Posts tagged with: Cassondra Murray

February Bandit Booty!

1BanditBootyThank you all so much for hanging out with us and partying in celebration of our latest reinvention!

I’ve got booty to give away for THREE blogs this month.

BLOG 1

This was our Reinvention announcement blog from February 2nd.

The winner will get the following:

From Cassondra–a surprise package including 2 books, conference swag, and a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card

From Kate–A signed copy of A High End Finish

From Jeanne–A Starbucks mug and a coffee card

From Dianna Love–A Slye Temp e-book box set (Amazon or B&N account required)

The winner from Feb 2nd is…..Deb!

Blog 2-

This was my Feb 4th  blog about reinventing myself–from Goth Chick to small-town romance author. *grin*

Prize is a surprise package of two books plus swag and a $10 B&N card

The winner of the Feb 4th blog is…. gamistress!

Blog 3–

The last is my cover reveal for Grow On Me Honey from Feb 20th.

The prize is a surprise grab bag of two books plus conference swag.

The winner of the Feb 20th blog is….Maureen!

Y’all email me at Cassondrawrites AT gmail dot com with your snail mail address, and we’ll get your goodies shipped to you!

Thank you so much for hanging with all of us on our blogs this month!  See you next month on facebook and twitter!

Welcome to Honey Bend

When I was a little girl, my grandmother, MotherGrant, had a huge garden. She and DaddyMike grew all the veggies they’d use for the entire year.

But that veggie garden was about survival. It was not about joy.

In the afternoons, after the other garden work was done, MotherGrant would spend a little time every day on her knees, on the outside of the garden fence, weeding and tending her flowers.

celosiaMotherGrant’s flower garden ran all the way down the edge of the veggie garden, in a glorious pile of colors and shapes, from the humble violet to the bawdy whore-of-a blossom on the Celosia cristata. That’s a picture of one over there on the left.

She called them Princey Feathers. Her name fit, don’t you think?

I was in the garden with MotherGrant by the time I could walk, and though she had no science, she had something better. She had a gift. She didn’t know the Latin names of the flowers, but the plants didn’t care about that.

She loved the flowers, and they loved her back.

She taught me to love them too, and years later, long after MotherGrant had gone to tend God’s garden, I went to graduate school to study horticulture, and then I became a grower in a big commercial greenhouse.marigold

Flash forward a few years. I was doing something different for a living, but I’d started writing fiction on the side. I was working on a dark romantic suspense series when Del walked walked into my mind.

I figured out right away that she was persistent, because any time I stared out the window at the field in front of my house, that field would fade away and I’d end up in Del’s greenhouse. She was a greenhouse grower, just like I’d been, and while she was innocently puttering around with pots of flowers, she’d swipe a dirt-covered arm across her forehead and start in, telling me how she had this story, and she wanted me to tell it.

Every time I went outside to dig in the dirt in my own garden, Del went with me, pestering me.

Del grew up in a small town in southern Kentucky, not too far from where I live right now.

That town is Honey Bend.

I wrote the start of Del’s story long ago, just to get her to shut up. But then I put it away and ignored it for the longest time. But I never forgot about it.

I told y’all in my blog on February 4th about my growing pains, going from dark romantic suspense Goth Chick to writing small town romance, and I promised to show you the cover today.

Grow on Me Honey 2 megs

Brilliant cover artist Lyndsey Lewellen at LLewellen Designs got just the right feel for Del’s story, Grow On Me Honey.

That’s Del, with her hero, Erik.

Sometimes I wonder if MotherGrant wasn’t the one nudging me all this time, telling me I should write Del’s story, because it was a part of who I am.

Every time I’ve typed a blog over the past eight years, I’ve felt like I was sitting down on the porch with friends, telling stories, snapping beans, and inviting y’all to come around and “set a spell.”

Writing about the town of Honey Bend feels just like that. I can’t wait to tell you more about Del and Erik, but for right now, I’ll leave you with the cover, and hope you’ll feel as welcome in Honey Bend as I do.

In the meantime, tell me, Bandits and Buddies..

If you read small-town romance, what is it that draws you to the genre?

Is there someone from your past who played a role in making you who you are now?

Or is there something from your childhood that’s a part of who you are now, the way MotherGrant’s flower garden became a part of me?

If you want to knowBarn welcome to honey bend 40 percent size when their story comes out, you can follow me on facebook at Author Cassondra Murray.

Or you can sign up for my newsletter here.

I’ll give away one more combo this month to a random commenter—a grab bag of two random books and a piece of swag from my conference stash!

The Faux Cinderella~Growing Pains of a Goth Chick Writer

It’s probably no surprise to any of you.

I’m guessing it was a surprise only to me.

Let’s Goth chick owlbacktrack here.

You see…Owls are my favorite birds.  Odd for that one in the photo to be out in the daytime…hmmm.

Most of my clothes are black.

I’ve never minded the whole “sleeping in a coffin” persona because it fit.

If I had no alarm clock, my natural creative cycle would run from about seven in the evening until about three in the morning. So I work as many—or more–hours as the next person. I just work when the sun is sleeping.goth chick trees

Bottom line? By nature I’m a nocturnal creature, and when I first started writing romance, it was in the middle of the night.

The story that first came pouring out of me was a romantic suspense. Think big city. Fog. The sound of a ship’s horn in the harbor. Evil peering around the corner, waiting to pounce.

I probably could have written true crime or hard-boiled detective mysteries. Heck, I like trench coats.

It fits with the whole nocturnal thing, don’t you think?

But see? I needed the happy ending. Even then, happy endings were all I wanted to read.

So I wrote romantic suspense—the best of both worlds, or so I thought. The manuscript that made me a finalist in the Golden Heart—which made me a Romance Bandit– was dark romantic suspense. I had a feel for it, based on the contest wins and the editorial feedback.

Flash forward a few years.

Goth chick degreeI was heading for the computer every day, but I was veering off to do something else. I got a degree. I landscaped properties. I studied wine. I gutted and rebuilt most of an old house.

I was stuck.

My best friends were writers. I talked a lot about writing.

Heck, I was writing. But I wasn’t writing books.

The truth is, I was avoiding it.

Finally I told my friends,“I think I’m not meant to do this. I need to stop saying I’m a writer.”

But my wise and discerning friend, Dianna Love said, “No, that’s not it. Cassondra, you need to write something else.”

Maybe it was the place I was in mentally. Maybe it was the tiGoth chick lightbulb momentme of year. Maybe it was the food I had for dinner or the phase of the moon. I dunno, but those were the best words anybody ever said to me.

Because I heard it.

When Dianna said, “you need to write something else,” I went to my suitcase (we were in some city at the time—I don’t remember where) and I dug out the books I’d brought.

They were light contemporary romance.

Small town romance.

I just stood there, shaking my head.

I got home from that trip, and I went to the pile of books on my bedside table. There was a stack on the back corner that was covered with dust.

And there were two stacks on the front that had no dust at all.

What was in those stacks?

Small town romance.

Jill Shalvis. Terri Osburn. Early Susan Crandall novels I’ve read a hundred times. Susan Mallery.

Happy endings wGoth chick omgith no big world threat. No murders. Real life, but not much ugly at all.

And the truth hit me.

Obviously, the reason I wasn’t writing was that I was avoiding the darker subject matter.

What was wrong with me?

Anybody who’s read the blog for a while knows that when I really write from the heart, what I write about is old houses. Barns. Tractors. Farms. Country.

Small towns.

Well, duh.

So the next day I took my laptop out to the deck, sat under the umbrella, and started typing, and I realized I had a big goofy smile on my face.goth chick blue fingernails

I looked down at myself and laughed out loud. I had on black jeans, a black shirt, and my fingernails were dark navy blue.

All the signs of a Goth chick were still there, but I was writing small-town romance just the same.

And I haven’t stopped since.

My first cover is almost done, and on the 20th of this month, I’ll show it to y’all. I want to show my cover here in the Lair first, because you’re my family. And because I still have this funky disconnect.

“Goth Chick Writes Small-Town Romance. Film at Eleven.”

Does that not sound weird to you?

So a while back, I had this website all planned out. Black. Gray. Fog. Intrigue. But I ditched it.

Now I have a landing page all set, and some awesome people are designing a new website for me…with nary a wisp of fog anywhere.

