It’s not Christmas without a Peppermint Mocha!

Back in May, my husband and I went on a low carb diet to lose weight.

I had zero expectations that we were going to be able to stick to it because… bread. And pasta. And potatoes. And even healthier carbs like black beans and oranges. So we committed for three months.

We had good results and – surprise, surprise! – we did stick to it. Both of us lost weight. And it had an unexpected side effect for me in that it has stabilized my blood sugar. I’ve been hypoglycemic since I was a teenager so it’s felt weird to not have my body take a nosedive if I miss a meal. So we decided to stay on the diet.

I have had a few temptations – yes, those sweet potato fries were really calling my name – but I’ve done pretty well staying on the path, just finding substitutes that are legal and focusing on the things I can have, like real butter on my broccoli. Even at Thanksgiving.

But I hit a serious road bump after Thanksgiving when the Christmas season hit full force. I realized – gulp! – I couldn’t have a peppermint mocha. PMs are what makes the snow and the crowds and the stress of the holidays possible for me without throat punching someone.



I tried to find a way to still have one but even with almond milk from Starbucks, it was still too many carbs because the almond milk is sweetened. I’ve not had great results with trying hacks at the counter (one person used so much heavy cream that I couldn’t even drink it) and our Starbucks doesn’t have sugar-free mocha or peppermint. And most of the homemade recipes I’ve tried have been just meh. I started to think I would literally have to buy an espresso machine and make them at home, which really wasn’t going to happen because my husband already frowns on my coffee addiction.

To make me even more cranky, not one but two people brought into the office chocolate covered pretzels, which are my favorite – sweet and salty. And I never make them because at my house, I’d be the only one eating them. So in the past, I’ve lived for the moments when I get a chance to have them in doses. But this year, I can’t.  I’ve just had to gaze at them longingly and have one of my coworkers point out that one batch also has a toffee coating. Thanks, Mark.

So I was resigned to spending Christmas in purgatory.



But my rescuer came from an unlikely place.

I am not a big Walmart fan, especially around Christmas. I will pay a few dollars more or drive out of my way to go somewhere else if I can. But last week, I couldn’t. I live in a small town and I needed a few things that I could only find there. So I sucked it up, went in early and decided while I was there to finish my Christmas shopping. Walmart is also the only place in town that carries the coffee my mom likes so I decided to get some for her Christmas stocking – sshh! Don’t tell – and lo and behold, sitting on the shelf were Great Value Peppermint Mocha coffee pods. On sale. I almost didn’t buy them, sure they would disappoint. I checked the box. No sugar so no carbs. Just like regular coffee. So, still skeptical, I bought a box.

The next day, I tried it out. The fact I use real cream in my coffee, combined with the hints of peppermint and chocolate, did the trick. I even topped it with a little whipped cream. Tasted just like Christmas! So I’ve had one every afternoon this week at work and my holiday mood did a complete 180. Sometimes, it really is the little things that make us happy.



Hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Here’s a shocker: I’m not a perfect Christian

When I get feedback from readers, one of the things I hear a lot is that they like Emily because she struggles. Because she blows it sometimes and does things she shouldn’t. Because she can’t get where she wants to be with her faith.

I get it. It’s why I love her, too. Because guess what? I’m not a perfect Christian.

It bothers me – more than a little – when I hear people put themselves on a pedestal and look down on someone else. Whether it’s judging the parent struggling with their child in the store. Or the person struggling with their faith. Or anyone who makes a mistake. It doesn’t matter. I know there are horrible people out there. But most people are trying to do the best they can and sometimes they fail. Sometimes their failures are public, and in this cellphone-recording age it can go viral almost instantly. And I feel for these people because I know I’m not perfect either.


I am fairly laid back and quiet. But I once had an epic meltdown at the doctor’s office over the way they treated my kids. I mean, it was EPIC! And I cringe to this very day when I think about it. I am so, so glad that a nurse didn’t whip out a cellphone and put that on YouTube because I guarantee it would have gone viral. And I would have looked like a crazy person. When I’m not (most of the time). So when I see those viral videos, I try to remind myself that it is a snap shot in time. We don’t see what happened before or after. We see a tiny little slice of reality that may or may not be an accurate depiction of what happened. But the content of that video will be judged as if it is THE reality. THE truth.

