About McKenna Dean

from shifters to 1950s paranormal investigators to contemporary love stories, romance lives here.

Dear Family: It May Be A While Before We Meet Again

The other night, my husband and I had another conversation about the surge in Covid-19 cases, and whether we were doing everything in our power to keep our family safe.

See, back when when first began hearing about this virus, I knew it was going to be bad. Call me paranoid, but one of the reasons I’ve always feared zombie movies is because I realized “zombies” were a metaphor for a pandemic–and that falls in the category of one of my worst nightmares. So in January, when the news began speaking of a serious new virus emerging in China, I sat up and took notice. I began buying an extra item of the things we used most each time we went grocery shopping. Hey, if you’ve ever tried to get bread and milk when the weather channel calls for a coating of ice around here, you know that was a prudent move.

This was the disinfectant aisle at the local store back in March–but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Shortly after Valentine’s Day, I told my husband he should start working from home, even though his workplace hadn’t issued the order yet. We made the decision to split our family into two households as well–with my husband and the high risk family members in one home and me (an essential worker) staying on the farm to take care of the animals. We understood the need to flatten the curve and to protect the high risk family members as much as possible. I was the one most likely to bring something home, given my interaction with the public and the inability to work from home, and let me tell you, the steps you need to take every day to protect yourself under those circumstances is exhausting–and I’m not one of the people on the front lines. My heart breaks for the medical professionals who are being ground to dust by this terrible, relentless pandemic. I know just how lucky I am.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m not by nature a social person. Sure, I enjoy the company of friends and family. I miss not going to conventions this year. But even when I’m having fun doing such things, I need frequent breaks from people and I don’t enjoy big crowds. I don’t need people the way some of my friends do–as long as I have access to the small group of people I do need. I can wait for a movie to be released on DVD, or am willing to pay extra to see it live-streamed instead. I prefer hiking to shopping, and as for the holidays? Well, growing up with a mother who was anti-holiday has prepared me for shrugging them off and not making a big deal about them. It’s okay. They’ll be there next year.

My husband and I still got together once a week: socially distanced and outside. We’d grill burgers or steaks and sit in our well-ventilated mosquito tent until after dark, reading, talking, or playing board games. In a way, it was a throwback to a simpler, quieter, pre-internet time–and I will look back on those evenings with fondness in the future, I know.

As the days got shorter and a brisk chill entered the air, we moved our gatherings inside. Masked at first, but as time went by, we just stopped wearing them. Our social circle was still quite small. A week passed between each visit, so there was plenty of time to develop symptoms and avoid contact if necessary, right?

We were still being safe, right?

But then the case numbers began surging again–worse than they were when we first began touting “flatten the curve.” Worse than the worst projections of an incompetent and corrupt administration. I began to wonder if we were really being all that safe or smart. The whole reason we decided to split the family was about reducing the risks. Our indoor meetings, even though they met the state guidelines for gatherings, started to feel wrong. As if I were saying, “I know you have a severe allergy, but I only put one or two peanuts in this recipe. It’s not like I used a whole jar of peanut butter.”

Then came the widespread discussions about gathering for Thanksgiving–and I found myself telling friends and neighbors planning to travel to visit family that it was a really bad idea. But were we really being any smarter, safer? I was no longer sure.

Then there was the recent conversation I had with friends–all of whom believe in the necessity of vaccinations–and the unlikelihood of seeing widespread vaccination when we can’t even get people to wear masks. We aren’t going to even begin to get back to some semblance of normal without widespread vaccination against Covid-19… and I just don’t see that happening in large enough numbers to make a difference.

When I read Chuck Wendig’s Twitter thread about the widespread sense of entitlement we as a nation have these days, it was both depressing and infuriating. He spoke of people who would tell you in one breath about a social life scarcely any different than the one they lived before the pandemic and in the next breath say how serious things were and how careful they were being. Um, no you’re not. Not really.

It didn’t help much to know that my husband and I realized we weren’t being careful enough and that–at least for the time being–we needed to go back to only meeting outside wearing masks and truly keeping our social distance again. Because though on a smaller scale, we’d been behaving much like the people Wendig took issue with.

I have to pause here and say there isn’t any virtue in remaining virus-free. It isn’t because of clean living or moral superiority. Perhaps that’s the fatal flaw in our attempt to shame people into wearing masks because I do think on some level, both sides of the argument try to make this about virtue. It isn’t. It’s about science and the spread of disease. It’s about taking precautions and understanding that even under the best of circumstances, precautions can fail. But that doesn’t mean you don’t take them.

I found a measure of comfort in this excellent post by Linda K Sienkiewicz on Setting Limits in a Pandemic. She had some wise things to say about walking the fine line among friends and family who disagree with the perimeters you set for yourself in this perilous time.

It made me more comfortable with the conclusion my family came to this past weekend, and reinforced our decision to be stricter with our interactions instead of lapsing along with so much of the rest of the world. So this is my declaration of intent to continue to self-isolate. Yes, there are members of my extended family that we would love to see–seniors that may not have that many more holidays who want to see us too–and I’m planning for the day when we can visit them again. But not now. Not any time soon. I’d rather be overly cautious out of love than too lenient for the same. If that sounds like I]m assigning virtue to the decision, I don’t mean to do so. We’re just trying to make decisions we can live with. Literally.

