Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Determinations Not Resolutions

On My Mind this, the final day of 2019, is this tweet and subsequent post from Saeed Jones, author of HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES:



I not only love the simplicity of this statement by Saeed's mother, I respect and admire the strength of character communicated in the sentiment. It's stayed with me, picking at my mind in the quieter moments of the hectic holidays. Yes, determination not resolution. I don't resolve to do something as if I'm being forced by external influences to achieve their goals or what they perceive I should desire.  No, I am determined by the fires of purpose and planning within me to become who and what I wish on a path that will not break me.

So, thank you, Saeed. Thank you for honoring us with this glimpse of your mother and for letting us hold a tiny spark of her fire.

May the new year stoke the fires of your passions, Dear Readers, 
and may your path have enough twists to ensure 
you recognize and value all you achieve.




Sunday, December 29, 2019

Why I'm Sticking with RWA

I'm getting back into the groove following a lovely Christmas holiday in Tucson with my family. I didn't take my laptop, and even read a paper book, staying pretty much offline except for the occasional Instagram post.

It was relaxing and restorative.

When I returned online Friday morning, 12/26, I fell face-first into the the RWA crisis. Since our topic at the SFF Seven this week is whatever is on our minds... well, I don't have much on my mind besides this.

There's a great deal online about it. If you don't know anything, this is a good run-down of the timeline. It's the best I've seen, though I hesitated to link to it because I don't like how Claire frames the situation with words like "implosion," "collapse," and "dinosaurs."

I don't think RWA is coming to an end, despite the almost gleeful predictions of it.

I do think this situation has exposed a number of massive problems. Not to be glib or pollyanna, I see this as a crisis/opportunity.

Yes, systemic racism is, has been, and continues to be a major issue within RWA. Despite concerted strides to correct the problems - with recent significant progress being made - it seems that policies and embedded practices in the organization have allowed a racist, exclusionary mindset to persist. In this particular situation, we've also run afoul of a cult of personality and a personal feud that led to Policies & Procedures being altered and bypassed to pursue a particular vendetta.

Former president (and all-around amazing person) Helen Kay Dimon laid out recommended steps in this tweet thread. I fully support those steps. I think that, if we are brutally thorough, we can get the ship cleaned up and back on course.

RWA has been very good to me. I know it hasn't been for everyone, but I owe a great deal to the organization When I joined as a newbie fiction author in 2007, RWA gave me all the tools to help me in my new career. I want RWA to be that for everyone. That's why I'm not abandoning ship. I'm offering my help to do whatever needs to be done - and I think the next few weeks will be key - so I really hope we can succeed. I don't believe RWA is a dinosaur. I think the organization can be better and do better.

I'm staying as long as there's hope.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

My List of Top 10 Impactful #SciFi Romance Covers of 2019


There are two parts to this post – first, when I started thinking about doing a post on the most memorable-to-me science fiction romance covers I’d seen in 2019, I took my pen in hand and wrote down the ten which came immediately to mind. I see something like 3000+ covers a year (in 3 genres) while doing my weekly new releases column so if a cover stays on my mind that’s really impactful!

Please read on below the Top 10 for Part Two and my Honorable Mention covers!

(Drum roll please.....) 
THE TOP 10 IMPACTFUL COVERS!



Moving on to Part Two, I see well in excess of 600 science fiction romance covers a year while doing the report. This weekend I scrolled through every single SFR cover which made it to the blog in 2019 and ended up with 40 which caught my attention above and beyond the others. So about 8% (all numbers approximate). Obviously the ten I listed in Part One of this discussion are added to the 40 for a total of 50 (or about 8%) for 2019.

Before anyone rushes to apply my purely informal and highly personal results to their next book marketing campaign, I’m not any kind of an art or graphic composition expert! And there are giant trends in SFR such as the sexy manchest and abs, which I myself happily use on my Badari Warriors novels, and very much appreciate. I found that while looking at the 600+ covers for this exercise, most of those didn’t stand out to me as much as some others did when seen in a vast grouping of similiar images. They surely do catch my eye from week to week.  

