About McKenna Dean

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

The Good Gut Diet Experiment

I’ve been struggling with gut issues for years now. And before you jump in to tell me I should see a doctor, I have. Many. Again and again. I’ve had two GI workups, complete with endoscopy and colonoscopy. I’ve been tested for celiac and intestinal parasites, tried the FODMAP diet, had a gazillion lab tests, tried probiotics and digestive enzymes, you name it. I’ve also done food elimination trials, and I keep coming back to some frustrating conclusions. I do best when I eliminate all gluten and dairy, and cut waaaay back on sweets. Before you say keto, I don’t seem to tolerate the high fat foods recommended by keto, so I’m proceeding with caution here, trying to find something that works for me.

This is the part where I make the pouty face, drum my heels, and cry, “I don’t wanna!” when it comes to making these changes permanent. See, I love bread. No, seriously. I’d rather eat bread than cake. In fact, if Marie Antoinette had ever said. “Let them eat cake” (which is disputed, BTW), I’d have chopped off her head too. I can’t imagine a meal without bread or cereal in some form. And compared to the light fluffy goodness of real bread, gluten free products (at least here in the US) taste nasty. Like they have sand mixed in them. Also, I’m on a sodium restricted diet because of my BP now, so why is it that most GF products are LOADED with salt and excessive seasonings? Did I mention I also suffer from acne rosacea, and that all of these things are made worst by certain foods?

I love bread so much that part of my love of Lucy Lawless’s new crime show, My Life is Murder, stems from the fact her character makes bread as a way of dealing with her personal issues along with solving crimes. And that Lucy Lawless is hot. And I want her boots. Her kind of nosy interference is a helluva upgrade from Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote!

Of course, the answer for me is a very plain diet, such as bowls of fish and rice with some sort of leafy greens added. And when I stick to it, I feel better. No, scratch that. I feel almost like a human being again. No heartburn. No bloating or belching. And much less pain. As an added benefit, when I maintained strict adherence to these dietary restrictions, I lost almost ten pounds in one week. I believe at least some of that was due to decreased inflammation.

So why can’t I maintain it? For one, it’s a LOT of work. You have to shop often, and buy fresh. There’s only so much I can make in advance when most of what I’m eating is steamed. My food bill has tripled, and I’ve lost the convenience of easily portable items to take with me to work. And I’ll be honest, there has been days when I’ve skipped lunch because I couldn’t face another meal fit for a Buddhist monk.

There’s also the fact I love bread, remember? So what’s a gluten-loving girl to do? Well, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is explore my gluten-free options for those times when nothing but carbs will do. I’ll eat Udi’s white sandwich bread if I have to. Nature’s Promise makes decent Cinnamon Thins Cookies (I can’t find a link, which means they’ve probably stopped making them) that taste a lot like snickerdoodles and have the crunch I like in a cookie. Mama Geraldine’s makes GF cheese straws that are hard to tell from the real thing. Van’s Say Cheese and Perfect 10 crackers aren’t bad, if you can tolerate the salt. Betty Crocker makes a good GF brownie mix if you add nuts to it to cut some of the sweetness. But all that’s really exchanging one kind of bad-for-you carb for another. I need to expand my cooking skills (weak at best, lethal at worst) and experiment with other greens besides kale.

But I can’t help but wonder why I can no longer eat the foods I love.

I suspect the answer may lie in The Good Gut Diet, which is a book detailing the importance of our gut biomes, and how so many of our health issues can be traced back to problems with our microflora. Now, mind you, I’ve tried digestive enzymes and probiotics, and sometimes they seem to help a bit, but according to Dr. Gerard Mullin, we need to do more than supplement our gut bugs. We need to reset them.

I like the idea behind this. That we do a restrictive diet for a month, then take steps to recreate a healthy biome, then gradually move to a maintenance plan that doesn’t say you can never have certain foods, but that you eat them sparingly. The hardest part for me will probably be the restocking of the healthy biome bit. I’ve read ahead, and I LOATHE the fermented foods they recommend during this phase, sauerkraut, yogurt, kim chee and the like. Pretty much if it contains vinegar, I’m going to turn my nose up at it. And please, yogurt is milk you should have thrown out weeks ago.

But since this seems to be the best chance I have of getting my life and health back, I’m determined to give it a try. It’s impacting everything: my ability to work, enjoy my time with my family, write. I’m the sort of person who gets up out of bed no matter what and goes until she drops, but I’m getting perilously close to dropping now, and I want to feel better again.

The irony about Lucy Lawless playing a crime-solving baker? Apparently she is HIGHLY sensitive to gluten and describes it as ‘death’ to her. So I guess I’m not the only one who can no longer eat the foods I love. 

The 2019 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards is open for Voting!

I’m so excited! Bishop Takes Knight has been nominated for the Best Romance/Paranormal/Fantasy/Vampires & Shifters category in the PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards! I’m my story is among such great books for consideration!

 

Voting opens today, Jan 10th, and runs through next Friday, Jan 24th. I hope you’ll consider voting for Bishop Takes Knight! It’s a long list of books to scroll through, with a large number of categories, but I appreciate your vote!

Here’s the link–which is a great shopping list for future buys, I might add! 

2019 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards Ballot

Eeeep! I had the wrong link, but it’s been corrected now, thanks to an eagle-eyed reader! 

My Mantra for 2020: Be Bold

It’s common for people to do a introspective analysis at this time of year. Given that we’re also starting a new decade, (depending on who you ask, that is), there has been a lot of discussion about the last ten years as well. Memes abound on social media: including the “what three things have you accomplished in 2019” as well as the 2009 vs 2019 photo meme, and people tallying their achievements for the decade.

I eluded to my frustration with this mindset in a previous post, and knew I’d come back to my thoughts about such analysis when I sat down to write this one. As I’ve said in other end-of-year posts, I dislike the year-end retrospectives. Guess what, you’re about to turn another year older. Here’s who died in the past year. Here’s what happened in the world. Here’s what I accomplished in 2019. Cheers to 2020. Rah, rah.

I guess I dislike these kinds of posts because they place such emphasis on the posts we’re already making: trips we’ve taken, achievements in our careers, heck, what we had for lunch today. The end-of-year period is usually disappointing to me because I didn’t lose 30 pounds, win the lottery, travel extensively, get nominated for a major award or hit the bestseller list. Somehow, sitting down to figure out what I did achieve stresses how little I got done besides get up, work ten hours, and come home. Day after day.

I wrote a pretty kick-ass New Year post last January, and I still enjoy it for the encouragement and hope it brought to the page. Granted, I was under the influence of large doses of Nyquil at the time, but that doesn’t negate the power of the words. Here we are nearly a year later, and the weight of “what did I achieve?” carries with it not only the chains and lockboxes of 2019, but the whole damn decade before it too. I’m Marley’s Ghost, but with mediocrity rather than money.

