Friday, March 25, 2016

Barely Breathing — the Alpine Rescue Team series



Sorry it’s been so long since I updated this blog. I got back from France with grand plans about sharing my journals of that trip with you. Real life, however, got busy very quickly.

I had my 18-month post-chemo checkup, which I passed with flying colors. That was good news. I also spent some time with my grandkids.

And then there’s Barely Breathing, my work-in-progress. I’m not sure how it is for other writers, but getting words on the page demands a lot of unbroken time, especially when I’m starting a new book. This book is also the first book in a new series. I spent ten years on the I-Team series, so it’s a big change, but also very exciting.

I’m happy to say that things are progressing well. I’ve passed the halfway mark with the story and plan to have it out to you in print and ebook by early May.

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the story. It’s straight contemporary romance, which is new for me. The story is set in the quirky little Colorado mountain town of Scarlet Springs and centers on the lives of members of an alpine rescue team—the men and women who dig out avalanche victims, find lost hikers, help trapped climbers get down off mountains and cliffs.

The characters include expert climbers, skiers, helicopter pilotes, rescue-dog trainers, paramedics, wildland firefighters, park rangers and others.



Barely Breathing tells the story of Lexi Jewell, who grew up in Scarlet but left with plans never to return, and Austin Taylor, now a park ranger and Alpine Rescue Team member. The two were lovers in high school, barely able to keep their hands off each other and deeply in love. A rough breakup the summer after high school graduation left them both heartbroken.

Now, twelve years later, Lexi has come back to Scarlet following a nasty sexual-harassment case in Chicago to stage an intervention in her father's life. This brings her face-to-face with Austin again. Though he’s cold to her at first, the two of them soon discover that the attraction they felt for each other hasn’t faded.

It’s a second-chance love story, not just for Lexi, but for her father, who has alienated Lexi’s stepmom and tried to win her back by doing things like shoplifting, watering the flowers in his underwear in broad daylight, and getting raging drunk. He certainly knows how to charm a woman—not!

Behind the love story, we’ll get a glimpse at how an alpine rescue team works. As many of you know, I come from a climbing family. I was rescued by a park ranger many years ago after falling a total of forty feet down the side of Colorado’s Mt. Ida. Badly injured, I was flown by helicopter to a trauma center in Estes Park. I have some firsthand experience with the subject matter.



The park ranger who rescued me, incidentally, now works as a sheriff's deputy and sometimes crosses paths with my younger son, who is a seasonal park ranger. Small world!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the inside look at the story and the series. These books are a little lighter than my I-Team books with a dose of humor thrown in. They’re definitely sexy, not sweet. Some of the I-Team guys might make cameos in the series down the road, starting with climber Gabe Rossiter.

I’ll have a cover reveal and excerpts for you soon, so stay tuned!



In the meantime, the first three ebooks in the I-Team series are still on sale. Between them, they have almost 11,000 five-star ratings on Goodreads. Extreme Exposure is $3.99. Hard Evidence is $4.99. Unlawful Contact is $5.99. Normally, the ebooks are priced at $7.99. This is a publisher promotion, so I’m not sure how long it will last. If you’re curious about the I-Team series and want to give them a read, you’ve got a chance to save $9 on the first three.


Amazon US
Extreme Exposure
Hard Evidence
Unlawful Contact

Nook
Extreme Exposure
Hard Evidence
Unlawful Contact

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Trip to France, Part I — Bastogne and "E" company



In 2014 when Benjamin and I stood near Lt. Col. Emile Driant’s grave in the Bois des Caures at Verdun, I promised him we’d be there together again on Feb. 21, 2016. Then cancer came and ruined so many plans, taking the heart of out my life. We both realized in January that it would be impossible for me to visit him in France this time despite hopes and promises.

A friend of mine heard about this over lunch and surprised me by telling me she’d pay for the trip because she really wanted me to go. I texted this to Benjamin right then and there, and he was thrilled. So, long story short, I bought the ticket and flew to France on Feb. 5 via Icelandair. I flew home on Feb. 23. That’s not quite three weeks in France.

I had planned to share my travels via this blog, but we were so busy and everything was moving so quickly that I didn’t have a chance. I’ll try to make up for that now.