I obviously am drawn to certain color palettes too…but who knows if I’m a typical reader?

On the weekly new releases posts, I include all the covers in the post itself (unless I really find a cover objectionable or too disturbing, or it's not remotely PG-13+, with total nudity for example) but I feature 8 covers each time in the social media promo for the post, including one that’s my highlighted image. I strive for variety there. In the spotlight of 8 images weekly, I try to mix professional-looking covers featuring individuals/couples/aliens/pleasing compositions/differing color palettes…I lean toward the covers which I feel will catch the eye of a potential reader as they browse through their streaming social media. My selection criteria on featured covers for the weekly promo are slightly different than the criteria I used for this massive end-of-the-year exercise.

So when I assessed my results on memorable covers of 2019, what did I find attracted me? What made me linger as I slowly scrolled my way through the list alphabetically by title? Sometimes it was the stock photo model’s face, or their eyes (I’m a sucker for piercing/soulful/gorgeous eyes) or the color palette or the ”scifi-ness” of the cover, or the couple together or just the power of the image overall. (I have to say for Tasha Black’s Tolstoy cover up above in the Top 10 it’s the sheer, infectious happiness of the man and the baby. For Lula Monk’s Dredge in the Honorable Mentions, it’s the unsettling power of the image. I find it hard to forget that one, very effective in its own way!)

Without further ado, here are the rest of the approximately top 8% of the hundreds of SFR covers I saw in 2019 which made me pause this weekend and take a longer look. Covers provided in no certain order!


And my thanks to all the wonderfully talented cover artists - if I knew all the names I would certainly share them here! Kudos to the authors who can do their own and make them outstanding. Feel free to add the artists' names in the comments if you so desire. 
Fiona Jayde does all of my covers, by the way and I loooove them.
Looking forward to savoring more beautiful, awe inspiring, sexy scifi romance covers in 2020!





Friday, December 27, 2019

Marcella's Top Three of 2019

In the liminal space between Christmas past and the New Year, we're posting our best three of 2019. Here are mine. Three new book covers in one year. I couldn't ask for anything better.






Thursday, December 26, 2019

Alexia's Best Writing Tips of 2019 ~


A lot happens in a year. There’s undoubtedly been goodbyes and hellos, failures and successes, as well as some laughs and some tears. I’m grateful for it all because the highs wouldn’t be quite as high without the lows. 

But…how do you pick the best out of so much? Thankfully this is a book and writing themed blog, so that helps narrow it down. And without further ado…

The best writing advice I’ve utilized in 2019!



2: There’s always going to be resistance to our writing, as an author it’s your job to learn how to work around it. 

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” ~ Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART


3: (Paraphrasing) In revisions, you just need to go with the story…and sometimes that means destroying things you really don't want to destroy. Revisions will take a lot out of you, and I’m learning how to roll with it and embrace it. Advice gleaned from: Jeffe Kennedy’s May 30th First Cup of Coffee.



There you have it, some gems I’ve picked up over the past year. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I’m still writing and maybe someday I’ll have some gems of my own to share! 

If you have any writing tips you've picked up, please share!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

3 Favorite Fantasy Webcomics

In the throes of the holidays? Us too! You may have noticed we've been quiet this week. Me? I'm all about goofing off and relaxing in the hours before the holiday crazies kick into high gear. That includes catching up on my favorite Webcomics. With great illustrations and compelling storylines, here are my 3 Favorite Fantasy Webcomics:

1: Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas
In 2014 a journalist from Chicago rented a haunted house in rural Oklahoma and befriended the ghost of a 1940s mathematician and a sullen teenage werewolf. For the last five years, Pascalle Lepas's OCs have all kinds of horrific and hilarious adventures with creatures and legends from mythology. A must-read for fans of SPN, Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson), and Faith Hunter (Jane Yellowrock).

2: Fox &Willow by Irma 'Aimo' Ahmed (Ills) and Allison Pang (Auth)
Twisted fairy tales retold from the perspectives of Gideon a fox demon and Willow an exiled princess and harpist. Happy endings aren't guaranteed, particularly for our leading characters. Great for fans of Bros. Grimm, H.C. Anderson, etc.