 

Stop The Information Overload Bus: I Want to Get Off

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

This morning, as I was checking my inbox over breakfast, I told my husband I finally understood why some people ghosted their own lives, walking away from everything. There are days when it all seems like Too Much. Those days come with increasingly frequency lately. I’m sure it has something to do with the greater degree of responsibility I have in my life now compared to even ten years ago, but there’s a reason I chose ten years as my marker and not fifteen or twenty. See, it was about ten years ago that I began publishing my original stories.

Prior to that, my online presence was relatively small. I had a list of friends I kept in touch with via email. I had a livejournal account where I interacted with another handful of friends. I posted fanfic to some of the big archives. I had a Blackberry, the primary use of which was to make phone calls.

But with becoming a published author, I had to have a social media presence, and there followed Facebook pages, Twitter, a website, Tumblr, and eventually, reluctantly (and then embraced with more enthusiasm as it became my happy place), Instagram. I created livejournal accounts for my pen names, switched to Dreamwidth when livejournal got taken over by the Russians, and then deleted my accounts on that platform because hardly anyone was there. I made pages on Bookbub, Amazon, and Goodreads. I maintain a ghostly presence on Tumblr because the platform just doesn’t appeal to me very much but I have friends who use it. I belong to groups on Discord I forget to visit. I snagged real estate on other sites I thought I might use/need at some point–does anyone remember Ello? Just this morning I got a reminder to respond to a friend request on MeWe, a site which I’ve never fully utilized, in part because the name reminds me of PeeWee Herman and that just makes me shudder. But as an alternative to the invasive and amoral Facebook, it’s starting to have more appeal.

And because I have different email accounts (personal, professional, fandom, and pen names, current and retired) on any given day, I have over 600 emails in my combined inboxes. In part, because I sign up for courses on craft and marketing with the assumption that I need the information (mostly I do) and in the hopes that this One Thing will make the difference and that This Time the latest book release will be a smashing success and I can finally step down from a job that no longer brings me joy or satisfaction and I can write FT. Only the backlog of coursework, much of which are daily videos averaging 40-50 minutes in length, weighs on me. As does the money I’ve wasted on courses I haven’t made the time to finish.

It’s also due to the email lists I’m on. Because, as every author is told, your email lists are gold. You must have one, you must provide entertaining information, value for the following. Don’t worry about boring your followers or overwhelming them with posts because they are just sitting at their computers waiting for your newsletter to brighten their day.

Um, I can tell you I’m not doing that. I belong to dozens of email lists that I never open. I signed up as part of something else, or to support someone, or even because they are a favorite author and I want to know the moment they drop a new release… and I have to tell you, if I can’t manage to open a newsletter from a favorite Big Name Author then I have less hope for someone opening one of mine.

On any given day, I have blog posts (like this one) to write, marketing/craft videos to watch, I need to make the rounds on social media (and yes, I do schedule things in advance, but like meal planning, that in and of itself can swallow an entire afternoon to get a month’s worth of posts), submit review requests, answer emails (why is it my friends and family always come in last on this list?), reply to comments, and yes, write. You’d think the writing would come first, wouldn’t you? But it hasn’t been. I’m in a writing slump. Some days I’m enthusiastic and I pound out a few words. More often I open the document and stare at the blinking cursor. Writing these past few years has been like pulling teeth with a pair of rusty pliers and no anesthesia. I know it can be done, but I don’t look forward to it and I doubt it’s my best work.

Scarcely a day goes by when I’m not invited to join this group or that platform or I’m advised to have a presence on x-y-z, particularly the newer sites like storyorigin which are designed to help you network with other authors. But it all feels like a catch-22, you know? Managing my time and presence on all these sites is a full-time job and I already have a FT job. I’m like the solo business owner who recognizes that the workload is too much for one person but it won’t quite support a second salary yet. Do you keep growing or pull back? Work yourself to death or hire PT help you can’t afford?

These days a big part of the problem is an inability to focus. I start a video but pause it to throw a load of laundry in the washer. I come back to the video, but decide I really should be writing. The words won’t flow so I decide to schedule blog posts instead. A few hours later I come back to the story but the words still aren’t there. Is it the story itself? Is it me as a writer? Is my brain simply turning to mush?

I honestly believe it’s because there is too much noise. Not literally, although there’s a lot of that too. I think collectively our brains are on overdrive with too much information to process every day. In the past, this feeling would have been my cue to get up from the keyboard and take the dogs for a run, or unplug from social media for a few days and immerse myself in my characters’ universe. But the problem is this time, I don’t want to do those things either. I can’t settle. I can’t focus.

I said to my husband this morning that we were in limbo, and that’s true. That’s what this feels like, this everlasting holding of one’s breath. Ten years ago, I was a much happier person. Uninformed, living in my own little bubble of privilege, but happier. I need to stay informed so I can take action on the things I can do something about–but there are a lot of things going on in the world right now that I have no control over–and perhaps I need to take a break from updates on those things. I strongly suspect one day we’ll learn that doomscrolling also provides some weird sort of feedback, a negative version of the dopamine hits you get when someone likes or comments on your posts.

