Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Surely, I can't be the only one feeling this way, right? The rush up to the holiday season, then as each one passes the let-down? With Christmas and New Year's being midweek, it's a strange, confusing, time-out-of-time when you really don't know which day of the week it is or what you should be doing! 

Well, 2019 is moving on tonight  and I say good riddance to bad rubbish! Yeah, sadly, it's been another one of those years for me. Yet, even with all the negativity and struggle in my life, there have been wonderful times and people. Thank goodness, right? 

For me, my grandbabies have been an ongoing source of joy and wonder. Watching them grow bigger and smarter and funnier each day. Watching as they take on challenges (pre-school, swimming lessons, gymnastics and more) and relish in succeeding. And the joy they experience from every simple little thing that happens. Our whole family trip to Disney World was filled with that wonder and joy!  

Back in February, I had the opportunity to model for a womens' clothing company and what fun!
I spent the day having hair and makeup done and then modeling clothes along with 4 other 'real women' customers. It was amazing to work with the professionals -- photographers, videographers, clothing specialists, dressers, stage crew and executives -- and fun! They treated me like a queen all day and it was a wonderful new experience I never thought possible.

In late August/early September, I got the chance to spend a week on Lake Michigan with my Irish travel group of friends - aka the Plucking Monkeys. We spent the days and nights talking A LOT, writing, shopping, sunning, watching the storms cross the lake from Wisconsin and bring the lightning with them. Got to see the Milky Way and some meteors in the dark of night and we drank a bit of Irish Coole Swan. It was a rejuvenating week of friendship, kinship and fun. And it led me to.....

After two+ years of deep grief and depression, my writing is back! I was asked to join in two different collaborations and am actually writing stories again. I feared I would never find the words and it terrified me. But the week on the lake, stress-free and with wonderful friends who laugh at anything and everything, opened the door that had been shut!

So, as the year ends, I'm still dealing with sadness and family crisis, but am hopeful that things will get better in the New Year. I'm deep into my Viking story - the closer of a 5-book series from Harlequin Historicals called The Sons of Sigurd. Mine will come out in November 2020. I've got more books to write for Harlequin and a couple of smaller collaborative projects with other authors in the offing. But, the words are back and bubbling up from within.

So, are you looking forward to 2020? Leaving bad things behind as 2019 exits and hoping for good in the new year? I wish you all the best -- I hope that 2020 will be happy and healthy and kind and filled with all the joys you need and want -- and books, lots and lots of books!

Happy New Year! 

(and PS - in 2020, Valentine's Day, 4th of July, Christmas and New Year's are all on weekends!! )

Friday, December 27, 2019

Pass the Optimism, Please

by Joanne Rock

As we close out a year and a decade, I’ve already started thinking about what’s on my To Do list for New Year’s resolutions—New Year’s Goals, really, since I tend to think about where I want to head next whenever the calendar changes.

The past year was a rough one for me, leeching away some of my hopes and faith in people, leaving holes in my heart. I’ve spent months trying to patch myself back together, pushing away old hurts to breathe deep and focus on the things I can control in life—my perspective, my projects, the people I let close to me. Sometimes, that’s all you can do after a loss. Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.

But as the year comes to an end, I find I want to do more than just keep moving. In 2020, I’d like to patch up my weary soul and restore some of the optimism I seem to have lost. Unfortunately, that’s a goal that doesn’t come to fruition just by speaking the wish aloud. How do I recapture the old joy after a year of hurts?

First, I plan to unplug. Not right away, as I have work commitments to honor and I need to be online while I see those through. But once the bulk of my professional obligations have been met, I hope to take a hiatus from social media and even my phone. Remember the days before cell phones when you could go for a hike in the woods without anyone knowing where you were for the day? Granted, there is a reassuring sense of safety that comes with a cell tower signal. But there is also a sense of anonymity and adventure that is lost by being reachable 24/7. I think it would do me good to turn off the phone, disconnect, and just BE for a little while. I’ve looked outward for a long time, reaching my hand out to others whenever I could, and I’ve enjoyed that. But while I’m refilling the emotional well, I think focusing on just me could be helpful.

After that, I plan to re-nest. I’ve moved a lot in the past few years, and I think the merry-go-round of homes is a tangible reflection of the pieces of myself I’ve misplaced. I’d like to regroup in a physical way even as I regroup emotionally. I plan to find a home and lovingly remake it into my own space for a new phase of my life. My bedroom will be a place to invite good dreams. My workspace will be a place to invite stories in a way to encourage my Muse. Old things I don’t need will be re-homed and I want to store away as a little as possible. I’m going to create a clean, lean space that reflects me.

