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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.

The first romance novel I ever bought

Asking me to pick a favorite romance novel is like asking me to pick which of my dogs I love the most. Im-fricking-possible. So here’s the story of the first romance novel I ever bought.

When I was about eleven years old, it was an odd thing for me to have money. I’m not sure where I’d come up with the few dollars that I was going to use to buy my mother’s birthday present, but I was excited about it.

I went into the tiny bookstore in our tiny mall. B. Dalton Booksellers. I was a little embarrassed when I walked into the Romance novel section. After all, I was eleven. I blushed when I saw people kissing. But I’d read several of my mother’s collection of them, and I knew that she’d love whatever book I could find for her. And also, that eventually, I might be able to read it too. (She kept the spicy ones on a bookshelf that my big sister and I weren’t supposed to read.)

There were several thicker books that I wouldn’t have money for. I looked for her favorite authors, but they all had the thick books. I’d only have enough for one of the skinnier ones.

I picked up a slim volume with a purple spine. The cover, edged in the same purple, had a swarthy, tanned, shirtless man standing behind a pale blonde woman with short curls. She was dressed only in a white towel. A massive ship stood behind them both.

SCARLET BUTTERFLY by Sandra Chastain.

With burning cheeks and a sweaty palm gripping my wad of dollars, I went up to the counter. I put the book face-down, and looked at my feet while the woman rang it up. She drew me out in conversation, and when she found out it was my mother’s birthday, she let me select from a pile of free books too. I got my mother two books with my few meager dollars. I was over the moon.

Me and my first romance purchase.

Mom was delighted with the gift, both the free book and SCARLET BUTTERFLY. As time went on, and I plowed through my mother’s entire collection of Romance novels, I finally read that very first Romance I’d purchased. It became one of my favorites, and I re-read it several times. When I moved out of the house, and my sisters, mother’s, and my reading collections had become muddled and mixed, SCARLET BUTTERFLY came with me.

In October of 2011 I had the pleasure of attending my first writer’s conference. I met several very interesting women, made some life-long friends, and learned so much. One of the coolest people I spoke to just in passing, was a white-haired, elderly lady with a walker. She wasn’t physically strong, but she was sharp and clever. I laughed with her a couple of times over the weekend. I don’t think she wore a nametag, so I didn’t catch who she was.

At the Maggie Ceremony, the GRW chapter presented their awards. They gave several to their chapter members. I clapped, smiled, and tweeted the winners. But then they got to the Nancy Knight Mentorship award. They described the winner’s willingness to help other writers, how sweet, caring, and wonderful this person was, and then they announced her name.

I looked up as my heart skipped a beat. Across the giant white screen at the front of the room was printed the name:

SANDRA CHASTAIN

It took a long time for her to reach the stage. After all, a lady with a walker can only move so quickly. But it was her. The person who’d written the very first romance that I’d ever bought.

I wanted so badly another chance to speak with her. To tell her how much I’d enjoyed SCARLET BUTTERFLY. To get her autograph, to tell her how inspiring it was to me to meet her. But I didn’t see her again after that. We had to leave the awards ceremony before it was over, and she wasn’t at the workshop on the following morning.

I may never get to meet her, but I saw her. I put a face to the name on the cover of my dog-eared, read-to-shreds copy of SCARLET BUTTERFLY.

The world may be small, but sometimes it’s freaking incredible.

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!

My favorite sidekick… Donna Noble

It’s sidekick time, so we get to talk about our favorites! I know that Sabrina just talked about Doctor Who, but while Martha is her favorite companion, I’ve got to give that particular crown to my favorite companion…

Donna Noble

 

Donna Noble.

 

She’s not the youngest companion, or the prettiest. But I’ve got several big reasons why she is the PERFECT companion for the Doctor.

1. Zero Romantic Entanglement.

She’s a woman, he’s a Time Lord shaped like a man. But Donna NEVER had any particular attraction for him. That made their relationship as a team SO much more enjoyable. With Rose, I was always waiting for him to admit how he felt about her. With Martha, I was waiting for her to get over him. But Donna was his friend. His BEST friend. The only companion I’ve seen who could interact with him without giving a shit about how SHE felt. It was such a relief after the angst of Rose and Martha.

2. Backbone

“I just want a mate,” he said, an earnestly worried expression on his face.

“You want… TO MATE?” She dropped her jaw in protest while her eyebrows winged to her hairline. “Oi, you’re not mating with ME, space man!”

She walloped him, she corrected him, she said NO. She did things that no other companion would, or could. She was tough and she didn’t mind standing up to what amounts to the most feared being in the Universe. I LOVED that about her.

