I should get to inspire me for the Fourth of July. Do they make a candle that smells like gunpowder?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Final Cover for Aglow!

Great color? yes! (My personal favorite)
Festive? yes!
Can you read the title when it's tiny? yes!
Does it reflect themes of the story? yes!

Do you like it? (There's a pattern here guys!)

Monday, August 22, 2011

The cover for Aglow

Here it is, hot off the...errr....canvas.
That's right. It's my original art work.
My lovely and talented mom added the title and my name with indesign.

I'm anxious to get some feedback on it.


After feedback, this went through revisions. Kind of neat to see the original though.

Aglow...Chapter 1

Dusk was falling and the curling ribbon of the old, familiar highway began to glow as drivers turned on their lights. Because it was the Christmas season, the familiar sight took on a festive magic. The lights looked like strings of red and white beads, strung like garland around the southern Missouri hills. As she saw it, Ashley felt warm tingles of happiness for the first time in weeks. The trip home for Christmas was usually a lot more exciting than this. “That’s life for you,” she thought, “Always so different than you expect it to be.”
She had made it home at the end of every fall semester since she’d left for college, eager to get home to celebrate Christmas with her family. Usually on these drives, she could barely contain her enthusiasm as she listened to Christmas music and imagined the delights to come. Just the thought of her mom’s baking had been enough to make her giddy with anticipation. This time however, no matter how hard she tried to concentrate on all of the things that made Christmas so magical, her mood hadn’t been even remotely festive. Even the thought of all the carefully selected gifts in the back seat didn’t cheer her up. Alone with her depression, the thirteen hundred miles from Salt Lake City to Forest View had been long and tedious.
Depression wasn’t new to Ashley, but the dull ache that had been plaguing her for weeks was different than anything she’d experienced before. She realized that it was bizarre to be depressed about finishing school, but no amount of rational thinking could banish it. After nine semesters at the University of Utah, she had her bachelor’s degree in biology and no idea what she wanted to do with it. This uncertainty was not the problem however. In rare moments when she allowed herself to consider the matter, she knew that the real problem was her personal life.
She’d always had a strangely romantic side to her that contrasted with her practical personality and logical mind. But logic was for science and not for the heart, so like most girls, she had dreamed of falling in love. But even surrounded by thousands of good LDS guys, love and marriage had eluded her. Ashley had seen all of her close friends happily married through the years, but she had never even dated anyone seriously. Finishing school had just highlighted her disappointment, leaving her unmotivated to consider her options in a future so different from the one she had always dreamed of.

Worse still, for one glowing day, she had glimpsed what love could be. “Why did I have to meet him? I mean, really, why?” As she spoke the words, they hung bitterly around her, waiting for an answer that wouldn’t come. But Ashley couldn’t allow herself to follow that train of thought further, so she turned on the radio. She scanned the local stations until she found one playing a Christmas song.

In her abstraction, she hadn’t noticed how close she was to home until she saw a sign that read, “Historic Forest View, Next Three Exits.” It was a large, artistic billboard with scrolled antique lettering, not a sign from the Highway Department. It was paid for by the city’s board of tourism. Both the sign and the board were new, and Ashley had wondered ever since they’d put it up what was historic about her home town. She knew it was good for the antique and hospitality business, however, so she didn’t blame them too much.
Forest View lay in a valley along the route of a new highway that went to Branson, Missouri, and the flood of tourists flocking there year round had begun to benefit the little town. Businesses that catered to these tourists had sprung up like weeds and the population had seen a sudden and unprecedented boom. The billboards advertising hotels and bed and breakfasts were unsightly, but Ashley felt that Forest View had so far managed to retain most of its small town charm.

Anticipation at last began to build within her as she crested a hill and caught a glimpse to her right of the little valley all lit up and welcoming. She turned up the radio and was finally successful in banishing her problems to the back of her mind.

