About McKenna Dean

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

How a Worldwide Pandemic Became a Harsh Therapist

photo by cottonbro

CW for eating disorders, snakes, destructive coping mechanisms, problematic relationships, pandemic fears, body dysmorphia

I had a wonderful mother.

At a time when few women were encouraged to chase their dreams, my mother was all about her daughters growing up to be whatever they desired. As a result, I became an adult without realizing the degree of misogyny and inequality women faced in their careers. I thought that particular battle had been fought and won. Perhaps because of this, I entered the workforce confident of my place there, and it showed.

Taught not to expect help from anyone, I became the person who waded into a project, saw what needed doing, and got it done. Once, I was camping with friends when we discovered a copperhead near the tents. I trapped the venomous snake in an empty trash can and forded an ice-cold spring river to release it on the opposite bank. The river was deeper and colder than expected, and the trash can filled with water as I dragged it behind me. The snake began rising to the top of the can, but I didn’t panic. I kept my eye on the snake until I arrived, teeth chattering, to dump it out on the far bank and plunge back into the river. And yes, the photo here is a picture taken by me of that snake.

My mother also instilled in me a love of reading, a treasure that brings me joy to this day and for which I will always be grateful. My love of reading has sustained me through illness, isolation, depression, and times of high anxiety. It has also given me my passion in life, which is to write my own stories of love and adventure.

I also had a… problematic mother.

Her determination to raise independent daughters, combined with her own troubled upbringing, meant she brought her issues to the table when parenting. Fatphobic, her own eating disorder was reflected in most of her children. She had an almost pathological fear of aging, one that I struggle with today. Messages intended to make me self-reliant came across as “no one will ever want you” and “you’ll never be smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, good enough for anyone.”

On meeting my mother for the first time, one of my friends said to me, “Oh, my God. All these years we thought you were exaggerating…”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand my mother a lot better. Her complete devotion to her job meant she had little time and energy left over for her children, and working with disadvantaged children meant her own, privileged kids had better get it right on the first try. And oh man, do I get the irritability that comes with utter exhaustion now. I cringe when I hear my mother’s words come out of my mouth, and tell myself I’ll do better next time.

If I’m hard on those around me, that’s nothing to the internal monologue I aim at myself. Right now, I look the worst I’ve ever looked in my life: fat, frumpy, and old. Face it, I can’t really call myself “middle-aged” anymore unless the average life span of a human being is 110. I haven’t had a decent haircut in six months. I’ve added another ten pounds to the twenty I’ve been trying to lose. From the time I turned 25, I’ve been scanning my face and body for signs of aging. I used to joke that I had “Aging Anorexia”, but I have since learned there is a disorder called body dysmorphia: the inability to look in the mirror or see a photo of myself without adding imaginary years to the image or magnify perceived flaws. If I had a hard time believing I could be loved when I was young and fit, you should hear my inner thoughts now.

Yet all in all, I’m fairly well-adjusted, though I could probably use therapy. I was in the process of finding a therapist when the pandemic hit, which brought the process to a grinding halt. So many people were in the same boat, and most of the therapists recommended to me were overwhelmed and not taking on any new patients. I decided I could wait, even though it was clear I wasn’t handling things well.

The stress of being an essential worker during a pandemic triggered binge eating, stockpiling, and evenings where I stayed plugged in to Netflix. I bought a sewing machine in a desperate attempt to make masks. I planted a garden for the first time ever because I feared I’d need to grow my own food. I even looked into putting in bee hives and a chicken coop.

I’d already had a rough couple of years. Deaths of family members. Deaths of pets. Health issues. Work stress. The loss of communities. The horror of seeing every terrible prediction I’ve made about a Trump administration come true. I did whatever I needed to do to get me through my stress and anxiety over the pandemic, and to hell with the consequences.

But the pandemic didn’t end. It still hasn’t ended. It’s not contained. It’s out of control here in the US. We have no vaccine. We have no specific treatment. People speak of the Second Wave, but we’re still riding the first. We are in this for the long haul, with no foreseeable end. As of this writing, the global death toll from the coronavirus is a half a million people, and in the US, 128,000 people have died. Compared to the number of deaths from the flu in the 2018-2019 season (34,200), this virus is far worse. More people have died from COVID-19 in the US than the total death toll from WW1. There are those who believe we’re on track to lose as many people as the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Not surprisingly, there was an Anti-Mask Movement then, too.

Because a bunch of selfish wankers refuse to wear a mask that AT WORST is only an inconvenience and at BEST might stem the tide of a spreading pandemic, I doubt there will be a single family in the US not affected in some way by this horrible disease. I expect to lose more family members before this is all over, and I find that unforgivable.

The human psyche and body is not designed for sustained stress. For many people, this has resulted in pandemic fatigue and a desire to “get back to normal”, even if that means risking death.

Even among people still concerned about the risks of the pandemic, there is slacking off in taking precautions. You’re not as careful about disinfecting your hands after touching a public surface. You don’t pay as much attention to social distancing as you should. You don’t always time your grocery runs so that fewer people will be at the store.

But surprisingly, I’m finding that some good lessons have come out of the pandemic for me.

I am learning to find joy in little things again. Quiet time on walks with the dogs. Music. Reading.

I’ve realized that I am not willing to spend the rest of my life living only to make money to pay bills and lose weight.