So if you’re having trouble focusing on whatever is important to you right now: your NaNo project, your WIP, your book launch, a family issue, some work-related thing, something you’ve committed to but feel is getting away from you, take a little advice here. Unless it relates to whatever it is you need to get done, turn off the news. Stop checking out social media. Oh, you’re an author with a big launch coming up and you MUST make your presence known/felt? Schedule what you can in advance and go back to what’s really important. There are far bigger and scarier things threatening to end the world than lack of your social media presence.

Ruthlessly purge your email lists. If you’re not opening it, you’re just deadweight on someone’s list. Clean out your inbox. Those emails you’ve been saving to read at some future date? If they’re more than 6 months old and didn’t come from friends or family, purge it. Not using Discord, or Snapchat, or Twitter or Tumblr? Delete the apps from your phone. Trust me, you’ll feel so much relief from taking these steps.

Pick three sites to maintain a presence on. For me, it’s currently Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I have some real issues with Facebook’s policies and information mining, and I suspect it’s worse than we know, but for authors, a Facebook presence is considered necessary. I crosspost to as many things as possible to save time. For the time being, I intend to stay off SM as much as possible, using something like Hootsuite to manage my posts. I know, I know, interacting on these sites is The Key to building your audience organically and growing your brand (yikes, I typed that as “your bland” initially–Freudian much?) but so is writing your next bloody story!! For me, the only way to deal with the “squirrel brain” I have right now is to dam up the information overflow pipe and let that crap stream on without me.

I hate scheduling stuff because my life is so rigidly scheduled all the time, but using a daily planner helps me find blocks of time I didn’t know I had, while at the same time keeps me from spinning my wheels too long in one space without traction. If I block off 30-40 minutes for a task–like watching a craft/marketing video or working on a book trailer, etc–and that time runs out, I can decide if I will use the next block of time to complete it or move on. Sometimes the answer is MOVE ON. Just like cleaning your house, writing a book, or climbing a mountain–depending on the size of the project– some things are meant to be tackled a piece at a time. A piece plus a piece plus a piece becomes a whole.

The world is a scary place. Always has been for many, but these days we all have more information about just how scary it is and how directly that frightening thing can impact us. We need to learn how to utilize that information without letting it freeze us into inactivity. Time to calm that limbic system down again. Take a deep breath and put your phone down.

 

Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell

I’m so excited to have Anne Barwell here with me today to discuss the re-release of her WWII romance, Shadowboxing. As you know, I’m a huge fan of stories written in that time period and I deeply appreciate the research that goes into making history come alive for the reader. I can also appreciate the desire to set your story in a time that may create additional obstacles to the characters that might not exist today–or at least, don’t exist to the same degree. Anne has done the kind of research that I find exciting, and I love hearing about the source materials she drew on to bring this series to life! Please welcome Anne Barwell!

Thank you for hosting me. I’m excited to be re-releasing the first in my WWII Echoes Rising series.

When I original wrote Shadowboxing, I wanted to read an historical which was an action drama with gay characters. I couldn’t find one—although that isn’t a problem now, so I wrote one.  I also wanted to write a story that had at its heart a romance between two men during a time where, if their relationship were discovered, they risked severe repercussions, even death. I also wanted to explore characters who needed to do some serious soul searching in order to break free of expectations of not only themselves but their society.

I’d always loved stories about WWII, and so the idea for the Echoes Rising series was born.  People meet during wars who wouldn’t usually, as is the case of Kristopher and Michel, the main characters in the series.  Kristopher is a German physicist, and Michel a French farmer.  The Allied team sent to retrieve the plans for the project Kristopher is working are not only a mix of nationalities but have very different backgrounds.  While Matt is American, he’s also spent time in Germany before the war.  Ken is American but he’s also hiding part of his heritage, and Liang is British Chinese.

This mix is very deliberate as I wanted different perspectives to the story.  War is not just about the battles fought, but the people affected by them. I don’t believe that wars are really won  as each country involved loses loved ones, and is damaged to the extent that the consequences are felt for generations to come.

I also knew in writing a historical I had a lot of research ahead of me. This wasn’t a one book project but a series of three books. I need to plot out all three books as, although each book is written so it stands alone, the series is really one story split into three. I figured it was better to write three smaller books than one enormous tome, as those can be rather off-putting for readers as well as writers.  Each part of the story splits nicely with location too so it works out well.  Shadowboxing is set in Berlin, Winter Duet is a road trip across wartime Germany, and Comes a Horseman takes place in France.

I used a range of resources for my research. I work in a library—shelving in the 940.5 section is not a great idea as I get distracted by shiny things.  The library, and its databases, has been a fantastic resource for writing this series. Half the fun was finding the resources as they weren’t just in the history section, as I also needed travel books—for locations—and information about clothing and weapons.  Early on in the writing process for the story I found a book called The Bomb by Gerard DeGroot which was about the ‘life story of the Bomb’ and subtitled A History of Hell on Earth. I bought my own copy of it.