One of the things I usually do at the end of the year is decide what my word of phrase of power will be for the upcoming year. In the past, I’ve chosen words such as passion or joy, and I’ve held those words in my heart during the following year as reminders of how I want to live each day. The last time I chose a word, it was persistence, born out of a weary pattern of loss and a desire to attain certain goals. I had a bracelet made from My Intent.org to embody the spirit of the word and have a visible reminder in front of me.

This past year, I bought a metal stamping kit. I’ve made some ‘intention’ bracelets for friends, and want to make one for myself. Only I can’t decide on my word this year. I’m exhausted, not energized, and it’s hard to bring the right energy to the word selection as a result. “Hope” seems too passive, too fraught with the potential for disappointment. “Determined” too gritty. “Courage” and “Brave” don’t quite fit the bill either, as though I’m trying to prod myself in the right direction instead of imbuing myself with the power to get there. I’m not great with the metal stamping, but I like the idea of making my own talisman for 2020.

For the Me in 2009 vs 2019 meme, I posted pictures of Baby Yoda and Old Yoda. It seemed funny, timely, and appropriate.Then there was the thing going around Twitter where someone stated, “There is only one month left in the decade. What have YOU accomplished?” While I’m sure the OP meant for it to be an uplifting experience, I know many people found this tweet circulating on their timeline very stressful. There were calls for a different conversation, as well as people reminding others that if surviving the last decade is all you’ve managed by way of achievement, that’s accomplishment enough. 

I did look back over the last ten years, which have been a journey of heartbreak and sorrow for me, and realize there were a couple of major achievements I overlooked because the losses came more recently. I became a published author and have written and sold nearly one million words in this past decade. Not too shabby, eh?

But the best thing along these lines I’ve seen was from Andie J. Christopher (author of Not the Girl You Marry). She decided not to do the 2019  review thing as much as discuss what she was bringing to 2020 in this great Twitter thread. What I loved about it was the boldness with which she put her wildest dreams out there in the universe. I’ve done that myself in the past on super-rare occasions, and only the kind of thing I thought might be attainable, but it worked. Maybe the answer is to be bold. Tell the universe what you desire. Want more. Expect more.

I can only think of one thing to put out there for the universe to hear right now. I want to be able to make a living writing, so I can quit the day job that no longer brings me joy. In some ways, it’s not a big demand, but it would mean everything to me. It would change my life.

Christopher finishes her thread with this great statement:

Oh wait, wait. I have my word for 2020!!

 

AUDACIOUS.

I love it!

What energy are you bringing to 2020 and beyond?

The Bodies in the Backyard: Can RWA Be Saved?

Earlier this year, I attended the RWA National Conference for the first time. I’m a relatively new member to the Romance Writer’s Association, but I had a book that was a finalist in one of the awards being announced there, and made the decision to attend at the last minute. I learned a lot during the different panels, met some new and interesting people, and had so much fun that I made plans to attend the 2020 convention this coming summer in San Francisco. 

I tend not to go to the website very often, getting my information through digests instead. I avoid participating in the forums: the one time I initiated a question about how best to market something, I inadvertently ignited a controversy, with the discussion devolving into what constituted a romance–and try as I might, I was unable to get the conversation back on track. The moderator ended up shutting the discussion thread, which was mortifying for me. 

Not an experience I wanted to repeat. I tended to skim the discussions if I read them at all–when you have 800+ emails in your box every day, you have to prioritize.

But I still felt as though there was much to be learned about the business and craft of writing, so I renewed my membership when it came due. 

On Friday, I had a health emergency that screwed with my weekend. On Monday, December 23rd, I was happy just to have survived the weekend and looked forward to having a few days off from work. On Monday, December 23, however, Alyssa Day released on Twitter the bombshell news that Courtney Milan had been censured and banned from the RWA stemming from an ethics complaint against her because she, as a Chinese-American, described a book featuring a half-Chinese woman as a “fucking racist mess” on her own Twitter account, and essentially RWA decided to throw the book at her.

Romancelandia went up in arms at the news, and the backlash against RWA was so great, the organization reversed its position pending further proceedings.

And then things really got ugly.

I’m not going to list the particulars of the case: the charges made by Suzan Tisdale and Karen Lynn Davis (in roles as a publisher and an editor, which should not have been allowed as they were raised as one RWA member against another, or that the bylaws make non-RWA space such as Twitter exempt from such actions). I’m not going to go into detail about the private committee formed to come to this ruling that the general Ethics Committee knew nothing about, or that not all information was presented to the board for voting by the President-elect, Damon Suede. I’m not going to give you a timeline of events showing how, when discrepancies in procedure came to light, a large number of board members resigned in protest of the way in which things were handled, and the other egregious events now being reported: ethics complaints never making it to committee, a chapter refusing to pay AOC the going rate for speaking engagements, RWA members reporting gross failures of other members to abide by the stated rules and never getting called out or censured for it, or RWA’s lack of advocacy on behalf of the authors and contractors of Dreamspinner Press for not paying royalties and narration fees, among others.

I do need to point out, however, that in the wake of Carolyn Jewel’s resignation, Damon Suede is now acting RWA president–and supposedly (by his own admission on social media) is on very good terms with the executive officers of DSP, and is one of their bestselling authors. And that he has a book (at the time of the writing of this post) from Dreamspinner Press listed for sale on Amazon as coming out in January, 2020. If nothing else, this represents a conflict of interest. RWA has been very soft on the issues stemming from Dreamspinner’s actions, only going so far as to prohibit DSP from attending any RWA activities.

If you want all these details, including screenshots, statements from RWA and Damon Suede, and links to the rest, I’d advise you to read this excellent post: The Implosion of the RWA. Everything you need to know is there, and it appears it is being updated as events unfold. If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version of the situation, this Twitter thread by Cate Eland is pretty spot on as well.

I’ve likened the stench coming off this collective mess to that of gases being released from the surface of a pond where bodies have been dumped for years. There’s no telling how much more will come out, or how many bodies are in there.

And the pond is in our own backyard.

I’ve been reading the posts in the RWA forums in response to this appalling situation. Predictably, the members are taking sides falling among two lines: those that support diversity and inclusion, and those who don’t.

Let me tell you, many of the people who have resigned no longer feel the need to keep silent about the workings of RWA, including the backdoor channels that have allowed certain women, women referred to as Nice White Ladies, to make their complaints, charges, and attacks without repercussion. Among the women who have taken a stand for diversity and inclusion, many have pointed out it is Courtney Milan, a woman on color, who took the blow for being a vocal proponent of change, even as white women making similar statements were not challenged.

