December 28, 2017

2017 in review

I procrastinated writing this post. I've known I wanted to write a recap of the year since I wrote about my hopes and goals for the year. Yet, here I am, writing it at the last minute, well after I'd intended. Instead, I've spent the past few days binge-watching TV (a little late to the party, but Stranger Things 2! OMG!) and sorting through piles of laundry I should've washed weeks ago. In a lot of ways, that procrastination with other activities paints a pretty good picture of what my year looked like.

The year didn't start off the best. A mix of apprehension and nerves, I seemed to be in a bit of a fog. That didn't stop me from setting out large goals for myself. It did prevent me from doing much of it. I'll get to how I finished out the year with all of my goals in a minute, but first I want to talk about my word of the year: persevere. As a reminder, the definition to persevere is:

to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement

And on that front, I'll say, good. I've done pretty well on that front. While I just admitted I spent part of the year in a fog, I didn't let it get me down for long. I didn't fully capture the art of zen and learn to let everything go (let's face it, that's just not me), but I did get better at how I dealt with stress and disappointment. I kept going.

As for my other goals . . . I fell short. In the interest of full disclosure and brevity, here's a list of those goals I laid out and how I did:

Read 50 new-to-me books. Nope. Not even close. There's still a few days left in the year, so I can maybe get some reading done, but I'll still probably be closer to 25 reads than 50. That's not going to stop me from setting this very same goal for next year though.

Watch more new-to-me movies. This is super subjective, but I did okay on this front. Thanks to Netflix, and semi-frequently taking myself to movies, I saw a few. I could still do better, but I'd rather read and write more if I had to choose between the three.

Bake a load of bread each month. Sadly, I completely forgot about this one after January. And it's too bad. It was a good goal,

Try one new recipe each week. I don't think I hit a new recipe weekly, but I did try a lot of new dishes and added some favorites to my list. Going forward, I think my goal will be to continue to try new recipes and take risks, but mostly to spend time creating my own meals rather than ordering out.

Work-out for 30 minutes five times a week. Oh, boy. Nope. I did get a treadmill and I did get it out of the box and use it, but not enough. Still, this is a fantastic goal and one I should always include on my list.

Try the whole clean-as-you-go deal I keep hearing about. I totally forgot about this goal, but I kind of did it! I still had moments of allowing my laundry to pile up (see the intro to this post), but I made my better all but a few mornings before heading to work. I ran the vacuum at least once a week. I rarely left dishes in my sink, and I stayed on top of my laundry until December. Not perfect, but I'll take it!

Go on an adventure somewhere I've never been. Oh! I did this one! Even though I forgot, I did it! I went to New Hampshire for the first time ever and took an afternoon to explore a part of Massachusetts I'd always wanted to visit. Sure, it was for a business trip and I was fighting a cold most of the time, but it was still a wonderful experience.

Keep regular office hours for my writing career. vYeah, we'll go ahead and put a giant "nope" on this one. I'm going to shake up this goal for next year to hopefully come up with something more plausible, but regular office hours ran off with my goals to work-out and bake bread. Maybe they're all on vacation together.

Have a regular day of pampering each week. This didn't happen weekly, but it happened a few times each month. And it as wonderful and will be something I just aim to do always. Usually it came in the form of a facial or a bath, but it was always heaven.

So that's it. Not a total loss and still room to grow. I'll get into that growth next week, but until then, thanks for following along with me this year. I hope to do better with posting more faithfully (and with better content). Happy New Year to all!

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 25, 2017

meowy christmas from all of us!

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December 14, 2017

my dream christmas album

One of my all-time favorite icebreaker questions to ask people this time of year goes like this: If you were a musician (any genre) what five Christmas songs would you cover when you cut your Christmas album?

I wish I could say I was able to pull some sort of meaningful insight into what this revealed about a person's character. That would be pretty cool, actually. Social scientists, please get on this PRONTO. But the reason I ask is because I'm curious, and because I love Christmas music. From Thanksgiving to Christmas (and sometimes for a week before the official start to the holiday season here in the U.S.) I listen to it all day every day.

As I listen, I spend a lot of time thinking about what songs I'd cover. Some stay the same from year to year, but they tend to rotate in and out. Sometimes it's just the songs that are on my heart or they might be ones that speak to me on a level. (How's that for insight.)

Oh, and I totally have an album title: A Cup of Good Cheer. A friend and I came up with it senior year of college (ten years ago almost to the day) and it stuck. For the sake of this post, I threw together a crappy cover, but, hey, it has some charm to it, right?

But what, oh what, is going on this year's version of the album? I'm not a stickler about the songs, either. They can be hymns, old classics, or new titles by today's big stars. All that matters is it's a song already produced by someone, somewhere, at some time. (You can save your new originals for the rest of the album!) For Christmas or the holiday season.

If I was making my Christmas album this year, the covers I'd include are:

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

This has been one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs since I discovered Judy Garland in my single digits. There's something so sweet and sad and wistful about the way she does it. While I maybe didn't appreciate that as much as an eight-year-old as I do now as a thirty-cough-cough-one-cough-cough year-old, it's a classic, and I'd belt this puppy out.

2. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

One of these things is not like the other . . . This song is making its debut on my album, but not on my heart. I remember thinking this song was silly when it came out, but by high school it grew on me. Now, it's pretty much a classic, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why other people haven't done their own takes on this little gem from *NSYNC. Okay. It's still silly, but with all the other heavy material on my record, I really need to do something to lighten the mood. Paying homage to the greatest boy band of all time just makes sense. Even if it doesn't really fit with the rest. Shrug.

3. Please Come Home for Christmas

This is another long-time favorite of mine. Probably since I heard it in Home Alone. (I just had to run a Google search to make sure I wasn't imaging that a version of this song appeared in the movie. But sure enough, it's track number eight, covered by Southside Johnny Lyon on the soundtrack.) This is one of my favorite songs to "cover" when I'm driving to and from work. And, not to brag, but I kind of slay it. (Or should I say "sleigh" it. Oh, puns!)

4. Someday At Christmas

I really came to know this song in college, when I was working at a UPS Store over the holidays and it came on the radio every few hours. It struck a chord with me then and every year, it resonates with me a little more. It was Stevie Wonder's wish back in 1967 and it's still my wish today.

5. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

This song has been a bit of an obsession of mine since I heard Zooey Deschenel and Joseph Gordon Levitt cover it a few years back. And, of course, there are amazing versions from Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Connick Jr. (two of my Christmas go-tos year after year). In my head, I'm every bit as sultry singing this as they are, so it's the perfect romantic number for my album. Maybe I'd do it duet style. My gut tells me to ask Michael Buble or Josh Groban, but I really don't want my song partner to overshadow me. So I'll have to do some talent scouting on this one.

