About McKenna Dean

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

Bishop Takes Knight and Impostor Syndrome #MFRWHooks

I struggle with impostor syndrome big time. To the point that members of my crit group roll their eyes when I express my doubts about my work. Recently, one of them challenged me to put together a graphic showing some of the accolades Bishop Takes Knight has received, and I confess, this result took me back a bit. Hey, maybe I’m not such a bad writer after all!

I still have a hard time tooting my own horn. I do like Bishop Takes Knight, however, and I like the upcoming Bishop’s Gambit even better. Kirkus Reviews says “Rhett and Peter are both well drawn and likable characters, and the blend of alien technology, shadowy organizations, hard-boiled sleuthing, and budding romance makes for a surprisingly compelling read.”

Hey, so don’t just take my word for it! 

Bishop Takes Knight is available now. Bishop’s Gambit should be out sometime in August/September 2020.

Excerpt:

“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.

This is post is part of a blog hop, so be sure to check out the other delicious participants in the Book Hooks Hop today! 

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Re-Inventing Yourself at Any Age

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.

Photo by Anthony from Pexels

I have a unique opportunity at the moment. I get to decide who I want to be.

You might say we get to decide that many times at different stages of our lives, and it’s true. But I’m talking about something a little different here today. See, I get to decide what my legal name will be.

When I got married, I didn’t take my husband’s last name for various reasons. We were both older, and had no intention of having children together. We were both established professionals as well, and changing my name would have meant jumping through a LOT of legal hoops with a number of professional organizations. It was simpler to keep my own name, and though I considered making the switch, in the end, I decided not to.

But a little wrinkle came up recently, and now the name situation is front and center again. See, I went to the DMV to register for that Real ID thing that’s required now and I brought all my documentation with me. And that’s when I hit a snag. I don’t spell my name the way it’s written on my birth certificate. I guess when I went to school, my teachers assumed my name was spelled in the more traditional fashion. Like Allison instead of Allyson, or Katherine instead of Katharine (leave it to Katharine Hepburn to have a non-traditional spelling of her name!). Anyway, my teachers assumed it was spelled a certain way and they taught me to write it the same. My parents never noticed–or if they did, never bothered to correct it.

I was 12 years old before I learned of the difference. At the time, I was entranced with the idea of a different spelling and I decided I would spell my name that way from then on. A different spelling felt as though I could become a different person, and the child I was at the time would have loved to be anyone else. In fact, I often fantasized about having a different name altogether, which is probably why I took to the pen name thing for authors so readily. But after six months of trying to change my signature to the “correct” spelling, I gave up and went back to the old, incorrect signature. And from then on, I never gave it another thought. Work forms, graduate degrees, tax documents, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, and yes, my marriage certificate… I signed for all of them with the spelling I’d used for most of my life.

Only when I went to get the Real ID, they refused to issue it to me. The name on my birth certificate and the name on all my other legal documents must match. And now I have to go to the courthouse at some point and rectify this if I want to fly on an airplane ever again. Now mind you, I have no intention of flying any time soon–not until we have a reliable, safe vaccine for the coronavirus. My driver’s license was up for renewal and I thought I might as well get the Real ID while I was there. (Don’t get me started on the stupidity and unnecessary regulation of the whole Real ID nonsense. That’s a rant for another day…) I’m not going to start that legal name change process until after the November elections, either. I don’t want to do ANYTHING to jeopardize my ability to vote in the next election.

But it opens up the possibility of changing my name altogether. I have to file for a legal name change. I could take my husband’s name now. I could change my given name altogether. I could leave behind the tired, dated name I was born with and chose something edgier that I liked. I could take on my pen name if I wanted. I could be like the bored, repressed housewife Cathy Palmer in American Dreamer, who gets hit on the head while vacationing in France and suddenly believes she is the brilliant, sexy, and extremely fictional international spy Rebecca Ryan. Because Cathy believes she is her favorite fictional character, she becomes Rebecca Ryan–so much so that the people that meet her are completely taken in.

I think most of us have wanted, like Cathy, to let our inner Rebecca Ryan loose. Or maybe it was just me. I adore this movie.

And I see the possibilities here now.

I know a simple name change won’t wipe away the past or make me thinner, younger, wittier, and give me back my strength of purpose. Change takes hard work and comes in small increments over time, neither of which feels very plentiful in my life right now.

