Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Paris — The Victory Tour

Two days from now, I’ll be getting ready to head to the airport for three weeks in France. No one is more surprised by this than I. This trip is a gift from a friend, and it means so very much to me. Here’s why.

Back in 2014, before the world crumbled, I went to France, Denmark and Spain to visit my younger son, who was teaching French just south of Paris, to visit family and friends in Denmark, and to meet with readers in Paris and Madrid.

As part of the trip, Benjamin and I visited the battlefield of Verdun, where half a million men died over the 10-month course of the battle. We stood at the bunker of Lt. Col. Emile Driant on Feb. 21, 2014, the 98th anniversary of the beginning of the battle. (We are all history nerds in my family.)

Benjamin said to me, "I wish we could be here on the 100th anniversary."

Feeling confident about the direction of my life, I replied. “We’ll come back in 2016 and stand here together again. I promise.”

It was a dream trip — all my wishes coming true at once. I came home filled with inspiration from hours spent in the matchless museums of Paris. I felt like I was on top of the world. I’d achieved my dream of living off my writing income and was doing well enough to spend two whole months abroad. Then, on April 21, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The world crumbled.

No one who has not fought cancer or been close beside a loved on who is fighting cancer can comprehend how this terrible disease shreds your life. It strips away any illusion that the future is yours to plan. It brings you face to face with your own mortality, strips away your sense of femininity, leaves you in the hands of medical personnel who far too often do not give a shit. It also empties your bank account and lands you in debt, even when you have health insurance. You experience a level of sickness and physical and emotional pain that is off the scale.

I went through three surgeries in two months — bilateral mastectomies, a parathyroidectomy to remove a benign parathyroid tumor discovered during tests related to my cancer diagnosis, and the installation of a port in my chest. After that it was 12 weeks of chemo. I've never felt so awful in my life. This was followed by 25 daily sessions of radiation, one of the most demeaning experiences of my life. The staff at the cancer center were dickweeds, and that's me being generous.

After all of this, I felt my life was shredded. It was left in pieces. Those wonderful memories of Paris, where I got to spend three precious days with BOTH of my sons, were now just photographs. All the inspiration I'd felt had been cut, poisoned, and radiated out of me. I didn’t think I’d ever write again. To make it all more stressful, I now had debt and very little income after not writing for a year.

I surprised myself in 2015, penning three novels — one full-length (Seduction Game) and two short novels (Soul Deep and Dead By Midnight, the I-Team finale). When I couldn’t pay bills, friends and family stepped up to help. I was hit in June by massive depression over my cancer battle and what it had done to my life, some of which can never be fixed. I got through that, too.

Still, financial recovery is slow in coming. I knew there was precisely ZERO chance that I'd be able to keep my promise about the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Verdun. It was going to be yet another thing that cancer stole from me.

I mentioned this at a lunch with some friends. One of them shocked me into teary silence by telling me that I was going because she was going to pay for it. I sat there at the table with tears running down my face and immediately messaged Benjamin, who is teaching English in France again.

His response to the news I was coming: “WHAT???? HOW?????”

Now the plane tickets are bought. The train tickets to Verdun are reserved. We’ve got a room at our favorite hotel. I will be able to keep my promise. Cancer has not stolen this from me.

Benjamin has put together an itinerary of other things he wants to do, little side trips that he wants to share specifically with me. We’re doing the “Band of Brothers” tour of Bastogne (Belgium), where the Battle of the Bulge was fought in World War II. We’ve watched that series three times together, I think. We’ll also be visiting the British Channel coast, driving to the Somme to visit that battlefield, as well as visiting Amiens, etc.

On my last day in Paris, I’ll be getting together with readers and friends for some kind of dinner or some such. Somewhere in there, I also hope to have lunch with the staff of J’ai Lu, my French publisher.

