Cats make me weird(er).

We have somewhere between five and seventy cats. I don’t know the exact number, but it seems to fluctuate based on things like “holding a can of tuna” and “trying to write a book while using a laptop”.

Outwardly, I appear to be a dog person. We have five dogs. I love dogs. I talk to them in silly voices, or as a colleague when they appear to be listening. I run with them, nap with them, and have not gone to the bathroom by myself in nine years. (True Story)

But it’s my cats that really bring out the weird in me. Granted, I’m a writer, so that wasn’t exactly a difficult task.

(side note: every writer lives in fear of dying without clearing their web browser. we call it research, but in truth, it’s generally unhealthy fascinations with things as varied as skin conditions, hiding bodies, and why a tiger might only eat half of a person. stuff like that.)

So when we have yet another litter of rescued kittens, they begin to attach themselves to us like adorable parasitic floofs, worming their way into my daily routine with shocking speed. Naturally, I have my favorites, and naturally, some of the cats only tolerate me– after all, they’re cats. It’s what they do.

Which brings me to my recent conversation with my friend and book advisor, who is also a cat person and thus understands what life is like with miniature, disdainful lions who poop in proscribed locations throughout the house.

“Jess,” I said, not thinking that I might be weird, “I like to nibble my cat’s ears while he sits on my lap.”

There was no recriminating gasp or shock on her end of the phone call, merely, “OH MY GAHD I DO TOO.”

So, there’s at least two of us, thought I think other people will admit it once they know OTHER people are willing to come forward. It’s a circle of affirmation for Cat Nibblers, or whatever the inevitable meetings will be called.

And despite, the efforts of Sugar (he’s the white one, getting fed by my bride, The Cat Whisperer), I can now proudly announce that my tenth novel, Moonborn, is complete. I’ll share the cover soon, and more sample chapters as well.

Cat hair and all.

 

Who do you think you are?

Do you know who you are? What’s your genealogy? Who are your people? Where did your family originate?

Do you know, or do you think you know?

I write books and teach history, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. In the case of writing, it’s mostly a joy. In the case of teaching history, also a joy.

But knowing history? That’s something entirely different. I read constantly, and yet, I’m still surprised by the inhumanity that existed– and still exists. Conversely, I find great kindness and love in the strangest places, often related in small historical accounts of greatness in the face of what we can only call pure evil. Therein lies the challenge of history, and by extension, the love of it, too.

Sometimes, we think we know our family. It’s a curious mix of truth and myth, not unlike history in the wider sense. Case in point- my handwriting is almost identical to that of my father, although he’s right handed and I’m a lefty. I’m tall like him, laugh like him, and even speak in the same syntax. I have the same skillet-shaped hands, and yet–

I look like my mother, and look exactly like my grandfather.  I’m fortunate in that my family tends to be the saving kind, squirreling away photos from a time when sepia tones, hats, and ladies in pearls were the norm.

My grandfather was a big band leader in the 1930s, but then he was called away to war. Everyone was called away for that horror show, and yet, in the midst of it, his people– my people– managed to survive, mostly, and return home to a very different world.

Maybe my age is showing, but to my students, those pictures are history. To me, it’s where I came from, and who I am. It’s who my son will be, and perhaps his children.

I think that’s why it’s important to save the past, because a simple glimpse tells us that it isn’t the past at all. It’s now, it’s us. It’s who we are and where we’ve been, and something to show our children, drawing a line between the distant horizon and the possibilities ahead of them.

I think it’s worth saving, so I will.

Being Royal Is a Headache

It’s hard to be royal.

Being a queen means not belonging to yourself, I think. After studying royalty for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a job one should consider carefully before taking the crown.

Crowns are heavy, and they have a way of leaving the body with the head still attached. History is filled with the vain, stupid, greedy, and lustful regents who found themselves at the end of a sword. The wrong end.

But history is also filled with good, just, intelligent royals who also found themselves relegated to the past by violent means, often in a spectacular, horrid fashion.

I write this because I’ve been giving a lot of consideration to where Livvy, from my novel Heartborn, will go in the future.

It’s true that writers use our characters as voodoo dolls, making them endure the very worst that our imagination has to offer.

I really like Livvy, and for seventeen years she struggled from breath to breath with a defective heart. I don’t want the rest of of her life to be a mockery of that, but I also want her to ascend to the heights she’s meant to be at when the world comes calling– and make no mistake, Livvy has greater concerns than she can imagine. Or, she will have, but that’s an issue for book two and three in the trilogy.