I feel like Cinderella, except…

I keeGoth chick wicked witchp waiting for the spell to break, and the dark Fairy Godmother to announce, “You cannot write THAT! You must write about BAD things, WICKED things, and good that triumphs over EEEEVILLL! It is who you ARE!!! BWAHAHAHAHA!”

Okay…but…

My series is set in Honey Bend, Kentucky, not too far from where I live right now.

There’s a bunch of friends who’ve known each other since high school. There’s a few churches, a few decent bars, and in the town square, goth chick courthousethere’s a bunch of old men sittin’ on the benches outside the courthouse, whittlin’ and talkin’ and keepin’ an eye on their grandkids in line for ice cream at the Frosty Freeze across the street.

And there are some folks who really need to fall in love, but they’re not one bit interested in that at the moment.

There are barns, potlucks, and county fairs. There’s gossip, and there are good people.

That’s how I grew up. It’s what I know, and it’s where my soul goes when I want a smile and a good story.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to come around to this, since that’s what I’ve been writing about in my blogs forever.  But that’s what I’m writing in my books now too, even if I still have dark blue fingernails.

So while the Bandits are reinventing themselves, I am too.

I’m not sure how to integrate the black clothes with the small town stories, but it’s all me…maybe more of me than I’ve ever been before.

Barn welcome to honey bend 40 percent sizeThe first book in the Honey Bend series will be out this year.

I’ll announce it here of course. But if you want to know ahead of time when it’s about to be released, you can go to my temporary author webpage and sign up for my newsletter.

It would be great if you also like my facebook page .  I can’t promise I won’t post a photo of an owl or someone with blue fingernails on occasion.  My snarky sense of humor is not going away, and I still need a LOT of coffee to get going in the mornings.  But most of it will be fun, and I’d love to connect with you there.

I won’t bother you much with emails though.

Okay, well…I might bother you a little when the first book is released. I’m guessing I’ll be really excited about that.

I’ll show y’all the cover, and tell you a little about the book, in my blog on February 20th.  I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, to celebrate the reinvention of the Bandits and the reinvention of ME, I’m giving away a $10 gift card to Barnes & Noble, and a surprise grab bag of two books and some goodies from my bottomless box of conference swag.

Have you ever gone one direction in life, only to figure out that you should be going a different way entirely?

Ever changed directions in mid-stream?

Have you ever reinvented yourself in any way, large or small?

What about your reading habits?  Do you read everything, all the time? Or do you go through phases–darker, grittier books for a while, then lighter, easier books?

Who’s your favorite small-town romance author?

Did you know any Goth kids growing up?  And did any of them turn out to be, by any chance, romance writers?

Oh yeah.  I’m on Twitter too…but I’m telling you..I need serious remedial help with that.  It might be funny….even when I don’t mean for it to be funny.  Just sayin.

Reinventing Ourselves–Again~~A Love Letter to Our Readers

Do y’all have certain memories that stick with you?

I don’t mean the big moments. If it’s the loss of beloved person, or a special miracle, like the moment you bring your baby home for the first time, it’s obvious that those memories would remain in your mind for many years.

kentucky summer welcometohoneybend graphic 30 percentI’m talking about the little things—the moments that aren’t huge.

Or maybe they are huge—but you don’t know at the time that they’re going to change your life forever.

If you’re like me, most of the moments of your life sort of disappear, buried beneath the busy.

But some remain.

I have a glowing, sharp, indelible memory of sitting at my desktop computer, staring at words that would change my life forever.

It was about this time of year in 2007. Snow was on the ground outside. A handful of writers, all with stars in our eyes, had formed an email loop. One of us typed, “why don’t we do a blog together?” and something happened in the ether around me. I barely knew what a blog was, but I remember sitting there, feeling the power—the potential—of that.

Some others were feeling it too.

A few keystrokes later, we owned the Romance Bandits name, and withinreinventing ourselves calendar pages turning weeks, we’d stumbled our way into the blog-o-sphere.

That was almost eight years ago.

Can you believe it?

I have the same kind of memory of the first time I wrote a blog.

That blog is gone now—the first two or three months didn’t make it to the new website, and that’s probably a very good thing, because we were all feeling our way—but I remember thinking, “I have no freaking idea how to do this.”

Writing a story is one thing. Writing a news article is another. Writing a blog? Most of us were clueless, but we threw ourselves fearlessly at the unknown anyway.

And by doing so, we became more than our individual selves. We reinvented ourselves and created something that was a reflection of all of us.

Within a few months, a lot of you had found us.

I still don’t know how that happened, and later, I’m going to ask you about that. But still…some of those moments I will never forget.

~The first time Helen posted a comment.

~The first time one of our blogs got 100 comments. Then 200.

~The day Louisa Cornell posted the first comment of the day and said, “What do I get, a golden rooster?”

Yeah, we were never the same after that.reinventing ourselves rooster bash 08

I remember, so well, the day in summer, 2008, that I  stepped up to the edge of the sidewalk outside the San Francisco airport, waiting for a shuttle.

I heard a voice from my right that said, “You’re Cassondra.”

I turned. I found a gorgeous brunette smiling at me. I must have looked befuddled, because she said. “I’m Deb Marlowe. I know you from the Romance Bandits.”

We hugged, and I felt like I was meeting an old friend.

Of course I knew her name, and had read her books. But having somebody recognize me on the street because of the blog? I will never forget that moment.reinventing ourselves cake 2008

Later that week we hosted our first ever Bandit Bash in the downtown San Francisco Marriott, and the entire conference was buzzing about the rowdy Romance Bandits.  That’s the cake we served, over there on the right.  It says, “Have you spent the night with the Golden Rooster?”

Yeah. The hotel chef had a good time with that one.

I will never forget the moment I sat down in front of a particular big-name literary agent to pitch my romantic suspense series. We shook hands, she gave me the once-over, then her eyes caught on a sparkly pin attached to my conference badge.

reinventing ourselves bandita pin“You’re one of the Bandits,” she said, and I nodded.

“I like that,” she said. “You take care of each other.”

She was right.

When I found this group of women, I found a group of sisters, of a kind I’d never had before.

It wasn’t many months later that someone said, “We need to do a big party at Christmas just to change things up.” And we did.

A few years later, I remember when the first rumblings started about the Lair.
“We don’t have enough room, and we don’t own our content unless we get reinventing ourselves Jeanne with roostera real website.”

And then we said, “But do you think our Buddies will come with us?”

We were all amazed and touched when you did. We reinvented ourselves, and you made the move with us. By doing so, you made it worth the trouble of packing all our things and moving to our new digs here at RomanceBandits.com.

When that happened, and you hung with us, I think we all realized that we’d done more than just build a blog.

The Lair is a community. It’s as much about you as it is about us.

If I don’t see some of you for a while, I start to worry. For a good many of you, I know when you have job changes, when you move houses, and when you go on long-awaited vacations.

A lot of you I’ve met in person. That happened because I met you first right here on our blog.

For me, that’s not just a virtual community. That’s real.

This month, we’re reinventing ourselves again. And just like the times before, we hope you’ll come along with us for the ride as we throw ourselves into the unknown one more time.

Being on the internReinventing ourselves TGN Party invasion 2008et—and writing in the technology age—means we have to constantly keep moving, shifting and changing, to keep up with it.  I’m not gonna lie to you and say I think change is easy. It’s not. And this change is a little scarier for us than some of the others have been. But it’s also really exciting.

First, we’re moving to a much stronger presence on our Facebook page. There will be new posts there every day. Sometimes there’ll be a bunch of new posts.

If you like our facebook page, and if you interact with us by posting a comment or liking one of our facebook posts now and then, you’ll see our posts on your facebook feed.

We’re also going to put a widget thingy on our homepage that shows those posts, along with our posts on twitter.

But the bottom line is that we Bandits are all novel writers. In this brave new world of publishing, we need to write more books, and write them faster.

For some of us, it comes down to this. We can write books, or we can write blogs.

And we think if you, our buddies, had to choose, you’d choose the books. We hope so anyway.

Don’t worry. We’re not going away.

The Lair will still be here.

Some of us will still be blogging on our regular days.

But some of us won’t. That’s going to create some holes in our blogging calendar.

We know. If we’re not generating new blog contenReinventing ourselves RSS feed widgett every day, you don’t have a reason to come by.  We get that.

But we will still be posting about our new releases, we’ll still have guest blogs some days, and we still want to interact with you.

