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Sparkle & Shine, Chapter One Preview

I feel like I have been talking about this book for ages, but I’m not one of those people who pretends their book is a secret until it’s out, so since I started this journey with Alex back in November 2017, I have been so pumped to bring it to you. Not gonna lie, writing the first draft of this story was one of the major reasons why I decided to self-publish. I couldn’t imagine sitting on this draft for years waiting for an agent to like it.

The book has changed a lot since then. It’s changed a lot since January for that matter, but I couldn’t be more excited to share the first chapter with you today. Read to the end for links to release day sign-ups at my Sparkle & Shine pinterest board! And check back next week for the cover reveal!

Chapter One

Jab, cross, jab. Slide right. Uppercut. Back. Left hook.

Alex ran through the sequence three more times as she pummeled the bag. Her trainer watched with his arms crossed over his gigantic man chest. He hadn’t told her once to keep her chin down or her elbows in or her feet wide. When she finished, he steadied the bag then raised one eyebrow and said, “Ring?”

Alex pumped a gloved fist into the air.

She had only joined the boxing gym a year ago, and despite her enthusiasm, the sport had not come easily to her. Stepping and punching at the same had taken Alex weeks to master. Of course, it had also taken Alex two other trainers and innumerable flashes of her middle finger to the other gym members before she’d found Dale.

Alex had only been in the ring a handful of times, even though Dale had been pushing her to join the Saturday sparring sessions. It was something she hadn’t even considered. She was too busy with school and running her own jewelry business to squeeze anything else into her Saturday. She’d think of a new excuse not to come after she graduated next week—if she had any brain cells left.

For now, she was going to pretend she could kick Dale’s ass.

Dale held the ropes apart for her to jump in, then took up a defensive stance. He wasn’t tall, but he was broad, and had to be a heavyweight with all those bulging muscles. In any other circumstance, Alex might have taken a moment to admire those muscles but standing opposite him as he bounced on his toes, Alex’s heart thrummed in her throat.

A hit from this guy would hurt like hell.

She swallowed, and Dale grinned. “That Chinese crap you had last night catching up with you?” he asked with a wink.

Ticking her off was Dale’s favorite way to push her and nagging her about her diet triggered all sorts of other issues. Alex shook off her nerves, and took up her offensive stance, focusing her anger into power instead. Dale’s grin sharpened, and he bobbed side to side, teasing her as she approached him.

“Show me what you got, Stafford.”

Alex made her move, and even though Dale’s blocks were more jarring than hitting the bag, she slid through the sequence just as easily as she had when it had been just her and the bag. She even slid to the right just in time to avoid Dale’s left hook.

“Again,” Dale said.

Alex did it again and again until Dale tripped her up with a surprise uppercut just after she’d dodged his left hook on the sixth time through the sequence. Alex blocked, barely, but the force made her teeth clack together. She had to backpedal halfway across the ring, but Dale didn’t let up. He loosed an onslaught of punches that had her huddled down with her gloves covering her face as she tried to keep her footing.

“Don’t lock your knees,” he said, not even winded by his assault.

Alex hadn’t realized she’d zipped up her legs in an effort to take up less space, she jumped back onto her toes and tried to dance away from Dale, but he was backing her into a corner. Alex didn’t know what to do about it. She was barely keeping her brain from panicking.

“Come on, Stafford, I’m leaving my torso wide open.”

When Alex peeked between her gloves, she saw that he was indeed leaving his left side open every time he threw a punch. He’d deliberately left her an opening and she’d missed it. Alex slid to her right, again avoiding his cross, then hit his open ribs, using more force than usual because she was pissed. She was angry at him for tricking her into sparring, and angry at herself for missing the blatant opening.

Dale, being Dale, danced back, the blow not even making his breath come hard, and they slid right back into Alex’s rehearsed routine until Alex was panting and covered in a fresh layer of sweat. Even Dale had a little glistening sparkle to his skin.

“You suck,” Alex said between breaths.

Dale only shrugged. “You eat Chinese, I’m gonna make sure you put the calories to good use.”

“I was in the studio for fifteen hours yesterday. I had to eat something!” Alex kicked at his shins, but big as he was, Dale was nimble, and jumped back, laughing at her.

“Hey, you agreed to the meal plan.”

“I agreed to your recommended adjustments to my diet. I did not sign away my right to eat junk food forever.”

“You might have dodged that surprise uppercut if you’d had the proper fuel.”

Dale pulled off his gloves and held the ropes apart so Alex could squeeze out of the ring. She socked him in the gut as she ducked down with her gloved right hand, not hard, but hard enough for him to grunt in surprise. “Don’t pin your underhanded tactics on me. I know how you are.”

“Seriously though,” Dale said once he’d joined Alex back on the practice mat, “there is absolutely no reason why you’re not sparring.”

Alex rolled her eyes and followed Dale toward their station. She pulled off her gloves as they walked. They were pink and had sparkles on the piping. They made her smile, even as Dale tried her patience. “Can we have this conversation again after I graduate?”

“And then you’ll be visiting your grandmother, and then your new jewelry line comes out, and then you have your friend’s wedding and after that–”

“You know way too much about my life. Are you stalking me?”

Dale traded her the gloves for a bottle of water and towel. “If you treated me more like a trainer and less like a psychiatrist, there wouldn’t be so much to know.”

“Hey, hitting things is therapeutic.”

Dale downed his own bottle of water in one, and Alex wandered if he’d ever posed for a hot boxer calendar. She’d buy it.

“You probably should be in regular therapy too, you know. It’s not so bad. I know a good therapist.” Dale almost sang the last part, teasing like they were still in grade school.

Alex tossed her towel at him. “Yeah, let your husband drum up his own business, okay?”

Dale shrugged and tossed her towel right back. “You know where to find him when you change your mind.”

She wiped the sweat from her face and said, “Speaking of, I stress baked when I got home last night and brought you some cookies. They’re in my locker.”

Dale frowned and shot her a look that said a lecture on how sugar made her weak was in her future.

