Bishop’s Gambit a Finalist in the Carolyn Awards! #MFRWHooks #MFRWAuthor

I have a second email account that I’m bad about not checking on a regular basis, so imagine my surprise when I logged in the other day and discovered Bishop’s Gambit is a finalist in the Carolyn Awards held by North Texas Romance Writers of America!

As such, I’d like to share with you a little about this book and the Redclaw Origins series. The year is 1955. Rebel without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch are playing in the  movie theaters. The Chevy Bel Air is the most popular car in America. Gas is 25 cents a gallon and you can get a hotel room for $4 bucks. This flirty, fun series takes us back to the beginning and shows us how Redclaw Security got started.

In Bishop’s Gambit, Redclaw Origins 2, Bishop and Knight are back again and the fun–and trouble–is just beginning!

Newly minted secret agent Rhett Bishop would rather face down a horde of angry wolf shifters or her father’s former mob contacts than accept her current assignment: pose undercover as a suburban housewife, complete with a husband, slippers, and pipe.

But after the debacle of her previous mission, Rhett has a lot to prove.

To redeem herself in the eyes of Redclaw Security, and to carry out her mission without distractions, she must table her budding relationship with Peter Knight while the two of them uncover the secrets of Forest Grove.

Armed with her trusty ray gun, her unique little dog, and Knight’s brains, Rhett is confident she can handle whatever the suburbs can throw at her.

Until they lob a curveball.

Bishop’s Gambit was named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews!

Kirkus Reviews describes as “thoroughly entertaining and witty, with a nicely judged mix of genres.”

Available from Amazon and these other retailers.

A short snippet: 

I gave a cursory glance into the tiny bathroom and headed to the end of the hallway for the other bedroom. As expected, boxes labeled “clothing” were stacked alongside the wall. My dresser and vanity took up the space alongside the other walls. Someone had thoughtfully put together my bed, complete with mattress and springs. All it needed was sheets and a blanket, and I could fall into it.

The sound of the front door opening and shutting sent Captain flying through the house to see who’d come in. I heard Knight grumbling at the dog as he came back toward the bedroom where I stood.

“I see she found you, rotten little beast.” Knight’s voice grew louder as he came down the hallway. “I’ve got two words for you: lizard-skin handbag. You back here, Bishop?”

“Yes.” I waited for him to join me.

“What are you—” He paused at the threshold of the door, frowning for a moment, then his brow cleared. “Ah. Looking for the bedding? I expect it’s around here somewhere.”

I placed a fist on one hip. “Is that all you have to say?”

Puzzlement wrinkled his brow again. “I don’t understand. Obviously, you found the dog. I’ll bring the luggage in while you make the bed. It’s been a long day. We should make an early night of it.”

I enunciated every word with crystal clarity. “There’s only one bed. Where precisely do you intend to sleep?”

This post is part of a blog hop, so if check out the other book hooks and teasers in the hop! 

 

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Bishop’s Gambit on Sale for a Limited Time! #MFRWHooks #MFRWAuthor

I participated in a TON of events and book fairs for Valentine’s Day this year, and as such, Bishop’s Gambit has been on sale for just 99 cents! But all good things come to a close, and the discount ends March 14th!

 

So grab your copy at this great price now! And come see what people are saying about this second installment in the award-winning Redclaw Origins Series! 

Click on the PLAY button if the video doesn’t auto-start!

 

 

This is post is part of the BookHooks blog hop so check out the other great stories available on the list!

 


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Winter Duet by Anne Barwell: Guest Post and Excerpt

Please welcome author Anne Barwell, as she discusses her WWII series, Winter Duet!

Thanks for hosting me today.

 

At the beginning of Winter Duet, book 2 of my WWII Echoes Rising series, Kristopher and Michel leave the safety of the convent in Alexanderdorf to head for Switzerland. They are supposed to meet up with the Allied team—Matt, Ken and Liang—who were sent into Germany to retrieve the plans Kristopher now carries.  However, if their journey were straightforward, it would make for a far less interesting story. I debated having them go around the areas where the Allies were bombing, then decided it would be more exciting if they were caught at ground zero.

