Author Archives: Denise

Sleigh Bells, the Big Guy and Finding Faith

Well, my darling MANhandlers, I have to say I would make a much larger effort to catch Santa coming down the chimney if he looked like this. Enjoy!

My parents are awesome on an epic level. I love them with a ferocity that defies basic description. It’s always been this way, even when I passed through the dreaded Teenager of Doom years. They are, quite frankly, amazing. But, because they are human and subject to human flaws, there were a handful of serious Parenting Fail moments growing up. The one I want to touch on was the day they told me Santa didn’t exist. I’ll never forget the moment. I had recently defended Santa to a classmate who insisted Santa was his dad and was bothered the classmate, Ryan McSomething-or-Other, proved so insistent. Jackass, right? That first forkful of crow was hard to get down. Here’s how it went down.

My parents were wheeling a small BMX bike up the front walk and I followed behind. (I’d been at a neighbor’s house while they were shopping.)
Mom: “Don’t tell your brother about the bike. It’s from Santa.”
Me: O_o … “Huh?”
Mom: “The bike. It’s from Santa. Don’t tell Andy.”
Me: “How is it from Santa?”
Mom: O_o … “You know we’re Santa.” (← statement of fact)
Me: (trembling chin) “You’re what?”
Mom: “Santa. Your dad and I are Santa. You knew that.”
Me: …

This didn’t bode well for the Easter Bunny, and I knew it with that crystal clarity inherent to life-altering moments.

I suppose I was a wee bit cynical that Christmas. Oh, I didn’t blow it for my brother with a casual, “Everything we’ve ever believed is a lie.” No, I let him have his excitement and his moment of wonder as I sat back and smoked a cigarette and sipped my scotch and contemplated the meaning of life. Not really. (C’mon. I was, like, eight. I didn’t like scotch yet.) In my mind, the moment was captured something like this:

 

 

“Don’t mind me. I’m just sitting over here living a lie, thanks.”

 

 

 

But this was the moment a tradition was born. My parents pulled me aside and told me that, as long I continued to believe in the beautiful mystery of Santa and maintained the Christmas spirit, the jolly red-suited big guy would continue to visit — ad nauseum. I chose right then to give up drinking and smoking and simply hold out hope the ‘rents were telling the truth. I remember easing back into the moment and feeling a little of the Christmas spirit revive in me.

It became a holiday tradition that my brother and I would sit down at the tree on Christmas Eve and shake our presents, trying to guess what we’d be opening come morning and then we’d lay a little wager about what Santa would bring. When he moved to Florida this year, at age 36, I realized I wouldn’t have that. I’m going to miss it. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Santa, though. Nope. No way. I’ve even got my husband believing. We hang stockings every year and, lo and behold, they’re filled every Christmas morning and there are special presents for us, whether it’s around our tree or Mom and Dad’s.

Santa and I have come to a gradual understanding over the years. It’s pretty much: I get fantastic presents in exchange for faith based on cookies, time and tradition.

I can live with that.

That for Which I’m Grateful

Yummy KiltGood morning, MANhandlers! Today’s photo is one I came across that made me stop, stare and thank God for men, kilts and work boots. Enjoy!

When I received the topic for this week’s blog post, I thought, “Name three things I’m most grateful for? Easy peasy.” Turns out that’s not quite true. I think I wrote this post four times, and every time I started fresh, there were three new things in my life I found myself grateful for. I decided to go with the first version because, while it’s much more personal than I tend to ever get, it’s the most authentic. Here’s what I came up with.

#1: My Husband

It might sound a bit trite, but he’s the thing I’m most grateful for in life. There are too many reasons to list, plus I’d probably get all sappy, so let me hit the high points. First, that man loves me more than anything else in the world, and he makes sure I know it–texts, notes, voicemails, emails, flowers, surprise dates. He is a cuddling machine. He listens to what I have to say. He’s brilliant and not stingy in sharing the knowledge, so I’ve grown marginally more intelligent over the years. (Yay, osmosis!)