The Forgotten Voices series is also another invaluable resource as it relays personal accounts by both servicemen and women and civilians about what it was like to live through that time. The internet also provided a lot of interesting information although some things were next to impossible to find.  The specifics of German telephones was one of these.  Everything out there is about the US system at the time!  Luckily one of my beta readers is German and she has proved an invaluable source of information. She also checked facts on websites written in German and provided/suggested the German used in the story.

However, there is a flip side to the research.  While I try to ensure I’m as accurate as possible—within the constraints of telling a good story—history can also work for a story rather than against it. After all, there’s no need to find a way to blow something up when it’s already documented that the Allied forces dropped bombs in the area at that time.

I’m aiming to republish Winter Duet in January, and the conclusion to the series, Comes a Horseman, in March.

Shadowboxing

Echoes Rising Book 1

Complete their mission or lose everything.

Berlin, 1943

An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.

For the team sent by the Allies—led by Captain Bryant, Sergeant Lowe, and Dr Zhou—a simple mission escalates into a deadly game against the Gestapo, with Dr Lehrer as the ultimate prize. But in enemy territory, surviving and completing their mission will test their strengths and loyalties and prove more complex than they ever imagined.

Author’s note: This is the third edition of Shadowboxing. The first and second editions were released by another publishing house.  This story has been re-edited, and uses UK spelling to reflect its setting.

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08LCRT1ZZ

 

Excerpt:

This was his chance to put things right, to make sure the project did not go further. He hurriedly shoved the file back into the case and then froze. What exactly was he going to do? Only one complete copy existed as far as he knew, but he wasn’t certain if the Nazis were aware he was capable of replicating the information. He would have to destroy the file, then disappear.

That wasn’t going to be easy. The Nazis had spies everywhere, and he did not know anyone who would help him. He wouldn’t ask Clara, nor would he consider death as an option. He couldn’t do that to her, not after she’d spent so much of her energy taking care of him. Someone had to get the information about this device out to the rest of the world. He had helped to create it. He would make sure the project was only ever used for the benefit of all mankind, but where the hell was he supposed to find the people he needed to ensure that happened? How could he trust anyone now, let alone convince them to trust him?

Click

Kristopher turned. The office door was opening. In one fluid movement he gripped the briefcase firmly beneath one arm and bent to retrieve a piece of broken glass, holding the jagged edge in front of him in a feeble attempt to defend himself.

The newcomer took in the situation at a glance, one eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. His eyes flickered onto what had once been Kluge, then back to Kristopher, and finally came to rest on his precious cargo, the briefcase containing the culmination of a dream now better described as a never-ending nightmare.

Kristopher debated for all of a second the chances of his success if he tackled the man head-on, then decided against it. Apart from the extra height, Schmitz’s uniform probably disguised a well-developed physique. He also had the advantage of military training and the gun he held. Kristopher’s opponent possessed some degree of intelligence. That much was obvious by the inquiring look on his face and the way his eyes seemed to penetrate Kristopher’s, searching for an answer. For an instant, Kristopher was sure he glimpsed a depth to those eyes, and the man behind them. He edged back a step, taking comfort in the solidity of the desk digging into the small of his back, the sensation grounding him while he attempted to place the pieces of the puzzle together.

How much had Schmitz seen? His expression did not reveal anything.

If Kristopher surrendered now, everything would be over, and the Nazis would win. He wouldn’t give up, no matter what the odds. He gripped the glass fragment tightly, ignoring the sharp pain as the rough edges scratched against his palm, the red liquid seeping into his shirt cuff already stained with the blood he’d earlier unsuccessfully attempted to stanch. He took a step closer, trying to look menacing, fully aware that on a scale of one to ten he wasn’t achieving even a one.

They stood staring at each other, or rather Kristopher stood staring. Schmitz leaned back casually against the door without shifting his gaze. After a few moments with Kristopher’s ragged breathing the only audible sound in the room, the Obergefreiter pulled himself to attention and took a step forward. He lowered his gun and placed it in its holster before holding out his hand for Kristopher’s makeshift weapon.

“Herr Dr Lehrer,” he said softly, the tone of his voice low, an expression of disbelief fleeting over his features. “You’re one of the most brilliant minds in this institution, and yet this is the extent of your plan?”

Author Bio:

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with Kaylee: a cat with “tortitude” who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date, it appears as though Kaylee may be winning.

In 2008, Anne completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes.  She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

Anne’s books have received honourable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards.  She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

 

Website & Blog—Drops of Ink: http://annebarwell.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anne.barwell.1

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/annesbooksandbrews/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/annebarwell

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4862410.Anne_Barwell

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/anne-barwell

Queeromance Ink Author Page:                       

https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/anne-barwell/

Sign up for my newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/39edaba3e3ad/annebarwellauthor

 

 

 

Romancing the Runoff: How You Can Participate

I’m delighted to announce I’ll be participating in this fundraising auction for a great cause: Romancing the Runoff describes itself as Romance fans making HEAs for 2020. Romance authors raising funds to help support the Georgia Senate Runoffs by supporting Fair Fight, the New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matter. Coordinated by @courtneymilan, @alyssacolelit, & @kitrocha (aka @mostlybree & @totallydonna). Inspired by Stacey Abrams.