It’s not right.

And I say this because I know I’m not perfect. And neither is anyone else.

You can tell yourself that you are better than someone else from the anonymous spot at your computer screen. But in reality, if you’re judging so severely, I’m thinking you’re probably not a better person. In fact, you could be much worse. And the thing that truly sickens me is when I see this inside the church or from people who profess to be Christians. People acting as if they are perfect and judging others’ sins so harshly.


Some of my feedback has not been kind about my books, particularly because my world building includes some not-so-nice elements. I’m really OK with that. I knew that could be an issue going into it, but I felt like if I was going to be in Emily’s head, her voice had to be authentic. My experience with both reporters and cops is that they swear a lot. That’s a hard habit to break. Had I not chosen a first person point of view, I may have been able to work around it, but I didn’t so here we are. Because of that, I’m actually a little afraid to tell people I know about my books because I don’t want them to judge me. I was actually quite horrified when the sweet older lady who sits in front of me in church each week and is friends with my mother-in-law found out about my books and downloaded them to her Kindle. But being the very kind person she is, she’s only told me that she loves them, though they are a little scary for her. But she has read every one and regularly asks me if I have anything new yet.

That tells me a lot about her. It tells me she can look at me and not judge my decisions to write about murder or use a few swear words. I’m glad she didn’t tell me that I should write Amish romance novels instead. I’m glad she didn’t tell my mother-in-law that I’m an awful person or, even worse, announce it to the church as a whole. It’s an example of how I should treat others. How we all should treat others. Left to her own devices, she wouldn’t have made the choices I did. But she isn’t judging me for my decisions.

Awesome kindness matters quotes 199 best Kindness images on Pinterest

No one is perfect. So who am I to judge? I only know One perfect person. And it’s definitely not me.

Here’s a scary thought

My goal was to upload “Tangled Web” by today. But that’s not going to happen. It’s so, so close but rather than rush through the last round of edits I’m choosing to finish it right because I want the end product to be as good as it can be.

Tangled Web 1

On October 1, my plan seemed feasible. Then last week, I worked 11-hour days to get ready for a big project at work and I couldn’t even compile a decent grocery list let alone edit a book. So soon, I promise. I’ll post once it goes live on Amazon and Smashwords.

In the meantime, here’s a random thought. I saw a promotion for an event a couple days ago and the big attraction was a chocolate fountain.

Am I the only one completely skeezed out by the thought of a chocolate fountain?

The very thought of them has always made me queasy so I’ve taken a pass when I’ve seen one because the whole concept just seems wrong.


Now I love chocolate. Like I don’t think I could live without it. But sharing it like this just sounds so gross. You can’t tell me that people (especially little kids) don’t stick their fingers in the chocolate. Or double dip. Or something even worse I haven’t thought of yet. Eww.

Plus, what do they have to do to the chocolate so it is free flowing? Chocolate should not do that unless it’s hot chocolate. That’s it. Even Hershey’s syrup doesn’t flow like that. And how do you properly clean the equipment used for something like that? And do they reuse the chocolate?

No. Just no. Even though I don’t celebrate Halloween, I guess that’s my scary thought for the day. But now, back to work!

Here’s more ‘Tangled Web’

So things are moving along really well with editing “Tangled Web.” I even have a tentative cover now:

Tangled Web 1

But I may play with it some more so it’s just tentative for now. I don’t have an official release date yet but I’m hoping it will be sometime late this fall and definitely before the end of the year.

I hope you enjoyed reading my first excerpt of “Tangled Web.” Here is a second:

“I need the number where the call came from when you get back to the office,” Duncan said. Sarah nodded. He looked at me. “And I think it’s time you took yourself off the case.”

“Me? Why?”

“He wants your attention.”

“He wants attention period. I’m just the name he knows. If it wasn’t me, it would be Sarah.”

