August 30, 2019

let's hear it for sports romance

Blogger's Note: This originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of my newsletter, The Latest. Click here to sign-up for a free subscription and to score a free ebook of my novel First & Goal.

Football season is here. I mean, technically it kicks off here in Nebraska tomorrow. But after weeks of updates coming in from training camps, and my fantasy football league commissioner sending nearly daily updates, it might as well be football season.

This, of course, has my mind and heart thinking of all things fall. I'm talking boots, scarves, spiced beverages and treats, and more.

Before I get ahead of myself and put out pumpkin decorations, let's just stick to the start of football season. As a reader (and writer), I love a good sports romance.

Let's take a look at some sporty reads.

Impulsive by Catherine Hart

This was the first sports romance novel I read back when I was in middle school and falling for the genre. A reporter is assigned to cover a new pro-football team and begins a fake relationship with the quarterback as a mutually beneficial cover. But as the fake romance becomes real, the couple comes to realize that a series of mishaps surrounding the team might not be so accidental after all.

Intercepted by Alexa Martin

This one is all about exes and ohs . . . (get it?) After breaking up with her football-star boyfriend, Marlee has sworn off athletes forever. That is until a certain quarterback from her past re-enters the game. A behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to build a career (and relationship) within the bright lights of football, I was totally shipping Marlee and her new guy.

Risky Play by Rachel Van Dyken

A new series from Rachel Van Dyken . . . I actually haven't read this book yet, but I can't wait. This one is centered around REAL football (or, what we Americans call soccer). The premise for this book sounds SO good. And I had a great time discussing it (and our general love of sports romance) with the author herself at RWA 2019. (She's just as excited for gridiron season to begin.)

Queen of the League Trilogy by Laura Chapman

Okay, this is totally shameless and self-promotional. But I swear, I love my Queen of the League trilogy. A romantic comedy series following three fantasy football seasons in the life of Harper Duquaine, this is a sports romance series that even people who aren't into the game can appreciate. Through it all, will Harper secure her fantasy football legacy, career, and love for a happily ever after?

Where are my fellow sports romance lovers? What are your favorite sports romance reads and authors?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter 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, 2019

excerpt of 'go for love'

Enjoy this (unedited) extended preview of "Go for Love," my new novella appearing in Love in Charge: Powerful Women, Powerful Love, a limited time collection to benefit the GLSEN Omaha Chapter. Now available for pre-order on Amazon. Yours to read 9/1/19.

Beck was still placing his order when Sarah sprinted into the pizza parlor. Pausing just a moment to take a breath, she pulled back her shoulders and stalked toward the counter. As he reached for his wallet, she plopped her credit card down on the counter.

“I’ll take a slice of the black truffle and gorgonzola and a bottle of Shiner. I’ve got his order too.”

Jaw slack, Beck gaped. The college student behind the counter darted a nervous glance his way, but took her credit card and rang up the order. She scribbled her name and a healthy tip on the receipt.

Turning at last to face him, she one again registered the disbelief and confusion on his face. She couldn’t blame him. She had, after all, just crashed his dinner. It was presumptuous. Rude, even. But at this moment, it was absolutely necessary. Hopefully Emily Post—and her mother—would forgive the rudeness.

“We need to talk,” she said.

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Yeah, okay.”

Recovered, Beck strode toward a corner table near the back of the restaurant leaving her to follow. Sitting down, he gestured for her to take the seat opposite him.

“You want to talk? Talk.”

As far as attempts to level the playing field and restore a balance of power went, it was halfway effective. And, if she was completely honest with herself, she respected that.

Biting back a grin, she took the offered seat and rested her forearms on the table.

“Since we already covered the niceties earlier, do you mind if we skip them now and get right into it?”

One of his eyebrows quivered. “By all means.”

“Great.” She leaned forward. “Here’s the deal. I know you need money to start your own business.”

His eyes narrowed into slits. “Did Maisie tell you that?”