I arrived at noon and waited a short time for Benjamin to find me. He took my luggage and we hopped on to the RER B for St. Rémy les Chevreuse, hereafter called St. Rémy of the Goats or just The Goats. My British friend (married to a Frenchman) Bridget welcomed us at her house, which served as a kind of home base for these three weeks, despite the fact that we were rarely there. (Thank you, Bridget!)

It was so fabulous to see Benjamin again. Being away from people love and people who love us can feel like a drought, even when we're with other loved ones and friends. I have missed him so much. Hugging him again was just fabulous.

We had dinner with Bridget and Pierre, a friend from Paris, at a pizzaria in town. Later, we met her husband Michel and her sons, Tomas and Henry, and her daughter Juliette.

The next morning, we went back to Paris — it’s most of an hour's ride to/from The Goats on the RER B — and caught the train for Bastogne, a trip that would take us through Luxembourg into Belgium, where we hoped to visit sites where “E” company — Easy Company made famous by “Band of Brothers” —fought in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge. 


One of the trains wasn’t running, so we had to take a bus from the Luxembourg station to Libremont, a place I won’t mind if I never see again. We spent an hour in the Libremont station waiting for a bus that would take us onward to our next connection and on to Bastogne. This made us very late for our hotel checkin. Fortunately, the bus driver was kind and dropped us off at the hotel after finishing his route, and someone was still there when we arrived, so we were able to get our room. If we’d gotten there even five minutes later, we might have been out of luck. That would have sucked, as it was cold.

But a bit about Libremont. We spent an hour in a very sketch train station with a man who must have been homeless who stared at us almost nonstop and spoke and chuckled to himself off and on. He walked in and out, but would only stand still in the hallway when he left. He had nothing with him — no bag or cart of belongings — but simply stood in a corner. We felt very relieved that security personnel were popping in and out and that behind the shuttered cashier windows there were still people at work. What a relief to get out of there! The man was still there two days later when we came back through.

Bastogne was in the midst of its carnival — a holiday that is probably derived from Maundy Tuesday and Mardi Gras in some way but now which seems to focus on drinking. The streets were littered with confettie and plastic beer cups. (Why do people throw trash on the ground???) We made it to a Chinese restaurant that was just about to close, walking past the location of the celebration, bass pounding through the wind and rain.

I should add that my knee injury has been particularly hideous of late and that any and all walking was extremely painful for me, so hiking uphill to a restaurant through drunks, rain, and against the wind was not fun. But, hey, Easy Company, right? It felt right to be miserable and cold, because they were certainly both each and every day, and not because they were walking to a cozy restaurant.

A drunken argument broke out at the restaurant when a group of inebriated celebrants demanded more sake, a drunk walked in off the street and asked to use the restroom, and a group of diners stood up to defend the other drunks (and were probably drunk themselves). The proprietor denied the man who wanted to pee use of his restroom, saying it was for guests only. He slammed his fist down on the counter when the drunk persisted, causing the three drunks who wanted extra (free) sake to explode. They all left amid shouting, but as they did so guests at another table stood and started shouting, too, apparently attacking the proprietor for not being more genial about his toilet and sake supply.

Alcohol turns some people into idiots.

We made our way through staggering young people down the hill to our warm beds. The hotel was nice and warm, though the bathroom offered questionable privacy.

The next day we awoke to intense wind and a downpour. We got ready for our "Easy company" tour, enjoying a nice breakfast and coffee downstairs — I don't recall feeling jet lagged — only to have our guide, whom we paid 80 EU each, tell us that the tour couldn’t happen. The wind and rain were too much, he said, and the Bois Jacques, where “E’ company dug their fox holes, was off limits.

The look on my face must have been, “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” That’s certainly what I felt. I wanted to tell him that bad weather doesn’t make people from Colorado quit, but I held my tongue.

He told us he’d drive us to some of the places we wanted to see. He started with a historical marker and the history of the Battle of Bulge, where US troops were deployed in the area when the Germans made their surprise attack. That was interesting stuff, to be sure.

He was particularly focused on the role the 28th Infantry Division played in holding back the German onslaught until other forces could be brought in. He doesn't like the fact that “E” company is synonymous in most American’s minds when they think of the Battle of the Bulge but that the 28th division is largely forgotten.

Point well taken.