Normally an upcoming birthday is a trigger to go into a frenzy of diet and exercise in order to feel better about tacking another year onto my life. Now I’m just happy to still be alive.

Making healthier food choices is about feeling better and being in a better position to fight off illness than about losing weight and “looking my best.”

Exercise is about mitigating pain and improving flexibility instead of losing weight. It’s about being able to continuing doing the things I love. As such, the diet and exercise choices have become smaller, quieter decisions I make every day instead of panicked, overly ambitious ones I make on a deadline.

Sunscreen and skin protection is about avoiding cancer, not about reversing the clock. “Oil of Delay” no more.

The pandemic has taught me about being in things for the long haul, and how we need to pace ourselves. How it’s okay to declare you need a mental break some days. 

If every day we were expected to place 100 pounds of rocks in a backpack and carry it with us to our destination, most of us would break down under that weight before we learned to carry it. Some of us couldn’t carry it regardless of all the training we put in. But most of us can carry a few small rocks a short distance. If we have to keep going back to the pile to transfer them all, if it takes us ten times or a thousand times longer to move them the entire distance, that’s okay.

We’re in it for the long haul.

 

New from Rosanna Leo: A Good Man (Handymen Book 1)

I’ve invited Rosanna Leo here today to discuss the re-release of her award-winning story, A Good Man (Handymen Book 1). Rosanna Leo writes contemporary and paranormal romance. She is the First Place Winner of the 2018 Northern Hearts Contest (Contemporary Romance) for A Good Man.

From Toronto, Canada, Rosanna occupies a house in the suburbs with her husband and their two sons, and spends most of her time being tolerated by their cat Sweetie. When not writing, Rosanna works for her local library, where she is busy laying the groundwork to become a library ghost one day.

I have to tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed A Good Man when it was released in 2018. I’m looking forward to reading this expanded version! I’m a bit of a sucker for reality-TV show based stories (which is odd because I rarely watch them!) and this one is a delight. Michael and Emily have red-hot chemistry, but I think what I love most about this story is that the author doesn’t gloss over the issues related to PTSD or wave a wand and have love magically cure all. Rosanna Leo has done her research and it shows in a fully-fleshed out character without beating the reader over the head with an info dump of dry facts.

I found myself falling for Michael and the Zorn brothers in a big way, and so was delighted to realize this is just the first in a planned series. Yay!

Is this not the best tagline ever??

He tears down walls for a living. She’ll tear down the ones around his heart.

Contractor Michael Zorn is one of the leading men on the successful home improvement show Handymen. He is also revered for an act of bravery he’d rather forget. The press may hound him, but all he really wants is to help couples realize their home renovation dreams.

One of these couples is Emily Daniels and her fiancé, Trent. When Emily inherits an old home in Toronto’s Little Italy, she sees it as the perfect location for her small business. The house needs a lot of work, but her appearance on the Handymen show means Michael and his contractor brothers will help her renovate at a reasonable cost.

When Michael and Emily meet, their chemistry is intense. Emily wants to stay true to Trent, but her fiancé has done nothing but disappoint her. Michael recognizes Trent for what he is—a cheater. And it isn’t long before he breaks Emily’s heart.

At first, Michael only intends to comfort Emily, but their friendship soon flares into passion. Unfortunately, Michael has secrets and wounds of his own, ones he has never trusted to another. Emily is determined to break down his walls, but can she trust her heart to a man who can’t trust himself?

Check out this terrific interview, where Rosanna shares why contractors are her go-to fantasy guys. (I get it, I’m all about the competency kink, aren’t you?)

 
 

Creating my perfect handyman fantasy

By Rosanna Leo

Thanks so much to McKenna for hosting me today! I’m excited to be here.

On June 9, I had a book release. My contemporary romance A Good Man, Handymen 1, is now out in the world and I’m so pleased to share it with readers. The main characters in the series are a trio of handsome handymen brothers. Michael, Eli and Nick Zorn are contractors, and they also happen to host a Canadian TV show called “Handymen.” On this show, they help homeowners with their renovations…which leads to them meeting the women with whom they eventually fall in love. I’ve tried very hard to make this series a slice of Canadian life…you know, with some hot hunks who are good with their hands.

Why did I write this series? It’s simple.

Some romance readers fantasize about being swept away by vampires or CEOs or firefighters. I happen to fantasize about contractors. It’s not the hard hats. It’s not the work boots (okay, maybe it’s a little bit about the work boots.) For me, there’s something very appealing about being with someone who can handle repairs around the house.

I guess I’ve been spoiled. My husband isn’t a contractor but he’s definitely handy. He’s done all sorts of light renovations in our house, and I’m always in awe of how he tackles those projects. Need a new sink installed? No problem. Does the deck need a fresh coat of stain? He’s got it covered. Do the gutters need cleaning? He’s already up the ladder! See, totally appealing.

Now, it’s not that I’m not handy. I take that back. I’m not handy at all. And here’s the thing. I have no interest in becoming handy. There’s plenty of other stuff I take care of around the house, and it keeps me busy as it is. Besides, I’ve tried helping out with handiwork, and I’m just not very good at it. It’s best I don’t get involved in activities that could lead to my electrocution.

So, yeah. The idea of a contractor protagonist, one who can handle all the hammering and plumbing, is just fine by me.