So how about you? What songs would you include on your imaginary (or, hey, it could be real) Christmas album? 

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 11, 2017

my own worst frenemy

Last week, I had a dream that really threw me off my game. It was one of those dreams where something awful happens and you wake up knowing it wasn't real, but it still feels like it happened.

Without getting into the details of it, because they're just too sad for a blog post I'm sharing during the holiday season, basically I woke up at 4:30 completely gutted and devastated. Even as I told myself "it was only a dream," the pit in my stomach, the ache in my heart, seemed to grow stronger. Unable to get back to sleep, I got out of bed thinking I'd get some writing done or do something productive. Instead, my mind would wander back to the dream, bringing with it the self doubt and pain.

I carried it with me all day. The idea that I don't take good enough care of myself from a diet and exercise standpoint. That I haven't accomplished as much as I'd like. That maybe I'm all alone in this world, because of some horrible flaw with myself. I'm not fishing for compliments or validation. I'm not throwing a pity party. I know I have plenty to be happy about. I know I have good people in my life. I know I'm a work in progress, but I'm trying. But none of that mattered during the day after this dream. I knew I was okay, but I didn't feel okay.

The kicker in all this is that I've really been trying to adjust my thinking. I've been trying so hard to be positive. Towards others and myself. I'm not a negative person, but, as I've mentioned before, I deal with some anxiety and can get overwhelmed, which leads to "woe is me moments." I've been doing my best to not dwell on my mistakes or mis-steps, but instead celebrate the good part. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it until I had this dream.

Thanks, sub-conscious.

Because that's what it was. It was my sub-conscious pointing out my biggest self-image issues, my biggest fears, and really throwing them back at myself in a mean package. Ever since, I've been thinking about this a lot. And here's what it really comes down to:

No one will ever be meaner to me than I am to myself.

Some of the mean, nasty thoughts I get are things I'd never say to another person. They're words I wouldn't let others say about or to my friends. Yet I'm bullying myself. Constantly.

Unfortunately, I don't have a magical answer on how to make this all better. There isn't a "but wait, the next day everything was perfect and I lived happily ever after." (Though, the next day was better than the day before, and the effects from the mean dream had lessened.)

I decided to share this story with you today, because this time of year can be really stressful and difficult. It can feel so lonely, even when you're spending so much time with friends and family. I just wanted you to know that if you're feeling bad or sad, you're not alone. I wanted to urge all of us to be better friends to ourselves. I wanted to remind myself that these bad feelings do pass, and I need to remember that.

Your feelings are valid. And if they're ever overwhelming, please speak with someone. It can be scary getting help, but even the strongest of us need it sometimes.

I'll note that it's a few days later and I'm feeling better. (Emotionally. I caught a cold that's been going around my office, but what are you going to do there? At least it wasn't during NaNoWriMo, right? :D) It's good for me to remember that.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 7, 2017

one little christmas tree

My parents like to tell a story about my first Christmas. Not my first, first Christmas, when I was six months old. But the one when I was very grown-up and 18 months old. I was old enough to appreciate some of the festivities around me, but not quite able to understand it.

The story goes like this: After putting me down for a nap, my parents took advantage of the break to put up our Christmas tree, lights and other decorations. When I woke up, still a little sleepy (as you do), I stumbled out of my bedroom and into the living room. And I froze. My eyes grew big and round, my jaw fell open. Slowly I turned around in a circle to take in the magic.

It's thirty years later. Instead of being one and a half, I'm thirty-one and a half. Instead of having parents who handle the decorating like elves, it falls to me to make my house merry. But all this time later, I still find Christmas trees every bit as magical as I did then.

This year's tree went up late the evening of Thanksgiving (and early the morning after). It happened the way these things often go. With Thanksgiving dinner behind me and most of my guests gone home (or in my visiting parents' case, in bed), I figured I'd get a head start on the season and pull out the boxes. Once the boxes were out, I couldn't resist breaking out the new garland, ribbons, and lights I found out Michael's to decorate my bookshelves. Then the shelves wanted the nutcracker and ribbons and poinsettias. It overflowed to the sofa table and the walls and the kitchen. Pretty soon, I figured I might as well put up the tree. Then the lights.

By then it was well after midnight. The tree was up, the lights were on, the rest of my home was decorated. I figured there wasn't any use in waiting till the morning. So I began the trimming.

I started with my favorite ornament, the pewter ballet slippers my mom bought to commemorate the first time I went to The Nutcracker, which became a winter favorite and obsession for the next few years.

Then I added the first set of ornaments I bought when I was eighteen years old and assembling my first set of holiday decorations and feeling all kinds of grown-up.

And I added the shabby chic decorations my co-workers and I made before shabby chic became a movement. (Not to get all hipster-like and say we did it before it was cool, but we totally did.)

I was noticing a color scheme--unintentional, but still there. Everything was red and silver and gold. Even the burlap had a gold feel. With so much leftover ribbon (and always intrigued by the ribbon-covered trees in Hallmark movies) I threw some on and curled the tendrils. I let off the other colorful ornaments, deciding my red and silver and gold tree was simple and perfect the way it was.

This Christmas tree has been with me for years, through many apartments and houses. And each year it looks a little different, but it's always perfect, just like every tree seems to me. The lights. The sparkle. The memories of old ornaments. The excitement of the new. There's just something so special about a Christmas tree. It fills my heart with joy.

Do trees fill you with the spirit of the season, too? Do you decorate it the same every year or shake things up?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 4, 2017

a look back at nanowrimo 2017

Last week I wrapped up my eighth consecutive year of participating in National Novel Writing Month. It also marked my eighth year of crossing the 50,000 word finish line.

Thanks to a new feature on the website, I can break down a few bits of trivia on what my NaNoWriMo career has looked like. In my eight years of participating:

  • I have written more than 435,000 words combined in Novembers.
  • My biggest word count day was in 2012 when I wrote more than 7,000 words.
  • My biggest word count year was  2015 with more than 65,000 words that month.

It's surreal to write that. As much as NaNoWriMo has become synonymous with November for me in many ways, I still feel like a newbie writer trying to figure out what the hey I'm doing. There are some tricks I've learned, but in general I'ms till always developing and honing the process.

In the interest of self-evaluation and -improvement, I wanted to take a look back at what worked, what didn't, and what I'm still on the fence about from my 2017 NaNoWriMo experience.

What Worked

Writing Adventures: I introduced the idea of writing adventures into my world in 2014. It came to me in a dream (or early morning wakefulness, but dream sounds better). This is basically how they work: I set a word count goal for the day. Then, I choose four writing locations and break down how many words I have to write at each location to reach the overall goal. As a bonus, I invite readers to submit words, phrases, or concepts for me to work into the writing as a creative challenge.