But it’s tempting. Very tempting. The thought of changing my name is a siren call promising me a better, happier, more fulfilling life. Even though I know that despite becoming an Allyson or a Katharine or a Rebecca, I’d still be the same old me underneath. 

Who would you be if you could wave a wand and become someone else? Would you do it? Inquiring minds want to know.

 

Nail Envy: From Brittle to WOW!

I am not, nor ever have been, an attractive woman.

I’ve had a few things on my side, such as an active lifestyle and a decent metabolism, which meant I could eat pretty much anything I wanted until I hit my mid-forties. Don’t envy me, however. That just set me up to be the kid who made straight-As without trying in high school, who never learns how to study and therefore struggles when the course work in college gets much harder.

But I’ve always been a bit vain about my hair and nails.

You see, if I were a superhero, I’d be Keratin Woman. Hairdressers would comment on the sheer weight and volume of my hair every time I went to the salon (and invariably tried to thin or tame it in some way). My mother was told to stop putting “Miracle-Gro” on my hair when I was a child. Strangers commented on my nails in line at the grocery store. People would ask me if they were real (they were). I could open pull-top cans with my nails. I could crack the tartar off a cat’s teeth with my nails. If I did break a nail, the fragment shot across the room like a ricocheting bullet. It was gratifying, especially since I wasn’t a girly-girl. Instead, I was a tomboy who rode horses and worked cattle. And I had the nails everyone envied.

Like most things one takes for granted, there came a day when this ceased to be true. Be it stress, a poor diet, or changing hormones–or all three–my hair started to thin and my nails became brittle. The slightest activity caused them to split and peel. Don’t get me started on my hair–that’s a post for another day–but I found myself incredibly angry about losing the only things I was even remotely vain about.

In retrospect, the anger was symptomatic of much bigger problems–such as the stress and grab-food-on-the-go lifestyle that probably corrupted my nails’ integrity. I was angry at my body’s failure to keep up with the demands my work and mindset demanded of it. How dare my body begin to show wear and tear? How dare it demand I take better care of myself on almost every level?

Oh, the privilege of health. It’s not until it is compromised that you realize just how much you take for granted.

And so I began having my nails professionally done. First with artificial tips until my own poor nails could grow out some, and then short, neat, and professional for work, but with nearly indestructible SNS powder, which lasted for weeks and protected my nails.

Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

I became addicted to having manicures done. Such high-powered nail polish required soaking in professional-strength acetone to remove it, and scheduling salon sessions had to be done every 3-4 weeks to keep it up. I told myself it was a little luxury I did just for me, and turned a blind eye to the expenditure. The day job was hard on my hands. With a professional manicure, I got my “old” nails back and could feel good about my little vanity again.

Then Covid-19 hit.

I saw the writing on the wall in late January, and cancelled all of my usual “upkeep” procedures: haircuts, manicures, chiropractic care, massage therapy. By Valentine’s Day, we made the decision to divide our household into high-risk and essential worker. I began buying extra items of the things we used most with every shopping trip and when the Great Toilet Paper Crisis hit, we were in good shape.

See how simple that is, Mr. President? But I digress…

When I managed to strip off the SNS powder at home, I got a good look at how damaged they were without another masking coat of polish to replace it. I began looking at products that promised to restore the health of your nails As Seen On Instagram. There were a lot of products out there. Each time I ran across an ad, I’d check out the reviews online, which were usually disappointing. Many also required continuous auto-shipping of products that were difficult to cancel. In the end, I went with none of them.

I’d been taking hair and nail supplements sporadically for several years, and consistently for at least a year by this point. I decided to step up my game. I will state for the record, I’m not a dermatologist or cosmetologist or any kind of beauty expert, and you have to remember I started out as Keratin Woman, so your results may vary.

This picture was taken in February of this year.

If you look closely at the middle and ring fingernails, you can see the splitting at the tips. The weird shape of the pinky nail is as a result of the pressure of the SNS powder as the nails grew out–I had a tendency to push my manicure appointments to the 4 week mark. Also, you can see the line of demarcation at the midway point of each nail that indicates the how much has grown out since I stopped having manicures professionally done. I’m wearing clear nail polish here in a desperate attempt to keep the nails from splitting.

I wish I could say I cleaned up my diet and reduced my stress, but given the world events, let me just laugh hysterically here for a moment. If anything, my stress levels shot through the roof and I began eating like a six-year-old left to her own devices. I put away a box of sugary cereal every 48 hours and turned into a baking fiend.

