Summer Sale

Many of you will be traveling this summer. Most of my favorite trips are ones that Mr. Rochester and I have taken together: Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in summer, Jackson Hole in winter, Scotland, Germany, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, and more. We always manage to find the best local beer and walk until we find something of interest.

You might dream of a vacation on a beach like this:

 

Surfboards for rent in Costa Rica.
Surfboards for rent in Costa Rica.

 

 

Or you may want to sit at a cafe like this:

Order a bier and relax, friend.
Order a bier and relax, friend.

 

Or you may just want to escape into the wilderness:

Telluride, CO
Telluride, CO

 

No matter what you want to do, you will need a good book. Lightning in the Dark (now with bonus content!) is on sale at all major vendors (except iBooks, sorry). It will remain on sale until a little after Storm in the Mountains is released. When will that be? In the first couple weeks of July, depending on how fast I get it formatted.

Buy a Lightning in the Dark ebook for yourself or a friend.

Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, Nook

Mythology Mondays: The River Styx

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. The second book, Storm in the Mountains, will be out in July.

Who else wants to totally rock this shirt?
Who else wants to totally rock this shirt?

I am not going to talk about Styx, the 1970s band, who are on tour this summer, and whose songs seem to be composed entirely of earworms. “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with meeeeee.”

I am going to talk about the River Styx, the river you only see in Greek Mythology if you are dead and your loved ones remembered to put a coin in your mouth or on your eyes for the ferryman’s fee.

The river was named after the goddess Styx, who personified hatred and was an ally of Zeus in the Titan wars. Styx had many children who served under Zeus. She lived in a grotto above the river bearing her name in the underworld.

When a god or goddess took an oath, Iris would fly to the underworld and retrieve a cup of water from the river. The vow was made “By the River Styx” as the oath giver poured out the water from the cup. This vow was seen as binding.

The River Styx separated the world of the dead from the world of the living. When a soul made its way down to the river, it was transported into the underworld by Charon, the ferryman.

The Styx was not the only river of the underworld, but it is the most famous. In Dante’s Inferno, it is the river of the fifth circle of hell. This circle was reserved for people guilty of wrath, anger, and sulliness.

See the souls over whom anger prevailed. In the warm bath of the sun they were hateful, down here in the black sludge of the river Styx do they wish they had never been born.” — Dante’s Inferno, by Virgil

In Turning Creek, Petra is fond of the exclamations “Styx and fire.” Both Petra and Marina are known to say “hells” and “Styx.” All of these sayings reflect Virgil’s version of the underworld with its many levels.

The Remnants, like the real Greek myths, make binding vows “By the River Styx” though they do not dump out water from the river when they do so.

A Marina Update

Publishing is a funny business. If it was only me writing in a little cabin in the mountains, things would be simpler, books would come out faster, and they would also be not as good as we would all prefer. I am, sadly, not in a cabin in the mountains and I have, happily, a small team of people who help me make my books better. Thank you Baby Jesus for editors.

picture attribution
Picture by Charles Knowles.

I wanted to have Marina’s book, Storm in the Mountains, in your eager hands already, but it is not going to happen as quickly as I planned in my head. You know what they say about the best laid plans… they get swept down the river of life.

Storm is almost done. It is so close. I want to tell you it will be June, but to be safe, let’s just say July. In the weeks before Storm comes out, I will be releasing a new version of Lightning in the Dark with some bonus material. The other good news is that Iris’ novella, Letters in the Snow, is written. It just has to get through the editing process.

Marina was an absolute joy to write. She made me laugh and she always keeps Reed on his toes. There are many moments in this book that I love, but the verbal sparing between these two is worth the wait. Trust me.

If you need some suggestions on what to read in the interim, here are some things I recently finished that I loved.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Others series by Anne Bishop (Written in Red, Murder of Crows, and Visions in Silver)

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress)

Hounded by Kevin Hearne (part 1 of the Iron Druid Chronicles)

Eagles Honor Banished by Sandra Schwab (I have not actually read this one, but you can pre-order it now or buy it as a serial. Sandra has never steered me wrong.)

Happy Reading!

 

 

Sometimes, We Cry Over the Silliest Things

For Mother’s Day, I shared a snippet of my journey through being a mom of a baby in the NICU. I thought I had faced most of those demons, but we defrosted our fridge last weekend.

When I came home from Texas Children’s Hospital, the Milk Bank sent me home with over 100 bottles of breastmilk I had pumped while staying at the hospital. They represented hours of work and tears. I put them all in the chest freezer. We did not use bottles and they all just sat there. I knew the effort that I had put into those bottles, so I started looking into donating them. It turns out that donating breastmilk is not at all easy to do. Nearly impossible, which is very sad.