I did this twice this year and wrote more than 5,000 words on one day and 6,000 on the other. It works for me, because the change of scenery keeps me from becoming complacent or bored. The roving schedule breaks down the big, scary goal into bites I can manage. Four locations seems to be the sweet number for me, but I can't tell you why.

If you'd like to build your own writing adventure, you can download the free printable page I designed. (Get it here on my website under "Free Downloads From Me For You.)

Daily Writing: I didn't always write a lot, like on my Writing Adventure days, but I did write every day. Even if it was only 200 words. (My lowest word count day was 221 words.) This kept the work fresh in my mind and it made me shake the excuses I always make to stop writing. It also made me realize it really wouldn't ruin my life or my day to spend even 20 minutes getting something down. I kept this up after achieving the 50,000-word goal on November 27, and with any luck, I can carry it on until I finish this thing.

Advanced Meal Prep: This took some planning and a lot of work on my poor feet, but every second was worth the results. I ate well all month and never wondered what I'd have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner on any given day. It kept me from ordering too much take-out or fast food (though I did budget in some dining out). I even have a couple of meals still sitting in my freezer for consumption this month. With the exception of shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, it kept me out of the stores, which can be a time-consuming part of each week.

Perhaps I should make this a regular thing--not just for November.

What Didn't

Hotel Writing Excursion: Don't get me wrong, I wrote some words and had a lot of fun, but I wasn't nearly productive enough to justify the expense of a night at a hotel and room service. (Though room service was everything I dreamed it would be.) I didn't stick to my writing plan after the first hour, and I completely broke my no TV rule. That said, I can explain away why that might have happened, and I learned some lessons to potentially make it work better in the future. Also, I did finally figure out my outline and had great phone call/text messaging brainstorming sessions to help me pin down the story. I'll try it again, but this was not a success in my November.

Big Holiday Word Counts: Look, I still wrote, but I never reached any of my word count goals on the days I was prepping for, hosting, and cleaning up after Thanksgiving. Those were some of those 200-, 300-, and 400-word count days, which fell substantially short of my goal of reaching 1,000 words.

Scheduling Marketing in Advance: Yeah, I had the best of intentions on getting posts written and scheduled on my social media platforms, and it didn't happen. At all. My marketing ventures were minimal and unfocused, but you can't win them all.

Keeping a Positive Mental Attitude: No matter how hard I try, every now and again, at some point, I'm going to hate everything and feel like I am a hack who totally sucks. Maybe this should fall under "I'm working on it," but I probably have to concede that some days, I'm just going to be a little black rain cloud no matter what happens. In those instances, I should probably just contain myself so it doesn't spread to others.

I'm Working On It

Writing Sequentially: I really want to be one of those writers who starts with "once upon a time" and finishes with "happily ever after", but with the exception of year one, that hasn't happened. Ever again. I just can't seem to resist skipping around to where inspiration bites when I'm on that deadline. I'm probably making big, sloppy messes of my work, but someday, I'll figure out how to be good again.

Writing Before Work: I did well with this some days. Others, I barely managed 100 words in an hour of sitting at my computer. Still, thinking about my work first thing in the morning did help me keep it on my mind, which is a good thing. I need to work on going from sleep to full writing more quickly. I made progress on that this year, but I still have a ways to go.

Sprints and Speed-Writing: Like my two previous points, some days these worked and others they didn't. Maybe my writing routine is that I need to shake things up on the regular. Or maybe I just need to practice and be disciplined. There's a lot to love about both of these techniques, and I'm not ready to quit them.

So how about you, my fellow Wrimos? What did and didn't work for you this year? What are you still figuring out? 

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

October 30, 2017

last-minute nanowrimo prep

Are you thinking about doing National Novel Writing Month? For those of you who don't know--or those who might need a refresher--it's a program dedicated to writing 50,000 words during the month of November. This will be my eighth consecutive year participating. Hopefully, it will also be my eighth year of winning by meeting that 50,000-word goal.

It's also my third year as a municipal liaison. MLs are local volunteers who organize write-ins and answer questions. As a ML, I feel honor bound to share some last-minute tips for those of you looking to take the challenge.

So, here we go . . .

Do the Prep Work
There may be only a few days left until November 1, but there’s still time to do prep work. Try creating character sketches and a rough outline. Even if you’re comfortable panting (writing from the seat of your pants without an outline) having some prep work done in advance (like those character sketches or a wish list of scenes or components to include in your story).

Make the Time
Look at your calendar and schedule some specific chunks of time to write. They can be 15-minute intervals (also known as sprints) or larger (like several hours). I recommend having a combination of both. I also encourage you to set aside as much time as possible early in the month. That will allow you to build up a solid base word count in case things get a little crazy later in the month. One way you can do this is by waking up an hour earlier. Daylight Savings Time ends November 5, so that’s actually not as tough to do. Use that extra hour to start your day off with some word count.

Use Time-Saving Software
I’m a fan of Scrivener, because of the organizational and plotting elements. But finds hat works for you.

Turn Off Your Inner Editor
November is for writing. You can edit later. Focus only on writing new words rather than going back to revise what you’ve already put down on paper (or screen). That’s not as easy as it sounds. You might try highlighting what you’ve already written and turning the font into white so you can’t see it. Or use a blank document each day. Do whatever it takes to focus on new words.

Use Speedwriting Techniques
Have a goal for how much you want to create each time you sit down. Also, have a good idea of what you’re going to write. Whether or not you have an outline, if you can leave yourself a note of some idea of what you’ll write, you can sit down and start writing. If you’re stuck on dialogue or a scene, move on. Leave yourself a note to come back, but go where the words are calling. You can Google this to see what other writers do for speed writing.

Write in Sprints
Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? That means setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing completely on a task, like writing. Once the timer goes off, get up and take a short break. You’ll also hear people call this writing sprints. You can choose your length of time. Be sure to eliminate as many distractions as possible. (Hide your phone. Turn off Netflix and the Internet. Tell your cats to take a nap.)

Create the Mood
Find a comfortable place to write at home, your library, coffee shops, wherever you like to go. Make a special playlist you can listen to while you’re writing or in between sessions to keep the story on your mind. Develop some writing rituals that will help you get in the zone. Just putting on headphones helps me get in the mood.

Attend a Write-In
Check with your local region to see if they have any organized writing events. People who participate tend to be most successful with finishing their goals. You can also schedule writing dates with your local writing buddies. It helps to have that support.

The most important thing to do is find what works for you. Do your best and make this a fun experience.

Hope these tips help! If videos are more your thing, you can check out my four-part NaNoWriMo Prep video series. Check them out at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Happy writing!

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 23, 2017

'smyth saves the date' is now available!

"Smyth Saves the Date" is now available in the Love Unlimited collection!