 

Meanwhile Matt and his team leave Berlin and take an alternate route to Switzerland.  Neither group can ignore a downed RAF aircraft in the Black Forest, and so decide to look for the pilot.  Naturally they each run into problems of their own, and become separated.  When they regroup it’s not with the person they started with, and there is a new addition to the team—an injured New Zealand pilot, Leo Dawson.

 

One of the early decisions I made when I was planning Winter Duet was to have characters working together who hadn’t before.  Also, as two of the men I was throwing together had never met, it would add an extra element of suspicion and uncertainty.

 

With writing an ensemble cast of characters, I try to have more than one storyline although they come together towards the end of the book.  Having all of the characters in the same scene tends to marginalise some of them, and I wanted them to each have a decent amount of ‘book time’.

 

These men are on the run from the SS during war time and behind enemy lines, so they cannot afford to confirm their true identities to someone they’ve just met.  Then there is the language barrier.  While most of their group speak fluent German, Ken doesn’t. He knows enough to get by but as their original mission was supposed to be a simple in and out retrieval of the plans, he realises his shortcomings could be a problem.

 

“I know my limitations, and I’m following most of what you’re saying but not all of it. As long as you don’t speak too quickly I’ll be fine.” Ken grew quiet for a few minutes before continuing. “This was supposed to be a simple mission. We were to go in, get the plans, and get out. I didn’t expect to be in Germany for this amount of time. Matt would have handled most of the conversation with the locals. He sounds like one. I know I don’t.”

 

I’d wanted to play around a bit with those issues in this story, although the men do pick up more of the language they’re lacking the longer they are together. While operatives who were sent into enemy territory as undercover agents were chosen because of their language skills, others—such as Ken who is the radio operator for this team—had different skills. For example a pilot for the RAF didn’t need to speak fluent German, just know enough basic phrases so he could surrender in case he was captured.  And that’s only if his aircraft went down. So…if he meets Michel, who speaks fluent German, but not English, it’s going to be a problem.

 

Winter Duet

Echoes Rising Book 2

 

Who do you trust when no one is who they seem?

 

Germany 1944

 

Fleeing German physicist Dr Kristopher Lehrer and his lover, Resistance fighter Michel, are caught up in an Allied bombing campaign.  Separated from Michel after discovering an injured RAF pilot in the Black Forest, and pursued by the SS for the information he carries, Kristopher is frantic to reunite, unaware that Michel has been recruited by the Allies for a rescue mission.

 

Time is running out. The Gestapo is closing in. How can they decide who to trust, when the dagger pointed at Kristopher’s back could be wielded by a friend? 

 

Author’s note: This is the third edition of Winter Duet. The first and second editions were released by another publishing house.  This story has been re-edited, and uses UK spelling to reflect its setting.

 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VL2LQNB

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/WinterDuetAB

 

Excerpt:

Michel parted the bushes cautiously and peered through. One glance at who had provoked the response from the soldiers and he closed his peek hole quickly and stayed as still as he could.

 

“Heil Hitler!” Reiniger returned the greeting. “Stay attentive!” he snapped at them. “Now is not the time for idle conversation. Anyone caught doing so will be disciplined accordingly. Do I make myself clear?”

 

“Yes, Herr Obersturmführer,” both men chorused.

 

If Reiniger had heard any of their discussion, they were lucky to get off with a warning. Someone in their unit at the institute had been caught shirking his duties. Michel shuddered, not wanting to dwell on the details. The man’s punishment had been harsh, without mercy, and far in excess of what was required for his so-called crime.

 

“Our enemy is close by. We’ve already caught one, and I suspect his companions will not readily abandon him.” Reiniger snorted. “That weakness can be used to our advantage, so it is important we are prepared. Do I make myself clear?”

 

“Yes, Herr Obersturmführer.”

 

Caught one?

 

Michel took a sharp breath. Surely Reiniger hadn’t found Kit? Kit was with Leo. If two men had been discovered, Reiniger would have said so. Wouldn’t he? Unless Kit had left Leo and been caught a distance from him.