Then, Hurricane Ike made an appearance.

We live less than four miles from the coastline and, while we may be at the high point in our neighborhood, we are always in one of the first zones to evacuate. We went north to safety with our four month old baby in tow. Our house was fine, but the electricity went out for about 24 hours. The chest freezer contents were alright, but I did not want to take a chance on the milk if it had even defrosted a little. I had to throw it all out. It was difficult, but I did it.

There was this one bottle though, wedged in a corner and cemented in ice. It would not budge and I left it there.

Seven years later, it was time to defrost the freezer. Past time, actually. I unloaded all the other contents and there was that bottle. I had forgotten it was there, covered up by some cranberries and juice from the lemon tree. It was wedged tight, still. I turned off the freezer and waited. A couple hours later, I knelt down, pulled out the bottle, and took it inside.

I put it on the counter.

I never could fill these things up by pumping. I'm in awe of working moms who do.
I never could fill these things up by pumping. I’m in awe of working moms who do.

The label has his name, medical number (which I had memorized after a few days because I wrote it so often), the date (6/2/08), the time (8am), and medications (which I never listed because I was too tired to write advil every dang time).

I moved it around the counter.

I carried it around the kitchen. I put it in the fridge. I took it out. I put it back on the counter. I looked at it all day.

I could not throw it away.

That night, I was washing dishes, looking at it sitting on the counter, and I started to cry.

That bottle was hours of sitting in a curtained off space in the Milk Bank at Texas Children’s. It was oceans of tears shed while I begged God for the life of my son or the fortitude to survive if he did not. It was words of prayer sent up. It was almost seven weeks of sleeping at the hospital, going to the Milk Bank every 3 hours without fail to pump. It was mastitis and wondering if I was making an effort for nothing. It was pain and heartache.

That bottle was realizing that my baby might live. It was falling in love with Mr. R all over again as he read C.S. Lewis to our boy who we had never yet heard cry. It was holding Gideon for the first time when he finally got off ECMO and was stable. It was rejoicing when I was able to feed him for the first time. It was joy and peace.

That bottle is still sitting in my fridge. Mr. Rochester asked me today if I wanted him to throw it out. I said no. I think I will pour out the milk and save the bottle.

I want to be reminded of that time. I want to remember the tears and the joy. I want to look at it and remember to be thankful for what I have been given because it is a blessing, that child that lived against all odds. I want to remember what it feels like to be cast into the fire and come out refined. I want to remember so I will remember to share my story.

Sometimes we cry over silly things and sometimes we remember why we are blessed by those tears.

Mythology Mondays: The Aegis

Welcome back to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. The second book, Storm in the Mountains, will be out in June.

The aegis is sometimes called the breastplate of Zeus and sometimes referred to as the shield of Zeus. The Aegis was made up of four spirits who were the arm guards of Zeus.

“Across her [Athena’s] shoulders she threw the betasselled, terrible aigis (aegis), all about which Phobos (Terror) hangs like a garland, and Eris (Hatred) is there, and Alke (Battle Strength), and heart-freezing Ioke (Onslaught) and thereon is set the head of the grim gigantic Gorgo (Gorgon), a thing of fear and horror, portent of Zeus of the aigis.” Homer, Iliad 5. 738 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)

Phobos was the male personification of fear. He was the son of Ares and Aphrodite.

Eris was the female spirit goddess of  strife. She had such a malignant personality that she was the only goddess not invited to  the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. When she turned up anyway, she started a feud that led to the Trojan War.

Alke was the female personification of strength. Ioke was the female personification of pursuit. Both of these spirits are associated with the battle spirits known as the Makhai.

In my mind, these spirits of war and strife are like the Christian version of the Four Horseman of the apocalypse. If they show up, you better hope you have a paddle and a boat to get through that flood of unpleasantness headed your way.

A statue in the  Church of San Vitale of the Four Horseman. Photo by  Cheryl Cook.
A statue in the Church of San Vitale of the Four Horseman. Photo by Cheryl Cook.

 

Making a Better To Do List

I am not the most organized person owing mostly to the fact that I like piles. Piles of paper. Piles of books. Piles of stuff. My secret organization technique is to leave something in a nice pile for a few months, go through it, realize most of it is too old to be useful, and throw it away. Mr. Rochester does not approve of this.

The one thing I do that is organized is keep a To Do list. Honestly, who does not love crossing things off a list with a fist pump into the air every time you finish a chore? Sad people, that’s who.

