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!     

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 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!

 

Find Someone Who Knows Your Value: The Panther’s Lost Princess #MFRWHooks #MFRWauthor

Most people who’ve met me know I’m a big fan of Marvel’s Peggy Carter. I love the Captain America movies, but I adore the fact Peggy is competent and kick-ass without being a superhero. She is what she is by dint of training and hard work, and a healthy appreciation of her self-worth. There’s an iconic line in the Agent Carter series where Peggy says, “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

I love that line. I try to embody it, but the truth is, I’ve spent more time running myself down than building myself up. I grew up in a household where the standards were impossibly high, and I could not possibly ever be pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough… in short, Good Enough. Under those circumstances, it’s frequently easier to put yourself down before others can do so. Over time, it becomes a bad habit, teaching you to settle for less than you deserve because you don’t believe you deserve better.

One of the things I love doing is creating heroines who have this potential living in them, but they need to find it for themselves. Part of that is by giving them heroes that build them up, that believe in them. Not to rescue them. But helping them to see they can rescue themselves. I also write supportive heroes because the world is a tough place. You might be able to go it alone, but it’s easier to keep fighting the good fight when you have a support team on your side.

My SO and I currently have to maintain separate households because of the pandemic. I’m an essential worker. The SO can work from home. So we made the decision for him to self-isolate with the high risk family members in their home, while I, as an essential worker exposed to the public every day, am staying on the farm to take care of the animals.

I had a REALLY crappy day at work yesterday. Exhausting, frustrating, and incredibly stressful. I came home to find a package waiting for me from the SO. He’d sent this mug:

It immediately brightened my day, but it wasn’t until this morning that the real message struck me… by sending me my favorite quote from a favorite character, he was saying he knew my value too.

Wow. Just wow.

So I recommend to you all: find someone builds you up when you’re feeling down. Who makes things easier for you, not harder. Who knows the tribe is strongest when we support all members. Who believes in you. Who knows your value.

The Panther’s Lost Princess features just such a couple. Ellie is a waitress seeking to change her future. What Jack knows about her past changes everything. On Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Only 99 cents for a limited time!

Excerpt:

Ellie stared into her mug as though she might be able to divine her future there.

“You okay?”

She looked up sharply.

“What’s not to be okay about?” Her words had a definite snap to them. Before he could speak, she leaned across the table so she could hiss intently, “You waltz into my life, telling me that not only am I the long-lost heiress to a kingdom I’ve never heard of, but apparently I can turn into a dragon and I’m some magical musical messiah to boot. I’m supposed to just give up everything I’ve worked so hard for—hell, even my identity—and go live with people I know nothing about? Oh, yeah, and someone is trying to kill me as well. Forgive me if this is a bit too much.”

“Well, if you put it like that…” He smiled, hoping she’d see the humor in it.

She didn’t.

“Look, Ellie. I know this is a lot to take in, and believe me, I think you’re handling this really well.” Her expression registered on him and he continued hastily. “Amazingly well. Seriously. You have no idea. I wish I could have explained it better somehow. I don’t know, broke it do you more gently or something.”

Ellie leaned in over the table to speak in a low hiss. “Exactly how would you have explained that I can turn into a dragon more gently?”

Jack shrugged a little helplessly. Ellie rolled her eyes and sat back in her seat with a huff.

“Look, I’m telling you this because you need to know, but also because I don’t know what’s going to happen from here on out. If we get in a jam, I want you to shift and get yourself out of it, you hear?”

Ellie frowned. “I thought you—we—shifters had rules about changing in front of others. At least, that’s the impression you gave me. Isn’t that the whole reason you don’t want me at Nightingale?”

Jack glanced around the diner. No one seemed to be paying them any attention. “You’re right. The current atmosphere is pretty anti-shifter. If the US president goes forward with his plans to start internment camps, it would be bad for anyone to know you’re a shifter. That’s one of the reasons we don’t tend to shift in front of the general public. That’s why there are special resorts and compounds—so that shifters can change at will without fear of persecution. But if it comes down to protecting your identity or saving your life, you have to shift.”

“I don’t know how.”

He laughed at that. He couldn’t help it. “Honey, most people don’t know how to have sex the first time they try it but they figure it out. Instinct kicks in.”

Her face reddened. She didn’t meet his eye. Instead, she fiddled with the empty paper packet of sugar. “I don’t see what the rush to get me back home is. It’s been almost twenty-five years—why can’t it wait a few more weeks?”