She held up both hands. “Don’t look at me like that. They’re macaroons, so they’re mostly coconut with just teeny bit of honey to hold them together.” She held her thumb and forefinger so there was barely any space between them. “Totally meal plan approved, I swear.”

“Then thank you,” his frown tilted up into a near smile as he leaned in to peck her on the cheek. “You’re a doll, Alex.”

She shrugged and patted Dale’s boulder of a bicep. It wasn’t a big deal. As much as she complained about him, Dale had become a friend. And she’d been feeling short on those lately.

“Leave them in the office before you go. And I’ll see you Thursday. Six A. M. Don’t be late.”

“We still on for dinner with Ben on Friday?”

A terrifying look of glee stole over Dale’s face as he rubbed his chin. “Of course.”

Dale was a little too excited to meet her boyfriend.

Alex shook her head and turned toward the locker rooms. One of the benefits of being one of the only women at the club was not having to wait for a shower or share the mirrors as she got ready for her day-which was going to be spent in her studio at school-again. She only had four more days to finish her final collection before her senior show, and after that, it was graduation.

She wasn’t new to jewelry making. She’d been working with beads and stones and wire since she was sixteen but hadn’t tackled full blown metalsmithing until she’d gone back to school more than a decade later. Alex was still working on perfecting her bezel settings, which made how they featured prominently in her final project all the more nerve-wracking.

Alex showered, but didn’t bother with her hair or makeup and changed into black yoga pants and a gray gym t-shirt. She knew by the end of the day she’d be covered in dust and metal shavings and whatever grime had accumulated in her school studio over the last nine months. She did make the mistake of checking her messages, and there were a lot more than she expected there to be at eight o’clock on a Tuesday morning.

Gran had already called for their twice weekly chat. She’d left a voicemail saying she hoped Alex was out of bed by now and not sleeping off a hangover like a cretin. Juliet had also called even though it was an hour earlier in Colorado.

Juliet had once been Alex’s best friend, and maybe she still was. They talked almost daily, and while Juliet had made the eleven-hour trek from Colorado to visit Alex a couple times, Alex had never gone to see Juliet in her new home. Alex been too busy with school and her ever expanding jewelry business, and any free time Alex had, she visited her Gran.

Besides, Juliet was happy in Colorado. She had Ethan and a job she loved, she didn’t need Alex anymore. Alex had known how to take care of Juliet back when she’d been in school and working with a single-mindedness that hadn’t left room for necessities like eating or sleeping. Alex had cooked most of their meals and paid most of their bills and had a best friend to drink wine with and to dance with and complain to in return. Even when the reason Alex was complaining was because Juliet had woken her up at dawn to do yoga and “greet the sun,” she’d love having Juliet around.

Alex wasn’t sure what to do with this happy Juliet. Her voicemail was one run-on sentence about the baby she’d just caught, and how she’d just picked out her wedding favors, and could Alex help her by putting them together? Her friend’s needs had changed so much, and Alex wasn’t the one who met them anymore.

Alex wanted Juliet to be happy. Of course, she did. And Alex liked Ethan a lot. It was just, living so far apart from each other, and being in such different phases of life, talking to Juliet always made Alex feel a little obsolete. Like maybe the whole Maid of Honor thing was more of a nod to what Juliet and Alex had been to one another before rather than representative of who they were together now.

Drifting apart was solely on Alex’s shoulders though. Everything changed the moment Alex had slept with Rich. It had been a stupid thing to do, she’d known it at the time. There were some things you didn’t do, and sleeping with the guy your best friend had almost married was pretty much first thing on the list under Thou Shall Not Murder.

Sleeping with Rich might have been forgivable offense if she’d only done it the one time. But the affair had gone on the entire summer. At the time, Alex had told herself it didn’t matter. Juliet had just started dating Ethan, so Rich was fair game–and it wasn’t like Alex had been looking for anything with Rich. She’d started it to keep Rich’s attention off Juliet and then it had snowballed from there. It hadn’t that Rich was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. His olive skin and dark, wavy hair and sharp jaw practically felled most women who looked at him too closely. When he’d turned his whiskey colored eyes on her, maybe she’d lost her senses a little bit.

If pressed, Alex could admit that she’d been lonely, and having an attractive man pay attention to her instead of her friend had been flattering. She didn’t have excuses. Was the sex good? Phenomenal. Was Rich a douchebag who’d cheated on her best friend repeatedly? Absolutely. Should Alex have run in the opposite direction as fast as she could? No question.

But she hadn’t.

Instead, she’d taunted him. Alex had flipped her hair and flirted and dared him to make a move, all the while asking herself what could it hurt?

She should have been telling herself don’t go there. Then she should have been saying get out while you can, but it had taken your best friend can’t even look at you before Alex had ended whatever sort of quasi relationship she and Rich had started. By then, it had been too late, everything had already been ruined.

Alex didn’t want to think about that anymore. She’d spent most of the last three years trying to work past the fallout and prove to herself that she was a good person. Yes, she’d made some mistakes, but she deserved to be happy too. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t there yet.

Alex slid into her car and plugged her phone into the speakers, telling it to dial her grandmother as she made the thirty-minute commute to the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

“It’s about time,” her Gran said instead of, “Hello.”

“Good morning to you too, Gran. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, just like always. Where have you been?”

Gran hadn’t been fine. She’d been sick over the winter, first with the flu, then she’d had pneumonia bad enough to put her in the hospital. She insisted she was better, but there was a new wheeziness to her grandmother’s voice, and it worried her.

Her Gran wasn’t young. She’d had Alex’s mom late in life. Alex’s mom had been thirty-five when Alex was born and with Alex turning thirty later this year, her grandmother was in her nineties.

It wasn’t like Alex expected her grandmother to be around forever, but she was also the only real family Alex had left. Crotchety as she might be, Alex loved her for stepping up and taking care of her when Alex’s own mother hadn’t.

“I’m only a couple of minutes late. And I was at the gym, you know that.”

Gran liked to nail down how Alex spent her days–not that Alex told her Gran everything–but it was just how she was. She wanted to know, and Alex didn’t mind. It was nice to talk to someone about everything, even if it was mundane most days. Alex told Gran about sparring with Dale at the gym, and her plans to meet Ben the next day for dinner.