Ashley took the exit that would take her through town, even though it wasn’t the shortest route to her parent’s house. She wanted to see the old downtown area where she knew the weathered buildings and lampposts would be brightly strung with Christmas lights and decorations. The lights that were strung from lamppost to lamppost across Main Street were the same old fashioned Christmas lights she remembered from her childhood. Many of them were burned out, but somehow that only added to the nostalgia of it. Here in town, the green and red traffic lights added to the glow and festivity of the scene, and an enormous tree was lit up in the square. It was nothing compared to some of the light displays she’d seen in Utah, but it affected her in ways that the others hadn’t because it meant home.

Soon she turned onto the road that wound slowly up a hill to where her parents lived. The other houses that she passed were strung with lights and seemed to twinkle a welcome at her as she went by. The familiar tones of Bing Crosby’s, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” began to play next, and Ashley laughed at the perfect timing. It was like a scene from a movie, complete with a soundtrack, as she rounded the last curve and pulled into her parents' driveway.

Their house was a two-story red brick home that stood solidly under a cluster of pine trees, but the traditional appearance of the house was hidden by an extravagant display of Christmas lights. There seemed to be lights everywhere, outlining the roof, the windows, and the railing on the porch. There were also lights on the trees, bushes, and fence, making her parents’ yard look like a beautiful, glowing fairy land.

She sat amazed for a moment, trying to take it all in. She hadn’t seen such a display at her parents’ house since before her father’s back injury three years ago. Her brother Shawn was back from his mission this year however, so she figured that her mom had somehow coerced him into putting up her lights. “He must have enjoyed that” Ashley thought. She'd have to remember to tease him about it.

She was just getting out of the car when the front door opened and her mom came out through a stream of light to welcome her. Her dad and Shawn followed close behind. They were all talking at once, hugging her and pelting her with questions. She clung to her mom for a moment, finding the peace that always came in the familiar warmth and scent of her mother’s embrace.

Then realizing that her Dad and Shawn were gathering up her things to bring inside, she turned to help them. “Don’t worry about your stuff,” her mom said, stopping her from turning back to the car. “They can get it. You’ve got to be exhausted after driving all day. Her mom put an arm around her and guided her up the front steps. “What took you so long?” her Mom asked. Without pausing to let Ashley answer, she continued, “I was going to call you, but I don’t like you talking on your cell phone when you’re driving.”

“I’m sorry. I should have called you when I stopped for gas,” she apologized, pausing on the porch to wait for her dad and Shawn. “Traffic was heavier than I expected and it rained all the way across Kansas so it took me longer than I thought it would when I called you this morning.”

“Well, you got here safe,” her mom consoled her, ushering her into the house. “Do you want something to eat?”

Ashley stood in the little foyer and looked around at the decorations and poinsettias that her mom always put there. Suddenly it was just too much. She threw her arms around her Mom and hugged her close to hide the tears that were slipping down her cheeks.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” her mom asked, lifting Ashley’s face with firm hands and wiping away the tears.

Ashley couldn’t stand her mom’s scrutiny or her concern right then so she just said, “Nothing, but, oh I needed this so much. I can’t tell you how good it is to be home.”

“I’ll bet. Well, come on. I’ve been keeping dinner warm for you, and I was just about to make some fudge.”

Not long after 9:00 a.m., the bright glow of morning finally penetrated Ashley’s closed eyelids. She tried to turn away from the window and drift back into the comfortable oblivion of sleep, but she needed to go to the bathroom. Groaning but resigned, she finally gave in and flung off the covers. Expecting to face the arctic climate of her dorm room, she was surprised to realize that it was warm. Her eyes weren't quite able to focus yet, but the faint whir of the heater and the plush carpet beneath her feet prodded her drowsy brain into remembering where she was. She was suddenly flooded with the realization that dorm life, with its cold musty air and clammy, commercial carpets, was finally over. She also realized that breakfast was probably waiting for her in the kitchen downstairs.

Not bothering to shower and change, she went downstairs a few minutes later still wearing an old T-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms. As she went, she considered redoing her ponytail since messy strands were flying all around her face, but she just pushed them impatiently behind her ears. It was Saturday morning, so she doubted that she would see anybody but family who wouldn’t care what she looked like. Being home was such a luxury!