There is a lot of anger in the forums. People are livid with the ruling, the machinations behind the scenes to bring it about, and have lost faith and trust in the RWA as a whole. The board members who resigned are all AOC, and suddenly Damon Suede is in a position to appoint a new board without having to go through the election process. People who have poured their heart and soul into making RWA a better organization for all its members are disgusted and discouraged and see no point in staying on for empty promises once again. Many people can point to Courtney Milan as the driving force behind those changes and this feels very much like a public smackdown for her doing so.

The remainder of the members speaking up on these forums have complained about the “drama” (my quotations, not theirs) and express a desire for things to go back to the way they used to be in the Good Ol’ Days when we talked about men’s chests and how to write stories with beautiful blonde-haired blue-eyed heroines. “Can’t we all be nice” is one refrain, along with tone-policing anyone who dares to call out racist, ableist, or anti-GLBT language or attitudes on these threads.

Many have indicated their intent to let their memberships lapse when time for renewal, either because they are tired of the drama or because of the lying, manipulation, and double standards being revealed in this case against Courtney Milan. Many have resigned from their role as judges in the upcoming RITA awards, while others have declared their intention to withdraw their entries from the awards themselves. Still others have made eloquent cases for staying in the organization and forcing it to make things right: petitioning for the resignation of Damon Suede and Executive Director Carol Ritter, and calling for an audit and complete transparency of the proceedings and everything leading up to this moment. Some AOC have advocated staying because leaving is exactly what the Nice White Ladies would like them to do.

I chose to stay for the moment, so I could sign the petition and also vote in any potential future elections to replace the Board. I am of mixed feelings about this. I’m not sure the RWA can be saved. I’m even less sure that it should be saved. What’s going on in RWA feels a lot like what’s been happening with Brexit and the MAGA populations among us: a division down the lines of those who want the Old Way (which always worked for them) to stay in place versus those who will no longer accept anything less than a full seat at the main table with access to the entire meal–as it should be.

I signed the petition because I want answers, and I don’t think we’re going to get them any other way.

It’s hard to justify “both sides” of an argument when one side wants to do active harm to the other. I don’t think immigrants belong in cages. I believe that POC are at higher risk of being incarcerated or killed, face steeper sentencing, and more. And like the Old Guard among the RWA, I think what we got with our current administration here in the US is (in part) a backlash against having an intelligent, articulate, and empathetic black man as President before him. I include this statement because I believe the polarization we are seeing in RWA is but a reflection of what we’re dealing with as a nation–or even the world.

See, the thing is, I fit the Nice White Lady demographic. I’m a white, middle-aged cishet woman who was raised as both a conservative and a Christian. I live in a small rural, conservative town. I live in a cultural and social cocoon that likely would have never been breached had I not discovered fanfic and broadened my narrow horizons. I’ve worked for people who don’t believe in evolution, and think the world is only six thousand years old. I have one black friend. And let me tell you, this doesn’t make me an expert on racism or prevent me from being racist. I’ll never forget the time we were planning to meet to see a movie on a snow day and she casually mentioned her street hadn’t been plowed yet because she lived in a black neighborhood.

I didn’t believe her. I thought she was being paranoid. I thought that battle had been fought and won a long time ago because she had the right to vote, sit anywhere she wanted on the bus, to attend public schools alongside me, and to marry any man she wished (I specifically didn’t say anyone here because at the time, same sex marriage wasn’t an option). I didn’t believe her because I’d never experienced the kind of racism she dealt with on a daily basis. And I never will.

So when a POC tells you, as someone outside their experience, that you’ve gotten something wrong about their experience, the last thing you should do is double down on your wrongness. You don’t point to your degree as a historian, or the amount of research you did on the story. You shouldn’t drum your heels and cry about being called out for using racist scenarios or racist language. You shouldn’t claim that because it was never your intent to be racist, it’s impossible for this to be the case.

Let me put it another way. It doesn’t matter if I intentionally bumped into someone with my car or misunderstood the rules of the road, wasn’t paying attention, or otherwise accidentally hit someone with my car. I still HIT SOMEONE WITH MY CAR. The very fact that some accident victims would still politely point out the injury I caused them is a testament to their character, but they would be completely justified in telling me off and reaming me out for my careless action, even going so far as to press charges and demand reparation for medical expenses, etc.

And if my intent wasn’t malicious, if the action was truly accidental, the victim would still not be obligated to accept my apology.

But I would be obligated to learn the effing rules of the road and abide by them.

So while I’m not yet ready to cancel my license by withdrawing membership from RWA, I’m determined to become a better driver. To educate myself on things that are so ingrained, so innate in my upbringing, that I don’t even realize they are there. Language that may be unintentionally hurtful because it excludes or maligns. Attitudes I never thought about before that impact others on a daily basis. To speak up when I see someone slighted. To welcome when my own instinct is to not make eye contact or speak to anyone I don’t know–that’s my insecurity that can’t be allowed to make someone else think it’s about them. To educate myself on my own shortcomings. To think before reacting.

I’m going to get it wrong at times. I know this because I am of the Nice White Lady demographic. I took a hard look at myself after reading this thread on Twitter by Foz Meadows explaining why NWL get so defensive when called out: it’s because their identity is tied up in being nice and to be told they aren’t nice is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It challenges a NWL on a fundamental level. It’s most likely the basis behind the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, PhD. I don’t know for sure because I haven’t read it yet.

But I will.

 

Snowfall is Featured on DirtyLittlePodcast

Love podcasts? You’ll want to check out dirtylittlepodcast.com: this week my Redclaw universe short story Snowfall is being featured. Narrator Joshua Macrae brings the characters to life with his sultry reading of this story. His dreamy voice is perfect for the main character, celebrity Nicholas Lang, who winds up stranded with workaholic Peyton Grant when his car goes into a ditch on a snowy night. Peyton’s looking for no-strings attached sex, and Nicholas is happy to comply. But when it turns out the two of them have more in common then they think, will it really end with just a one-night stand?

 

I confess, I had a specific actor in mind when I created Nicholas. I’d love it if you listen and take a guess as to who that might be!

Snowfall on dirtylittlepodcast.com

Gifts for the Writer on Your Holiday Shopping List!

I know, this list is a bit late, right? I mean, how much time do you have left to order something and have it arrive on time for the holidays? Christmas is ten days away at this posting. Well, let me tell you, not all the items on this list need to be shipped, and since writers are usually masters of procrastination (as well as terribly appreciative for any recognition or validation of themselves as writers), they gladly accept IOUs for gifts that haven’t yet arrived. We are a frightfully pathetic, er, grateful bunch.