I hope you enjoy meeting my Handymen.  

So there you have it, everyone! I can’t wait to see what’s next for the Zorn brothers!

Steamy vs Sensual: Some Like it Hot #MFRWsteam

I write romances of different heat levels. I love slow burn/crockpot stories, so I’m all about the gradual buildup of passion. Sometimes I want to see that passion released full-on, right there on the page. Other times, the story or the characters themselves dictate I take a more sensual approach rather than an overtly sexual one. I still want that romantic payoff either way. I’m participating in a new blog hop to celebrate the steamier side of the romance genre, so all the teasers on this hop will reflect the racier side of our works. My steamy Redclaw Security series centers around a different pair of fated mates with each story, and can be read as standalones

To give you a taste of my universe, today I’m showcasing Snowfall. This story arose out of writing prompt, “One night stand with a celebrity” and morphed into this hot little short story. You can get a free copy of Snowfall by signing up for my newsletter, but I’m giving away a free audiobook version here to one person chosen at random who comments below and answers this question: Do you prefer your romance sensual or steamy and why? Contest will be open for 7 days and the winner will be announced here on this post on June 30th!

Excerpt: She was never sure who moved first, but suddenly they were kissing. Soft, gentle explorations that quickly became heated when Peyton moaned and opened her mouth for more. Inhaling sharply as their tongues came together, she took in his strong, masculine scent, and reveled in the rough burn of stubble against her cheek, tasting the hint of wine in his kiss. He thrust his tongue alongside hers as though he was making love to her mouth, and she let him in, showing him in every way she could that she wanted this and more.,

The power came back on, flooding the hallway with light. They parted, both of them out of breath. His pupils were dilated until just the barest rim of blue was visible. He started to speak, only to stop and shake his head slightly. She could understand; he was a goddamned Hollywood star, for crying out loud. She could be a crazed fan for all he knew. She had her doubts as well. God knows she was no starlet and she didn’t have the body of one.

Screw that.

She pulled him by his shirt into her bedroom.

This is a blog hop, so be sure to follow the link to the see all the other participants!     

Paring it Down To Get it Done: How Much Writing Advice Do You Need?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The other day I opened my inbox and nearly had a heart attack.

I had over 600 unread emails.

Mind you, this didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been doing my best to keep up. I answer the important emails right away, but if there’s something I want to read later, I tend to skim the post and then mark it as unread so I can find it easily in the future.

I have six email accounts. At least five of them have over 500 unread emails sitting in the inbox now. (I know, six is ridiculous, but I have accounts for pen names, fandom names, work, personal, and the LLC…)

And my inbox is full. Emails on marketing. Publishing. Unread author newsletters. Notifications of posts on favorite blogs. Craft emails. Posts about advertising as an author. Emails from lists and organizations I participate in. I have a terrible habit of signing up for workshops and online courses I never finish taking, so my inbox is also filled with posts on coursework I plan to check out someday.

Only some day never arrives. I always have something else I need to do that’s more pressing, and before I know it, when I do have a spare moment, the sight of all those unread emails makes me shudder and close out the browser. I’ve been trying to take an unf*ck your habitat approach to this problem by reviewing as much material as I can in twenty minutes, and then walking away–a method recommended when the problem before you is so daunting you don’t know where to start–but unfortunately, so much material these days comes in a video format, which makes sticking to the 20 minute rule tough.

So this weekend, I took a Marie Kondo approach instead: if it doesn’t bring me joy, the email got deleted.

If the email has been sitting unread in my inbox for over six months, it got deleted. If I haven’t opened at least one newsletter in six months, I unsubscribed from the mailing list. Same for coursework I couldn’t connect with or didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Also, I don’t need ten different courses on “how to make it big as an indie author”.

Do I worry I might be missing out on that one tiny nugget of information that will transform all my writing dreams into a reality where I can quit the day job and write FT? Of course. But how is unread, unfinished coursework any different from deleted coursework? Narrator voice: it isn’t.

What did I decide to keep?

I’m keeping my membership in the Author Transformation Alliance. This community has been a valuable resource, not only with master classes on everything from making book trailers to beating impostor syndrome to building your social media followings (and everything in between) but it has been a font of support and interconnected services as  well. Need input on graphics or a blurb? Help with formatting? Help finding an editor? The ATA is there for me. Not to mention, they do a kick-ass Writer’s Retreat each year. This year the pandemic hit just a few weeks before the conference began, and they seamlessly switched to a virtual experience that was amazing. I highly recommend joining when enrollment is open again.

I’m keeping my Author’s Planner by Audrey Hughey. I’ll be honest, I’m much more a panster than a planner, but if you want to treat your writing like a business, this is the planner for you. It’s like having a coach, an accountant, a personal assistant, an accountability partner, and a motivational speaker all at your fingertips. Well worth it.

I’m keeping my coursework with Mark Dawson and the Self Publishing Formula. Okay, I already paid for the coursework, but the videos are bite-sized and come with written transcripts. I’ve run into a few issues where the presentation assumes a greater background knowledge than I have, but by far and large, these courses have been worth the investment for me in that I’m actually completing the coursework and I can do it on my own time. It still remains to be seen as to whether his methods will work for me or not, however.