About a month ago, a friend pointed me to a To Do list created by Ann Voskamp. (You have to sign up for her newsletter to download the PDFs, annoying, but effective.) I loved that her To Do list had different sections because I often found myself making multiple lists for different things. I decided to try out the list for a month, see what I liked, and what I wanted to change.

What I loved about Ann’s lists:

Menu: I make a weekly meal plan but it was nice to list out the meal for the day on my daily list. It helped me double check ingredients in case the boys had consumed all the milk, cheese, everything in the pantry since I made the weekly menu and went to the store.

She has a section that includes a memory verse, a relationship you were working on, and doxology (a place to write what you are thankful for). These three sections helped me be intentional about what verse or chapter of the Bible I was reading that day, who I wanted to pray for or pay special attention to, and giving thanks for the very many blessings I have in my life.

There is a section for “The Day’s Dire,” things that absolutely must get done that day in addition to a regular To Do list. There is also a timeline for the day so you know if your list is longer than the hours you actually have.

What I did not find useful:

Ann lists Daily To Dos and Domestic To Dos separate from other To Dos. It annoyed me to have my To Dos in so many places. I also never used the “Dailies” list because how disheartening is it to write dishes, laundry, pick up. Every. Single. Day. Just thinking about it makes me sad. Writing it down makes me want to cry. Daily housework sucks out my soul and I did not need to be reminded of that monster eating me bite by bite. The Domestic To Dos list was annoying in the same way but I just disliked having them in a different place. Laundry and vacuuming are not on a different priority level than running errands so I wanted them all together. If I do not go to the store, we starve. If I do not vacuum, the dust bunnies revolt against their human overlords. Either way, we die a horrible death.

I never used the area for workout, food log, or water intake. I do not currently work out and I feel no guilt whatsoever about this.

New and Improved, for Me

I created a new Daily Lists sheet this morning (link goes to a pdf of the form below). It includes everything I liked about Ann’s list and got rid of the things I did not need.

Daily List Pic

 

I changed “Memory Verse” to The Word. I like to read the same sections or chapters for a week or so at a time, then move on. While I was testing Ann’s lists out, I was (and still am) reading through Galatians, one chapter a week at a time. I kept the work “Doxology” because it reminds of singing the Doxology in the church I grew up in. It also reminds me that while I am to be thankful for blessings I have been given, they have also been given to be used, not hoarded.

I put all the To Dos together. The items that are pressing for the day are starred and at the top.

I bought a cheap clipboard, covered it in purple owl duct tape, and viola. I have a fun new way to keep my daily life organized.

One Caution: No matter how many lists and plans you make, remember to always be flexible. Every day has it’s own surprises and we need to be mindful when we are called to change our plans in service to God and others.

Happy list making.

I Was Never Sure I’d Get Here: a Mother’s Day Post

I spent my first Mother’s Day as a mom as Texas Children’s Hospital. At the time, I had never heard my baby cry. I had only heald him briefly for a picture before he was hooked up to machines that beeped and keep him alive. It was days after Mother’s Day happened before I knew if I would ever spend another Mother’s Day with that precious child. I tried to be thankful that first Mother’s Day, but I did a lot of tearful praying and sometimes just in tears.

By the grace of God, that boy, Gideon, did come home eventually, healthy and ready to conquer the world.

Seven years later, I know have two boys, no longer so small as I think they are, who fill my life with laughter and the kind of shenanigans only boys can dream up.

I'n not sure what's more adorable, the turtle or those two boys.
I’n not sure what’s more adorable, the turtles or the boys.

Being a mom has been harder than I ever dreamed it would be and more rewarding than I imagined possible. Being a mom has made me a better person, though admittedly, I get by most days by the skin of my teeth and a large dose of God’s grace.

Mother’s Day is hard for some and joyful for others. If you are a mom, I hope you are showered with extra blessing today. If you are not a mom or if your mom is not here for you to hug, I hope you find someone to hold tight today and share a laugh with because this day is really about how we love each other. May your day be overflowing with love.

I never thought I would get to this place, but I am so thankful and happy I am here.

Love That! for Diabetes Research

I am excited to be participating in the Love That! launch event happening today. There are a bunch of authors participating in the Facebook party today and I am sure there will be plenty of online hoopla to be had. Join the Facebook party here.

Love That! by Brenda Novak is a cookbook of healthy, easy meals. All proceeds for this book are going to the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Foundation to help find a cure for diabetes. Brenda’s youngest son suffers from diabetes and she has tirelessly worked to raise money and awareness for diabetes over the years.

The cookbook is well laid out, with beautiful pictures. It is full of wonderful dishes that are healthy and delicious. My family eats soup in the winter and salads in the summer and this book has a large variety of both, plus a ton of other things. I can’t wait for cold weather so I can try the Mediterranean Vegetable Soup. With summer coming, I want to try the Citrus Salad with Avocado and Bacon and the Salmon Stacks.

