The Panther’s Lost Princess: Now Available on KU #MFRWHooks

When I wrote The Panther’s Lost Princess back in 2017, I was new to indie publishing and new to marketing as well. One of the things I struggled with was ‘elevator pitches’ and short, pithy hooks I could post on Twitter. Mostly because I’m a wordy person,and distilling a story down to a short catch phrase doesn’t come naturally to me.

 

But once I penned this phrase, I knew it was perfect for The Panther’s Lost Princess:

She’s a waitress looking to change her future. What he knows about her past changes everything.

The Panther’s Lost Princess (Redclaw Security Book 1) is now available on KU! Be sure to check it out! 

Want a sneak peek? Here’s an awesome book trailer!

 

 

 

Want to see other terrific books? Follow the hop!

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A Good Story vs Good Writing

I learned to love books at a very young age. My mother and grandmother both read to me, and the time spent in their laps, following the words on the page, soon taught me how to interpret those words on my own. Growing up in a house full of books, I was never at a loss for something to read. By the time I was six, I was reading books on the sixth grade level. From loving books, it was only a short step to wanting to tell my own stories.

And I did. I wrote stories similar to those I’d read about things I loved, illustrating them with laboriously colored drawings as well. Well into my teens, going to a library was an exciting event. The Scholastic Book Fair was the best day of the school year. To this day, my idea of a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon is to go to a bookstore.

But somewhere along the line, I gave up on my dream of becoming a writer as something impossible for the average storyteller to achieve. By the time I left college, I was focused first on my career, and later juggling a family with being a professional. I wrote short stories for fun every now and then, but they were few and far between.

Then one day, I discovered online fanfiction archives. Suddenly I realized there were thousands of people just like me who loved to tell stories about their favorite characters. I became obsessed with fandom, cranking out story after story. After a lifetime of suppressing my creativity, the stories poured out of me in a flood. I wrote for the sheer joy of it and the fun of interacting with like-minded fans. For years I read nothing but fanfic, completely immersed in the delights of finding stories that were tailor made for me.

I never let the fact I was a neophyte storyteller stop me. I wasn’t swayed by the fact there were far better writers in my fandoms. I was in love with my characters, and that joy carried me through any confidence of crisis.

The confidence I learned in fandom gave me the courage to try my hand at original fiction after a lifetime of doubting it was possible to become a writer. It just so happened that this was about the same time when e-readers suddenly made publishing within the reach of a lot of people, and small presses were eager to take a chance on new authors. When I made the transition to writing original stories, I continued writing fanfiction at first, but gradually I began leaving fandom behind. My shows went off the air, and I had trouble finding other shows I wanted to write in. More importantly, however, I became invested in my original characters. I only had so much time to write and it seemed stupid to “waste” good ideas on fanfic when they lent themselves to the original stories bubbling inside of me.

But as I’ve said before, when you’re learning a skill set, every time you move up a level, the work gets harder. There’s less fun, especially when you know things should be done in a specific way and what you did before no longer passes muster. These days I’m working with critique partners and tough editors who push me to write cleaner prose and with more efficient style. Don’t get me wrong; I love the input from these sources. I’m a better writer now than when I started ten years ago.

But those same critical voices, the ones that tell me to eliminate adverbs and cut out unnecessary verbiage, and strive for active constructions in my writing are the same voices that often leave me staring at a blinking cursor for hours at a time, struggling to create a sentence that won’t embarrass me. I find myself massaging the same text over and over again because my natural style is wordy and breezy and it needs a fair amount of editing to be presentable to the public at large.

It’s a bit like taking a pony out for a gallop across an open field once you know all the pitfalls and dangers of doing so. When you know about the rabbit holes, and you think about how breaking an arm will mess up your life, it makes it a bit harder to simply clap your heels against your pony’s flanks and let her take the bit in her teeth and run.

Back when I was learning to ride in group lessons at a barn, once a year when we trooped into the arena, we were told it was Broom Polo Day. Instead of trotting sedately around the ring, following one another in line as we popped over a little cross rail or practiced our equitation, we were handed brooms and directed to chase down a large rubber ball, smacking it between goal posts that had been arranged at either end of the arena.