Sarah looked a little sick at the thought.

“I’m going to talk to Dr. Benning when she gets here. But I think from now on the answer is no comment. And your answer to that should be to not print any of this.”

“It went live on Chad Hart’s blog. I bet most of the tech club follows his blog and have already seen it. And I bet they shared it, probably on social media. Have you found the camera yet to shut it off?”

“Yeah,” he said reluctantly. “He didn’t try to hide it. But back to my point, if it doesn’t end up in the paper, then he doesn’t get as much attention. We can reach out to Hart’s followers and try to put some kind of gag order in place. We need to stop the attention.”

“And what? Just pretend this isn’t happening? People should know there is some weirdo stalking our kids.”

“Or just looking for attention. In which case, you’re feeding the beast.”

“You’re just mad because this guy is making you look like an idiot.”

That was too far. I knew it as soon as it came out of my mouth. I’d been angry he was trying to blame me for this, trying to make me bury this story. But even as I said it, I knew I wasn’t being fair.

“Out,” he said. “Right now. Off the premises.”

“This is public property,” I responded, not knowing when to quit.

“And this is my crime scene. Actually…” He began looking around and called over one of the younger officers I didn’t know. “Take Ms. O’Brien back to the station and take her statement. You can take Ms. Lowman and Ms…” He came up short on her Ariel’s last name. “The one with the camera. Take them to the station, put them in separate rooms and take each of their statements. Then send them home. If they give you any trouble, cuff them and take them to the jail.”

“So much for civic duty,” I mumbled.

“Make sure Ms. O’Brien rides with you. The other two can follow.”

I gave Sarah my keys and we went to the station. I fumed in the front seat – at least Officer Sanders didn’t make me sit in the back like a criminal. But we were wasting time that should be dedicated to a story. Bill was going to freak if we came in tomorrow empty-handed.

So that’s it for now. I love hearing from you; let me know what you think!


Book sale! And a first look at ‘Tangled Web’

I’m still working on editing “Tangled Web,” but thought I’d take a break to share an excerpt and to let you know about the Summer Sale going on at Smashwords. All of my books will be discounted or free for the month of July — feel free to share the news if you know any other book lovers who don’t mind my weird blend of the real world and Christian views. Lots of other authors will be discounting their books, too, so check it out if you’re looking to stock your book shelves for summer.


Bookbub Blog

Now, with that out of the way, here’s an overview of “Tangled Web:”

Winston High School is under cyberattack. A hacked blog shares a disturbing view. Online videos expose secrets and threats that begin to tear the school community apart. Reporter Emily O’Brien is assigned the story, along with fellow reporter Sarah Lowman, and they soon find themselves at odds with police as to how to handle coverage. As the media attention grows, the threats begin to escalate and Emily attracts the attention of an intelligent, but disturbed individual working from the shadows. But when Emily begins to back away, the shadowy threat becomes all too real, striking out at Emily and those she loves.

And here is an excerpt:

I got to work early the next morning to catch up on some assignments before heading to court for the day. I had hearings both in the morning and afternoon. But those plans went out the window with a phone call.

“Just a tip,” the caller said. “You need to head over to the high school.”

“Why? Who is this?”

The line went dead. I looked at the clock. I had about an hour before I had to leave for court, plenty of time to make a detour. Sarah wasn’t here yet so I texted her about the tip, then walked over to the school. Students were arriving so traffic was nuts. I maneuvered through the cars and groups of kids until I reached the front steps. A group of students gathered just inside the front entrance, so big of a crowd that at first I didn’t see it. But once I heard the students whispering, I knew it was something bad. I pushed my way to the front. It sat under a large, glass trophy case, almost like a shrine. A doll in a Winston High cheerleader uniform hanging by her neck from one end of a football goal post. The doll was small and had light brown hair like Bethany Henry. Another doll dressed like a cheerleader, this one with red hair, was hanging from the other end. Behind the display were blown up stills from the video of Moira Marcini and Bethany Henry, both in their underwear. Red paint had been slashed over both of them, with just one word: whores.