Above all, when the shit really hit the fan and I found myself in a very precarious emotional spot due to some serious ongoing health issues, he stood by me, behind me for support and in front of me as interference. He was where I needed him to be when I needed him to be there without my ever having to ask. He simply loved me harder.

This man has taught me more about love than I ever thought possible, and I am a better woman for having been his partner for eighteen years.

#2: My Friends and Family

thank you noteSo simple. So true. I have a very, very small inner circle of people who surround me. There are quite a few people who orbit the group, people whom I value, but those closest to me? There are only a handful. These are the people I can call at 3:00 a.m. when my old Labrador Retriever had a seizure and my husband was out of town, the person I meet at Starbucks in “our spot” and can count on to be honest no matter how hard it is to hear, the person who goes to doctors’ appointments with me so I don’t have to be alone, the person who calls and says, “My Spidey Sense was tingling…what’s wrong?” and the person who simply shows up with a cold Dr. Pepper despite her personal war against sugar and says, “You need a little sunshine, Denise. Let’s sit outside.”

I do my absolute best to be worthy of their friendship, be they blooded family or not. My life is richer because of these people who form the nucleus of who I am.

#3: My Writing

This one might strike you as odd. Let me explain. Several years ago, I lost my job after a back surgery gone wrong. My job had become my life. It was everything I identified with, everything I used to define the parameters of “me.” When those parameters crumbled, I was left a shivering mass of naked regret. A decade spent building a career — gone. Disability was suddenly an unavoidable reality, and I hated myself for it. For a long time, I sulked. I didn’t want to rediscover joy in life. I didn’t want to find new passions. I wanted my old life back, and was so busy looking over my shoulder that I nearly missed what was right in front of me. Remember my darling husband? He bought me a laptop, brought it home and said, “Write. It used to make you happy.” I sulked a bit longer, then got up in pain in the middle of the night and went to the living room. There sat the computer. I opened it up and wrote the first few pages of Legacy, the first book I sold. Writing helped me rediscover who I was, who I am, and it gave my flagging sense of productivity an outlet that I could physically, safely, manage. I found myself in the words when I thought I was lost, when things were so bleak for me that I went to a very dark place I don’t talk about. My imagination was unlocked and I found  my happy inside. How can I ever thank him for that?

Take a second and let me know who or what you’re most grateful for. I’d love to celebrate them or it with you.

Scared Senseless — Terror, Scooby Doo and Motorcycle Boots

This, MANhandlers, is the photo that launched a thousand ideas. It is my inspiration, my happy and  my favorite photo. Not as explicit as some of the others, but there’s simply something about this man that makes me rawr. Enjoy!

I put off this week’s post as long as possible. I’m writing it about an hour before it’s due. I’m normally not such a procrastinator. In fact, I try to have my posts done early so I know they’re up for you to peruse at your leisure. But this time? It’s not that I didn’t want to send out the MANhandler shout out, but I had nothing to offer for the (ahem) meat of the post. We’re discussing favorite horror movies, books, shows, magazines — whatever. I’ve got nothin’.  I blame Halloween.

When I was little, not quite two, my mom dressed me as Raggedy Andy. I was freakin’ adorable. Then she and Dad took me trick or treating. We lived in Sacramento, California. I remember going, being very unsure of myself with the older kids, but people were giving me candy. Once I got that part figured out? I was golden.

We hit a few houses in the neighborhood and then went to The House. The man was dressed as a werewolf — mask, ragged clothes, big paws, scary-ass feet. He was terrifying older kids. Me? I lost my sh…tuff. The man removed his costume and got down on my level, tried to give me candy. Even then, I was nobody’s fool. I’d seen the monster behind the man, thank you very much, and my “Stranger Danger” alert was at DefCon 8 on a scale of 0-5. Dude had a bigass, terrifying creature locked inside him and I was the only one who seemed aware of this tidy little fact. 