3. Empathy

In “Forest of the Dead” (which is the second part of “Silence in the Library”… Vashta Nerata anyone?) Donna was saved and provided a family by CAL. She had a husband, and children, and while she KNEW something was off about the whole situation, she couldn’t help falling in love with the whole idea. And then, all that was ripped away from her. After that episode, you got the sense that Donna knew a little bit about how the Doctor must feel, having lost so much. They comforted each other, not as potential lovers, but as FRIENDS.

 

It’s entirely possible for women and Time Lords to just be FRIENDS. And I think that the series is really missing that now. I never bought that Amy Pond lost her hero-worship type love of the Doctor, and I spent so much time wondering if Clara was some kind of regeneration of River or somehow one of the Doctor’s children that I never got a good sense that they were friends, either.

Like Sabrina, I love romance. Heck, I’m trying to make my living off just that! But Doctor Who works better when it’s an adventure between mates, not a soap opera.

So, Mr. Moffat, if you can hear me, BRING ME THE ONE THEY CALL NOBLE!

Following the King

Becoming a writer isn’t easy. SURPRISE!!! I know you’re stunned. I was!

Reading is so simple, so wonderful, so engrossing, that I thought writing should be exactly the same. I should be able to lose myself in the world I created just as easily as I do those of my favorite authors. BUT, it doesn’t work that way. Writing isn’t just fun. It’s honest-to-god, back breaking, agonizing, sweat inducing WORK.

Finding the perfect words are hard. Creating the right characters is tough. Building a story is like building a multi-trillion dollar skyscraper–screw up your inner structure, and it’s going to come tumbling down like Jenga blocks.

When it comes to who my writing idols are, I wish I could make it look as easy as they do.

Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Catherine Coulter, Susan Donovan, all these women create stories that read so easily! They’re my favorite books to read, they’re fun, full of love, life and laughter.

But my all-time idol, the man who has inspired me over and over again since I was just a teenager, is the master of horror himself.

Stephen King got me interested in books other than my usual fare. Someone gave my grandmother a big box of books, and she gave them to me one day when I was staying with her for the weekend. There were lots of different genres in there–thrillers, contemporary novels, love stories. But the book that kept sticking out to me was DOLORES CLAIBORNE.

I read the first page countless times. The whole story was narrated! It was in first person! The story was told so deeply from her point of view, because she was telling the story as she remembered it. It was odd. Frightening at first, a little off-putting. But eventually, I got it. I realized how I was supposed to read it. And since that day, I’ve read that book a billion times. I worked my way through some of his other classics. CARRIE, PET SEMATARY, THE GREEN MILE, and MISERY, to name a few. God, I loved MISERY.

 

His book ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT inspired me to write my first mainstream novel (as Gina Lamm). And since then, his advice to write what you love, not what you know, has permeated my books, making them (I hope) much more driven and appealing.

So yeah. Stephen King is my writing idol. He writes 2,000 words a day, every day, no matter what. I need that kind of drive, that kind of persistence. And I know I can do it. He’s my inspiration.

Who’s yours?

It’s Caught in Crimson Day! With PRIZES!

CiC Release Blog Tour Graphic

WOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

It’s here it’s here it’s finally HERE!!!!

 

Yup, that’s it. Today, finally, CAUGHT IN CRIMSON releases from Ellora’s Cave! If you saw my post earlier in the week, you know that this is Day 3 of the Super Awesome Spectacular Caught in Crimson Release Tour! If you didn’t, well, welcome! And you’re in luck. Because today, and several more days from now, you’ll have a chance to enter to win the grand prize. A $25 Amazon giftcard, PLUS the entire upcoming Spellbinding series, starting with Crimson! WHAT??? Yup, win them before you can buy them. Of course, they’ll be delivered on release, but still! The complete set without you having to lift a finger. Sound good? Good. And there are 10 runner-up prizes too! So there are lots of chances to win.

 

Okay, intro over. Let’s get to the meat of this post. And I do mean, meat. As in, man meat.

 

 

 

 

CAUGHT IN CRIMSON Character Spotlight: Adam Montague

Image purchased from Fotolia.com

Image purchased from Fotolia.com

Meet Adam Montague. Carpenter, divorcee, businessman. Used to being in charge. Is a true gentleman. Opens doors for ladies, says ma’am, leaps to protect them whenever possible.

In short, he’s completely wrong for Delia.

But damn, does he like what she does to him.

After discovering his wife Vanessa’s embezzlement and their subsequent divorce, Adam found it hard to trust anyone, much less women. But at his employee’s urging, Adam reluctantly agrees to an online dating profile. He doesn’t really click with anyone until he happens upon CrimsonLady83’s profile.