“Has he agreed to come see me yet?” She asked, interrupting Alex’s musings on whether they’d go out or grab some takeout and watch a movie since they were both bound to be exhausted from working their final projects.

Alex suppressed a groan. The answer was no, Ben didn’t want to drive all the way down to Pittsburgh, Kansas just to visit a ninety-three year-old lady on the short break he had between finishing this semester and teaching over the summer semester, but Alex didn’t know how to explain that to her grandmother, so she settled on, “I’m working on it. Probably my June trip, or the July one if that doesn’t work out.”

“I need to meet your young man,” he grandmother said.

“I know, Gran, but he’ll be at graduation. Is Elise still able to bring you?” Elise was her grandmother’s neighbor. Like Gran, Elise was widowed with grown children, but Elise was only in her seventies and while the two old women were friends as far as Alex could tell, Elise acted mostly as Gran’s chauffeur.

“Oh, I’m not going to bother Elise with that.”

Alex furrowed her brow and signaled to pass a semi that smelled like cow manure. “But I thought Elise wanted to come. She was excited to see Allen Fieldhouse and visit the bookstore downtown last time we talked.” Because yes, Alex did call Gran’s neighbor. Sometimes that was the only to make sure she knew the truth about how Gran was doing. It was how Alex found out her Grandmother was in the hospital at all last February, since Gran had called and pretended there was absolutely nothing wrong.

“Well, now she has to watch her grandchildren that weekend, and I’m not riding in a car with those demons for three hours.”

“They can’t be that bad, Gran.”

“They’re the spawn of Satan, I bet my life on it.”

Alex had to bite her lip to suppress her giggle. “Fine, I can pick you up Saturday, and bring you home on Monday if you like.”

“You don’t have time for that nonsense. I’ll be fine right here.”

Gran was right. Alex didn’t have time to drive back and forth to Southeast Kansas next week, but if it meant Gran could watch her graduate, she’d make time to do it.

“That doesn’t matter, Gran. I’ll figure it out.”

“No, you won’t. You’ll concentrate on getting your schoolwork done and spending time with your friends.”

“But I want you there.”

Gran muttered something under her breath that sounded a lot like the kind of words she would have washed Alex’s mouth out with soap for saying. When she was done with her whispered curses, Gran heaved a sigh into the phone. “Alexandra, I’m not coming. I don’t want to climb up and down those hills and be in a crowd of people all day. I was trying to be nice about it, but there it is. I don’t want to go.”

Alex sucked in a breath as tears sprang into her eyes, even as her grandmother fought off a coughing fit. Gran wasn’t coming to her graduation. She didn’t want to come to Alex’s graduation, just like everybody else.

That was fine. It felt like someone had stuck an ice pick through Alex’s chest, but she would be fine. With everything she’d been through, she’d always been fine in the end. And really, this wasn’t even that big of a deal. So her grandmother wouldn’t see her walk. Neither would her mom. And she couldn’t ask Juliet to come so soon before her wedding. She would have content herself with Ben being there.

The longer Gran’s coughing fit went on, the pain of rejection dulled in favor worry over Gran’s health. Coughing like that wasn’t normal, was it?

“Gran, are you alright?” she asked when the coughing ceased.

“I’m fine, child. I choked on my coffee is all.”

But Alex didn’t think that was all, and mentally added calling Elise to her never ending to-do list.

I won’t be doing a pre-order on Amazon this time around. HOWEVER, if you would like a notification on release day, you can sign up for an email reminder There will be a pre-order on Kobo, Nook, and iTunes, and I will share that link next week along with the cover reveal.

If you’re looking for more Sparkle & Shine, you can grab the preview of the first three chapters when you sign up for my email list, and get first dibs on cover reveals, blurbs and excerpts, and heads ups on sales. You can check out my Pinterest board and my Spotify playlist for the book as well, and see what was going on in my head while I wrote.

Thank you for reading!

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5 Tips To Hit Your WordCount Goal Every Day

Last week we talked about SEX SCENES, but this week I wanted to keep things a little more broad. Though you all know I’m a working romance author who loves to help other romance writers, I wanted to talk about something that ALL writers struggle with daily.

Gettin those words on the page.

Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, here are a few ways to hit your #wordcount #goals everyday.

How to hit your #wordcount in five easy steps:

  1. Get some sleep! This one isn’t going to be popular, because we all strive to be members of the #5amwritersclub, and if you get out of bed at 4:30 and be coherent enough to write by five o’clock in the morning that probably means you went to bed before 9 pm. If you’re scrimping by on four hours a night, it’s no wonder you have trouble focusing. I too stare blankly at my laptop screen when I would rather be sleeping.
  2. Put Your Phone in Another Room. It’s way easier to scroll through your Instagram feed than it is to write, and chances are, your phone is also getting low on battery. Plug it in to charge somewhere else while you tackle those words. Snap the photo of your writing desk when you’ve triumphantly hit that word count!
  3. Choose an Achievable Goal. Yes, we all want to be able to write 5000 words a day, but for most of us that isn’t practical because we still have full-time jobs, families, hobbies, and you know, basic needs to meet. Set the bar low if you have to. 500 words a day is still 500 more words than you had yesterday, and 500 more than you would have had waiting for your chance to write 5000 and then not getting any. As I’m typing this, my goal is currently 750 words per day. This is low for me, I prefer 1500, but it’s the season I’m in. The important thing is that I’m still writing.
  4. Be Flexible. This is how I meet my word goal most days. I almost always draft in google docs, that way I have access to my work in progress no matter where I am. At my desk I have a fantastic self-saving word processor set to automatically backup to my desktop and the cloud. And when I’m waiting in the school pick up line, I can tap out a couple hundred words on my phone. It’s usually full of typos, but it still counts!
  5. Use a tracker. Make a paper graph. Create a spreadsheet if that brings you joy. Download an app, whatever you do, keep track of how much you write in a way that’s satisfying for you. My favorite is using Nanowrimo’s goal trackers. (Under My Nanowrimo). Even if you don’t Nano, it’s worth creating an account just for those. They are completely customizable, and watching those little bar graphs stay above par is what keeps me motivated to get my words in every day.