Everyone just stared and whispered at the display, in awe of its creepiness. I wondered if the girls had seen it yet. Or if they’d contacted their moms. I backed out of the crowd only to bump into the principal, Larry Bowman. “Wait here,” he said.

“Okay, folks, let’s move along to your lockers.” He started breaking up the students and sending them to their lockers. The two assistant principals, along with Officer Janke, were outside on the steps, directing students to other entrances. As the kids moved out, Bowman approached me.

“Why don’t you head down to Joanne’s office? The police are on their way.”

“Sure,” I said, but I lingered over the display. “What’s going on? I mean, this is so bizarre.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been here twenty-eight years and I’ve never seen anything like this. Kids these days.”

I took a last look then walked to the office. I texted Bill with the basics of where I was and that I’d probably miss my hearing this morning. It was a status hearing for a guy working as a handyman at a senior citizen center, then helping himself to a check or two from the residents’ bank books. He never took too much from any one person but added together, he’d taken a few grand from the residents. Bill said he’d send someone else to cover or I could follow up later. He wanted me to stay put for now.

A few minutes later, Sarah joined me. Her dark hair highlighted the paleness of her face, her brown eyes wide. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“That’s really scary,” she said. “Those dolls.”

“I know. I can take the lead here, if you want.”

She nodded. “Thanks.”

“Do you want to go back to the office?”

She shook her head hard. “It’s just the first time I’ve covered something like this. Usually the scariest thing I face is a budget hearing.”

“Well, those are pretty scary. Look, this is likely just a prank. It’s not like the horror movies where some serial killer is lurking in the shadows. That’s just the movies. This is probably the class clown hoping to get school canceled for the day. But he better pray he doesn’t get caught.”

Mitch Duncan walked in after about ten minutes and greeted us. Joanne came in next with Larry Bowman on her heels. Demira Janke brought up the rear. We sat around the conference table in Joanne’s office.

“So how did you…?” She looked at Sarah and me.

“I got a call this morning suggesting I come to the school. I just walked in to check in at the office when I saw the crowd of kids around the display. The call came in around seven-fifteen, seven-twenty. It was on the early side but I knew students started arriving then so I came over. How did no one see this sooner?”

Joanne sighed. “I don’t know. The secretaries and administration usually comes in around seven-thirty. We usually open the main doors then. That’s the same time the students begin to arrive in force. But the athletic wing is open at six-thirty for the weight room and for practices. Any one of them could have come in that way and walked into this area.”

“Do we know it’s a student?”

Her head shot up. “What do you mean?”

“We keep assuming it’s a kid but really it could be anyone. It wouldn’t even have to be a member of the school community.”

Everyone was quiet for a few heartbeats. “I really wish I could have convinced the board to install security cameras,” Joanne broke the silence. “But I could only get them to approve ones for the parking lots.”

“That might be a start,” said Mitch. “We could see who arrived early, see if anyone was carrying in anything suspicious.”

“I’ll get you the video footage,” she said. She turned to me. “I’d also like you to put something in the paper that we’re going to lock down the building so that only the main entrance is open. We’ve always left side doors open in the past for athletics or other activities. That changes today.”

“Of course,” I said. “We’ll post it on the web right away, but it should be in print this afternoon. Dr. Benning, I’m not sure we need to go into detail about the display but I think we need to address that something happened again. Or parents are going to be calling and Facebook will light up with rumors. Can we talk a little on the record?”

“Yes, of course we can. Let me get Sergeant Duncan the video footage first.”

She walked out of the room.

“Do you think I could take a peek?” I asked him.

“Not on your life. This is an active investigation.”

“Oh, come on. Off the record. You know I used to work the education beat. Sarah works it now. We’ve spoken to tons of these kids. We may know someone that you don’t.”

“I am sure school personnel will know everyone on camera. No need for you to waste your time.”

It had been worth a shot. “Can I call you about it this afternoon?”

He hesitated. “I guess.”