This feels like Paris: The Victory Tour. I get to go back, stand in the city that inspired me so very much, and shake my fist at all the shit of 2014. I am alive. I might be scarred and battered and emotionally raw at times, but I am alive. I can still appreciate beauty, and I can still create it. And I can keep a promise I made to Benjamin.

That’s what this trip means to me.

To my friend who made this possible: I don’t even know how to say thank you, but you can expect something special from Verdun when I get back.

This will put me a little behind on my writing schedule, but I hope that refilling the well will help me move forward with more inspiration and fresh ideas when I get back.

To keep up with my adventures, follow me on Facebook or watch this blog. I will share photos, just like I did last time.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Look at the Coming Year

Last year was pretty incredible. I went from writing ZERO published words in 2014 to writing more than 225,000 published words in 2015.

Yes, I am back. I think I have earned the right to say that.

But time flies, and now we’re almost halfway through the first month of 2016. I thought I’d give you a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Right now, I’m working on the first book of a new series. I introduced the town of Scarlet Springs in Soul Deep, Jack and Janet’s story. A small mountain town full of quirky residents, it is the setting for a new contemporary romance series featuring characters from a mountain search and rescue team.

What is an alpine rescue team? They’re the folks who will come after you if get lost, twist an ankle on a high mountain trail, are caught in an avalanche, or fall while climbing. They handle everything from lost mushroom hunters to helping to bring down dead bodies. In Colorado, they’ve helped rescue people during wildfires, and in 2013, they helped during the catastrophic floods we experienced. They do it all as volunteers, believing that charging for rescues would cause people to delay seeking help.

I have personal experience being rescued. I fell 40 feet while climbing in 1994 and was aided by a ranger who happened to be a paramedic, then got a free helocopter ride to a trauma center. Fun! Not. At. All. I am truly lucky to be alive. But I digress...

People on search and rescue teams include everyone from people who work with and train rescue dogs to hard-core climbers and skiers to paramedics to helicopter pilots. That means I’ve got a vibrant group of fabulously fit and courageous young men and women to choose from for this series.

Because I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, I hope to bring a fresh voice to the mountain town romance subgenre of contemporary romance, featuring the eccentricities that are common to mountain towns in this state. I love Colorado and grew up in a climbing family. I’m going to enjoy sharing my love of the mountains with you.

The series will be as hot as the I-Team series when it comes to sex, but it won’t have the suspense thread. Instead, it will have the action and adventure of taking you along on high-risk rescue missions. There will also be crossover appearances of some I-Team characters, especially Gabe Rossiter, who is a member of the Team.

I plan to have this first book out to you by the end of March or early April. Check this blog frequently for updates and excerpts!

After I finish the first [as yet untitled] book in this new series, I will either write Joaquin’s book, adding another book to the I-Team series, or I’ll write the first book in a series featuring Cobra, Javier Corbray and Derek Tower’s black-ops organization. Derek will be the hero of the first story. We’ll also get to see Nick and Holly in that series.

I haven’t decided yet which of the two I’ll write, and I can’t yet say when this book will be released because it will be published by Berkley.

When that’s completed, I will return to Scarlet Springs for the next book in that series.

It is my goal to get you three books this year. It’s a big goal, but I’m hoping I’ll be the equal of it.

Also, I’m changing things up a bit. Because Facebook essentially prevents people who follow me from, well, following me, suppressing my updates, I’m going to reinvigorate this blog and do all of my giveaways and contests through this blog and through my newsletter.

If you haven’t subescribed to my newsletter, please do. That way you’ll never miss a new release. Just click here, fill out the form, then watch your spam folder or Inbox for a confirmation email. You won’t be added to the list until you click the link in the confirmation email.

On the personal side

I just completed my plan for the year. I use a process I learned from the creators of Passion Planners (check Kickstarter). I did this for the first time last year. When I reviewed what I’d written a year ago, I was pleased to to see that I had taken some concrete steps in each area of my life I wanted to improve.