Be sure to check out Chuck Wendig’s Gift for Writers 2019 thread. Apparently he does this every year and his post lists recommendations of previous years as well. If you like gritty, heart-pumping sci-fi, you should check out his stories. He’s also written some terrific books on writing (perfect for the writer on your list!) I can personally recommend Damn Fine Story and The Kick-Ass Writer. If you happen to be a writer, you should follow his blog, terribleminds. It’s irreverent, pithy, enlightening, and encouraging.

I can also recommend Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. Both books were given to me when I first began publishing stories, and believe me, nothing could have been more supportive than these gifts. They spoke of the faith my friends and family had in my ability to be a storyteller, and that was heartening indeed. Not to mention they are terrific books on craft!

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. I was fortunate enough to win one of Audrey Hughey’s The Ultimate Authorship Planner, and I can’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.

Author Keta Diablo has some good points to make about the care and feeding of writers: at this time of year, most of us are over-indulging a bit. I for one have been looking ahead to the New Year and realizing I need to stop sabotaging my health once and for all. Why will I make a point of making change now when I’ve failed in the past? Because I don’t write when I feel bad, and that’s got to change!

Eat healthy snacks to keep up your energy for your grueling (writing/reading) schedule. (Sound familiar writers and readers?)

We all know certain foods contribute positively to your physical health, and some foods contribute positively (in inches) to your waistline. But did you know that some foods can support brain function—and maybe even make you a better writer? It’s true! Here’s a list of snacks that will not only make you feel better physically but keep help your creative brain function better

Happy writing and reading, Keta

Good reasons to eat healthy snacks:

  • Fruits and vegetables add vitamins A and C, both of which are important 
  • Snacking during the day will encourage you to eat less at meals
  • Snacking will curb your sugar cravings
  • Help you maintain a healthy weight
  • Healthy snacking will increase your productivity
  • Healthy snacks are jam-packed with good nutrients
  • Choosing the right snacks can improve your mood
  • Healthy snacking can increase your life longevity
  • Avoid extreme hunger by choosing a healthy snack rather than reaching for that donut.

 

Yogurt (add milled flaxseed)

Individually-sized packages of cottage cheese

Fresh mozzarella cheese or string cheese

Pistachios, macadamias, pecans, walnuts, and other nuts (either lightly salted or raw)

Natural fruit rolls / fruit leathers (for when I really want a sugar kick)

Nuts

Protein Bar, Fruit & Nut Bar, or Energy Bar

Jerky

Granola

Nut Butter

Mini dill pickles

Berries and grapes (although you could keep almost any fruit around)

 Calorie serving sizes of lite fruit cocktail

Cinnamon-spiced baked apples

Goat cheese bruschetta. …

Bagel with ricotta and strawberries. …

Anytime edamame. …

Banana oatmeal walnut cookies. …

Avocado rice cakes.

Mini whole grain bagels (and a light cream cheese or no sugar added fruit preserves)

Whole grain tortilla chips and salsa for when you need a saltier snack and want to avoid things like potato chips

Kale chips (Trader Joe’s)

Keta’s newest release is I Spy a Demon:

When twins Cecily and Calder Sizemore’s parents are killed in a car accident, they’re adopted by the Frost family—Gus, Mae and their sons, Marcel and Elliott. Over the years, Cecily’s love for Marcel evolves into anything but sisterly.

Cecily always knew something was amiss in the Frost household. Little things belied the calm, peaceful ambiance Mae did her best to portray. Calder tried to warn her things were not as they appeared, but she didn’t want to believe him. When Calder begs her to leave Des Moines, start a new life away from the secrets, away from the Frosts and away from Marcel, she takes his advice and her shattered heart and moves to Minnesota.

Now she’s been called home for her beloved brother’s funeral. There’s more to the story than meets the eye. Discrepancies in how her twin died lead her back to Des Moines, and back to Marcel―the boy who stole her heart, the man whose very presence turns her blood to liquid fire. Marcel has always kept dangerous secrets, but this time, Cecily is determined to uncover the truth about the Frosts… and the truth about how Calder really died.

She’ll find out what really happened to her brother, even if it’s her last act in life.

.99 cents or read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited
 

Author Chris Eboch/Kris Bock has some cool ideas for the writer in your life–which might even be you as you create something special for your kids this year:

Maybe you have a NaNoWriMo manuscript to edit and polish. Or perhaps you have other projects that could use a boost before you send them out. Consider giving yourself the gift of improved writing knowledge, so you can reach your goals for the new year!

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Use the Plot Outline Exercise to identify and fix plot weaknesses. Learn how to get off to a fast start, prop up a sagging middle, build to a climax, improve your pacing, and more.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else.

Learn more at Chris’s website: https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page (universal link): https://geni.us/ChrisEboch

If you’re shopping for kids ages 8 to 12 (or anyone who enjoys middle grade novels, stop by Chris Eboch’s #Holiday Gift Guide – Great Books for Middle Grade Readers: https://chriseboch.blogspot.com/2019/12/GiftKids.html

You’ll find a mystery set in ancient Egypt, an exciting adventure that introduces kids to Mayan culture, and a fantasy set in the fifteenth-century Middle East that draws on the mythology of The Arabian Nights – all with inspiring girl main characters. You’ll also find stories about runner Jessie Owens and chocolatier Milton Hershey, whose challenging lives show how young people can succeed even if they struggle in school or with poor health.

Kris Bock writes novels of romance, mystery, and suspense. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and with shelter cats. The series begins with Coffee and Crushes at the Cat Café.

Kris also writes romantic suspense set in the Southwestern U.S. If you love Mary Stewart or Barbara Michaels, try Kris Bock’s stories of treasure hunting, archaeology, and intrigue in the Southwest. Learn more at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter  for announcements of new books, sales, and more: https://tracking.krisbock.com/form?lid=MuD2mEpyR0_1Lvd27mi1sA2

Last but not least: if you’ve run out of time to buy a gift for your favorite author, you can always buy and review their books! Leave a review on Amazon or the bookseller site where you purchased it, but also on Goodreads and Bookbub. Tell your friends why you enjoyed it and recommend it to others. You’ll put a big smile on your author’s face and make their day!

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Holiday Romance, that is!

I don’t know about you, but I adore holiday-themed stories. I got hooked on them years ago when the big presses would release a Regency or Victorian Christmas anthology every year, and I would indulge in my favorite tropes: the gathering of people for the holidays, brisk walks in cold weather to collect holly and mistletoe, sleight rides and ice skating, the dilemma that threatens to keep the lovers apart, the magic of the season and the miracle of love.Toss in snow and Yule logs on the fire and I am your slave. Better yet if you strand my lovers in a cabin in the woods, an inn in a small town, or on an English estate. MY CATNIP.