She didn’t figure he needed an answer. It was obvious to anyone who her inside source was on this tidbit of information. “I’m prepared to offer you the exact amount you need. Plus—” she held up a hand before he could interrupt, “an additional bonus for every day you finish before the launch.”

“How much of a bonus?”

She threw out a number. This time his eyes widened. He leaned back in his chair, studying her closely as if to suss out whether or not she was bluffing.

“Look,” she said, not wanting to let this deal get away from her. “I know neither of us particularly wants to hop into bed together again—so to speak.”

She cringed inwardly at her choice of terms. She’d always hated how sexual business lingo could be. There wasn’t time to dwell right now.

“But we both need something. I need a reliable server before my launch. You need cash. Don’t you think we can put the past behind us for a few days?”

Beck nodded slowly. She could practically see him making a list of pros and cons in his head. She’d done the same herself only five minutes earlier. Hopefully, like her, he’d come to the conclusion that the pros far outweighed the cons in this instance. “It’ll take a lot of hours and muscle,” he said at last. “I’m not sure it’s even possible on such a tight timeframe.”

“So you’re worried you’re not up for it?” She clucked her tongue. “You never used to be afraid of getting your hands dirty or a challenge.”

His eyes narrowed. “I’m not afraid.”

“Sounds like it.”

Letting out a rude grunt, he ran his hand over his cropped hair. Not for the first time that day, she longed to reach out and straighten the freshly tousled locks. Or, better still, to make them even messier.

“I already have work scheduled during business hours. It will take a lot of overtime.”

“Like I said, I’ll make it worth your while.”

“And I suppose you’ll be watching over my shoulder the whole time.”

Annoyance flared in her fast and strong. “I’m not a micromanager.”

He held up his hands, wordlessly calling for a truce.

“But you’ll be around?”

“I’m a week away from launch, and I have a lot riding on this. Of course I’ll be around.”

He gave a short nod. “You won’t interfere?”

“Not unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

He smirked. “Fair enough.”

They fell quiet again, each silently studying each other like they were embroiled in an epic staring contest or a game of chicken.

At last, Beck sighed. “Okay. I’m in. On one condition.”

She ignored the thrill that bubbled in her chest. Surely it was just relief that this last obstacle standing in the way of GO’s success would soon be behind her.

“What do you want?”

“We start fresh today. As far as either of us is concerned, we’ve just met.”

She understood what he meant. Hard as it would be to pretend that they hadn’t once enjoyed a relationship that had burned hot and fast, he was right. They couldn’t revisit it and keep this partnership professional.

Sarah offered her hand. “We have a deal.”

Beck accepted it and shook. She tried to ignore the jolt of pleasure his firm hand against hers sent down her back. “When do we start?” he asked.

“How’s tomorrow?” Just like he’d wanted. See, she could compromise.

His lips curved up and he released her hand. “Whatever you say boss.”

About the Collection
When this woman steps into a room, heads turn and people listen. Whether she's commanding a new business venture, coaching a collegiate football team, or diagnosing and healing people, she's focused, influential, and passionate, and she's not about to apologize for it.

But there is loneliness and fear she can't ignore, and questions soon follow. Is a second chance meant to be, when the first was a disaster? Is her distrust of all men warranted when only one has truly ever hurt her? Can she set aside an age difference to find love?

Most of all...when a man who is everything she's never realized she wanted is right in front of her, will she be ready for the biggest undertaking of her life?

Lose yourself in these three novellas of powerful women learning that sometimes love is the one in charge.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter 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, 2019

this one's for 21-year-old me

Me at 21 in Southern Illinois.
Nothing by confidence, optimism and determination.

Three days after I graduated from college, I packed up my Mazda Protege and drove 500 miles from my home to Southern Illinois. I'd been offered an internship at a newspaper there for the summer. Even though I'd never been for a visit and had only spoken to the editor twice by phone, I'd accepted. Hot off an internship at my local newspaper, and with a freshly minted journalism degree sitting on the desk at home, I saw this as the first step in the career I'd mapped out for myself.