    My biggest issue is staying flexible enough to fit in words when I can when all I really want to do is hide in my office where no one can bother me.
    What keeps you from getting words on the page each day? Tell me about it in the comments.

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How to Write a Sex Scene

One of the more intimidating parts of writing a romance can be when it’s time down and dirty with your words. Now, not every romance novel needs to have sex described in the barest details. How vivid you make the scene is up to you, what really makes a sex scene isn’t the sex. It’s the tension that you build between the characters leading up to that scene.

Every good sex scene should include plenty of foreplay before you even hit the bedroom.

By foreplay, I don’t necessarily mean the physical kind, though if your couple can’t keep their hands off each other in everyday situations, you know you’ve at least got the chemistry part down. No, I mean that they way your characters interact on the page needs to create sexual tension leading up to actual act.

How to Create Sexual Tension:

  1. Through dialog – Think about Pride & Prejudice. Lizzy and Darcy have the verbal sparring thing down to a science. Even as they are cutting each other down, the reader can see right through both of them to their attraction. Not every relationship is going to be as fiery as the original enemies to lovers plot, but the characters should be dropping hints here and there through the way they interact that they’d like to see the other person naked.
  2. Have them acknowledge their attraction – even if it’s just in their head, have them describe to themselves what they find attractive about the other person. This doesn’t have to be a diatribe, noticing a combination of abs and generosity is enough, but it should be more than, “he’s a rich, broody billionaire that everybody thinks is important, of course I like him,” *coughfiftyshadesofgreycough* The attraction should be natural part of the character, and not something you have to force.
  3. Chemistry. This is a harder one to define, but it comes together in combination of good execution of one and two and a little something extra. It’s about the way there characters interact on the page in a way that makes you want them to get together. There needs to be something a little sexual, a little flirtatious, but the reader also needs to know where each character is coming from. (Good character development is the key to making this one work.)
  4. Give them an obstacle. Nothing builds tension like dangling something two characters want right in front of their faces and telling them they can’t have. So put your characters in situations when they are constantly tempted, but have to deny themselves. This doesn’t have to be dramatic. It can be as simple as the characters wanting to maintain their friendships or thinking the other character doesn’t think of them that way. Or, you know, you could be evil like me and make one of them married to someone else.

The key is, that by the time the two characters actually give in and tear each other’s clothes off, you want the reader not caring if they get hit on the nose with a button.

Alright, I hear you. You have all of that written and done, your characters are so hot for each other their about to explode with desire and you want to do their gettin’ down justice. You just want to know HOW?

I get it.

5 Tips for Writing a Steamy Sex Scene

  1. Make sure your heat level matches your narrative. All of my books show the characters in intimate situations, but scenes in say Ethan & Juliet where the love story is sweeter use different language than in the second book in the series, because the characters in Sparkle & Shine are a little naughtier and so is the sex. IE, if you’re writing about your heroine’s first time, don’t have her behave like a porn star.
  2. It’s not about the actual act as much as the language you use to describe it. Tell your reader what your characters are feeling not just physically, but also emotionally.
  3. If you’re not hot, your reader probably isn’t either–just sayin’.
  4. Read other sex scenes. And a bunch of em. Go on a little ole erotic reading binge. Read sweet love scenes, read steamy ones, and in between. I recommend romances over erotica because erotica is all about the sex and if you’re writing a romance, sex scenes are about the romance of the sex. Even sex scenes should advance the plot of your story.
  5. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to use dirty words. Don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability in your characters. Don’t be afraid your scene is going to suck. You can edit it better later, but it’s never going to be good if you don’t write it.

If you still have questions about how to write a sex scene, let me know. I’m happy to go more in depth in another post. Or, if you need help crafting the perfect scene, check out my Work With Me page. I offer both manuscript critique and professional beta reading.

Ethan & Juliet is available now.

Sparkle & Shine is out April 16, 2019.

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Thirty-Four

It’s that time of year, that point where I acknowledge that it’s the New Year for me, and I talk about my goals, and my desires, and my failings. I usually make my birthday posts at least slightly humorous, but I’m not feeling much in a humorous mood this year.

I am feeling overwhelmed. And tired. And grateful. And confident. And anxious. And sad.

I’ve spent a lot of time this past year coming to grips with some uncomfortable things in my past. Facing them more directly has been freeing in ways I could never imagine, but it has also been a time of reflection that has brought about a courage to be myself that I hadn’t realized I’d been lacking.

I didn’t start 2018 with the intent to start publishing books. I didn’t think that was something I wanted until I woke up one day last spring and asked myself what the hell I was waiting for.

I had been told for so long that I needed to find validation outside myself that even though I had shed that belief system and the people who had told me such lies, I had still been internalizing that bullshit to the point that I didn’t think I was worthy enough to self-publish.

Deciding that my book deserved to be read changed everything. I finally felt like I had settled into the self I knew I’d always been , but had been told wasn’t good enough to reveal.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag now.

I’m leaving pretty happy in my own skin these days and have plans to publish more books this year and to keep writing.

But I am also nervous. I’m anxious I won’t be able to live up to my own standards. I’m worried about letting my family down when we move into the family house in the next couple of months.

I want to make everyone proud. I want to love the place. Repair it. Plant flowers. Raise chickens. Teach the boys how to grow vegetables.

It has been a year of change, and as I embrace my New Year, I am acknowledging that I am purposefully embarking on a year of more intentional change than I have ever sought before.

It is scary. It is exciting. I am ready, I am terrified.

But the difference is, this year I know that I am strong. I know that I can do difficult things. I know I can succeed.

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Be Calm. Be Brave

I posted on Instagram yesterday about my 2019 writing goals. You can see my “other goals” for the year down at the bottom. They are pretty broad, but they include the mantra I’ve lived by for the last couple of years. I’ve never made it public before, but these are the short, simple sentences I repeat to myself every morning, whether it’s during my yoga practice, or when I open my laptop for the day, or even just while I’m driving the kids here and there.