 

No. Kit wouldn’t… Michel mentally groaned. Of course he would, if he thought it necessary, and especially if he’d decided Michel might be walking into some kind of trap. He’d try to warn him and to hell with the consequences.

 

Reiniger turned, his eyes narrowing as he glanced in Michel’s direction. Michel held his breath, praying, hoping his hiding place hadn’t been compromised. “What are you standing here for?” Reiniger snapped at the two soldiers. “They’re somewhere close, and I want them found.” He gestured in the direction from which Michel had come. “Get on with it.”

 

“Yes, Herr Obersturmführer.”

 

The soldiers saluted and moved off. Reiniger stood for a moment, as though thinking, his face creasing into a frown, and then he headed in the opposite direction. He muttered something under his breath, but Michel couldn’t make out the words.

 

He heard breathing behind him. Close behind him.

 

Merde! He reached for his weapon, but before he could draw it, he felt the barrel of a gun pressed against his back.

 

Author  Bio:
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with Kaylee: a cat with “tortitude” who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date, it appears as though Kaylee may be winning.

 

In 2008, Anne completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

 

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes.  She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

 

Anne’s books have received honourable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards.  She has also been nominated three times in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—twice for Best Fantasy, once for Best Historical, and once for All-Time Favourite M/M Author.

 

Website & Blog—Drops of Ink: http://annebarwell.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anne.barwell.1

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/annesbooksandbrews/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/annebarwell

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4862410.Anne_Barwell

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/anne-barwell

Queeromance Ink Author Page:                       

https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/anne-barwell/

Sign up for my newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/39edaba3e3ad/annebarwellauthor

 

 

February is for Lovers: Valentine’s Day Book Fair and Winter Games Reader Challenge

Oh my!

February is a CRAZY month for romance authors because there are so many parties, special events, and book deals to be had! I may have gone a bit overboard this year, promising to take part it too many events all coinciding together, but YOU are the winner here!

From Feb 14-21 you can take part in the Valentine’s Day Book Boyfriend Bonanza–all books listed are less than $2!

BOOK BOYFRIEND VALENTINE’S DAY BONANZA
BOOKFAIR AND GIVEAWAY
ENTER FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN!
Check out these hotties and super fun reads all for under $1.99 … social distancing this
Valentine’s Day couldn’t be hotter!

 

Prizes include a Kindle Fire HD and an ebook prize pack of more than twenty romance novels, including award winners and bestsellers! All you have to do is follow me and these other awesome writers on social media. The more authors your follow and like, the more times you’re entered to win.

 

To celebrate having Bishop’s Gambit nominated in the 2020 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards and to participate in these fests, Bishop’s Gambit is only 99 cents on Amazon for a limited time!

And it’s not too late to sign up for the Winter Games Reader Challenge–the clock started today, but you can catch up! What are you waiting for?

If you love to read, Winter Games is for YOU! A one month reader Challenge with parties, prizes, signed print books, and what you love best––FREE BOOKS.

PLUS, you’ll meet some amazing authors and party with them in a live Q & A!

WE promise to give you an amazing experience.

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Sign Up Now––It’s FREE!

Join Winter Games on the official sign up form today and be ready for an amazing ride! Simply Click on the picture for the Reader Sign-Up Form…

 

 

 

READERS––Sign up for your chance to win $200.00 in our 2021 WINTER GAMES READER CHALLENGE!

A Switch In Time copy

To participate as a Winter Games Reader, you MUST fill out the Official Sign up Form.

So Click Here NOW

Bishop’s Gambit is up for an award and YOU’RE the Winner! #MFRWHooks #MFRWAuthor

 

Goodness, what is it about the month of February! So much love in the air, right?

Bishop’s Gambit is up for an award in the 2020 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewers Choice Awards in the Romance/Paranormal/Fantasy/Vampires & Shifters category and the competition is FIERCE. Voting closes Feb 12th, so you should check out the list of fantastic nominees! You’re sure to see your favorites there!

To celebrate, Bishop’s Gambit is currently on sale (Amazon only) for 99 cents for a limited time! Been waiting to try out one of my books? Here’s your chance to grab a story Kirkus Reviews describes as “thoroughly entertaining and witty, with a nicely judged mix of genres.” Bishop’s Gambit has also been named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews and was given a 4.5 rating by InD’Tale Magazine.