 

 
Basically, this auction is designed to raise money for various voting organizations in Georgia in anticipation of the runoff elections that will be coming up in January 2021. You can donate to campaigns directly, as well as follow the Romancing the Runoff on Twitter and Instagram for sneak peeks into all the fabulous items and services up for auction. If you’re an author wishing to donate books and services, check out the link tree at the website above! The auction opens November 18, 2020 and promises to be AMAZING. Books and Zoom chats with your favorite authors. Critiques on your own writing from the best in the business. Annotated ARCs from the biggest names in romance. Swag and offerings too exciting for words. Have a character named after you in an upcoming book. I’ve seen an image of a fabulous red dress covered in little hearts that is to die for! Every time one of the pre-auction goals is reached, a special video is unlocked, so you definitely want to follow them on social media!
 
I’m offering Reader’s Choice signed print copies of either The Redclaw Security Series or the Redclaw Origins Series. That’s two books each autographed (with a little swag tossed in as well) by me! I hope you’ll join in the fun and help fund a worthy cause.
 
 
Because it’s high time we all got a little HEA, now isn’t it?
 

Give Yourself Permission to Self-Protect in Uncertain Times

TW for brief mention of election anxiety

 

 

 

Tomorrow is Election Day in the US. For many, it’s a referendum on Democracy as an institution. A matter of life and death when it comes down to civil rights, health care, climate change, and more. Others treat it more like a football game: my team against yours. Still others embrace their party’s ideology and leaders with a fervency that borders on cultism and speak of defending their side with violence if the election results don’t turn out the way they wish.

We are a nation divided, and that division not only stems from radically different ideologies, but also from outside forces fomenting anger and division on almost every topic you can name. I never held much with conspiracy theories in the past, but when we have Russian operatives seeding dissent on everything from vaccinating your kids to the Star Wars fandom, it’s hard to know what’s real and not real anymore.

We are constantly being gaslit. Not the least of which by our own government.

Side bar: I’ll never forget seeing a TV report in which a young Russian boy was receiving an award for his excellent knowledge of geography. Putin asked the child to name the borders of Russia and the kid began listing the various countries, only to have Putin interrupt him. With a shark-like smile, Putin said, “Russia has no borders.”

It was the most chilling thing I’d ever seen.

I know this much: we as a species are not wired to deal with the magnitude of constant, unrelenting stress we currently face between the pandemic, the growing spread of fascism, escalating, devastating climate change, fears for democracy and for our future. The very uncertainty of all of it–the fact alone there is no end date for the pandemic that we know of–makes it hard for many of us to maintain a level of awareness we need to keep ourselves safe. Even if we were taking things seriously, we have to go back to the car because we forgot to put on our mask or we forget to wash our hands. We’re like the person who knows they should eat broccoli for dinner but we’re tired and unhappy and we just say screw it and order pizza anyway. Except making a mistake now could have serious consequences for ourselves and everyone around us, much more so than a single night of dietary indulgence.

I also know something else: the people who keep saying don’t worry, everything will be fine on November 4th can say that because very little will change for them. They will still have access to health care. They won’t have to worry about being denied birth control coverage by their employer or fear being fired for their sexual orientation. They can go shopping or jog in their neighborhood without fear of being targeted, assaulted and killed because of the color of their skin. It’s easy for someone in a position of power to tell everyone else to calm down.

Most everyone I know is expressing an increased level of anxiety right now. I mean a seriously increased level of anxiety. And I’m here to say, give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to get you through these next few weeks, as long as it doesn’t bring harm to yourself or anyone else. Write inexplicably fluffy fanfiction. Binge-watch all twelve seasons of the Great British Bake Off. Play video games all day and into the night. Someone sent me this on WhatsApp and I immediately embraced it. Yes. THIS. Invite possums to a tea party if it makes you happy.

I’m currently posting photos of action figures doing book reviews to my Instagram account because posing the figures with actual replicas of itty bitty book covers calms my mind in a way I can’t achieve doing anything else. It’s silly, but you know what? I don’t care.

DON’T belittle someone else’s efforts at self-calming and self-protection. I’m one of those people who believe the holidays should be celebrated one at a time in good order, but if this year someone breaks out the pumpkin spice lattes in August or wants to decorate their home for Christmas before Halloween, I say more power to them. You know what? I never took down my indoor Christmas lights this past year, and turning them on at night soothes my soul in a cheap, painless way.

I’m seriously considering paying for the Hallmark channel this year because I love holiday movies and I can’t get enough of them. I could start watching them now until March and I’d be okay with this. And if watching improbable movies with ridiculous plots because there is snow and fairy lights and no one dies and the GUARANTEE of a HEA is what gets me through the weeks to come, that’s okay. If I’m wallowing in books from the Golden Age of Mystery and not doomscrolling on my phone, that’s more than okay. That’s smart. That’s healthy.