I’m keeping my copy of the 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge by Rachel Thompson. I’ve participated in BadRedhead Media‘s NaNoProMo held each May for the last two years, and it’s full of terrific tips, as well as opportunities to learn from the industry’s best and a chance to win valuable prizes from these professionals.

I’m also keeping Jami Albright’s Launch Plan. Okay, I haven’t dipped into this yet, and I’m already behind the 8-ball because I’m expecting to release a book later this summer and I should have ALREADY STARTED MARKETING IT BY NOW, but there you are. I think it will be useful in mapping out my plans for future releases, and hey! I have this handy planner to keep track of things!

I’m also keeping some of the craft-related emails/coursework I signed up to take. The rest is going in the trash bin, even if I paid money for the course work. If I haven’t taken advantage of the training offered by now, I’m not going to. It’s like keeping work-related articles I save but never read. After a few years, how relevant are they? Or all those exercise DVDs and programs you buy because you’re sure THIS one will be the magic bullet that helps you effortlessly shed those unwanted pounds.

Like any diet or exercise plan, you have to choose the one you think you can do (and won’t hurt you), and stick with it. Like the blank planner, you have to pick up a pen and start somewhere. By paring down my choices, I’m more likely to finish a program.

And I’ll start using my planner to block out a reasonable chunk of time each week to process this information. I’ll chip away at it a little at a time, while vowing not to add to the pile as it stands.

Now if I could just do the same for my TBR stack.

Nah, let’s not get carried away here…

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

 

 

Bantering Couples and Why I love Them #MFRWHooks

I am a sucker for bantering couples.

Give me the wit and flair of the interaction between Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. The smoking chemistry of Maddie and David in Moonlighting. The rapier-sharp exchanges between Beckett and Castle (in the early days of the show when it was still fun). Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence. Nick and Nora from The Thin Man movies.

There’s nothing I love better than snappy dialog, unless you pair it with a mystery to solve as well.

Which is why I went after the slow burn (crockpot) relationship development between Bishop and Knight in the Redclaw Origins series. I knew I wanted to tell more stories about these two, and so slowed their relationship down so we could watch the progression over the arc of the series.

I’m having so much fun writing about recurring couples, that I’ve decided the next series will feature the same. But right now, I’m close to finishing the first draft on Bishop’s Gambit and am looking for a late summer/early fall release date. For now, here’s a little sampling of why I find Rhett and Peter so much fun to write. Here’s an excerpt from Bishop Takes Knight:

I could see his point. And since I had him here, I asked about something that had been on my mind since the day of the mechanical spider. “What do you think is the purpose behind these artifacts?”

He leaned back in his chair to the point he risked toppling it over backward. The front legs lifted until he settled the chair back in place with a thump. “That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, isn’t it?” His raised eyebrow implied both curiosity and concern. The combination was frankly compelling. “Where do they come from? Who or what is behind the technology? It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve worked on some top-secret projects. My guess? It’s not from this planet.”

My mouth dropped open. “You mean…alien?” I sputtered.

He nodded in all seriousness.

“You seriously believe Martians or Moon Men or something like that is seeding our plant with their gizmos?” The shock of his statement having worn off, scorn now laced my voice.

His shrug was eloquent. “Maybe. I think it more likely an advanced race implanted these devices millennia ago, knowing at some point we’d develop nuclear technology, hence the activation of said devices now.”

“But why?”

He shook his head. “A test? A trap? Who knows? Maybe the awakening tech triggered some kind of signal to the developers and even now, they’re on their way to greet us.”

I wondered if we would disappoint them. It was a distinctly disturbing thought. “Is this a working theory or are you just blowing smoke?”

His devilish smile made an appearance. The way it peeped out of hiding, combined with the fall of that rebellious lock of hair over his intense eyes when he leaned forward, would have charmed the pants off most women I know.

I don’t charm that easily.

“My dear, I just tinker with the gizmos.” He leaned back in his seat once more, his clever fingers toying with his spoon as he spoke. “I’ll leave winkling out the motives of the artifact-builders to the scary people, like you and Ryker.”

I straightened. “Me? Scary? What on earth have I done to give you that impression?” Ryker, I could understand. We knew so little about the shifters, how they lived, and what they could do. The way Ryker had tossed Billy around that day in the office was a fair indication he was stronger than most men, and of course, there was the rapid healing thing as well. More than that, I didn’t know.

“Scarily competent.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Am I supposed to thank you? That makes me sound like every other woman in the workplace. Standing behind the boss and making him look good.”

His laugh caught me off guard. “No, you have it all wrong. The smart man stands behind the girl with the ray gun.”

Okay. Perhaps I could be charmed a little.

 

I’m participating in a blog hop today, so follow the link to the other blogs and check out some fun teasers!

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Bishop Takes Knight is a Prism Finalist! #MFRWHooks #MFRWAuthor

I got some amazing news this week! Bishop Takes Knight is a finalist in the prestigious Prism Awards, held by the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Chapter of the RWA (the Romance Writers of America). You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got the email! Check out all the finalists here. Let me tell you, I’m in some pretty lofty company there! It’s an honor to be listed among such great authors and their stories.

That’s definitely been the carrot prompting me to work harder to finish the next installment of the series, Bishop’s Gambit, in time to release late summer/early fall.

Let me share a snippet of Bishop Takes Knight with you here. In it, Rhett is lunching with her old college roommate, Em. The topic of Rhett’s current state of poverty comes up:

“I’m not marrying Tommy.”

