Book Releases

Holding On (Colorado High Country #6) —
The Colorado High Country series returns with Conrad and Kenzie's story.

A hero barely holding on…

Harrison Conrad returned to Scarlet Springs from Nepal, the sole survivor of a freak accident on Mt. Everest. Shattered and grieving for his friends, he vows never to climb again and retreats into a bottle of whiskey—until Kenzie Morgan shows up at his door with a tiny puppy asking for his help. He’s the last person in the world she should ask to foster this little furball. He’s barely capable of managing his own life right now, let alone caring for a helpless, adorable, fluffy puppy. But Conrad has always had a thing for Kenzie with her bright smile and sweet curves. One look into her pleading blue eyes, and he can’t say no.

The woman who won’t let him fall…

Kenzie Morgan’s life went to the dogs years ago. A successful search dog trainer and kennel owner, she gets her fill of adventure volunteering for the Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team. The only thing missing from her busy life is love. It’s not easy finding Mr. Right in a small mountain town, especially when she’s unwilling to date climbers. She long ago swore never again to fall for a guy who might one day leave her for a rock. When Conrad returns from a climbing trip haunted by the catastrophe that killed his best friend, Kenzie can see he’s hurting and wants to help. She just might have the perfect way to bring him back to the world of the living. But friendship quickly turns into something more—and now she’s risking her heart to heal his.

In ebook and soon in print!

About Me

My photo
I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Friday, May 23, 2014

Putting the memorial back into Memorial Day

It was late afternoon in mid-February when my younger son Benjamin and I visited the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. The sky was filled with bruised clouds that threatened rain, but there was enough sunshine to keep the air warm.

We climbed the steps that lead to the cemetery and stopped. Stretched out before us were 14,000 white marble tombstones aligned in perfect and silent rows, each one of them representing an American soldier who had lost his life in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in World War I.

Fought over a period of 47 days from Sept. 26, 1918, until the Armistice on Nov. 11, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the biggest battle in U.S. history — and the bloodiest. The United States committed 1.2 million soldiers to the battle, 26,000 were killed. And yet most Americans know nothing about it.

Ask the average American to name the biggest U.S. war cemetery in Europe, and undoubtedly someone will point to the cemetery at Normandy. They’d be wrong. That distinction goes to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Sadly, the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery is almost forgotten, receiving few American visitors. Sadder still, no standing American president has ever visited the cemetery.

Benjamin and I walked slowly row by row among the crosses and stars of David, reading off the names of the slain and the states they’d come from. New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois. There was one from Colorado. I found myself with a lump in my throat, wanting to touch each headstone, to let them know that their sacrifice wasn’t forgotten, that someone from the United States was paying them a visit.

These men died amid shouts, the deafening blast of artillery barrages, the staccato buzz of weapons fire, and the cries of dying men. But now they were surrounded by a deep silence, a stillness. And yet despite the peace that prevailed there, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they would rather have come home for burial in the U.S., where their families might have been able to visit them.

Remember that during World War I, a trip to Europe wasn’t something most families could afford. It was a 12-day-plus journey by boat just to cross the water. If you lived in North Dakota, you had to get to New York first. Most of these men have probably never had kin stand at their grave sides, their mourning parents, wives, brothers, sisters, and children left with only memories and personal belongings.

Many never knew where their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers were laid to rest because their remains were never identified. Among those with names were more than 4,000 that did not have a name inscribed. They read, “Here rests in honored glory AN AMERICAN SOLDIER known only to God.”

As we passed one after another after another of these stones, the lump in my throat turned to tears. No, I didn’t know any of these men. None of them are related to me — except that they were all Americans, men who went to war and died far, far from home.

Memorial Day in the United States has become a day to shop till you drop and then hang out with the family next to the barbecue grill or at the beach. That’s not what it was intended to be. It was set aside to honor Americans who died fighting for their country, and it ought to be a day of remembrance.

In Australia, ANZAC Day, their version of Memorial Day, starts with sunrise ceremonies honoring those who died for their country. The ceremonies are so moving that you don’t have to be Australian or a New Zealander to be moved to tears. I wish Americans would observe Memorial Day with a similar reverence.