3:  Banquet by A. Szabla
A toddler falls into hell. Hell, for the record, isn't a nice place, but the Beast King of the Bottomless Pits of Hell adopts the toddler and raises him among the...hellish politics of the Six Holy Houses of Hell. It's filled with vicious, ruthless, and charming characters/creatures/monsters/demons/etc. This is NSFW replete with all the fun things that make the faint of heart clasp their pearls.

For those who celebrate it,

Merry Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

No Secret Recipes Here - Sorry!

DepostPhoto

Our topic this week was a recipe for a dish we’d take to a holiday party. Okay, my warning to you is that if you invite me I’ll be bringing pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken, or yummy cheesecake or cupcakes from the local bakery….there will be no original cooking or baking done. I’m not much interested in cooking aside from the serviceable things one feeds a growing family and once or twice a year cranking up to do the big turkey dinner with all the fixings. I learned to bake a few specific desserts that I loved because my mother hated to cook or bake and refused to do so beyond the meat & potatoes type menu my father preferred, and one birthday cake each per year and a lemon meringue pie for my Dad.

I have no sekrit yummy recipes to share in this post, alas...

Wishing you a very Happy Holiday season!
Author's own photo, from her collection


Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday Recipes for a Crowd

I like to experiment in the kitchen. Just like I like making stuff up on paper, I make stuff up with food. I especially love trying new, complicated recipes. They have to be complex. I get a charge out of that complexity, like I might be in the kitchen building my own culinary nuclear bomb, but only if I get Every Last Step exactly right. There should probably be a drug for that.

Sometimes the results aren't so great. Most times, we end up with something passably edible - you know - no one complaining, but no one raving, either. Then, every once in a while, we'll try something and everyone's eyes roll back in their heads (in a good way!) and we have a massive hit on our hands. From the ranks of those winner recipes, a few exalted get requested year after year, thereby attaining legendary status.

This is one of those recipes. It's our Solstice tradition. It takes three days to make (to achieve the greatest flavor.) Added bonuses: It requires power tools, and it's messy.

Doesn't this look appetizing??

This is Cherry Ring. The recipe comes from the December 1998 Vegetarian Times

3 Cups unbleached white flour
1/2 Cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 TBSP unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup milk
1/4 Cup oil
1/4 tsp Almond extract

Filling
1/2 Cup blanched almonds toasted
2 Cups dried cherries
1/3 Cup honey
1/4 Cup orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves

Put all of your try ingredients into the bowl of a mixer. Add the butter and start the mixer on low to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk your eggs, milk, oil and extract together. Add to your dry ingredients. Mix until the dough forms. Turn out on lightly floured waxed paper and knead a few turns until everything holds together. Wrap your dough well in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Filling
Put all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and process until coursely chopped. Cover and let sit overnight.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 375. Roll dough out between two sheets of waxed paper. Roll into an 18x9 inch rectangle. Remove top sheet of paper. Trim a one inch bit of dough from either end and set aside. Spoon filling in a 2-inch wide strip lengthwise down the center of the dough. Lift your bottom sheet of paper along one long edge and fold the dough over the filling. Repeat for other side. Press the edges together to seal. Invert seam side down on a cookie sheet. Coax into ring shape on the cookie sheet. You'll have to do some dough repair, but a few cracks won't hurt anything. If you're really ambitious, roll out your scraps and cut out holly leaves and roll berries to use for decoration on the ring. Paint with food coloring for extra effect. Brush with egg white and bake 30-40 minutes.

You want this baked the day before you need it. The shortbread layer softens and turns melt-in your mouth lovely for sitting the extra time.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Holiday treat? Always bake a favorite...pie.


My all time favorite dessert is pie. Pie you say? Which is what most people say when I tell them my go-to dessert or dish to pass. And my answer is always; you’ve never had homemade pie. 

I’ve tried countless slices at diners, restaurants, and even pie shops, hoping for heaven and instead getting tough crusts with tasteless filling. No wonder people aren’t clamoring for pie! 