This time, a single eyebrow arched upward. “Has he asked?”

“He wasn’t serious. He was drunk at the time.”

“My dear, that’s the only time Tommy is serious. You should have accepted him.”

“As amusing as Tommy is, I’m rather off drunkards at the moment. Besides, I can’t marry someone for the sake of financial security.”

“I don’t see why not.”

Like most people who didn’t need money, Em had no real concept what it was like to live without it. I hadn’t either, before I discovered I was dead broke. I could have taken the sanctuary my mother offered, but I didn’t care for the price tag. I had a hard time believing her love of status and wealth hadn’t been a huge factor in the decisions my father had made, even as he’d kept up the pretense that everything was all right. Aloud, I said I didn’t blame her for my father’s death, but in my heart of hearts, I did.

Em continued, unconscious of her ignorance. “Women have been doing it for centuries. Not just for the money, but for power, too. Look at Cleopatra.”

“You realize that didn’t end well for her.”

“Didn’t it?” Em opened her eyes wide and then shrugged. “The point is, you shouldn’t turn your nose up at the idea. Don’t you ever want to get married?”

“Not to someone I don’t love.” I spoke with complete, uncomplicated sincerity.

“Oh, Rhett.” Em gave me her genuine smile, not the sexy little moue she usually made. “I never would have pegged you for a romantic. Love is so over rated.”

 

This post is part of the Book Hooks blog hop, so if you’d like to check out other fun excerpts in the hop–go to this link below: 

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The Dangerous Burn Barrel in My Yard

*trigger warnings for murder/suicide, racism*

When I purchased the little farm we have right now, I knew it came with some troubled history.

The previous owner obviously believed in making do or doing without. This extended to making his own additions, using contact paper as wall paper (and believe me, that slick, sticky, visually-disruptive material is nearly impossible to scrape off), and performing his own (highly illegal) wiring with substandard materials. The house never should have passed inspection. Shortly after purchasing it, I had a handy man look the place over to make estimates for repairs, and after he moved the toothpick in his mouth from one side to the other, he said, “So. You got fire insurance?”

I thought he was making a joke.

He was not.

So I guess I wasn’t surprised when I found out that the previous owner, a proud man who never took a “handout” from anyone in his life, had killed his disabled wife and took his own life when his advanced age prevented him from taking care of either of them any longer.

The disclosure was made right before the final sale. I’m guessing they hoped I wouldn’t back out at the last minute, and I didn’t. A Wiccan friend of mine offered to come and sage the property, and I took her up on it. I wasn’t afraid of the legacy, but I didn’t like the thought of living with such negative energy.

There were a LOT of issues with the property, not the least of which was the ever-present risk of fire. It became my greatest nightmare–the fear I’d come home to find a soot-spot where everything I loved lived. When I met my husband and got married, we pooled our resources to repair as much as we could to make the place habitable, but over time, it became apparent that nothing short of pulling the house down to its foundations and starting over would do. Before we could do that, we had to pay off the existing mortgage and then finance the new construction. Suffice to say, it took over a decade before we could get it done, but we finally moved into the new, clean, safe house last year.

Only there were still safety issues with the property.

The former owner had several burn pits on the land. Some were defined by cinder blocks to contain the burning trash. But there’s one located along the path I walk the dogs every day. It used to be an oil drum, but time and the elements eventually disintegrated the barrel, and the contents spilled out into a pile. Again and again, I return to this area to pick up broken pits of glass and pieces of metal. Every time there’s a storm, more glass erupts out of the ground. It poses a hazard to me and my dogs, but unless I bring a bulldozer in and dig up the soil, I have no way of removing the glass except to pick it up as I see it.

I confess, when I first moved in, and was doing the massive clean up needed, I occasionally tossed pieces of glass I ran across into the burn barrel. It was a convenient way of disposing of the glass, even though I knew I wasn’t really dealing with the issue. But now that the concealing walls of the burn barrel are gone, I can clearly see the magnitude of the issue within, and know it will effect the safety of those I care about for years to come. I wish I hadn’t, even unknowingly, without any intention of malice, contributed to the massive pile of glass shards hidden inside.

It has occurred to me over the last week, as protests have exploded in this country and even across the world as a result of the alleged murder of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota, that the broken glass problem is a metaphor for inherent racism baked into the foundations of this country. I use the term “alleged” for legal reasons; there is no doubt in my mind what happened to Mr. Floyd. And I know the protests are not just about George Floyd but about all the Black lives taken at the hands of the police or citizens without justification.

It’s about the broken glass that has been cutting Black lives since this country was founded. It’s the broken glass that means Black mothers die from childbirth complications three to four times the rate of white women in the US. Serena Williams is probably the most famous Black woman to almost die as a result of complications from her C-section, and she credits her survival to her excellent health care, something that’s often denied to many Blacks. It’s the glass used to justify incarcerating Black men at five times the national rate of white male prisoners, and earn 87 cents on the dollar compared to white men. The system is stacked against Black people on every level. Even during this pandemic, we’re seeing Black people die at a higher rate than whites. Is it because more Blacks are in essential low-paying jobs without adequate health insurance? Or because they are more likely–due to wealth inequality–to suffer from other health issues that affect their ability to fight off this virus? It’s hard to separate the different factors at play here.