“Look, Mitch. Can I call you Mitch or do I have to call you Detective Duncan? I know we didn’t see eye to eye last summer about Holly Brennan but we still have to work together so can we bury the hatchet? It’s fine you don’t want to show me the video. I get it. But I know you’re going to be looking at it so would it kill you to just say something like “we are pursuing a lead based on video surveillance?” Or just tell me it didn’t pan out and I’ll print nothing. I’m not going to burn you in the paper. That doesn’t help me at all because then I’m burning my bridges with Chief Chapel and the fire chief and everyone else in your office. And life becomes infinitely harder for me. I’m just trying to do my job. You are doing your job. We won’t always agree with each other but that doesn’t mean we can’t act like professionals.”

“Are you saying I’m not being professional?”

“No, I…”

“Because I’m not sure how professional it is for reporters to harass citizens and accuse them of being rapists.”

“He was a rapist!”

“But you didn’t know that. You had no proof. And following your gut doesn’t count. I could have gotten fired for helping you as much as I did.”

“No one was going to fire you once we found Holly.”

He sighed and rubbed his temples. Joanne came back in the room, picking up immediately on the tension. She glanced back and forth between us, then handed a flash drive to Mitch.

“I downloaded everything we have currently in the system. It will be two weeks of footage. I can go back further if you need it. We keep everything else archived.”

“Thanks, Dr. Benning. I will be in touch if we find anything.” He got up and started to leave, then glanced back at me. “Ms. O’Brien, why don’t you come by the station at about four? I’m sure we’ll have finished our review by then and I’ll have had time to talk to Dr. Benning. We can talk then.”

“Thank you, Detective Duncan.”

I wasn’t sure if he was gaslighting me or if he was serious but I would go over to the station at four just the same. I glanced over at Sarah, who was taking notes. “Do you want to talk to Dr. Benning?”

She nodded. “I can take it from here.”

I smiled at her, glad she’d recovered from her initial queasiness. “I’m going to head back to the paper so I can start the story. We’ll finish up when you get back.” I stood to leave, shaking Joanne’s hand. “We’ll get through this. We’ll talk more soon.”

She sighed. “No offense, Emily, but I really hope this will pass and I won’t see you again for a while except to say hello at the grocery store.”

When Sarah returned to the office, we incorporated her comments from Dr. Benning to the other information we had. Both Sarah and I had covertly taken a photo of the display with our phones – since she had a smart phone, hers was of much better quality. We showed it to Bill and he quickly agreed we shouldn’t print the photo. I’d wanted it to search for clues about what was going on but was relieved I wouldn’t be asked to share it publicly, particularly because I guessed the moms would stalk, torture and murder me if I did. We also kept the details vague, not naming either girl. We did a sidebar on the new rules for entering the high school, then passed on the copy to Bill for review.

At that point, I put aside the high school news and called the state’s attorney’s office to find out what happened at the hearing that morning. The guy had changed his plea to guilty so I wrote up a blurb on that. I grabbed a quick bite to eat, then went to the courthouse for another hearing that afternoon. This one was drug-related but the defense was doing an end run to try to get the case thrown out, saying it was unconstitutional for the police to have brought in the drug dog. The judge disagreed and set a date for jury selection.

At a little before four, I walked over to the police station and asked to see Mitch Duncan. I half expected the receptionist to tell me that he had left for the day, but instead she called his line and he came out to the lobby.

“Come on back,” he said.

I followed him to his desk which was piled with case files, but relatively neat. A picture of him with his wife and kid sat next to his phone. I didn’t know he was married, though he probably didn’t know much about my personal life either. His wife looked familiar but it took me a minute to place her.

“Your wife teaches English and journalism at the high school, right?”

“She does.”

“I didn’t make the connection before. I’ve met her. She’s nice,” I said. “Cute kid.”

“Thanks.” He sat at the desk and pulled up a chair so I was facing him. “So. Nothing on the video. Lots of kids going in and out but no one suspicious or carrying anything suspicious.”


“Yeah. So I’m thinking he – or she – probably parked on the street.”

“Do you think that’s because he – or she – knew about the cameras?”