But, I aim to change that and introduce you to a flakey, melt-in-your-mouth crust that holds bold fruit flavors with a hint of sweet inside. It’s fairly basic and after a couple of attempts, because doing anything well takes a few trial and errors, you’ll be pulling your own piping hot pastry from the oven.

Click to read on for the recipe...

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Confession of a kitchen incompetent

I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess you’ve either been to a party, hosted a party, or planned a party recently. This does seem to be a time of year to get folks together indoors and share germs. Or holiday cheer, whatever. At any rate, those parties inevitably come with what I like to call YikesMustFood. This is a state of panic characterized by the shoving of things that were formerly in the refrigerator into a pan or pot or appliance, adding ingredients that might have once been tasty in a dish, and hoping for the best. In my version of reality, this process almost never works out well.

To be fair, me entire life as a mother is all about YikesMustFood, so adding that extra level of holiday anxiety is just frosting, sprinkles, and nerves. Pot lucks, as you can imagine, are my very favorite things.

Kidding. I hate them. Avoid them when possible. 

When it’s not possible? I can’t share the disaster of YikesMustFood with a dozen or more potential critics! Cooking for others is like publishing a story: it’s a gift that is almost certainly gross and will make someone sick, and they are guaranteed to either leave it on the tray and save themselves (smart!) or grab a serving, choke it down, and complain about it afterward. So... I don’t. Cook, that is.

Instead I buy cheese and wine. I know a little bit about both and can select decent combos, and its less vulnerable and crazy-making than cooking. If you are a fellow sufferer of YikesMustFood, this party-and-potluck season, be kind to you and just make a pretty plate full off purchased goodies. No one will even know the difference.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Panic Party Sangria

Have to attend a Holiday Party Potluck? Run out of time to whip up Gram's Golden Souffle? Dying to make a positive impression yet standing in the grocery store trying to choose between tortilla chips or potato chips? Is the cold sweat of panic slithering down your spine?

Back away from the junk food and head for the boozy aisle, with a stop through the kitchen supplies for a cheap pitcher--glass, plastic, whatever. Oh, also, take a left into the freezer section for a 10oz bag of frozen blueberries, raspberries, or berry blend--yes, frozen not fresh (you're using them as flavored ice cubes).


Panic Party Sangria Recipe:
  • 1 Bottle (750ml) Cheap Red Blend (twist top, unless you're buying a bottle opener)
  • 1 can or 1 20oz single-serve Ginger Beer (from the soda cooler would be great, but no worries if that ain't happening)
  • 1 10oz/single-serving bottle of tart Fruit Juice (Cranberry, Cherry, Pomegranate) 
  • 3/4 cup fruit-flavored liquor (Triple Sec, Blackberry, Cherry, Cranberry)
  • 1 10oz bag of frozen berries 

While sitting in your car in the driveway of the host's house, dump the ingredients into the pitcher (yes, washing the pitcher first would've been ideal, but hey, alcohol kills, right? Sure.). To measure the fruity booze, fill the juice bottle halfway (or all the way if you need to). Gently swirl the pitcher on your stroll up the front walk.

Voilà! Enter the party with a drink that elevates you from the "Frank the Forgetful" to "Sam the Swanky."

*Note: Sangria is a blended drink in which all ingredients can be swapped out for something similar. Don't like reds? Try a bubbly prosecco. Ginger not your fav? Grab a Sprite or tonic water. Fruity liquor just too...too? Go for spiced rum or the classic brandy. The only thing you don't want to do is make it too sweet, which is easiest to achieve by keeping the wine medium-dry. Everything else is already sugary.


Happy Holidays! 
Raise a glass to making it through another party!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Jeffe's Sparkly Sugar Cookies

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Holiday Potluck Dish: If you had to bring a dish to a winter holiday potluck, what would it be & what's the recipe?"

My holiday must-have are my Sparkly Sugar Cookies. I make a big batch of them and they serve as my standby to take to parties, give as impromptu gifts, and simply nom for pure holiday joy.