I know these brutal facts because I heard the most amazing speech given by a young woman at a protest rally. I’m ashamed that I didn’t know them before.

Being a white person, my privilege means I live in a little bubble that often shields me from the experiences of others. One of the first times I ran into this was when I attempted to arrange a meeting with an online friend who was disabled. I blithely suggested we meet in a city halfway between us, assuming it would be an easy train ride for her. She had to point out to me the impossibility of what I suggested–how navigating public transport wasn’t the simple matter for her that it would be for me. I got a hard lesson then in learning to shut up and listen to what someone outside my narrow experience went through on a daily basis.

Another such time occurred when a Black friend casually mentioned she couldn’t meet me for a planned movie date because her neighborhood hadn’t been snow plowed yet, as it wasn’t a priority for the city because of its population. I’m sorry to say I thought she was exaggerating the situation. I naively believed that, like women’s rights, the battle for Black equality had been fought and won in the sixties. (I was wrong about women’s rights, too…)

More recently I experienced a major bubble burst with the explosive situation created when Courtney Milan, a romance author, was censured and banned from the Romance Writers Association, ostensibly for posting online a strongly worded criticism of a book stereotyping a character of Chinese extraction. RWA imploded with the unjust decision, peeling back a layer of support and unity that was only surface-deep, and only applied to a dominant portion of members, namely cis-het white Christian abled women authors. Of which, I am one. As such, the ugly underbelly of discrimination many AOC had experienced floated to the surface like a body in a pond. The previous leadership resigned, and the current leadership is working hard to rebuild the organization to do more than give lip service to inclusivity and diversity, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.

I recognize the temptation to make this all about me, even now. But I’ve been making a point to listen to those around me with actual experience. I’m hearing that Black should be capitalized because it’s not just a descriptor of skin color but an identity as well. I’m told that if someone says Black Lives Matter and I hear an “only” in that, there’s something wrong with my perception. There is no “only” in BLM any more than feminism means hating men or protecting the rainforest means we don’t care about protecting the ice caps. I read someone saying that if you jump in with your “not all white people” at a time like this, it’s the equivalent of showing up at a funeral to publicly mourn someone else. The floor has been denied to a certain segment of the population for far too long. It has not been yielded to me or you right now.

This graphic explains things nicely, I think.

So with that in mind, I’ve been looking for things I can do to show my support and to educate myself to do better in the future.

In addition to White Fragility by Robin J. DiAngelo, I’ve added How to be an Anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi to my reading list. Victoria Alexander on Twitter put together this awesome reading list as well.

Can’t protest in person? Act Blue allows you to split your donation across multiple bail bonds organizations. Or you can donate directly to the ACLU. I’ve added donating to local food banks to my list of things to support as well.

Expand your reading list to include Black Romance Authors. @jazmenvert on Twitter posted this list of 52 Black Romance Recommendations from literallyblack.com book reviews. Support black-owned businesses and creatives.

But most of all, listen. Without being defensive. Without making it about yourself. It isn’t.

Because the glass is on our land. It’s been accumulating for centuries as each generation adds to the burn barrel, whether or not they are aware of their contributions, whether or not they intended to dump more glass into the ground. And until the whole area is dug out and the soil is replaced, pieces are going to still make their way to the surface where we all risk getting cut. I don’t get to bow out of glass pickup because I wear shoes and my feet are safe.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to pick up any glass they see.

Be well. Be safe.

 

 

 

The World’s Loneliest Cat

Hey. I know how bad things are right now. Seriously bad. We’re facing a pandemic while at the same time riots are breaking out all over the country in response to yet another killing of an unarmed black man by police during an arrest. Unemployment is at a record high, and here in the US, health insurance is tied into your job–if provided by your employers at all, that is. Our administration has taken “rising to the level of incompetence” to a whole new height that has already resulted in the death of over 100,000 citizens and possibly the death of our democracy as well. The world’s climate is changing with devastating results at an exponential rate, murder hornets have appeared in the US, monkeys attacked a lab tech in India and made off with samples of COVID-19 in their escape, and we’re expecting an onslaught of seventeen-year-locusts in our region. The last time these buggers hatched, it sounded like you were on the set of a B sci-fi movie from the 50s.

So why am I here talking about cats?

Because I need to. And maybe you need to read it. So bear with me here as I muse about the funny little cat that has taken up residence at my house.

He’s not the first, by any means. Before I met my husband, back when I first bought this property, an ugly and quite evil-tempered cat had a litter of kittens under my porch. I didn’t even realize they were there until kittens began popping out of a hole in the boards like adorable whack-a-moles. By that time, however, it was almost too late to start the trapping process. I only managed to catch one–and he is living out his senior years with a friend of mine now. The only girl kitten in the bunch got hit on the road (we’re sadly too close to a busy road for my comfort), and the young males dispersed like wild animals. Mom cat sneered at my efforts to trap her, and disappeared.

Only to return the following spring with another litter of kittens. This time, I managed to trap her, and had her spayed and vaccinated for rabies. While she was gone, I was able to catch the kittens. I found homes for all but one, and that one became one of my house cats.

 

The Evil Momma Cat tamed down after spaying (I’ve always maintained hormones are the root of all evil), though she remained largely a wild animal. She took up residence under my porch and I began feeding her to keep her out of the road. A year later, one of her sons from the previous litter showed up, and though it took me forever to catch and neuter him, I finally managed to do that as well.