I also hope with all my heart that an American president will one day travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and pay his (or maybe her?) respects to these forgotten soldiers, whose sacrifice helped end what was arguably the most brutal military conflict in human history.

Benjamin and I visited the memorial and the chapel, both of us silent, caught up in our own thoughts. We signed the visitor log. We read the more than 4,000 names of the American soldiers whose final resting place is still unknown that are inscribed on the memorial’s walls. We read about the battle itself and how it helped bring the war to a close.

As we were leaving, a school bus arrived, and a group of French pre-teens climbed out. They ran through the rows of headstones, called to one another, shouting and laughing. One pretended to be an airplane, making propeller noises with his lips, his arms stretched out at his sides as he ran. I wanted to call to them to stop running and to show more respect for these men, who had been killed in a war that was not of their making. But seeing those kids having a good time during a history field trip made me remember why our soldiers had given their lives in the first place — so that France could be free.

May all our military men and women killed in the service of their country, whether buried in foreign soil or buried here at home, rest in peace.

Photos (c) copyright 2014 by Pamela Clare 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Learning to Cope

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never been very good at waiting when the stakes are high. One thing that made journalism work for me as a career was that everything was happening right then. News breaks, and you respond. A story falls through, so you find another story. A computer breaks down, so you come up with some creative way of getting the paper to press anyway. It’s all action all the time.

Waiting to find out whether the cancer in my left breast has spread and whether I’ll need chemotherapy and for how long quite simply sucks. As of this moment, I have a tentative surgery date for early June — which seems terribly far away. I can’t make it get here any faster, and I have no way of knowing any more about what I’ll be facing until the surgery is completed and I have the full pathology report.

I find myself in the exact circumstances I’ve always hated — one in which I have no control and can take no action. All I can do is pray and wait.

In the past — as recently as the weekend prior to my diagnosis on April 21 — waiting on the cusp of something potentially frightening had a way of ruining my entire day. During the week following the news that I needed to come back because they’d seen something on my mammogram, I felt sick. I couldn’t get my mind off it. I could not escape the fear, some part of me knowing that this was not going to be good.

On April 21, hearing the radiologist say, “It looks like we have an early breast cancer,” made me feel absolutely ill. I cried. I closed my eyes while they did the biopsy. I simply shut down, my entire mind and body rocked by the news that I was now facing a long-term health struggle, one that would change my body and my life forever.

The week that followed involved more dreaded waiting as I carried my cell phone everywhere, anxious to get the pathology report so that I would know whether this was an aggressive cancer or a slow-growing tumor. Fortunately, it turned out to be the latter — estrogen and progesterone positive and HER2 negative.

Then came the week of waiting to see a surgeon and a plastic surgeon, each appointment making the situation I’m facing more real.

And now I’m waiting to have surgery so that we’ll know everything we need to know about the battle ahead of me — whether the cancer is in my lymph nodes, whether the genetic type of tumor requires chemo, whether the surgery went well...

The strange thing is that I have moved from shock and panic to a strange sense of calm. And, no, I haven’t been taking advantage of the state’s legalization of marijuana to achieve this.

Part of it is the fact that I’m getting lots of TLC from my family. My mother has been amazing, cooking meals, doing laundry, letting me live almost like a child in her home and enabling me to focus all of my energy on my own situation. My father has listened to me rant, using words he would ordinarily not appreciate, just to comfort me.

My sister arrived last week, and she makes me laugh more than anyone. She has always been my best friend. When I was coping with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted at age 10, crawling in bed with her in the middle of the night made the nightmares go away. She’s just magic that way.

Also, a quiet community of authors, all of whom are either survivors of breast cancer or currently battling breast cancer, have reached out privately to me, enabling me to ask questions and offering me their reassurances. One of my best friends in Denmark had exactly the same kind of tumor a couple of years ago and spent a good hour or so on Skype with me sharing the details of her experience. All of these incredible and strong women have helped me find my way beyond panic to hope.