Instructions:

1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups white sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 egg yolks, room temperature

4 teaspoons vanilla extract (use the real stuff, not the imitation flavoring)

2 teaspoons almond extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt (if you used salted butter, skip this)

1 teaspoon baking powder


Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. On this step, it’s hard to go too long. Let that sugar really melt in. Add in the eggs and egg yolks, one by one, mixing until smooth. Add vanilla and almond extracts gradually, mixing until smooth.

In another bowl, combine the flour, salt (if you’re using it) and baking powder. Gradually sift this mixture into the creamed butter mixture, beating constantly.

Cover the bowl with an airtight seal or wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Working with a fist-sized ball of dough at a time, on a flour-sprinkled surface, roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin to about ¼” thick. (Keep the rest of the dough in the fridge while you work, so it stays nice and cold.) Use cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes or, if you don’t have them, a drinking water glass will work to make simple circular cookies. There's nothing wrong with a classic!

Bake each batch for 6-8 minutes and let cool on a wire rack. When I get a good rhythm going, I can roll out and cut one batch while the other batch bakes.

Let the cookies cool completely before frosting. To make the (very basic) icing:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon milk (I use skim or 2% and it’s fine. Not that it matters with all that butter, but it’s what I usually have on hand.)

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Mix together in a bowl. You want it to be very thick, so if it turns out runny, just add a little more powdered sugar.

I love the white and gold look for Christmas, because it adds a nice touch of glamour. So I leave the frosting white and use gold, silver and pearl decorative sugars.

Just smear the icing on the cookie—you can see I do spots on some and whole cookies on others, since everyone likes different amounts of frosting—and immediately sprinkle with your sugars.

There are lots of fun color schemes to play with, if you’re feeling frisky, too.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

This Holiday Season Is My Favorite


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our #1 Thing to do to keep our sanity this holiday season.

Personally I LOVE this time of the year and actually don’t get stressed over anything which happens around these holidays.

I’m pretty organized when it comes to doing cards, buying gifts and wrapping things. I listen to my favorite Christmas carols constantly – I enjoy the country-flavored versions on the ‘Smokey Mountain Christmas’ album, I love “Joy to the World” and many of the other songs on the ‘Christmas with the Gatlin Brothers’ album, I have several Celtic and exclusively bagpipe Christmas albums of carols, the Straight No Chaser ‘Christmas Can-Can’ song is hilarious, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir does full throated justice to traditional carols…well, you get the picture. I have maybe six versions of “We Three Kings” which is one of my alltime favorite carols, by different singers, on my iPod.

I also have a collection of plates that I use from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. A lot of them are from Pier One and feature dogs or cats in holiday hats but also some traditional winter themes. I thoroughly enjoy bringing those out and taking a break from my year round ‘Butterfly Meadow’ dishes with flowers, birds and butterflies. I have five or six Christmas tea cups that I use during this same time period.

So I kind of immerse myself in the holiday and enjoy the heck out of it, watch the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day and pivot back to normal life thereafter.
It probably started when I was a kid and the entire Christmas season seemed so magical. I really love Autumn and Winter, as my two favorite seasons and I feel so much more alive in the colder weather.

Frankly, I loathe summer and hot weather. Just not my thing. Come talk to me about stress in July!  I’m all about the cozy indoors of winter with a blizzard raging outside, metaphorically speaking.

I used to take my annual vacation at Christmas time because at the old day job there would be quite a few official days off and so I could take two weeks without actually using up all my vacation days. I’m sure that helped with stress levels too.

My daughters have told me they were stressed because I did all the wrapping of gifts for the family on Christmas Eve and basically disappeared for the entire day. If I’d know that then, I would have handled it differently!

There were some years when I remember stressing over whether I could get them THE toy they most desired in the entire universe. I think I managed for the most part, although there were a few years we made a quick trip to Toys R Us after the holiday to sift through the wreckage in the aisles and see if we could find whatever it was or something to be a ‘consolation’ gift.