I’ve done all I know how to do for my country at this point in time. I’ve donated to candidates, encouraged others to vote, have voted already myself. It’s out of my hands now. I need to take the advice I’d give others with regards to getting through the coming weeks. Practice self-protection and self-care. Which doesn’t mean tossing making healthy eating choices or getting enough sleep out the window, tempting as that is. Believe me, I’ve eaten Cap’n Crunch dry out of the box before and called it dinner. But making yourself sick with garbage food isn’t helping matters any.

This uncertainty is part of the reason I’ve been stalled in my writing for months now. I normally hit a little lull when I finish a story, and the business of launching a book sidetracks me with all the marketing and promotion of the new release. This time I’ve been much slower to start working on the next story because I’ve been long on anxiety and short on hope. There frequently seems little point in telling my silly stories when it feels as though the world is coming to an end.

But it occurred to me this morning that my intrepid heroine would take a dim view of this inaction on my part. Part of dealing with the world at large is creating a universe of my own in which I control the outcomes. In this next installment of Redclaw Origins, Rhett faces the equivalent of a Doomsday Scenario. By giving her the strength and wits to deal, I find a little pocket of peace for myself. Sometimes when dealing with some daily trauma, I ask: What Would Rhett Do?

Let’s find out.

Last night I put on my “bracelets of power” and sat down to the keyboard for the first time since I typed “the end” on Bishop’s Gambit. Perhaps I am just re-arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. But the world isn’t going to save itself, and Rhett could use a little help.

The 2021 Author Planner You Must Have

If you really want to show the writer in your life you believe in them and take their work seriously, show them how to take their work seriously too. Last year I was fortunate enough to win one of Audrey Hughey’s The Ultimate Authorship Planner, and I couldn’t wait to get started with it, having decided to start off fresh in 2020 with it. It’s more than just another notebook or calendar. SO MUCH MORE. You can track your daily and weekly goals, your expenditures (to make doing your taxes so much easier!), plan your marketing and social media campaigns, newsletters, you name it! What I love about it is it’s large enough for me to work in without cramming tiny notes everywhere, and the coil-bound cover allows it to lay flat while you’re working on it. It’s a bit like having an organizer, an accountability partner, a cheerleader, and a coach all rolled up into one.
 
The 2021 Author’s Planner is designed to be your all-in-one day planner and writing-career coach, helping you organize your writing life and get on a clear path to reach your goals.
 
“I absolutely LOVE this planner. In my opinion, it’s a must for any author who wants to stay on top of their book production and author career with minimal stress and anxiety! (And who doesn’t want that?!)” — J.R. Frontera
 
Finally, you’ll have ONE planner where you can:
– Track your daily and weekly word counts.
– Map out your writing and publishing plans for an entire year.
– Manage and track your monthly expenses so you’re ready for tax season.
– Develop your editing checklist and evaluate potential editors for your manuscripts.
– Plan your social media marketing, book promotions, and advertising.
– Sketch out ideas for your author newsletter and track your open and click-through rates.
– Have the space and flexibility to plan your days and weeks according to your own unique lifestyle and schedule.
 
Are you ready to get organized in your writing life and empowered to reach your goals? Apply method to the madness of writing and publishing with The 2021 Author’s Planner.
* This planner is dated for 2021.
 
“If lack of organization is holding your writing career back, this Author’s Planner will be your salvation. Everything you do, from your writing schedules to tracking submissions you’ve sent out, to keeping tabs on your earnings, you can track in this amazing book. Wow!” — Jimmie Bise Jr.
 
“This isn’t just a planner; it’s a reflection and goal-setting tool, a finance tracker, a social media planner, and a manuscript organizer. Combined with additional online resources, this planner has everything you need to get organized in all aspects of your author career, from the day-to-day actions to the big vision for your authorship journeys.” — Jen Stephan Kapral
 
“As a busy author and mom, I am disorganized to a fault. Thankfully, the charts and calendars in The Author’s Planner organizes my social media, promotions, budget, and, most importantly, writing. There is no better planner available for the self-published author.” — Jen Pretty
 
Seriously, take it from me, McKenna Dean–the most disorganized person on the planet! If there is ONE tool to buy as part of your author journey for 2021, this planner is it!

Praise for the Redclaw Origins Series!

I’m a pretty happy camper this morning!

Earlier this week, I got a delightful 5 star review for Bishop’s Gambit from N.N. Light’s Book Heaven!

Last night, Bishop Takes Knight won a Bronze Medal for Best Blended Fiction in the 2020 Royal Palm Literary Awards!

The award was announced at FWA’s recent remote four-day annual conference. This annual competition, which received 549 submissions, was RPLA’s nineteenth.

“This is the most competitive RPLA we’ve ever had,” said Chris Coward, RPLA chairperson. “The RPLA administrative team, judges, and entrants did an amazing job.”

In all, the competition covered 28 adult genres and 5 Youth genres, with published and unpublished entries considered separately.

“A win at any level can help any writer market their manuscript or published book, and the detailed feedback from the judges is invaluable for all entrants,” Ms. Coward said.

The Florida Writers Association, 1,800 members strong and growing, is a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization that supports the state’s established and emerging writers. Membership is open to the public.

The Royal Palm Literary Awards competition is a service of the Florida Writers Association established to recognize excellence in its members’ published and unpublished works while providing objective and constructive written assessments for all entrants.