The year is 1955. Rebel without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch are playing in the  movie theaters. The Chevy Bel Air is the most popular car in America. Gas is 25 cents a gallon and you can get a hotel room for $4 bucks. This flirty, fun series takes us back to the beginning and shows us how Redclaw Security got started.

They’re back and the fun–and trouble–is just beginning! Join Bishop and Knight as they must pose as a married couple to root out the strange disturbances occurring in an upscale suburban neighborhood! 

This post is part of a blog hop, so be sure to check out the other posts in the hop! Link below.

 

 

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February is Romance Reader’s Month: Deals, Parties, and Specials!

Love is in the air come February!

Magazines write (frequently incorrect) posts detailing the fascination and appeal of love stories. Jewelry stores and dating apps bombard you with ads.

And romance writers gear up for all kinds of celebrations–which usually means great deals for the romance reader! That’s YOU.

First up in my news: Bishop’s Gambit is up for an award in the 2020 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewers Choice Awards! You can only vote once so I recommend you screen the list of candidates carefully before choosing–there may be more of your favorite books on the list than you realize! Bishop’s Gambit is in the Romance/Paranormal/Fantasy/Vampires & Shifters category, and let me tell you, the competition is FIERCE! I would really appreciate your support if you would consider voting for me. But be sure to scan the list of ALL the nominees before you make your final choice!

Next up: Feb 8 through 14th, I’ll be a participating author in the Fall in Love with a Book Fair taking place on Facebook! It’s like the Scholastic Book Fair day at school, only online in the comfort of your own home! Meet the authors, participate in games, win prizes, and find some terrific new-to-you books to read! It’s going to be great fun–join us!

Click on the button for the moving graphics!

And then starting Feb 14 through March 14, I’ll be a participating author in the Winter Games Reader Challenge on Facebook!

If you love to read, Winter Games is for YOU! A one month reader Challenge with parties, prizes, signed print books, and what you love best––FREE BOOKS.

PLUS, you’ll meet some amazing authors and party with them in a live Q & A!

WE promises to give you an amazing experience.

To participate as a Winter Games Reader, you MUST fill out the Official Sign up Form.

So Click Here NOW!

What does this mean for you as a romance reader? Lots of deals, specials, and parties! To celebrate the nomination and as part of the participation in these various fests, Bishop’s Gambit has been reduced to 99 cents for a limited time. So be sure to grab this story at the special price before it goes back up again! It’s a hot deal for the cold month of February!

I’m going to be running some games and offering prizes in the various fests I’m participating in, so you should join in the fun and get in on all the specials!  C’mon! Valentine’s Day is like Christmas for Romance Readers!

Wait, wait! I almost forgot! Ghost of a Chance is a Toasty Read Pick in the N.N. Light’s Book Heaven Giveaway! So head on over and read a snippet of Ghost before you enter the giveaway: all 12 of the books featured in the Toasty Reads Event!

I’m sure I’ve left something out, but if I have, you can be sure I’ll post about it! 🙂

 

 

Dear 2020: I’m Almost out of F*cks To Give

People talk about the liberation in reaching a point where they have zero f*cks to give. I’ve joked about it myself, and laughed when a friend gave me a glass that embraced this concept as well as my love of foxes.

But the truth of the matter is we need people to give a f*ck about things. Important things. We need people to care. To have compassion. To go out of their way to help others. And losing the ability to give those kinds of f*cks is not a good thing, or something to be desired.

Right now my TL is in a stew over a couple of new releases: most notably Bridgerton and Wonder Woman 1984. It’s a measure of how tired I am that neither event–things I might have looked forward to in the past–generates any feeling of excitement or outrage. Back when it was first announced, I was thrilled about a second WW movie, and desperately hoped there would be a way for me to see it when I had no intention of setting foot in a movie theater. I purchased HBO Max just so I could watch it, and I simply… haven’t. WW84 seems to be a disappointment to many (and apparently missed a huge opportunity to make use of 80s music–the soundtrack would have been fabulous!) and as for Bridgerton… Let me preface this by saying I haven’t read the original series, I wasn’t aware of the problematic scene/plot point that has some people up in arms and others defending it, I had no problem with the diverse casting until people pointed out the added egregiousness of the problematic plot point, and given the hostility with which the different camps have taken sides, I’m not sure I will watch this series.