I should probably add that our holidays are pretty low key. We don’t do giant family dinners, I’m not a party person, I do everything I need to do for myself to minimize stress, which as an introvert primarily means avoiding those occasions where a ton of people gather. I did the office parties and the company parties back in the day when I was required to by my job or my late husband’s job. Being a fulltime author requires no group gathering with egg nog and white elephants, thankfully.

Give me a good Regency Christmas romance to read, Jake the cat to purr, my cozy blankets, a cup of tea in that holiday cup and I’m happy!

Wishing you a happy holiday season…

(By the way, I’ve been sharing photos of my extensive fashion jewelry Christmas earrings and pins collection on my author Facebook page and my Instagram, if you enjoy such things…)

All photos are Author's own.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Beware the Ghost of Holiday Stress


Happy Friday the Thirteenth.

It's two weeks before Christmas and I'm on one coast of the state at a specialty hospital being evaluated for handling the migraines. My father is in another hospital on the other side of the state with his heart rate through the roof and yet another heart procedure in his near future. Welcome to holiday stress.

How are you supposed to survive this nonsense anyway? If you have the ability (and this is definitely a skill) release what you cannot control. Ask for help. Accept that help. Connect with other people. Mix enjoyment into some of the moments of madness. Find a little hole in the wall restaurant that makes that thing you love. Seek out stories. Especially those that connect you to something larger than yourself.  Case in point: In the parking lot of the hotel, a huge brown tabby and white polydactyl cat greets hotel guests with head bonks and purrs. It seems the hotel helps manage a colony of feral and abandoned cats on property. When the last hurricane blew through, the hotel put the colony cats up in one of the hotel rooms to keep them safe. Did that not restore a little faith and lower your stress a tiny bit? (PS: The cat's name is Nala.)

Most of us think in terms of stress being a bad thing. But in the dark of winter when most of us in the northern hemisphere want to retreat from the cold, the gray skies, and from life itself, stress kicks us back into gear. Our blood moves faster. Stress warms us a touch. Chronic unrelieved stress is bad. That’s not the holidays, that's siege. So if your family situation feels like standing up on the barricades, it needs to be addressed. Preferably with a professional. Your well-being and peace of spirit aren't worth days of torture and anguish.

For run of the mill 'too many things on the list and not enough time' kinds of stress, ask for and accept help. Got to change that light bulb way up in the ceiling? Ask for help bringing in the ladder. Or holding the ladder. Don't let the cat talk you into letting her scale all the way to the top. She'll just show off and then bite you when you try to keep her from falling off. Ask me how I know.

Put a silly holiday show on the TV. Or a decorating show. Or a shoot-em up. Whatever is your holiday jam. Rock through that list of yours in the company of people you actively enjoy. If someone is in the kitchen making treats while you finish up the holiday card list, bonus. And don’t forget the power of exercise to keep you from murdering your nearest and dearest. Channel a little holiday spirit with a bracing walk in whichever winter wonderland you occupy.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Glog and a Dog



Bring on the glitter, the cookies, the nog! Bring on the snow gear, more goodies, and the dog!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Peace in the Silly Season



Earlier this week, Jeffe Kennedy posted a shiny (and glittery) plan for getting through the stress of the holiday season: gathering with people, drinking champagne, embracing joy. I love everything about it.

Erm, except the people.

I'm not a people person. Yesterday my therapist asked if I usually get anxious about holidays, and I had to say, honestly, not really. I mean, most of it is fine. I dig the traditions and the family and snuggling in warm places when the weather outside is cold. I adore warm beverage and selecting gifts and watching on-theme movies and wrapping presents and even decorating the tree. And even though I love my family, even my extended family, and look forward to seeing them... sometimes the constant, inescapable peopling of it all just becomes too much.

Sometimes I need to run away, grab just a few minutes of alone-time. In a sneaky, gift-giving season like this, most folks won't question if I go into a room by myself and lock the door.

So that's my tip for getting through the holidays. Yes, embrace all the parts of tradition you love. But--especially if you're an introvert, like me--remember to build in some solo time when you can recharge.