Explore the unlimited nature of love and its many incarnations in the Love Unlimited Anthology, featuring eleven stories that cross generations, cultural backgrounds, and borders. Love Unlimited will warm your heart, tickle your funny bone, and envelop you in the wonderful and complex human emotion the world calls “Love.”

Bryana Beecham - Love Letters to the Universe
Geralyn Corcillo - In Her Space
Laura Chapman - Smyth Saves the Date
Katie Leonard - SuperMom and the Theory of Mind
Kelly Cain - Summer Healing
Anne Hamilton - The Shining Girl
Zainab Muhammad Shahid - Kaneez's Bulbul
Samantha Bryant - Flygirl's Second Chance
Therese Gilardi - Paris in April
Lizbeth Durano - Starting Over
Amy Gettinger - Kiss My Sweet Skull

Find Love Unlimited Online

About "Smyth Saves the Date"
Two years after winning over TV audiences on “The Marrying Type,” Rhett Smyth is headlining his own show, “Smyth Saves the Date.” While clashing with his stern but swoon-worthy producer, George, about the show’s direction—and trying to plan his best friend’s wedding—Smyth will have to choose what he needs more: fame or love.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 16, 2017

one week to go until 'smyth saves the date' in 'love unlimited

With only one week to go until "Smyth Saves the Date" is released in the upcoming Love Unlimited Anthology, I thought I'd give you a taste of what's to come. This novelette picks up a couple of years after we last saw everyone in The Marrying Type. And just like that story was a modern reimagining of Jane Austen's Persuasion, this one also gives a contemporary spin to another Austen classic: Emma.

So here's a preview, a first look at where we find Smyth and his crew as this story begins. I hope you enjoy it!

This was his favorite part.

On the count of three, Rhett Smyth jumped out from behind the flowering forsythia to surprise the unsuspecting couple.

The bride, a pretty little thing with big blue eyes, shrieked and gripped the groom’s arm. The groom, or as Smyth called him the tall drink of water on the hottest days of summer, lunged forward to protect his fiancĂ©e from their assailant. Then the camera crew converged around them.

Recognition dawned on the bride’s face, which was Smyth’s cue.

“Matt and Sarah—or should I say the future Mister and Missus—I hear the two of you are gettin’ hitched.”

“That’s right.” The bride straightened her shoulders and brightened her smile. “We’re getting married in a week.”

“I also hear you wanna make it a big to do. Somethin’ your friends and family will talk about for years and years.”

“We are . . .” The groom agreed, glancing around in bewilderment.

“You folks are in luck. I’m Smyth, and I’m here to help you save the date.”

The bride unleashed another shriek. Hopping up and down, hands clapping, she launched into his arms. Barely coherent words streamed out of her lips, faster and faster, as she tried to relay the full vision for their wedding in under a minute.

“This is one of our better episodes,” Smyth mused, as he watched the scene replay on the screen. “Attractive couple. Plenty of drama with the vendors. A secret relationship between the best man and maid of honor—revealed during the rehearsal dinner.”

“You also made the bride’s father cry,” George, his producer, reminded him from the seat directly in front of the computer monitor. Handsome enough to raise even Smyth’s heartrate, George could also deflate his enthusiasm in a hot minute. “And, you came in over budget. Again.”

“The bride wanted the ice sculpture and the chocolate fountain. Luxury costs money.”

Well worth it, too, in his humble opinion. If you weren’t going to make a big fuss about your wedding day, then Smyth didn’t see much point in getting hitched in the first place.

“We can add it to the reel, but you can’t just cut those parts out to make yourself look good.”

“Why not?” Smyth folded his arms across his chest, narrowing his eyes. “It’s a demo reel. It’s supposed to make me—make our whole team—look good.”

“But you have to be honest.”

“I’m always honest.” For the most part. “Yes, that orange dress is heaven,” and “No, that extra flounce doesn’t make your butt look big,” and “Don’t worry, it happens to a lot of guys” hardly counted.

George shook his head, mumbling something about integrity, while he flagged the episode and pulled up another clip for them to review.

Ever the Southern gentleman, Smyth feigned a cough to hide his amusement. Staging the surprise meetings with prospective brides and grooms was his favorite part of making his TV show, Smyth Saves the Date. But this was what he liked second best. Getting George annoyed to the point of mumbling, but not so upset he was ranting. It was almost a game for Smyth, a challenge of sorts. When they’d filmed the pilot almost two years ago, he’d quickly discovered just how delightful it was to get under George’s skin.

The producer was always so uptight, so disciplined. He’d actually come to their first meeting at a coffee shop in a suit and tie. Smyth had spent most of it wanting to reach across the table and tussle his hair or loosen his tie. To this day, getting a reaction out of him was on par with catching the bouquet at a wedding.

Of course it was all in good fun. Smyth appreciated everything George did to make the show a hit. After he’d joined the cast of The Marrying Type halfway through its debut season, Smyth had caught the bug. He’d always been an imaginative and organized wedding planner. Co-starring on his best friend’s TV show had shown him another side of the business, one he enjoyed.

Even though Elliot had left show biz after that, Smyth had eagerly accepted an offer for his own spin-off. On Smyth Saves the Date, he and a small crew descended on a wedding in trouble mere weeks before the I dos to help make it a success. Now here they were, cutting a demo reel in hopes of signing a contract for a third season. It was hard work, but the most fun he’d ever had.

And, he could admit to himself, he couldn’t do it without George there to keep him on task and to make him look fabulous. It wasn’t easy. With his dull dark hair that hung flat without heavy product and a jaw he wished could be called strong, Smyth didn’t give him much to work with. Still, somehow George had him looking engaging, if not cover model handsome, whenever the cameras rolled.

Maybe he’d thank George for that one day. Maybe.

Smyth was about to ask if they could edit the clip so Steven, his assistant/nemesis, didn’t make the cut when his phone rang. He glanced at the display even as the producer shook his head.

“You agreed to no phone calls. Otherwise, we’ll never finish.”

He had, but that was before he knew he’d get a call from Elliot Lynch. “Give me two minutes.”

“Smyth . . .”

Ignoring the menacing tone, he answered. “How’s my favorite retired wedding planner? From what exotic location are you calling me today?”

Her giggle came through the receiver, making him smile. “Actually, we’re in L.A. today.”

“You’re in town? For how long?”

George glanced up curiously and Smyth mouthed her name, which earned a nod of approval. Not even George could find fault with Elliot.

“We’re just stopping through. I hate to be so last-minute, but are you free for lunch?”

“Of course.” George wouldn’t like them taking the unplanned break, but even he wouldn’t be so heartless as to deny him this reunion. They hadn’t seen each other in months. She was in town for one afternoon. Plus, if he promised not to pout, Smyth would invite him along. “Just say when and where and I’ll be there—with my bells on.”