Because I am very close to having zero f*cks to give.

And I don’t mean that in the good way, where you stop worrying about what other people think of you, or you look ahead at the remainder of your life and think, “Screw it. I’m going for it.” Where you dress the way you want and look fabulous, and ignore those stupid advice posts “What Not To Wear After Forty.”

I’m talking about when you don’t give a rat’s ass about anything.

I can’t lay this blame entirely on the pandemic, though that certainly didn’t help. It’s a culmination of chronic stress, both physical and mental, combined with a crapton of grief stuffed into the last four years. And while I can’t blame the current administration for ALL the problems in my life, it strikes me as ironic that the worst four years in my life have been the last four years.

I’ve long detested the obligatory “end-of-year” posts. I dislike looking back on the past year and shouting out about achievements. Mostly because it goes to show how little I’ve accomplished in a given year. I also dislike the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, fed into us by the diet industry, given the enormous number of exercise and weight loss ads suddenly crossing my timeline. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve resolved to do x-y-z only to see that resolution fall by the wayside in a matter of weeks.

My only real resolution this coming year is to survive.

My stories frequently have “life is more than mere survival” as a theme, however. Which has me thinking, what would my characters do, faced with the utter lack of f*cks to give?

Rhett would drop her ray gun in her clutch, whistle up the dog, and ask Peter if he had any ideas on how to stop the invading force from taking over the world. Her lack of f*cks would mean she would go down fighting, looking extremely stylish in the process. And because she has such utter confidence in herself, she’d probably come out on top. She’d definitely be the resistance fighter in any guerilla-war.

Ellie West, knowing she had much to fight for and the ability to do it, would marshal her clan and shift into her glorious dragon-form, taking wing and taking names. You’d regret messing with her found family.

Sarah Atwell is the most like me, I guess. She would continue to work hard, and try to please the people in her life. She’d give of herself until there was no more left to give. She’d nod and back down, struggle with anxiety, plagued with nightmares and borrowing trouble with her fears. The problem is, because she’s savvy and well-read, her fears would be legitimate. And believe me, it’s hard to meditate yourself into a calmer state of mind when you know the odds of your worst fears coming true.

But even Sarah has that underlying backbone that cannot be denied. A line in the sand you must not cross. Sure, it may be a lot closer than most people’s lines. But when push comes to shove, you’d better not cross it. Otherwise you’ll discover that meek, self-effacing, self-doubting woman is a cougar inside.

And so when I was writing this post, thinking of how utterly exhausted I was and how unsustainable certain elements in my life are right now, I remembered I created these characters. They sprang out of characteristics I either possess or admire. They are part of me, even if not the whole me.

And end-of-year bragging posts notwithstanding, I am proud of a few things accomplished in 2020. Some are personal, that I’m not sharing here but brought great happiness to my life in a year where happiness was hard to find. I wrote and published a book in the middle of a pandemic. Another book won a couple of prestigious awards. I participated in Romancing the Runoff, and–along with Stacey Abrams–helped raise $400,000 to support Georgia Senate races.

I voted. I saw the tremendous motivation of a nation to vote for change, for healing, for hope.

And while I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked, I am still writing.

Maybe my life is more than the mere survival it feels like right now. So watch out, 2021. As someone almost out of f*cks to give, you don’t want to mess with me.

 

Bishop Takes Knight Named a Finalist in the 2020 N.N. Light Book Awards!

Last night I did something highly unusual for me: I didn’t open up my laptop at all. I checked a few things on my cell phone, but I don’t have access to all my email accounts there, so it wasn’t until this morning that I realized I’d left the laptop in the car overnight during subfreezing temperatures.

When I realized my mistake, I brought my poor laptop inside and let it come to room temperature before turning it on. Which is why I didn’t find out until JUST NOW that Bishop Takes Knight has been named a finalist in the 2020 N.N. Light Book Awards!