I made a new plan this year, one that includes everything from spiritual growth to becoming physically healthier and giving myself more time to live. The great thing about using this method of planning is that you build transformation into your daily calendar by choosing goals, prioritizing, and taking concrete steps to build the life you want.

For so many years, I have written at the expense of living. I don’t want to do that any longer. Writing needs to balance with other things in my life. I want to spend more time outdoors. I want to travel. I want to spend more time with my niece, nephews, and grandkids.

Speaking of travel...

Thanks to the unbelievable generosity of a friend, I’m going to France for three weeks in February. I’ll be able to see my younger son, who once again is teaching English there. We won’t be in Paris this time, but that gives us a chance to see other places. Our focus, however, is going to be on Verdun. We plan to be in Verdun on Feb. 21—the 100th anniversary of the start of that terrible battle.

We visited together in 2014, and I promised Benjamin we’d be back in 2016. At the time, I had no idea that breast cancer would devastate my finances, or that not being able to work would do such damage to my life. If it weren’t for my friend, I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise. The amazing thing is that I DO get to keep that promise. I can’t tell you what that means to me.

Yes, I’ll take lots of photos.

Those of you who’ve followed me on this blog for a long time know I was working my way through something called Project: Happiness. I have to say that fighting cancer blew away a lot of the smoke in my life and brought into sharp focus the fact that happiness is something you do each day. Yes, I have goals and projects and things I’m working toward, but if I don’t enjoy my life today, I might not get another chance. Although I carry a lot of grief with me, in many respects I’m happier now than I was before. I’ve worked terribly hard to get here.

In 2016, my overall goal is to become healthier and to live more fully. I hope you’ll follow that journey.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

SEDUCTION GAME in paperback at last!

The day finally arrived!

Seduction Game (I-Team #7) is finally available in paperback wherever books are sold. You can find it through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound, which is independent and delivers around the world.

CIA officer Nick Andris wants revenge. His last mission failed after a Georgian arms smuggler killed his lover. He’s been tailing a woman for three weeks hoping she will lead him to his target. But there’s a problem with the intel. Holly Elise Bradshaw is nothing more than an entertainment writer with a love for sex and designer clothes. Clearly someone at Langley made a mistake...

When Holly finds herself in trouble, the only weapons at her disposal are her brains and her body. But they won’t be enough to handle the man who’s following her. He’s going to turn her world upside down.

The book has a 4.8 average after 110 reviews on Amazon and a 4.33 average after 824 ratings on Goodreads and is the lightest, most humorous I-Team story to date.

The story is also available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and in audiobook via AmazonAudible, and iTunes.

When you finish, be sure to pick up Dead by Midnight: An I-Team Christmas. Christmas is merely the backdrop for this story of danger, loyalty, and courage.

Marc and Sophie Hunter, Gabe and Kat Rossiter, Holly Andris and the rest of the I-Team gang find themselves in the same historic Denver hotel celebrating the approach of Christmas at different holiday parties. What starts out as a fun winter evening with friends soon becomes a brutal fight to survive when the hotel is taken over by a group of ruthless narcoterrorists who will stop at nothing to get what they want. On the outside, Julian Darcangelo, Zach McBride, Nick Andris, and others join together with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team in a desperate bid to free their friends, knowing that if they fail, the people they love will be… Dead by Midnight. 

Featuring cameo appearances by the men of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, a series by New York Times bestselling author Kaylea Cross.

Dead By Midnight is available in paperback, for Kindle, Nook, iBooksKobo and in all ebook formats internationally via Smashwords.

Happy reading!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year That Was

A year ago, I had no hair. I was three weeks out of radiation treatment for breast cancer, but I was still using morphine to help me cope with the pain of radiation burns. I wasn’t sure what lay ahead of me. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to write again. There was simply nothing left inside me.

A few weeks went by. I quit needing morphine. And then the words just exploded out of me.

What a year 2015 was!