My family rallied around me and helped me get spring cleaning done inside and outside my house, taking the burden of that work off my shoulders so that I would have one less thing to worry about in the coming weeks. Their support, expressed in sweat and hard work, means so much to me.

My readers have sent dozens of sweet cards wishing me well, some with gift cards to Starbucks or bookmarks or breast cancer bracelets.

My faith community sent me the flowers from the altar from last Sunday’s service and connected me with women in the congregation who are going through the same thing. My priest, Rev. Susan, gave me a chance to vent my anger and frustration.

All of this together gave me hands to hold and an outlet for the initial emotions I felt about this diagnosis, and for that I am eternally grateful.

But something else is happening as well.

All of us have heard how we should accept the things we cannot change. That idea has been expressed in so many different ways through faith, philosophy, slogans, Facebook memes. It comes down to a simple idea: If you can’t control it, don’t worry about it.

My response to that has always been irritation, even anger. As a reporter, I was ready to go to the mat for the sake of an important story. Fight the bastards. Gather the facts. And flip the bad guys the bird by putting all their dirty laundry on Page One. What a rush! As the editor-in-chief, I was the boss. Shit would happen, and I would tell people how to respond. A crisis almost pepped me up, as it gave me a chance to pit my wits against some kind of obstacle while on the clock.

When the Columbine shooting happened, for example, it took me less than five minutes to make all the decisions regarding our coverage and the deployment of reporters and freelancers. Though the situation was horrifying, I was able to control my emotions and respond immediately.

I have simply never accepted that there might be a situation I can’t overcome by being quick on my feet, smart, proactive, and relentless.

But there is no way to win by pitting one’s wits against breast cancer. I cannot outsmart it or assign a team to deal with it so that I can do something else. I cannot make it go away by writing about it. There is evil-doer to expose, no deadline after which the problem will be gone. And the adrenaline rush isn’t fun; it’s terrifying. There’s really nothing for me to do that will change the outcome of my surgery.

Oh, sure, I can research the hell out of breast cancer and treatments and doctors and procedures. I can (and do) get second opinions. And at the end of the day, my situation hasn’t change one bit. It is what it is.

By all rights, I should be hanging upside down from the ceiling pulling my hair out by now. Uncertainty and helplessness are not the environments in which I thrive. But for the past couple of weeks, I’ve had far more good days than bad ones, far more days when life has seemed more or less normal than days when I’ve been consumed by fear.

I’m astonished at how normal and fun a day can feel even when you know you have cancer.

I guess I’m starting to “get it.” I cannot change the situation I’m in. I can’t outwit the tumor in my breast  or bark orders at it or call it out in public and shame it into going away. I can’t worry myself into being well, or make the surgery day come any faster. This is my reality. And I just have to surrender to it and take life one day at a time, enjoying each moment as fully as I can.

If someone had told me on April 21 that this is what I needed to do, I probably would have told them to cram it. But something has shifted profoundly for me in the past ten days or so. I find myself willing to let things go. I call it “taking time off from cancer.” If I don’t have an appointment or anything that I can do that day, I say my morning prayers, let it go, and focus on the day.

It’s not that I have to trick my mind into thinking of other things; I truly do let it go. I didn’t know I was capable of doing that, and knowing that I can enjoy life now, that I can cope and even thrive has  opened a world of possibility for happiness that I didn’t realize existed.

That’s not to say I don’t have bad days or bad moments. I definitely do. Also, I haven’t started writing again, and that perhaps is the truest test of how well I am coping emotionally. But my days are no longer dominated by fear.

If there is anything I could do with my own experience so far it is to make other women less afraid of doing monthly breast self-exams, getting regular breast exams and mammograms, and being assertive about getting extra screenings if they feel anything might be wrong. Feel you need an extra mammo? Demand it.

But the message of this blog is simply this: Life with cancer can be happy. I never imagined I could be in this situation and yet feel so calm.

And now because I’ve gotten so many emails, I thought I’d do a quick FAQ about my own situation. (I can’t answer everyone’s emails or Facebook messages, so please post here or on Facebook rather than sending Facebook messages or emails! I can’t read through them all.)