I think the question of whether Livvy is meant to be a queen is out of her hands, and in a sense, mine. The story goes where it will, especially when characters show the kind of steel that Livvy has within her. Still, in her own words, “Weapons were meant to be used.”

I think that royalty is a weapon, but for Livvy, I want to believe she’s the one holding the sword.

 

Pushups are the Devil

I’m on this stupid health and exercise kick, and it means giving up things like pie and cake for a while. As a man of a certain age, I have certain fears, which include (but are not limited to):

  1. Pleated khakis.
  2. Losing my hair.
  3. Belly.
  4. A larger belly.
  5. Chewing food like I’m a beetle.
  6. A compulsion to use coupons at dinner.
  7. Socks and sandals together.

Thus far, I’ve avoided most of that. Teeth are still good. Mind still feels sharp, unless it’s car keys and then I act as if every day is an archaeological hunt. I’m writing more emotional, lurid scenes that ever before, so I feel that (professionally), I’m better than ever. Writing is a muscle, but you know what else is a muscle?

Muscles.

I totaled last month’s pushup total from my Exercise Log of Doom, and the number was 2805.

That’s a lot of pushups for a middle-aged guy, or at least it is for me. It’s having an effect. I feel like my mind is slightly clearer, with less tendency to be dreamy when I’m writing. Does that make sense?

It’s also vanquishing fear number nine from the above list, which I saved for here: Moobs

I don’t want to have the chest of an American Buddha, so this whole nightmare of pushupageddon is actually working out rather well.

I still hate it, though. It’s like work, but with your face on the floor and lots of wheezing.

The goal for this month is 3000. Oh, and no bra. Ever.

New book is at 60,000 words. Done in a week. you’re going to love it. I’m over the moon for Livvy and a new character, Danila. She’s amazing.

Cheers.

 

How To Write a Love Scene

I’ve cracked the code, people. I have the power. Sexy time? I own it. Lovemaking? Booty Call?

Drive By Quickie?

Check, check, and mate.

Fellow writers, pay attention. This is my gift to you. Dear readers, use this information as you see fit.

*Cracks Knuckles*

Writing the perfect love scene:

  1. List everything you would do with your partner if you didn’t have kids, pets, or a job.
  2. Cut the speed of all those things in half.
  3. Add candles and chocolate.

 

You’re welcome, people.

Virginia. So Much More Than Ham.

I’ll be in one of my favorite cities next week, Roanoke, Virginia. I’m speaking at the Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference. It’s on the beautiful campus of Hollins University.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Virginia is incredible. It’s just so American, and Roanoke is a shining example of a great town. If you haven’t been– go. See the star. See the town. See the people. They’re Virginians, so they’re steeped in history with the friendliness of the South, and the sights of the North.

Roanoke Writer’s Conference.

I can’t say enough good things about this event. It’s a wide spectrum of thinkers, writers, and writing styles wrapped up in an atmosphere of sharing– and there is an unmistakable joy for the written word. It’s my second year, and an absolute highlight for me.

In case you’re still not sold on Roanoke, let’s recap some things: The star!

Rivers, nature, and bridges that are statistically likely to terrify nearly one third of all humans!

And, of course– the city itself. Lovely.

So, to sum up: Books, fun, ham, Roanoke, coffee, friends, and nature. Can’t wait.

I made Taylor Swift cry.

In a good way, and in a dream. I’ll explain.

Last night I dreamed she read one of my books (Heartborn), posted a video of herself crying about how it made her feel, and several things happened:

The book became a sensation.

It was made into a show on the CW, and everyone in the show was beautiful (with great hair).

I got invited onto the Tonight Show for banter with Jimmy Fallon. I told him I liked him, and thought he was even better looking in person. We laughed and fistbumped, then he asked me who my favorite band was.

I said, “The Cult” without hesitation, to which the curtain drew back and there they were, ready to rock. Ian Astbury invited me up and I got to sing Love Removal Machine and OH MY GAWD it was amazing even though I can’t sing and I’m fairly certain that even in the dream world, my mic was turned off.

It’s going to be really tough to top this dream.

St. Olaf and the Golden Girls

I may have mentioned I married a Norwegian Lutheran, who comes from a family filled with other Norwegian Lutherans.