“That’s my guess. Someone ballsy enough to do this at the school and smart enough to get away with it is going to have done their homework. Don’t you think?”

I was surprised he was asking my opinion but I accepted the olive branch. “I agree. There are lots of little side streets and no one would notice anything that early in the morning. We did ask in the paper for anyone with information to call the police. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

He rocked back in his chair. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, about this not being another kid. What made you say that?”

“Well, I think it probably is another kid. It has that feel. But, I think it’s dangerous to assume that and ignore other avenues.”

“Like what?”

“Teachers, staff, somebody off the street. I’ve said for years that the security at the high school is lax. They can’t really help it. It’s a big school with lots of entrances and lots of activities. They’d either have to treat it like prison or do what they do now and hope for the best. This isn’t a knock on Joanne. She’s great. But a few people on that board are old school and they see the high school as the center of the community. They don’t want it locked down. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything Demira Janke hasn’t said a dozen times. It’s why she’s there, right?”

He nodded. “Yeah, she spends a lot of her day just walking the halls. The security cameras campus-wide would have been a good move but I guess the cost was astronomical and the board wanted to spend it on iPads.”

“I get it. But if you name a time, date and room number, I guarantee you I could get into that building and meet you there undetected. Day or night. So anyone one with a grudge, anyone a little off his rock could pretty much have the run of the place.”

“But they’re targeting high school girls.”

“Which is why I think ultimately, it’s another kid. If the target was a teacher or a secretary or Joanne, I’d think it was an adult.”

“But some guys really like young girls.”

“That’s true, which is why I said we explore all avenues.”

“Well, if you hear anything let me know. I’ll do the same.”

“Sorry the video didn’t pan out. I bet that was a long day looking at that.”

He offered me a half smile. “If I’d been the principal, I could have given out a ton of detentions for smoking on campus.” He paused. “I wish that’s what we were dealing with.”

I agreed and left, walking back to the paper to report to Sarah and Bill that the police had nothing from the video. I noticed Mitch had assumed this was still ongoing and not a one-time prank. I had the strong sense that he was right.

Hope you enjoyed this first look at “Tangled Web!” I plan to post more soon. Happy reading!


Here’s to New Adventures

My first draft of Book 8, tentatively titled “Tangled Web,” is done.


This round of writing included a severe bout of writer’s block about two-thirds of the way through, which surprised me because I knew where the story was going. I just couldn’t figure out how to get there. I got stuck for weeks until I finally worked out the kinks and plowed through to the end. Now starts the editing process, and we’ll see where that takes us.


May is particularly overwhelming this year, mostly with good things. Among those good things is the fact my oldest son is graduating from college on Saturday.

I don’t tend to be an overly sentimental person, but I’ve been thinking about my son and the changes that are soon to come as he finds a job and moves away. Being my firstborn, C was the one who made me a mom, and unfortunately for him, that meant he bore the brunt of my mistakes and insecurities and fears.

C was a happy baby who loved everyone. He’d go with whoever would play with him without a look back at me. He went through a short phase when he didn’t like men with deep voices but overcame that after a few weeks. He did a complete 180 by the time he was a toddler and thought any man who wore a cowboy hat was a great guy. He would have gladly walked off with a stranger at the store as long as the dude had a Stetson. That fact scared me to the point where I started having a recurring dream about him being kidnapped, and I kept having that dream well into his high school years.

But the flip side of his love for everyone else is that he never clung to me or needed me the way some kids do with their moms. He never had separation anxiety or ran to meet me or cried when I left (I did not realize what a gift that was until my younger son, J, was born, and I had a long stretch of time when I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself). As a young, insecure mom, that kind of stung a bit. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough mom if he found everyone else so much more fun to be with.

He’d happily go play at his grandmas’ houses, even overnight, and never decide he wanted to come home. But he did have one peculiar habit. When I dropped him off, he always asked me what I’d be doing while we were apart. Usually it was going to the store since shopping kidless has to be one of life’s great luxuries at that age. Sometimes it was cleaning the house. Or reading a book uninterrupted. Or watching something on TV that wasn’t Veggie Tales. (To this day, I can still recite long passages of Veggie Tales episodes and know all the words to ‘The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.’) He didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He just wanted to know.