Q: Did you feel a lump?
A: No. I had three breast exams by my doctor in the past 12 months, and she didn’t feel anything abnormal either. The lump, which is roughly 2 cm (an inch) in size, was behind fibrocystic tissue, making it hard to detect. Any time I go to the doctor, I get a breast exam. I figure what the heck, right? It didn’t help me, but it might help someone else.

Q: Do you get regular mammograms?
A: Yes. I’ve always gotten the screenings done when I was supposed to. This time, I delayed it by two months because I was on vacation in Europe. This is a very slow-growing tumor, so the delay will have no impact on the outcome. The surgeon says the tumor was already growing last year when I had my 2013 mammogram but was too small for radiologists to detect. I’ve seen last year’s mammo. There was nothing there last year. This year, a half-circle of white dots mark calcifications in the tumor. Had I felt reassured by my 2013 mammo and skipped this one altogether, I’d be facing a very different situation next year. Moral of that story? DON’T SKIP YOUR MAMMOGRAM!

What you might find out from a mammogram is far less terrifying that what you might miss if you don't get it.

Q: What risk factors did you have?
A: The only risk factor for me was being sedentary and overweight, one of the hazards of being an author. I have no family history of breast cancer. I had my kids in my early 20s. I breastfed for a long time. I don’t smoke and rarely drink. I did not use birth control pills for longer than five years. I’ve never had an abnormal biopsy. I didn’t reach puberty early. There’s no real obvious reason why I have this. My doc said they’ve seen a spike in breast cancer, in part due to better diagnosis, but also because rates are climbing due to environmental contamination by estrogenic carcinogens. (Go online for a list of these chemicals. You’ll find them in skincare products, food packaging, etc.)

Q: What is going to happen to you?
A: I have opted for a mastectomy of my left breast (the one with the tumor) and a preventive mastectomy of my right breast even though I could have a lumpectomy because I want to do all I can to minimize risk of future recurrence. Women who get mastectomies have a slightly smaller chance of having a new cancer in what remains of their breast tissue than women who have lumpectomies. That right there was enough to convince me. Other women make other choices, and I support them in doing that. But this is my body. I need to make my own choice.

During the mastectomy, they’ll check lymph nodes for any cancerous cells. My ultrasound showed normal lymph nodes. All of the blood work I’ve had done indicates that the cancer has not spread. The tumor is small as breast tumors go. The tumor is made of the most treatable kind of cancer. So there are a lot of things that stand in my favor and are very hopeful. We’ll know for certain after the surgery. 

Because I haven’t reached menopause and because I’m relatively young, I will almost certainly have to have chemo. They treat breast cancer more aggressively in younger women because of the estrogen in our bodies. But they’ll do a special DNA test on the tumor and more blood tests on me to make the final determination sometime after the surgery.

There is lots of waiting ahead of me. But I have lots of living to do in the meantime.

Thank you to all of you who’ve been so supportive. Your posts, pink ribbons, and virtual bouquets of pink flowers have meant so much to me. And all the thanks in the world to my family for rallying around me.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Faith and Cancer

Those of you who are not spiritual might find all this uncomfortable and think I’m crazy. Those of you who are some version of fundamentalist or orthodox might find it offensive. But here goes...

I had a kind of premonition early this year that I would have breast cancer.

If I’d been right on schedule, I’d have gone for a mammogram in February. But I chose not to do that because I had airplane tickets and plans for a great vacation in Europe. Something inside me felt that if I got that mammogram, EuroTrip 14 would be cancelled because I would get bad news.

I prayed a lot before getting the mammogram, asking for normal results. But that’s not how it went. In the first week after my cancer diagnosis, I had a very hard time praying. I wasn’t sure what to pray for, given that I had obviously been ignored. I told my priest, Rev. Susan, that I figured God had felt more in the mood to hit the “Smite” button than answer my prayer. I told my mother that perhaps I'd been a Nazi in my last life or something. I said a lot of things.

I was very angry. I was terrified. I was walking a path I’d never wanted to walk.