In 2014, thanks to breast cancer, I wrote zero published words. In 2015, I wrote more than 230,000 published words. It felt and still feels like a major accomplishment.

First came Seduction Game, which was released in ebook and audiobook formats on Oct. 20. (The book hits bookstore shelves in paperback on Jan. 5!) The story is the lightest of the seven full-length I-Team books and was so much fun to write. Most readers really enjoyed the story — and getting to know Holly a lot better.

Then I started Soul Deep, part of the I-Team series and a follow-up to Skin Deep. I had a lot of fun telling the story of an older hero and heroin. Jack and Janet showed a lot less ego and made more mature choices. That was refreshing for me as an author. Love knows no age limit, after all.

But halfway through writing this book, I got slammed by the emotionl aftermath of cancer treatment. I spent most of a week crying, unable to write, uninterested in doing anything, mourning the life that had been mine, a life that ended when I heard the diagnosis.

“I wish I could tell you it gets better,” said a friend of mine who has faced his own battle with prostate cancer. “It doesn’t. I just gets different.”

I found myself in a new, uncertain life, the landscape of my world permanently altered, and just facing that every day felt like more than I could take for much of the summer.

Even so — I’m not sure how — I managed to finish Soul Deep. Most I-Team fans enjoyed seeing Jack get his own unexpected HEA, though for some the idea of an older hero was too much. That's okay. Not every book is for every reader.

A caring friend sent me to San Diego for an all-expenses paid week of recuperation with my younger son, Benjamin, and my friend, Jackie. I met my assistant Shell Ryan, who lives there, for the first time, and was reunited with my true love — the ocean.

I cannot say how much this trip helped to lift my spirits. We told the hotel staff that we were there to celebrate the end of cancer treatment, and they really got into the spirit of that, sending a congratulatory bowl of fruit and a card to my room and saying “Congratulations!” and offering me good wishes whenever we bumped into anyone.

Other highlights included having friends from France come to visit. Showing them around Rocky Mountain National Park was a lot of fun.

In August, I was blessed to be present at the birth of my first grandchild. Little Oliver Harrison Patarino was born at 11:10 AM on Aug. 10, and my heart has never been the same. I adore this little boy and have savored every moment I’ve spent with him and my other grandkids — Wesley (9) and Mallory (7). Angela, my daughter-in-law, had such a rough pregnancy, but it came with a very happy ending.

Over a very busy summer, we adopted another kitten so that Tazzy, our woodpile kitty, would have a friend. Willy, a rescue, came to live with us at 8 weeks old. A big, fluffy lover boy, he is now easily twice Tazzy’s size. He is very easy-going and has helped Tazzy, who was likely born feral, be less afraid of people.

We also had wonderful visit with Sebastian and, friends of ours from France. It is always a joy to share the natural beauty of Colorado with people we care about.

Then in September, Benjamin left for eight months in France — a great opportunity, but hard for me. I miss him, of course, and eight months feels like a very long time. He is doing well, however, and making the most of his time there, which is exactly what he should be doing. I enjoy his photos and stories about his experiences in Picardy, which is where he is living this time around — a very different world from Paris.

In October, my Danish niece Claudia came to stay and work as my intern for a few weeks. It was great to get to spend time with her and to show her around Boulder and the mountains. Her mother, Christina, my Danish sister from my days as an exchange student, arrived for that last week, and the three of us had a great time. It was truly hard to see them leave, too.

After that, I poured myself into writing Dead By Midnight: An I-Team Christmas, the finale of the I-Team series. A short novel, it brings most of the I-Team couples and characters together for one terrible night in Denver. Terrorists take over a historic Denver hotel, where a couple of Christmas parties are taking place, not knowing that they’ve just taken the wrong bunch hostage. What follows is as tense a story as I’ve ever written. I poured all my love for the I-Team heroes and heroines into every page. Perhaps as result, reader response to Dead By Midnight has been overwhelming. The last page brings the I-Team series to an end — at least for now.

