Friday, December 25, 2015

It's the Twelfth Day of Christmas. You know what that means. EVERYTHING!! #FREEBIES #99centsales

Merry Christmas everyone!!! It is officially here... our Twelfth Day of the Epic-Blog-o-Thon. We've come a long way to get here, and I've given away a lot of books.

But you know what?? It's CHRISTMAS. I. Ain't. Done. This December 25th... I'm giving away not one, not two... but FIFTEEN ebooks!! FOR FREE!!


















Happy holidays, everybody!! Whew, I'm beat. I'm taking the rest of the year off to plan for even MORE angsty, sexy, heartfelt books to come in 2016. I wish every single one of you the best holiday season and a most wondrous new year. Thank YOU for the gifts you bring into my life with every download, every review and every message. You humble me and you give me purpose. Thank you. For everything.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, Santa is bringing you a couple more free reads! #Free #ebooks #Kindle


I love Disney. I'm a Disney girl. Shamelessly and without apology. I grew up on The Wonderful World of Disney, where I'd get to see their movies whether we had the money to go to the movies or not.

Every single time I saw Cinderella's castle, I felt like I was truly a part of something magical. Though I watched a lot of Disney with my kids, I probably wouldn't have needed kids to watch them, particularly when Pixar rolled out its first few masterpieces. I love the perennial childhood of it. If I had the money, I'd be wrapped up in Disney all year long, right down to an annual Disneyland pass so I could go to the park whenever I wanted.

I live close enough to hear the fireworks show every single night, and there's a piece of me that always - ALWAYS - wants to be there to see it.

I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it.

Did I mention I love it?

I didn't always have the money to love it. Back in the early 1990s, I was lucky to own VHS tapes that my kids could watch over and over again. (Can you quote The Lion King verbatim? I can.)

Then I got a new job in 1995, probably one of the better jobs I had ever had. I couldn't always say the same about the boss, but there were times when she showed how generous and thoughtful she could be. In 1996, that included four free passes to Disneyland for me and my family as a Christmas gift.

This was a big deal for us, but it was an even bigger deal for me. I had never been to Disneyland, granted, but I had never been to ANY large theme park. I'm 46 years old, having lived most of my life about three hours west of Six Flags Over Texas, and I have never been. There was never really any money for that, plus it was never something my parents would have enjoyed doing even if we did have the money. They didn't really care for rides or crowds or overpriced Churros.

I didn't care about all that. I wanted to ride the rides. I wanted to see the castle. I wanted to feel like a princess, whose every wish could come true.

To be able to give that to my kids from an early age, starting with that first trip, was truly one of my more epic Christmas presents. Not just for the cost, which had to be somewhere around $400, but because for just a moment or two, my family, as bare-boned as it was, and as much as it struggled, could feel like everyone else just for the day.

Given how rough the first half of the 90s were, thanks mostly to Dan's unchecked mental illness, this was a big deal for us. It was the light at the end of the tunnel. Dan had begun therapy, I had a good job for once... things were looking up.

Things were.... magical. And I knew that the minute that I spotted Mickey Mouse walking around the park, and I reverted to a five-year-old when he waved me in to join the photo.

It was a great end to a great day. It also made me fall in love with a Disney Christmas. If you want to go to the parks, go around Christmas time. Even if you're not in the spirit, they'll do their best to get you there. (This may or may not work depending on how you feel about crowds. I'm not so pro on that, either, but for one day a year... it's worth it.)

Be sure to stick around for the fireworks. And if you're at Disneyland, I'll be celebrating vicariously through you just a few miles away as I remember all my awesome Christmas memories there. Happy 60th anniversary, Disneyland. I'll visit you again real soon. <3


Well, it's Christmas Eve. I've been avoiding a lot of the more traditional music this year because of losing my mom. I watched Dolly Parton's COAT OF MANY COLORS several days ago and I still can't think of those hymns she sang without dissolving into a sobby, inconsolable mess. So I knew better than to listen to the religious songs of my youth, knowing they'd devastate me.

They always have, even before I could litter the months of December and January with more sad anniversaries than should be legal. (Lost my Mom December 6, lost my Dad December 19 and lost my son January 15.)

(Wake me up when December ends...)

But... this is my favorite *true* Christmas song. I've used it in a couple of stories so far, and this is by far my favorite version, at least until Steve Perry releases his own version anyway. Get your hankies ready, folks.


Okay *sniffle*. Time to get back to the festivities. It is simply NOT Christmas Eve without a Christmas Carol, in whichever form you decide to enjoy this particular story. There are a few options. You can watch something a little more classic...

You can watch something a little more modern...

You can even watch it retold by none other than Doctor Who...

OR, you could be like me, and watch something completely irreverent. THIS is one of my favorite Christmas movies OF ALL TIME, and also featured in one of my Christmas stories as a result. (SAN FRANCISCO SERENADE, btw, which has been revised and updated and re-released everywhere, although Amazon has yet to price-match it as FREE like Barnes & Noble and iTunes.)

It's so good, and so beloved, I save watching it till Christmas Eve just to make it an event. I could have watched it the twenty or so times it played already, but no. I need it to be special. I need to turn off all the noise of the world and just immerse myself into it, instead of let it play like background noise in the background, which, with a few notable exceptions, is what TV is to me.

THIS is happening tonight. Join us, won't you?


Tonight we're baking for our dinner tomorrow. At least... I hope we will. Keep an eye on the Instagrams to see if I can make it happen in the midst of all the other pre-holiday craziness I've got going, which includes - *shudder* - going back out into public, namely... the grocery store. (I'm askerred. The pool is cold...)


I still want a pecan pie though. And we have about three more types of cookies to make. NO PRESSURE. But it's for a good cause, so .... BAKE LIKE THE WIND!