About the Story
Two years after winning over TV audiences on “The Marrying Type,” Rhett Smyth is headlining his own show, “Smyth Saves the Date.” While clashing with his stern but swoon-worthy producer, George, about the show’s direction—and trying to plan his best friend’s wedding—Smyth will have to choose what he needs more: fame or love.

Explore the unlimited nature of love and its many incarnations in the Love Unlimited Anthology, featuring eleven stories that cross generations, cultural backgrounds, and borders. Love Unlimited will warm your heart, tickle your funny bone, and envelop you in the wonderful and complex human emotion the world calls “Love.”

"Smyth Saves the Date" will be available in the Love Unlimited collection beginning August 23. You can find it on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 14, 2017

wild writing weekend 2017

I was pretty quiet on social media over the weekend. My local RWA chapter booked a hotel and hosted a weekend writing retreat. A weekend committed to word count and some fellowship with writers seemed like exactly what I needed. Following the rules set by our group leader, I turned off my phone for most of Friday night and Saturday. I checked my emails twice, as opposed to my usual twenty times. I logged onto Facebook once to read notifications, and I sent out one tweet.

That's kind of crazy for someone who admittedly spends too much time online. And the break was just what I needed to make a big dent on my WIP.

Hanging out with Captain Jack Sparrow at the Wild Writing Weekend.

After writing more than 9,000 words between Friday night and 5 on Saturday, I rewarded myself by logging back online. I checked the responses to my tweet. One said, “Go back, quickly, before you get sucked into current events. Just turn away and return to happy writing immersion!”

Despite the warning, I checked the news. It broke my heart.  While I was lost in my world of words about love, others were embroiled in a world of hate. This isn't about politics or opinions. It's about humanity. It's about love versus hate.

I often wonder what I’m doing with my good fortune and my privilege. In a world where people are hungry and hurt, scared and persecuted, what am I doing? Is it all frivolous and self-indulgent? Rather than spending a weekend in a hotel writing a book, should I be doing something else?

While attending RWA, I encountered countless other authors who have the same thoughts. Sometimes they're enough to make you stop writing for some time. But these writers gave me insight I needed. My writing may not change the whole world, but maybe one it will brighten one person’s day. That's not mass change and good-will, but it matters to that person.

So Sunday morning, I woke for my final writing sessions and decided to keep going. Maybe my love stories won't change the world, but they give me a purpose. They make me focus on the love and good in the world instead of always on the anger and hate. It's probably still self-indulgent. But I hope that in writing these stories, I'm making love not hate. And maybe that does count for something.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 9, 2017

pre-season interview with the queen of the league, harper duquaine

We caught up with Harper Duquaine, the heroine of the Queen of the League series, shortly after she volunteered to join her co-workers' fantasy football series. Having just participated in her first draft, she was understandably flustered and distracted. We appreciate her taking a few moments from her busy line-up setting to answer some questions for us.

Source: Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock

Change the Word: Harper, thank you for being here.
Harper Duquaine: Yeah, sure. No problem.

CTW: Let's get right into it. What exactly were you thinking when you decided to join this fantasy football league?
HD: I probably wasn't thinking as well as I should have. But I was kind of in a daze. I'd just left a one-on-one with my new boss at the car dealership. It was like being called to the principal's office for a chewing out. And I've never been called to the principal's office. I wasn't that kind of student. Anderson told me I was intimidating my co-workers, which is ridiculous. If they can't handle doing their jobs, they shouldn't take it out on me. But since it's my problem right now, I had to do something to make nice with them. They needed an extra person for their league and the girl at the front desk wasn't buying what they were selling. Which isn't very good, now that I think about it. They're car salesmen. If they can't sell someone they know on joining their football league, how are they supposed to get total strangers to buy a luxury vehicle? I hope we hit our sales quota.

CTW: So you joined the league?
HD: It seemed like the best--and fastest--way to make them see me as a buddy. Again, the whole thing is ridiculous. I'm just trying to do my job.

CTW: How do you feel about your chances to win the fantasy football championship?
HD: They aren't great. For one, these guys are serious. They've been playing for years, and I have no doubt they'll show me no mercy. Two: I have no idea what I'm doing. Most of the players I drafted might as well be named Kicky McKickerson. For all I know, they can't catch or throw footballs. Oh, God. I hope they can catch and throw footballs.

CTW: Who do you think will be your biggest competition?
HD: Frankly, they're all probably going to wipe the floors with me. But right now, it seems like my co-worker J.J. Sanchez wants it the most. And then there's their friend, Brook MacLaughlin. He has more titles than anyone else in the league. And he's a football coach. Actually, that doesn't seem very fair. The guy is a professional football person. I'm barely an amateur.

CTW: Has he done anything to concern you so far?
HD: Besides stealing the quarterback I wanted? I guess not. He's been... friendly. He even offered me some kind of funny advice. And... I don't know. There's something kind of appealing about him.

CTW: Do I detect a crush?
HD: Of course not! I've sworn off dating. I'm still getting over a nasty break-up. That's why I moved to Lincoln, actually. To turn a leaf. To get away from the drama. I really don't want anymore drama.

CTW: Right, well, any final thoughts or takeaways you'd like to share with us?
HD: Just... I don't know, pray for me? Send positive vibes my way. I really have no idea what I'm doing and while I don't care about winning the championship, I also don't want to look like a complete idiot in front of co-workers. That would kind of defeat the purpose of trying to get them to respect me.

I'll be talking more about my inspiration for the Queen of the League series (particularly the characters, settings, and some borrowed-from-real-life scenes) tomorrow on Facebook Live at 8 p.m. Eastern.

The Queen of the League series is now out in a digital three-box set on  Amazon, AppleBarnes & Noble and Kobo. Visit my website for more information on First & Goal, Going for Two, and Three & Out.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 7, 2017

my musical time capsule

The new series I'm writing has been on my mind for about five years. It's changed and evolved and changed again while it simmered on the back burner that is my brain. As I've mentioned in previous posts, creating a playlist on Spotify for each of my stories is a big part of my development process. Like the characters and plot, it develops over time as I made additions and subtractions, culling it till it's nearly perfect in my mind.

(Okay, until it's good enough. I'm not going to pretend I'm a perfectionist with every detail even though I really wish I was. That's what happens when you're a Type A-minus. Concessions are made.)

With 80 songs on it, my playlist for this series has grown at a slow, steady pace since its inception. Like the series, it was always on the back of my mind, but I never gave it much serious thought while other books and playlists were front and center.