But I began taking vitamins and supplements on a regular basis:

The vitamins were mostly about strengthening my immune system: if you don’t know it, they’ve shown that people with Vitamin D deficiencies get sicker with Covid-19. I had a Vitamin D deficiency a few years back and have taken a supplement since. Did you also know the widespread use of sunscreen (which is necessary) increases your risk of Vitamin D deficiency? Talk to your doctor.

The supplements were for my hair as well as nails. I’d been disappointed in the efficacy of previous supplements touted as improving hair and nail integrity, and after some research, settled on these:

After the first few months, my panic levels stabilized, and while I still struggle with the need to carb-load to get me through the workday, I’m no longer running on pure sugar.

As for the nails themselves, once a week, I removed the clear polish (sadly with an acetone-based remover, I still need to get one that’s milder) and then put on a base coat of either Orly’s Nail Defense or OPI’s Nail Envy, followed by a coat of Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails Extreme Wear Clear and a quick-drying top coat of clear by Live Love Polish, which is a fabulous site if you’re addicted to polish. My only rule was that I had to keep them all of similar length, so that meant if I had to cut one nail back for breakage, they all got cut back.

And after five months of this combined treatment, I realized today my nails aren’t in such bad shape anymore. Okay, they’re still brittle compared to what they were in their heyday, and I wouldn’t attempt to dig off a label with them or open pull-top rings without taking some care, but they’ve grown out semi-normal looking again. Better than when I first began going for manicures, that’s for sure.

Why does this matter? I don’t suppose it really does in the grand scheme of things. Things are bad the world over, but especially here in my country, and it looks as though we can only expect it to get worse. That’s why it’s okay to celebrate the little wins.

Sometimes we need proof that we can make things better, with time and perseverance. Maybe small steps are better than big ones we never take. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get that diet and exercise thing right, along with the whole life balance thing too.

In the meantime, be safe. Be well.

Dare to Hope: New Release and Giveaway by Madison Michaels!

Check out this new release from Madison Michaels! I love the premise of a group of woman with a powerful, lifelong connection, don’t you? If you love steamy contemporary romance, Dare to Hope is right up your alley!

 

 

Dare to Hope
Double Dare Romance Series (Book 1)
By Madison Michael
 
♥♥GiveAway♥♥
Maddy is offering a few great prizes. Please use the Rafflecopter below to enter! You may enter each day for a chance to win so be sure to follow along with us on the New Release Tour.
 
 

About Dare to Hope: 

She’s Betting on Love and the Stakes are High

The “Crazy Eights,” eight women who have been friends for 30 years, have a powerful connection yet rarely see each other. At a pivotal time in their lives, they create a way to remedy this predicament, an audacious dare contrived to bring them together for weddings – each participant must get married within twelve months. The stakes are high. Win the bet and lose your heart; or lose the bet and perform a personally mortifying task.

In the first of their stories, we meet Eliana, beautiful and brilliant, but starting over, focused on her career, not on some foolhardy dare. Longing for a family but recently divorced and on her own, Eliana sets her sights on a new job, a new home and accepting her single, childless status. Independent and determined, she has no idea that in less than six months she will both win and lose her heart’s desire.

Jeremy Klein, genius engineer and inventor, is also making life changes. He’s sold his startup to a major medical device company, becoming President and CEO, and a billionaire before he is forty. Although he’s gun-shy about the dating game, Jeremy knows it’s time to apply his smarts, sex appeal and new-found success to finding true love.

When Eliana meets Jeremy, they bond quickly. The couple has so much in common and a chemistry that sizzles. Winning Eliana feels like a fantasy come true to Jeremy. Their attraction is immediate and electrifying, and a one-night stand morphs into planning a future. But plans change. On track to wedded bliss, baby and all, Jeremy and Eliana are derailed by accusations that threaten their relationship, Eliana’s career and Jeremy’s future as CEO.

Spies, lies, allegations and misunderstandings abound, threatening to destroy their happiness. That is, until those “Crazy Eights” get involved, scheming and manipulating to win Eliana her happily ever after. Can a group of determined friends help Eliana and Jeremy hold onto love?

In the tradition of The Beguiling Bachelor Series, Madison Michael creates a romance series about independent and sassy women, sexy and successful men, true love, and lasting friendships.