I've got two for you today. One is a short story called THE WAITER, which I have also revised in time for the holiday. Unlike SAN FRANCISCO SERENADE, it HAS been price-matched to free for the holidays on B&N and iTunes. (If you want SFS, I'd recommend using the "saw this at a lower price" feature on Amazon. I've been doing that at least twice a day for a week... maybe you'll have better luck than I did.)

This story is bittersweet and kinda ghostly, but I truly do love it. It's as me as a story gets, right down to its twisty ending. Charles Dickens would be so proud.

For you romance lovers out there, my book PICTURE POSTCARDS, is also available for free right now. It's a book I wrote in the 1990s, which I revised to the 2010s courtesy of the magic of Christmas, where this tale is told as a holiday bedtime story. I'm partial to this one, too.

Hell, I'm partial to all my babies. I can only hope that you like them too.

Here's an excerpt:



A bundle of boundless energy in footed Christmas jammies opened the door of her bedroom with nary a creek. She pulled playful tangles of tousled, dark hair from her dancing blue eyes, peering first one way down the dark, quiet hallway, then the other. She carefully and soundlessly padded towards the stairs, following the sound of carols playing in the warm and cozy living room downstairs. Dozens of candles lit the room where her mother was putting the finishing touches on their cheerfully decorated Christmas tree. She held each trinket like a cherished treasure, turning it over in her hands with a nostalgic smile as she examined each memento. The Eiffel Tower, the old jalopy – a pair of pink, sparkling ballet slippers – all dangled from the tree, side by side with dozens of other ornaments, telling the story of their family.

She looked so happy and peaceful as she trimmed the tree that the little girl almost didn’t want to disturb her. But despite her best efforts to stay concealed, her mother turned with a barely contained smile. “It’s not morning yet, you know.”

“I know,” the little girl sighed as she plopped onto the sofa. “But I’m too excited to sleep.”

“Santa won’t visit as long as you’re awake.”

That piqued the child’s interest. “Where is he now?”

“Let’s see,” her mother responded as she abandoned the decorating to head toward a computer sitting on a desk in the corner. Within a few clicks she had the information. “Looks like he’s headed to New York. That means he’ll be here in just a few hours.”

The child pouted. “But I can’t sleep. Maybe you should tell me a story.”

Any reprimand died on the woman’s lips as she glanced over at her beloved child. How could she deny her anything, much less a bedtime story? “Okay,” the mother agreed as she came to sit beside the little girl. “Which one?”

The child smiled wide. “You know.”

Her mother giggled as she pulled the cuddly little girl close. “Yes, I suppose I do.” Her eyes fell on the computer sitting across the room from where they huddled on the sofa. “It’s a story that took place only ten years ago, but things were pretty different then. Back then we couldn’t get a lot of our information in the blink of an eye like we do today. People still got letters in the mail, including special cards to let folks tell those they loved that they were thinking about them, no matter where their travels would take them.”

“Postcards,” the little girl supplied dutifully.

“Postcards,” the mother affirmed with a smile. “We still send and receive postcards today, but back then it was different. Mail traveled like people traveled, in cars and on planes, so all these postcards passed through dozens of hands before they reached the recipient. The journey connected people all over the planet with intimate little messages strangers could, and did, intercept. But you know what makes them extra special?”

“It was how you met Daddy,” the little girl whispered, in awe at the power of fate.

“It was how love brought your daddy to me,” the mother said softly. The little girl always thought her mother grew even lovelier when she spoke about the special bond they shared.

So the little girl snuggled in her mother’s arms and waited for the story she had heard many times in the previous seven years, but one that seemed to get better each and every time her mother told it.

“It was 1994,” the woman said, a softness creeping into her voice as she remembered how it all began. “I had just moved to Los Angeles to start my new career. I was pretty excited, and a little scared. And I had no idea that fate was about to change my life in a remarkable way.”


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On the Tenth Day of Christmas... the gift of insight, perspective and appreciation.

**Yesterday's NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS blog was delayed due to some unforeseen circumstances, but has been uploaded a day late so you didn't miss anything. Check it out here.


We talked before about the lean Christmases after my Dad died. During that first holiday without him, I experienced one of the most disappointing Christmases of my life. Believe it or not, it was even worse than Christmas 1980. Dad had died, yes. And there were presents under that tree, from Mom and Dad, that broke my heart to look at them. When I unwrapped those presents, they were meaningless in the whole scope of things. Without Daddy, nothing mattered. Nothing made sense. Nothing eased the ache.

Because Dad died so close to Christmas, his final arrangements took priority, so it wasn't even like it was Christmas at all. Looking back I can see I was probably in shock.

Fast-forward to 1981, and I had a little distance. I had done a little healing. I was ready to throw myself into my favorite holiday. I let myself get caught up in the excitement of things. I needed the perpetual hope that the holiday season always seemed to bring. For a twelve-year-old, that meant I really wanted to get something good under the tree.

At the time, I wanted a pair of roller skates. Rollerskating was still a "thing" in 1981. All my friends would go to the skating rink and hang out, and all I wanted in the world was to fit in among them. That painful year had taught me a lot about how I stood out, and nothing made me stand out MORE than the fact I wasn't like other kids. Not only had I matured early, with all the things that come along with puberty like body hair, boobs and acne, I wasn't quite a kid in all the ways that counted back in those days. I didn't know how to swim or skate. I couldn't do the monkey bars. I failed routinely at any sport I dared try. I can't even TALK about Duck, Duck, Goose. The only thing I had managed to do was teach myself how to ride my sister's old discarded bike a few years before, so I was determined I was going to get a pair of skates and I was going to reclaim the cool that had always come so effortlessly before.

Funny thing about cool. You can chase it all over the world, but you never catch it until you realize you don't need to chase it at all. I didn't know this at the time, of course. Just like every other prepubescent kid on planet earth, I just wanted to fit in with everyone else, people that I now accepted were better than me, (like the aforementioned Beth.)