*deep breath in* Be calm. Be Brave. *deep breath out*

I want to say that calmness has nothing to do with being even tempered. I think there is a misconception, especially in women, that staying calm is the same as always presenting a cool, collected front. That somehow someone is calm because they have abstained from making others uncomfortable through displaying their emotions.

This is not what I mean by calm.

To me, Calm is the act of letting go of worry, letting go of fear, and letting go of anxiety. It is acknowledging the emotions I feel and giving myself time to examine them to understand why I am feeling what I’m feeling.

Likewise, my version of bravery isn’t the sort that values valor and heroic effort. I’ve always found that sort of bravery shallow and short-sighted. What I mean by bravery is having the courage to reveal my inner self the way I do in my writing and marketing. It is having the courage to tell myself daily that my books matter and I am worthy for having written. And most important of all, it being brave is having the courage to own my own what I feel and believe in the legitimacy of my own emotions.

When The Avengers movie came out a few years ago, there was the moment toward the end where Bruce Banner turns toward the camera and says that his secret is that he’s always angry. And then he turns into The Hulk on purpose when nobody thought he had any control.

That was probably the most profound moment I’ve experienced watching a comic book movie. I sat up straight and had to stop myself from pounding my chest in solidarity, since I too am always angry.

I’m angry about how long I let my fear control me. I am angry about how other people sought to manipulate me through that fear. I am angry about how my emotions (and the emotions of most women) are policed and invalidated everyday simply because we are women. I am angry about how my own rage is used as a reason to dismiss my outrage when I point out injustice. I am angry that when I tell people what I write, I feel as though I immediately have to defend it.

I have been reading Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly because I have been so angry for so long. And embracing my anger and acknowledging the hows and whys to it has been a decade long study for me. And it is so good to know that I am not alone.

Anger isn’t the only emotion I deal with, but I still totally claim The Hulk as my spirit animal.

Coming to grips with my inner raging green monster is what I mean when I say that my mantra is Be Calm. Be Brave. I am telling myself that it okay to let the world see who I truly am instead of who they expect me to be. And it is the hardest thing I have ever done.

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2019

I’m not in the habit of writing New Year’s posts.

In fact, I haven’t been in the habit of writing posts at all lately. But that is something I would like to change in the coming year. I’m more of a “goals” than a “resolutions” sort of person, but I already know 2019 is going to be a year of change and new challenges both personally, professionally, and emotionally. This is true of most years, but this particular New Year coincides with a time of loss and new beginnings for my family.

We lost my husband’s father this week, and mainly that is a grief I’d like to keep quiet. But the effect is that we are moving from our great big city house so we can take care of the little country house that was left behind. It is a huge responsibility, and also an honor.

Over the next two months I am going to be purging our belongings as I pack up our current house.

Just the enormity of that task makes my knees go a little weak. Our house isn’t small. We have far too many material belongings/hobbies. Oh Lord, just organizing my craft supplies alone, and deciding what to keep? What to get rid of? I might faint dead away when the time comes to clean out my studio. But you know what’s worst of all? When I started this whole serious writing career thing last spring, I completely neglected the house to do so.

We have been living in a cluttered mess.

Usually, I have zero apologies about this. It’s not a dirty house–at least not most of the time. But those fancy dishes I got out for Thanksgiving? Still on top of the buffet and now covered in junk mail. It’s sort of like that everywhere.

Whatever, I’m an artist, it’s allowed.

What I’m saying is, clearing this place out is going to be a big job. Probably a full-time job.

Then there’s the actual moving part and getting the kids settled into a new house, a new routine, a new school district. (<—That one really does give me heart palpitations. I am in so in love with the school they are in now.)

What I’m saying is that throughout all this, I am going to need a place to touch base. To reconnect with myself, with my memories, with my grief, with my joy.

My plan for 2019 had been to make this blog about reading new books and the book club I wanted to start. While I still want to do the virtual book club thing, that’s gonna have to wait.

Instead, I think this space will serve me better as a spot to document our journey.

And there will be book news too. I’m still aiming to release Sparkle & Shine this spring, so none of that will change. Too much. I hope.

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Ethan & Juliet Cover Reveal!

I absolutely love this cover. The composition of the image absolutely slays me. The embrace perfectly symbolizes the push and pull of Ethan & Juliet’s relationship. (Scroll down for a larger image.)

Ethan & Juliet: The first in the Try Again Series, a collection of three interconnected second chance romances releases December 4th, 2018. Look for Sparkle & Shine and Read & Wright in 2019!

Pre-Order Your Copy on:
Amazon
Kobo
Apple
Nook
and Add to your Goodreads shelf

When Juliet Hawthorne met Dr. Ethan Harvey during her final semester of nursing school, she thought he was hot, but too arrogant to be worth the trouble. Plus she had Rich, the only man Juliet thought she’d ever want. But when Juliet’s world shattered, Ethan was the only one there for her.

Ethan hasn’t let himself think about Juliet for four years. But when she shows up at his hospital with an emergency patient, Ethan realizes that Juliet is still the woman of his dreams, even if she’s about to become a certified nurse midwife. Ethan’s never had much time for midwives, but he’s willing to set his discomfort aside, because she’s exactly what’s been missing from his life.

When Ethan sets out to woo her, Juliet is forced to choose between the career that has given her life purpose and the man she never thought she’d fall in love with.

Listen to my Ethan&Juliet playlist on Spotify
(Photo by Joanna Nix)

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Ethan & Juliet Chapter One

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have heard me talking about Ethan & Juliet since August at least. And if you’re one of the real lucky ones who read all the way to the end of The Other Lane, then you’ve already seen it. BUT, for anyone who hasn’t, this is an early teaser of what’s to come December 4th!

Chapter One

Juliet slapped her palm against the steering wheel as traffic closed in around her. She should have known better than to get on the highway at eight o’clock in the morning even if it was the fastest way to get from Overland Park to Midtown. And she needed to be in Midtown ten minutes ago.