This spring, with Playing House launched and a first draft of Smyth Saves the Date done, I was a free agent for the first time in a while and could work on whatever I wanted. I was also completely independent at this point, which gave me the freedom to try something different. That's where this new series enters the picture. After attending a retreat with the Romance Authors of the Heartland, I learned more about creating a series bible, and I wanted to give it a shop. Excited to develop character sketches and possible plot lines, I opened the playlist to listen for the first time.

It stunned me. It wasn't just the sheer number of songs--though, yikes! It was the songs themselves. Some were longstanding favorites from some of my go-to artists story after story. (I'm looking at you Beyonce, Elton John, Ben Folds, and Jon McLaughlin.)

But there are also the songs I once loved or obsessed over, but haven't heard in years. Maybe not since I put them on the list. Hearing these again after so much time, it was like opening up a time capsule. It transformed me back in time, evoking feelings and memories.

"Carry On" by Fun. reminded me of how seriously I once considered quitting my job and moving to Los Angeles to study improv and screenwriting while seeking my fortune.

"My Own Sinking Ship" by Good Old War reminded me of my habit of taking long, rambling walks through my neighborhoods on Saturday mornings several years ago. It also made me realize that's a habit I should probably bring back.

"Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve reminded me of Cruel Intentions. And how once upon a time in youthful determination to be, I don't know, deep, I once thought it would make a unique and beautiful "Wedding March" substitute if I ever married.

"Big Jet Plane" by Angus & Julia Stone reminded me of a good friend, who I promptly texted to catch up.

"Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show reminded me of the bar I was sitting in when this song came on the jukebox and the series popped into my head.

And so on. Probably the biggest reaction happened when I had the playlist going one day on my way to the office. I was nearly there when "Yellow" by Coldplay came on. Like most of my contemporaries who went to high school and college in the 2000s, Coldplay was a constant of sorts. This particular song was the first I remember knowing, and the song I most associate with my high school/college boyfriend. It wasn't our song. We never really had one. But it's a song that came to mind when I realized I loved him. As such, I haven't listened to it much since high school--just when it pops on the radio once every few years.

The opening guitar strums played through the car's speakers and I felt the familiar tug in my chest. Not painful, but that warm, beautiful squeeze that seems to hold onto your heart when you love someone. Before Chris Martin sang a word, I remembered how fiercely I'd once loved that boy I dated many, many years ago.

Oh, God. Was I still in love with him? Had it been a mistake to break up nearly a decade before? What should I do? I obviously couldn't call him. He's married. I'm not a homewrecker. But was this why I'm still single? Had I let my one shot at love slip away?

The warmness in my chest turned into a tightness. My heart pounded, my breaths grew shallow, and I became more and more convinced that I'd made a horrible mistake long ago and that I'd regret it for the rest of my life.

Then the song ended and another one came on. Almost as quickly, the spell broke. The panic evaporated, and I remembered why we'd broken up and that while we'd once had a wonderful, sweet relationship--one I'll always treasure--it had run its course. I most definitely had no interest in rekindling anything and have no regrets about it coming to an end. That moment of clarity came at the perfect time. I'd arrived at work, which is hardly a place to have an existential crisis and meltdown.

I could laugh at the whole experience moments later, but what a trip.

Working my way through each song over the week gave me a series of thrills and memories I hadn't anticipated. And it gave me something I'm not sure I can explain. It's kind of that feeling you have when you watch an old family video and see how young you all used to be or those grandparents you miss. There's a little sadness to it, but mostly there's this happiness and gratitude you ever lived those moments.

This playlist gave me an unexpected gift I wouldn't trade. Even the phantom love pangs. And it was an experience I'm lucky to have had.

Does music do this to any of you? Do you get any other sensory reminders that bring back memories so vividly, it's like you're there again? Have you ever thought you might still be in love with an ex only to come to your senses? Please share your stories in the comments if you have them.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 3, 2017

have confidence

Confidence isn't easy.

Okay. That's not entirely true. I recently re-watched the Sex and the City series, and for the most part, Samantha Jones is a fierce woman who oozes confidence. She's a fictional character, but I'm sure there are plenty of real life people in this world strutting through life, wearing confidence like it's their favorite pair of shoes.

Let me rephrase: confidence isn't easy for me. It doesn't come naturally, and I struggle to even fake it. Sometimes I can pretend its someone else's fault I'm doubting myself or my work. Someone at the office makes a jab about my photography. A reader uses the phrase "kind of boring" in an Amazon review. A stranger asks if I'm expecting, when really, I lack self control when it comes to saying no to french fries and yes to a regular workout routine.

After getting over the initial anger or irritation, I can sometimes shake it off. I can explain it away.
That's subjective.
It won't be everyone's cup of tea.
But it doesn't usually end there. Not for me. Instead, it becomes a vicious circle of anger to stewing to sadness to self doubt then back around again and again. It can go on for hours or days. In fact, I'm stewing right now about something minuscule someone said more than twelve hours ago as I pen this in the middle of the night. I even have a chip on my shoulder about some shit that went down in elementary school.

(Quick pause for an acknowledgment: I suck too. I am guilty of saying or doing things that probably hurt or offend others. I hate that I can't even pretend I've never done this. And while I'm sorry, that doesn't take away the needless worry based on my thoughtless or insensitive remarks. Despite my best efforts, I'm no angel.)

For me, it's hard to share a slight. It doesn't matter if the person is a stranger or in my closest circle. I always feel like crap after and go down a shame spiral. And that's after I try to not take it personally. This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt almost always comes to mind:

Though I know better, my lack of confidence and I give people the permission to make me feel inferior. And it's lame.

So what do I do?

What do you do?

I find Googling "how to deal with micromanagers" or "personal affirmations" (depending on the external stimuli du jour) offers some relief. Venting to my friends and cracking jokes helps too. But those are coping mechanisms. Not long-term solutions.

How often do people say you have to develop a thick skin in business? It's pretty much constant. And it makes some sense. Whether you're an author or an accountant, you will receive criticism. Still, is it really possible to ignore it? As a creative-type who needs to tap into her emotions, it's hard for me to close off any part. It's a constant struggle not to take it personally.

I wish I had answers or some great break-through revelation I could share. I wish I could give you five steps to build your confidence or cope with criticism. But I don't.

All I can say is this: Try to take the high road whenever you can. If you must respond, don't retaliate with words that will send someone else down their own lack-of-confidence shame spiral. Being a dick won't help. And remember, if you feel nitpicked or like you suck, you're not alone. Somewhere right now, someone else is feeling low too. That's not to negate your feelings--they are valid and legitimate--but to remind you that you have good company. And you'll get passed this sucky time. (Unfortunately, chances are better than good you'll end up feeling this way again. Don't let that get you down though. We're fighters.)

Taking the high road isn't easy, but neither is faking confidence. And that, my friends, bring us full-circle on this rambling post of mine.