Yes, what a year it has been!

Last January, I sat in my oncologist’s office, asking him about my recurrence risk. It felt so important for me to know whether that risk was 10 percent in five years or 8 percent in 10 years. He turned to me and said, “Quit reading about breat cancer, and start writing again.”

Something in his words made me realize that the recurrence risk doesn’t really matter. What mattered was living the life I have. In that moment, I was able to set aside most of my fear and to pour myself into my daily living. I thank God for that gift.

None of us knows how much time we have. No one knows what the new year will bring. The only thing we can do is to cherish the time we have with the people we love and do our very best to make each day count, putting to work the gifts that we’ve been given. That’s what I tried to do in 2015, and it’s what I'll continue to strive to do in 2016.

I do have hopes and plans. I’d love to make it to France in February to keep the promise I made to Benjamin in 2014 to join him there for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Verdun on Feb. 21.  I've got a real birthday in 2016, so that will be fun. I want to see my Danish friends and family again, not to mention Copenhagen, my favorite city on earth.

I’ve started a new contemporary romance series that I hope you’ll all enjoy, featuring members of an alpine search and rescue team. Set in a small mountain town modeled after Nederland, this is Colorado small mountain town romance with lots of authentic Colorado flavor.

I plan to start every day by reading a poem, to do more to help those who have nothing, to take better care of myself, tpaint and find new ways of creating, and to spend more time with my grandkids, niece and nephews.

Thank you to all of you who continue to support my work as an author and me as the human being behind the books. Your support day in and day out means so very much.

I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and peace-filled New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

SEDUCTION GAME — First time in paperback!

My Christmas shopping is done. Last night’s snow is shoveled. The gifts are wrapped — or at least stuffed artfully into pretty gift bags. (Am I the only one who prefers bags to the misery of wrapping presents?) The Christmas cards are written and mailed. The groceries are packed into the fridge and the cupboards.

Christmas is almost here! My very favorite time of year.

Before I vanish to celebrate my first Christmas with my new baby grandson Oliver, I wanted to make sure you all knew that Seduction Game, which had been slated for a March 2016 release, has been bumped up to Jan. 5.

That’s right around the corner. You won’t even have time to work off the egg nog — to say nothing of the turkey, stuffing, chocolate, Christmas cookies, and fudge — before Seduction Game hits bookstore shelves. Jot it down on your calendar before you forget — January 5.

This is the first time the book is out in paperback. It was released in ebook and audiobook formats in October, a kind gesture from my publisher, who wanted to help me get back on my feet financially after last year’s health struggles.

If you missed the ebook release, you can grab it for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and in audiobook formats. It’s also available in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in ebook and soon in print.

Seduction Game marks the last long novel in the series, with Dead By Midnight: An I-Team Christmas marking the series grand finale. Like the big burst of fireworks at the end of a Fourth of July celebration, Dead By Midnight, a short novel, pulls out all the stops, bringing the I-Team cast together in a fight for their lives.

The story features cameos by the men from the FBI Hostage Rescue Series by New York Times Bestselling author Kaylea Cross. And what fun that was! (Tip: Marked, the first book in that series is FREE right now for ebooks!)

One thing is for certain: The bad guys in this story have no idea what they’ve set in motion. You might say — and Tuck does — that they took the wrong damned group of people hostage. Too bad for them.

Reviewer Blithley Bookish called Dead By Midnight “hands down the best holiday read of the season,” which made my day, of course.

Dead By Midnight: An I-Team Christmas is available in paperback and around the world in ebook for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. It’s also available in all ebook formats at Smashwords.

The great thing about these two stories is how much fun I had writing them. I hope you’ll check them out!

Now, back to baking and wrapping and last-minute shopping!

Merry Christmas to all my friends readers around the world who celebrate! I wish you and your families every happiness this holiday season and in the new year ahead.