Fifteen minutes ago, Juliet had stepped out the front door of the birth center into the brittle warmth of the spring morning with no other plans than to go home and nap. She’d squinted past the newly leafed trees and into the sunlight. Juliet had basked in the afterglow of assisting in the uneventful birth of a healthy baby girl. The high of witnessing new life never got old, but the adrenaline of it had already worn off. Exhaustion had pressed down on her shoulders like she’d been carrying both her physiology book and her pharmaceuticals book in her bag at the same time again. She’d wanted to go home and sleep and sleep and sleep.

Juliet had taken one deep, cleansing breath in through her nose and out through her mouth and had just turned toward her heap of a twenty-year-old Toyota when her phone had buzzed in her pocket.
The screen had flashed Gina’s name, and Juliet’s heart had ticked up a notch when she’d heard panting over the line instead of words.

“Gina? Gina are you OK?” she’d asked.

A whimper had been her answer.

“Gina are you in labor?”

Juliet had heard her friend draw in a deep breath, then in a shaky voice, she’d said, “Regular contractions, getting strong fast. And they hurt more than last time. A lot more.”

Juliet had done a mental sun salutation since she hadn’t had time for a real one, then she’d pivoted on her heel and walked right back into the birthing center. On her way, she’d asked if Gina was experiencing pain between contractions and if she’d noticed any spotting. A yes to both.

“And Colin is still . . . out of town . . . and it’s too early.” Gina’s voice had been a sharp whine interrupted by hard pants.

Gina wasn’t due for three more weeks, but that hadn’t been what had Juliet worried. Not by a long shot. “It’s not too early. Call Rich to stay with Noah, and I’ll be there in a flash.”

Gina had groaned as another contraction came on.

“Scratch that, I’ll call Rich. You hang tight.”

Juliet had snagged Charlie, the midwife she’d worked with the night before and filled her in.
“She needs to get to the hospital,” Charlie said.

Juliet nodded in agreement. “She’s only a few blocks from KU Med. I can have her there in thirty minutes.”

Charlie had offered to take care of the official transfer and meet them there. Then Juliet had been off, only to wind up stuck in traffic ten minutes into a twenty-minute drive. The wait was long enough for every awful thing that could be wrong with Gina to pass through Juliet’s mind. When she felt panic crushing her diaphragm, she focused instead on how good it had felt for Gina to adopt her when she’d first moved to Kansas City. How all the nights drinking wine and dancing had forged a sisterly relationship that withstood Juliet’s split from Gina’s brother.

Juliet’s pulse slowed as she remembered and breathed. They were both strong women. Gina would survive this. Juliet would get her to the hospital. The University of Kansas Medical Center was the best hospital in the area, with the best doctors. Gina would be fine, and Juliet could do this. She was a nurse, almost a full-fledged midwife, she was trained to stay calm in these situations, so she would, even when it was one of her best friends in danger.

Juliet practiced breathing in through her nose, out through her mouth, and it did almost as much as a good round of yoga.

Then she remembered she’d offered to call Rich and cursed.

Juliet fumbled her phone out of her satchel, and scrolled through her contacts, keeping one eye on the road in case the car in front of her moved.

“Durand.” He answered, with a perfect French accent.

“Are you going by your last name now?” Juliet asked.

A pause, and Juliet imagined a sexy, confident smile sliding onto his face. “Oh, Juliet. It has been too long.”

Juliet snorted. “Whatever. Have you talked to your sister lately?”

“I’m on call for the baby.”

“Yeah, well, the baby’s coming now.”

All the flirtation fell from his voice as he said, “Is everything okay?”

“I’m on my way over so I can take her to the Med Center. Colin’s still out of town, so I need you to get over there now. Stay with her until I can get there, and I need you to take care of Noah and let Colin know what’s going on. If she starts bleeding or can’t handle the pain, call an ambulance and don’t wait for me, got it?”

From the scraping and scuffling noises in the background, Juliet guessed Rich was gathering papers off his desk. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Then he hung up.

It might have been the least amount of flirting Rich had ever pulled off in one conversation. At least he understood the situation. Rich had always respected her professionally, even if he hadn’t been good for her in any other way.

When Juliet arrived, Rich was making Noah eggs, but paused to help Juliet get Gina into the car. Juliet’s hope that Rich had somehow been horribly scarred in the last two years were dashed the second she laid eyes on him. His thick, wavy dark hair fell in his earnest brown eyes. His olive skin glowed in the morning sun as he gripped Juliet’s hand and thanked her for being there for his sister. Looking up at him, Juliet was reminded of the first time they’d met. He was just as gorgeous at thirty as he’d been at eighteen. Possibly more so.

Juliet snatched her hand back and only just resisted wiping it clean on her scrubs. “I’ll call with news as soon as I can.” Then she joined a groaning Gina in the car.

The drive to KU Med took less than ten minutes, and Charlie met them at the emergency room doors along with a nurse who got them checked in and into an ultrasound. Then they were admitted to the high-risk wing of the Labor and Delivery ward. Juliet helped Gina through contractions while Charlie coordinated with the hospital staff.

After what Juliet considered far too long, the door opened and a man in a white coat entered the room.
Juliet’s heart might have stopped beating when he snapped the file he’d been reading shut, revealing his rugged face and bright blue eyes.

It was him.

Juliet knew she would run into him eventually. To have made it four years without meeting him when they worked in the same field was almost a miracle.

What wasn’t surprising was the near scowl he wore as he took them all in one at a time. He’d always hated midwives, and here were two, along with a patient in distress. That would make him cranky. And if his greasy hair and thick stubble were any indication, it was well past the end of his shift. Oh yeah, he would be in a great mood.

Gina squeezed Juliet’s hand, and Juliet tried to give her friend a reassuring smile, but that was when the doctor spoke.

“I’m Dr. Harvey,” he said, pulling the last empty chair in front of Gina’s bed. “I’ll be performing your cesarean today.”

“Cesarean?” Gina blinked.

Juliet and Charlie had explained to Gina that they thought she had a partial placental abruption, but the hospital staff hadn’t said a word. When asked, the nurse had said they were waiting for the doctor to get out of surgery to confirm the results. The doctor they had been waiting on was now exchanging glares with Juliet’s boss.