Things like this tend to leave a mark on a child and shape how she sees the world. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it created in me a true fear of monsters and mythology and things that go bump in the night. I always had an overactive imagination, but that night has been fodder for a lifetime of I’m-no-chainsaw-wielding-psycho’s-victim-chick-who’s-going-to-trip-in-the-woods-but-thanks mental ramblings that make me cross dark spaces quickly and get the heebie-jeebies when I walk down an unlit hall. So to come up with something like a favorite horror movie? There’s just no such thing as a “favorite.” I’m reduced to choosing between Scooby Doo episodes. Sorry, folks. I yam what I yam.

What about you? Do you love to get the wits scared out of you? Do you thrive on having to change your shorts after a movie? Or are you content to live in well-lit spaces? If so, come sit by me.

 

MANhandlers, to the Island!

This week’s MANhandler photo is one meant to inspire. Inspire to what, you ask? Well, candlelight, wine, a roaring fire and, about an hour later, a shared cigarette. Enjoy!

Old [ohld] adjective:
far advanced in the years of one’s or its life: an old man; an old horse; an old tree.
(www.dictionary.com)

I’m not exactly old. Not really. And my hairstylist is well-paid to ensure no rogue grays foil my plot to defy the aging process as long as possible. There are some things, though, that simply can’t be modified to seem younger than they are. One of those things? My absolute favorite television shows from childhood. There are a few I loved — the original Scooby Doo, whose feet sort of slid along as he walked because it was a real cartoon, not a computer generated show; Flipper, the show that made me want to be a marine biologist; He-Man, who made riding a tiger cool, had long hair, wore a loincloth and was my first step toward falling in love with Sam Bond. But of all of the, ahem, not-new shows that were around in my youth, there’s one that stands out as a clear favorite, one I still watch every chance I get.

Gilligan’s Island

love this show. I wanted to be Ginger, who had kickass gowns and serious va-va-voom on a deserted island. I wanted to be Mary Ann because she was gorgeous and resourceful. I wanted to be the Professor because he was just too cool. I loved the Skipper’s temper. The Howells made me laugh at their ignorance and shallow attempts to remain socially elite. The island natives who were hysterical. And Gilligan? I loved Gilligan. I saw so much of myself in him–this kid trying to do all the right things and just bungling it regularly. He made me laugh out loud and cheer him on and sympathize, all at the same time. I never missed the show.

There was an innocence to the entertainment that I miss. Or maybe it’s my innocence I mourn. I’m not sure. Life was simpler then, and Gilligan’s Island personified for me what that meant — laughter, survival, friendship, camaraderie and, above all, hope. Pretty impressive impression to leave a kid with. High five, my lovely castaways.

A Brougham, a Lightbulb and a Chamber Pot

Sexy guyLet’s all take a moment to admire the extra set of hands in this week’s MANhandler photo. I know, I know…I wish they were mine too.

I love history. I’m talking love like biscuits love gravy, like chicken wings love sauce, like credit card companies love me. It’s irrational, this crazy passion I have for times past.  I blame Cinderella. No, really. I do. See, when I was little, I thought that whoever lived back in “olden times” got to marry a prince if they were super nice. Talking to the mice and birds was pretty cool too. But the whole princess thing? I was totally sold. The fact I was a total tomboy didn’t count against me since I had the qualifying princess quality: I was nice. I used to daydream about meeting my own prince charming and living in a castle and doing whatever it was princesses did before they became queen. And let’s face it — becoming queen was just cool.

I also love all things British. All. The. Things.

Carriage in SilhouetteAs I grew older, my obsession with the two merged and, low and behold, I discovered both Regency and Victorian romance novels. I was in heaven. Aristocracy was in, they were in love and they rode around in very cool carriages while thee-ing and thou-ing. It was heaven! There were people to cook and clean and sew and mend and garden and do the stable work. Everyone had these people, right? Uh-huh. I thought so too. Imagine my dismay when I realized the brutal untruth of this assumption. Not everyone could be titled, and I was far from likely to be the one to marry into the aristocracy. I was more likely to be executed or, at the very least, sent to Australia for being a heretic. (This became abundantly clear the day I learned wives were property of their husbands and could, literally, be sold if they were “bad.”)

Why, then, am I so enamored with Victorian England in particular? Because I wouldn’t have been bad. I have decided I would have been a duchess. Less responsibility than a princess but still top of the food chain. I would have been wildly loved and, in return, loved a duke. We would have traveled Hyde Park in a phaeton, attended balls and dinners in a brougham with the family crest on the side. Lights had been invented and we would have been on the cutting edge of innovation. There would have been houses and land and trips and love. Grand, grand love. And water closets had also been invented, so no chamber pots! Win!

In truth, I’m just modern day me. I’m not British, not a duchess and not rich. My “cutting edge of innovation” is a MacBook Pro that has functions I have no idea how to utilize (PhotoShop, anyone?). My carriage is a mid-size SUV. But prince charming? Got it in one. I married him.

A Little 1960’s Love


shutterstock_43873468I’m feeling very warm and fuzzy over this week’s MANhandler photos. Such lovely, lovely arms…and we all know how I feel about arms.

This is, by far, the post that has pushed me farthest from my comfort zone. I’m not a sci-fi reader, so when I had to come up with my favorite droid I’d like to have stop by for a day, I’m ashamed only one thing came to mind: the Jettsons. I know, it’s a little off the wall, but when I think of what I would most want, all I can think of is Rosie. (Sorry, Bumblebee and Optimus Prime — I suck.)

It always fascinated me to see the way we “would” live in the future. As a kid, I was pretty sure Hanna-Barbera was right on the money. Surely there would be boxes in the wall that spit out your favorite foods and we’d get around in funny cars that both hovered, rolled and flew. We’d all have giant dogs that could almost talk and hopping around space would be no more difficult than slapping a goldfish bowl on your head. But most of all, we’d have Rosie.
The Jetsons

Long before the sensual romance covers and my discovery of supremely spicy romance, the idea I could have a robot to do all my chores absolutely set my little heart aflutter. Just thinking about having someone come in and keep my house neat as a pin makes me lightheaded. I could lounge around like Jane and have a perfect figure and perfect hair and zero responsibility. Sure, she was a little saucy, but that was part of her charm. She might mouth off, but she still zoomed around the house getting everything done while Jane lazed the day away.

Imagine my horror when I got married and didn’t get a Rosie as a wedding gift. There were bitter tears, people. Bitter. Tears.

As fiercely sexy as Bumblebee is (shout out to my love of all things Transformers), Rosie is the one who makes me yearn for crazy technological advancements. Forget the flying cars. I want clean socks.

There Can Be Only One

Sexy fit manToday’s MANhandler photo is favorite of mine. Of course, they’re all favorites of mine. Go figure. Enjoy!

The topic for today’s post came in and I panicked. I’m not talking a little “oh no, what will I write about” panic. I’m talking “holy crap, there is no way to do this in less than a doctoral thesis” panic. The topic? Discussing our favorite book. I know, I know — I see the panic on your face. I felt the same way. How can I choose just one book? Impossible. This isn’t a remake of Highlander and there are no swords and beheadings and stuff. But I’m still talking books. Just a little off center.

Reading is a huge part of my life. I’ve been a compulsive reader ever since I was a kid. Some of my favorite memories center on the mailman delivering my Disney reader books every month. Remember those little square, cardboard-cover books? Yeah, those. I still have all of mine, even the ones my evil little brother defaced with crayons. He almost had his eyebrows shaved for that one. If only Mom hadn’t caught me with the straight razor… There’s still time, though.

When I entered elementary school, I was exposed to the Serendipity books. They were a huge turning point for me. It was like this creative switch was turned on in my brain and I fell in love with reading. It was then that I knew I wanted to write. I wanted to create stories that made people think and feel and get lost in the words. I was six.

As I got older, I continued to read. As a child, my absolute favorite book was Watership Down. I didn’t understand all of the social implications of the book, but the story was incredibly engaging and it made me think. I was nine when I first read it.

I also loved anything by Shel Silverstein, particularly A Light in the Attic. The man was a brilliant voice for children. One of the favorite things I have ever written is a silly poem. It won awards. It made me realize humor had to be part of my literary voice.

book with pages in shape of a heartIn college, I read romance. Lots and lots of romance. Anything I could get my hands on — historical, contemporary, paranormal. I realized that romance gave me an outlet to get lost in a world where the outcome was much more predictable than anything I was facing at the time. And, though predictable happy endings occurred, I never knew which path the author would take to get me there. Of course, my favorite book then was Outlander, though I know the author isn’t keen on having her book categorized as straight romance. That book taught me the value of complex world building and reader engagement.

In my thirties, I glommed onto paranormal romance like it was an illicit $5.99 drug. Yes, paperbacks were still $5.99. I read Kresley Cole, Larissa Ione, JR Ward and a few Sherrylin Kenyon. I found Nora Roberts’s different trilogies and ate up anything with recurring characters. I discovered I’m madly passionate about stories where I get to experience characters over and over. A main character in one book who cameos in the series? My favorite setup ever.

It wasn’t until my mid- to late-thirties that I discovered “good” erotica — stories with an actual plot that were sexy as hell. Thank you, Denise Rossetti and Robin Rotham. I discovered that closed-door sex scenes annoy the crap out of me and, therefore, have no place in my writing.

I entered my forties last January. I’ve discovered Gena Showalter. Why it took so long is beyond me, but it did. I’ve devoured everything of hers this summer. Her paranormal romances have indulged my love of world-building in a contemporary setting.

So many authors have had so much influence on my love of reading that it seems horribly unfair of me to limit myself to one favorite. In forty years, I’ve collected favorite books and favorite authors and favorite themes and favorite… You get the idea.

What about you? Are you able to identify one book that is, above all others, The One?

Series Love: Read, Relive, Rejoice

Sexy muscular man isolated on blackWell, my beloved MANhandlers, this week’s little bit o’ sexiness is here, ready for some serious appreciation. Gorgeous, isn’t he?

There is a simple truth in my life: I’m a literary series whore. Yes, yes. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’m a total Alpha leader in the SLUT regime. (SLUT = Series Lovers Uniting Together). I read my first series in college and was hooked. The book? Outlander by the infamous Diana Gabaldon. Again, I know it’s shocking. I blame her for my series love, and rightly so.

Three of my favorite series of all times are Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld (LotU) and Larissa Ione’s Demonica and Lords of Deliverance series. Why? Recurring characters done well. When I get into a series, I’m almost obsessive compulsive about it. I have to real All the Books. But there are some series I just can’t get into. I won’t name names because it’s pointless — it’s just my taste and says nothing about the quality of the authors’ works. Knowing I’m going to get a little nutty about reading everything in a series (and in order, thanks), I tend to be a little snobbish about the series I pick up. But Gena and Larissa? Doesn’t matter what they write — I’ll read it. And if it’s in a series, new or old, I’m all over it.

Pile of books on a black backgroundThe greatest thrill for me in reading a series is meeting secondary characters who, at some point, get their own books. It’s like literary foreplay, isn’t it? Teasing and tempting and yet waiting for the big payoff? And when it gets there, and it’s done right, it’s so worth the wait! I typically go through and re-read the series when a new book is coming out, just so I’m emotionally connected to the players. It’s just my modus operandi. The appeal that a series is so well-written that I can read and re-read it and still receive ridiculous satisfaction? That’s a long-term love affair right there.

As for writing, I’ve found series flip my switch. I fall in love with the characters in a much more intimate way and want to play in their world agains. I love to create secondary characters readers want stories for (hello, Darius fans!). My aim is to scratch that itch at some point. Always.

I’m seriously interested in finding out whether or not I’m on a sparsely populated island of series lovers or if the world is rich with them. Give me a shout out and let me know what you think about the value of series. Cheers!

Supernatural, Merlin, Twitter, Blogging, Fotolia and More

bigstock_Male_Rear_In_Underwear_405966My MANhandler picture today is one of my personal favorites. I’m rather partial to everything about this photo. Everything. Enjoy!