Most of the sites we visited were 28th division sites — the three roadblocks US troops put up to keep German forces from entering Bastogne. The rolling, peaceful hills didn’t seem like a place where so many lives could be lost, but, in fact, it was bloody fighting.

We appreciated the history lesson, though, to be honest, I began falling asleep in the back seat. All that driving made it hard to stay awake.

A word about the roads: Driving around Bastogne can feel disorienting. No matter where you are, there’s a road sign pointing in one direction or another to Bastogne, even when you think you’re in Batogne. Just ahead, “Bastogne, 2km,”  and then pointing the other way, “Bastogne, 5 km.” I told Benjamin it felt like the roadways had been modeled after a hairnet or something.

After lunch, the rain had stopped, and the wind had died down. Our guide drove us to the Bois Jacques, which was, indeed, closed. Unwilling to violate the closure, he parked and waited while Benjamin and I got out and explored.



There among the tall pines were foxholes dug by the men of “E” company 70 years earlier. They stretched the length of the forest, most no more than a couple of feet deep now, some holding water, others home to sodden leaves. I said a prayer for the men who fought and died here, names and faces in my mind. I couldn’t imaging living for a month in the middle of winter in a six-foot-deep hole under constant mortar bombardment, but that’s what they did.

It was here in the Bois Jacques amid these foxholes that Bill Guarnere lost his leg. It was here those brave men faced a nightmare few living today can imagine.

We walked from hole to hole, taking photos, talking about the contrast between the peacefulness of the forest and the violence that they faced here. Those men stand as heroes to all of us, and this was the ground that made them unforgettable.

It was surreal, very moving.

There’s a monument to the men from "E" company who were killed just down the road at the edge of the forest, not far from the road where one of the men of "E" company was shot and killed by a German sniper. The names of the “E” company men who fell in that forest and nearby are carved into stone on that monument.



It’s impossible to visit a place like this and not feel uneasy when you leave. You can’t lessen the suffering of those who endured hell. You can’t touch them the way their actions touch you. You cannot possible give to them what they gave to you, which is freedom.

After the Bois Jacques, our guide drove us to Foy, where we could see the position “E” company had when they liberated the town. It was amazing to stand there, see that line of forest, and know that right there was where Speirs made his crazy, heroic dash through German lines to link up “E” company with “I” company, and that over there among those trees was where Pinkala and Muck were obliterated in their foxhole by a shell, and this is where Winters commanded his men.

Our guide has some “then” photos to go with the places we stood in Foy, a way to “see” the historical picture even more.



We also saw a German panzer tank. To this day, that black cross strikes me as evil and ugly. The Nazis are one of the most sickening manifestations of evil the world has seen.

After our tour, we went back to the Chinese restaurant for dinner and then back to our hotel room, where we wanted to watch an episode of “Band of Brothers,” but were thwarted by Amazon’s regional distribution controls.

The next day, it was time to go back to France. With the train running, the return journey was much less difficult and creepy and much faster. We went back to The Goats, enjoyed a quiet evening with Bridget and Michel.

I took a stick from the Bois Jacques, a small piece of wood that has been polished by the weather. It is my only souvenir from this trip.

Rest in peace, heroes of “E” company. Rest in peace, forgotten heroes of the 28th Division.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Get the I-Team on sale!





Before I launch into sharing photos of my AMAZING trip to France with everyone, I wanted to let you know that the first three ebooks in the I-Team series are on sale as part of a publisher promotion. If you’ve heard about the series and wondered what the excitement about, or if those $7.99 ebook prices have held you back, here’s your chance to get started.

Between them, these three books have 10,985 five-start ratings from readers on Goodreads. Grab them today, as the sale is for a limited time only.


EXTREME EXPOSURE — $3.99

HARD EVIDENCE — $4.99

UNLAWFUL CONTACT — $5.99

Normally priced at $7.99.

Kindle (US)
EE: http://amzn.to/1ODf3Fl
HE: http://amzn.to/21pUAR2
UC: http://amzn.to/1S8ho1K

Nook
EE: http://bit.ly/1QmEvkw
HE: http://bit.ly/1XRmCzg
UC: http://bit.ly/1pfq9vK

I'll be back soon to share the highlights of my three weeks in France, including our visit to the site where the Battle of Verdun began on the 100th anniversary of that battle.
Also, I'll share the latest book news. So stay tuned! 

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.