“She doesn’t know?” he asked.

“Your staff hasn’t exactly been forthcoming,” Charlie said. “We warned her it was a possibility.”
“It’s the only way to deliver safely at this point,” he said, angling his head back toward Gina.
“Is the baby okay?” Gina asked, her voice quavering in panic.

“The baby is fine,” Juliet said, nodding toward the fetal monitor. “Dr. Harvey means that a vaginal delivery is too risky for you right now.”

“And for the baby,” Dr. Harvey said. “Stillbirth would be the most likely outcome.”

Gina let out a little sob of shock and her heart rate monitor beeped a little faster.
“Ethan!” Juliet sent him a silencing glare as she felt Gina go rigid beneath her palm, then said to Gina in a soothing voice, “C-section is the best way to make sure you don’t bleed too much if the placenta detaches, but the baby is okay.”

Gina looked to Dr. Harvey who said, “The risk of hemorrhage is high.”

After grimacing through another contraction, dulled by the pain medication they’d given her, Gina asked Juliet, “You’d do it?”

She was pretty sure she heard Dr. Harvey’s teeth grind.

Juliet made sure she smiled as she said, “In a heartbeat.”

Gina nodded, looking determined. “Alright then. Let’s do it.”

Dr. Harvey explained the surgery and recovery as if his life depended on him doing so in fifty words or less. Then he swept himself from the room with a dark look in Juliet’s direction. She didn’t flinch. It wasn’t her fault his bedside manner was so atrocious that she’d had to translate for him.

“That’s it?” Gina panted through a contraction.

Charlie said, “He’s abrupt, but if you have to have a c-section, he’s who you want.”

Juliet nodded and squeezed Gina’s hand back, and said, “He’s the best,” trying not to let anything else show on her face. In her mind, Juliet was poking Gina in the shoulder, saying “Oh my God, oh my God,” over and over, and maybe throwing a “He’s the one!” in there.

Juliet hadn’t seen him since she’d finished nursing school. Her life was completely different now, but Ethan hadn’t changed at all.

He was still broad and sturdy like a rugby player, only three or four inches taller than she was. His shaggy, dark hair still escaped from beneath the surgical cap that matched his blue eyes. He still couldn’t take the time to talk to his patients and was apparently working so much he couldn’t even be bothered to shave. The Dr. Harvey she remembered had always been miraculously clean shaven, even at the end of a twenty-four-hour shift. He looked more ruffled this morning than he used to get, but Juliet had to admit she liked the beard. It matched him somehow.

Gina huffed, her face still contorted in pain. “I hope he’s better at surgery than he is at conversation.”

A nurse with a consent form arrived then, and Juliet focused again on Gina, and not on the way Dr. Harvey’s eyes had looked at her in annoyance. Not that she wanted him to look at her at all, she wanted him to focus on Gina. Juliet did not want to talk to him, or about him. She’d avoided all reference to him for four years. All she had to do was to make it through this surgery, and she could go back to forgetting he existed.

Only once the surgery started, Juliet had trouble not watching him. She was positioned by Gina’s head, so she couldn’t see his hands, but the poise of his shoulders, the stillness of his body as he worked, the soft whisper of his voice, efficient with his words as he directed the staff. Juliet noticed every breath he took. He was impressive, and despite herself, Juliet felt a pull in her belly to be near him as he worked.

She wasn’t the only one. When she’d been in nursing school, Dr. Harvey had been the young, handsome doctor who notoriously never dated nurses. Which meant each of Juliet’s classmates had wanted to be the exception to the rule and flirted shamelessly whenever he was near.

Despite her attraction, Juliet hadn’t bothered. She’d had Rich back then, and they’d been talking about getting married. While she’d noticed Dr. Harvey’s sparkling blue eyes and unshakable confidence, she’d also noticed they came with an air of entitlement and a healthy dose of arrogance. He didn’t just not date the nurses, he spoke to them over breakfast with half-teasing condescension, and sometimes even a hint of derision. Even among his fellow obstetricians Ethan incited controversy and lead discussions with a tone that implied anyone who disagreed with him was an idiot.

Rich’s soft charm and poise had been magnetic by comparison. Rich’s passion had been so intoxicating that even when Juliet had met him at fourteen, she hadn’t been able to imagine loving another man. Most days she still couldn’t, but she was no longer as naive as she had been four years ago when she thought she and Rich would get married, have babies, and live happily ever after.

In that moment of regret, Dr. Harvey raised his eyes to hers and held. It lasted only a moment before his eyes were back on his work. She wondered how he remembered that night, and if he despised her for being there with a birthing center patient.

“Birth,” she remembered him saying about at a group breakfast one morning, “could go from normal to dangerous in a split second. Why would anyone endanger themselves and their child by choosing not to have every modern option available?” It had maybe been those words, more than anything else that had kept Juliet from seeking him out again, not when she’d been angling for the job at the birthing center near the end of her nursing degree, and not after she’d started her midwifery program two years ago.
A cry broke through the quiet stillness of the operating room, and Juliet left her memories to share a tearful smile with Gina as Dr. Harvey said, “It’s a boy.” He handed the baby off to a nurse and returned his attention to Gina.

Juliet stayed with Gina until the surgery was over since Gina’s husband had arrived just in time to accompany his new son to the nursery.

When they wheeled Gina to recovery, Juliet escaped back to the room and collapsed into the nearest plastic chair. She let relief wash over her. Abruption could be so, so bad, but they’d gotten here in time.

Every muscle protested in exhaustion as she checked her watch. It was after eleven. She’d only slept four hours in the last two days. Juliet couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten, and she’d have to be here another couple of hours at least.

The door opened, and Juliet sat up, expecting to see a nurse wheeling Gina in. Instead, Dr. Harvey leaned against the door frame.

“She’s doing great,” he said. “She lost a lot of blood, and she’ll be here a few days, but she will be alright.”

“Thanks,” Juliet said. It wasn’t information a doctor confided in a colleague, but family. She sat up straighter. “Your bedside manner is still abominable.”