Now movies have gotten on board as well, and we have Hallmark, Netflix and more vying to bring us sometimes cheesy, sometimes touching holiday romances, but my first love will always be books. As soon as fall creeps in, etching frost on the windows and blades of grass, bringing blustery days and chill nights, I start reading holiday-themed stories.

I’ve invited some writers to share their holiday stories–past or present–here with us today. And if you have a favorite holiday romance you’d like to tell us about, please tell us in the comments! We’d love to hear about it!

In no particular order, here’s a little something for every taste imaginable! All heat levels, all pairings, contemporaries, historicals, and paranormals so take your pick!

The President’s Daughter by Seelie Kay

When presidential candidate Jamisen Powell meets volunteer Sarah Lee Pearson, he is shocked to discover her eyes mirror his own. But Sarah was raised by two loving parents and has no questions about her heritage. Instead, after their death, she merely longs to find an extended family. She becomes convinced that Powell could be a distant relative. Powell, on the other hand, has spent twenty-five long years haunted by the memory of a daughter kidnapped from her bed. He suspects Sarah could be his long-lost daughter. As both launch separate covert searches for the truth, Sarah is found by the estranged parents of the man who raised her. Suddenly, the truth will no longer set her free. It could destroy the happy memories of her childhood. Hang on to your seat, and more importantly, hang on to your heart, as one woman discovers the true meaning of family.

Buy links:

Publisher:  http://www.extasybooks.com/978-1-4874-2032-1-the-presidents-daughter/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Presidents-Daughter-Seelie-Kay-ebook/dp/B07MNJFV8M/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/914579

Kobo:  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-president-s-daughter-23

Barnes & Noble:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-presidents-daughter-seelie-kay/1130048641?ean=2940156333790

Model Christmas by Jaime Samms

Here is the Amazon buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082FQ8JZL/?fbclid=IwAR1SeiqPjg8SxtqpL19fmGhOw3YWGUt-Pw0Gml0Iy1hFZTcO-oT1ofhxaug

Blurb: Sebastian’s ideal Christmas looks nothing like his picture-perfect childhood experiences, but neither should it be spent wandering the cold streets alone and homeless.

Cody has no time for the holidays if he wants to eat. He needs a new model for his next commission–and he needs him now.
Seb can’t go home and Cody’s model took his pay and left. Both men are in dire straits, so when they meet over soup-kitchen chili they each see the answer to their problems in the other.
They never expected more than a means to an end, but now, that perfect Christmas might be as simple as seeing what’s right in front of them.

The Gift exchange
by Adriana Kraft

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/ebook/dp/B01NAI0ITB/

 
Blurb:

It’s Christmas Eve—what gifts will Mack, Carol and Tara unwrap together?

What is Carol up to now? Mack has always known his free-spirited wife is bisexual, but it seems she has new adventures on her mind this Christmas season.

Carol has long entertained fantasies of a threesome with herself, her husband, and their attractive nearby neighbor, Tara.  Now that Tara’s troublesome ex is out of the picture, is this the season to make her fantasies come true?

Tara’s felt a little deprived since cutting things off with her ex, and she’ll admit she envies what Mack and her best friend Carol seem to share. If they invite her to join them, will she dare?

Midwinter Masquerade Blurb by Rosemary Gemmell
 

Edinburgh, December 1816, young widow Lady Lenora Fitzallan accepts an invitation to the country estate of Edward Montgomery, the man she once thought to marry seventeen years previously. Until he left without explanation.

Accompanied by her godmother, Lady Pettigrew, Lenora forms a friendship with Edward’s young niece and ward, Annabelle, who has a propensity for getting into scrapes and falling in love with the wrong man.

As the Masquerade Ball approaches at the Winter Solstice, the past unravels, the villain is unmasked and Lenora must decide with whom her future lies.

Links

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B076JGLZZV

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076JGLZZV

Website: www.rosemarygemmell.co.uk

Blog: http://ros-readingandwriting.blogspot.com

 

 

 

THE SNOW BRIDE (THE KNIGHT AND THE WITCH 1) by Lindsay Townsend

https://amzn.to/2MZZan0    

UK  https://amzn.to/2H1tYzY

EXCERPT https://bit.ly/2yV95Cb

Brief Blurb – She is Beauty but is he the Beast?

 

 

 

SIR CONRAD AND THE CHRISTMAS TREASURE  by Lindsay Townsend

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KW6K5RL/ 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07KW6K5RL/  

Brief Blurb – What is the true treasure of Christmas?

 

 

 

SIR BALDWIN AND THE CHRISTMAS GHOSTS by Lindsay Townsend

http://amzn.to/2vRkEKS

http://amzn.to/2uRlsLa  

Brief Blurb. Will Baldwin heed Sofia or will the restless dead prevail? 
A sweet medieval Christmas Romance
 

 

 

 

 

A CHRISTMAS SLEEPING BEAUTY by Lindsay Townsend

http://amzn.to/2vyjmBH

http://amzn.to/2wFsCEc

 

Brief Blurb. What can the prince do when the princess won’t wake?

 

 

TWELVE KISSES by Lindsay Townsend

 http://amzn.to/1222vrg

UK: http://amzn.to/1z5OSlZ

 
Brief Blurb. She has Twelve Days to win his heart.
 
 
 
 
 
 

A WITCH’S HOLIDAY WEDDING by Tena Stetler – Paranormal Romance

Blurb:

Elemental witch, Pepper McKay and former Navy SEAL, Lathen Quartz built Lobster Cove Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on enchanted McKay land. Wedding planning goes awry when the couple spends Thanksgiving with family in Colorado, a Maine snowstorm fills the center with injured wildlife, Lathen finds himself drawn into a covert military mission, and Pepper wants to cancel the wedding. Is she having second thoughts? Will the nosy McKay ghosts, Lathen’s werewolf pack, Pepper’s parents, and her best friend help or hinder the wedding and holiday plans?

Available atAmazonKoboThe Wild Rose Press, and Barnes & Noble

Holiday House Swap by Sarah Madison

on Amazon

Reclusive writer Noah Kinley is facing a dilemma: how to confess to the world he’s really the author of a best-selling romance series. For years, his friend Julie has been the face of his brand, but she wants her life back now. Fast running out of ideas for his popular series, Noah wants to break out into other genres. Not that he’s writing much of anything at the moment anyway, thanks to paralyzing writer’s block. With his publisher breathing down his neck for the next installment, he hopes a change of scene will get his writer’s juices flowing again. Desperate enough to try anything, during the holidays Noah swaps his isolated cabin in the woods for a gentrified horse farm.

USAF Major Connor Harrison has chosen forced retirement over facing charges for an unauthorized mission to rescue a buddy from behind enemy lines. No one expects him home for the holidays, and he certainly didn’t anticipate finding a stranger in his house, much less Noah Kinley with his acid tongue and a wry sense of humor that pierces all of Connor’s defenses.

Both men need to figure out what the next chapter in their lives will be—and whether it will include each other.

Christmas Crush by Mickie Sherwood

Blurb:

Although Ashley Wagner feels more like Scrooge than Santa, she keeps her promise and accompanies her sister back home for a Christmas wedding. Her three-day weekend is off to a rocky start, thanks to the unexpected run-in with her womanizing ex-husband, and his very pregnant new wife. She manages to get away with her dignity intact, but later, with old wounds ripped open, the professional crisis manager ends up in the middle of her own life-altering predicament.

Then, sports journalist Craig Johnston, wheels to her rescue.

Will Ashley spend Christmas brooding over bitter memories? Or will Craig, a dynamic paraplegic, present the deserving divorcée with a gift she can’t resist?

Links:

 
Christmas in Meadow Creek by Katie Eeten
 
BUY LINK:
 
BLURB:
Sarah Laughlin left her big-city life and dead-end relationship behind for a fresh start as a fourth-grade teacher in the small, Wisconsin town of Meadow Creek. And it feels like home, too, despite the persistent troublemaker in her class and the lack of familiar faces. But the holidays are going to be lonely this year. Until she meets firefighter Lincoln Thompson. Suddenly, the hope of spending Christmas with someone she cares about is within reach.
 
Lincoln loves his home town of Meadow Creek, but ever since his long-time girlfriend left him for a better life in the city, he wonders if he’ll ever find love in this small town where everyone knows everyone. Then he meets Sarah during her class’s field trip to his firehouse, and a spark is lit. But when they discover that Sarah’s troublemaking student is none other than Lincoln’s beloved nephew, their newfound relationship is put to the test. Can they navigate through the complexities of family dynamics to find a love that will last?
 

Santa Baby, Several Stars Away by Samantha Kougar. 

 
 

Blurb: 

Kaily has been consumed by curiosity ever since Dylan suddenly appears in her small town. Surreptitiously, she watches the mystery man restore a rundown Victorian mansion, all while his charm and sincerity gain him the good will of most everyone. This is especially true when he volunteers to become the annual Santa Claus for the children at the town’s park. 

The problem for Kaily: No one really knows anything about Dylan’s past or where he came from. With her attraction to him growing day by day, she becomes a driven woman. On a desperate whim, she gives herself to him as a Christmas present. Will Dylan be able to resist her waiting naked, but gift-wrapped beneath his tree? 

Perfectly Christmas by Linda O’Connor

On the first day of Christmas, his true love said to him, “Sorry, I have to work.” That’s the life of a surgeon, and Dr. Madison Hayes wouldn’t have it any other way. Dr. Quinn Malone has another priority. In the countdown to Christmas, he needs to convince his old flame that there’s more to life – and love – than the job itself. This time, his heart is in it for the long haul. Really.

Romantic and . . . complicated – it’s Perfectly Christmas!

 

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MYW5T7X

Forever Winter by Amber Daulton

 — historical romance — https://books2read.com/u/bwYYKO

Just imagine the perfect wedding… hundreds of candles, the perfect gown, a wonderful man and loving family in attendance. And then imagine everything that could go wrong.
A Christmas Eve snowstorm barreled through the English countryside and wreaked havoc on the residents of Lorican Manor. Susanna Lorican and her fiancé, Viscount Camden Beckinworth, had planned the perfect wedding, but will a series of unfortunate events turn the tide on their happily ever after?

A Hero’s Heart by Amber Daulton

— contemporary romantic-suspense — https://books2read.com/u/mgLLjR

When it comes to revenge, nothing is sacred, not even Christmas.
DEA field agent Jarrett Brandt returned home on his Harley Davidson to visit his brother’s grave, not to reconnect with his first true love.
Now widowed with a son, Marissa Reinn Brandt expected nothing from the one who broke her heart—the twin brother of the man she married—but when her son offered him a place to stay for Christmas, she agreed for her son’s benefit. As they rekindled the flames of love that once bound them together, an enemy from his past and a trusted mentor from his present threatened to destroy everything they held dear.

Mistletoe in the City by Amber Daulton

 — New Adult contemporary romance — https://books2read.com/u/4XKKD1

Krista Hartley never expected the unrequited love of her life, the irresistible Derek Weston, to work as the groundskeeper at the apartment building she just moved into. They barely spoke in high school but now, three years after graduation, they tore at each other’s clothes and jumped into bed together at every opportunity. Then another woman threatened their whirlwind romance.

With just days to Christmas, Derek vowed to win back her heart and trust, and prove his innocence once and for all.
 

Love often means sacrifice—but what if you might have to give up a commitment to be one of Santa’s reindeer and deliver holiday toys to kids to be with the one you love?

Peter McGuire is an EMT with a secret: he’s a reindeer shifter, a Prancer on Santa’s team. His holiday obligations often require him to make excuses for his absences, and even downright lie. That makes it almost impossible to develop a real relationship.

But the secret isn’t his alone, and if he opens up to too many people, he could destroy Christmas.

Jonny Santos is a ski bum distancing himself from being the family caregiver. He knows that his mother’s MS is going to require him to devote himself to her someday, but in the meantime he’s sticking to the slopes and staying single.

Then a pre-Christmas hike goes wrong, and Peter is forced to shift into reindeer form in order to rescue Jonny from a wilderness trail. The sparks between them are real—but are they enough to overcome the obstacles that keep them apart?

Contains Prancers, Vixens and other reindeer, and smoking hot shifter sex! Free in KU; buy link https://amzn.to/2PvUt49 

 

A Saddle Creek Christmas Romance by Lorelei Confer

 

Cold Snow and freezing temperatures come early to the small town of Saddle Creek, Wyoming, wreaking havoc on the Christmas plans of four close childhood friends, now grown men. Though unforeseen perils challenge their joint celebration, with each trial comes triumph as together, they discover the true meaning of Christmas.

 

A Family Christmas

Chase is forced into protective mode, when a ghost from Lauren’s past threatens to destroy, not only their Christmas, but their lives.

 

Christmas Decisions

Samantha and Elliott’s relationship is put to the test when Sam’s newly divorced and heartbroken sister arrives on their door step five days before Christmas, forcing them to rethink their holiday plans. What they need is a Christmas miracle.