Warm, cozy wishes for you all during this season. (Or cool thoughts, alternately, if you're on that side of the world.)


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Keeping Sane During the Winter Holidays

Dear Readers, the thing that keeps me sane during the winter holidays when demands are greater, interactions more brittle, and snow is beautiful everywhere except when it sticks to the pavement?

#1 Guaranteed Sanity Preserver:



All I need to do is look at that face, snuggle that fur, and lean in for teh keess to be reminded that love is what matters. As long as the actions I take and the reactions I offer come from a place of love, then I can be happy with myself regardless of what comes my way.


Sunday, December 8, 2019

#1 Thing to Assuage Holiday Stress

I posted this pic to Instagram Stories asking people to vote on whether this is a helpful cat or not. Something like 82% voted "yes." (I forgot to look at the final score before the story expired.) This only proves that my tribe of followers are TOTAL CAT PUSHOVERS.

And yes, that's THE FATE OF THE TALA on the monitor. I was amused by how many people messaged asking if that's what they spied. Those who listen to my podcast know that I'm struggling with this book, but I'm also at 88K now - which I originally thought would be my total! - and I'm getting there...

NOT helped by cats who insert themselves between my hand and the mouse.

Anyhooo....

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our #1 Thing to do to keep our sanity this holiday season.

My #1 Thing? ENJOY

I'd put sparklies around the word if I could. I've been big on this lately, but I'm going to say that focusing on Delight & Gladness is the key. The holiday celebrations are supposed to be FUN, dammit! The midwinter ones in the northern hemisphere in particular (sorry about all of you roasting down in Australia - I suggest chilled white wine and Tim Minchin) are designed to lift us out of the doldrums of darkness and wintry chill.

So, I make a point to find time to ENJOY things I love about the holiday season. I go look at lights. I watch schmaltzy Christmas shows. I eat treats I don't normally indulge in, and drink champagne (okay, I always do this) out of pretty glasses I keep special for just this time of year. I arrange for outings with friends to indulge in holiday cocktails and beautifully decorated spaces. (Hotel bars are great for this!)

I say, find what really gives you Delight & Gladness in the holiday season and do that as much as you can. I do believe sanity will follow.

Happy Holiday Season, all!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Fantasy Winter Holiday and Cinderella Fairy Tale Theme All in One!


Our topic this week is whether we’ve ever created a holiday for one of our books.

Yes!

There were quite a few factors that went into ny fairly new release Winter Solstice Dream, one being I’ve always wanted to write a holiday romance (Regency romances set at Christmas are catnip to me) but since I write scifi romance for the most part, and ancient Egyptian paranormal romances, I didn’t see how I was going to manage that. (Although I did once write a short story about Thanksgiving being celebrated on my luxury interstellar cruise liner, which can be found in this collection of my shorter works. That was a fun challenge!)

A few years ago I published my first book in a projected fantasy romance world I developed, The Captive Shifter and it recently occurred to me I could tell a perfectly good holiday story set in this time and place. I’ve always been planning to write sequels and connected stories for that world, known as Claddare. So I needed to adjust my thinking from a holiday we celebrate to creating a holiday the people in Claddare might enjoy in midwinter.

In creating this alternate world originally, I was partially inspired by Andre Norton’s Witch World series, loving the way she mixed magic and mysteries. My all-time favorite of hers in this vein was Year of the Unicorn and not that I’ll ever write at her level, but I was going for something of the feel of those stories (not the almost science fiction territory the first few in the Witch World series had).

I was also inspired by the classic movie “Ladyhawke” (who isn’t, if you love fantasy?), although my world is entirely fictional, not tied to anything in the actual Earthly Middle Ages. Halvor’s horse in this novella owes a lot to the wonderful steed in Ladyhawke.

And of course “Lord of the Rings”, the movie trilogy more than the actual novels, influenced me.

I always enjoy having magic as a plot element and there’s quite a bit here, one way and another.  We don’t see too much from the Witches of Azrimar themselves this time but Nadelma, my heroine, has her own powers of a completely different sort. I’ve also always been intrigued by desserts containing  charms or favors and found a good way to work the concept into this story on a grand scale. But after all, Nadelma is baking a cake for the hundreds who’ll attend the Solstice Night Ball.