For the launch today, I made the Nine Layer Dinner. On the night I made it, we had a meeting at church, so it ended up being a dinner on the go. It traveled well and it was a big hit with the boys.

Cheese? Check. Refried black beans? Check. Sour cream? Check. Really, what could be bad with those three things in it?
Cheese? Check. Refried black beans? Check. Sour cream? Check. Really, what could be bad with those three things in it?

Here are the assembled ingredients: 1 lb ground turkey, 3 large tomatoes, fresh basil, cheddar cheese, pasta, black refried beans, red peppers, black olives, romaine lettuce, sour cream. I should note that I rarely follow recipe instructions as written. Because this was for an event, I did my best to follow the instructions. It was hard, but I succeeded.

You could add onions here is you wanted to go rogue on the recipe.
You could add onions here is you wanted to go rogue on the recipe.

I browned the turkey. While the meat was cooking, I used my food processor to chop up two of the tomatoes. I was feeling very lazy, so I threw in the fresh basil too.

Everything smells awesome. I could just throw pasta in this and eat it the way it is now.
Everything smells awesome. I could just throw pasta in this and eat it the way it is now.

When the tomatoes and basil were chopped, I added them to the cooked turkey along with the red pepper. I added some salt at this point. If I was cooking in my usual style aka using the recipe as a guideline rather than a prescription, I would have added some chopped garlic to this mix. Really, can you ever have too much garlic? The answer is no. No you can not.

Many tomatoes in the store are not as good as they used to be, but I have found that the smaller varieties are delicious and great for recipes or snacking.
Many tomatoes in the store are not as good as they used to be, but I have found that the smaller varieties are delicious and great for recipes or snacking.

While the pasta cooked, I left the turkey mixture to bubble and chopped up some lovely little colored peppers and small, yellow tomatoes. I put the tomatoes and peppers in a to go container since this meal was going to have to travel. I also put the refried beans into a small pot and started heating them up.

If you were feeling lazy, you could just eat it now.
If you were feeling lazy, you could just eat it now.

When the noodles were done, I added them and some of the shredded cheese to the turkey and tomato mixture. When is was combined well, I poured the mixture into a 9×11 dish.

I refrained from adding more and more cheese. This a healthy dinner, after all.
I refrained from adding more and more cheese. This a healthy dinner, after all.

On top of the turkey noodle mix, I spread the warmed refried beans and topped them with more cheese.

Colorful and pretty! If you wanted to add spice, you could add green chilis to the top layer.
Colorful and pretty! If you wanted to add spice, you could add green chilis to the top layer.

On top of the cheese, I spread some of the chopped peppers and the can of black olives. I put the lid on my baking dish and whisked it into my casserole carrier. I packed up the sour cream, lettuce, extra tomatoes and peppers, and threw in a small bottle of garlic lime Cholulah. Everything is better with a little kick of Cholulah.

This was my plate. Mr. R and G had more than double this amount.
This was my plate. Mr. R and G had more than double this amount.

To assemble the layers, place a scoop of the turkey noodle mix onto a plate. Top with lettuce, sour cream, peppers, tomatoes, and a hot sauce of your choice.

If we had this dinner at home, I would have made guacamole or sliced avocados to add to the top.

The verdict? My husband and boys loved it. It was easy and traveled great. Spreading the refried beans was not easy though. You could use whole black beans instead and get the desired effect. If you use whole beans, be sure to rinse them first. If you have trouble finding good tomatoes, use canned low salt ones.

Now go buy a fabulous cookbook and support diabetes research. Too lazy to cook because you have all those books to read? There are boxed sets for you: Sweet Dreams, Sweet Seduction, and Sweet Talk. Like the cookbook, all the proceeds go to diabetes research.

 

The Recipe

Nine Layer Dinner

Each Serving: Cal: 334 Carb: 36 g Fat: 10 g Protein: 23 g Sodium: 446 mg Sugar: 5 g

1 lb. ground turkey
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, crushed
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2 cups low-fat cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. Mastaccoli pasta
1 can refried black beans
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp. black olives, sliced
2 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
4 Tbsp. fat-free sour cream

Fry ground turkey and drain. Add chopped tomatoes, water, pepper flakes and fresh basil.

Cook breaking up the chopped tomatoes to form sauce. Add 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese and the cooked pasta, and mix well. Divide pasta mixture onto 8 plates. Top with remaining ingredients. Add spoonfuls of warm refried beans, sprinkle with cheddar cheese, bell pepper, black olives, romaine lettuce and tomato–and top off with 1/2 Tbsp. sour cream.