 

Christmas Surprises

Avri and Dillon’s Christmas may be ruined when Dillon has one last dangerous mission, but will he keep his promise to return in time…does he return in time for Christmas? And can Avri, once again, forgive him?

 

Amazon:  https://amzn.to/36z9iKM

Goodreads:  http://bit.ly/2qiv8lc

Barnes and Noble:  http://bit.ly/32kwARz

iBooks:   https://apple.co/2pJ80w6

 

Christmas Awakenings by Lorelei Confer

Four Christmas Short Stories in one!

A Star Bright Christmas:   

A young family can’t be late with their mortgage payment again. So, two days before Christmas, at the onset of a blizzard, he heads to the bank leaving his wife and two young sons to endure a blackout on the 24th of December. Will he make it back in time for Christmas? How?

Christmas Promises:  

When a newlywed soldier recently returns from deployment only to work on Christmas day. He’d promised they’d never be apart for Christmas again. But then she discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Salvation:

   A widower and a younger woman get to know each other better but not until after he accepts the concept that ‘life goes by in a flash and you don’t want to miss a thing.’

A Palm Tree for Christmas:  

A young family travels from the northeastern United States to the hot sweltering south for a better way of life. Sunny days, sandy beaches, and summer heat. Their dreams are soon squashed and their surplus of money dwindles to their last pennies. Until Christmas Eve….

www.loreleiconfer.com

Amazon:   https://amzn.to/2qqBe2P

Barnes and Noble:   http://bit.ly/32e41Fk

Smashwords:   http://bit.ly/2pFkDsb

I Didn’t Meet My Goal, and That’s Okay

As we approach the end of the year–and the end of the decade–I’m starting to see a lot of posts where people are assessing what they’ve accomplished over the past year, as well as the last ten years.

I have to confess, I hate the year-end introspection and feeling the need to look back at my year and assess my accomplishments, or lack thereof. I always have. But I guess with the close of the decade, the introspection has started earlier and seems a bit more brutal this time around.

There’s the 2009 vs 2019 meme, where people post photos of themselves ten years apart. Most of the images I see are practically indistinguishable from each other. My 2019 image, however, is as different from my 2009 photo as Old Yoda vs Baby Yoda. In fact, I posted those images instead of my own. The past decade has been a little rough on me, and the mileage is visible on my face.

Then there’s the thing going around Twitter where someone has stated, “There is only one month left in the decade. What have YOU accomplished?” While I’m sure the OP meant for it to be an uplifting experience (judging by the response to their own Tweet), I know many people have found this tweet circulating on their timeline to be very stressful. I’ve seen calls for a different conversation, as well as people reminding others that if surviving the last decade is all you’ve managed by way of achievement, that’s accomplishment enough. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this when I write my own introspective year-end, decade-end post at the end of this month. Suffice to say, however, this particular Twitter discussion has left many people feeling like they don’t have enough to show for the last decade.

Not to mention, November has just ended, and as such, there are lot of people out there talking about their NaNo projects. Some are sharing their shiny “Winner!” buttons. Others are disappointed in themselves for falling short of their target. I’m hearing a lot of people saying they ‘failed NaNo’ and it is for this very reason I no longer officially participate in NaNo myself. Remember that challenge I mentioned hosting by Silence Your Inner Critic? We divided ourselves into Genre Teams and logged in our group word counts each week. I was going gangbusters until I hit a plot snag and I knew I had to work it out before moving forward. Doing so caused me to revise four major scenes, reducing my word count up to that point. I ended up offering only a measly thousand or so words to the final count. Now, was it better than not participating at all? Probably, but I felt as though I’d let my team down. And yet I still clocked in 30 K words this month, a tidy amount for someone who has struggled to write more than 2 K a week for a while now.

Today on Facebook, I ran into more than one post where the OP bewailed the fact they hadn’t met target goals on the number of books to read within the month (or year). And that’s when it hit me: why does everything have to be a competition?

Goals are all fine and well. Nice targets to shoot for, but it’s not the end of the world if we don’t hit them. I used to compete my horses, not because I had dreams of being a local champion, but because competing at a horse show gave me some structure and guidelines for the riding I did at home. I wanted to learn how to do more things with my horses, and showing them was a way to do that. But if all I’d wanted to do was putz around the farm at a walk, that would have been okay, too. What matters is why you set the goal and what you learned from aiming at it.

We’ve gotten in a bad habit of thinking that if we don’t come in first place, our efforts are meaningless. Believe me, if I’d made it to the Olympics with my mare, I wouldn’t have hung my head in shame because we came in 33rd or something. But it’s only the winners that get the endorsement contracts, it’s only the winners whose names we remember. And sadly, at least in this country, there seems to be a tendency to belittle anyone who doesn’t win gold.

The thing is, everyone at the Olympics worked their asses off to be there. They gave it their best to be there. That’s not something to be ashamed of.

So I’m celebrating the fact I wrote 30 K in November, even though I didn’t hit the NaNo 50 K mark. I don’t care if you read one book in 2019 or 1,000 books, at least you read something. And maybe I don’t have the cute adorableness of a Baby Yoda anymore, but Old Yoda was pretty kick-ass too. As for the decade, and 2019, we survived it, baby.

Don’t let anyone make you feel as though you aren’t a winner because you didn’t hit the bullseye.

As long as you’re a survivor, you can take another crack at that target again.

If I Stop Riding, am I still a Horsewoman?

I’m at one of those crossroads most people come to at a certain point in their lives. Especially if you’re an athlete and do some kind of sport. There comes a time when you look at this activity you’ve done your whole life and wonder if it’s time to quit.

I have friends who were competitive ice dancers when I met them twelve years ago. They’ve found another passion now and have hung up their skates. They’re happy and still enjoying their new-found hobby, one that doesn’t entail getting up before dawn and driving hours to the only available ice rink for a grueling session in the bitter cold. One that is less brutal to their bodies. Their knees thank them too.

I had a friend who has been a runner as long as I can remember tell me recently that she’s giving it up. Between the plantar fasciitis and torn Achilles tendon, she no longer feels that this is the something she can continue doing. She’s giving yoga at try, and hoping she can make peace with her injuries.

Even my husband, who lives, eats, and breathes soccer has decided in the past year to get certified as a referee. The role of the ref is still an active one, but not as punishing as playing the game itself. He’s still playing as well, but repeated injuries have taken their toll and I think this is how he is planning to transition.

As for me, I’m facing a tough choice in the next couple of months. I need to consider retiring my mare. While we gave up competition years ago, her arthritis is reaching a point where I question whether it makes sense for me to continue riding her. Truth is, we’re both at a certain level of gimpyness that it’s not out of the question that I may be projecting my own issues onto her. But the bottom line is I’m rapidly approaching a point in my life when I may no longer ride horses. It’s not just that my mare deserves to live out the rest of her days in peace eating grass like the horses in the final scene of Black Beauty. Riding is taking its toll on me physically, too.