“I think it’s a timing thing. Your birthday is next week. Your grandfather wants to bring you home and introduce you to the kingdom with a combined birthday celebration and coronation. And, uh, besides, there’s the Prince to meet.”

“Prince.” She spoke the word with the flat coldness someone else might have used to say, ‘spider’ or ‘snake.’

Jack coughed. “Um, yes. Prince.”

“As in my brother? Another family member I’ve yet to meet?” She tapped her spoon on the table in irritation.

Oh hell. “Not exactly. More like as in your betrothed.”

“My betrothed?” She didn’t shout the words, but she rose out of her seat and planted her hands on the table to lean over and snarl at him. A small puff of smoke released from her nostrils and she gasped and sat down again, her hands clasped over her nose. Her pupils widened into black holes, and her eyebrows climbed up into her hairline.

“I’m starting to think even the amulet can’t hold you back much longer. Why don’t you ditch it and accept who you are?”

The Panther’s Lost Princess is the first book in the Redclaw Security series, but each story can be read as a standalone. Check it out today!

This is a blog hop, so check out the other blogs on this list today! 

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McKenna Dean: Goat Hunter

Yes, you read that right. McKenna Dean, author of paranormal romance, is a goat hunter. Goat. Not ghost.

And not in the way you might think. I’m not out with a rifle tracking down goats to shoot them. I am stalking them, however.

With a camera.

See, earlier this year, I began walking the dogs in the evenings again. Soon it will be too hot, but we’ve had a long cool spring, and after struggling with plantar fasciitis for over a year, it was good to get back in the habit of daily walks. Our route takes us past some fields where people keep livestock, and I’ve become interested in their inhabitants, as one does.

The goats have proven to be the most entertaining. There used to be a television program in the 70’s called Hee Haw that featured country music and cone pone humor. Given endless life in syndication, it was the sort of show most people knew about, even if they hadn’t seen it. I was never a fan (my tastes leaning more toward Saturday Night Live, even as a child), I occasionally watched an episode with my grandparents. One skit comes to mind: a school teacher presents a math problem to a student (let’s call him “Abner”) concerning goats:

Teacher: Abner, you have 20 goats in a field and 2 get out. How many goats are left in the field?

Abner: Zero.

Teacher: Abner! I said you have 20 goats and 2 got out. 20 minus 2 is 18, not zero!

Abner: Ma’am, if two goats got out, they all done got out.

While I’m not a fan of wince-inducing humor, this particular kernel (get it, I made a corny pun) has a lot of truth to it. Goats get out of any field you put them in.

So on any given afternoon, I might turn the corner on my path to find goats everywhere. Tall Nubians with their floppy ears. Stubby little Pygmies and sturdy little Alpines. Goats with spots, goats with horns, goats without horns. Goats with beards, goats with blue eyes, goats with attitude.

It takes you back a bit when confronted with a herd of goats, some of them shaking their horns at you and your dogs. The lovely thing about herd animals, however, is their sense of flight distance. This is the zone you enter that will trigger the herd to collectively move away from you. If you come into slowly and quietly, without taking a threatening posture, you can pressure the herd to gradually move in the direction you wish.

So after attempting without success to locate the owners of the field and tell them their goats were getting out, whenever I’d come across the loose goats, the dogs and I would carefully approach the herd until they zipped back through the opening in the fence they were squeezing through. There was always one holdout: a big horned goat that would give us the stink eye while all his or her buddies ran back to the safety of their field.

It made for an interesting interlude in our evenings walks, that’s for sure. Then one day last week, I noticed a new addition to the field! OMG, a BABY GOAT. Yes, I know they are called kids, but c’mon, it’s like saying Baby Yoda even when you know it’s not really Yoda (or is it?)

As you can see, this is a crappy pic taken with my cell phone on zoom because it was the closest I could get with the dogs. But I decided I’d come back the next day without the dogs and with my Real Camera to take a decent pic.

That’s when the stalking began.

Because the next day, there was no baby goat to be seen. Mama was there, walking about the field, bleating in the most pathetic way, but no Baby Goat. I have to say, this upset me more than I expected. Perhaps it’s because of the pandemic that I’m so emotionally sensitive right now. I’m an empath, and the degree to which the world is hurting is hard to bear many days. I couldn’t believe how invested I’d become in these goats and how the absence of one little newborn could hurt so much. I thought it possible the goats had left the field again (though I hadn’t seen any recent evidence of that) and perhaps the baby had gotten lost. Or maybe it had just been too cold for it (we’ve had frost the past couple of nights). Or maybe the mother didn’t have enough milk. Unfortunately, because of the thicket that surrounds most of the field, I could only scan so much for the missing baby.