When he was three, my brother got married in Arizona, literally in the middle of nowhere. The plan was for me to go solo since the place we were staying would not accommodate young kids very well. I weaned J in time for my departure. Both he and C would stay with my in-laws on Friday while my husband took me to the airport, then went to work. They’d stay with Dad on Saturday, then pick me up from the airport on Sunday. I was stressed that J would be cranky while I was gone, given his history of mommy attachment and his recent weaning. It never occurred to me to worry about how C would handle my absence.

A few days before I was supposed to leave, C asked me what I’d be doing while I was gone. He couldn’t understand the concept of Arizona so I got out an atlas and showed him where Arizona was compared to Illinois. He seemed interested in the map so I pointed out where some other family members lived, too. All seemed fine. Until Friday when he completely melted down at my in-laws’ house because he wanted his mom. Arizona, I guess, was just too far away. (J, on the other hand, didn’t miss me at all).

I realized, then, that for C I was not the center of his universe, but I was his safety net. I was the person he trusted to be there when he needed me, allowing him the freedom to explore and go off on his own adventures.

As he grew up, that relationship never changed. And I hope he knows that it never will, even if his new adventures take him much farther away than Arizona.

Let’s (not) talk about sex

A friend at work suggested a book to me a few months ago by an author I’d heard of but never read. This person reads a lot of the same mystery authors that I enjoy so when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, I picked it up without reading the jacket. Prologue was good, but when I moved onto Chapter One, I started getting the feeling that there was more to this book than a whodunit. I read the jacket, then flipped through the pages to confirm what I’d feared. Impossibly beautiful heroine, aggressive alpha male love interest/protector, way too much graphic sex in this novel. So back to the library it went.

I’m sure there are lots of people who find these kinds of books entertaining or romantic or whatever. Personally, they just reinforce my frustration with the entertainment industry at the lack of understanding that sex does not equal romance.

I’m not opposed to a dose of romance with my mysteries. Heck, my own heroine has a love life. I just don’t like books where the end game is going to bed together and the male lead treats the heroine in a rapey/stalkerish manner, hitting every mark on the checklist for potential abusers, all in the name of love. It used to be romantic comedies were romantic. Now, it’s pretty darn hard to find anything like that on bookshelves or on the big or small screen. Now romance is 50 Shades and I just don’t get it.

There are exceptions, of course. Luke Danes from TV’s “Gilmore Girls” can make me swoon not because he’s rich or handsome or tough, but because he’s just a regular guy who’s committed to his gal. Committed to the point where he fixes things around Lorelai’s house, rushes her to the hospital when her dad is sick, offers a shoulder to cry on and throws a huge going away party for her daughter, all while they are not even dating. So what if he wears flannel all the time and is perpetually grumpy? He’s a solid, caring guy.

And let’s look at the love triangle in “The Hunger Games.” Not the movies, which kind of messed up the casting of Gale and Peeta. Gale in the books is a hot head who sometimes pressures Katniss about his feelings for her. He’s been her best friend, which is great, but sometimes he’s kind of a jerk. (Liam Hemsworth made him 100 times more likable in the movies, IMO.) Peeta, on the other hand, is always putting Katniss first, even at the cost of his own life. The flashback to him taking a beating as an 11-year-old to give a starving Katniss some bread is hauntingly beautiful in the books. When she is completely cast out and depressed at the end of Book 3, he joins her in District 12 to plant flowers in her sister’s memory. Sorry Josh Hutcherson, you weren’t a great choice in this role, but in the books, Peeta is the guy who’d I’d want to have my back.

Now I know my opinion isn’t universal here, hence the Team Gale versus Team Peeta thing, but I stand by my thoughts that Peeta is the better guy. Are either Luke or Peeta perfect? Of course not. That would be supremely boring if they were perfect love interests, but their commitment and kindness make them good characters for a little romance.