So there’s this thingy we’ve set up.

If you go to the comments page, you’ll see a thing on the sidebar that says “RSS Feed”—it looks like that, right over there on the right.

If you sign up for that, when we blog, that blog will come to your email inbox. That way you can come to the Lair and play with us.  I’ve been doing this for two weeks.  I don’t get anything except the blog sent to my email.  No spam. We promise. And when we blog, we’ll be around to talk to you, same as always.

During February, the Lair is going to go through some reconstruction. Some stuff will get moved around. That RSS feed thingy will be on the front page, along with a widget that shows our facebook posts and our twitreinventing ourselves grailter posts.

Basically, some of us are following in the footsteps of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We’re swearing our allegiance to a cause, and we’re stepping outside the comfort of the Lair—like evangelists of a sort—to bring romance, and our books—to the larger world.

This month, while all these changes are in process, we’re going to have one giant party.

There will be prizes, and many hugs that involve wishes to “go forth and conquer!” all around.

The  Bandits will be giving away special goodies on the daily blogs this month.

The first week in March, when we hit social media like Thor’s hammer with a mask and a rose attached, we’ll have a HUGE party, with all of the Lair favorites coming around to say hello and do giveaways, and there will be prizes every day.

We want you, our Buddies, to go forth with us.

More than anything, we want you to understand what you mean to us.

We call you our Buddies, but really, you are our home. You are our family. You are the reason we’ve blogged every day for eight years.

Our hearts are on the line here. As we take a chunk of the Lair on the road, and reinvent ourselves one more time…

Will you go with us?

We hope so.

But for today…

This is the Lair after all, and all the staff–Sven, the gladiators, cabana boys, Hockey Hunks, the goddess Sangria–hey, even Ermingarde the dragon  is here– So….Let’s PARTY!

I’m giving away a grab bag of two books, and a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card.

Bandita Kate Carlisle is giving away a copy of A High-End Finish (first in her new Fixer-Upper series) and some swag.

Bandita Jeanne is giving away a Starbucks mug and a Starbucks coffee card.

And Lair Favorite Dianna Love is giving away one of her Slye Temp ebook box sets!

To start the party off, let’s celebrate the first eight years in the Lair!

How did you find the Romance Bandits?

Do you remember the blog that made you leave a comment for the first time?

What’s your favorite memory of the Bandit Lair so far?

During our construction, you can help us by liking our Romance Bandit facebook page, following us on the Romance Bandits Twitter feed. The links are at the bottom of the page.

And if there’s a Bandit you haven’t liked or followed, do it!

But MOST IMPORTANT—sign up for the RSS feed.

If you don’t get our monthly newsletter, sign up for that. It will be in your inbox first day of every month without fail.

Now let’s party!

The Stuff of Life

I want to be Bandita Tawny.

Yes, I do.

I mean seriously, have you seen photos of Tawny’s office—the space where she writes? It’s an awesome, cute, table-style desk with hardly anything on it.   Except a dog basket.

Yep, one corner of her desk has a basket for her teensy weensy little dog, Daisy Mae. A dog that wears cute sweaters and has an adorable bow in her hair.

That’s cuz Tawny is uber-organized.

Yesterday I poured my coffee and went to my office, just a few steps away from the coffee maker

Dear. Lord.Thank God for the things that I do not own quote

Obviously, it was time for an intervention.

My office, you see, is my kitchen table. Not because I can’t write somewhere else–technically my writing space is in one corner of the bedroom.

Ummm, that’s not working.  I avoid that corner.

My office is my table because this is the part of the house where I can actually sit and write without constantly getting up to go into..you know…the kitchen. Apparently my muse likes this part of the house best. Yeah. I have to stay in the kitchen to write.

Anyway…a few weeks ago I cleaned out and painted the computer armoire in the front foyer–the one that holds our desktop computer–so yesterday when I walked into my…ahem…office, everything that came OUT of that armoire was still piled on the table.

Even with the leaf adding almost a foot to the round oak dining table, no wood was showing between the piles.

MakoOh and there were some dust-bunny-dog-hair-combo thingies wedged under the table’s claw feet, cuz..you know…both of our dogs have heads bigger than Tawny’s entire dog.

A basket for one of my dogs would be bigger than my whole kitchen table.

Okay. It’s that time of year anyhow, right? Might as well get a head start on spring cleaning, starting with my kitchen-slash-office.

I do this at least once a year, though I never seem to actually finish the job.

The interesting thing to me is that every time I do this, I find that I’ve let go of my attachment to more stuff, and I’m able to either donate—or throw away—a bunch, which is the goal after all—lighten the load I carry through life, so I’m hauling around less physical baggage.

Still, in spite of all this, there are a few things that, no maClearing Space photo of Stevetter how cramped my space has been, have survived every cleaning and clearing through the years, and they still hold a place of honor in my writing space.

First is the most important one. It’s a photo of my husband, Steve, not too long after we moved into our house. We’ve been working on the house for years, but at this point there wasn’t much furniture. It was almost Christmas. This photo always makes me smile.

Next is a little bear.  I can’t tell you for certain the year that picture of Steve was tclearing space golden heart bearaken, but I can tell you pretty much to the day when this bear came into my possession.  It was July, 2006, and I was in Atlanta, Georgia, getting ready for the Romance Writers Of America Golden Heart awards.  I was a finalist.  My friends, also my conference roommates, were my critique partners at the time.  They gave me this bear right before we went down to the awards show.  Every time I look at it, I remember that moment.

That’s also how I came to be a Romance Bandit, and meet the other awesome writers who make up the Bandit Lair.clearing space sugar bowl

That photo over there on the right…that’s a sugar bowl.  It’s the only thing I have in my home that belonged to my paternal grandmother–my father’s mother. She died when I was a small child.  I don’t have much from her because, honestly, she didn’t have much.

The sugar bowl has no lid, so it holds pens and markers.  No matter how much tossing I do, I always hold onto this.  It’s one of the things that keeps me connected to my roots.

clearing space cards from dianna I always have a card or three clipped to my file holder, and more often than not, they’re from Dianna Love.  It’s true that I work with her, but it’s also true that she sends the best cards at just the right time I need to receive them..  They make me feel good, so I keep them around, even through the serious, heavy-duty cleanings.

clearing space coffee signOne day last year, a box came in the mail, and it was full of fun things that made me laugh.  One of those was this wooden sign over there on the right–the one about coffee. It came from Banditas Jeanne and Nancy, who were off on a trip, doing research and having fun.

I couldn’t go on the trip, so they sent me this to let me know they were thinking of me, even though I wasn’t there.  It was a thoughtful gift from people who know me well, and every time I look at it, my heart smiles.

clearing space sticky holder Okay see that caddy full of sticky notes over there on the left?

Yes, it’s true that I love office supplies (what writer doesn’t?) and in particular I love stickies.

But stickies are the equivalent of Thor’s hammer for me. If I have the right stickies, I can do anything.

That caddy full of stickies is my security blanket.  Cuz see thclearing sticky white boardat white board over there on the right?  Yeah, I know it looks nothing like a book, but that’s what it is. That’s the book I’m working on right now.   So no matter how thorough my cleaning and purging, the sticky notes stay.

They make me feel safe.

clearing space florida bottleThat bottle over there, the one with the sand and the seashells, is one I brought from Florida.  I was at a conference there in the dead of winter, and being near the ocean always heals my soul.  The conference organizer was kind enough to give me this little bottle to fill with stuff from the beach, and sometimes I get it down and just stare at it for a while.  The joy of the sun and the sand and picking up seashells at the edge of the surf comes back to me and renews me.  There’s a whole escape for me, right there in that little bottle.

This is the last one.  See that little rock down there on the right beside my computer mouse?

I was a young woman when I went on a really special retreat.  This was a women’s retreat run by the Catholic and Epclearing space first stoneiscopal churches in the region. I was neither Catholic nor Episcopalian, but that retreat touched me in profound ways.  Many groups sent small gifts to make us all feel special, but the monks from a monastery not far away sent each of us a beautiful long-stemmed rose, and a small stone painted with the word “FIRST.” The retreat leader read a letter from the monks.  For each stone, several hours of prayer had been dedicated, that the receiver would be blessed in whatever way was needed.

The lovely rose was withered within a week, but I’ve kept that stone on my desk, wherever that desk has been, for almost 30 years. It was a reminder of a story in the Bible.  A group of people were accusing a woman of adultery, and wanted to stone the woman to death.  They demanded that Jesus agree with them.  Instead he said, (paraphrase) “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at her.”

I am a person of deep faith, but I’m not at all religious.  But for me, that little rock is a reminder of the unconditional love I felt at that retreat, and a reminder that if I ever feel inclined to judge another person, there’s a stone right there, handy, that I can throw.  But I should maybe take a look at myself before I throw it.

I keep a few quotes around–some framed and some just cut out and taped to the edge of a shelf.  The one at the top of the blog, from St. Teresa of Avila, is one clearing quotethat makes me laugh every time I start trying to get rid of the piles of stuff in my life.

The one here, on the left, reminds me to pet my dogs more often, and worry how the yard looks less often.

That stone, the sugar bowl and the photo of Steve have been with me the longest of all the treasures I keep in my writing space.  I have a few other small trinkets, but none stick with me the way these do.

The sticky notes I could replace of course, but when I think about what I would keep if I could only choose a few things, these others always seem to make the list.

What about you, Bandits and Buddies?  clearing space cards from dianna2

When you clean and clear your space, what things remain year after year?

Are there certain things you’ve had on your desk for a long time, maybe even through more than one job?

Whether it’s a space for writing, cooking, knitting, or relaxing, what do you keep near you that’s meaningful, that makes your space your own?

Up there on the right is one more card I keep in my office. (Yes, it’s from Dianna.) I’ve decided I’m going to frame this one, because  I love it so much.

Songs That Make You Move

Last summer I was at my favorite local park. I love this park, but the gravel walking trail that runs around the outside edge of it…well…it’s hilly. I was slogging through the exercise routine on my iPhone… jog …walk… *sweat*…jog…*sweat, sweat*…walk…jog…you get the sense of it.

I have no idea how I did it, but I accidentally hit “play music” in the program I guess. I don’t have music on my phone. But some miracle occurred, because it started playing a song.

And I ran.

And I ran.  And….I ran.  And ran some more.

I skipped the next three walks.  I ran up hills. Down hills. I just kept running.

I got back to my car thinking I was Queen of the Universe. I’d run farther, faster, than I’d ever run before.

Okay, let’s be for real here. My “run” is a slow jog by most people’s standards. But a few months before, I hadn’t been able to run to the end of my driveway, so this..this was progress.

Why was I able to do that?

It was the music.

What music?

This. Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson.

Did you listen to it? If you did, just try and tell me you weren’t moving at least a little, even if it was only your head, bobbing back and forth.  The man had serious genius. Even the video is a work of art.

The driving beat of it is perfect for running–at least it’s perfect for my slow pace.  Anyway, this—and Jeanne’s blog yesterday about exercise—got me thinking about the music that makes me move.

Moving because I’m “supposed to” is drudgery.  Moving to music is…natural.  When an awesome song comes on, it’s impossible to NOT move. It’s fun.

Here’s another one.  I Can Dream About You from the Streets of Fire original motion picture soundtrack.

Okay seriously.  Were you not at least swaying in your chair?

Today I’m playing DJ, but there’s a reason.  The truth is, I need your help with something.

I’m going to put some songs here that, even if I’m cooking dinner when they play, have me bopping around the kitchen, playing drums with the spoons and spatulas, while I cook.

Turn the sound up, cuz here they are, in no particular order…

First is The Pointer Sisters

Here’s Kenny Loggins..

And a really old one…even though the video producer could not always spell correctly…

Going even older, here’s Michael Jackson again…back when he was a little boy.

I’m bopping around so much I can barely type. *grin*

I love this one–partly because of the awesome flashmob at Ohio State University. No telling how many times I’ve watched this, but it still leaves me with a big grin on my face every time.

And the final one–also from Michael Jackson. It’s a little slower, but I still dance to it, and I love the message.

So Bandits and Buddies…
It’s that time of year–time to get in the gym or out on the running trail, so I’m building a playlist to put on my iPod–feel good music that will make me want to keep running–make me want to
move–the kind of music that won’t let you sit still when you hear it.
Give me your best list…
What are the songs that make you get your groove on–the ones that make you dance around the kitchen?
The ones you can’t ignore?
Will you share your feel-good playlist with me?

Grounds For War–Jeanne & Cassondra Food Fight Day 2

Jeanne: So, Cassondra, were you surprised by yesterday’s food fight results? I know I was! So many people like Krispy Kremes! And I think you won the total overall vote for glazed donuts. (Pardon me while I roll my eyes, okay?)

Cassondra: Well, they’re popular for a reason.

Jeanne: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So moving right along…what about dipping? Do you dip your donut in coffFood fight milkee or tea?

Cassondra: Neither. I dip in milk. I like milk with my donuts.   Ha! Bet ya didn’t see THAT coming. *grin* Do you dip?

Jeanne: I’ve done it on occasion, in my coffee. *looks smug*

Cassondra:  *wrinkles nose* Speaking of coffee.  How do you like yours?  Do you go for the holiday specialties at the coffee shop?

Jeanne:  Ew.  I’d like to avoid it, but you know how it is this time of year. EVERYTHING has a “special holiday flavor” – I know that makes me sound like the Grinch,

Cassondra: *interrupts*   You’re a MEAN one, Jeeeeeeanne Grinch…

Jeanne: Snork! Great, now I’ll have the song stuck in my head all day….Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Griiiinch!

Anyway, I really hate flavored coffees or teas. I like my Starbucks Mocha, or plain coffee with creFood Fight Dec 2014 Jeanne's coffee from starbucks extra whipam. No caramel. No hazelnut. No vanilla, and for heaven’s sake NO PEPPERMINT!!

Cassondra:  What?

Okay y’all, you might as well know. I could order for Jeanne at Starbucks. I’ve seen her do it often enough. In fact, I HAVE ordered for her.  That’s it over there on the right.  “I’d like a Venti non-fat, extra-whip Mocha.” *tries to look taller as she bats eyelashes, pretending to be Jeanne*

Jeanne: Snork! You do that far too well!

Cassondra: If only I could look blonde.

Okay, okay.  Now when it comes to the fancy coffee drinks from Starbucks or Peet’s or Seattle’s Best–and Jeanne’s mocha definitely qualifies as one of those–or when it comes to a plain old cup of coffee, I don’t like many flavors. I like flavored coffee ONLY in certain circumstances, and only certain flavors.

But hey! This is one of those circumstances!  It’s that time of year, right? Peppermint things are dancing around Christmas trees for cripes sake.

Jeanne: *shocked*: You mean you DO like peppermint coffee?? How could I not know this about you?

Cassondra: *gesticulates wildly* How can you not like peppermint?

Jeanne: Oh, I like all those flavors on their own. I just don’t like them in coffee. Or tea. OMGosh, I despise flavored teas. Give me good old Earl Gray, or a hearty black leaf tea like Orange Pekoe. Twinings. Constant Comment. Hearty tea. And if its gonna be hot – perfect for this time of year – there’s to be no milk. No lemon. None of this foo-foo flavoring. Bleech.

Cassondra: I really, REALLY hate to break it to you, but darlin’, Earl Grey Is. A. Flavor! So is MOCHA in coffee, for that matter. I like the idea of mocha, but honestly? It’s the textureFood Fight Dec 2014 Cassondra coffee. Mocha is chocolate flavored but it’s thick. It makes the coffee “thick.” So now I really want a peppermint mocha from Starbucks, but I can’t stand the texture so instead I get a peppermint latte with whipped cream and fancy fixins.  That’s it over there on the left.  Cuz I don’t want…you know…THICK coffee.

Jeanne: Snork! You are so picky.

Cassondra: YOU like thick coffee. Admit it.

Jeanne: Absolutely. Chocolate in coffee, and whipped cream, are naturally occurring additives. They’re fitting. They’re companion flavors. Adding other things, like the new Starbucks Roasted Chestnut Latte, are just icky. And seriously, they made a mistake the other day and made me a peppermint mocha instead of my usual mocha.

Cassondra: Yum! (except for the thick mocha part)

Jeanne: Hey! I’ve been going to “my” Starbucks since it opened – more than 15 years! – and they’ve never made it with peppermint. I took a big ‘ol drink as I walked out the door. Nearly choked. Turned right back in and handed it to the barista. Poor thing, he was the new guy.   He blushed.food fight candy canes

“What?” he asked as all the other baristas gathered around. They know me.

“It’s Peppermint,” I said, handing it to him.   “Icky. No peppermint. Ever.”

Laughter from the other baristas.

“Just a mocha,” they chorused. “Not white mocha, not peppermint, nothing but mocha .”

“And extra whip!” the longest-serving barista added.

See? They know me. No foo-foo flavors.

Cassondra: WAIT just a minute. YOU get to pick WHICH flavors are foo foo and which are not just cuz you like some and not others? *waggles finger* I don’t think so. And they aren’t saying anything about the CHOCOLATE flavor—and the THICK coffee.

Seriously. Ew.

Here’s the deal. I don’t like ANY pre-flavored coffees—like those pre-flavored beans you get at the grocery store?  I know, I know, lots of people like those. But me?  Blech. Gross me out the door.

Jeanne: Whew! I’m glad we agree there, I was beginning to worry!food fight cinnamon

Cassondra: Yes, but if I go to a coffee shop, and it’s the right time of year, I’ll get a peppermint flavored coffee. It just seems fitting.

And here’s a secret–once again—just a plain cup of coffee, with no fancy steamed milk or froth and no espresso. At home, during these long, dark days of winter, I’ve been known to pull the cinnamon out of my spice cabinet and put a tablespoon of ground cinnamon in the coffeemaker on top of the ground coffee. *slurp* I learned this trick from one of my favorite little restaurants in Nashville, Calypso Café. They serve fabulous cinnamon coffee year-round, and they’re known for it. Just the right hint of cinnamon. And it’s REAL cinnamon. You know—bark from a tree–nothing fake. It’s an antidepressant.

Jeanne:  Okay yeah. I’ve had that coffee. It was decent. But I wouldn’t want it very often.

Food Fight Dec 2014 KeurigCassondra:  Oh! And y’all…..there’s this whole other thing. I happen to know that Duchesse Jeanne has drunk the Keurig Koolaid. *pauses for effect* Yep, that’s right. She’s gone to the “pod” coffee. Which to me, is kind of like having a pod person replace your husband, but whatever.

Jeanne: I LOVE my Keurig! I don’t make a whole pot and have to throw it out!

Cassondra: I make a whole pot, and I don’t throw it out. Just sayin.

Jeanne: That must be what puts the famous sarcastic bite in your humor. And seriously, if I drank the pot? *Boing! Bing! Smash! Crash! Boing!* That would be me, barreling oFood fight dec 2014 cuisinartff the walls for the rest of the day.

Cassondra: Hey. I own that sarcastic bite. But seriously. A pod-brewed cup, while a VAST improvement over sorry single-serving hotel packages, does not taste the same as a POT of brewed coffee.

Jeanne: Oh, yes it does. What do you think is different?

Cassondra: A pot has time to sit there and mingle. It has time for all the coffee molecules to dance around each other and become something fabulous. Coffee from a pod can never escape its humble beginnings. It just can’t.

Jeanne: *rolls eyes* I love my Keurig. Serious Keurig love. A hot cup anytime, always a great taste. And look at all those gorgeous colors you can get if you buy a mini Keurig! That’s like the desktop model!

food fight KeurigminiCassondra: So it’s a Keurig of mini colors!

Hey, looky there. I made a joke.

Jeanne: Snork! Always a comedian in the bunch. Coffee from a Keurig is damn close to as good as a pot –as in 99% close. And hey…NO PEPPERMINT in sight! How about that? Besides, as the only one who drinks coffee in the household…yeah, like I said, I’d drink the whooole pot… so really, by brewing only a cup at a time, I’m doing the world a biiiig favor.

Cassondra:  Okay, I’ll give you that.  Nobody wants to face either one of us on too much caffeine.

Jeanne: Which brings up an important point. You ALL need to know that, while Food fight dec 2014 coffee groupingflavorings are at issue here, and definitely worth a fight, my evil twin and I are akin in one MAJOR thing.

We drink coffee for YOUR protection!! (Bwahahahaha!!)

Cassondra: Alas, it’s true. You don’t want to talk to me between the time I’ve gotten up and the time I’ve had the first cup of coffee. Word to the wise.

Oh and speaking of tea–Earl Grey or English Breakfast.  Herbal tea at night.

Jeanne:  *raises eyebrows*

Cassondra:  Hey, I’m not a complete throwback. *raises pinky finger in the air, sips mock cup of tea*

Jeanne:  Snork!

food fight half and half Cassondra:  And although I’ve weaned myself off of sugar in coffee. I use cream. Lots of it. Real half and Half. No fake creamers allowed.

Jeanne: On THAT, my evil twin, we agree. Lots of cream

So…How about it Banditas and Buddies? Coffee or tea in the morning?

With cream? Sugar? Or black and strong?

Do you like any additions? Peppermint? (BLECH!)

Cassondra: Hey! So do y’all like peppermint? Especially at theFood Fight 2014 Keurig pods holidays? Caramel? Chocolate? Chestnut flavoring? Hazelnut? Pumpkin pie spice? Cinnamon?

Do you go for the special holiday drinks at coffee shops? Like the Pumpkin Spice latte or the Peppermint Mocha?

Or do you shuffle in, caffeine deprived, and say, “tall dark roast coffee please”?

Jeanne: Do you have a favorite coffee vendor? Are you a coffee snob and like Starbucks, Peets, Seattle’s Best and their ilk? Or do you refuse to get into all that…

Cassondra: *interrupts*… Like my mom–she buys her coffee at the grocery store.   If that’s what you do, is it Folger’s? Maxwell House? Store brand?Generic?  Special roast or the plain old original?

Jeanne: Or do you have a substitute like Bandita Donna? She carries a sleeve of Diet Coke wherever she goes. While we’re waiting for the coffeemaker to get going, she’s on her way with a *pop..fffffffizzzz…ahhhhh!*

 And just for the sake of a survey….do you use a Keurig? Or do you brew your coffee in a pot?

Cassondra:  We’re doing the same giveaway again today… in honor of the 12 days of Bandita Christmas, Jeanne is giving away ANOTHER Washington, DC, Starbucks mug and a $10 Starbucks card so you can have YUMMY coffee with your Christmas Donuts.

And I’m doing another grab bag of  two random novels plus one piece of fun swag from my leftover box of conference swag. (Both giveaways are Continental US only.)

 

The Great Donut War – A Cassondra and Jeanne Food Fight

Cassondra: A really, really bad thing has happened.

Jeanne: Oh no!

Cassondra: That’s a picture of the bad thing down there on the left. See it?

Jeanne: *squints* Is that a donut shop?

Food fight dec 2014 krispy kreme bg storeCassondra: Oh, heck yeah. That’s a brand new Krispy Kreme donut shop. It opened this week in MY town.

Jeanne: Ew. Yes. That is a bad thing.

Cassondra: *takes a moment*   Wait. You’re serious?  *takes another moment* Are? You? Kidding? Me?

Jeanne: Nope. Don’t like ‘em.

Cassondra: You are my evil twin!  HOW can you not like Krispy Kreme? OMG. They’re from your home state! Wait…don’t say it. Just DON’T.

Don’t say you like cake donuts.

Jeanne: Yup! Grins. Love ‘em.Food Fight Dec 2014 Dixie Cream sign

Cassondra: Okay buddies, I think the busy season has fried my evil twin’s brain. And I can understand why.

It’s that time of year, after all.  It’s the time of year when we all get so harried and rushed that we’ll break rules. Rules like “I don’t eat that.” Not because it’s just so yummy it’s irresistible—though that may well be the case—but because we’re too darn busy to fix real food. It’s cuz of all those relatives visiting.

Jeanne: All those presents to buy.

Cassondra: All those presents to WRAP.

Jeanne: The house to clean.

Cassondra: The fridge to stock. The meals to plan.

Jeanne: And the travel. Don’t forget the travel. Up early and on the road at the crack of dawn.

Cassondra: What’s that? I’m not familiar with this crack-of-dawn thing.

Jeanne: Snork! Wish I wasn’t familiar with it… Anyway, it’s true. When everyone lands at your house on the holidays, what’s the fallback for breakfast?

Cassondra: Donuts.

Jeanne: Yep. A great big box of ‘em. Who can resist a donut?

Cassondra: I can. If they’re cake donuts. Or if they have gross filling.

Jeanne: *heavy sigh*Food Fight 2014 box of glazed donuts

Cassondra: Hey. Sue me. I like plain, old-fashioned glazed donuts.  YEAST donuts.  Hot and fresh out of the oven. *closes eyes, imagines yeasty, sugary donut smell* See that box over there on the right?   You bring me THAT at your theoretical crack of dawn, all hot and yeasty-yummy from the oven, and I might become familiar with the concept of morning.

Jeanne:  *looks skeptical* Seriously? All that fat and sugar just dripping off of that round, air-filled fluff of a thing? Where’s the substance? Where’s the OOMPH! That’s what can get you going in the morning. I mean, really, if you haven’t got time for the serious eggs, grits, bacon, biscfood fight dec 2014 apple fritteruit breakfast, this at least has heft to it!

Cassondra: Blech. Heft like an anchor. If I’m going to eat cake, I’ll eat real CAKE. Leftover homemade. German chocolate or red velvet with homemade icing. Not some thick, smarmy, heavy thing that’s been coated and deep fried.

Jeanne: You NEVER buy cake donuts?

Cassondra: Not for me. I have to buy apple fritters sometimes for Steve. And he likes those disgusting French Crullers.food fight dec 2014 cruller

I mean, really. French Cruller? Sounds like a fishing vessel.

Jeanne: Snork! LMAO

Cassondra: See that box down on the left? The one with the cake donuts? I could have missed all three meals in one day, and that would still gross me out. What is that pink thing anyway?

Food Fight dec 2014 box of disgustingJeanne: That’s a donut. With strawberry icing.

Cassondra: Can somebody open a window? I need air. Or maybe alcohol. Or both.

Jeanne: *fans Cassondra*   Oh, come on.

Cassondra: I like my donuts to have YEAST in them. It’s fried bread, okay? It’s slurpy good. Simple. Yeasty fried bread with simple sugar glaze on it.

Jeanne: Cake is bread.

Cassondra: See that photo down there on the right—the one of the Boston Crème donut in the box? There’s a reason that’s the last donut in the box! Not only does it have icky icing, but it has Food Fight dec 2014 LONELY boston creamdisgusting gooey…filling…stuff. Ew.

Jeanne: Okay, okay.  I don’t care for the fillings either, but don’t talk about the filled donuts in front of my oldest son. He loves those.

Cassondra: He’s a teenage boy. Need I say more?

Jeanne: Nope.  He can eat his weight in donuts, no matter what kind, but really likes those icky filled ones.

Cassondra: I feel faint.  The gladiators might have to resuscitate me.

Jeanne: *Grins* Yeah, nothing like a good gladiator for resuscitation!  And you’ll probably need a second go at it when I tell you that my husband likes the Boston Cremes, and will fight my son for them. Do you think it’s because his family is originally from Boston?

Cassondra: *rFood Fight 2014 plain glazed donutolls eyes and tries to ignore the cake donuts*  Maybe.  It just proves, once again, that men will eat virtually anything.

Jeanne: As a caveat, I have to say that my younger son, like you and I, eschews (so to speak) anything with filling unless it’s a corn dog.

Cassondra: That’s a different food fight – things on sticks. Let’s–*grin*–stick–to the point here. Glazed donuts are the only REAL donuts.

I mean, c’mon, Buddies and Banditas, look at that yummy goodness over there on the left.  It’s a glazed YEAST donut.  The ooooonly donut.  Don’t you agree?

Jeanne: *Scoffing* I beg to differ, oh, my evil twin. CAKE donuts are the original. Like those on the right.Food Fight dec 2014 plain cake donut

Cassondra:  Blech! But just so we can preserve our evil twin status on SOMETHING, I know you agree that none of this gooey-center glop should grace the box, especially if you have company.

Jeanne: Absolutely.  But….What do YOU think, Banditas and Buddies?

Cake donuts? Yeast donuts?

Plain or covered in anything?

And please, really, tell us you don’t eat those filled things?

Food fight dec 2014 christmas starCassondra: Or if you do like the filling, what kind?

And French crullers? Apple fritters? Bear claws?

*Cassondra hesitates*  What the heck is the point of making a pastry with toes, anyway? 

Cassondra: OMG! Look at that red blob on the left!  What the heck is THAT?

Jeanne:  That’s a star-shaped Christmas donut.

Cassondra:  Is it alive?  OMG!  Buddies, run! Run for your lives!

Jeanne: *facepalms* Okay, in honor of the 12 days of Bandita Christmas, we’re giving away goodies!  I’m giving away a Washington, DC, Starbucks mug and a $10 Starbucks card so you can have coffee with your Christmas Donuts.

Cassondra: And on top of that, I have a HUGE box of books. I’m going to do a grab bag. I’ll reach in and grab two random novels plus one piece of fun swag from my leftover box of conference swag, and I’ll ship it all to you if you’re in the continental US.

Tell us, Bandits and Buddies…how do you like your donuts?

A Bandit Holiday Gift: Debut Author Louisa Cornell

For the Love of Christmas Pudding, please let the carriage be standing outside that polished oak door. All Elizabeth Sterling needed to secure a Perfectly Ordinary Christmas was their carriage at the ready and no witnesses. And the continued silence of her mother. Preferably until the end of time, but long enough to make a clean escape would do. Was it bad form to shove one’s mother into the family traveling coach and shout to the driver, “Spring ‘em!”?

 CassondraLouisa author photo: That piece above is the opening of A PERFECTLY DREADFUL CHRISTMAS, a novella in the brand new Christmas Revels anthology, and today I feel like Cinderella must have felt when the handsome prince held the glass slipper and her foot slid right in.

You see…I asked Louisa, the author of that novella, if she’d be my guest, and she said yes. So today I get a special privilege. I’m hosting one of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever known for her debut release.

Please give a huge Bandit Lair welcome to Louisa Cornell.

Three minutes of applause later..

Cassondra: *waving hands at standing ovation so Lair guests will finally take their seats and let Louisa sit down* Settle down, everyone. I know you all have been waiting for this. But first things first. This is the lair after all. *turns to guest* Louisa, you’ve been with us since the beginning, so you know we have everything in our bar, and between Sven and me, we can make anything. What would you like to drink?

Louisa champagne 2Louisa: Champagne !! I don’t know if you know it, but I am a lifelong tee totaller!

Cassondra: Oh my gosh! I had no idea! *signals Sven to open the best of the Bandita stash*

Louisa: Never had a sip of alcohol in my life. I do, however, make the meanest Tequila Sunrise ever! I swore I would never break my (mumble, mumble) year record UNTIL I published my first book! So bring on the champagne, Sven, baby! And keep it coming til I’m dancing on the tables!

*more cheers*

Cassondra: Champagne on the way, for everyone! This is an occasion to celebrate. If any of you wonder why I’m making such a fuss, it’s because Louisa was one of the first people to ever comment on the Romance Bandit blog years ago when we were brand new, and she’s also the one who brought us the Golden Rooster.

*gasps LOuisa featherfrom the audience*

Louisa: *glances over her shoulder* Sorry about that part.

Cassondra: *waves down murmurs* Yes, that’s right. Without Louisa, the GR would never have been a part of the Bandit Lair, and we would not be who we are today. *turns to Lousia* Don’t apologize. He’s a lot of trouble, but he’s a part of us.

*Sven, Hockey Hunks and Gladiators arrive with trays of Champagne flutes for all*

 Cassondra: *takes a glass and turns back to her guest* I want to know what made Louisa who she is. You were a professional opera singer and played big stages. When did you first get an inkling that you wanted to write fiction? And what made you sit down and start typing for the first time?

 Louisa: *sips Champagne* My writing career is actually a career interrupted, sort of. I’ve wanted to be a romance writer since I was nine years old and first read Pride and Prejudice. That was the first year we were stationed in England and I sat up in my little room under the eaves in the little village of Kelsale and wrote perhaps the worst historical romance ever written. My Mom has the only copy locked away and refuses to burn it. My musical talent was discovered in that same year and once I started pursuing it, the writing fell by the wayside. It wasn’t until about seven years ago, when the local bookstore owner told me about Avon’s FanLit Event online, that I decided to give writing another try. My first manuscript, Lost in Love, was a Golden Heart Finalist that year. (My critique partners at the time tricked me into entering saying it was no big deal. Louisa pride and prejudiceThanks, ladies!) Thus a contest courtesan was born. And I’ve been writing and entering contests ever since.

 Cassondra: *turns to audience* For you who are new to the Lair, I should explain that several years ago, the Banditas were challenged to write one-paragraph story vignettes. That’s when I saw Louisa’s writing for the first time. She wrote a vignette and posted it in the comments on that blog. I knew then that I was a witness to genius, and now I have the proof, because I’ve read her debut story.

*Turns back to Louisa* It’s obvious that your talent was bleeding out all over, and LOTS of people saw it. But why romance?

Louisa: I fell in love with romance after reading the works of Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters and Georgette Heyer. Then there is my Dad.

Cassondra: *Leans forward* Your dad is the reason you write romance?

Louisa: My Dad was stationed in Germany with two Alabama boys, my Mom’s brothers. He saw a picture of her on Uncle Bobby’s desk and asked “Who is that pretty girl?” The brothers answered in typical brother fashion. “That’s no girl. That’s our sister.” Dad asked if he could write to her. They said “Sure. But she won’t write back.” He did. And she did. For an entire year they wrote to each other. Dad was shipped back to the States. He bought an engagement ring and wedding band in Germany. He bought a set of silverware in England and had it engraved with Mom’s initials and his last initial. Yes, he was pretty damned sure of himself. He met her on May 4th. They had one date. He married her on May 11th. One week. They were married for forty years when we lost him and they adored each other. I believe in the romance of the written word because it is the whole reason I am here.

Cassondra: *takes a moment to collect herself* Okay, so why historical? Why Regency?

Louisa pride and prejudice 2Louisa: Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy. SIGH !! He’s been my love ideal since I was nine. And I added Mr. Rochester when I was ten. I love the elegance of the period. The gentile manners. The stately homes. The balls. It was a period between the rowdy party animal years of the Georgian era and the “Let’s put sexuality in a strait jacket and wonder why people went nuts.” of the Victorian era. No cars. No heavy industry. War was awful, but there were still rules for civilized engagement with the enemy. I work all day at the scene of the crimes you see on People at Walmart. Shudder. Escaping to the Regency is the only reason I’m not on the six o’ clock news!

Cassondra: I heard you say that your friends roped you into this project. Will you tell us how that came about?

Louisa: Kate Parker and I are Pixie Sisters and Ruby Sisters–

Cassondra: *interrupts* Y’all need some background. The Golden Heart is a writing contest for unpublished romance writers. If you final in this contest, it’s a Really Big Deal-with capital letters-for writers like us.  Each class of finalists picks a name for themselves. The Romance Bandits are all 2006 Golden Heart finalists. That’s how we all met and became the Banditas. Back then, we called ourselves the Packers—as in the 6-Packers. The Pixie Sisters and Ruby Sisters were the 2008 and 2009 Golden Heart Finalists.  Okay back to Louisa’s story…

Louisa: Right.  One day Kate Parker e-mails me out of the blue and says “I’m doing a Christmas anthology with a couple of friends. How’d you like to join us?” I was floored! Kate writes an amazing Victorian bookshop mystery series for Berkley. I decided I’d be an idiot not to accept her offer. I’d been on the fence about going indie with some of my work. Kate’s offer shoved me off the fence and changed my life. I offered all three ladies my firstborn for that favor, but as he is a chihuahua who has been banned from six vet clinics, they passed on the offer. They really walked me (and sometimes kicked me in the butt) through this process. I’ll never, ever be able to repay them for their perseverance, encouragement and generosity.Cornell--Christmas Revels anthology

Cassondra: *raises glass* I lift a toast to them for pushing you.

“Good Lord, Mama, Lizzie is only sixteen years old,” Michael groused. “None of my friends will have her. She still plays with dolls for pity’s sake.”

Silence boomed from the sparkling polish of the marble floor to the exquisitely fanciful mural overhead. Elizabeth spied Georgiana’s golden hair peeking out of her portmanteau only a second before Mama did. The elegant doll was the last gift her father had given her three Christmases ago, the Christmas before he died. Mama grabbed the doll by the hair and yanked her out of the bag before Elizabeth could protest. No one moved. Hortense Sterling was nothing if not determined to see her daughter wed. She marched to the table of charity boxes set to go to Leistonbury’s tenants and dropped poor Georgiana into the largest one. Elizabeth forced herself to turn away, back toward a foyer now crowded with people.

She gripped the handles of her portmanteau. Every stitch of the leather burned into her palm. Her brother opened his mouth to speak. Elizabeth raised her chin and shook her head. Then she saw him. Major Nicholas St. Gabriel, Lord and Lady Leistonbury’s second son and her brother’s closest friend, stood at the top of the stairs. She blinked and swallowed against the burning sensation in her throat. His smile was the sort to make a girl go weak at the knees. He wasn’t smiling now.

 Cassondra: As much as anything else, I think, A PERFECTLY DREADFUL CHRISTMAS is a friends-to-lovers story. That’s my favorite trope, and you’ve written a fantastic group of characters—all friends who grew up together.   What inspired this group of people?

 Louisa: At first the story of the doll came to me. From where I have no idea! Then these characters just showed up. But I realize now much of the friendship between these three gentlemen and Elizabeth I drew from a group of my former students. Several of the guys served in Bosnia together after high school and when they came home they were very different. Getting together at my house with their friends from high school helped them to get back into their lives. I didn’t realize until I read the finished novella on my Kindle that I drew bits and pieces of Elizabeth, Nicholas, Christian and Alexander from those kids.

Cassondra: As a reader, I certainly want more from you., so tell us what’s next for Louisa—aside from posing for photos with hunky cover models ala the picture down there on the left.

 Louisa:  WhLouisa and the Killion guysat’s next? Ah! That is the question I’m pondering. This has been an amazing experience thus far. Which makes me think I want to do the indie thing again!

At this point I am looking at the finished books I have and trying to decide which to take indie and which to submit to traditional publishing. I would truly like to be a hybrid author, (Makes me sound like a little car with three wheels and an electric motor.) but I am not going to wait for something to happen. With indie publishing I believe I can MAKE something happen, in spite of the fact I am a techno dinosaur!

Cassondra: I love it! If you flash forward a few years in the story, here’s a small bit from the group of friends, including Elizabeth (the heroine), Nicholas St. Gabriel, Alexander Chastleton (Marquess of Winterbourne and a notorious rake), and Delacroix (Elizabeth’s fiancée at the beginning of the book, but there are surprises in store).

Nicholas exchanged a look with Delacroix. Winterbourne had ever been the joker of their group. Not even the worst of war’s ugliness dampened his spirits. A façade to be sure. The three of them had survived. Sterling had not. And each of them had traded swords for facades. Soldiers armed themselves for all of life’s battles. The made-wise-by-life scrutiny of a slip of a woman of two-and-twenty who had known them all their lives was a definite call to arms.

Elizabeth gazed at the group’s scoundrel with obvious exasperation before she turned to Nicholas. In the grey mists of her eyes he saw her brother, and the pain of what Sterling’s death meant squeezed his chest without mercy.

“A Perfect Christmas? With you three in residence?” She stretched up to brush the snow from his shoulders. Her hair smelled of jasmine and roses. Nicholas drew it into his lungs and held it to keep himself from holding her.

Cassondra: So there will be more stories for this group of friends?

Louisa: Yes !! I want to write at least two more books with these characters – one for Christian and one for Alexander. In fact, I have them outlined already. Tentative titles – A Perfectly Scandalous Bride and A Perfectly Wicked Desire.

 Cassondra:  I haven’t read the other stories in this anthology yet but really looking forward to doing that.  Nevertheless, although  I’ve never done an official review,  I’m going to do my first one right here, right now for THIS story.

Bottom line? I laughed on the first page of this book. I darn near cried before page five. A book that can make me do both is a keeper. A book that does all of that and makes me let out an OMG satisfied sigh at the end is a rare thing indeed, and Louisa Cornell made me do all three. A Perfectly Dreadful Christmas is one of the best debut romances I’ve ever read.  Anything Louisa writes will be an auto-buy for me.

Cassondra:  Louisa, do you have a question for the Banditas and Buddies?

Louisa:  I do!

In A Perfectly Dreadful Christmas, Elizabeth Sterling is determined to be the perfect hostess of the perfect Christmas house party. She has planned everything and has lists upon lists to help her. And then all hell breaks loose!