Next, I plan to travel, but not so much with a focus on places as on people. I have made many wonderful friends over the years, and some of them I haven’t seen in decades. I plan to reconnect with people I love by showing up in their hometowns and asking them to hang out with me. I’m calling it my Grand Tour. I don’t know how many people I’ll get to see this year, but even just seeing one or two friends so I can enjoy those old connections again feels like it would be spiritually renewing. I can’t wait for that part of the plan to happen.

Finally, through it all, I hope to be present to all the little moments I can be. My sons are grown, so I can now focus on me in a way that I haven’t in years. I loved my time with my boys at home, but now I will need to start loving this new phase of my life as it presents me with different opportunities and different people. I’m going to embrace the newness and find out what I can do to make the world a better place, or a happier place, with my time and talents. I’m trusting the universe to put those opportunities in my path.
Available 2/1/20

That’s my 2020! A new adventure. A new decade. A soul renewed. But it all starts with giving thanks for what I’ve learned up to this moment—even down to the hurtful things that have taught me what I’m made of. No one gets through this life unscathed, even optimists like me. Today, I feel weary. But I know that by year’s end, I will have wonderful new things to be thankful for, and it all starts with a plan for change. Cheers to you in the New Year, my friends. Thank you for reading my books and sharing my stories. I hope 2020 brings you all good things.

**What are you doing New Year’s Eve? Will you be mulling over the year to come? Smooching a loved one at midnight? Share with me and I’ll give one random poster an advance copy of RULE BREAKER, book 3 in my Mesa Falls series from Harlequin Desire.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me! And Happy Holidays to You! by Jenny Gardiner

it's my  birthday and  I'm treating myself to a massage--hurray! And somehow I  didn't  get my reminder on my calendar alerts to write a post so I'm  going to re-post an old favorite Christmas story from my family. I tried to find another one I'd written but it seems lost  in  my computer, darn it!
I hope you all have a wonderful, restful holiday surrounded by those you love and cherish most and a healthy new year!

    I’m a sucker for the Christmas season. Always have been. Don’t know if it’s the deluded optimism the holiday thrusts upon us, or just a strange affinity for otherwise maudlin songs dressed up as cheerful seasonal chestnuts. I mean, let’s be honest, at any other time of year, who would actually listen wistfully to a yawner like “The Little Drummer Boy”?
    Whatever it is, I have always ensured that my family gets into the holiday spirit, starting with finding the perfect Christmas tree.
    When I was a kid, the search for the ultimate yuletide tree took us to the nearest gas station: hardly a romantic venue from which to choose the centerpiece of our holiday decor. We’d pile into the station wagon for the three-block drive to Buck’s Esso station, spill out onto the oil-slicked parking lot, mull over three or four already-netted spruce trees, and then dad would haggle down the price. End of story.
    Ah, so I was determined to rewrite that tradition with my own family. Early in my marriage, we decided the most festive tree-acquisition could only be achieved by cutting down our own (plus you get the added benefit of the needles actually staying onthe tree all month rather than littering the floor). Because we lived in citified Northern Virginia, the cachet of escaping to the “country”--i.e. the closest remaining patch of farmland untainted by greedy developers--only added to the allure.
    But one year, I found myself almost wishing for the chance to just pop down to the local gas station to buy a tree…
    That year, my husband and our three children, all under the age of four, trekked to the Clifton Christmas Tree Farm, where awaiting us were candy canes, hot chocolate, homemade wreaths and the typical abundance of forced holiday cheer that we craved.
    I had whipped my kids into a tree-chopping frenzy, and so they took their task quite seriously. For forty minutes, we foraged throughout the whopping half-acre “farm” until we found the perfect tree: seven feet of holiday splendor, as wide as it was tall, perfect to fill our cathedral-ceiling’ed living room and flood us with the Christmas spirit.
    The kids took turns on the ground with the saw while my husband supervised the chopping honors. Their excitement was palpable. We dragged the tree back to the cashier stand where the farmer’s son coiled the netting around our white pine. The kids stood by, sucking on candy canes, sipping hot cider and petting the farmer’s dog, who’d recently wandered over. I was just about to retrieve the car to load on the tree, when Fido lifted his leg.
    “Noooooooo!” I shouted in what seemed like a frame-by-frame slow motion, as a steady stream was released onto our perfect tree.
    For a moment we stood stupefied, not knowing what to do. But we weren’t about to keep a tree covered in dog wee, so we grabbed the kids’ hands to head back into the wilds to hunt for a replacement one.
    Until our kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that this tree was the one, the only. They threw themselves on the ground, flailing and crying, thrashing and moaning, like something from a Greek tragedy. They wanted their special tree, and nothing else would suffice.
    Their wails did not subside until we relented, and agreed to load up the tainted tree.
    The farmer found a makeshift bucket, filled it from a nearby stream and doused the offending urine from the tree. We loaded it onto the roof of the car, and went home.
    I have to admit, I sort of detached emotionally from the tree that year. Couldn’t quite get over the psychological hurdle of having a tree the dog peed on in my living room. Somehow it clashed with the whole festive notion.
    But for my kids, the tree was just about perfect, despite its incumbent flaws. And maybe that’s exactly why I like the holidays so much: because at this time of year, we’re all a little more likely to forgive the small things in order to see the bigger picture.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Michelle Styles: Holiday Traditions old and new