All in all a very good week! I guess I need to get cracking on that next installment of the Redclaw Origins series, eh? Maybe after I take the dogs for a walk on this lovely October morning. Especially this little dinosaur shifter. 🙂

The Kindness of Friends and Strangers

Photo by Sharon Snider from Pexels

I have to preface this post with the following disclaimer: the information in here anecdotal and based on one case only. If you have a sick pet, seek immediate veterinary care. Do not ask your friends on Facebook for treatment recommendations. Do not rely on posts such as this one. Google can be a great source of information if the information comes from a reliable source. Otherwise Google is merely a source of opinions, not facts. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV.

I don’t know about you right now, but I needed a win.

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions: terrifying world and local news, the anticipated release of a new book, the growing reports of people I know developing Covid, the excitement of a planned virtual gathering of long-time friends. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. And not just a little pessimistic about our future.

Which is why I really needed a win about now.

Remember the hamster I bought for a friend of mine? I was under a lot of pressure to pick the perfect pet for someone who knows a lot more about hammies than I do. She was delighted with my choice, and christened the new hamster “Elizabeth Bennett.”

But then a week after Lizzie went to her new home, my friend called me with upsetting news: she had signs of wet tail.

For those who don’t know, wet tail is the common term for a collective of conditions that give young hamsters profound diarrhea. The term is primarily used to refer to proliferative ileitis and has a high mortality rate–most die within 24-48 hours. Wet tail can also be triggered by stress, diet change, or antibiotics.

Well, take a young hamster recently shipped to a pet store, then adopted into a new home, and you have the definition of a stressful situation. We could rule out diet change and there was no history of antibiotics, so we were looking at either the classic PI of hamsters under six months of age or stress-induced bacterial overgrowth. Either way, the news wasn’t good.

We couldn’t let Elizabeth Bennett die. At least, not before the usual short life span of the average hamster.

My friend weighed the risks of exposing herself (and potentially her elderly father) to Covid-19 by driving to the nearest city large enough to support an exotics veterinarian and decided against it. On Saturday afternoon most of the local small animal clinics were closed for the weekend. Taking Lizzie to the emergency clinic was unlikely to result in getting a veterinarian who knew how to treat hammies for wet tail beyond the basics of what you could look up online. She wondered if the clinic that cares for my livestock carried the kinds of antibiotics she needed to treat Lizzie.

The answer turned out to be yes and no.

A Google search indicated the typical treatments available were either an over-the-counter chlortetracycline or neomycin sulfate. I made arrangements to pick some medication from the pet store as soon as I got off work that day. In the meantime, I tagged a vet friend of mine who lived on the other side of the country and asked if she knew of anything better. My friend went to VIN, the Veterinary Information Network, and searched the forums on pocket pets. She texted me back with a list of antibiotics used to treat wet tail–none of which were the OTC products available from the pet store. The large animal clinic had some of the antibiotics, but because they were meant to be given to something like a 1200 pound bull, which weighs 544.3 kilograms, which converts to 544,300 grams… and we were talking about something that weighed somewhere between 30-40 grams… well, you could see the issue with diluting the meds to a workable amount.

I went to the pet store to buy the OTC treatment–it had to be better than nothing, right? But while I was there, I asked to speak with the manager and I explained what was going on. Did she know a better way to treat the hammie?

The manager was very kind and helpful. First, she offered to take the hamster back, as Lizzie was still under warranty. (We weighed that choice and decided against it) I asked her about the OTC products, and without condemning the product, she said they’d had the most success treating wet tail with one of the antibiotics we hadn’t been able to find and supporting the hammie with the kind of paste used to handfeed baby birds.

Apparently, there’s a supplement designed for hamsters, but they like the baby bird formula better and most thrive on it. Who knew?

I came away with the OTC antibiotics and the bird paste. On the way home, I drove past the clinic where I take my dogs. They were still open–but only for another ten minutes. As they were operating on curbside only, I called the number posted on the door and explained my dilemma. My vet was awesome. She dispensed a tiny amount of liquid antibiotics for Lizzie and suggested we purchase a meat scale in order to weigh her.

Armed with a treatment plan, I took everything to my friend. There we ran into the next problem: Lizzie was sick, but still well enough to be impossible to handle, especially without stressing her further. My friend couldn’t weigh her, let alone administer medication. In the end, we decided to try putting a microdrop of antibiotics in the bird paste and hope she would eat it voluntarily.

The next few days were tense as I waited for updates from my friend. Most hamsters with wet tail die from dehydration and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and though it seemed she was eating the paste, it was difficult to tell if she was getting enough–or too much–of the antibiotics. At one point my friend described Lizzie as “a walking skeleton draped in fur” and frankly, I expected the next update to be the final one.

I can’t explain why I was so invested in Lizzie’s recovery. Maybe it was because I know how few indulgences my friend allows herself, and by God, she should be allowed this one damn thing. Maybe it was because I personally picked out Lizzie for her and felt responsible for bringing her heartache. Or it could have been because she was named after a favorite character and having her die was akin to killing Elizabeth Bennett myself. Or maybe it was because 2020 has been SUCH a suckwad year and I just needed this one win. With all the terrible news coming out of California with the wildfires, the hurricanes in the Gulf, the mounting cases of Covid-19 among friends and acquaintances, the attacks on our democracy and the fears for the coming election and the aftermath of the results… I just needed this little hamster to make it, you know?

