Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review of Rhenna Morgan's WHAT JANIE WANTS

As a Noir writer/reader, I rarely hit the romance shelves. But my good friend and plotting partner Rhenna Morgan has a new contemporary romance out, and boy is it a doozy!

Here's the review I posted on GoodReads:

What Janie WantsWhat Janie Wants by Rhenna Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A perfect hot romance for the beach or by the pool! Loved both characters (though Rhenna's guys are always my favorites--alpha males with just the right amount of emotional intelligence.)

When Janie McAlister checks into a secluded resort in the lush Riviera Maya, she expects a quiet week to rest, hide, and heal her wounded psyche after a devastating divorce.

What she doesn't expect is a clothing-optional beach. Or meeting a gorgeous young man with an old soul.

But Zade Painel isn't your average guy. And when he comes to his uncle's resort after the sale of his business went wrong, he has some things to work out, too. First, though, he wants to know more about the stunning redhead who accidentally decked him in the lobby.

From the start, their attraction seems genuine. Yes, there's an age difference. But Zade isn't worried about it. And through his wiser-than-his-years observations, Janie learns to relax. More than relax. She learns to take a deep breath, open her arms to life's possibilities, and maybe for the first time ever, ask for what she wants.

This is a quick, fun read (with OMG hot sex scenes). But there's wisdom here, too. And genuine emotions that come from experience. If you like contemporary romances with a spicy-to-hot rating, I highly recommend WHAT JANIE WANTS

View all my reviews

Friday, April 3, 2015

Does Your Life Have A Soundtrack?

Mine does.

Songs from the seventies remind me of being a socially awkward kid in our California suburb--a fish-out-of-water (or country girl stuck in the city.) I hear The Hollies or Electric Light Orchestra or old Fleetwood Mac and think about my cool older sister (and her boyfriend), who always knew what to say and how to make people laugh.

Play Journey or Styxx or Kansas and I think about my teenage years, about my own boyfriends and the angst-ridden (and mistake-plagued) years between fifteen and nineteen.

There's a strange gap between nineteen and twenty-nine, almost as though my internal music stopped.
Could've been the drinking, I suppose. Or being married for the wrong reasons.

But at twenty-nine both of those situations changed, and I heard the music again: Alanis Morrissette, Melissa Etheridge, Jewel.

When I hear Natalie Merchant, I think about getting married again, and about holding my newborn babies and crying because I loved them so much it hurt.

In the mid-2000's, music became a symbol of my rebirth as a whole person, separate from my identity as a wife/mother/veterinarian. I picked up the guitar again after thirty years, gave myself the gift of once-weekly lessons, learned to sing (sort of), and even performed a few times.

I still play and sing (mostly for myself.) But one of my favorite things now is mining for odd or underplayed music that captures the mood of whatever story I'm writing. Right now I'm working on a mystery where San Diego homicide detective Samantha Benning is taunted by a serial rapist who claims to know what happened to Sam's missing sister. As you might guess, the tone is pretty dark.

Here's a partial playlist:

Pearl Jam--Indifference

Rolling Stones--Gimme Shelter  (Not exactly B-side, but great shit-hits-the-fan music)

Led Zeppelin--Kashmir 

Pearl Jam--Footsteps

Pearl Jam--Of the Girl


Grace Potter and The Nocturnals--Nothing But the Water (get ready to be blown away!)

I'm sure your life has a soundtrack, too. What's on your playlist?


Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Post Where I Get Taken To The Woodshed

I adore writers.

I grew up being the weirdest person in the room--the geek, brainiac, live-eat-and-breathe-whatever-story-I'm-reading freako with sub-optimal social skills and near-unibrow (at least until seventh grade.) I was the kid with the too-big vocabulary, the introvert who worked in the library, who read on the bus (and in class, and on the playground) so much she got teased.

My first love was horses. My second love was reading about horses.

Becoming an equine veterinarian was the next natural step, and I loved it, too. But in my second decade of practice, amid the daily grind of owning a small business, I began feeling as though I'd lost touch with an essential part of myself--the daydreamer, the wonderfully weird, creative child who made up stories to amuse herself.

I started writing in my spare time--and soon found I'd rather write than do my 'real job.' A few years later I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and jumped.

And discovered my tribe.

Fiction writers come in every flavor, shape, size, and disposition. The books we write are just as diverse. But we all share a love of story, of escaping into a made-up reality and seeing that world through the eyes of someone other than ourselves.

It's cool to find people who share your interests. But it's REALLY cool to walk into a room and realize you're not the weirdest person there.

Fellow Tulsa writer Susan Spess Shay was kind enough to drop by this week with questions about where and how I write. Her blog is called Small Town World, and it's a great place to visit.

I can heartily vouch for her weirdness. ;-)


Saturday, January 31, 2015

You Gotta Be Kidding Me...

Novelist Colleen McCullough died this week. I was a pre-teen when THE THORN BIRDS came out, and I remember being captivated, carried on a romantic tide by the stunning lead character and the priest she loved. When it came time, years later, to pick out the color for my prom dress I chose ashes-of-roses. (If you've read the book, you know why.)

I have no idea whether her writing would appeal to me now, or whether she'll have the literary longevity of, say, Virginia Woolf. But I do know she sold 30 million books.

Thirty. Million. Books.

And The Thorn Birds television production still ranks as the second-highest rated miniseries of all time. Whatever you think of the writing, the subject, or the genre, you have to give Ms. McCullough credit for building an amazing career.

And when she dies, you'd think that career would be the focus of the first paragraph of her obituary.

Instead, the Australian reporter said this: "Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth."

Great. But what was she wearing when she died? Could she cook? Was she married?

If, like me, crap like this makes you want to curse/roll-your-eyes/buy another black pantsuit, you're not alone. Twitter had a little fun with the writer, matching the obituary's absurdity with its own, using the hashtag #MyOzObituary. Media outlets finally noticed--and called bullshit.

They say the first step is recognizing you have a problem.

We have a long history of focusing on women's looks, of judging their worth through their roles as wives and mothers. But men have families, too. My husband cooks better than I do. He fills out his jeans quite nicely, has an engaging smile, and is handy with a wrench--or a vacuum. And when our kids were babies, he probably changed as many diapers as I did. Yet, strangely, those attributes aren't listed on his curriculum vitae.

Fifty years from now, I doubt they'll be on his obituary, either.

Here's to taking the first step.



Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Art Break

How to make any job fun: Use your imagination!

Screenshot courtesy of CNet

Kansas cattle farmer Derek Klingenberg decided to spice up his daily cow-feeding routine by hooking a camera to a drone and using...shall we say, strategic feed create this unique living sculpture.

Well played, Farmer Derek. Well played.

Here's the entire video: Farmer Creates Art Using A Drone...and Cows

Happy Friday!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Day I Became A Racist

I grew up in California in the '70's, immersed in the culture of new-age awareness and the struggle for equality for all people. It was in our liberal church I first heard the word Apartheid, and though our congregation was more homogeneously white than the milk now chilling in my fridge, we joined in the movement to boycott South Africa's government-sanctioned oppression of people of color.

My staunch Republican parents welcomed black South African singers into our home, invited an Iranian student to live in our guest room (even as relations between our countries had begun to sour) and hosted two Japanese exchange students. One of my dad's most treasured friends was a fellow from Peru.

We had a couple of black kids in our fifth-grade class, and in when it was time to brag about who you were 'going with,' the boy with the big Afro topped the list. (His dad drove a Pantera, for God's sake.)

As a kid, I knew skin color had nothing to do with a person's worth. As an adult, I believe that more strongly than ever.

And I'm also painfully aware I hold an unconscious bias regarding people who look different than me.

I discovered my hidden racism on Friday, September 2, 2005--three days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans.

Oily black flood waters had cut off the city, and the news crews who made it in could only film the destruction, misery, and hopelessness. I'd spent two days listening to the radio or glued to the tube, furious at public officials for failing to plan for the worst. Reports came in of nursing home residents abandoned by their caretakers, hospitals left in rain-soaked darkness, and families stranded on their roofs in the summer heat, going days without fresh water.

Every time a news crew would interview the citizens of the predominantly black city, I'd think, "Someone should go help those poor people."

I thought my sympathy made me a good person. A non-racist.

My kids were little then, aged five, three and two. I owned a busy veterinary practice and was in the middle of remodeling my first rental property. The thought of going to New Orleans to 'help those poor people' never occurred to me. I sent a few bucks to the Red Cross and congratulated myself on my caring attitude.

Then CNN showed a woman who looked like me.

I still remember the moment: I was in my rocking chair watching television, my two-year-old daughter sleeping on my lap. The midday summer sun shone through the windows of our air-conditioned living room while my middle son played on our nicely carpeted floor.

The newscaster was in downtown New Orleans--on Bourbon Street, maybe--and had stopped to interview a woman carrying a child. The woman's face was flushed, the way mine gets when I'm hot, and her dirty-blonde hair was pulled into a disheveled ponytail--my standard hairstyle when my kids were young. She was in her middle thirties and, like me, was still packing some of her baby weight.

The reporter asked a question. Instead of responding, the woman said, "Do you have any water? I'm worried about my son. He's only four---" She lifted the child who lay limp in her arms. His fair skin could have been my daughter's, his dark hair exactly matched my son's. "He so hot, and now he won't wake up."

Her voice broke, and she started crying.

Next thing I knew I was standing in front of the television, tears streaming down my cheeks. I'd gasped, "Dear God," loud enough to wake my daughter.

By the time I put my daughter in her crib, I'd mentally calculated how much it would cost to load up the green minivan with bottled water and drive down there, what I'd bring (gas cans, batteries, first aid kits) and how I'd get into the city once I arrived (hitch a ride with a news crew). My responsibilities and life constraints never entered my mind.

In the span of maybe forty seconds I'd gone from "Someone should help those poor people," to "I have to drive down there and save her."

That's when I knew I was a closet racist.

Like any decent human, I wanted the people of New Orleans to be safe from harm. I was even willing to give money to make that happen, and to rail against the elected officials who'd let them down. I saw what was happening and was genuinely sad. But until the white woman appeared on that screen, I didn't feel the terrible human suffering from Katrina.

I'd like to tell you the change occurred because of the child, or because it was a first-person account instead of a voice-over description of helicopter footage. I wish I could say I'd become saturated by the bad news and had simply reached my breaking point.

But I know the truth: I was willing to leave my young family and business and go save the woman with the sick child because she was me.


There are plenty of studies that suggest I'm not alone. 

Professor Sendhil Mullainathan from Harvard University published an article in The New York Times explaining how well-intentioned people can harbor subconscious bias toward job applicants with names associated with African-Americans, and how resumes from Anglo-sounding applicants received far more callbacks than resumes where the name had been switched.

There's even a video by ABC News (painful to watch, if you're a well-meaning white person) where three actors took turns pretending to steal a locked bike in a park. The actors (young white male, young black male, attractive white female) were identical in dress and in their explanations to onlookers. None pretended to own the bike. The white male worked for an hour without anyone intervening. He got a few questions but no resistance--even when he made it clear the bike wasn't his. The attractive white female had onlookers offering to work the bolt cutters for her (a topic for another post, sadly.)

The black male made it about four minutes before someone (an older white man, though he wasn't alone in his outrage) confronted the actor, screaming and threatening to call police. 

Racism exists.

My challenge as a white American--and as someone who genuinely believes all people are created equal--is to recognize that my own bias may hide under my good intentions. I need to stretch myself, step out of my comfort zone and make an effort to connect to people who don't necessarily look like me. I need to reach out and form friendships with the parents of my kids' friends (who are, thankfully, of such a wonderful variety of colors they resemble a really great trail mix) and make sure I'm seeking identification with people who travel in different orbits.

I need to recognize my hidden bias--and fight it with every ounce of my being.


I didn't go to New Orleans that day. By that afternoon there were reports of gas shortages in towns hundreds of miles out, of churches and relief organizations left stranded outside the city, depleting an already-overloaded system. 

Inside the city, aid had begun to trickle in.

I told myself my kids were small, that they'd never stayed with Grandma for more than a night or two. My equine clients needed me. The first payment on the rental property was due any day.

In short, sanity returned, and I decided to leave it to professionals to save the people of New Orleans. 

I'll never know what happened to that woman, or to her limp, sleeping child. The CNN crew gave her a bottle of water (on camera, of course) and went on to interview more hurricane victims. Over the next weeks I thought about her often, and sent up prayers for her rescue.

Now, nine years later, I think of her as one of my best teachers, and send up a prayer thanking her...

...for showing me I'm a racist.