Genre: Steamy Contemporary Romance

Buy Links:

 

An Excerpt from Dare to Hope:

His grin was devastating up close – wide and welcoming, with a hint of naughtiness and the promise of shared pleasures. But it was his eyes, deep coffee brown and fringed with long dark lashes that were his best feature; piercing, intelligent and inquisitive eyes, trained on her.
Please, God, Eliana prayed quickly, do not let this man be the new sales manager. It would be lamentable if she had to keep him at arm’s length. He was the first man Eliana had felt drawn to since Nico. If she was honest with herself, he was the first man she had ever felt this attracted to so immediately. It was enough to make her believe in love at first sight or fate.
“Hi,” he stepped closer, ignoring the empty stool beside her to halt just inside her personal space. Usually, Eliana would have reflexively backed up, but she savored his closeness, the power emanating from his presence. Even in this stuffy bar, he smelled good – fresh, like soap and good whiskey. And up close, his eyes were more magical – a hint of gold dancing in their depths.
“Hi,” she responded on a breath, letting the single word hang there for a moment before adding “You aren’t in sales, are you?”
“Nope.” If he thought it was a strange conversation starter, he kept it to himself. “Engineering and design, although I have dabbled in sales. I could be in sales for you,” he offered in a voice smooth as brandy, redolent with sexual promise and a hint of curiosity. She laughed at his offer. “Are you in sales?”
“Yes, I am. I was thinking of what a crime it would be if you turned out to be my new boss. I’m meeting him tomorrow.”
“Jeremy,” he responded, extending his hand to shake hers. “Not in sales. Is your boss named Jeremy?”
“Thankfully, not.” Eliana extended her hand, savoring the moment as Jeremy wrapped his long fingers around hers. She noticed there was no wedding band as she admired the strength and length of his fingers, the fine hairs on the back of his hand, and his grip – warm and dry. His skin was soft over fine bone and healthy muscle. Everything about him captivated her. “Eliana.”
Jeremy seemed in no hurry to release her hand, but after several beats too long for politeness, Eliana pulled hers from his. “Is this seat taken?” he asked, already sitting down, not thinking twice about it. “Or perhaps that table against the wall? I am anxious to learn why you don’t know who you work with, Eliana.”
Eliana laughed and watched as Jeremy’s breath stopped. His every emotion was transparent, especially the desire flaming in his eyes right now. A passion she reciprocated. Wholeheartedly. She couldn’t remember such an instantaneous attraction. But with Jeremy, she felt electricity and lust move through her entire body, just from the touch of his hand and the sound of her name spoken in his rich baritone.
“Eliana,” he rolled the word around his mouth as if tasting a fine wine. “What a lovely name.” Eliana panties dampened. He was just saying words, but their underlying promise was undeniable. She wanted to be alone with him. She wanted to be naked with him. And all she knew was his first name.
Eliana nodded toward the table, questioning her sanity. She was sure about what this man wanted, but after only minutes, her body governed her head. Jeremy spoke briefly with the bartender, passed him a fifty like it was a single, and motioned for her to lead the way to the empty table. Before they had settled in their chairs, both had fresh drinks. Earlier, the bartender had responded to her beauty with decent service and half-hearted flirting, but he reacted with alacrity to the big tip.
“So, spill,” Jeremy directed, leaning forward on his elbows and putting his mouth dangerously close to hers. Just a few inches, Eliana imagined, and they could be kissing. “I am dying to hear your story. I want to know absolutely everything about you.” The way he lingered on the word ‘everything’ made Eliana wetter still. Oh man, she was in way over her head.

 

 ~♥~♥~♥~♥~
 

Meet Madison Michael:

Madison Michael loves to binge news, movies, books, Oreos and romance – reading romance novels, writing romantic stories, watching Rom-Coms over and over. Maddy has spent her self-isolation fretting about the health of her friends and neighbors and catching up on TV programs from ten years ago. Hunkered down with her cat, Gracie, and a Zoom life-line to the world, she is wondering how people date and social distance, how much junk food she can consume in a day and why Gracie only wants to play when Maddy needs to work.

Oh, and Madison is also hard at work on the rest of the Double Dare Romance series. Watch for more of the series in Autumn and Winter, 2020.