And she did.

Maybe it was the bird paste. Maybe it was the combined knowledge of the pet store manager and my vet friend with VIN. Maybe it was the antibiotics and the kindness that dispensed it under the given circumstances without insisting on an exam. Maybe it was the dedication of my friend, who woke Lizzie every couple of hours during the day, which made her seek out something to eat instead of sleeping into death. I don’t know. But for some reason, or maybe all of those reasons, the evidence of wet tail ceased, and she began putting on weight. We stopped the antibiotics and she continued to do well. In fact, she started getting so fat, we had to wean her off the bird paste and back onto hamster food.

Maybe she didn’t have true PI. We’ll never know. But it’s been weeks now since her recovery, and I feel safe calling her out of the woods. At least as much as hamsters are ever out of the woods.

It’s a small win. But I’ll take it. Screw you, 2020.

Bishop’s Gambit #MFRWHooks and Prizes

Yesterday was the big release day for Bishop’s Gambit (Redclaw Origins2)! Bishop and Knight are back and in more hot water than ever!

Redclaw Origins: The year is 1955. Rebel without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch are playing in the  movie theaters. The Chevy Bel Air is the most popular car in America. Gas is 25 cents a gallon and you can get a hotel room for $4 bucks. This flirty, fun series takes us back to the beginning and shows us how Redclaw Security got started.

In the award-winning Bishop Takes Knight, we met Rhett Bishop, a former socialite desperately seeking work. She lands a job at Redclaw Security, a firm that’s not all that it seems. A routine assignment turns deadly when tracking down missing scientist, Dr. Peter Knight, unleashes a pack of wolf-shifters on their trail. Toss in rival shifter gangs all searching for a cache of mysterious artifacts of great power, and Bishop and Knight are lucky to escape with their lives.

In Bishop’s Gambit, still stinging from being sidelined after the debacle of her first mission, Rhett has a lot to prove. Which is why she accepts her newest assignment: pose as a married couple with Peter Knight to investigate strange happenings in an upscale 1950s suburban development. When malice is served with a smile and a slice of apple pie, it’s not hard to see why Rhett might prefer to face down a horde of angry shifters! 

Excerpt:

Wait!”

His footsteps crunched on the gravel path as he hurried to catch up, but I ignored him and continued walking.

He drew abreast, stuffing his empty lunch sack into his pocket as he hurried along. “Does this mean you’re saying no?”

Pulling to an abrupt stop, I forced him to brake as well or risk running into me. I punctuated every word with a poke to his chest. “Still. Haven’t. Been. Asked.”

His eyes flew open wide before a sly grin—one I had a hard time resisting—curved his mouth. “Oh. I can’t exactly go down on one knee here, but Rhett Bishop, would you do me the honor of being my fake wife and partner in an undercover investigation?”

His impish expression said he still didn’t understand why I was mad.

 

Want to be part of my launch team and get in the running for some fabulous deluxe gift baskets? Check out the details here.

This post is part of a hop, so follow the links to read some other tasty bookhooks for this week! 

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Bishop’s Gambit Release Day and Launch Party!

It’s here! Today is the day Bishop’s Gambit, the next installment of the award-winning Redclaw Origins series, is available to download!

I can’t tell you how excited I am about sharing this story with you. It was a long time coming–I’d planned for an earlier release date, but then the pandemic hit and life changed for everyone. You’d think that would mean more time for writing, but like so many people, it upended our household, and forced us to make some tough choices.

I’m pleased as punch to be able to release it now, however!

The old gang is back: Ryker, Mr. J, Miss Climpson, Em, and of course, little Captain, the terrier with a terrible secret. To redeem herself in Redclaw Security’s eyes after the debacle of her first mission, probationary agent Rhett Bishop must undertake a delicate assignment: pose as a married couple with Dr. Peter Knight to investigate a series of paranormal circumstances in an upscale 1950s suburban neighborhood! Here, malice is served with a smile and a slice of apple pie. No wonder Rhett would rather face down a horde of wolf-shifters than deal with the Ladies Association…

It’s the X-Files meets Leave it to Beaver in Redclaw Origins Book 2.

Did I mention there was only one bed?

Bishop’s Gambit is now available from Amazon and these other retailers.

Want to join my launch team for Bishop’s Gambit? I would love your help in spreading the word!

For one week we’ll be sharing about the book release and you will have the chance to win some great prizes!

I have three deluxe reader prize baskets, and I’ll give away 5 more paperback copies of my books! You can win simply by following the directions to help share and spread the word about Bishop’s Gambit.

This is specifically designed to reward my most loyal fans, friends, and dedicated readers, so click HERE to join the private Facebook group so you’ll be in the loop and eligible for prizes. All the details are there!

I’ve already received a delightful review from The Genre Minx Book Reviews, so check it out!

So this is me, tossing a fistful of confetti in the air and running off. Yay!