The living room was deserted, but there was a fire burning in the brick fireplace - a definite sign that she wasn’t the first to wake up. As she crossed through the living room and foyer to the kitchen, she could hear the busy sounds of her mom loading the dishwasher. Like her bedroom, the kitchen faced east so she had to squint her still bleary eyes to keep from being blinded in the sunny room. As she gingerly tried to open them fully, her mom said, “Good morning, honey! Would you like some French toast?”
“Do you really need to ask?”

Her mom laughed and turned to put a few slices of egg sodden bread on the electric griddle. As Ashley’s eyes began to adjust, she couldn’t help but smile as she watched her mom with her softly rounded figure and graying hair cheerfully fixing breakfast, even though it was clear she’d already made it for the rest of the family earlier. Nothing made her mom happier than nurturing someone, and Ashley was happy to let her.

Ashley sat with one leg tucked under her on one of the tall kitchen stools at the counter, the other leg gently swinging in unconscious rhythm with the ticking of the kitchen clock. She glanced around at the familiar knickknacks and blue gingham curtains. She had been here for Thanksgiving, but it had only been for a few days. It felt good to be settling in indefinitely. Besides, she hadn’t paid much attention to things at Thanksgiving, being much too distracted by… “Shoot!” she said out loud before she realized it. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about that?

“What’s wrong?”

“Uh, nothing, Mom. Don’t worry about it. Just a stray thought.”

Her mom looked like she would have liked to dig to the bottom of it, but she shrugged and changed the subject. She began talking about when Ashley’s brother Keith was due to arrive with his family, and everything that needed to be done before they got there. Ashley welcomed the turn of conversation because the last thing she wanted to do was talk about what was wrong with her.

When her breakfast was put down in front of her, she slathered it with butter and syrup, repressing her guilt over the calories, and dug in.

“Take it easy honey, it isn’t going anywhere!” her mom teased her.

“It’s so good! You have no idea. I’ve been living off energy bars and vitamin water for too long.”

“Well, why in the world didn’t you eat a better breakfast than that?”

“Oh, that wasn’t just breakfast. It was almost every meal. I didn’t have time for much more with all of my projects and tests, and it was better than constantly feeding from vending machines and fast food joints.”

“No wonder you’re looking so thin!”

“Don’t talk like it’s a bad thing, Mom! And don’t go trying to fatten me up either! I’ll do fine all by myself over Christmas. It’s amazing how quickly those Christmas goodies add up to pounds!” She concentrated on her breakfast for a minute before pausing to look up at her Mom. “Let’s not do much today, Mom. After the last few weeks, it would be wonderful to just lay around the house all day and do nothing.”

“You’re just burned out from school. You’ll soon be ready to tackle life again.”

“I don’t know. I’m having a bit of trouble with that right now. I don’t know what to do with my future. I’ve got to figure it out, but I just can’t seem to make any decisions. To be honest, I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Then don’t. Things have a way of straightening themselves out.”

Ashley looked skeptical, and began stirring streams of syrup and melted butter into swirling patterns on her plate with her fork. She’d heard her mom say that many times before, but it seemed unlikely that her future would just roll out before her like a red carpet leading to happiness.

“Sometimes I wish I was still a little girl. Being an adult is not easy,” Ashley said, almost to herself.

“It’s got its benefits too, don’t forget.”

“Like what, for example?”

“Well, like, you can be a wife and mother.”

Ouch. And just like that, her mom got to the crux of the matter. “Do you think I don’t want that Mom? I do, more than anything. I had expected to meet the man of my dreams and be married by now. All my friends are, but I guess I’m just not the kind of girl that guys go for.”

“That’s just ridiculous.”

Ashley saw the expression on her mom’s face and knew exactly what she was thinking. Their conversation teetered on the verge of one they’d had a hundred times. She knew that her mom thought she was beautiful, but didn’t all moms think that about their daughters? Ashley could accept that she was pretty, but apparently she didn’t have that unquantifiable something that made women attractive to men. Some girls had it in abundance, and sometimes with no more than average good looks, they were able to get more than their fair share of male attention. Her roommate Chloe had attracted men in droves. Hanging around her at social activities had never failed to deal Ashley’s fragile ego a harsh blow. It was always the same. Several guys would battle for Chloe’s attention and never give her a second glance.