On a rare quiet evening, I'd typed up a timeline for myself in a Google document. It looked something like this:

  • Summer 2008 - Intern at newspaper, get breaking news and in-depth clips for portfolio
  • Fall 2008 - Land a reporting job at a larger newspaper, get political clips for portfolio; write first contemporary romance novel
  • Fall 2010 - Move to a larger newspaper, get human interest clips for portfolio; get an agent for fiction and publish within the year
  • Fall 2012 - Start grad school; freelance for magazines; begin pattern of publishing two new romance novels every year
  • Summer 2014 - Take off summer to backpack Europe
  • Fall 2014 - Begin part-time faculty appointment; continue to freelance for magazines; continue publishing schedule (perhaps try a historical romance too?)
  • Summer 2016 - Turn 30; teach writing workshops; get movie deal; ease up on journalism to focus full-time on fiction; repeat forever

Just a simple plan for a young woman who thought she had it all figured out. I'd work my butt off for about eight years, and by the time I was 30, I'd have everything I ever wanted with virtually no adversity or difficulty.

As a result of a computer failure, this is the only photograph I have of me
from my college graduation. But even in this you can see I was always more
interested in what was next rather than what happening in the moment.

My first instinct just now was to type "what an idiot." But I'm going to be kinder to my past, idealistic self. While I was incredibly naive, as I drove to Southern Illinois with a Foo Fighters CD blasting through the speakers, I had boundless confidence, optimism and determination. In truth, I miss waking up every day believing that even if today was tough, it was all leading me toward the professional happily ever after I'd written for myself. I miss having that much faith in myself and others.

I pulled into the first motel with a price that I could afford and carried my suitcase upstairs. I was still looking for a short-term apartment, so I figured my TV, movie and books could wait till the weekend when I'd surely have living arrangements all worked out. I settled into bed with a freshly delivered pizza and watched as Ryan Seacrest declared David Cook the winner of that season of American Idol. My future started the next day, and I was ready.

Of course when I pulled up to the newspaper, I realized I had no idea where I was supposed to park or even which door I should walk through. I used the front entrance for the first and last time that day. The woman at the front desk showed me to the news cubicles and told me to grab a chair while I waited for the editor to arrive.

That was the high point, professionally speaking.

To make it clear: I don't blame the newspaper or any of its employees for how that summer went. With the power of reflection, I see that I went into the whole experience with unrealistic expectations. Also, I forgot about the fact that I'm actually pretty shy when I'm in new settings, and I'd never been so far from home for such a prolonged period of time. It was much more difficult for me emotionally than I'd imagined. And while I came away with solid clips, more knowledge and even a job offer (which I turned down for reasons I won't get into here), that summer gave me more of an education outside of the job than in it.

Southern Illinois is beautiful. On the weekends I would often drive
somewhere picturesque like this. As a broke intern, I couldn't afford to do
much more than drive places, but the views are still ingrained in my memory.

When short-term housing didn't pan out, I booked a room at an even more affordable (translation: cheap) motel that I could pay by the week. While I had a TV in the room, I didn't have much more than a few channels on the TV and no reliable Wi-Fi connection. And in that first month, I didn't have any friends. Most of the people around my age worked on the copy desk, which meant they had vastly different working hours than me. And while everyone was kind, for the first time in my life I felt completely alone and lonely.

Though I dabbled a little at a story I'd outlined, I found myself reading most of the time. I'd stay up late in the motel, curled up with a book while I tried to ignore the sounds of the people in the rooms around me. I'd grab a Diet Dr. Pepper and cheese and crackers (you eat interestingly when you live in a motel room that doesn't have a fridge or microwave) and dive into another story while I sat with my back against a tree at a park.

Those first weeks, I worked my way through the small pile of books I'd packed along. I finished all of my Catherine Coulters and Julie Garwoods. Then I picked up a couple of books by new-to-me authors that I'd received in a grab back at a writing conference. One of them was Rachel Gibson. Reading her books led me to do some Google searches (when the Internet worked) and somehow I stumbled upon a copy of Julia Quinn's The Duke and I on Google Books. I'd guess it's because they're both published with Avon, but however it happened, I started to read the story.

Within a few pages, I was completely hooked on Simon, Daphne and the rest of the Bridgerton crew. I stayed up all night to finish, because I desperately needed to know that everything would work out.

The next day, I drove to the bookstore after work and bought the only Julia Quinn books I could find (the recently released The Lost Duke of Wyndham and Mr. Cavendish, I Presume) and put in a request that they order the Bridgerton books so I could finish what I'd started. 

Even now, I can't entirely explain what it was about these books that gripped me. I suppose that's how it works with most books we love, right? We just love the stories and the characters, and we think about them all the time.

But as I'm in a reflective mood, I know that one of the reasons I still love these books is because they became my friends at a time when I needed them. They made me laugh. They were with me when I wanted to cry. They became my friends.

Almost exactly one month after I started my internship, I made a few friends in Southern Illinois. We went out for drinks and dinner. We attended concerts and parties. I learned to play darts and Elton John's "Levon" and Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" became two of my favorite songs to play on a jukebox. I didn't have as much time for reading as I did before. That was a good thing. I lived a lot in those two months. It changed the experience I had there for the better. And as a writer, it's important to live, feel and experience as a point of reference. Okay, it's good for being a human in general, but it's still important for the writing!

Even though I was busier, I still made time to continue on with my Julia Quinn books as they began to come into stock at the story. I took days to read them instead of hours. She became a favorite author then. She's been a favorite ever since.

So I was ridiculously excited when I saw her name on the agenda for this year's Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City. I had already signed up to attend, but I cleared my schedule of everything else on Friday afternoon, because I desperately wanted to attend her AMA session.

That shyness from more than a decade ago came back. I'd only been sitting at the AMA a few minutes when I realized I'd never be able to form a question clearly enough in my head to ask it out loud. It was only a few minutes after that I realized I was too shy to wait in line after the program to go up to Julia Quinn and tell her exactly what she and her books meant to me. I knew I'd have zero chill. Even more than I wanted to meet her, I didn't want to completely nerd out and look like an idiot.

It was approximately ten minutes after I left the AMA that I regretted not saying anything. I'd had a chance to talk to one of my all-time favorite authors--one of the people who inspired me to stick with my dream of writing a book--and I'd been too scared of looking like a dork.

I must have had a few karma chips to cash in, because the next day as I was leaving my final event of the day (one I hadn't even officially planned to attend) I saw Julia Quinn standing between me and the exit.

This was it. My second chance. And I might not get a third.

Even though I was every bit as nervous as I had been the day before, with a friend by my side, I casually made my way toward Julia Quinn. Not wanting to be rude, I stood off to the side a little to avoid interrupting her conversation. In that minute or two, I must have talked myself into staying and being brave half a dozen times.

When she noticed me, I did my best to speak at a reasonable pace. And even though I felt like a character spilling her guts in a very grand gesture way (I'm still as dramatic as I was a decade ago), I told her how much I loved her books, how much they meant to me, and how excited I was for the Bridgertons to be made into a Shondaland Netflix series.

(In case you haven't heard that news, yep. It's totally happening.)

And you know what? It was wonderful. Julia Quinn was grateful and gracious. She talked to me a little about the series and her excitement about that. The more seconds that passed by, the more normal it felt. From it, I learned a few more valuable life lessons.

  1.  Don't be afraid of putting yourself out there or doing something just because it scares you.
  2. It's okay to nerd out. People appreciate knowing that their hard work has meant something to someone else.
  3. Make time for people. Be kind. Be gracious. You never know just how much an interaction will mean to that person.
  4. Go ahead and meet your heroes. I know there's a saying to the contrary, but the potential reward is worth the risk. Plus the hopeful, idealistic young person still inside of you will be forever grateful and proud.

Meet your heroes. Here's me meeting one of mine, Julia Quinn,
at the Librarian/Bookseller/Blogger Networking Mixer at the
Romance Writers of America 2019 Conference in New York City.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***