Both cats remained “porch” residents, doing their best to keep the mouse population down and in general, behaving as though they lived there. I worried about them during various polar vortexes (and bought a dog house for them) and medicated them when they got injured. They were tame enough I could boost their rabies vaccines when needed and occasionally put flea stuff on them, but they weren’t pets by any means.

Over the years, other cats have shown up. All males. All like wild animals. I eventually trapped, neutered, and vaccinated them as well, and became more attached than I should. I was devastated when a cat I’d spent 6 months taming got hit by a car, and I still haven’t gotten over losing my favorite cat, the namesake in Ghost of a Chance, to the same.

I made up my mind then and there. I would not get attached to these ferals. I wouldn’t feed any new ones that showed up.

My plan worked for a while. But then I faced a big dilemma: my husband and I decided we could no longer put off the major renovations needed for the house. What would we do with the porch cats? There was no way the destruction/construction wouldn’t run them off, and by this point, the two resident ferals were getting elderly. The safest bet seemed to be building cat condos for them and housing them in one of the outbuildings until the construction was complete.

It was supposed to only take a few months. But delays to the start and heavy rains meant that instead of finishing in October, they didn’t finish until March of the following year. By then, it was clear that the Evil Momma Cat had become deaf in her advanced age and that her eldest son was developing hyperthyroidism. There was no way I could release a 15-16 year old deaf cat back outside when her “porch” as she’d known it for the last decade was gone. And with the other cat needing twice daily medication, releasing him back outside was impossible as well.

Worse, in their absence, new ferals had shown up! The first was Blackjack, who wanted so badly to be a friendly cat, despite the testosterone from his unneutered state. I fell hard for him, and decided I couldn’t release him post neuter, only to watch him get hit by a car as well. I put him in the last remaining cat condo, and made plans to build a big catio for all the captive ferals to use on a rotating basis.

BJ had been fighting with another young feral, Harlequin, who was much wilder. Once I trapped BJ and moved him inside, the remaining tom began regularly showing up for food, but was still too feral to get near. I finally caught him in a live trap, and did my usual process of keeping him in a cage post-neuter for a week before releasing him. He never warmed up during the week I had him caged, and on release, he zipped into the woods like devils were chasing him, and I didn’t see him for months.

(Someone has pointed out that the very act of naming them means I’ve given them more status and recognition than I should if I was determined not to get attached. Like naming unimportant secondary characters who don’t have a large role to play in your story. In my defense, I would like to state I have to call them something when I take them to the spay/neuter clinic to be fixed/vaccinated, and I can’t just call them Cat1 and Cat2 on their rabies certificates…)

Until he showed back up again. Only from a distance, at first. I would occasionally see other cats as well, just as wild, but Harlequin was the only one who would consistently return. He began hanging out on my new porch(a fraction of the old one’s size), only to jump off the deck and run when I approached. He was always there first thing in the morning, and when I pulled into the driveway after work. He began running up to greet me as I got out of the car, and following us when I took the dogs out for a walk around the property. 

Though scared of the big dog, he loves the little dog, and will walk side-by-side with him. He sits on the porch under the slight ledge that provides little protection in the rain or snow when he could hide out in numerous, warmer places. He comes trotting up to greet me whenever I pull up in the driveway, and he’s sitting at the door when I open it to take the dogs out. If I bring the dogs out to do their business, he comes with us and does the same. No joke, he comes with us to pee and poop when the dogs do. He hangs out just beyond the gate when I let the dogs loose into the yard to play. Once, I had to seriously discourage him from climbing the fence and joining us.

He’s there crying at the door at 6 am. He’s there when I come home from work, every time I step outside, and last thing at night before I go to bed. He’s there more often than he’s not, and it always seems as though he’s just waiting for me to show up. If he’s not there when I open the door, he comes galloping up shortly thereafter.

And that’s when it hit me. This little feral cat is lonely.

I suspect I’ve bonded with him because it’s hard not to feel affection for something that is so darned glad to see you every time you show up, even if it is only because he knows you provide food. Or maybe it’s because of the stay home order in place during the pandemic, and the animals are the only living things I see once I come home from work in the evenings. I’ve become accustomed to seeing his little face at my door every morning and night. He lets me pet him, and rubs up against me, but isn’t so tame that I could pick him up. Getting tick control on him once every three months involves sneaking up on him with a can of tuna in one hand and the product already open and ready to apply in the other.

Sometimes I sit on the porch with him–just the two of us together–and I tell him that the world’s a dangerous place and he needs to continue to stay home. He ignores me and continues to do his own thing. He is a cat, after all.

I’m torn as to what to do about him. I’m fresh out of room to take in more cats–I have no more cat condos, and am already struggling to provide good quality of life for the ones I’ve moved into captivity. He and BJ fight. The geriatric cats would fight with him too, and they’re in no shape to take him on. My own inside cat likes dogs but not other cats, and besides, my house is far too small to bring in another animal. I put out too much food to give him no reason to cross the road, but he’s a lonely cat looking for company–it’s hard to keep him “home” when I’m frequently gone.

I want to keep him safe in a world where safety is a myth. And like everything else in my life, I’m doing the best I can, in the certainty that it will likely fail.