I am admittedly either very good at avoiding writing or very bad at managing my time. I’m not sure which it is, but it’s sort of a personal epiphany to sit here and acknowledge all the things I do other than write when I sit in front of the computer. For example, when I received my reminder that this was my day to blog, I immediately ditched the manuscript and dove into writing here vs. there. Such a lack of willpower! I’m easily led astray these days, and here are a few of the things that occupy my attention:

Supernatural: I’m pretty much an urban fantasy diehard, and some of what I write is pretty graphic in the way of violence. Ironically, I have to watch half of this show through my fingers. But when the eyes are on the screen and the hands over the face, very little writing gets done. Yay, Netflix! NOT HAPPY. I blame Tibby Armstrong.

Merlin: I’m a total BBC-Wales addict thanks to this show. I don’t catch it on regular programming, but I bought the first season on a whim and became addicted within minutes. I absolutely love this show and will watch it over and over and over. So good!

Twitter: It’s nothing for me to fall into Twitter and emerge hours later wondering what happened. I become engrossed in the most ridiculous things, like #Sharknado. W. T. H. My brain automatically assigns hashtags to things now. It’s a real #problem.

Blogging: I love to blog. It’s like chatting, and I’m very proficient at chatting. Sometimes I’ll get a wild hair and have to go write Laptop and Email symbol in devil shapeimmediately, sharing thoughts and ideas and best practices with my readers and fellow writers. Other times it’s publishing news. And yet others? It’s all about me getting a cat. Capital time suck.

Fotolia: This is my favorite royalty-free photo site. Sometimes, when I’m looking for inspiration for a book or a scene or a setting, I’ll spend an hour or three browsing photos and adding to my collection of MANhandler pics. Hey, somebody has to do it!

And the “more” I reference? That’s the internet in general. I get lost in it, browsing Ebay and CNN and Yahoo. It’s ridiculous! If I’d gain a little more focus and hammer on, I’d get a lot more done. I just don’t think life would be complete without my MANhandler days, though. They keep me sane. 🙂

 

What are your favorite online haunts? Share and give me other places to frequent. Pretty please?

My Fierce Demon Love

9888216_sMANhandlers, meet Abs of Delight! The nipple ring is just icing on this particular cake.

I love demons. Well, Gena Showalter’s demons. Not her personal demons… Maybe I should start over.

Today I’m going to blab about the best sidekicks EVAH. Having been a fan of paranormal romance (PNR) and urban fantasy (UF) for years — though I won’t disclose how many years — means I’m always looking for good books, preferably long-running series. I’m sort of picky about voice. It’s my pet peeve to get a flat voice or a voice I don’t connect with. It’s not the author’s fault, typically, but just my little quirk. Anyhoo, it often seems as if I’ve read everything I could possibly read. Then I find something new. Gena’s Lords of the Underworld series is the freaking best thing I’ve read in ages. No, it’s not new. Yes, I’m ashamed I hadn’t read it sooner. The point here is that I found it and have fallen in love with every…single…alpha hero. I’m talking almost-leave-my-lover-for-a-fictional-character love.

One of the best parts of the series, though, is that each warrior is paired with a demon high lord (i.e. Paris = Promiscuity, Toren = Disease, Amun = Secrets). These demons serve as a type of sidekick, influencing the hero and driving their behavior. It’s a great pairing because it gives each warrior such a distinct motivation because his will isn’t always his own. Every demon has a unique personality as well, and it’s interesting to see the interplay between man and monster. While the monster influences man, so does man influence monster. The author gives you the distinct impression that each demon might be just a little better than he was simply by being affiliated with his warrior. The warrior has ethics the demon lacks. It doesn’t always matter, but as each warrior battles his own story arc, you see how the two must work together to conquer whatever challenge has been set before him.

The other thing I truly love in this series is that the characters carry forward in every book, demons included. I have no idea how Gena manages as well as she does, but you never lose sight of any single character. It’s a remarkable talent she has to keep every character in every book while still allowing the hero/heroine to have their story. I’ve never felt cheated out of the hero’s/heroine’s story, even as I celebrate the recurring roles of the men I’ve fallen in love with.

Who are your favorite sidekicks in literature, movies or TV? I’m always interested to find out what people like about characters!

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