Ashley had always assumed that it was her weight that made her unattractive, but as she had battled through the years to become thinner, she often wondered if it made any difference. It hadn’t seemed to. She had always been self-conscious around her stick figure friends because nature had cursed her with more than her fair share of curves. After countless hours of exercise, she was actually pretty pleased with the way she looked, but she would probably always be curvier than she wanted. Why couldn’t she have been born in the days when her type of figure would have been in style? Ah, this was the same pointless discussion she’d had with herself since she was sixteen.

She looked up and saw her mom glance anxiously at the clock. “Are you late for something, Mom? Don’t worry about me. I’ll wash these dishes and straighten up for you.”

“No, no. I’m not going anywhere. Don’t you think you should go and get dressed for the day?”

“I will eventually.” Ashley saw her mom reaching for her dishes so she quickly gathered them herself and went to the sink.

“Let me get those,” her mom objected. “Run on upstairs and shower. It will cheer you up.”

“Cheer me up? Honestly, mom, I’m fine. I’m happier this morning than I’ve been for a while.”


“And I’ve got all day remember? I might not even get dressed at all!” Ashley took her dishes over to the sink. The dishwasher was running, but her mom had hot dishwater in the sink so she plunged her plate and fork into the foamy suds. Puffs of white bubbles flew in all directions, and she began swishing the dishrag over the smooth surface of her plate.

“Who needs men anyway?” she asked her mom, returning to their conversation as she searched for her fork in the sudsy water. It wasn’t her mom who answered however.

“Surely we’re good for something?”

Ashley spun around as she heard the deep voice. She recognized it instantly, but her brain couldn’t make sense of it. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw who was standing in her mom’s kitchen, casually leaning over the counter, for all the world as if he belonged there. A stream of suds ran from the dishrag in her hand, down her arm, and finally off her elbow to the floor. She never even noticed it however because her whole attention was focused on Mark Ellison.

He raised his eyebrows, but his brown eyes were twinkling merrily as if he found her surprise amusing. After a few seconds, Ashley realized that her mouth was hanging open and closed it firmly. Then, she stood stunned while her mom greeted him as though nothing earth shattering was happening, which she could have assured her that it was.

“Good morning, Mark. I forgot you were coming so early. I’ve been talking to Ashley and I lost track of time. I didn’t even hear the doorbell.”

“I ran into your husband outside and he told me to come on in.”

“Oh, I didn't know Charles was out there. Well, the kids aren’t here yet, but I’m sure you won’t mind waiting a little bit. Ashley just got up,” her mom pointed out rather awkwardly.

But Mark would be able to see this for himself, Ashley realized with horror. He was studying her from head to foot, taking in the full glory of her crumpled pajamas and bed head. She could happily have sunk into the floor and sweet obscurity.

“So I see. Good morning, Ashley,” Mark said, shining the full force of his fatally attractive smile at her. She almost didn’t hear his next words because her focus was riveted on the thin, vertical dimples on either side of his mouth. “How was the drive?”

“Uh, not bad. It rained all the way across Kansas,” she replied mechanically, and rather tonelessly, as her mind struggled to figure out what was going on. “What are you doing here?” she finally managed to spit out.

“Your mother roped me into getting her Christmas tree with your niece and nephew this morning.”

“I see,” she replied, but she didn’t. She was more confused than before.
“Nonsense,” her mom said. “You said you’d be happy to do it when I waved the promise of dinner in front of you.”
“You’re shameless and you know it, Nora. A home cooked meal is awfully tempting for a single guy who lives on take out.”

“You drove all the way from Idaho to get us a Christmas tree?” Ashley asked, feeling stupid, but determined to get things straight.
Mark looked at her for a moment as though she was speaking gibberish, and then he suddenly burst into laughter. She looked at her mom for an explanation, but Nora was concentrating on scraping some invisible spot off the counter.

As soon as he was able, Mark said, “Sorry, I didn’t know that no one had told you. I moved down here a few weeks ago, right after Thanksgiving in fact. I took that job as city planner for Forest View. I’m living next door.”

Ashley was sure the earth was suddenly spinning faster on its axis. It was too good to be true. And too horrifying. “Which house next door? The Sherrons’ place?”

“Yep. They happened to be moving out at the same time I needed a place to stay. It worked out pretty good. There aren’t too many apartments in this town yet. I’m renting it with an option to buy later if I want to. I guess you haven’t had time to catch up on things around here yet, have you?”

“There was plenty of time for someone to mention that we had a new neighbor!” Ashley cast a suspicious glance at her mother’s entirely too serene face.

Mark too was looking at Nora strangely. “Well, anyway, that’s why I’m here. Your family has been great, helping me get settled in and stuff.”

Just then, the doorbell began ringing wildly and Nora hurried to open the front door. Left alone with Mark, Ashley turned back to the sink to finish washing her dishes so that she could go change.

“It’s great to see you again, Ashley.”

Suddenly, the humor of the situation struck her. “Well, thanks,” she said, setting her dishes to dry on a dish towel and turning around, “but I can’t imagine a worse sight than I must be right now.”

“What's the problem? It’s not like I’ve never seen what a girl looks like when she’s just rolled out of bed.”

Ashley looked at him as though he had grown a third eyeball.

“I’ve got three sisters,” he hurried to explain, apparently realizing how his comment could be interpreted.

“Yeah, of course. Sorry. I just,” Ashley shook her head to clear it. “I’m still sleepy I guess. I didn’t mean…um, yeah.” On that brilliant conclusion, she made herself shut up.

“You look better than they do,” he assured her, sounding and looking uncharacteristically awkward.

She was struggling to find something to say, feeling absurdly like she needed to reassure him, when she was suddenly mobbed by two kids who threw themselves at her almost hard enough to knock her over.

“Ashley! You’re back!” squealed her five year old niece Rebecca, who was managing to bounce up and down while hugging her tightly around the hips.

Rebecca’s seven year old brother Daniel was quick to curb her enthusiasm. “Settle down,” he told his sister. Then to Ashley he said, “We were so mad last night when mom and dad wouldn’t let us come see you, but they said it was too late. So, we came as soon as they would let us today.” His tone clearly expressed his opinion of their decision.

Knowing that her brother Justin and his wife Kayla were hardly unreasonable parents, she replied soothingly, “Well, that wasn’t very nice of them to make you wait, but it was pretty late when I got home last night. In fact, you wouldn’t have been able to stay very long anyway, but now we have the whole day!”

Becca bounced around with glee and yelled, “Yay!” at the top of her lungs.

Daniel looked excited too, and he asked hopefully, “Are you coming with us to get the tree?”

Ashley wasn’t sure what to say to this without hurting their feelings, but she was saved from answering by the arrival of their parents, her brother Justin and his wife Kayla, as well as the baby of the family, Andrew. They'd been walking too slowly for Becca and Daniel, who'd quickly left them behind on the short walk from their house. Ashley hugged Kayla and Justin, and then held out her hands to Andrew. He was bigger than the last time she'd seen him just a few weeks before, and from the way he went right to her, she was hopeful that he remembered her.

As the adults stood around talking, Becca reached a very definite conclusion. She pointed an accusing finger and said, "Aunt Ashley's still wearing her pajamas and her hair is all messy. She can't go like that!"

“Aunt Ashley isn’t going,” her father said firmly. “There isn’t room for her in Grandpa’s truck. Unless one of you wants to stay behind to make room for her?” He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

Rebecca and Daniel immediately volunteered each other to stay home, but both insisted that they were going. It was therefore sadly determined that Aunt Ashley couldn’t come. “We’ll be back soon,” Becca told Ashley to make her feel better. Ashley tried to look appropriately disappointed.

“Now, Mark, are you sure you know where Brother McDaniel’s field is?” Ashley’s mom asked him before they left.

“I have a pretty good idea. I’ve got his number in my cell phone, so I’ll call him if I need to. He said that the gate was unlocked and that he had tied orange construction tape around the trees that we could choose from. Oh, and can you tell me why he said not to worry about stopping by to pay him for it, because you’d already sent him a check?”