Madison’s Social Links:

All Caught up on Madison’s Books?
The Beguiling Bachelor Series – 
Four Successful, Sexy Men meet their matches – and how!
The B&B Billionaire Books – Second Chance at Love stories set in small town America
Standalone Stories – from Sweet Time Travel to Sexy May-September Romance
(available only when you sign up to be an Insider)

Bringing Back Vintage Board Games in Pandemic Times

During one of our many moves, I boxed up all the old kids’ board games and donated them to Goodwill. It seemed ridiculous to keep toting them around when no one played them anymore. The kids themselves were off to college or in their own places, and I couldn’t remember the last time we had a gathering of people over to play board games. With tablets to hand, there was so much more to do: you could watch a movie, read a book, or play games online. I kept a deck of cards, but everything else went the way of Marie Kondo.

Then the pandemic hit.

For various reasons, my husband and I have chosen to maintain separate households. He can work from home. I cannot. Someone needs to be at the farm to take care of the livestock, and since I’m an essential worker, it made sense for him to move in with high-risk family members and be the person who ran errands for them when needed. We’re lucky that we can do this, I know.

Most days, by the time I get home from work and take care of the animals, I’m so exhausted that I scarcely notice how lonely my existence is right now. From dawn until dusk I’m run off my feet, only to sit down for an hour or two before it’s time for bed and start the cycle all over the next day. When I get a day off, I’m frequently playing catch up: grocery, laundry, cleaning the house. It’s a wonder I get any writing done!

In the past, Saturday evenings had been our Date Night. We’d go out to dinner, and either watch a movie at home or go to the theater. We also have several TV series that we watch together. I enjoy hanging out with my husband. He’s my best friend.

So I was determined to bring back Date Night in some form. The first challenge was what to do about meeting safely when we were apart all week–and I was being exposed to clients daily. Lack of a screened-in porch and a ferocious mosquito issue (one that defied all bug spray and gnat zappers) limited our time together until I purchased a mosquito tent. It only takes a few minutes to set up and we have hours of insect-free time in it. Instead of dinner out, we grill something and pair it with salad or greens. I make bread or dessert. We sit outside in the tent with a cold beer or glass of wine and relax. To be honest, I don’t miss eating out at all.

But what I do miss is some way of occupying myself while we talk.

I’m not a knitter, and both of us are a little too quick to pick up the smartphone and start scrolling if there’s a lull in the conversation, so I thought it would be fun to resurrect some of the old board games. Only I’d gotten rid of them all.

I started to simply replace them, but it didn’t take long to realize many of the games in question, like Uno, were best played with a group of people. I wanted to have that option for the future, but I also wanted games that worked well for just two players. I did a couple of online searches for the best two player games, and came up with a few I’d never heard of before. Most of the ones I ran across I remembered from my youth–games played at my grandmother’s house, or during summer camp. There were the classics, of course. Chess, checkers, and backgammon. But many were games I hadn’t thought about in years.

My husband is wicked-good at anything that requires some sort of strategy, to the point that it’s nearly impossible to win against him. I’m no slouch myself, but as soon as I change gears, he’ll effortlessly switch to a new tactic, and leave me in the dust. One of the two-person games I ordered is called Imhotep: The Duel. I believe it’s a modified version of a game for more players. We’ve only played it a couple of times, but each time, my husband cleaned my clock. That’s why I had to find something that had SOME element of chance in it as well, or else I’d never win a single game and the experience would be endlessly frustrating. 

Having been on a research kick for a series of books set in the 1950s, it was easy enough to turn to vintage board games. Bonus points if I could find a version featuring the original artwork. Though it’s unlikely my characters will ever sit down to play one of these games in my stories, it’s fun to know they could do so if I wrote it in. And so I bought Sorry! and Yahtzee. I replaced my backgammon board–and while backgammon is definitely another strategy game I’m probably doomed to lose, there’s a variant called American Acey-Deucy that would even the odds in my favor.

It’s hard to describe just how nice it was to sit outside last night in our little mosquito tent, laughing, talking, jeering at, and encouraging each other as we played. We spoke of our week, and of things that we needed to share, but the world and all its horrors seemed very far away. As dusk fell, the light from our bug zapper cast a friendly glow over the table on an evening pleasantly cool for mid-July while we studied rule books and started another game. It was such a nice night it was hard to say goodbye at the end of it. I could picture ourselves at some future date, when it is safe to gather in company again, pulling out these games for an evening of fun in the same vein.

So if you’re looking for an alternative way of spending the evening with your family, I suggest taking a step back in time. Turn off the news. Put down the smartphone. Pick up those dice and shake them in that can. It’s time to play Yahtzee, my friends.

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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