Upon meeting my mother-in-law to be, she mentioned that she graduated from St. Olaf with a degree in home Economics.

Until that moment, I thought St. Olaf was a creation within the show, “The Golden Girls”, in which Betty White would relate hilarious Midwest tales of odd culture, covered dishes, and people being polite. To demonstrate Gwen’s skill at All Things American, I humbly offer you the salad she fixed for me tonight. Sundays are known as Family Day, which naturally includes dinner.

Dinner is always excellent.

As exhibit one of just what a Norwegian Lutheran with a degree in Home Economics and thirty years’ teaching experience considers a side salad, take a look:

It’s magnificent. Color, balance, crispness, variety– it’s all here. Even the dish radiates America, but politely.

Oh, and St. Olaf has a world class choir, filled with Midwestern sopranos that make every day seem like Christmas. It’s beautiful.

I’ll have book news this week. Cheers.

2017: The Bells of Wonder

Let’s talk about our goals.

I have a few. Some are likely, some are certain, and some are an outright challenge to myself. I like those. They assure me of taking my craft seriously, as well as continued growth.

They are, in no particular order:

  1. Write three books.
  2. Write three short stories for anthologies.
  3. Produce three audiobooks.
  4. Drink a lot of coffee.
  5. Whiten my teeth.
  6. Repeat as needed.

Specific characters: what’s next?

The sequel to Heartborn will arrive in March. Livvy is going to learn a lot more about her new world, and more to the point, what happened to her old world. Angels aren’t always agents of good, and their presence walks the line between war and wonder. Sometimes, their world might seem too brutal for someone like Livvy, but I think the angels should worry about how they fit into her plans.

She’s tough, and smart, and her heart is pure. That goes a long way, even in a world filled with war and lies.

What about Carlie?

Excellent question!

Carlie has a big year planned. I started wondering about her next challenges. Are they internal? External?

How about both.

Carlie needs pressure to grow, and I’ve found the perfect way to let her explore her magic, love Wulfric, and grow into the witch who will ultimately cradle Halfway in her protective grasp. Halfway Drowned will arrive in late summer, and the villains are fantastic. One of them even wears gym socks with rings, so you know he’s a terrible person.*

*If you really like gym socks with rings, and do it in a retro way, that’s cool.

Ring. Wally. Risa. It’s time.

I’ve thought long and hard about The Fearless and their path.

And now, I have it. I will be repackaging the entire series to introduce a project I’ve wanted to write for three years– book five of The Fearless is well underway, but the side project is near and dear to my heart.

It’s no secret that I love Delphine, but her backstory hasn’t been explained enough to match the depth of her intellect, will, and sexuality. I’ll fix that in 2017. I’ve got a stack of research and a keyboard, and Delphine will have her own story. Soon.

Yes Terry but pie.

Naturally, I’ll be heavily engaged in the following activities as well:

  1. Eating
  2. Eating pie.
  3. Eating cake, pie, and other bakes things.
  4. Running.
  5. Pushups.
  6. Wondering why my weight stays relatively level.

New Team Members

I’d like to introduce Jessica Herring as my web designer. She’ll be bringing the site up to speed in a clean, friendly format. I hope to interact with a lot more readers this year– my calendar is full, but still growing. Hope to see you at an event!

Najla, Amalia, and my Bookish Circle of Trust (You know who you are!) will continue to produce the cover art I love, with a special shout out to Staci Hart for her brilliant imagery on Heartborn.

More to come. I’d love to hear from you about great books, food, events, or whatever. Let’s chat.

Here’s to your best year ever. Thanks for reading.

Cheers,

News Graphic

2017 Vlog: Now with more Bad Guys and Hooligans!

I haven’t been very active with my vlog and Youtube channel. That changes this year. Thanks to a suggestion from Jess at The Audiobookworm, I’m going to start uploading videos that talk about where I find my villains.

Rather, where I find such terrible villains.

The answer is history. I teach college history, so this seems like a Super Duper Win, and it’s a great excuse to chat about the people and things I’ve seen that either gave me nightmares or inspired me to write books. Sometimes, the two are one in the same. If you have a favorite story from history, let me know! I’m always curious about what’s out there, lurking in the shadows of time.

Who knows—you may give me my next baddie. Or hero. Let’s discuss, shall we?

Cheers for now, Bookfriends.