This is me, putting my hands over my face to hide my emotions right now because even though 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for us all, Bishop Takes Knight has consistently been a bright spot in it for me. Thank you, N.N. Light, for such a terrific honor.

Want a little sneak peek at Bishop Takes Knight? Check out this amazing book trailer my husband made for me. He doesn’t know it, but he’s been drafted to do all my book trailers from now on!

 

Bishop’s Gambit Named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews! #MFRWauthor #MFRWHooks #giveaway

I’m delighted to announce that Bishop’s Gambit (Redclaw Origins Book 2) has been named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews! You should have seen my face when I read the review! I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I had so much fun writing this story and can’t wait to bring you the next installment, Bishop’s Endgame, planned for the fall of 2021.

Redclaw Origins: The year is 1955. Rebel without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch are playing in the  movie theaters. The Chevy Bel Air is the most popular car in America. Gas is 25 cents a gallon and you can get a hotel room for $4 bucks. This flirty, fun series takes us back to the beginning and shows us how Redclaw Security got started.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

As I’d hoped, my shout caused the bathroom door to explode open as Knight burst out, his skin damp and a towel gathered around his waist.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for, but the results were astonishing just the same. Momentarily stunned by the gleaming expanse of wet skin, as well as some rather impressive musculature for a scientist, I blanked for a second on the reason I’d called out in the first place.

But just for a second.

I snatched up Stirling’s flowers as the gunman transferred his aim from the dog to Knight. His finger was closing on the trigger when I hurled the vase.

 

To celebrate this news, I’m going to select a winner at random from one commenter to receive an audiobook of my steamy novella, Snowfall, set in the Redclaw universe and read by the dreamy Josh MacCrae. Giveaway closes 9 pm EST Dec 12. If you’re not chosen but you’d like to read Snowfall for free, just sign up for my newsletter! Snowfall is also available for sale on Amazon and as an audiobook (links here on my book page).

Let’s make this fun! What’s your favorite Christmas movie or special (or tradition, if you’re not into watching specials), and why? I watched Last Holiday the other day, and it is definitely a favorite. But around here, it’s not Christmas until we’ve watched the Muppet Christmas Carol!

This post is part of a book hop, so be sure to check out the other posts at the link below!

 

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Celebrating Christmas in Pandemic Times

Celebrating the holidays has always been a little problematic for me.

I grew up in a family where Thanksgiving and Christmas were dominated by my grandmother and her wonderful cooking. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered how much my mother hated these gatherings, due in part, no doubt, to her ongoing internal battle with food–something she passed on to her children, I’m sad to say.

To me, however, the holidays meant food in such abundance and flavors that we never got at home: turkey with all the fixings, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, succotash, collards, and green bean casseroles. Yeast rolls and cornbread. Sausage balls and stuffing. And the desserts! Pumpkin, lemon meringue, chocolate pies, applesauce cake, pound cake, or sour cream cake–take your pick. Not “oh, we’ll have lemon pie one year and pumpkin the next.” No, ALL the desserts mentioned on the same table with the entire extended family there to enjoy it. Everyone came home for the holidays at my grandmother’s house. Everyone.

Because of the tremendous volume of food made, we got bundles of leftovers to take home with us, spreading the joy for two or three days after the holiday was over.

When my grandparents died, there was no one to pick up the mantel of cooking and baking. My mother thought if a little heat was good a lot was better, and given her own food sensitivities (which I’ve inherited, darn it), she stripped most recipes of all seasoning and flavor.

I tried to cook for the family when we got together for the holidays, but my own weak skill set was hampered by the lack of proper cookware–a fact I didn’t realize until I discovered what a difference the right pots and pans could make.

It didn’t help that early in my career, as a single woman with no children, my employers scheduled me to work every holiday under the assumption I didn’t need to celebrate myself.