And when I say romance, I mean just that. Romance is not the same as sex. Nothing ruins a romantic movie or book for me more than an over-the-top sex scene. I get that sometimes sex is part of the story. That’s even true in the Bible – hello, David and Bathsheba. But I don’t want to know the blow-by-blow details. Just a fade to black is fine with me. It doesn’t add anything to the story; I feel like a voyeur watching someone through a hole in the wall. Seriously, I don’t get it.

Can any discussion of romance be complete without a “Pride and Prejudice” reference?

Works like “Pride and Prejudice” have stood the test of time because the romantic writing is just that good. But putting Jane Austen aside, one of the best love scenes I’ve ever seen came in a movie where I wouldn’t have expected it, “The Last Samurai.” I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and the move is kind of clichéd, but the scene were Taka dresses Nathan Algren before battle is just amazingly intimate without anything really happening. I was so stunned by the level of feeling between the two characters. No words are spoken. They share nothing more than just a light kiss. It definitely helped that the score during this scene was so beautiful, but really the eyes tell the whole story. It was so powerful that after the guys in my house went to bed, I re-watched the scene just to be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

So there’s my rant for the day. Am I crazy to think this? I must be based on the romance novels I see on the shelves, and the movies that continue to get made. But I’d just rather see something that makes me swoon instead of feeling like I need a shower.


The reality of great expectations

I think the biggest trouble with going into a situation with expectations is the risk of being disappointed.

I started November with high hopes about Book 8 and things didn’t turn out as I planned. Last year, I knocked out about 30,000 words in the month; this year, I got to 18,000 (and because I’m an idiot, I forgot to post my final tally on Nov. 30 on the National Novel Writing Month website so technically I didn’t even reach that).


Can I just say how much I love this movie?

Things went sideways on Nov. 1 – not necessarily for bad reasons but just life. I had applied for a new position at the University where I work. I had heard nothing for such a long period of time that I assumed I didn’t get the job. I was fine with that and was geared up to start writing Book 8 in earnest because while I like my job and it works extremely well for my family, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love being a full-time writer again.

But on Nov. 1, I found out that not only did I get the job but that my new boss had asked my former boss to allow me to start right away, with me still working a few hours at my old job each week to help with the transition. So things got crazy really fast and unfortunately my writing time suffered.

To make matters worse, I got a nasty cold that sucked up all my energy, probably from the stress of a new job. Then things just started to snowball until I finally had to let go of my expectations. I love writing but it’s not my first priority right now even though I wish sometimes that it could be. I worked when I could and am still plugging away. Because I had some of Book 8 already started before November, my total word count is still more than 30, 000 words so there’s that. And for some reason that I don’t understand but am not complaining about, I figured out what’s going to happen in Book 9. Random, I know, but I’ll take it.

So while I’m disappointed, I’m trying to find the positives. For one, last year I was so tired after November that I did almost no writing in December. But this year, I’m still cruising along to make up for lost time.

Once I get the first draft done for Book 8, I’ll be posting excerpts here on my blog and on my Facebook page so follow or like one of these if you want to receive updates. I still plan to put out Book 8 in 2018, and I still think that goal is doable.

I hope I don’t sound like a whiner; the new job will offer me some great opportunities. I’m glad being sick was just a cold and not something more serious. I have much to be thankful for, even when things don’t go the way I want. I’ll start posting again on my blog, including my random thoughts, if you care to read them. It’s good to be back!


Book 7 is here!

newHidden in Darkness2

“Hidden in Darkness” has been uploaded! (breathe a sigh of relief)

It’s available now at Smashwords and will soon be live at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other online book sellers.

I’m super excited about this book because it’s the first time I started a novel with no idea how it was going to end. I’ve definitely changed my mind before mid-stream, but this time, I had no clue going in. I tend to think about my plots a lot before I actually start writing so this experience was unique.

I’m starting Book 8 tomorrow for National Novel Writing Month so I hope to have some excerpts to share in the near future. I already have some scenes plotted so I’m hoping to make lots of headway in November.


Happy reading!