There were several presents under that tree, some in boxes large enough to contain a pair of skates. I thought for sure Mom had come through for me and got me what I wanted, like so many Christmases before. I told her confidently that one of those boxes definitely contained some skates. She, instead, told me to pull back my expectations, but I thought she was bluffing. That was until I opened said box, and it had a lamp in it. Other gifts that year had included a puzzle, some perfume and a little blue diary that was fit with its very own key.

As you can see from the above pic, I was able to smile through the puzzle simply because the *big* gift hadn't been opened, and I didn't realize how bitterly disappointed I would be.

Used to be I'd look at this photo and see a kid who was about to get her heart broken. This year I see something else. I see the tiny black and white television on the stand behind me, which didn't even get cable. As an adult I can see how we struggled just to have the little joys in life, and there I was sitting in the midst of half a dozen presents my mom managed to buy me, even when she had to buy for my sister's family (including her four kids,) like the luckiest kid on earth, and I didn't know it.

In other words, I see how much my mom tried.

We don't see that as kids sometimes. Our tunnel vision filters out those things we can never understand, like juggling a budget, paying bills, and managing single parenthood the very best one knows how. Recently my sister told me that of my Dad's $10,000 life insurance policy, my mom got $4000. She spent quite a few years paying off his final expenses, which included nearly two weeks in the hospital before he died of a heart attack.

I knew these things then. But I didn't understand them. I was just a kid. I didn't even realize that the dairy she gave me, where I could use my newly discovered writing skills to work through my thoughts and feelings in a private, judgment free zone, WAS the best gift she could have ever given me.

Looking back, I can tell you that was far more useful to me than some old pair of skates I probably wouldn't have used much anyway.

Mothers. They just know. And sometimes we forget that, particularly when we're young.

Recently my son expressed his gratitude to me for always filling the space under the Christmas tree as best I knew how, even those lean years where we struggled, when he was too young to realize how much of a financial burden the Happy Holidays can place on a parent with limited means. That meant a lot to me, especially since I never got to say that to my mom, not directly.

Instead, I make it up in the work, where Mother/Daughter issues can rear their ugly heads sometimes, like COMIC SQUAD, or BACK FOR SECONDS.

I'll probably never stop working through all those complicated feelings, but that is what art is for. We get to make beauty from pain, and something important from something seemingly insignificant. It's not a bad way to make a living, and I'm very lucky to do it - even if it means I still struggle to put Christmas presents under the tree.

Fortunately for me, the important parts of the holiday will never be found there.


Definitely one of the top five Christmas songs of all time comes from one of my top two bands of all time. Don Henley melts my heart with this one.


Since we're kinda sorta celebrating the 1980s... how about some Bloom County?


Okay, I haven't been able to bake, but I do have a few more recipes to make before Christmas. Here's what's on the agenda... if I can fit in in between all the last little holiday errands I have yet to run today. Yes, I'm going grocery shopping two days before Christmas. I can only pray they have spiked eggnog ready the minute I walk in the door. O_o


(Although the PECAN PIE COOKIES look mighty tempting after talking about nuts for DAY NINE'S blog.)

I'll Instagram whatever we choose to make later on tonight. If, that is, I'm not completely drunk on spiked eggnog from having to deal with holiday shopping.

It's entirely possible. I'm just saying.


Because I like to dig deep in emotional issues, particularly where family is concerned, many of my romance titles have deeper meaning than just BOY meets GIRL. In ENTICED, it was about family. A traumatized teacher takes a job in California, to tutor the son of a very powerful man. As the product of a particularly nasty divorce, Jonathan Fullerton is a problem child by design. He figures as long as they're mad at him, his parents are not mad at each other. It takes meeting this no-nonsense teacher, Rachel, to pull him back from the brink.

This isn't easy to do. Drew, Jonathan's father, is a domineering alpha who will do whatever he needs to do to get his way. Alex, Jonathan's uncle and Drew's estranged brother, will do whatever he can do to stop him. Rachel is thrown into the fire between these two warring brothers, with one vulnerable boy caught in the crossfire.

A Christmas excerpt:


“Ho, ho, ho!” Alex greeted jovially. We turned to see him in full costume as Santa Claus, complete with a full bag slung over his shoulder. “Merry Christmas, y’all,” he added as he glanced at me.

“What are you doing?” Drew hissed.

“Spreading joy and cheer,” Alex answered with a wide smile. Nothing made him happier than putting his brother off his game. “Tis the season and all that.”

“You look ridiculous,” Drew muttered. “Why must you take every family function and make a mockery of it?”

“How can you expect anything else when you insist on parading around our mockery of a family?” Alex challenged. “Unless, of course, your miracle worker has fixed that, too.”

Drew put his arm around me to pull me close. “I don’t think that is any of your business, Alex.”

“Of course not,” Alex sneered. “I’m just a Fullerton, after all.”

“Alex, please,” I said under my breath. “Don’t make a scene.”

He laughed. “I’m a big fat guy in red velvet. Santa doesn’t exactly play it small, sweets.” He put the bag on the ground. “But I come bearing gifts.” He withdrew a stocking for Drew, which happened to be full of charcoal. “Bad luck again, old man,” he said with a shrug. “Guess you’ll have to get all your goodies from your good pal, De Havilland. He owes you after your generous donations to his campaign and Entrepreneurs for American Liberty, don’t you think?”

“That is none of your concern,” Drew hissed through clenched teeth.

“Of course not,” Alex repeated. He dug around in the bag and brought out a gift-wrapped box. “And for the good teacher,” he said as he handed me the gift. His eyes were hard on me as I opened the flat box and withdrew the one-way ticket back to Texas. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving. You get your freedom, and Elise gets her son back. It’s a win-win.”

Drew was livid as he tore the ticket in half. “I want you out of my house, Alex.”