8 servings

Drinking in Romance

After working months on a manuscript, mostly in isolation, it is fun when my beta readers and editor read what I have written and provide comments. Often their insight, makes me re-frame what I have constructed. Occasionally, their comments are observations on things I have done that they liked or were surprised by. These make me smile because I know the small details I labored over were noticed.

Something my editor pointed out to me during the course of edits on Storm in the Mountains got me thinking about what is and is not permissible for female leads in romance or books with a strong romantic element. She pointed out that my female leads drink, a lot, and they enjoy their ale and whiskey, unabashedly. She loves this about them.

When Petra, Dora, and especially Marina are sitting around, they are either eating cookies (biscuits), drinking tea, drinking tea fortified with whiskey, drinking whiskey straight, or drinking ale. There is a ton of drinking going on in Turning Creek. When I wrote them, I did not consider that this was odd, because it is what I would prefer to be doing most days. Who doesn’t want to sit under a shade tree with a pint of brown ale and chat with friends?

I love tea and I love beer. I drink copious amounts of tea because I am a recovering coffee drinker. I love coffee, but I loved it too much.

I like enjoy beer. Mr. Rochester and I are fairly serious homebrewers and you can get me to agree to pretty much anything by offering me a wee heavy or a Belgian ale. The darker, heavier the beer, the more likely I am to love it. I would drink scotch and Irish whiskey more often, but I can not afford that indulgence. I save those for special occasions. I might be a good Baptist girl now, but I was raised Catholic and it shows.

See those three on the right? Delicious.
See those three on the right? Delicious.

After Brenda, my magical editor (Her blog says she is a story sorceress and I completely agree with that.), pointed out my characters’ tendency to drink for leisure, I started thinking about what drinking means in romance.

In romance drinking can be a sign of dissipation, especially in regencies and historicals. A character who drinks too much is most likely a reprobate in the process of losing his family’s fortune. These characters will either be stripped of their responsibility by the hero or if they are the hero, will have to sober up, shape up, and win the lady to redeem themselves.

Characters will also over-indulge when they are grieving. It should be noted that the grieving is often brought on by their own poor choices. Poor choices, it should also be noted, which drove the damsel away. The moment the hero sees the backside of the heroine (ha!) often results in them realizing that, oops, I think she might be my soul mate. You screwed that one up, buddy. They may also be drinking because the damsel in question is making them insane with lurve and they are having trouble with all these new emotions coursing through their veins. Male leads in romance novels frequently struggle to contain and understand emoshuns and turning to drink, though only briefly, can magically help them realize, like the tin man, that they too have a heart.

All the scenarios I have described above relate only to the male leads in the story. Female leads rarely drink and almost never to excess. If they do drink, it is in ways socially acceptable for females, like wine at meals or after dinner drinks. If they become intoxicated, it is by accident because in their inexperience they did not know the punch was that strong or that too much whiskey makes everything go wibbly wobbly. In contemporary romances, which shares most of the rules historicals follow, the female leads will sometimes have a night of excess. These result most often in either accidentally winding up with the male lead or moving the plot along in some fashion. Female leads rarely drink just because and never because they really want to get their hands on that special edition limited release bourbon barrel ale.

Mmm, I really need a drink now. Good thing I have a fully stocked beer fridge.

I have been trying to think of some notable exceptions to these rules. I have read a lot of historical, steampunk, paranormal, and some contemporary romances and I could only think of one exception. It may because, honestly, it is pretty much all I am thinking about the last few days.

Outlander is on my brain. In the first book, Claire get smashed before her wedding and enjoys scotch neat, surprising many of the men. The men around her note often that she is able to hold her liquor much better than other women of their acquaintance. Claire has trouble hiding her modern sensibilities and habits which makes for some amusing conversations.

In the book, she is gloriously hungover for her wedding day after drowning her nerves the night before. Once the wedding day commences, she applies the hair of the dog strategy and drinks a bit more. She gets tipsy and then strips Jamie of his pesky virginity. In the show, she is a little more than tipsy by the combination of nerves and drink and goes through the day in a fog. It is a nice reversal that Jamie remembers the day with clarity and Claire has trouble with many of the details. In the book, she actually passes out from too much drink and not enough food as they are leaving the church.

My female leads have never drunk in the books, yet. Marina does get out of hand, as she likes to do, but even she even is never truly drunk. The harpies enjoy good whiskey and good ale. They are violent creatures who are a bit wild and do not quite fit social norms. I love them for it.

Can you think of any female romance leads who enjoy drinking openly?