In the meantime, I will look for his funny little face waiting to greet me whenever I open a door.

Be safe. Be well, everyone.

Does That Job Offer Come with a Pay Raise? Bishop Takes Knight #MFRWHooks

I’m so pleased to be sharing an excerpt of Bishop Takes Knight here today! This story is the first in the Redclaw Origins series. Set in the 1950s, it explores how Redclaw Security came into being. See, there have always been shifters out there: dragons, phoenixes, griffins… the stuff of legends. But after the advent of developing nuclear technology during WW2, dormant shifter genes in the general population became activated, resulting in a new wave of shifters: lions and tigers and bears, so to speak.

In this scene, Rhett has just helped take down an intruder into Redclaw’s offices, and is discussing the aftermath with her boss, Ryker. Be sure to read to the end to get the link for the blog hop and see who else is sharing book hooks today!

Excerpt:

“Sir, was it my imagination, or did this man start to…?” I wasn’t sure how to complete my sentence. Perhaps I was guilty of reading too many pulp magazines. They made a nice change from the classics, but they had a sad tendency to influence my dreams. Could they affect my waking thoughts as well?

No, I know what I saw.

Ryker didn’t make it easy for me, merely lifting his own questioning eyebrow.

“Just as he was about to attack me, his nails became claws and his face sprouted fur.” Before Ryker could call me crazy or tell me I was imaging things, I said in a quiet but firm voice, “I saw him change.”

“Ah. I was hoping you hadn’t noticed that.” With a heavy sigh, he went back to the sideboard and poured whiskey into two tumblers, returning to the desk to hand one to me.

I hesitated before accepting the glass. Given my father’s fate, more than most people, I had good reason to avoid alcohol. Yet, whiskey seemed like a better choice than tea right now, especially since tea didn’t seem to be forthcoming. When Ryker had taken his seat again, I continued, “I also noticed when you pressed the switch under Miss Climpson’s desk, you seemed confident Billy no longer posed a threat. Did you turn some kind of dampening field on him? What did he want? Was he after the mechanical spider?”

My questions caught Ryker as he took a sip and he choked. Setting the glass down, he looked at me with mild astonishment. “My word, Miss Bishop. In another century, they’d have burned you at the stake.” À propos of nothing, he added, “What do you go by? Henrietta?”

My eyes narrowed. In my experience, you couldn’t trust bosses who asked for personal information. “My friends call me Rhett,” I spoke each word with careful deliberation.

He nodded. If he sensed my wariness, he had chosen to ignore it. “Very nice, indeed. It suits you.” Something of my expression must have registered with him because he held up a hand. “Please believe me when I say I have no designs on your person. It’s just that I feel you’re wasted in a secretarial position, and I don’t want to keep ‘Miss Bishoping’ you. Unless, of course, you prefer it.”

“You may call me Bishop, if it’s easier.”

He seemed delighted by this. “Like I would Russo or the others? Except for Miss Climpson. She could never be anything other than that.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial smile. “At least to her face.”

I coughed to conceal a small laugh. No one called Miss Climpson ‘Climmy’ in her presence. In fact, I’d chosen to do so when confronting the intruder solely to alert Miss Climpson I was aware something was wrong, had she been able to hear me.

Ryker picked up his tumbler again, staring into its amber depths. “How would you like to be a field agent, Bishop?”

Bishop Take Knight is a Top Pick at The Romance Reviews and a Crowned Heart of Excellence recipient at InD’Tale Magazine and has been nominated for a RONE Award! Bishop Takes Knight was recently voted Best Paranormal/SFF Romance in the 2020 New England Reader’s Choice Awards, too. So if you like light paranormal romance and bantering couples, check it out!

Follow the link to go to other blogs participating in Book Hooks this week and check out some great reads! 

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Bishop Takes Knight is a RONE Nominee–And I Need Your Help!

I hate asking for votes.

It feels pushy, for one. It also reminds me that being relatively unknown, my chances of winning anything based on my following is slim to none. But this time is a little different.

See, Bishop Takes Knight has been nominated for a RONE award! Voting in the subgenre division for Long Paranormal Romance opens Monday, May 18th and runs through Sunday, May 24th (though I’m told not to wait until the last minute as some people have been caught by time differences). The only way Bishop Takes Knight can advance to the finals is if it receives enough reader votes! So here I am, asking for your help to get to the next round…

Here are the instructions from InD’Tale Magazine:

It is extremely important that you let all your readers and fans know!  We would hate to think a superior quality book lost only because people were unaware of the time limit. Also, make sure that they understand they MUST be registered on our website at www.indtale.com in order to vote. Once they register, if they haven’t already, they will be required to click the verification link sent to them via email. If they do not verify their registration with this link, they will be unable to vote. This is very important to help ensure that the voting is fair and maintains the high-quality standards required for this top-tier award.

Once you’re logged in, you can go to the 2020 RONE Awards in the drop-down menu at the top right corner and scroll to the category (or date) Paranormal-Long. Or go to this link directly!

So you see, your vote is crucial to getting to the next step! I hope if you’ve read and enjoyed Bishop Takes Knight, you’ll consider voting for it in the Paranormal-Long category. If you haven’t read it, but you like my works, you can still vote for it, or spread the news among your friends. Your support is deeply appreciated!