Some people told me that God never gives you more than you can handle, but I reject that outright. Despite what I said to my priest about the “Smite” button, I do not believe that God dispenses misery to humankind for kicks or as punishment. God did not give me breast cancer as a trial or test or to pay me back for years of using profanity. I take the story of poor Job as a parable about faith, about how bad times get better. The idea of God making bets with arch-enemy Satan while allowing innocent men and women to be killed and a good man to be tortured to within a breath of his endurance is deeply offensive to me.

That kind of God is not a God of love.

Also, I do believe lots of people endure situations that are, in fact, more than they can handle. Ask the soldier whose PTSD drives him to suicide. Or the incest victim who dies of anorexia. Or the alcoholic meth user whose abusive childhood deprives him of the very strength he needs to rise above addiction.

Saying that we are never given anything more than we can handle is a subtle way of blaming those who cannot rise above their tragedy and anguish. It’s also a way for well-intentioned, caring people to comfort themselves.

I had no real risk factors for breast cancer. There are no obvious reasons why I have it. But God is not the cause of it. And yet God didn’t intervene and prevent this from happening either.

What does that mean? I have no idea.

There are times I’ve been able to see God in my life. Was this the absence of God in my life?

I guess that’s the question I was dealing with in the midst of this terror.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I do know God is. How do I know? Ask a Catholic what being “slain in the spirit” means or a Protestant what it means to have a “conversion experience,” because that’s what happened to me one afternoon. It was like thunder inside my heart and mind, and it blew me away. My spiritual life since then has been a clumsy struggle to respond to that one event.

So God Is. And I am because God Is. That’s what I kept repeating in my mind these past couple of weeks when my heart was slamming so hard that I could hear it and my stomach was churning and full of butterflies and I could think or pray nothing else.

With the initial shock behind me and a treatment plan slowly taking shape, I’ve been able to reach out again for God’s loving kindness. And here are my random thoughts, which are, of course, subject to change at any time.

This life is a gift. Life doesn’t belong to me. I have a very short amount of time to walk this earth in this body, and I can control so little of what occurs around me. I can’t even control what happens inside my own body. I hardly have control of my thoughts and certainly not my emotions.

Many things happen in life that are unjust and unfair. They are not God’s doing. But when people rise above those things and treat each other and themselves with compassion, that is the spirit of Love inside them. And God is love.

I’m not saying that God takes them over and makes them behave a certain way like spiritual zombies. I’m saying that they choose to be their God-given higher self. They choose to serve the Spirit. They choose to be the higher human being they were created to be.

That doesn’t mean they’re not afraid. Even Jesus was afraid. As the story goes, he asked his apostles to stay awake with him in Garden of Gethsemane, and they failed him. He even felt despair at the end.

For any woman to be afraid when diagnosed with a terrible disease is to be expected. I am trying to be strong, but I am also going to let myself be human. I have moments where I feel fine, and then I have moments of raw panic, where I can do little more than curl up in bed and cry. But then I get back up again.

What I’m trying to do, what I’m hoping to do, is to lay my fear aside and trust that, even if this doesn’t go the way I want it to go, I will still be okay. This is God’s world, not mine. I didn’t bring myself into it, and I don’t get to decide how I leave it. But I can trust that there are still things for me to do here, still ways my life can count, no matter how things go for me.

And I can trust that God is.

I’ve been sharing my daily experience with this devastating diagnosis on Facebook, hoping to urge women to get mammograms and hoping to demystify breast cancer a bit. In turn, the support from my friends and readers helps me keep going — and I truly have no choice but to keep going.

I’ve had a lot of pretty rotten things happen in my life, and I’ve used them in my writing. I’m sure it will be the same with breast cancer. I’ve always known I came into this world to be a voice for women. And now I will include this experience in that voice.

My surgeon and oncologist assure me that missing that February mammogram has not made my situation worse. I have a slow-growing tumor, and there’s no obvious sign of any spread. And I’m so grateful I have those two months of travel to hold in my heart while I go through this. Those memories will sustain me — as will prayer, God’s love, and the love and support of my family and friends.

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Favorite Writing Quotes

"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale