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Sparkle & Shine is Live!

You can finally read the second installment of the Try Again Series. I poured so much of me into this book, and I can’t wait to find out whether you still hate Rich, or if you’ve fallen just a little bit in love with him too.

Grab your copy from your favorite retailer below:

Buy Sparkle & Shine today

Sparkle & Shine, Chapter One Preview

I feel like I have been talking about this book for ages, but I’m not one of those people who pretends their book is a secret until it’s out, so since I started this journey with Alex back in November 2017, I have been so pumped to bring it to you. Not gonna lie, writing the first draft of this story was one of the major reasons why I decided to self-publish. I couldn’t imagine sitting on this draft for years waiting for an agent to like it.

The book has changed a lot since then. It’s changed a lot since January for that matter, but I couldn’t be more excited to share the first chapter with you today. Read to the end for links to release day sign-ups at my Sparkle & Shine pinterest board! And check back next week for the cover reveal!

Chapter One

Jab, cross, jab. Slide right. Uppercut. Back. Left hook.

Alex ran through the sequence three more times as she pummeled the bag. Her trainer watched with his arms crossed over his gigantic man chest. He hadn’t told her once to keep her chin down or her elbows in or her feet wide. When she finished, he steadied the bag then raised one eyebrow and said, “Ring?”

Alex pumped a gloved fist into the air.

She had only joined the boxing gym a year ago, and despite her enthusiasm, the sport had not come easily to her. Stepping and punching at the same had taken Alex weeks to master. Of course, it had also taken Alex two other trainers and innumerable flashes of her middle finger to the other gym members before she’d found Dale.

Alex had only been in the ring a handful of times, even though Dale had been pushing her to join the Saturday sparring sessions. It was something she hadn’t even considered. She was too busy with school and running her own jewelry business to squeeze anything else into her Saturday. She’d think of a new excuse not to come after she graduated next week—if she had any brain cells left.

For now, she was going to pretend she could kick Dale’s ass.

Dale held the ropes apart for her to jump in, then took up a defensive stance. He wasn’t tall, but he was broad, and had to be a heavyweight with all those bulging muscles. In any other circumstance, Alex might have taken a moment to admire those muscles but standing opposite him as he bounced on his toes, Alex’s heart thrummed in her throat.

A hit from this guy would hurt like hell.

She swallowed, and Dale grinned. “That Chinese crap you had last night catching up with you?” he asked with a wink.

Ticking her off was Dale’s favorite way to push her and nagging her about her diet triggered all sorts of other issues. Alex shook off her nerves, and took up her offensive stance, focusing her anger into power instead. Dale’s grin sharpened, and he bobbed side to side, teasing her as she approached him.

“Show me what you got, Stafford.”

Alex made her move, and even though Dale’s blocks were more jarring than hitting the bag, she slid through the sequence just as easily as she had when it had been just her and the bag. She even slid to the right just in time to avoid Dale’s left hook.

“Again,” Dale said.

Alex did it again and again until Dale tripped her up with a surprise uppercut just after she’d dodged his left hook on the sixth time through the sequence. Alex blocked, barely, but the force made her teeth clack together. She had to backpedal halfway across the ring, but Dale didn’t let up. He loosed an onslaught of punches that had her huddled down with her gloves covering her face as she tried to keep her footing.

“Don’t lock your knees,” he said, not even winded by his assault.

Alex hadn’t realized she’d zipped up her legs in an effort to take up less space, she jumped back onto her toes and tried to dance away from Dale, but he was backing her into a corner. Alex didn’t know what to do about it. She was barely keeping her brain from panicking.

“Come on, Stafford, I’m leaving my torso wide open.”

When Alex peeked between her gloves, she saw that he was indeed leaving his left side open every time he threw a punch. He’d deliberately left her an opening and she’d missed it. Alex slid to her right, again avoiding his cross, then hit his open ribs, using more force than usual because she was pissed. She was angry at him for tricking her into sparring, and angry at herself for missing the blatant opening.

Dale, being Dale, danced back, the blow not even making his breath come hard, and they slid right back into Alex’s rehearsed routine until Alex was panting and covered in a fresh layer of sweat. Even Dale had a little glistening sparkle to his skin.

“You suck,” Alex said between breaths.

Dale only shrugged. “You eat Chinese, I’m gonna make sure you put the calories to good use.”

“I was in the studio for fifteen hours yesterday. I had to eat something!” Alex kicked at his shins, but big as he was, Dale was nimble, and jumped back, laughing at her.

“Hey, you agreed to the meal plan.”

“I agreed to your recommended adjustments to my diet. I did not sign away my right to eat junk food forever.”

“You might have dodged that surprise uppercut if you’d had the proper fuel.”

Dale pulled off his gloves and held the ropes apart so Alex could squeeze out of the ring. She socked him in the gut as she ducked down with her gloved right hand, not hard, but hard enough for him to grunt in surprise. “Don’t pin your underhanded tactics on me. I know how you are.”

“Seriously though,” Dale said once he’d joined Alex back on the practice mat, “there is absolutely no reason why you’re not sparring.”

Alex rolled her eyes and followed Dale toward their station. She pulled off her gloves as they walked. They were pink and had sparkles on the piping. They made her smile, even as Dale tried her patience. “Can we have this conversation again after I graduate?”

“And then you’ll be visiting your grandmother, and then your new jewelry line comes out, and then you have your friend’s wedding and after that–”

“You know way too much about my life. Are you stalking me?”

Dale traded her the gloves for a bottle of water and towel. “If you treated me more like a trainer and less like a psychiatrist, there wouldn’t be so much to know.”

“Hey, hitting things is therapeutic.”

Dale downed his own bottle of water in one, and Alex wandered if he’d ever posed for a hot boxer calendar. She’d buy it.

“You probably should be in regular therapy too, you know. It’s not so bad. I know a good therapist.” Dale almost sang the last part, teasing like they were still in grade school.

Alex tossed her towel at him. “Yeah, let your husband drum up his own business, okay?”

Dale shrugged and tossed her towel right back. “You know where to find him when you change your mind.”

She wiped the sweat from her face and said, “Speaking of, I stress baked when I got home last night and brought you some cookies. They’re in my locker.”

Dale frowned and shot her a look that said a lecture on how sugar made her weak was in her future.

She held up both hands. “Don’t look at me like that. They’re macaroons, so they’re mostly coconut with just teeny bit of honey to hold them together.” She held her thumb and forefinger so there was barely any space between them. “Totally meal plan approved, I swear.”

“Then thank you,” his frown tilted up into a near smile as he leaned in to peck her on the cheek. “You’re a doll, Alex.”

She shrugged and patted Dale’s boulder of a bicep. It wasn’t a big deal. As much as she complained about him, Dale had become a friend. And she’d been feeling short on those lately.

“Leave them in the office before you go. And I’ll see you Thursday. Six A. M. Don’t be late.”

“We still on for dinner with Ben on Friday?”

A terrifying look of glee stole over Dale’s face as he rubbed his chin. “Of course.”

Dale was a little too excited to meet her boyfriend.

Alex shook her head and turned toward the locker rooms. One of the benefits of being one of the only women at the club was not having to wait for a shower or share the mirrors as she got ready for her day-which was going to be spent in her studio at school-again. She only had four more days to finish her final collection before her senior show, and after that, it was graduation.

She wasn’t new to jewelry making. She’d been working with beads and stones and wire since she was sixteen but hadn’t tackled full blown metalsmithing until she’d gone back to school more than a decade later. Alex was still working on perfecting her bezel settings, which made how they featured prominently in her final project all the more nerve-wracking.

Alex showered, but didn’t bother with her hair or makeup and changed into black yoga pants and a gray gym t-shirt. She knew by the end of the day she’d be covered in dust and metal shavings and whatever grime had accumulated in her school studio over the last nine months. She did make the mistake of checking her messages, and there were a lot more than she expected there to be at eight o’clock on a Tuesday morning.

Gran had already called for their twice weekly chat. She’d left a voicemail saying she hoped Alex was out of bed by now and not sleeping off a hangover like a cretin. Juliet had also called even though it was an hour earlier in Colorado.

Juliet had once been Alex’s best friend, and maybe she still was. They talked almost daily, and while Juliet had made the eleven-hour trek from Colorado to visit Alex a couple times, Alex had never gone to see Juliet in her new home. Alex been too busy with school and her ever expanding jewelry business, and any free time Alex had, she visited her Gran.

Besides, Juliet was happy in Colorado. She had Ethan and a job she loved, she didn’t need Alex anymore. Alex had known how to take care of Juliet back when she’d been in school and working with a single-mindedness that hadn’t left room for necessities like eating or sleeping. Alex had cooked most of their meals and paid most of their bills and had a best friend to drink wine with and to dance with and complain to in return. Even when the reason Alex was complaining was because Juliet had woken her up at dawn to do yoga and “greet the sun,” she’d love having Juliet around.

Alex wasn’t sure what to do with this happy Juliet. Her voicemail was one run-on sentence about the baby she’d just caught, and how she’d just picked out her wedding favors, and could Alex help her by putting them together? Her friend’s needs had changed so much, and Alex wasn’t the one who met them anymore.

Alex wanted Juliet to be happy. Of course, she did. And Alex liked Ethan a lot. It was just, living so far apart from each other, and being in such different phases of life, talking to Juliet always made Alex feel a little obsolete. Like maybe the whole Maid of Honor thing was more of a nod to what Juliet and Alex had been to one another before rather than representative of who they were together now.

Drifting apart was solely on Alex’s shoulders though. Everything changed the moment Alex had slept with Rich. It had been a stupid thing to do, she’d known it at the time. There were some things you didn’t do, and sleeping with the guy your best friend had almost married was pretty much first thing on the list under Thou Shall Not Murder.

Sleeping with Rich might have been forgivable offense if she’d only done it the one time. But the affair had gone on the entire summer. At the time, Alex had told herself it didn’t matter. Juliet had just started dating Ethan, so Rich was fair game–and it wasn’t like Alex had been looking for anything with Rich. She’d started it to keep Rich’s attention off Juliet and then it had snowballed from there. It hadn’t that Rich was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. His olive skin and dark, wavy hair and sharp jaw practically felled most women who looked at him too closely. When he’d turned his whiskey colored eyes on her, maybe she’d lost her senses a little bit.

If pressed, Alex could admit that she’d been lonely, and having an attractive man pay attention to her instead of her friend had been flattering. She didn’t have excuses. Was the sex good? Phenomenal. Was Rich a douchebag who’d cheated on her best friend repeatedly? Absolutely. Should Alex have run in the opposite direction as fast as she could? No question.

But she hadn’t.

Instead, she’d taunted him. Alex had flipped her hair and flirted and dared him to make a move, all the while asking herself what could it hurt?

She should have been telling herself don’t go there. Then she should have been saying get out while you can, but it had taken your best friend can’t even look at you before Alex had ended whatever sort of quasi relationship she and Rich had started. By then, it had been too late, everything had already been ruined.

Alex didn’t want to think about that anymore. She’d spent most of the last three years trying to work past the fallout and prove to herself that she was a good person. Yes, she’d made some mistakes, but she deserved to be happy too. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t there yet.

Alex slid into her car and plugged her phone into the speakers, telling it to dial her grandmother as she made the thirty-minute commute to the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

“It’s about time,” her Gran said instead of, “Hello.”

“Good morning to you too, Gran. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, just like always. Where have you been?”

Gran hadn’t been fine. She’d been sick over the winter, first with the flu, then she’d had pneumonia bad enough to put her in the hospital. She insisted she was better, but there was a new wheeziness to her grandmother’s voice, and it worried her.

Her Gran wasn’t young. She’d had Alex’s mom late in life. Alex’s mom had been thirty-five when Alex was born and with Alex turning thirty later this year, her grandmother was in her nineties.

It wasn’t like Alex expected her grandmother to be around forever, but she was also the only real family Alex had left. Crotchety as she might be, Alex loved her for stepping up and taking care of her when Alex’s own mother hadn’t.

“I’m only a couple of minutes late. And I was at the gym, you know that.”

Gran liked to nail down how Alex spent her days–not that Alex told her Gran everything–but it was just how she was. She wanted to know, and Alex didn’t mind. It was nice to talk to someone about everything, even if it was mundane most days. Alex told Gran about sparring with Dale at the gym, and her plans to meet Ben the next day for dinner.

“Has he agreed to come see me yet?” She asked, interrupting Alex’s musings on whether they’d go out or grab some takeout and watch a movie since they were both bound to be exhausted from working their final projects.

Alex suppressed a groan. The answer was no, Ben didn’t want to drive all the way down to Pittsburgh, Kansas just to visit a ninety-three year-old lady on the short break he had between finishing this semester and teaching over the summer semester, but Alex didn’t know how to explain that to her grandmother, so she settled on, “I’m working on it. Probably my June trip, or the July one if that doesn’t work out.”

“I need to meet your young man,” he grandmother said.

“I know, Gran, but he’ll be at graduation. Is Elise still able to bring you?” Elise was her grandmother’s neighbor. Like Gran, Elise was widowed with grown children, but Elise was only in her seventies and while the two old women were friends as far as Alex could tell, Elise acted mostly as Gran’s chauffeur.

“Oh, I’m not going to bother Elise with that.”

Alex furrowed her brow and signaled to pass a semi that smelled like cow manure. “But I thought Elise wanted to come. She was excited to see Allen Fieldhouse and visit the bookstore downtown last time we talked.” Because yes, Alex did call Gran’s neighbor. Sometimes that was the only to make sure she knew the truth about how Gran was doing. It was how Alex found out her Grandmother was in the hospital at all last February, since Gran had called and pretended there was absolutely nothing wrong.

“Well, now she has to watch her grandchildren that weekend, and I’m not riding in a car with those demons for three hours.”

“They can’t be that bad, Gran.”

“They’re the spawn of Satan, I bet my life on it.”

Alex had to bite her lip to suppress her giggle. “Fine, I can pick you up Saturday, and bring you home on Monday if you like.”

“You don’t have time for that nonsense. I’ll be fine right here.”

Gran was right. Alex didn’t have time to drive back and forth to Southeast Kansas next week, but if it meant Gran could watch her graduate, she’d make time to do it.

“That doesn’t matter, Gran. I’ll figure it out.”

“No, you won’t. You’ll concentrate on getting your schoolwork done and spending time with your friends.”

“But I want you there.”

Gran muttered something under her breath that sounded a lot like the kind of words she would have washed Alex’s mouth out with soap for saying. When she was done with her whispered curses, Gran heaved a sigh into the phone. “Alexandra, I’m not coming. I don’t want to climb up and down those hills and be in a crowd of people all day. I was trying to be nice about it, but there it is. I don’t want to go.”

Alex sucked in a breath as tears sprang into her eyes, even as her grandmother fought off a coughing fit. Gran wasn’t coming to her graduation. She didn’t want to come to Alex’s graduation, just like everybody else.

That was fine. It felt like someone had stuck an ice pick through Alex’s chest, but she would be fine. With everything she’d been through, she’d always been fine in the end. And really, this wasn’t even that big of a deal. So her grandmother wouldn’t see her walk. Neither would her mom. And she couldn’t ask Juliet to come so soon before her wedding. She would have content herself with Ben being there.

The longer Gran’s coughing fit went on, the pain of rejection dulled in favor worry over Gran’s health. Coughing like that wasn’t normal, was it?

“Gran, are you alright?” she asked when the coughing ceased.

“I’m fine, child. I choked on my coffee is all.”

But Alex didn’t think that was all, and mentally added calling Elise to her never ending to-do list.

I won’t be doing a pre-order on Amazon this time around. HOWEVER, if you would like a notification on release day, you can sign up for an email reminder There will be a pre-order on Kobo, Nook, and iTunes, and I will share that link next week along with the cover reveal.

If you’re looking for more Sparkle & Shine, you can grab the preview of the first three chapters when you sign up for my email list, and get first dibs on cover reveals, blurbs and excerpts, and heads ups on sales. You can check out my Pinterest board and my Spotify playlist for the book as well, and see what was going on in my head while I wrote.

Thank you for reading!

5 Tips To Hit Your WordCount Goal Every Day

Last week we talked about SEX SCENES, but this week I wanted to keep things a little more broad. Though you all know I’m a working romance author who loves to help other romance writers, I wanted to talk about something that ALL writers struggle with daily.

Gettin those words on the page.

Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, here are a few ways to hit your #wordcount #goals everyday.

How to hit your #wordcount in five easy steps:

  1. Get some sleep! This one isn’t going to be popular, because we all strive to be members of the #5amwritersclub, and if you get out of bed at 4:30 and be coherent enough to write by five o’clock in the morning that probably means you went to bed before 9 pm. If you’re scrimping by on four hours a night, it’s no wonder you have trouble focusing. I too stare blankly at my laptop screen when I would rather be sleeping.
  2. Put Your Phone in Another Room. It’s way easier to scroll through your Instagram feed than it is to write, and chances are, your phone is also getting low on battery. Plug it in to charge somewhere else while you tackle those words. Snap the photo of your writing desk when you’ve triumphantly hit that word count!
  3. Choose an Achievable Goal. Yes, we all want to be able to write 5000 words a day, but for most of us that isn’t practical because we still have full-time jobs, families, hobbies, and you know, basic needs to meet. Set the bar low if you have to. 500 words a day is still 500 more words than you had yesterday, and 500 more than you would have had waiting for your chance to write 5000 and then not getting any. As I’m typing this, my goal is currently 750 words per day. This is low for me, I prefer 1500, but it’s the season I’m in. The important thing is that I’m still writing.
  4. Be Flexible. This is how I meet my word goal most days. I almost always draft in google docs, that way I have access to my work in progress no matter where I am. At my desk I have a fantastic self-saving word processor set to automatically backup to my desktop and the cloud. And when I’m waiting in the school pick up line, I can tap out a couple hundred words on my phone. It’s usually full of typos, but it still counts!
  5. Use a tracker. Make a paper graph. Create a spreadsheet if that brings you joy. Download an app, whatever you do, keep track of how much you write in a way that’s satisfying for you. My favorite is using Nanowrimo’s goal trackers. (Under My Nanowrimo). Even if you don’t Nano, it’s worth creating an account just for those. They are completely customizable, and watching those little bar graphs stay above par is what keeps me motivated to get my words in every day.

    My biggest issue is staying flexible enough to fit in words when I can when all I really want to do is hide in my office where no one can bother me.
    What keeps you from getting words on the page each day? Tell me about it in the comments.

How to Write a Sex Scene

One of the more intimidating parts of writing a romance can be when it’s time down and dirty with your words. Now, not every romance novel needs to have sex described in the barest details. How vivid you make the scene is up to you, what really makes a sex scene isn’t the sex. It’s the tension that you build between the characters leading up to that scene.

Every good sex scene should include plenty of foreplay before you even hit the bedroom.

By foreplay, I don’t necessarily mean the physical kind, though if your couple can’t keep their hands off each other in everyday situations, you know you’ve at least got the chemistry part down. No, I mean that they way your characters interact on the page needs to create sexual tension leading up to actual act.

How to Create Sexual Tension:

  1. Through dialog – Think about Pride & Prejudice. Lizzy and Darcy have the verbal sparring thing down to a science. Even as they are cutting each other down, the reader can see right through both of them to their attraction. Not every relationship is going to be as fiery as the original enemies to lovers plot, but the characters should be dropping hints here and there through the way they interact that they’d like to see the other person naked.
  2. Have them acknowledge their attraction – even if it’s just in their head, have them describe to themselves what they find attractive about the other person. This doesn’t have to be a diatribe, noticing a combination of abs and generosity is enough, but it should be more than, “he’s a rich, broody billionaire that everybody thinks is important, of course I like him,” *coughfiftyshadesofgreycough* The attraction should be natural part of the character, and not something you have to force.
  3. Chemistry. This is a harder one to define, but it comes together in combination of good execution of one and two and a little something extra. It’s about the way there characters interact on the page in a way that makes you want them to get together. There needs to be something a little sexual, a little flirtatious, but the reader also needs to know where each character is coming from. (Good character development is the key to making this one work.)
  4. Give them an obstacle. Nothing builds tension like dangling something two characters want right in front of their faces and telling them they can’t have. So put your characters in situations when they are constantly tempted, but have to deny themselves. This doesn’t has to be dramatic. It can be as simple as the characters wanting to maintain their friendships or thinking the other character doesn’t think of them that way. Or, you know, you could be evil like me and make one of them married.

The key is, that by the time the two characters actually give in and tear each other’s clothes off, you want the reader not caring if they get hit on the nose with a button.

Alright, I hear you. You have all of that written and done, your characters are so hot for each other their about to explode with desire and you want to do their gettin’ down justice. You just want to know HOW?

I get it.

5 Tips for Writing a Steamy Sex Scene

  1. Make sure your heat level matches your narrative. All of my books show the characters in intimate situations, but the heat levels in say Ethan & Juliet where the love story is sweeter use different language than they do in the second book in the series, because the characters in Sparkle & Shine are a little naughtier and so is the sex. IE, if you’re writing about your heroine’s first time, don’t have her behave like a porn star.
  2. It’s not about the actual act as much as the language you use to describe it. Tell your reader what your characters are feeling not just physically, but also emotionally.
  3. If you’re not hot, your reader probably isn’t either–just sayin’.
  4. Read other sex scenes. And a bunch of em. Go on a little ole erotic reading binge. Read sweet love scenes, read steamy ones, and in between. I recommend romances over erotica because erotica is all about the sex and if you’re writing a romance, sex scenes about the romance of the sex. Even sex scenes should advance the plot of your story.
  5. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to use dirty words. Don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability in your characters. Don’t be afraid your scene is going to suck. You can edit it better later, but it’s never going to be good if you don’t write it.

If you still have questions about how to write a sex scene, let me know. I’m happy to go more in depth in another post. Or, if you need help crafting the perfect scene, check out my Work With Me page. I offer both manuscript critique and professional beta reading.

Ethan & Juliet is available now.

Sparkle & Shine is out April 16, 2019.

Surprise!

Surprise blog post, because surprise lambs!

I’d been thinking the last few weeks that Lyra might possibly be bred, but I hadn’t seen any real evidence, so I’d only been casually checking on her. There was no udder growth to speak of, she was simply getting fat. I thought, then, that going away for the weekend would be no big deal.

My sister had gotten me tickets for Christmas to see My Favorite Murder in DC, and since she lives not far from the city, we planned to make a whole weekend of it. All was going swimmingly until right as we were getting onto the Metro, when I got a text from Emily saying that there were new lambs in the field.

*cue panic*

The good news is that Neve was uncharacteristically at home rather than work on a Saturday afternoon, and so crisis was averted. Lyra had birthed two sturdy ewe lambs on her own, and Neve made sure they were dried and nursing before getting them into their own pen and finding food and a water bucket for Lyra. Fortunately it was also much warmer than it has been the last week, you know, what with the Polar Vortex and all.

02.04.19a

The white lamb is called Iona, after the Scottish isle.

02.04.19b

02.04.19c

02.04.19d

The black lamb is called Islay, after the Scottish Isle from whence the best whisky comes.

02.04.19e

02.04.19f

02.04.19g

Thanks to Neve I was able to enjoy the show last night (seriously, Karen and Georgia are the best……random drunk lady who got on stage and couldn’t keep it together, not so much. Hopefully that didn’t put them off from coming back to DC in the future).

Today I returned home to two beautiful new ewe lambs to snuggle and a reminder that I should probably make more effort to keep this space alive. Happy February!

Thirty-Four

It’s that time of year, that point where I acknowledge that it’s the New Year for me, and I talk about my goals, and my desires, and my failings. I usually make my birthday posts at least slightly humorous, but I’m not feeling much in a humorous mood this year.

I am feeling overwhelmed. And tired. And grateful. And confident. And anxious. And sad.

I’ve spent a lot of time this past year coming to grips with some uncomfortable things in my past. Facing them more directly has been freeing in ways I could never imagine, but it has also been a time of reflection that has brought about a courage to be myself that I hadn’t realized I’d been lacking.

I didn’t start 2018 with the intent to start publishing books. I didn’t think that was something I wanted until I woke up one day last spring and asked myself what the hell I was waiting for.

I had been told for so long that I needed to find validation outside myself that even though I had shed that belief system and the people who had told me such lies, I had still been internalizing that bullshit to the point that I didn’t think I was worthy enough to self-publish.

Deciding that my book deserved to be read changed everything. I finally felt like I had settled into the self I knew I’d always been , but had been told wasn’t good enough to reveal.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag now.

I’m leaving pretty happy in my own skin these days and have plans to publish more books this year and to keep writing.

But I am also nervous. I’m anxious I won’t be able to live up to my own standards. I’m worried about letting my family down when we move into the family house in the next couple of months.

I want to make everyone proud. I want to love the place. Repair it. Plant flowers. Raise chickens. Teach the boys how to grow vegetables.

It has been a year of change, and as I embrace my New Year, I am acknowledging that I am purposefully embarking on a year of more intentional change than I have ever sought before.

It is scary. It is exciting. I am ready, I am terrified.

But the difference is, this year I know that I am strong. I know that I can do difficult things. I know I can succeed.

Be Calm. Be Brave

I posted on Instagram yesterday about my 2019 writing goals. You can see my “other goals” for the year down at the bottom. They are pretty broad, but they include the mantra I’ve lived by for the last couple of years. I’ve never made it public before, but these are the short, simple sentences I repeat to myself every morning, whether it’s during my yoga practice, or when I open my laptop for the day, or even just while I’m driving the kids here and there.

*deep breath in* Be calm. Be Brave. *deep breath out*

I want to say that calmness has nothing to do with being even tempered. I think there is a misconception, especially in women, that staying calm is the same as always presenting a cool, collected front. That somehow someone is calm because they have abstained from making others uncomfortable through displaying their emotions.

This is not what I mean by calm.

To me, Calm is the act of letting go of worry, letting go of fear, and letting go of anxiety. It is acknowledging the emotions I feel and giving myself time to examine them to understand why I am feeling what I’m feeling.

Likewise, my version of bravery isn’t the sort that values valor and heroic effort. I’ve always found that sort of bravery shallow and short-sighted. What I mean by bravery is having the courage to reveal my inner self the way I do in my writing and marketing. It is having the courage to tell myself daily that my books matter and I am worthy for having written. And most important of all, it being brave is having the courage to own my own what I feel and believe in the legitimacy of my own emotions.

When The Avengers movie came out a few years ago, there was the moment toward the end where Bruce Banner turns toward the camera and says, “You wanna know my secret? I’m always angry.” And then he turns into The Hulk on purpose when nobody thought he had any control.

That was probably the most profound moment I’ve experienced watching a comic book movie. I sat up straight and had to stop myself from pounding my chest in solidarity, since I too am always angry.

I’m angry about how long I let my fear control me. I am angry about how other people sought to manipulate me through that fear. I am angry about how my emotions (and the emotions of most women) are policed and invalidated everyday simply because we are women. I am angry about how my own rage is used as a reason to dismiss my outrage when I point out injustice. I am angry that when I tell people what I write, I feel as though I immediately have to defend it.

I have been reading Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly because I have been so angry for so long. And embracing my anger and acknowledging the hows and whys to it has been a decade long study for me. And it is so good to know that I am not alone.

Anger isn’t the only emotion I deal with, but I still totally claim The Hulk as my spirit animal.

Coming to grips with my inner raging green monster is what I mean when I say that my mantra is Be Calm. Be Brave. I am telling myself that it okay to let the world see who I truly am instead of who they expect me to be. And it is the hardest thing I have ever done.

2019

I’m not in the habit of writing New Year’s posts.

In fact, I haven’t been in the habit of writing posts at all lately. But that is something I would like to change in the coming year. I’m more of a “goals” than a “resolutions” sort of person, but I already know 2019 is going to be a year of change and new challenges both personally, professionally, and emotionally. This is true of most years, but this particular New Year coincides with a time of loss and new beginnings for my family.

We lost my husband’s father this week, and mainly that is a grief I’d like to keep quiet. But the effect is that we are moving from our great big city house so we can take care of the little country house that was left behind. It is a huge responsibility, and also an honor.

Over the next two months I am going to be purging our belongings as I pack up our current house.

Just the enormity of that task makes my knees go a little weak. Our house isn’t small. We have far too many material belongings/hobbies. Oh Lord, just organizing my craft supplies alone, and deciding what to keep? What to get rid of? I might faint dead away when the time comes to clean out my studio. But you know what’s worst of all? When I started this whole serious writing career thing last spring, I completely neglected the house to do so.

We have been living in a cluttered mess.

Usually, I have zero apologies about this. It’s not a dirty house–at least not most of the time. But those fancy dishes I got out for Thanksgiving? Still on top of the buffet and now covered in junk mail. It’s sort of like that everywhere.

Whatever, I’m an artist, it’s allowed.

What I’m saying is, clearing this place out is going to be a big job. Probably a full-time job.

Then there’s the actual moving part and getting the kids settled into a new house, a new routine, a new school district. (<—That one really does give me heart palpitations. I am in so in love with the school they are in now.)

What I’m saying is that throughout all this, I am going to need a place to touch base. To reconnect with myself, with my memories, with my grief, with my joy.

My plan for 2019 had been to make this blog about reading new books and the book club I wanted to start. While I still want to do the virtual book club thing, that’s gonna have to wait.

Instead, I think this space will serve me better as a spot to document our journey.

And there will be book news too. I’m still aiming to release Sparkle & Shine this spring, so none of that will change. Too much. I hope.

Ethan & Juliet is Coming!

Sometimes I get so busy writing I forget I have a blog. The past couple of months that has so been the case. I spent July finishing the first draft of my fourth novel, The Van Birch Incident. Then I spent August revising Ethan & Juliet and beta reading. September passed in a blur of revising my third novel, Sparkle & Shine, and here we are back in October putting the final touches on Ethan & Juliet before it goes to print because that’s right, Ethan & Juliet is coming out on December 4th, 2018!

I am so excited to bring you my second book. I started work on this story in 2016 just before Rufus was born, and it took me a year to complete a full first draft.

Each time I write a book it comes together a little easier than it did the first time. Don’t get me wrong, the struggle of pulling words out of my brain still leaves me bloody and raw, but I’m getting more efficient at it.

I’ve settled into a good routine where I rotate projects by month. That gives my head a good amount of time to recover and come back to each project fresh. I’m already working on my 2019 writing schedule, which kind of blows my mind, because I’ve never been the kind of person who plans ahead. But! I have two more books that go along with The Van Birch Incident to write, plus a languishing haunted house story that I’d love to get back to. So that’s three books to write from scratch next year, plus all the revising and publishing and promoting. It sounds exhausting already, but so worth it.

Anyway, you didn’t come here today to hear about my publishing schedule (maybe some other time, right?) You came to find out about Ethan & Juliet.

Here’s the synopsis!

When Juliet Hawthorne met Dr. Ethan Harvey during her final semester of nursing school, she thought he was hot, but too arrogant to be worth the trouble. Plus she had Rich, the only man Juliet thought she’d ever want. But when Juliet’s world shattered, Ethan was the only one there for her.

Ethan hasn’t let himself think about Juliet for four years. But when she shows up at his hospital with an emergency patient, Ethan realizes that Juliet is still the woman of his dreams, even if she’s about to become a certified nurse midwife. Ethan’s never had much time for midwives, but he’s willing to set his discomfort aside, because she’s exactly what’s been missing from his life.

When Ethan sets out to woo her, Juliet is forced to choose between the career that has given her life purpose and the man she never thought she’d fall in love with.

For the first updates, make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter (you’ll also get a free copy of When Abe Met Lane) and follow me on Instagram.

Edinburgh!

(Also know as: Scotland, Part 6).

Getting off the train at Waverly Station in Edinburgh and emerging on the street was like a homecoming for both Kim and I. We had been been there before and fallen completely in love with it. Even better, we knew exactly where we needed to go and how to get there without having to consult a map.

I’m going to condense our time in Edinburgh down to one post, even though it was quite a full weekend. We stayed at The Hub on Rose St – it felt like a palace after living in Fergus all week! And with a shower! I had been using face wipes and dry shampoo all week, but boy did I enjoy getting a shower in.

We went out after checking in and had dinner before walking the Royal Mile in the dark. It was pleasant to see that there wasn’t a whole lot that had changed, and we really did still know our way around well.

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Lady Stair’s Close became our preferred cut-through when visiting the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is a very walkable city, and we saw far more of it this time around than either of us previously had. In fact, on Sunday we ended up walking about ten miles, and it never felt like work.

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JK Rowling’s handprints just off the Royal Mile, next to Ian Rankin’s.

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Since I had missed St Gile’s Cathedral the last time around we wandered around inside and even were present for a service (I’ll have you know that us two heathens recited the Lord’s Prayer perfectly along with the minister). We did appreciate the many scientific causes the church had supported over the years, and read many interesting memorials to early female physicians within its walls. The sheer amount of history some of these churches hold!

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Armstrong’s Thrift Store on the Grassmarket is always a good time. We were also lucky enough to find that there was an open-air market happening full of delicious street food. I got myself a Haggis, Neeps, & Tattties hand pie and it was wonderful!

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Then I showed Kim the spot where I had fallen on my face after tripping over a concrete barrier last time here (hint: right where I was standing when taking this shot).

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Victoria Street! There were many, many anti-Trump products here. Whatever your feelings are politically, I can tell you, hands down after being there, they despise him.

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Kim was also surprised that I hadn’t made it into the Tartan Weaving Mill last time (how?!) so we rectified that situation right quick! This is also where I realized I want all of the Harris Tweed. All of it!

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For dinner (and because it happened to be my birthday!) we went to The Witchery and ate in the most beautifully decadent Scottish Gothic dining room I’ve ever seen.

To cap off the night, we took a tour from The City of the Dead Tours. Our guide told us some wonderfully gruesome Edinburgh history before leading us into the restricted section of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (this is the reason we wanted this particular tour – entry into an area no one else can go!) where we stood inside the Black Mausoleum, where supposedly the Mackenzie poltergeist attacks visitors regularly.

Nothing happened aside from a jump scare at the end (yes, I let out a startled scream, but quickly it turned to laughter), and the ability to forever tell people we were locked in a haunted mausoleum in Scotland after dark.

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The next morning we went out bright and early to get ourselves tattooed!

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We hadn’t planned originally to get the same image, but this one kind of presented itself during the trip and seemed meant to be.  I like that it has Viking and Celtic elements and is also used in imagery at Loch Ness. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the trip, and makes me happy all over again.

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Since the tattoo process was incredibly quick, easy, and painless (ask for Marc at Studio XIII – you won’t be disappointed!), we had a lot of day left ahead of us to fill, so we headed to Prince’s Street to climb the Scott Monument (in honor of Sir Walter Scott). If you can manage 287 tightly spiraled and enclosed stone steps, you are rewarded with incredible views of the city.

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Looks like a scene right out of Harry Potter, no?

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The Balmoral Hotel.

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Calton Hill, and the Firth of Forth.

We worked up quite an appetite from all the climbing and ducked into a Pret A Manger for coffee and a sandwich to take on our walk into New Town and over to see Dean’s Village, a quaint old mining town from days gone by. (Also, I need a Pret A Manger in my life – Charlottesville, get on it!)

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While strolling along the waterway we happened upon a knitwear photoshoot in progress. What are the odds? It turned out to be Jade Starmore, and from what I saw, the new patterns are quite lovely ( as was she and all the models and assistants I spoke to)!

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Though we had spent the day strolling in the New Town area of the city, Old Town kept calling to us. There’s simply something magical about all that old architecture. Plus, I felt compelled to have a pint in an old pub for our last night there. We had steak and ale pies and some wonderful draft cider before finishing out the daylight right back in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.

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As we stood amongst the very old gravestones, willing it to not be our last night, it began to pour. We were a long walk from our hotel, but getting drenched in the graveyard seemed a fitting way to end our Scottish vacation.

So long for now, Edinburgh. You’ll always be my second home.