The other day I discovered that I mess with my children’s notions of Christmas traditions at my peril. That my children are all in their twenties does not seem to make a difference. They want Christmas as they remember it rather than allowing me to tweak or change things that I feel have become outmoded or past its sell by date. I had not realised that my actions as a young mother to make my life easier would have consequences for my older self!
My advent calendar with instruments
not in the proper order
My latest transgression involved the advent calendar. The calendar I use is the one my aunt gave me when my children were tiny. She sent it as a present from California as I had complained that UK advent calendars were not up to much (at the time they were very different to US ones and filled with cheap chocolate) My daughter who is now 26 was a babe in arms. It involves sticking Velcro backed musical instruments on to a tree of angels.  When they were young, I put the instruments in the various pockets in a specific order to make it easier for me. Over the years about 5 have gone missing. This year, I decided as I was the person who would be doing the advent calendar, I would put them in random order and have the blank ones at the start. Cue outrage from my daughter who then texted my sons to complain — I had changed the tradition. Same advent calendar but it bothered her in a way I’d not anticipated. I am afraid she is going to have to deal with a new tradition as I find it fun and I am the one putting up most of the instruments, but I had not understood how important she felt the putting up in a specific order was.
I suspect that it is how traditions get started — people do things  because it makes their life simpler at the time but then the reasoning behind the decision becomes forgotten and  the action becomes written far larger than the originator intended.

As a historical romance author who has written about Christmas (the Victorian set A Christmas Wedding Wager and the Viking set  Sent as the Viking’s Bride), I love investigating the traditions of Christmas — where they came from and what their first meaning were.  It has long been my belief that one of the stronger parts of Christianity is its willingness to embrace different cultures and to allow them to celebrate in familiar ways.  This certainly proved the case with the Vikings. We owe things like yule logs, wassailing,  wreaths and  the eating of ham/pork to them.  
A Christmas Wedding Wager is set in early Victorian England just after Charles Dickens reinvented Christmas with A Christmas Carol and it was lovely to find out the why of certain British Christmas traditions. Having grown up near San Francisco, I used to go to the Dickens Christmas Fayre but the actual British Christmas I experienced when I first moved over here was very different. I will admit that at first I struggled because I thought (and sometimes still do) that Americans, particularly Northern Californians keep Christmas a more agreeable way. It took me a number of years to get my head around mince pies at every gathering, flaming Christmas puddings and iced Christmas cakes which are made months before as well as Christmas crackers with silly jokes and paper crowns. After 31 years of living here though, they have become part of my Christmas tradition, including the British way of wishing people a Merry Christmas.
  I like to think the Christmas season is more enjoyable because of those long-standing traditions.  And it is equally good that we are constantly adding new traditions or ways of celebrating as families grow and change.

However, you celebrate with traditions old, new and as yet undiscovered — may I wish you a Happy Christmas and a Joyous New Year.
Michelle Styles writes warm witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide-range of time periods. Her most recent  A Deal with Her Rebel Viking was published at the beginning of December. Her next  book  Conveniently Wed to the Viking which is the 3rd book in the Sons of Sigurd Harlequin Historical continuity series will be published in July 2020. You can find out more about Michelle and her books on 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Christina Hollis: Winter Draws on...

Compliments of the season!

The weather is cold and blustery here in Gloucestershire, but so far we've only had frost and rain—endless rain, for weeks—rather than snow. The days are short, but we've had some beautiful views of the full moon between the rainclouds.

We don't put up our decorations or tree until Christmas Eve, but this weekend I really must settle down to writing the Christmas cards. It's a lovely task, especially when I've got a cup of tea and mince pies to hand, and some carols on in the background. AntPDC put together a lovely presentation on YouTube a few years ago to accompany Victor Hely-Hutchinson's Carol Symphony. I never get tired of watching it at this time of year. Some of the photos are of the historic York. Now I've visited the city several times, I can recognise some of the places and it makes this film even more special.

If you're still looking for ideas for presents, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol is full of stories and photographs of the brave, clever and resourceful women who helped make the city famous.  Read about Ada Vachell, who drove her parents mad by taking their servants out on day trips to the seaside, or Sarah Henley, who in 1885 survived falling over two hundred feet from the Clifton Suspension Bridge when her long Victorian skirts filled with air like a parachute!

You can buy Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Pen and Sword Books.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Midwinter, I hope you have a happy, peaceful holiday season.