Now to let Demi Lovato play us out...

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 2, 2017

postcards from orlando

Last week I spent an action-packed week in Orlando attending the Romance Writers of America's annual conference. RWA provides days of workshops, networking opportunities, agent/editor meetings, and more, all while offering a supportive and creative space for romance authors and readers. This was my first time attending and my head is still spinning as I process everything I learned.

I'd be writing for days if I covered it all, but here are some postcard snapshots of my time at #RWA17.

Never one to pass up a party--or a chance to get some work done--I used my flight from Omaha to Nebraska to work on my book and some blog posts while sipping on a mimosa. There's no better way to work.

The conference was held at the Dolphin Hotel and Convention Center at Disney World in Orlando. While I didn't hit up the parks, I did see a lot of mouse ears.

Our room offered us a truly majestic view. Yeah, not so much. My sister tried to dress it up by saying it was very The Little Mermaid-esque, but my roommates and I called it something else that isn't entirely PG. ;)

I attended a couple of workshops on Wednesday afternoon--one on marketing and one on planning and releasing series. There were a lot of great takeaways from both, and I'll hopefully be putting those into action in the coming months (or years if I go really slowly, which is possible, sigh).

That night, I was thrilled to meet--in person--some of the writing friends I have made online over the years. This is the Chick Lit Chat, crew. From left, that's Rich Amooi, Jax Abbey, Silvi Martin, Becky Monson, Kathryn R. Biel, Melissa Baldwin, Kayla from Book Lover in Florida, moi, and Jennie Marts. After talking to these ladies--and our gentleman--for years, it was fantastic to have dinner with them. The friendships and their support have always felt real, but there's just something about finally getting to meet.

The next couple of days were full of workshops and networking opportunities. So. Much. Good. Information. I also held a couple of meetings with other authors and industry people. The networking alone made this whole conference a win. Everywhere I went, I felt like people got me. And after a couple of drinks during happy hour each evening, I turned into a regular social butterfly. 

I need to give a special shout-out to the women behind Twitter's #RWChat and HBIC Nation. They all made me feel so welcome, and I can't wait to connect with them more online in the months to come.

One of the thrills from this conference was getting to celebrate other authors' success. That included getting to see my local chapter-mate and friend Victoria Alexander's face on boards and screens throughout the four days. She was honored with a Service Award, and I couldn't be more proud of her and everything she does to support other authors and the organization.

Thursday night, I attended the RITA Awards with my date/conference roomie/local accountability buddy. If you aren't familiar, these are basically the Oscars for romance authors. And just like when I watched the Academy Awards, I got a little choked up. It was hard not to with little vignettes celebrating friendships playing throughout the evening and watching so many talented writers receive much-deserved accolades.

And holy smokes, if you ever have a chance to hear Beverly Jenkins speak do it. Don't walk, run to wherever she's talking. She's done so much for the industry and was one of the most genuinely compelling and inspiring people I've ever heard speak. I feel lucky to have stood in the same room as her.

(I also saw her into a hall during the conference, and like a proper awkward fangirl, I promptly walked in the opposite direction mouthing "OMG." I might have worked up the courage to say, "You're amazing," but she was in another conversation, and I didn't trust myself to keep cool while waiting my turn.)

On Friday, I attended an author signing where I had a chance to meet more authors including the funny and sweet Lauren Layne. While I'm a fan of her books--and her weekly newsletter, The Clutch--I had to snap this photo for our mutual friend, Liberty Kontranowski, who unfortunately wasn't able to attend this year.

Also, you can't talk about RWA without mentioning the books. I had to practice serious restraint in picking up freebies to take home. While shipping options are available, I was determined to keep my suitcase under the required weight limit with my books and swag. And, friends, I did it. With a few pounds to spare.

I'm looking forward to discovering new stories from favorite and new-to-me authors. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be passing along some of these stories to some of you readers in the near future...

Friday night was the first time I set foot outside of the hotel room since arriving. We went for a brief walk along the nearby Disney Boardwalk to seek out dinner only to learn our destination was on a super long wait. We ended up walking back to the hotel for pasta, but it wasn't a bad view while it lasted!

On Saturday, I was one of 400 authors who participated in the Readers for Life Literacy Autographing. This annual book signing raises funds to support literacy, and I was honored to be included. I also met a couple of readers while I was there--as well as made friends with new ones. What a wonderful event.

Another highlight from my trip to Orlando didn't include books, but was equally wonderful. I had a chance to hang out with one of my best friends from college, who lives in the area. I hadn't seen her in years and it was my first time seeing her home and meeting her little girl. I spent an evening at her house and then we met for lunch at Disney Springs. This woman has always been one of my greatest supporters since Day 1. I hope we don't wait so long to see each other again.

It probably goes without saying, but I missed my little fur babies quite a bit while I was away. Fortunately I had my sister and mom looking out for Jane and Bingley. They were also good about sending me regular "proof of life" photos to help mitigate any FOMO I had about what was happening on the home front. Can you believe the cuteness in this photo my sister took of Bingley? I swear, that baby angel is the love of my life.

And as we've reached the portion of the blog post where I'm referring to my cats as baby angels, it's probably time for me to get some more rest.

To everyone else who attended RWA, I hope your experiences were just as rich and wonderful. If you weren't able to make it this year, I hope you will in the future. It was a truly rewarding and inspiring experience.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

August 1, 2017

queen of the league box set available + excerpt

It's that time of year: football season is upon us. College ball starts Labor Day weekend and the NFL returns to regular season the following week. (Bonus, that means fall is just around the corner, which means pumpkins, apples, boots, and scarves, and that makes this girl who hates humidity happy.) But football is almost here.

For the past few years, that's meant researching and drafting a fantasy football team. Joining my then-office's fantasy football league five years ago was kind of life-changing. For one, it made me a little obsessed with players and their stats. It made watching non-Packers games more interesting. And it inspired the Queen of the League series. Once I had the idea, it gave fantasy football even more meaning. For the next three years, I juggled two leagues while I wrote First & Goal, Going for Two, and Three & Out. I stuck with one another year as I prepared to release the final story in the trilogy during the season.

But this summer, when the email came from my former co-worker and long-time commissioner asking if I wanted to do the league again... I retired. Honestly, it's something I've been thinking about doing for a while. It's hard to pay curate a stellar team while writing and marketing books and working a full-time job. Never mind being a cat mother and having a social life.

It's hard to have it all.

Truth is, my heart wasn't in the game the past couple years. Maybe it was coming so close to winning--and losing--it in year two and never coming close again. I'm a sore enough loser it's possible. Maybe it really was being my feeling too busy. (But we're all busy, so boo to that.) But I knew it was time to move on. Kind of like I've moved on to another series in my writing.