What is your worst Christmas disaster? Burned food? Forgot a gift? Snowed in at the Podunk Airport? Tell us about your worst Christmas disaster. I’ll gift someone with a free e-book of Christmas Revels !

 

Cassondra: Y’all want to read this story, so get commenting!

You can find Louisa at her website,  or for news about her upcoming releases, be sure to like her page on facebook.   She’s also on twitter @LouisaCornell

Baby Needs New Shoes!–Just Shoot Me Now

I recently posted this on my facebook page:

Dear shoe manufacturers:
Not all snow is dry, and not all rain is warm. There is this thing called WINTER, which in many places is COLD and WET at the same time, which means all those cute, suede, pompom-bedecked fluffy things will turn into mush in approximately two hours.
Boots 7Thank you so much for your attention to this matter.
Cassondra, the frustrated shoe shopper

Hey, I would totally wear those boots on the left. I think pompoms are cute on boots!

Okay…This whole thing started about two weeks ago when I was cleaning out the garage, making a path to the Christmas decorations.

That’s when I heard it.

Plink.

Plink-plink. Plunk.

That’s the sound of rain on my metal garage roof.

It was a cool rain, but that didn’t matter because the day had been a warm seventy degrees.  This is Fahrenheit, for all y’all who are not in the States.

The problem? Half of our stuff was in the driveway. Power tools. Furniture.

And books. Stacks of books I was going through .

Anyway…I was in a sweatshirt, jeans and my ratty, beat-to-hell work boots.

I started running instead of walking—moving things back into the garage, into my van for donation, or down to the street for the trash pickup. I set my priorities based on what would be ruined by the rain.

But then the temperature started to drop.

See…that rain was the edge of a front.  It was the polar vortex arriving in Southern Kentucky.

Polar Vortex.  Yeah.  A few years ago, before the weather people decided to jump on the wagon of sensationalist journalism, that would have been “an early cold snap,”  and a completely normal event.  But I’ll save that rant for another blog.

Back to the temperature dropping and the rain falling on my driveway full of stuff.

I was running like crazy…and then wait.  Ewww.

What the heck is that?

My foot was cold.  Boots 5

My foot was WET.

I looked down. I’d been too busy to notice, or maybe I’d just ignored it. The sole had almost fallen off of one of my ratty old boots.

Not that this was a big loss.  That’s the ratty boots in question–now dry–on the right.   See the sole separated from the body of the boot?

Yeah, they were cheap boots, and as a result of getting caught somewhere, unexpectedly needing boots for a trek through the woods, a cave, or some situation in a dirty old barn, over the yearsBoots 3 I’d ended up with several pairs like these.

I ignored the wet foot and kept working, moving stuff out of the weather.

By the time everything was under some kind of shelter–even if it was a plastic trash bag—I was soaked and cold, and the other boot had started to leak. I needed dry feet, pronto.

I went in the house and looked under the shelf in the bedroom closet. That’s the space where I keep suitcases and boots.

I found the boots on the left over there–with three-inch  heels.

 

I found cute short boots with lace ties. Boots2

I found my stand-by punk stage boots.

NOT what I needed.

I went back out and kept working, slogging across the yard with the sole of the right boot slapping back and forth, threatening to trip me, and the hole in the left boot leaking like a…well..a ratty old boot.

By the time everything was secure it was dark, 35 degrees, and I was starting to shiver.  I came inside, looked in the mirror and figured out I was darn-near  hypothermic.

A hot bath and a hot meal later, I snuggled up to a heating pad and faced the truth.

My world was saved, but it was time for new boots.

Boots sad faceAnd therein lay the trouble.

For me, hypothermia is far less frightening than the prospect of shopping for new boots.

Now for some of you, this might be as simple as a trip to the nearest store and a happy trip home with something cute.

But for me, this was a sentence to hell.

Because if I actually NEED a particular kind of shoe, shopping becomes pure torture.  I want what I want. I want it now, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time and stress finding it.

Are you starting to see the problem?  In my experience, the above statement and shopping are mutually exclusive.

Here’s the thing. If I’m going to spend a fair bit of money, I have these rules.

First…the shoes have to fit. No heel rubbing. No toe pinching. No feeling like I will fall Boots 1sideways and turn my ankle when I walk. No seams rubbing parts of my foot and causing blisters. If I have to spend hours and hours in a shoe, I want to think about something other than how much my feet hurt, thank you very much.

That’s my stand-by, cheap punky boots over on the right.  They were $15 at Payless shoe store a few years ago. I lucked out. I wear them everywhere and even though the vinyl is starting to flake off one side,  I bless those chunky boots each time I put them on, praying they’ll last because they’re comfortable and they’re so “me.”

But that’s not what you buy to hike through the woods or to do real work, yaknow?  I can’t use that boot to slam a shovel into the ground.  Shovel-slamming is a whole nuther level of quality.

Second…if I spend a lot of money, the shoes need to be solid.. I expect to get years out of them. I don’t care what the name on the label is. I want performance and longevity.

Third—and the most problematic part—I want everything performance boots can offer in one boot.

I want them to be waterproof, comfortable, and functional.

I want it all.

Fourth– I want it in my hometown, where I can actually..you know.. try on the boot before I buy it.

I have picky feet, and I am not interested in the process of mail order shoes.  Order, wait for it to arrive, try it on, find it doesn’t fit, mail it back, get a different size, wait for it, try it on, find it doesn’tBoots 4 fit, mail it back, try something else, etc etc etc.

I’d rather dig my eye out with a nail file.

My willingness to put up with shoe bullsh*t is incredibly low.

See that photo on the left? That’s the boots from up earlier in the post. But you can shove them down to be mid-length like this, or even further down to be awesome scrunchy short boots!  Three boots in one! This adds value for a shop-o-phobe like me.

Okay…so I searched online for boots–sturdy, waterproof, warm, tough-as-hell boots–finding out which ones were worth money and which ones were not. Then I spent two days going to stores.

Yes, that’s right..I said two days—that’s a lot of time I could have used for other things, by the way–driving to stores, searching for a sturdy, waterproof boot that would handle serious rain and snow, had tread that would not land me on my butt every time I walked out the door, and that did not hurt my feet.

Conclusion? No such boot is available in Southern Kentucky.

We can put people on the moon, but we can not do this simple thing.  We cannot give Cassondra what she wants in one boot.

NOW…perhaps Sorel or Merrell or some other hoity toity manufacturer makes such a boot, and perhaps you who live in more snow-focused regions have these boots in stores. But they are NOT available in a store in Southern Kentucky.

Harrumph.Boot Saga 2014

In the end I had to drop back and punt.

I had to get more than one pair of boots to do it all.

I now have two pairs of boots, and though I grit my teeth to say it, I need a third.

The first pair is a reasonable approach to a rain boot. After searching through every store I knew, I finally gave in and went to my personal hell—the mall.

I found those boots in the photo above.

They gave me an insert to keep my heel from riding over, and another insert for more arch support, and I went home with my new RAIN boots.

But now I need snow boots.  And I need work boots.

Enter the stopgap.

I call them the Mars Landers because when I tried them on and looked in the mirror I said, “OMG, I’m a Transformer!”boots 8

I had these little skinny legs and these enormous monster-esque feet with tread that looks like something out of a sci-fi horror flick.

They are not waterproof, and really they’re not all that sturdy. But if I seal the seams with waterproofer, they’ll probably get me through the winter, even if it snows a lot.

I found them at a second hand store.

I brought them home and for what it’s worth, I’m wearing them now. They’re very comfortable once you get used to walking with feet five times the size of your own.

The search for the perfect boot continues.

So help me choose boots, Bandits and Buddies..

Do you have snow where you live?  How deep does it get?

Do you have special boots for when it snows?

Or do you have a “wet” winter?  If so, what shoes or boots do you wear in the pouring rain?

 Do you live in an area where you need boots that can take a beating?

I so WANT pompom boots.  Do you own any boots with pompoms?  If so, do they wilt in the weather?

What boots get you through the cold, wet seasons?

And the big reveal…do you like to shop for shoes?

Or are you like me, and shopping is your own personal hell?

Come on. Dish about your boots.  Not the high-heel, sexy boots. I’m talking about the boots you wear when you have to dig the car out of the snow or go with the Sunshine Scouts on a hike through the national park in winter or get stuck in the mud.

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