Alex laughed as he hoisted the bag back over his shoulder. “No can do, brah,” he said. “You can’t kick Santa out of your house on Christmas. It’s the one time the trespasser is more welcome than the thief,” he added as he glared at me. He spun on his heel and went into the ballroom, hollering, “ho-ho-ho” like he was a part of the venue entertainment.

Drew stalked to his study and slammed the door shut. I honestly didn’t know which brother to chase after. I decided to curtail as much damage as possible by tracking down Alex, who was bestowing gifts to his favorite nephew near one of the majestic trees in the ballroom. Jonathan had no clue how much of a problem his uncle’s presence caused for his dad. All he knew was that all the people he loved were in the same place. I let them interact for a few minutes before I gently interrupted and pulled Alex out of the ballroom.

Since the common areas downstairs were open as a holiday showcase, I had to pull him into my office so that we could speak privately. “You’ve made your point,” I said after I closed the door. “Can’t that be enough for once?”

Alex laughed. “You are something else. Not only are you Jonathan’s governess, but you’re a party planner, hostess and now… bouncer. You take multi-tasking to the next level, princess.”

“Look, I know you don’t like me…,” I started, but he was quick to interrupt.

“Who says I don’t like you?”

“You do. Every chance you get.”

He walked to where I stood at the door. “If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t care what happened to you,” he pointed out as his eyes swept across my face. “You may not see it now, but I am trying to save you.”

“From what?” I challenged.

His eyes slid down to my mouth. “From us.”

I backed up a step, but he pulled me back. “Elise… Nina… my mother… Fullerton men always destroy the women that they love. You think you can save us, but you can’t. You’re just prolonging the inevitable. Especially where Jonathan is concerned. You want to give us a gift? Leave. Let this house of ruin fall to decay like it should have done years ago.”

“I know you’re bitter,” I said softly, and he chuckled in response as he pulled away. “I don’t need the dirty details. I know it’s bad… poisonous… between the two of you. But you are still a family. You just need one person to give a damn. To fight.”

“And you think you’re that person, is that it?”

“I think you’re that person,” I told him as I squared my chin. “You’ve got a good heart, Alex. I’ve seen it. With Max, with Jonathan, with complete strangers at the mission. And I know you got that from your mom.” He looked away. “She did everything she could to save her boys by binding you both together. All this fighting and bitterness, it can’t be what she wanted for the both of you. Nothing is worth the hatred. Not the money, not the women, not the kids. It just takes one of you to decide to be the bigger man. You want to prove to me how sincere you are? Let it be you.”

He turned to stare at me for a long moment. Clearly he was dissecting what I had said, looking for something, anything, to use against me. I no longer cared what he thought about me. It was time to end the bitter feud between these two brothers once and for all.

I turned to leave, but his words stopped me.

“Don’t you have a gift for good ol’ Saint Nick?” he asked softly.

I turned back to face him. “What did you have in mind?”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sprig of mistletoe as he approached. He stopped a breath apart and held it above his head. His eyes dared me to defy his request. Maybe it was a test. I had come to expect that from him. Instead I stepped closer, braced myself on his arm and stood on my tiptoes to plant a soft, lingering kiss on his stubbly cheek. “Merry Christmas, Alex,” I said as I pulled away.

His eyes engulfed me. “Merry Christmas, Rachel,” he murmured. He hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and slipped through the door. I followed him down the hall, but instead of going into the ballroom, he walked right out the front door.


Check out my bestselling, most highly rated, and most beloved (and/or most hated) series with ENTICED, free on AMAZON, B&N and iTUNES.

On the Ninth* Day of Christmas, a makeup blog featuring some fierce friends.

*This blog was unfortunately delayed due to a personal crisis, so it's going to be pretty bare bones due to time constraints. But the freebie listed is a freebie all the time, everywhere, so don't miss out getting to know all the FIERCE gang!


Whenever things get tough, I think about this song. And it doesn't have to be Christmas for me to do it.


Have you ever noticed that the best holiday movies are the ones where everything goes wrong? They sell these as comedies because we can laugh while grimacing, knowing we've all had our hard times making the magic of Christmas happen - but in the end, it doesn't matter. The best holidays are the ones where you remember what's important, and I think no one nails that message better than my idol, the incomparable John Hughes.

And just when you thought he couldn't do it again, he enlisted the help of the equally amazing Tim Curry for the sequel.

These are good reminders that it could ALWAYS be worse.

So count your kids and have a merry one, whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it.


Needless to say, I didn't anything prepared for the challenge yesterday, so I'll just a recipe that I *wanted* to make this season but didn't get a chance to.


At the Mall of Abilene, in my hometown, they have a stand that sells the most aromatic cinnamon sugar pecans that I've ever had the pleasure to smell. I couldn't walk past that place without the urge to dive right into a bag. I love pecans (which, by the way, for this Texan it is pronounced peCAHNS, not PEE cans,) especially around the holidays. Whether it's a pecan pie, which... I can't even..., or it's a bowl of mixed nuts that always sat on our coffee table in front of the sofa each and every year of my childhood, nuts and Christmas are synonymous.

And yes, I realize how that sounds - and it works for me.

If you ever want to make me happy, nuts are a good way to go. I like them in my chocolate so much that I rarely eat chocolate without them. In fact, if you're still looking for gift ideas...

I prefer it in my ice cream...

And ... as a southern girl... I can't even...

And if it wasn't for the cost, I'd have nuts in my house every single day of the year.

In addition to all the other nuts that live there.


Today's freebie, FIERCE, introduces you to some of my most memorable characters yet. The feedback that I get on this book is pretty phenomenal, as people see themselves in the characters I've written. It is a very personal book, with my heaviest heroine yet, who has to tackle her fears in order to make her dreams come true.

This doesn't come easy, because, as I've come to learn myself, the really BIG dreams test you continually how much you want them. But through Jordi, I, myself, learned how to be a little more fierce.