Ashley couldn’t figure out why, but there was a note of severity in Mark’s tone, and his eyebrows were raised expectantly as if he was waiting for her mom to explain herself.
Surprisingly, Ashley saw that her mom was looking a little embarrassed. “Oh, Mark! I knew you would try to pay for it yourself, but it’s our tree. You’re already doing so much by going all the way out there to get it!”

Mark’s dimples flashed briefly. “Never mind. I’ll think of something else to get you for Christmas, Nora!”

Justin had already taken the kids out to the truck, so on these words, Mark left, closing the door with a swirl of cold air. Ashley stood staring at the closed door for a second then turned to confront her mother. Seeing the storm brewing on Ashley's face, Kayla took Andrew from her, but stayed to watch the fireworks.

“So, Mom – how did you forget to tell me that Mark Ellison had moved in next door? I suppose it just slipped your mind.”

“It never came up,” she replied defensively.

“You didn’t think I would be interested, I suppose?” she asked sarcastically.

“Well, you never asked about him.”

Ashley clenched her teeth in an effort not to let her frustration get the best of her. “I never asked about him because I was doing my best not to think about him. I didn’t think that there was a chance in the world that he would take a job in such a Podunk place as this, so I thought I’d never see him again. You knew all along that he was going to show up here this morning and you let me sit around the kitchen looking like this until he showed up! Aagh! I’m so embarrassed!”

“Well, that was quite an explosion! I was trying to get you to go get dressed.”

“You could have said, ‘Hey, by the way, Mark Ellison is coming over in a few minutes. You might want to look half-way decent.’”

“I wanted to surprise you. Don’t worry, you look fine,” her mother assured her.

Ashley just stared at her as if she was crazy.

“Anyway,” Kayla said joining in, “Mark sure seemed to think so. He hardly took his eyes off of you the whole time!”

Part of her was pleased by this, but she was mostly furious with embarrassment. “And this is what he was looking at!” Ashley exclaimed, motioning to her unkempt appearance. “Sorry, Kayla. I know you just got here, but I have to go shower.”

As she clumped up the stairs, fuming, Ashley thought to herself, “Impossible. I just absolutely can’t believe this.” And yet it was true. She’d thought she would never see him again, but Mark Ellison, hunk of all hunks, had moved in next door.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

There's more in my arsenal - a look ahead to 2012!

Warm in her bed with very pleasant dreams, it would have taken a canon to wake Lauren up if the doorbell hadn't rung. That sound however had her instantly alert. Jake had said he'd be over in the morning, but surely not this early. She looked at her clock and saw that it was only 8:00. It had to be someone else. But then she heard the distant, but unmistakable tones of his voice. It sounded like he was talking to Bethany. She strained to hear what they were saying. The thought of seeing him again so soon after last night had her heart pounding like a jackhammer.

“I'm not getting up! He can just go away!” she said quietly to herself. But the thought of him doing just that had her scurrying to find her bra and slippers. She paused after putting them on just long enough to comb her hair and brush her teeth before walking into the kitchen, trying desperately to look calm.

She wasn't aware of making any noise, but Jake immediately turned towards her. The look he gave her could have pinned her to the wall. She probably would have stood there with her mouth hanging open if he hadn't looked away almost immediately to answer something Bethany had just asked him.

“No, I wouldn't go out if I were you. Schools are cancelled for a reason. I had enough trouble driving this morning and I have four wheel drive.”

“OK, but Ashley's going to anyway, I bet. She's such a workaholic that she'll probably go in if she has to slide on her butt all the way.”

Justin laughed and turned casually towards Ashley to say, “Good morning, sleepyhead. Nice pj's.”

Only then did Ashley realize that she was wearing her red chile pepper pajamas. The top said, “Too hot to handle,” and had flames shooting out everywhere. She decided that if he could act normally, so could she. She replied lightly, “Yes, corny, but true.”

“I never argue with a woman who hasn't had her breakfast yet.”

“Very wise, Cooper. I've learned the wisdom of that myself living in a house full of girls.”