It was insane. We became fiends as we clung to our ponies necks, throwing ourselves into a vicious melee, bouncing our ponies off each other as we crowded in for a hit. We chased the ball from one end of the arena to the other, howling like demons. The ponies got into it too, running flat out at our direction, spinning on a dime to make a course change, letting us hang off their sides as we swung down for a stinging hit. I suspect never in a million years would we be allowed to play Broom Polo these days, but back then we loved it. And the best part was we never knew when Broom Polo Day would appear. One day we were practicing our positions, remembering to keep our heels down and shoulders back, and the next, for one glorious hour a year, we rode like we were Centaurs–at one with the horse. It was a sneaky way of teaching us riding wasn’t always about looking pretty.

This past weekend, instead of struggling with the barely started WIP that already needed to have a plot hole fixed, I accepted the plea of a friend to pinch hit in a fandom fest. Though rusty as hell and not convinced I could even portray the characters I loved so that a fan would recognize them, I sat down at the laptop to pound out the required word count for the fest, only to end up with twelve times as many words as I needed. I won’t say it was effortless, but it might as well have been compared to the difficulty I’ve had writing lately.

What was the difference?

I was having fun. It was Broom Polo Day, but for writing.

And it taught me something very important. Sometimes it’s okay just to play. To throw off the restrictions of rules and “this is what you should do” and just let ‘er rip. And no, I’m not going to go back to reading and writing fanfic the way I did at the height of my obsession. But I will remember sometimes you need to focus on telling the story first before you worry about how well you’re telling that story. That the first draft is galloping toward the ball and smacking it with glee across the arena. It’s the second, third, and fourth drafts that let us look pretty while sending that ball through the goal posts.

So my advice to myself in these coming weeks? It’s okay to bang the story out sometimes without paying as much attention to the rules. Sometimes it’s the best way to get back in the groove when you’ve lost your mojo. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun and ride like a demon. You can always go back to sitting up and pretty when the time comes.

Praise for Ghost of a Chance and Bishop Takes Knight! #MFRWHooks

 

Well, it happened again–I’m pleased to announce Ghost of a Chance (Redclaw Security, Book 2) is a finalist in the 2019 Independent Author Network Awards!

It was also a finalist in the 2019 Bookseller’s Best Awards, and Redclaw Security came in third for Best Shifter/Vampire series in the 2018 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewers Choice Awards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And The Romance Reviews gave Bishop Takes Knight (Redclaw Origins, Book 1) a five star review, naming it as one of their Top Picks!

The Romance Review
 

October 18th is also the last day to enter my Bishop Takes Knight Rafflecopter Giveaway–be sure to check it out! There’s still time to enter!

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, The Panther’s Lost Princess (Redclaw Security, Book 1) is now available on KU again!

 

Looking for other great reads? Follow this Book Hooks link for more romances right up your alley!

Bishop Takes Knight: Book Tour and Giveaway!

What a whirlwind this day has been! Work was the usual hectic scene, but today was also the launch of Bishop Takes Knight, the first book in the Redclaw Origins series! The response so far has been enthusiastic. I’ve already received a glowing 5 star review from the Paranormal Romance Guild

 

I’m also doing a book tour and giveaway with Silver Dagger Book Tours. Check out the tour for your chance to enter to win the reader’s choice from my backlist and a chance at an Amazon gift card!

 

 
Bishop Takes Knight
Redclaw Origins Book 1
by McKenna Dean
Genre: Paranormal Romance
 
 
New York, 1955. Former socialite Henrietta (“Rhett”) Bishop,
destitute after her father gambles away the family fortune, takes a
job at Redclaw Security. But Redclaw is no ordinary operation. Part
detective firm and part enforcement agency, Redclaw regulates matters
involving the growing population of shifters who have emerged since
the onset of the nuclear age.
 
Peter Knight is a nuclear scientist shattered by the death of his wife.
Blacklisted by the government and scientific organizations, he drowns
his sorrows while searching for the people behind his wife’s murder.
 
When Rhett is assigned to recruit Knight, their meeting is more than
either bargained for—a rival organization will do anything to
secure Knight for themselves. Following a lead to locate a missing
cache of alien technology stolen from Redclaw, Rhett is thrown back
into her previous glittering life with Knight as her pretend
boyfriend. But when someone from the past turns up to start a bidding
war on the artifacts, Bishop and Knight wind up in a fight for their
very lives.
 
 
 
 
 
McKenna Dean has been an actress, a vet tech, a singer, a teacher, a
biologist, and a dog trainer. She’s worked in a genetics lab, at
the stockyard, behind the scenes as a props manager, and at a pizza
parlor slinging dough. Finally she realized all these jobs were just
a preparation for what she really wanted to be: a writer.
She lives on a small farm in North Carolina with her family, as well as
the assorted dogs, cats, and various livestock.
She likes putting her characters in hot water to see how strong they are.
Like tea bags, only sexier.
 
 
 
 
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!
 
 
 
 

Couples Series Romance: What is it and why do we want it?

Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man movies. Remington Steele and Laura Holt. Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (does anyone remember Hart to Hart but me??) The Scarecrow and Mrs.King. Maddie Hayes and David Addison. Rick Castle and Kate Beckett.

What do they all have in common? Couples that banter their way into a relationship while solving crimes.

I love this trope. It’s my personal catnip.

While I love romance stories, I love action and adventure, too. I love mysteries, science fiction, and paranormal stories. I WANT IT ALL.

And I can get it with stories that combine these elements. Even better, when I fall hard for a particular couple, I want to spend more time with them. I want to go on a series of adventures with them. I love watching them meet, seeing the sparks fly, longing for them to get together—but I also believe the story needn’t end when they fall in love or say “I do.”

Granted, I think a TV show that’s built entirely on UST takes a big risk of imploding once the characters finally get together. (I’m looking at you, Moonlighting.) I want to see progression of the relationship, but I also believe it’s possible for the relationship to continue to be interesting and relevant after the couples are an established pair.

It’s like when I first began reading fanfic. I concentrated heavily on first-time stories until I found my OTP, and then all of the sudden, I couldn’t get enough of that pairing. I wanted MOAR, and I didn’t care if they were just meeting for the first time or celebrating their 50th anniversary together. I wanted to spend time with that couple in their universe.The more stories, the better.

From a storytelling perspective, I think writing established relationships is tougher than first times. In part because we romance readers are geared toward Happily Ever After being the end of the story—and I’m not saying romances shouldn’t have HEAs or Happily for Now endings! Far from it! What I’m saying is it’s harder to depict a happy couple as having the kinds of conflicts that make their continued stories interesting.

But it’s what I crave.

I wish I knew how to categorize these stories. Are they considered romances? Genre-based stories with romantic elements? I don’t know. To me, they are romances, even if the genre storyline is a somewhat bigger player than the love story. I know people will argue with me on that point, and I get it. The general rule of thumb which says “if you can remove the romantic elements from the story and it doesn’t fall apart means it’s not a romance” holds true for the most part.

Except when you get hooked on a pairing. 

For me, all bets are off if I fall for a couple. I’m going to eat up their series with a spoon because in addition to fighting mages/shifters/criminals/ and solving the crime/murder at the village fete/mystery surrounding buried treasure, I’m there for watching my couple trade witty comebacks and do their mating dance. And I don’t care if it takes a couple of books to get there, as long as I can see that it will.

Take Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I only recently started this series, but even I can see where things are headed between Kate and the Beast Lord. I’m enjoying watching these two powerful beings battle it out as they move closer together, loving the little hints (and clues left in plain sight) as they dance their way toward a committed relationship. I got my husband hooked on the series as well, and one of the things he likes about it is that the characters are working their way toward love.

Finding the love people have for this series has lead me to start the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh. And every time I find a new-to-me series that features a long, slow dance between the lead couple, I fist bump the air and go, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Mind you, I want to know my “pair” will get together. Extra points if the first story ends with them in each other’s arms. I’m just saying if I can see the pairing coming, I’m willing to give it some time, too.

Recently, I had a conversation with fellow paranormal romance and urban fantasy author Jenna Barwin about her own Hill Vampire series, which includes her 2019 Rone Award Nominee, Dark Wine at Sunrise. I asked her what drew her to write a couples series?

She said, “I write a paranormal romance couple series because I love that genre! As a reader, when I fall in love with a couple, I don’t want their story to end at getting engaged or married, I want to see how their “happily ever after” plays out over the long term, long after they say “I do.”

The Hill Vampire series features an exclusive community of winemaking vampires and their mortal mates. They live on vineyard estates in the Sierra Escondida foothills.

My Hill Vampire series follows the romantic relationship of Cerissa and Henry, who, along with other members of their community, are trying to stop the vampire dominance movement (VDI), a vampire conspiracy that is determined to kill the leaders of Sierra Escondida and take over. The VDM plans a political coup, and once the path is cleared, will turn mortals into blood slaves. So it’s equal parts steamy romance and paranormal mystery/suspense. The mystery/suspense plot is strong enough to satisfy urban fantasy readers, and the romance between Cerissa and Henry is hot enough to satisfy romance readers.

The series begins with Dark Wine at Midnight, in which research scientist Cerissa Patel must find a way to save humanity from a vampire conspiracy without revealing what’s hidden beneath her skin. But her cover story isn’t enough to fool vampire Henry Bautista—he’s dark, dangerous, and will do anything to protect his town, including stopping her.”

So you can see, I have another series to add to my TBR list!!

As for me, I’m trying my hand at writing my own couples series: Redclaw Origins. If you’ve read my books, you know the Redclaw Security series features a new pair in each book, with cameos from previous books and introductions of future characters as well. Redclaw is an elite paranormal agency tasked with investigating matters in the shifter realm as well as securing dangerous artifacts that became active at the same time shifters began making a widespread appearance.

In Redclaw Origins, I introduce Bishop and Knight: two humans hired by the recently formed Redclaw Security to be its newest secret agents. Bishop Takes Knight opens in 1955, and the advent of nuclear technology has triggered the activation of latent shifter genes in an unsuspecting population, while at the same time activated powerful alien tech. Rhett Bishop and Peter Knight proved to be such a delightful pair, I knew I wanted more of their adventures together.

I also have another planned couples series in the Redclaw Universe: The Better Off Red series, which will concentrate on a single team within Redclaw, the Major Shifter Crimes Division, and its lead investigator Morgan Delaney. When Morgan butts heads with her boss’s half-brother, Rian Stirling, over a series of shifter murders, she must resist the pull of fated mates and the appearance of a conflict of interest while she hunts down the real killers.

Of course, this means I need to get cracking on the next book, right? Right. But I’m smiling as I envision all the trials and tribulations I’m going to put my couples through before they get their HEA.

 

 

 

 

Introducing Bishop and Knight: Redclaw’s newest Secret Agents #MFRWhooks #MFRWauthors

I can’t believe it! Bishop Takes Knight is ready for pre-order and will be released NEXT WEEK!

I can’t tell you how excited—and nervous—I am about releasing this new story in the Redclaw universe.

Let me share the nervous part first and get that out of the way. I’m nervous because this story is a departure from me in many ways. It’s a historical (the origin story for Redclaw Security), set in the 1950s. It’s also told in 1st person POV from the viewpoint of Henrietta Bishop, our intrepid heroine. The characters have big obstacles to overcome before cementing their relationship, so while it ends HFN, it’s going to take further stories and adventures before we see the relationship come to fruition. As for seeing that, while Rhett, as she prefers to be called, is a passionate woman, she doesn’t tend to share all her personal details on page.

Whoa. That’s quite a difference from my previous stories in the Redclaw Universe. I have a feeling people will either love or hate Rhett Bishop and her new partner, Dr. Peter Knight.

But I’m hoping you’ll love them.

Rhett Bishop is delightfully dry, frequently witty, resourceful woman trapped in an era where women were largely decorative or homemakers, preferably both. Peter Knight is bitter, brilliant, and desperately unhappy until he meets Rhett, who soon teases him into crawling out of the hole of despair he’s fallen into and using his brains for something other than sulking.

Knight is sarcastic, inventive, and clever. He thinks fast on his feet, and has never met a piece of tech he couldn’t manipulate. He’s spent the last two years frustrated by the lack of justice for his wife’s murder, but his time with Rhett reminds him of who he used to be before Margo’s death.

Both are out of their depth when they take up with Redclaw Security: part detective agency, part enforcement team for The Council, a longstanding secret organization of shifters living among us.

No superpowers. No shifting ability. Just their wits and nerve to see them through the search for Margo’s killer, a cache of missing artifacts of immense power, and the rival criminal syndicates who want to get their hands on the technology.

I adore Bishop and Knight. I hope you will too.

Now available for pre-order:

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble 

Apple 

Kobo 

 

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Dark Wine at Dusk: Book Spotlight and Giveaway with Jenna Barwin

Guys! Have you heard about Jenna Barwin’s latest release, Dark Wine at Dusk? Book Three in the Hill Vampire series, people are raving about it! Jenna’s sharing an excerpt here and hosting a cool giveaway as well! Be sure to check it out!

Book Title: Dark Wine at Dusk (A Hill Vampire Novel Book 3) by Jenna Barwin

Buy link (Amazon only/KindleUnlimited): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07RY6N38W/

 

Dark Wine at Dusk, the third book in the Hill Vampire series, features an exclusive community of winemaking vampires and their mortal mates. They live on vineyard estates in the Sierra Escondida foothills.

The series begins with Dark Wine at Midnight, in which research scientist Cerissa Patel must find a way to save humanity from a vampire conspiracy without revealing what’s hidden beneath her skin. But her cover story isn’t enough to fool vampire Henry Bautista—he’s dark, dangerous, and will do anything to protect his town, including stopping her.

The series follows the romantic relationship of Cerissa and Henry, who, along with other members of their community, try to stop the vampire dominance movement (VDM), a vampire conspiracy that is trying to kill the leaders of Sierra Escondida and take over. The VDM plans a political coup, and once the path is cleared, will turn mortals into blood slaves.

Dark Wine at Dusk digs deeper into the VDM conspiracy, but it’s also Henry’s story. The secret he’s kept buried for over a century is revealed, and Cerissa has an agonizing choice to make.

Blurb for Dark Wine at Dusk:

A seductive spy. An alpha vampire. A hidden threat to their love…

When a rogue vampire group attacks again, Dr. Cerissa Patel’s happily ever after with the man of her dreams must take a back seat to her mission.

Her lover, vampire Henry Bautista, is quick to pick up the gauntlet. He’ll do anything to help his beautiful spy capture the conspirators who are determined to enslave mortals.

But as Henry’s secret past rears its ugly head, it not only threatens their mission, but risks their love–and their very lives.

“Passionate, breathtaking and beautifully written.” ~InD’tale Magazine

Excerpt:

Henry accepted the shiny silver pouch Cerissa handed him. Usually, she used a blue bag to package blood from her human clones and a red one when she drew a higher concentration of red blood cells. What did the silver bag contain?

“If you don’t mind being my guinea pig,” Cerissa added.

“Guinea pig?” He started a pan of water heating on the stove. The pouch wasn’t wrapped in a self-warming bag. “What is different about this blood?”

“While I was away, I figured out how to induce the clones to produce a higher concentration of stress hormones—adrenaline, as well as cortisol and norepinephrine, if you want to be technical—to create the blood Rolf craves.”

“You think this will satisfy him?”

“We’ll have to experiment to find out. I don’t know what the cause is. It could be a substance addiction he can be weaned off, with support. If his problem is akin to a deficiency, more like a diabetic who needs insulin to survive, then I’ll have to determine the proper dosage. Just because the blood produces a mental high doesn’t mean it’s bad for him.”

Henry turned off the flame under the pot and slid the bag into the warm water, swishing it around so the contents would heat evenly without cooking. Cooked blood was disgusting.

“There is an exhilaration that comes from drinking adrenaline-spiked blood—”

“I’m calling it ‘adrenaline-enhanced’ for now,” she said. “The other term has baggage.”

“You could be right.” He fished the bag out of the water, cut the corner with scissors, and poured it into an insulated coffee mug. A quick sniff told him it smelled like the blood of a victim who’d been hunted.

Is this a good idea?

He sniffed again, and a thread of apprehension brushed his skin. He took a sip and closed his eyes. The sudden rush pounded through his veins, followed by an ice-cold chill. He dropped the mug on the kitchen island. It toppled, and the blood spread across the granite counter.

Cerissa rushed to his side. “Henry, are you all right?”

He stumbled back, fighting the surge, the power, the desire for more.

“Y-you made it too s-strong,” he stammered, and clutched the edge of the island’s granite top. The spilled blood flowed between his fingers, invoking images he’d rather forget.

“I’m sorry,” she said, clinging to his arm.

Her scent beckoned to him. He gripped the counter harder and fought the driving desire to plunge his fangs into her. “Please, cariña, step back.”

“Henry—”

“Step back. I don’t need new sins to repent for.”

series link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07B6SSS9B/ ]

Dark Wine at Dusk is book three in the Hill Vampire series. It will enhance the reader’s experience to read Dark Wine at Midnight and Dark Wine at Sunrise, before reading Dusk.

Bio & Social Media Links:

Jenna Barwin writes the Hill Vampire novels, which blend mystery, wine, and romantic spice into a heady (and steamy) combination.

When not writing, she enjoys underwater photography, and is known to occasionally attend a Victorian dance in full regalia right down to pantaloons and a hoop skirt.

If you’d like to stay up to date on her newest releases, join her VIP Readers: jennabarwin.com/jenna-barwins-newsletter/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennabarwin/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JennaBarwin (@JennaBarwin)

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennabarwin/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jennabarwin/

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jenna-barwin

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jenna-Barwin/e/B06XV6TMG9/

Goodreads Author: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16632097.Jenna_Barwin

Website: https://jennabarwin.com

 

Rafflecopter GIVEAWAY:

I’m sponsoring a giveaway to celebrate the launch of Dark Wine at Dusk and to thank my blog tour readers (giveaway begins 5/29/2019 and ends 6/25/2019)

The four prizes being given away are:

  • $10 Amazon.com Gift card
  • eBook copy of Dark Wine at Midnight
  • eBook copy of Dark Wine at Sunrise
  • eBook copy of Dark Wine at Dusk

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. One prize per entrant. See Giveaway page for full terms and conditions.

 

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Game of Thrones Fandom Summer Fantasy Giveaway!

Bummed that Game of Thrones is over? Looking for some GOT-inspired swag or some great paranormal/fantasy reads? We got the thing for you! The Game of Thrones Fandom Summer Fantasy Giveaway, hosted by Dariel Raye!

Event: June 1-15, 2019

Winners announced June 17, 2019

Disclaimer: This is NOT an official GOT-sanctioned or affiliated event, but a gathering of like-minded fans who want to share their love for the GOT fandom and keep the flame burning!

Check out the main event page here. There are free story giveaways, as well as a Rafflecopter for a chance to win some very cool swag.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Come join in the fun–you’ll be glad you did!

 

Finalist in the 2019 Booksellers Best Awards: Ghost of a Chance

Last week, I came in from walking the dogs to find my husband making dinner.

“Oh, someone called while you were out.” He indicated my phone lying on the counter, where I’d left it charging.

I checked the number. Not one I recognized. I’d been getting a lot of automated calls lately, so even had I been in the house, I wouldn’t have answered it. “Huh,” I said, picking up the phone to activate the voice mail. “It’s probably one of those Chinese spam callers again.”

But I was wrong. When I listened to my message, it was from one of the organizers of the Booksellers Best Awards, calling to tell me that Ghost of a Chance was a finalist in the best paranormal romance category.

My initial reaction was one of disbelief, so much so when I was asked if I was planning to attend the RWA National Convention, where the awards were being held, I said no. I mean, I wasn’t. Attending hadn’t even been on my radar beyond some wishful thinking. So I stammered my way through the conversation, still somewhat stunned. I was so certain someone would call back to inform me there’d been a mistake that I didn’t announce it on social media right away. I did tell the members of my crit group, who immediately read me the riot act for not planning to attend.

I still didn’t quite believe it was all real. I told a few people here and there, and the opinion was universally the same. I had to go to the RWA convention.

I had to jump through some hoops to arrange things, but yes, I’m going to RWA in July. I’m beside myself with nerves and excitement, so instead of focusing on the awards themselves, I have a new thing to worry about: what the heck do I wear?

I rarely travel. I spend most of my time in jeans, T-shirts, and barn boots. I don’t really own anything “business casual” or something fancy for the special night out. I’ve been poking around the internet trying to come up with photographs and videos of previous conventions to get an idea both of day wear and evening wear and the general consensus seems a bit all over the map. So, just for fun, I invite you to drop a comment here either with a link or your advice as to what I should pack with me. I have a feeling I’m going to have some shopping to do!