But I was determined to keep looking.

The next day was cold and rainy. No sign of the baby. In fact, most of the goats were huddled a distance away from the fence line. That wasn’t good. I realized the kid probably didn’t make it. Depressed, I continued my walk.

The day after that was sunny and breezy. The dogs frisked along in front of me as we approached the field. I gave the goats a passing glance, when what did I see? THE BABY GOAT! Only as before, I only had my cell phone, and the excited dogs made Mama goat lead the baby further away from the fence. Fine. I’d be back in the morning with the Real Camera.

One of the unexpected side effects of the pandemic is I’ve been forced to slow down. I can’t rush here and there like I used to. I have to give some thought about when and how to go to the store. I spend the evenings at home alone with the animals. Days off are spent at home as well, and I’m doing more reading, more cleaning, more baking. This forced–I don’t want to use the word inactivity because I’m not sitting around doing nothing–it’s more of quietness that has had a chance to flourish–anyway, this forced quietness has resulted in a willingness to be patient, to allow things to come to fruition in their own time.

It’s been good for my writing. After months of barely scribbling a word, I’m okay with letting the story simmer on the back burner for a bit if it needs to. When I do write, it’s with the knowledge that what I’m committing to paper isn’t forced, but has come into its growth on its own. My crit group has noticed, commenting that what I’m turning out now is more complete on the first draft and needs less polishing. I think it’s because I’m no longer spinning my wheels in an endless effort to get out of the muddy pit I’ve been mired in for so long. I know where I want to go with this story now and I’m okay with how long it takes to get there.

And this quietness has taught me patience in other areas as well.

So when last Sunday, I took my camera and went up to the field to try to capture an image of the baby goat with a high quality camera, I was able to sit on the hood of my car soaking in the sunshine and listening to the birdsong while I scanned the field, camera in hand, waiting for a baby goat sighting. I didn’t feel as though I had to be somewhere else. It was just me, the brisk morning breeze, the trilling calls of the redwing blackbirds, and the milling about of goats in the field. I never saw the baby goat that morning, but I did identify the daddy. And a handsome fellow he is, too.

I must have sat for over thirty minutes hoping to spot the baby, to no avail. And yet it did not feel at all like wasted time. Now that I knew the baby was still alive, it was just a matter of time before I photographed it. I kept looking for it on dog walks, but I also randomly drove out to the field at different times of day to see if I could get a picture. I began to get a feel for the goats’ pattern of movement now. How they hugged the far fence line in the heat of the day, where the thicket provided shade. How they slept piled around the large bale of hay in the mornings, enjoying the warm sunshine. How they’d flock to the gate when I pulled up in my car (as opposed to when I came on foot with the dogs), indicating they were used to being fed by someone in a vehicle.

Yesterday, I woke to a porch slick with frost and the occasional flake of snow coming down! In May! The afternoon was brisk and chilly, so I decided to take the dogs out while it was still sunny and reasonably pleasant. And what did I see when I reached the field? Not only the baby goat I’d been seeking, sleeping beside Mama in the sun, but MORE BABY GOATS!

Four new ones, to be exact. I don’t know why this surprised me, after all, I knew there was a billy in the group and that he’d bred at least one doe. So yeah, more kids were kind of to be expected. But I felt as though I’d won the jackpot. Because now there were FIVE baby goats to stalk, er… photograph. I finished my dog walk and returned with the Real Camera.

The goats were still pretty far away, but I got some decent pictures…

Are they not adorable or what? You can see they take after their daddy.

The mamas seemed pretty chill about who nursed whom as well. These babies seemed to belong to this doe…

But then they turned around to nurse on this one as well! Yay for the village to raise some baby goats!

And in case you’re wondering, I did get a photo of the original baby goat–now astonishingly bigger than the newborns, with just one week between them!

I don’t know why goat-watching has brought me such joy this spring. Perhaps because it’s brought me uncomplicated peace. Perhaps because emerald-green grass and sunlight fields were made for baby goats to skip across while golden melodies pour out of nearby songbirds and a breeze ruffles my hair.

This spring will forever be the spring of the 2020 pandemic. But for me, it will also be the spring of the baby goats. I hope you can find peace and joy in your lives right now. Be safe. Be well.