Decorating seemed pointless–when you live alone, you never drive up to your home and see the welcoming lights of Christmas decorations gleaming through your windows. Not to mention all the work of putting them up, only to have to take them down in a few weeks. Then there was the fact my dog–the first one that was all mine and not a family pet–had this bizarre quirk where she would remove the string of lights from the tree… and pop every bulb. She never touched anything else, but I would come home to find the tree and ornaments in place, and the string of lights on the floor surrounded by bits of broken glass. Weird, right?

She was Practically Perfect in all other respects, however, so I just learned not to put up decorations.

Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to experience the magic and joy of the holidays, I would have to come up with my own traditions. This usually took the place of watching various holiday movies–mostly the old black-and-white classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas in Connecticut. I’d watched these movies on the AMC channel at my grandmother’s house, and they were part of my Christmas memories, along with the animated television specials: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Oh! And it wasn’t Christmas unless I watched A Christmas Carol in some version, usually with the Muppets (which is the best, IMHO). I listened to Bing Crosby, and in a seasonally driven burst of domesticity, I baked.

After I got married, my husband and I developed our own traditions. He has an advent candle he likes to light each year, and we started putting up a tree again. Neither one of us are huge decorators, and while he probably thinks my taste in holiday movies is dreadful, he cheerfully suffers through my desire to watch them. We don’t go crazy with gifts either, but since we’re both big readers, Christmas usually means a nice cache of books to read though the winter.

This year, because of the pandemic and our family’s decision to split households for safety reasons, once again, I’ve been thrown back to those early days as a young professional when I worked straight through the holidays with only the official day off itself. I find myself struggling to find the Christmas spirit this year–I mean, who isn’t?

I realized the other day, this wasn’t a new phenomenon, however. It’s been quite a few years since I had the time or energy for Christmas. There always seems to be more work before and after a holiday to make up for taking the day off. Somehow there is never enough time to watch my favorite movies, and various determinations to count calories or avoid gluten has cut into my seasonal baking. (It’s not that eating gluten will kill me. It’s just that I only seem to be able to tolerate a small amount these days, and since when has anyone been able to stop with one Snickerdoodle?)

This year, in deference to pandemic-driven anxiety, I’ve been watching new-to-me Christmas movies on Netflix: The Princess Switch, A Christmas Prince, and the even earlier A Princess for Christmas. There’s a certain kind of appeal to the picture-perfect winter settings in mythical kingdoms where all needs are met because there is an insane amount of wealth in the background. The heroines are often hapless but brave, the heroes wealthy and in need of lightening up. It occurred to me while watching yet another scene where the True Meaning of Christmas had nothing to do with the limitless credit cards but the people you spend it with that a) money helps and b) … people weren’t going to get to be with their families this year. 

I have to tell you, instead of feeling comforted by these light movies, I felt sad. I understood why people feel they MUST family during the holidays, even when every recommendation is to stay home and not cross households. I got it because sitting on your couch watching fluffy holiday movies with the dogs feels very lonely when there are people you love that you wish were there. And yet, if we love our families, staying apart this year is exactly what we have to do.

It’s as if the Whos in Whoville woke on Christmas morning without decorations, and presents and roast beast—and without each other too. After living on my own for so long, I’d become accustomed to the level of comfort living with a family of your own choosing can bring.

Suddenly, for me, This Would Not Do.

So I got up early this morning and went through all my old recipes, and after rejecting the ones that required rolling out dough, specialized equipment, or included vague directions of “add flour sufficient to handle dough” (I mean, seriously, is that three cups? Four? Five? Who knows?), I went with my tried-and-true favorites: Nestle’s Tollhouse Cookies and Snickerdoodles. Any cookies I broke, squashed, or burned ended up in my personal stash. I packed a selection to take into work. And then I packaged the rest and drove out to where my husband is staying. I wound up on the doorstep holding a tin of cookies in lieu of a boombox a la John Cusack in Say Anything.

I didn’t go inside. We didn’t throw caution to the winds and break our self-imposed separation of households. We sat outside, wearing masks, speaking of nothing consequential and at the same time everything that was important. Because Christmas really isn’t about palaces in Aldovia or switching places with someone in order to see how the other half lives. Christmas can come without ribbons. It comes without tags. It comes without packages, boxes or bags.

It’s what we make of it.

Isn’t everything?