I came across this fabulous speech given by Suzanne Brockmann last year on receiving the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s well worth watching again. I’ll drop a warning here for language–I know it bothers some people–but honestly, that’s part of her point here. Two seconds into it, I forgot I was supposed to be watching for some clothing ideas.

To make this interesting, I’ll pick someone at random from the comments and send you a signed print copy of Ghost of a Chance–or if you already have it, a chance to win my new story coming out in July, Bishop Takes Knight.

Contest open until June 1, 2019!

Betty Crocker: The Dear Abby of Cooking

Just this past weekend, I typed the words “The End” on the first draft of my paranormal romance novel set in 1955.

Writing a story set in a different time period comes with a special set of problems, not the least of which is the research necessary to get things right. Frequently I’d have to mark text with the intention of looking up a phrase or piece of technology to confirm its use in the 1950s. Sometimes I’d wind up down the rabbit hole of research, discovering interesting tidbits that had no bearing on the story but fascinated me anyway.

For me, setting a story in another time period is more than just learning the slang or studying the clothing, however, both of which I did. It’s about attempting to understand the mindset of the people of that time, what their hopes, dreams, and fears might be. What makes them tick. That’s one of the greatest appeals of writing historicals for me. 

I tend to do a lot of background reading as a result, even if the material never ends up in the story itself. It’s there in the structure of the story, how the characters act and think. To me it’s as important as costume design or a soundtrack is to a movie. It sets the stage for the characters and for the reader to enter their world.

In addition to the Internet, I rely a lot on books about the various periods I’m interested in, hence the photograph above. One of my late purchases arose out of my research (and I’m still trying to justify it to myself): Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook.

Did you know there was never any such person as Betty Crocker? She was the brainchild of an advertising firm hired by a flour-milling company that eventually became General Mills. She was created as part of a 1921 ad campaign to solve a puzzle and win a pin in the shape of a bag of Gold Medal Flour. The response to the contest was unexpected–in addition to the 30,000 women who solved the puzzles, the company was flooded with letters asking baking questions. Betty Crocker was created to answer those questions and by 1950 was an amalgamation of the forty-eight women who worked for the Home Service Department of General Mills, the largest  customer-service department in the industry, fielding up to 2,000 letters a day to help homemakers solve a wide variety of cooking and baking problems.

The first Betty Crocker cookbook was published in 1950, became a runaway bestseller, and has been a favorite ever since. When I opened my copy, I recognized both in the layout and the nature of the recipes within all those old timey comfort meals I’d grown up with copied from those “Church Lady cookbooks” that every major church I’ve ever been associated with has published at one time or another. The recipes I associate with my grandmother and the holidays. Truth be told, that was the real reason I bought this copy of the original Betty Crocker cookbook, complete with all the salt, sugar, and fat of the old recipes. On her death, I discovered that my mother had given away all the treasured church lady cookbooks, and many of those recipes were lost to me as a result. Now I have them again. And with them, a little piece of my past.

By the 1950s, Betty Crocker was a callback to the past, a font of maternal advice that was missing in the lives of many post-war young women widowed or settling down with former soldiers to build families in communities such as Levittown.

Isolated in suburbia from the generational women who would have taught them the ins and outs of the homemaking, modern brides were leaving behind their mother’s old-fashioned ways and complicated recipes–and prepackaged mixes were replacing traditional baking. It only made sense for General Mills to produce a cookbook using General Mills ingredients and Betty Crocker as their substitute mother.

Another brilliant marketing move by the company was to remove powdered eggs from the mixes, instead having the homemaker provide her own eggs, which allowed the baker to feel as though she were ‘making the cake from scratch’ by contributing to the creative process. I confess, when I make brownies or cakes from a mix, I consider them “homebaked” desserts, and pat myself on the back as though I’d grown the wheat and ground the flour myself. Such is the rarity of my having the time to cook for my family these days. And that’s what Betty Crocker allows us to do.

That iconic red spoon and that readily identifiable signature was part of the brand that helped homemakers recognize the advice they trusted. The irony here is that my fictional heroine might be an even worse cook than I am–so she would definitely need this cookbook. Ah well, maybe in the next installment of the series.