Friday, December 13, 2019


I know many things about myself.
I love my family and Himself.
I treasure my friends.
I have Medusa hair.
I do not truly wake up until I have hot, strong black coffee in my hand.
I love to read, play with ceramics, learn new things...
I feel most at home out in the middle of the woods at the cottage.
I am a busy sort of person.
I am not a patient patient...

Oh, that last one.
I've been having some ongoing issues since summer with my bad leg. It has put a bit of a hitch in my giddiup this summer and fall. Well, last week, they took out my decades-old hardware and we're hoping this last surgery is the LAST surgery. Yes, my bionic leg is screw and plateless. It's a regular old leg. And I'm on crutches for a bit while those screw holes in the femur heal.

Uh, remember that not patient patient Holly fact? It's coming into play. But I'm being very well behaved even if I'm not patient. I'm resting a lot and slowly rebuilding my strength. All my wood-splitting means my arms aren't doing too bad with the crutches. So I'm moving more slowly than usual, but I'm moving.

I'm setting small goals for myself. For instance, yesterday I made the bed and made the morning coffee. Poor Himself did pretty much of the rest of my daily routine, but darn that bed looked nice and the coffee was just the way I like it, hot, strong black coffee. Today, I've already made the coffee, I'm making that darn bed, and I'm going to find one more new thing to throw in the mix. Maybe unload a dishwasher. Anyway, that's how I'm going to measure my new (regular) thing at a time.

My ultimate goal is to be back in the studio by the end of January. I've always been someone who likes to work with goals. I try to have realistic goals. It's almost time to pick my word for 2020. And I'm not going to wait until the new year to pick it. I'm going to pick it now. Patience.

I've always found it easier to be patient with others than patient with myself. There's so much in the world I want to learn and do. So many new things to explore. That hitch in my giddiup is slowing it all up. But slow doesn't mean stopped. So I'm being patient. Or at least trying to.

Here's the thing, goals are great. They give us something to move towards. But I think we have to be kind to ourselves and be patient with ourselves. Sometimes life happens. And our goals have to change. I might not be hosting my big Christmas Eve bash this year (thanks to my marvelous sister-in-law for taking that on), but darn the bed is made. LOL And I've read 600 pages in that 1,000 page book my son has been telling me to read (Brandon Sanderson is an amazing author) and I truly binge-watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's new season. Yeah, most of the time I don't have the time to binge watch. My leg has derailed my plans, but it's also given me time to do things I wouldn't normally have time to do. Every obstacle comes with gifts in its hands!

So Ella and I are going to sit on this couch under my buffalo plaid blanket and read the paper today. (Well, she doesn't do much of the reading.) Then I'm going to make that darned bed and find a way to do one more thing from my normal routine today.

And by the end of January, I'm going back to the studio. In the meantime, I'm going to look for all the gifts this particular obstacle has in its hands! And I'm going to patiently celebrate and embrace each of those gifts! And while we're talking about gifts, let me take a moment to wish you all a wonderful holiday season! Talk to you in 2020!


PS. I have two Christmas books on sale, and the first two Hometown Hearts books are available for preorder!! I hope you'll check them both out. And check our the Dear Reader Letter on A Special Kind of Different's Amazon page. Celebrating our differences gives me glee!!

Crib Notes HH #1

Monday, December 02, 2019

Wishes for Great Health in 2020 By Susan Sands

Sorry for the late post today. The past couple weeks have been--eventful. Not in the way I wanted,
unfortunately, but eventful still. My mom had spinal fusion surgery of the L4-L5 two weeks ago. She was released a few days later to my care and was doing great. In fact, she did so well she didn't qualify for the expected week at the rehab facility as we were led to believe she likely would.

The night she came home, something happened. Between going to bed and the crash from her falling that jarred me out of bed at four-thirty in the morning, she'd become incoherent, unable to use her hands, and her legs were buckling beneath her. Not the same woman who'd easily climbed the stairs after dinner. We still aren't sure what caused this.

Anyway, after another trip to the hospital and four days and nights of uncontrolled pain and mental confusion from huge doses of many and varied types of drugs and pain killers, she managed to get a bed in the best rehab facility in the metro Atlanta area. It was a rough transition from hospital to rehab due to the still-uncontrolled pain but after a couple days, her shaking and shooting nerve pains calmed down. She's finally out of the mental fog of pain meds and is now only taking non-opioid  meds for her discomfort.

The physical and occupational therapies several times a day in the state of the art facility are working wonders and Mom is now itching to go home.

It's been a long two weeks and a very weird Thanksgiving. But we are so very thankful Mom has no lasting effects from her terrible journey. MRIs showed no stroke, no fractured hip, and her surgical hardware is still intact. For a woman her age (74) who is completely independent, driving, with a busy social life, these are huge blessings.

Now we have two college students getting wisdom teeth out during Christmas break to look forward to. Wish me luck!

Hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving this year!