Nadelma, appeared briefly in The Captive Shifter, but both books stand alone. I felt that she, as the Head Cook in the Witch Queen’s palace, would be an interesting character to learn more about. I loved the idea of making this a Cinderella type tale, complete with those sparkly shoes, although they aren’t key to the Happy Ever After ending. I had to have them in the story though! Readers have asked me for more about Nadelma so it felt good to finally oblige.

The blurb:  Torn from her home in the Dales as a child, Nadelma has made a place for herself as the head cook in the Witch Queen of Azrimar’s castle. She stays in the background of the busy court and uses her gentle magic gifts sparingly to help others. More or less content, she’s made peace with the hard facts of her life. Romance, marriage, a family – all beyond her dreams any longer.

Then Halvor, an ambitious Dales lord rides into the city, bringing his mercenaries to serve the king, with the promise of a rich reward, including a title and an estate. The only catch? He has to marry a highborn Azrimaran noblewoman to seal the treaty.

Fate conspires to throw Nadelma and Halvor into each other’s company and the connection is instant and deep but both resist the attraction. She knows she can never have him for herself. He must fulfill the treaty to secure a safe place for his people to live, since their holding in the Dales was destroyed by the black magic of the Shadow. Marriage to a noble damsel of the king’s choice is his fate.

Until he met Nadelma he thought his heart was frozen by the loss of all he cared for, back in the Dales. Now he knows better but his people must come first.

The situation is hopeless…or is it? For the king declares the city will celebrate Winter Solstice and hold a ball, where wishes and dreams just might come true.

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The excerpt:  Nadelma receives this year’s charms for the cake from the Queen Mother:

Felka was seated alone in her favorite plush chair in the sitting room, with several of her small dogs napping close by when Nadelma was announced. “Oh don’t be formal today,” she said, indicating the chair next to her. “Sit and be comfortable. You must be walking miles in the kitchens daily right now, preparing all the food and treats for the festivals.”

Nadelma curtseyed and then sat on the edge of the chair. “I do like to be busy, your majesty.”

“You never complain.” Felka’s tone held approval as she picked up a large, flat wooden box and passed it to Nadelma. “The royal silversmith delivered the charms for the cake today. I’m sorry we’re leaving this till the last minute because I know you have work to do inserting them all into the cake. Go ahead, take a look and let me know if the designs meet with your approval.” She sipped tea from a fragile cup painted with flowers while Nadelma opened the case.

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There were one hundred and one charms, not that they were necessarily meant to go to the extra invited guests. The number ‘101’ was sacred to one of the goddesses honored at solstice and the reasons for this were lost in time. The silver charms served several purposes—primarily as a keepsake for those lucky enough to be served a piece of cake containing one.  The queen and her witches would have put white magic into a few, which if the recipient made a harmless wish, like finding a lost item or not being rained on at a wedding would grant the request. Thirty were matched tokens, meant to unite couples for the main festival dance. The magic made sure the numbers came out even, pairing up each person with someone compatible for a few hours, even if only as casual friends, although legend stated many marriages had come from the matching of the charms on Solstice Night.

Two were to designate the king and queen of the dance, allowing the two selected guests to ‘rule’ over the special musical celebration and to open the dancing.

Nadelma ran her hand over the rows of charms, each securely slotted into its own place in the blue velvet lining. She let her own magic interpret for her which charm was for what purpose. On occasion she’d added one of her own spells to the Azrimar spell, to help someone meet the person they wished to dance with, or for a man or woman she knew to be in need to receive the benevolent wish. Of course she didn’t tell the queen about the extra power she could give the charms. She’d have to try to ferret out what Helemma cared most about and see if she could influence events to go in the girl’s favor when it came to snagging a charm.

Her hand trembled a little as she paused at the silver crowns denoting the king and queen of the dance. What she’d give to be the girl who received the regal token, if Halvor was the holder of the other.  To dance with him openly…

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