“Arguing is out, but there's no reason not to discuss things.”

Her eyes threw daggers at him, but he smiled innocently at her. Bethany was looking very confused, apparently sensing that there was more to his last remark than she could make sense of.

“Um, I'm going to go see if Ashley's planning to go to work,” Beth told them and headed for the stairs.

“Tell her I'll give her a lift if she wants one,” Jake called after her. He softened his voice and leaned closer to Lauren to say, “It will give us a chance to talk.”

He leaned against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest. Even slouched down a little as he was, he was still so much taller than her that Lauren stood on her tip toes and hissed at him, “Don't you dare!”

His face grew serious. “Believe me, that's the last thing I want to do, but don’t think I didn't notice that you didn't promise to talk to her yourself last night. Frankly, I don't think you have the nerve, so I've decided that if you won't do it, I will.”

“That would embarrass the heck out of her!”

“Then do it yourself.”

“I will, but I haven't had a chance to. Besides, what's the rush? Why can't I wait for the right time?”

“Because I want to kiss you right now, but I can't because someone might walk in. I can't even touch you, and believe me, my patience is wearing thin. I should just kiss you in front of everyone and let her get the message.”

“Who says I'd let you?”

“Oh, you'd let me. You want me to right now. It's written all over your face.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dinner time at the Wright's home. Want a taste?

...He looked very amazing.

In fact, she got a little breathless looking at him and completely forgot that she was holding a lit match until it burned her fingers. “Ouch!” She waved it out and dropped the burned remains of the match onto the white table cloth. “Darn it!” She put her singed finger in her mouth briefly before waving it in the air, as if either would do much to dull the pain. Then, ignoring the soft chuckle coming from the doorway, she lit another match and attempted to actually light a candle with it. The wick of the new candle was sealed flat to the top of the candle however, and by the time she pried it up with her fingernail, the flame had moved most of the way down the match stick, which was now a curl of charcoal like the previous one. She was able to blow it out before her fingers got singed again, but Mark, who had been watching in silent amusement said, “Can I help?”

He took the matchbox she held out to him and soon had the candles lit. “What’s the point of lighting candles if you leave the lights on?”

Before she knew what he intended, Mark flipped the light switch, plunging the room into total darkness except for the light shining through the door to the kitchen and the fragile glow of light around the table. Suddenly, the room seemed separated from the rest of the world, and the isolation of the tiny circle of light was surprisingly intimate.

...The light snapped on again,abruptly, blinding them both.

“I hate to break things up in here,” Shawn said coming into the room, “but I thought I’d better, since the whole family is about to come in for dinner."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do You Hear Jingle Bells?

If you're at my house, you probably do. Or possibly Frosty the Snowman or Joy to the World. Yes, I know it's only August, but inspiration is as vital to good writing as a good vocabulary. Fortunately for me, I love Christmas music. (I'm usually listening to it by now anyway and this gives me an excuse.) So although I'm still folding laundry, wiping noses, and washing dishes, all I have to do to get ready to work on "Aglow" is put on my Christmas playlist. Suddenly, I'm back in my characters' world, decorating the tree, baking gingerbread, and unwittingly standing under the mistletoe.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Aglow... the opening paragraph.

Dusk was falling and the curling ribbon of the old familiar highway began to glow as drivers tuned on their lights. Because it was the Christmas season, the familiar sight took on a festive magic. The lights looked like strings of red and white beads, strung like garland around the southern Missouri hills. Ashley felt warm tingles of excitement for the first time the entire drive. The trip home for Christmas was usually a lot more…thrilling…than this. “That’s life for you,” she thought, “Always so different than you expect it to be.”

My love. My life. My Sounding Board.

So when writing romantic fiction, if you really want to know if something works or is cheesy, run it through the Ethan filter. If it was the least bit cheesy and you just didn't catch it, you can be sure he will. Especially when he reads it in his mocking voice. Suddenly, what was once a pretty phrase becomes an abomination of unnecessary fluff. Then, after running it through the filter, find the middle ground between girly fluff and unbending pragmatism. And Voila!
Cute Flying Pink Bird