This one is free on AMAZON, B&N and iTUNES. It's not an easy read... but I'd like to think it's an important one, particularly if you've never lived in the skin of a size-20+ woman in our culture.

Oh, and did I mention it was a spin-off from the GROUPIE series, with FIERCE and MOGUL overlapping between the two stories, so there are a LOT of familiar faces?

An excerpt:


“I never knew I was incomplete until I looked into your eyes. I never knew what I was missing ‘till you made realize. Forever is possible with you by my side. I never believed in forever, till I fell in love with you. Now that we’re together, babe, only forever will do.”

Vanni and I smiled at each other as we finished the song. We had sung it quite a bit over the past week. It started as background vocals for his track, which he recorded for the single. Today we were working on the song as a duet so that I could learn the lead versions for my performance at his wedding, which was only eleven days away.

“I gotta tell you,” he said as he reached for a bottle of water, “you may convince me to release this as a duet. What you’re doing with this song is amazing.”

“Oh, please. I can’t do it better than you,” I said as I shrugged off his praise before I sipped from my bottle of green juice.

“What is that stuff, anyway?” he asked. “I’ve seen you drink nothing but juice all week.”

“Detox,” I offered.

“Sounds boring,” he grinned.

“Incredibly,” I grinned back.

“Get all that out of the way before the wedding,” he advised cheerfully. “Because in eleven days we are going to par-tay. Eating cake is mandatory, and I’m pretty sure it won’t fit into your little bottle there.”

I had to laugh. “You must be excited.”

He nodded happily. “Can’t happen soon enough, if you want the truth. I just want to get on with it, you know? Get out of the waiting part and get on to the doing. You know how it is. You must be psyched for the semifinals round.”

“To the point of puking actually,” I admitted.

“Got a song picked out?”

I shook my head. “Nothing feels right yet. And I’m afraid to bring another dud to Imogene.”

He was amused. “What do you mean?”

I explained how Imogene had nixed my first choice for the last round, and insisted I do the more upbeat number instead.

He considered that for a moment. “I think Imogene is right. You would kick ass with that song.”

I laughed. “I think the less I move the better. Better to stick to ballads.”

“Bor-ing,” he told me. “You can’t wedge yourself in some stupid little box, Jordi. You’ll lose your audience quick.”

“It’s not like I have a lot of options, Vanni.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Look at me.”

He looked me over. “Yeah?”

Why was he being deliberately obtuse? “I’m not like everyone else,” I found myself saying, yet again, to one of the Fierce crew.

He rounded the piano where I stood, coming to stand right in front of me. “I know that. That’s why I chose you.” He sat on the piano bench. “Where’s this coming from?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, where is the Jordi who went onto that stage and acted like she owned the joint? You opened your mouth and let magic flow, like you were giving us a gift and you knew it.” I had to laugh. He took my hand and pulled me down onto the bench with him. “So where’s that girl?”

“I ate her,” I said softly.

“Hey,” he said as he squeezed my hand. “This business is full of people who will beat you up for not being this enough or that enough. The only way they succeed is if you agree.” He tipped my chin to look me in the eye. “Don’t agree.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“Oh, it’s not easy,” he confirmed. “Nothing worthwhile ever is. But I’ll tell you this. The more you fight for something, the more you’ll appreciate it.” He picked up the sheet music for his new song. “That’s what this song is about. Before I met Andy, I could get almost every girl I wanted with the snap of a finger. I had to work for Andy. I had to fight my own demons to be worthy of her. She didn’t put up with my bullshit. The same old rules just didn’t apply.”

“So you had to change,” I pointed out.

“Certain things, yeah. And the reason I could? Because she loved me anyway.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I don’t have anyone like that,” I finally admitted.

“Yeah, you do,” he corrected as he pulled me close and planted a kiss on the top of my head. He kept me in that side hug, tucked safely in the crook of his arm. “Never be afraid to reach out of your comfort zone, Jordi. Even if you fail, people will love you for trying.” He bent forward until his forehead met mine. “Make it happen. You hear?”

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” he said as he reached for the sheet music. “Let’s sing.”

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Eighth Day of Christmas: A special blog from a special birthday boy. Say hello to Vanni.


Welcome to the Eighth Day of Christmas. My name is Giovanni Carnevale, but you can call me Vanni. I'll be your guest host today, to tell you a little about my favorite holiday.

When you grow up a poor city kid from Philadelphia, the son of a hard-working mom and abandoned by an alcoholic dad, there are very few things in life to look forward to, and Christmas was one time of the year we were all allowed to dream - and dream big. What kid didn't think about that brand new bike under the tree, or that puppy, or that video game, or that must-have toy of the year people were plowing each other over at the mall to get?

Truthfully, I had a love/hate relationship with Christmas from the time I was a little kid. I loved the promise of realized dreams, and my dreams have always been big. Back then, I just wanted my father to come home. I wrote Santa each and every year asking for only that one thing. As it turns out, it was easier to become a world-renowned rock star.

My mom tried her hardest, working her fingers to the bone to provide what little she could. How she kept presents under the tree when I know how hard she struggled to keep a roof over our heads is beyond me. The best thing my mother ever gave me, however, was the gift of family, when we moved from Philadelphia to Brooklyn to live with my great aunt Susan.

Susan had more life, more joy and more hope in her than anyone I ever met. Christmas was tailor-made for her, because she was truly an angel. She made more food than we could ever eat, so we always had neighbors in and out of our house all holiday long, enjoying good food and good conversation. Her love was so big it filled all of Bensonhurst.

Christmas finally became Christmas because of Aunt Susan. Not so surprisingly, that was when it ended too.

When I lost my beloved aunt, I knew that I lost my closest family, my biggest fan and my closest friend. It would take a Christmas several years later, when another angel fell into my life, for me to remember why I loved it so.

You probably know Andy, my beautiful and amazing wife. She's already shared her story with you. And I know you know that I don't deserve her. I never did. But she loved me anyway. She restored to me what my mother once risked everything to give me - family.

Unconditional love? Realized dreams? These are the gifts she gives me every single year.

We have kids of our own now, who have been eyeing all the gifts under the tree with all the untarnished enthusiasm a child should have when it comes to Christmas. It was everything I always wanted, and that I can do that for them now means I already have the best gifts of life that I could ever have.

I know I don't deserve them either, which is why I'm so ******* grateful every day.

You want to know what my favorite Christmas memory is? It's every single one I've had, and the hope for all of those to come. It's Christmas in general. And I hope yours is full love love, and hope, and realized dreams, this year, and every year.


Well, I kinda have to, don't I? Kind of my favorite part of playing Santa. Enjoy another long-haired rocker in I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.


I have to do this one too, simply because I'd still be a Grinch myself if Andy hadn't have made my heart grow three sizes. (Not to mention the song WHERE ARE YOU CHRISTMAS still gets me right in the feels.) Check out Ron Howard's re-imaging of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS.


I'm not much of a baker, we usually leave that up to Grandma Lydia, who has been sending me this delicious southern cake as a birthday present every year since I made an honest woman of her granddaughter.


Due to an unexpected health issue, Ginger was unable to make the sugar cookies she had scheduled today for the #bakeitforward challenge. Brittany has volunteered to prepare some sweet decorated treats, so keep an out out for the photos on Ginger's Instagram, coming later today.

Speaking of decorated cookies, let me tell you about...


Like I said before, it isn't easy for a single mom to provide for her kids. Ginger tackles this topic in BACK FOR SECONDS, when 40-year-old Joely Morgan gets kicked to the curb by her successful, philandering husband. It goes without saying that nothing pisses me off worse than a man who skips out on his responsibilities, and leaving his family for a younger piece of ass makes him a piece of shit as far as I'm concerned.

Fortunately, however, there are plenty of men who know how to treat women out there, so she's lucky to be rid of him to make room for one, even if she can't see it at first. It's hard to see when she's struggling trying to support three kids, including a sullen teenager who wants to punish her for how much her life has changed. Add practical matters, like renting her own place, getting a job to support her kids, and Joely has her hands full.

It takes meeting a sexy Brit named Xander Davy to show her that she has everything she needs to start over again - and be happier as a result. This isn't easy for her to believe at first, but thankfully Xander isn't one to give up once he sets his sights on what he wants.

I personally like that quality.

Here's an excerpt:


Joely turned to Xander. “What’s all that about?” she wanted to know.

“What’s what about?” he asked as he popped another huge bite into his mouth. His dark eyes watched her closely.

“Playing buddy-buddy with my kids,” she replied as she took his plate and headed back toward the sink. The chair scraped against the tile as he stood and walked over to join her.

His mouth was still full when he said, “It’s called being nice.”

Her look was skeptical. “Look. They’re going through a difficult time right now,” she said.

He swallowed his last mouthful. His eyes kept hers captive as he ran his tongue around the corner of his mouth to capture any leftover frosting. “I know,” he finally said. “Your mother told me.”

Inwardly Joely groaned. That explained everything. “Great.”

He leaned against the counter. “It’s no big deal. Lillian thought maybe I could connect with Nash. He’s alone in a house full of women now. She thinks he could use a man to talk to.”

From where they stood nearly a foot apart, she could see his broad shoulders straining against the navy blue shirt he wore. His legs were long, crossed casually at the ankle, as he linked his hands and rested his elbow on the counter. Her nose filled with the scent of his cologne, a mixture of wood and spice. There was no doubt about it. He most definitely was a man. And the look in his eyes wouldn’t let her forget it. “I just,” she started but then found herself flustered and stammering. “I don’t know how long I’ll be here and I don’t want them to get attached to anything temporary. I appreciate the thought, but it’s not necessary.”

He towered over her 5’5-inch frame, studying her long brown hair and her deep brown eyes. The longer he stood without saying anything, the more nervous she got. When the tip of his thumb brushed the side of her mouth, she nearly jumped right out of her skin. Her doe eyes opened even wider as she watched him lick his thumb. “Missed a spot,” he murmured.

She was still sputtering behind him as he walked from the kitchen.



Hey, did I happen to mention it was my birthday? Yeah, let's not do the math. Instead, I'd like to give you all a gift - VANNI: A PREQUEL! My story, as told by me, before I met my beloved Andy - is, for a limited time only, just $0.99!! That means you can get the whole 4-book saga on Amazon for only $6.49!!

If you need more convincing... let me introduce you to my wonderful aunt, my angel, Susan Faustino.



When I make it home a little over an hour later, I find Aunt Susan asleep in her chair, a book opened across her lap. My heart fills with love for this woman. She’s the one who gave me the gift of music. There’s only one way to repay her. I have to make myself a huge success so that I can give her the life she deserves. No more waiting on all of us, no more struggling to make ends meet, no more worries that the roof might leak or the plumbing might fail.

I would treat her like a queen. And I knew I would always be her prince.

I kneel down beside her, propped up on my knees as I circle her generous waist with both arms. I’m holding her tight, my head on top of the book on her lap, when she stirs. “Giovanni,” she murmurs as she strokes my hair. “Did you just get home?” I nod but say nothing. “Did you have a good time?”

I lift my head to look at her. “The best.”

A tender smile appears on her face. “Good. You deserve it.”

“You deserve more,” I tell her. “And one day, I’m going to give it to you.”

“Oh, Vanni,” she says as she cups my face with that gnarled but gentle hand. “You already did.”

“I mean it,” I assert. “I wouldn’t even know to sing if it hadn’t been for you.”

She chuckles as she pulls me back into her lap to stroke my hair. I cuddle her closer. “You were born a singer, Giovanni. I just lit the way. If it hadn’t been me, the music would have found you eventually. That’s how destiny works.”

I squeeze her tightly. God, how I needed to believe that. “Do you really mean that? You’re not just saying it, right?”

She whacks me softly on the back of my head with an open palm. “You would really accuse me of lying?”

I shake my head, instantly chagrined.

“Many singers have darkened these doors. They learn all the notes. They can sing perfectly on pitch. But you, my sweet, sweet boy. You have a gift. When you open your mouth to sing, people stop to listen. They know you have something to say, something to share. That’s reason enough to share it whenever you get the chance.”

“Tony and Lori say that I should have a Plan B.”

She plays with my hair for a long moment before she says, “Tony and Lori need a Plan B. Some people just do. There’s nothing you can do about that.” She tips my chin to look me in the eye. “But this isn’t their path to walk, Vanni. You have to do what’s right for you. You follow your heart, tesorino. It will never lead you astray.”

I smile at her. “And you’ll still love me if all I’ll ever be is some low-paid singer in a bar?”

She gathers my face in her hands. “I’ll love you till my dying day and beyond, Vanni. Never question that.” There are tears in her eyes, so I wouldn’t dare. “I just want you to be happy. If chasing rainbows makes you happy, chase away. You never know when you might actually catch one.”

I chuckle as I lift up to take her into a warm bear hug. “I’ve already got my pot of gold right here.”

She laughs. “You keep sweet-talking like that and you might just become a star yet.” I know she’s teasing from the glint in her eye. “Someone has got to make it,” she says, bringing the conversation back on point. “Might as well be you.”

I nod. “It might make things hard around here for a while. There’s no steady paycheck in chasing rainbows.”

She shrugs. “We made it before. We’ll make it again. I never want to be the reason you don’t try.”

How could she think such a thing? “You’re the reason I wake up in the morning,” I tell her. Aside from my mother, Aunt Susan is the truest love of my life. “And if I make it, you’ll be the reason why.”

She grabs my chin in her hand. “When,” she corrects. “If this is what you want, then it’s up to you to make it happen. I believe in you,” she adds, which fills my heart with joy. Those are about the four best words anyone can say to another. It proves she loves me best of all.

With her on my side, I can’t lose.

I rise to my feet and pull her up to hers. “We have a big day tomorrow,” I tell her. I wrap my arm around her, pulling her close to me as I assist her to her bedroom, accepting no argument this time. “You’re my first groupie,” I tell her with a grin. “I have to take care of you.”

I make sure she is safely tucked into bed before I leave her room. I take the stairs two at a time to my room, where I can shamelessly dream of conquering the world.


Thanks for joining me today! Keep an eye on this blog, I'm sure you'll hear from old friends again before you know it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Seventh Day of Christmas, with an old favorite featured as a #Freebie


Nothing made me happier than finding Barbie dolls under my tree. Let's just get that out in the open right now. I gave up baby dolls by the time I was eight. I wanted adult dolls so I could play in the adult world. And I wanted a lot of them, so that I could build that world accordingly. And we can blame these Barbies ENTIRELY for the kinds of stories I write now. I take pride in turning the notch up on reality, sending it into hyperdrive.

Mattel wired my brain that way from the start.

Superstar Barbie was my first, which I got on my birthday in 1977. This glamorous doll came complete with her own microphone.

That year I also got the Debby Boone's LP, "You Light Up My Life," and it didn't take me long at all to hold my own private concerts in the living room where our console stereo sat in its casket-like case. Honestly I don't even think it took me long enough to learn the songs. (And I learned - and we sang - EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.)

Eventually Ballerina Barbie joined the party, which gave me both a singer AND a dancer through which to live my fantasies.

I wasn't able to add a Ken to my collection until 1979, when sun lovin' Ken and Skipper joined my crew...

They domesticated my Superstar Barbie, who had gotten into acting just so she could, you know, slow down the pace a little to raise her family.

When Golden Dream Barbie ended up under my tree... I knew just what to do.

I made her a model, because of course.

As you can see, I was bit with the celebrity/fame bug from the get-go. I love to explore that world. A lot. I wanted to be a part of that world. A lot. At first I wanted to be a singer, then I thought I could be an actress. I wanted to rocket off into the stratosphere and just belong to that sparkly, glittery world.

(We can probably blame Robin Leach for that.)

I wanted to be a part of this world so much so that when Dream Date PJ arrived under my tree in 1985, I named her Ginger and made her an actress.

I also got a dark-haired Ken doll and named him Steve. He, uh, was a famous rock star. Ahem. (Their wedding was lovely, by the way. It may or may not have been heavily influenced by Bo and Hope's wedding that same year. *Ahem.*)

So I have been playing in this particular sandbox for a long, long time. That it was this type of saga that actually put me on the map, so to speak, is fitting, really. It is why I go back again and again to expand that world, curious to see where it will all lead next. Honestly I'm pretty excited about a couple of books I have planned now, which will take part in that world for better or worse.

If you're familiar at ALL with the things I write, you know it'll be mostly worse.

Thanks to their... unique complications... the drama that comes with celebrity is fertile soil. And I'm never going to stop digging. I don't use Barbies to do that anymore, but trust me when I say if I ever get a granddaughter, she'll have more Barbies than she'll know what to do with, including all of those listed.

And we'll keep them safe at Grandma's house.


So thank you, Mattel, for giving this girl the courage to reach for the stars. I don't know that I would have created the world of my dreams without you. Imagine the possibilities, indeed.


The best thing about celebrity is influence, and in the 1980s that took shape of a lil' Christmas diddy called "Do They Know It's Christmas". I loved it then. I love it now. It hasn't aged too badly considering. And it helped teach kids of my generation exactly how privileged we were, and what kind of responsibility goes along with that.

A fitting message for the season, methinks.


In keeping with that theme of wealth and responsibility, how about a more atypical Christmas movie?