She’s gorgeous, sexy, and seems almost completely insane. But Adam can’t deny the magic things happening around him, even though they should be impossible. Thrown into a world he knows nothing about, he’ll have a lot to deal with in order to get out with his life, and heart, intact.

Let’s play questions with Adam!

1. What is your favorite word?

Energy. I like how it makes me feel.

2. What is your least favorite word?

Vanessa. For obvious reasons. 

3. What turns you on?

Other than a great body? Intelligence. I love a woman who’s clever.

4. What turns you off?

Lies.

5. What sound do you love?

The sound of tools on wood. It means progress.

6. What sound do you hate?

Women crying.

7. What is your favorite curse word?

Goddamn   

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

I can’t imagine doing anything but building. It’s who I am.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

I could never sit in an office and handle phone calls. That would drive me insane.

10. If you could paint a picture of your perfect woman, what would it be like?

Well, she’s kind. Brave, and strong, but lets me take care of her too. She’s beautiful, curvy, moves well. But I guess the most important thing is that she’d be trustworthy. I’d have to be able to know she and I were a team.

What do you think of Adam? Does a sexy macho man flip your switch? Do you want to WIN lots of faboo prizes? Well then! Click the Rafflecopter logo below, and see the MANY ways you can enter to win!!
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^^^^^^^^^^CAUGHT IN CRIMSON blog tour giveaway! ^^^^^

Moravian Christmas Cookies

This may surprise some of you, but I am a CHRISTMAS NUT.

Nope, not religious. I’m talking the whole tacky ornament, Santa loving, Grinch adoring, stockings-and-ugly-sweaters kind of Christmas nut.

I ADORE Christmas. I love getting together with my family, giving them the most fabulous presents I can come up with, eating, cooking, laughing, and sneaking around playing Santa.

When I was little, my parents had to make a rule for me. We couldn’t open presents until 5:30am. That didn’t stop me getting up at 1:00, 2:30, 3:25, and 4:59.

Yeah. This is a lifelong condition.

So, it is with a sense of great jubilation that I share with you my single favorite Christmas cookie recipe.

OMNOMNOMNOM

OMNOMNOMNOM

 

Warning: These cookies taste like you just jammed a sleigh-full of delicious and spice into your mouth. Also, one batch makes about a trillion cookies. But, good news. The batter can stay refrigerated for up to two MONTHS. (not a typo.) Yay for liquor-laced cookie dough!!!

And, without further ado…

 

MORAVIAN CHRISTMAS COOKIES

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 cups Shortening

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed Dark Brown Sugar

A five pound bag of flour (you won’t use all this in the dough, but you will need the vast majority by the time you’re done. Think of the rolling out. These cookies are a commitment, but it’s like marrying an ancient billionaire. Pain in the hoo-ha for the short term, but CRAZY AWESOME later!!)

4 cups of Molasses

3/4 cup Brandy

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

2 tablespoons Milk

1 teaspoon White Vinegar

2 tablespoons Cinnamon

2 tablespoons Nutmeg

2 tablespoons Cloves

1 tablespoon Ginger

 

Directions, in case you’re not scared enough now. IT’S WORTH IT!!

 

In a big bowl, mix together shortening, brown sugar, and 3 cups flour. Add molasses and brandy. In a separate bowl, dissolve baking soda in milk and mix in vinegar. Add to molasses batter with all the assorted spices. Now here’s where it becomes a workout. Add enough flour to make a stiff dough. Your arms will be exhausted, and you may give up too soon. That is okay. Refrigerate at least overnight, but up to two months! Liquorrrrrrrrrrrrrr. 🙂

When you’re ready to bake, let a chunk of the dough come up to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. If your oven runs hot, you may want to knock it down to 260. You know your oven. I don’t. Moving on!

On a floured board roll out dough to 1/8 of an inch thick. If too sticky, add more flour. If too dry, add more dough. Cut 3 inch cookies. I recommend using parchment paper on your baking sheets, also, btw. Bake them for ten minutes total, the first five on the bottom rack, and the last five on the top rack. Remove and cool.

 

These cookies will turn you into a bakery, but they make your house smell of nutmeg and cinnamon and ginger and cloves. AMAZEBALLS. And the taste? They’re much better the next day. The spices ping your tongue. Yeah, so they’re a lot of work. Yeah, so they have about seventeen ingredients. THEY ARE SO WORTH IT.

 

Christmas is a commitment, people. Your December 25th can be just like every other day of your life, or it can be special. MINE WILL BE SPECIAL, DAMMIT!!

 

*omnomnomnomnomnom*

 

 

 

 

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