“A compliment so soon?” he chuckled, then sobered, his eyes narrowing in on her. “You were smart to bring her straight here.”

Juliet sat up straighter and squared her shoulders, looking down her narrow nose at him. “I’m not exactly new to all this.”

The corners of his mouth twitched, as if he were trying to smile at her, but couldn’t bring himself to follow through. “You’re wasted at that freestanding place.”

Juliet thought, that considering the circumstances, she was just what they needed, but said, “Are you offering me a job?”

“How about breakfast? Dino’s?” It was the diner across the street, the usual gathering place.

The allure of eggs and hot coffee was too good to pass up. “I sometimes dream about Dino’s breakfast.”
A real smile lit up his face this time. “Great. I’ve got paperwork to finish up, then I’m done. Meet you downstairs in an hour?”

Juliet nodded, knowing her confusion showed on her face, but he smiled like maybe he didn’t despise her after all.

I hope you’re ready to read chapter two! I don’t have pre-orders ready just yet, but check back here next week for the cover reveal, and I will definitely have links for you then!

What else are you reading right now? I just finished Kingdom of Ash, and boy howdy was that an intense book. I picked up RS Grey’s Anything You Can Do as a palette cleanser. I love her books.

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How to Prepare for Nanowrimo When You Don’t Plot

It’s that glorious time of year again. That time when thousands of people frantically write a new novel together. It’s like a writer’s Christmas time.

This year I have given myself the extra challenge of releasing a book four days after nanowrimo ends, which means I will be writing a brand new book from scratch while I’m promoting a Ethan & Juliet. Yes, I probably lost my mind, but it seemed like a really good idea in July when I was an anxiety ridden mess. Now that it’s here, I’m committed.

My 2018 Nanowrimo novel is actually a companion novel to Ethan & Juliet. It will be the third and final book in the series, starring Juliet’s little sister, Colleen. Colleen doesn’t have a huge part in Ethan & Juliet, but she has a few of my favorite lines. She has a practicality and clarity to her that Juliet lacks. That same practicality can get her in trouble a lot though, which is why the beginning of the novels finds her more or less moving back in with her parents at 26. *wince*

If you want to know what it’s like preparing for nanowrimo as a pantser, you should check out my Instagram for a look at my brainstorming.

I don’t do a lot outwardly to prepare for Nanowrimo. I do a lot of mulling and thinking, and a little bit of note taking. Otherwise I spend time making sure I have the tools I need to make November go as easily as possible. Since I’m going to spend most of the month with my mind wrapped up in figuring out how this story unfolds as I write, I take steps to make life easier on myself.

    • I’m going to clean and organize my office
    • I’m going to find a couple of meal plans on pinterest so I don’t have to think about cooking or groceries, just go by what the list says.
    • I’ve announced my novel on the nanowrimo site, complete with synopsis
    • I made a cover for my novel
    • I started a playlist (started being the keyword, there’s only five songs so far)
    • I started a Pinterest board–again started, there are only two pins so far, because the only I know for sure is who my characters are. (I don’t actually use Pinterest boards for inspiration, I use just do them for fun and sometimes research.)

The other thing I do is give myself a daily goal of 2000 words–every year. That way I’m ahead of the game from the very beginning.

My personal goal is usually to hit 50,000 by Thanksgiving. When Thanksgiving is on a reasonable date like the 27th, that’s totally doable. Since Thanksgiving is the 22nd this year, I highly doubt I’m gonna make that. I’ve chosen the the 26th as my 50,000 word goal.

What’s the number one thing I do to ensure a nanaowrimo win?

I pre-order the winner shirt before November even starts. I have literally invested money in this, and I can’t spend money on a shirt I’m not going to wear. And I can’t wear a winner shift if I don’t actually win. So, I write my 50,000 words and wear that darn shirt everyday for basically the entire month of December, because that’s how good it feels.

Are you doing Nanowrimo? What are you doing to prepare?

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Ethan & Juliet is Coming!

Sometimes I get so busy writing I forget I have a blog. The past couple of months that has so been the case. I spent July finishing the first draft of my fourth novel, The Van Birch Incident. Then I spent August revising Ethan & Juliet and beta reading. September passed in a blur of revising my third novel, Sparkle & Shine, and here we are back in October putting the final touches on Ethan & Juliet before it goes to print because that’s right, Ethan & Juliet is coming out on December 4th, 2018!

I am so excited to bring you my second book. I started work on this story in 2016 just before Rufus was born, and it took me a year to complete a full first draft.

Each time I write a book it comes together a little easier than it did the first time. Don’t get me wrong, the struggle of pulling words out of my brain still leaves me bloody and raw, but I’m getting more efficient at it.

I’ve settled into a good routine where I rotate projects by month. That gives my head a good amount of time to recover and come back to each project fresh. I’m already working on my 2019 writing schedule, which kind of blows my mind, because I’ve never been the kind of person who plans ahead. But! I have two more books that go along with The Van Birch Incident to write, plus a languishing haunted house story that I’d love to get back to. So that’s three books to write from scratch next year, plus all the revising and publishing and promoting. It sounds exhausting already, but so worth it.

Anyway, you didn’t come here today to hear about my publishing schedule (maybe some other time, right?) You came to find out about Ethan & Juliet.

Here’s the synopsis!

When Juliet Hawthorne met Dr. Ethan Harvey during her final semester of nursing school, she thought he was hot, but too arrogant to be worth the trouble. Plus she had Rich, the only man Juliet thought she’d ever want. But when Juliet’s world shattered, Ethan was the only one there for her.

Ethan hasn’t let himself think about Juliet for four years. But when she shows up at his hospital with an emergency patient, Ethan realizes that Juliet is still the woman of his dreams, even if she’s about to become a certified nurse midwife. Ethan’s never had much time for midwives, but he’s willing to set his discomfort aside, because she’s exactly what’s been missing from his life.

When Ethan sets out to woo her, Juliet is forced to choose between the career that has given her life purpose and the man she never thought she’d fall in love with.

For the first updates, make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter (you’ll also get a free copy of When Abe Met Lane) and follow me on Instagram.