Still, fantasy football will always have a special place in my heart. Especially because it brought me Harper, Brook, J.J., and the rest of the Mega Ballerz and friends.

For those who haven't read it, here's a little taste of First & Goal and the Queen of the League box set. For those who have, let's call it a trip down memory lane (or something).

What do we have here? I pause in the doorway to admire the tall, broad-shouldered man standing at the kitchen sink. My gaze travels down the back of his blue polo shirt, which is tucked into a pair of khakis. I gulp and close my mouth to keep my tongue from rolling out. This could be my self-imposed dry spell talking, but I never realized a man’s back could be so appealing in a polo. And the khakis . . .   
He leans forward, and I can’t help watching the way the material stretches across his butt. 
“Harper, you made it.” My back, and the one I’m ogling, stiffen in response to Wade’s greeting. Oblivious to the tension in the room, he steps around me to reach into the fridge. The man at the sink turns slowly. Refusing to make eye contact, I stare at his hands, which are blotting a dark red smudge off his shirt. I wonder if my cheeks are the same shade. They feel like it. 
Raising a beer to his lips, Wade nods at the other person in the room. “Brook, have you met our newest league member?” He nudges me in the ribs, hard enough I almost drop the tray. Steadying myself, I set the beer and treats on the counter and face the source of my shame. 
Wiping my sweaty palms on the sides of my jeans, I pull my shoulders back, straighten my spine, and step forward. “I’m Harper Duquaine,” I say with as much confidence as I can muster. “Thanks for having me. Over for the draft,” I hurriedly add because I can’t seem to keep myself quiet. “And in the league, in general.” 
Slinging the towel over his shoulder, he takes my offered hand. “Brook MacLaughlin.”  
I gain the courage to meet his gaze. Light blue eyes pop from his suntanned face. A loose lock of gold-streaked hair falls across his forehead, and a light smattering of day-old whiskers covers his chiseled chin. I’m not sure if I gasp, but I’ve definitely lost my breath. He may not have J.J.’s striking GQ handsomeness, but the effect is similar. Like someone’s punched me in the gut. 
He opens his mouth to speak but lets out a short breath, almost like a laugh. His lips pull into a tight, brief grin instead. Like me, he’s seemingly at a loss for words. Only, based on the flush darkening his high cheekbones, I’d guess he’s embarrassed for me.  
The reminder of my bad manners moments earlier forces me to release his hand and step back. “Sorry to interrupt you. The other guy—your roommate—told me to bring the food here. To the kitchen.” 
“Oh, no problem.” The side of his mouth curves up shyly. “I was trying to save my shirt.” He gestures at the dark smudge bleeding into the fabric. “It’s probably a lost cause, but I figured . . .”
“What did the little monsters get on you today?” J.J. asks, stepping into the kitchen to grab a beer. Seeing me, he winks, sending another jolt to my belly. At this rate, I might spontaneously combust here in the kitchen. “Jelly or juice?” 
“Strawberry jam.” For my benefit Brook adds, “My nieces brought me lunch today. They tend to get a little enthusiastic about peanut butter and jelly. My clothes sometimes get in the way.” 
“How old are they? Your nieces? 
“Marley is four and Ellery is two.” His eyes crinkle around the edges. “They’re a handful, but they’re worth the extra laundry.” 
“I bet.” I take a shaky breath to calm my still fluttering stomach. “My nephew is three. He usually leaves a path of destruction behind him. I figured I was safe taking him to Burger King last week . . .” 
He winces in sympathy. “It’s amazing what kids can do with french fries and ketchup.” 
“Tell me about it. I was in shock.” Which is an understatement. I’d nearly cried when he’d created his own version of Starry Night on one of the tables. “I tried to clean up, but the fifteen-year-old running the register told me it’d be better if we left.” 
“You know . . .” Brook strokes his chin, tapping his lips three times with his index finger. “We probably shouldn’t ever put the three of them in a room together. They’d probably launch World War III.” 
“Or at least cause an incident with international repercussions.” 
“Can you imagine the headlines?” 
“The press would have a field day.” 
Apparently done with kid talk, J.J. clears his throat. “Did you say you brought food? Someone specifically mentioned treats.” 
I blink, thrown off by the abrupt change in subject. “Yes, I—” 
“Nice,” he interrupts, peeling back the plastic wrap on the platter, snagging two bars. “I love these things. My mom used to make them for me.” Eyeing the beer, he grabs one and tucks it under his arm with the other bottle. “This is one of my favorite brews. Nicely done, Harper.” 
“Uh . . . thank you.” 
“We shoul’ ge’ in der,” J.J. mumbles, his mouth full of cereal and marshmallow. “Draft’s ’bou’ to star’.”  
He walks off, followed soon by Wade, who also takes a bar. Left alone, I fill the silence by offering Brook a beer. He shakes his head. “I have to grade some papers and go over film tonight. I’m a teacher. And coach,” he adds quickly. “A football coach. I try not to drink when I have to work.” 
“Makes sense to me. I had an English teacher in high school who I’m pretty sure graded our papers while drinking a bottle of wine. You could always tell whose paper she’d done last because the writing was illegible and the student almost always got an A.”
He chuckles. “Maybe I should try her method sometime. Essays about Colonial America can be a bit dry.” 
“You’re a history teacher?” 
He nods. “I have two sessions this semester—we do block scheduling—and this year’s freshman class is a doozy.” 
“Oh yeah?” 
“I’ve already had to call four parents about excessive cell phone use.” He shakes his head and reaches a hand up to massage the back of his neck. “And I’m pretty sure some of the students started a meme of my ass with a photo someone snapped of me bent over to pick up papers.” 
My eyes widen. Is he making a jab at me? “Have you figured out who did it?” 
“No, and to be honest, I’d rather they poke fun at me than any of their classmates.” He drops his hand again. “I’m a grown-up. I can handle the teasing.” 
My belly flips. I blindly fumble for the pan of Rice Krispies treats and thrust them under his nose. “Want one?” 
“I . . . sure.” He takes a bar and bites into it. “Thank you.” 
“We should probably get in there.” 
He blinks but doesn’t say anything. He chews thoughtfully and nods. “Go ahead. I’ll be in shortly.” He points to his shirt. “I should take care of this and change into something more appropriate.” 
I set the pan down and grab one of my beers. I keep my gait smooth on my way out the door. Part of me wishes I had the moves to try swaying my hips, but I’d better not. I have zero game and would only make a mess of it. 
Besides, I shouldn’t be flirting with anyone here. They’re the competition. I also have a team to draft and talent to scout. There’s no time for hunky distractions.

Check out the rest of First & Goal, book one in the Queen of the League series, for only 99 cents on ebook. Or, as of today, you can download the whole series in one collection for $4.99.

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