Oh, I could find another horse to ride if I wanted. Buying a horse doesn’t make a ton of sense: it’s a huge investment and I’m no spring chicken. But there are lots of horses for lease out there, horses that perhaps can no longer compete but can certainly putter around the farm the way I’ve been doing. Horses that someone would gladly loan me simply to get some help paying for their care.

But retiring one horse and picking up with another isn’t like replacing a worn out bicycle with a newer model. Horses are as individual as dogs or children. My mare and I are so attuned, all I have to do is think what I want her to do, and she does it. A subtle shift in weight will make her down transition. Pick up the reins and she’ll start trotting. If I started over with another horse, I’d have to learn the idiosyncrasies of that creature, and no horse, no matter how bombproof, no matter how well-trained, is 100% safe.

The realization that I could get hurt–seriously hurt–has been a creeping concern over the last few years, cracks in the foundation letting water seep into my confidence. I’m no longer the teenager who biked five miles a day after school and mucked stalls just so I could ride the green-broke horses at the only riding stable near me. I’m not the girl in her twenties who would ride any horse any time the opportunity arose, no matter how rank, no matter how evil. I’m not the woman in her thirties who bred her ideal competition horse, raised her from a foal, and competed in the sport for crazy people known as eventing.

Somewhere along the way, as I’ve developed increasing medical issues, my loss of faith in my own body has translated itself into a fear of getting hurt when I ride. There are days when I’m my old confident self, and I ride through a buck without blinking an eye. There are other days when I anticipate trouble during the entire ride–and my horse feels like a lit powder keg beneath me. There are other days when I have a good ride, but can barely move a few hours later. I’ve lived with chronic pain for years. Riding has hurt ever since that bad car accident. I didn’t let it stop me twenty years ago, even when my doctors thought I should quit. But I have to tell you, everything hurts these days, and riding makes it much, much worse. Also, I don’t want my decision to stop riding be as a result of breaking my collarbone–or worse.

From the moment I read Black Beauty as a six-year-old, I sold my soul to have horses in my life. My parents used to joke that they didn’t need an alarm clock, they only needed to put a pony in the backyard and I’d be up at the crack of dawn every day. They kept promising me that pony, along with the mystical farm they’d one day own and the dogs they’d breed. I find it ironic how these were dreams they had for themselves that never materialized, but I went out and got them for my own. All of it. Farm, horses, dogs. (Cats too, since I was forbidden to have any growing up.)

It came with a price though. I made a conscious decision to have horses instead of a life that would let me travel, or live in a major city where I could earn more money. I bought my first horse off a slaughter truck for $800 and spent the equivalent of a SUV payment each month to keep him. I took jobs in rural places so I could keep my horses. The ‘dream’ farm takes more of my time and money than I’d care to admit. Was it worth it? I like to think so. My dad never got his farm, even though he made more than enough money to have that dream life. During the years I spent as his caretaker, the horses were the only things that kept me going at times. The reason for leaving the house, for getting outside, for connecting with nature. It fed my soul.

When I was twelve, I went to my mother and showed her the shabbiness of my riding gear. “I need a new hard hat and boots. I’ve outgrown my riding habit.”

“I’d like to know when you’re going to outgrow this horse habit,” my mother snapped. “It’s terribly expensive.”

“Gee, Mom.” I spoke with Shirley Temple’s innocence. “I don’t think it’s any more expensive than a cocaine habit.”

She put me in the car and took me straight to the tack store.

Yes, I was a bit of a smart-ass, but I suspect my love of horses kept me out of trouble as a teenager. It kept me moving when depression made me want to fold up and lie in a dark room. It kept me physical when my job demanded all my time and energy. I am a horsewoman. It’s part of my identity. To consider giving that up feels like closing a door, not only on a major portion of my life, but who I am as a person as well.

As recently as April 2019, Queen Elizabeth was photographed riding a horse at Windsor Castle, just weeks away from her 93rd birthday. I remind myself that for most of her life, she was able to ride almost daily if she liked, and that she has a whole team of people keep her horses trained and exercised to be as quiet as possible. But it goes to show that my question of whether or not I should keep riding is entirely up to me.

Even if I choose not to ride any longer, nothing will change my lifelong love of these magnificent creatures. Regardless of whether I hang up my bridle or not, I am, and always will be a horsewoman.

 

To NaNo or Not NaNo: Either Way, It’s Okay

Before I began writing this post, I checked my blog for previous mentions of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Turns out, I have a lot to say on the subject–every November since I started this blog! Most of my posts lean toward why NaNo isn’t a good fit for me. That hasn’t changed, but I’m becoming more comfortable with my decision NOT to do NaNo. 

Most writers are introverts, loving the time we spend alone with our creations, but even the most introverted creator is likely to feel the tug of wanting to participate when there is SO MUCH chatter about NaNoWriMo. People discussing their progress, posting their word counts, sharing their journey and expertise… November abounds with excellent writing information and it’s hard not to feel left out if you decide not to participate in NaNo.

I’m here to tell you not participating is okay.

So is participating and meeting the goal of 50 K words in 30 days.

So is participating and then failing to meet your goals.

It’s all okay.

Because writing is hard work, and the process isn’t the same for everyone, and you shouldn’t force yourself to meet an arbitrary goal if the process doesn’t work for you or if life gets in the way.

Chuck Wendig recently wrote a fabulous post, For National Novel Writing Month, Two Vital Reminders, which reminded me why participation isn’t a good fit for me, yet inspired others to go for it.

For me, it boils down to two things: the NaNo format is inherently contradictory to how I write and the pressure of meeting a specific daily word count is paralyzing to me.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to take advantage of all the workshops, advice, and information flowing out there.

Here’s an excellent Twitter thread by C.L. Polk, the author of Witchmark (2019 finalist for a Nebula, Aurora, and Lambda Award) on where you should be at certain points in your story. It’s terrific NaNo advice but applicable to any story regardless of how quickly you’re writing it.

That’s the kind of thing I enjoy finding during NaNo time.

This year, I’ve decided to join in the Future, Fantasy, and Paranormal’s Silence Your Inner Critic challenge. This is a low-key challenge in which we’re divided into teams based on what kind of story we’re working on and each week we post our word counts to the team. I figure this will keep me working toward my goals without putting too much pressure on me to write. As any participation in the challenge is better than no participation, it’s a win-win for everyone!

I’m Team Shifter! 

What are you doing for November? NaNo? Nothing? Or some different challenge, even one of your own making? I want to know!