Today's recipe was a team effort. My elf Brittany was hard at work till after midnight shaping the dough that I had made into perfect canes and wreaths. She'll be making more today, a little smaller, and I can't wait to eat, I mean... see... how they turn out.

Today's treat: CANDY CANE COOKIES.

Seriously, this is a pretty perfect cookie if you have the patience to delicately handle the dough. It's got a light crunch, with a not-too-sweet buttery almond flavor. I've been making this one for a couple of years now, though my photos always turn up in mega fail shots if I try to do the cane/wreath thing.

Thank God she has youth and stamina on her side. Not to mention she loves to bake pretty treats to eat.

You can find this recipe over on my Twelve Days of Christmas Pinterest board.


This is a freebie EVERYONE can get in on because it's free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. This is the book that effectively started my career. I jumped into the duplicitous world of celebrity and fought my way back out again, tearing through a lot of the bullshit assumptions about how "glamorous" it is and how "lucky" they are because I had lived through some experiences that had taught me what you see polished and pretty on the TV ain't necessarily what you get. I needed to work out how I felt about it, so naturally I wrote a book.

I made it about a rock star, and the "girl next door" who had the misfortune of falling in love with him.

Thanks to a mention in a Maryse's popular book blog, it set off a frenzy (her word) that vaulted me into the spotlight for a brief moment. I ended up an Amazon bestseller in November 2012, thanks to her enthusiastic support. Many people loved it. Many people... didn't. My hero is not perfect. He is not a good guy. He is not faithful. He is an entitled jerk and stayed unrepentant whenever he broke my heroine's heart because he had never *technically* promised her anything. You'll hate him (and me) if you dare to read it, and many people have opted not to. Since I get that, I've been very honest about this book, telling anyone who gets mad about things like cheaters and triangles and cliffhangers,et al, that if they need that kind of warning to read a book, they're better off not buying it at all.

If you're up for it, however, there are now four books in this series, three in this main storyline and one prequel (written from Vanni's POV, to explain a little bit out he ended up such a naughty boy.)

And by the way, December 21st is Vanni's birthday. You'll need to know that tomorrow.


Here's a Christmasy excerpt from Book One:


The next morning I woke up to find the bed empty. I slipped out from under the covers. There on the foot of the bed was a beautiful blue satin robe. With a smile I put it on and padded softly into the living room.

There were boxes of gifts underneath the tree, and a breakfast set up on the coffee table in front. The best gift was Vanni, in his pajama bottoms, sitting cross-legged on the floor with his hair spilling all over his shoulders, as he cuddled Simon in his lap.

“Merry Christmas, baby,” he said as I approached, and he pulled me down to get a Christmas kiss.

I knelt next to him on the floor. “What did you do?” I said as I referred to the gifts.

“What can I say? Santa thought you were a good girl this year.”

I laughed as I reached for one. I felt like a little kid as I tore into the paper. It was a locket, similar to the one I bought for my grandmother. My eyes shot to his. “When did you do this?”

“I’m a Ninja shopper,” he confessed. “Open another one.”

A scarf, a cat toy for Simon, some opal earrings–my birthstone–and finally a music box.

“Open it,” he said with a smile.

As I did I expected to hear “Wanting Her,” but the tune was new and unfamiliar. Inside the box was a folded piece of paper, written in his handwriting. As the music box played he began to sing:

I never thought I’d find someone whose heart was my ideal, whose eyes could see into my soul, and teach me what was real. She touched my hand, and kissed my lips and now I know it’s true. No one before quite holds my heart the way that you now do. I can’t promise more than this moment, girl, but please don’t give up on me. You touched my hand and kissed my lips and set my spirit free. No one can promise forever, it’s never ours to give. If only for this moment, I know this much is true. If only for this moment girl, I’m so in love with you.”

I was in tears as he finished, so touched by his song, his voice, his words… his love.

Vanni was right. We couldn’t promise more than the moment. But in that moment, all that I had, and all that I felt, and all that I was belonged only to him.


Enjoy... if you dare.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Nostalgia by the Decade. #Free #Ebook #Kindle


As I search my brain for Christmas memories to share, it dawns on me that there are many blank spots in the canvas of holidays past that I don't really remember. My childhood is compartmentalized in my memory as Before Dad Died and After Dad Died. The memories of before my dad died have somehow edited themselves out to smooth out the scar of his absence. I remember bits and pieces, the really good stuff, while ignoring most of the bad.

Truthfully, Decembers kinda worked out to be bad for a couple of important years there around his death. My Grandma died December 11, 1978, which dawns on me now how hard it must have been for my mother to get through that Christmas I talked about yesterday. In 1979, my mother was ill, having to be hospitalized due to a hysterectomy. Needless to say, there wasn't a big celebration that year. My dad died December 19, 1980, which kind of brings me to my theme today.

Despite all the trials my family went through, many of my memories of the Christmases past were all mostly positive. My parents probably fought very hard for that to be so. There were presents under the tree. There was a tree. There was tradition, to make me feel safe and secure, which is probably why we as humans fight so very hard to hang onto it.

The last big Christmas we photographed was in 1981, which tested our traditions in an unexpected way. We had moved across town into a new house, a big four-bedroom that we shared with a coworker of my mom's, along with her two young kids, a 16-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. I was twelve, so right in between.

I shared a room with the daughter, which was a brand new experience for me. Her name was Beth, and I both hated her and wanted to be her. She was pretty, and popular, and so damn cool it made me crazy. I had only recently begun to learn that I wasn't perfect, like my Daddy would have me believe. Other voices had filled the void he left, mostly peers at school. You know how that goes.

Well, I suspected that Beth really was perfect, and I was eaten up inside with envy. She made young adulthood look so easy to get right, from the perfect flip of her painstakingly styled hair to catching the eye of a 16-year-old boy I happened to crush on in THE worst way. I didn't make it easy for her to like me. I was a bit of a pill back in the day. (Let's face it. Still am.) Her brother, Ronnie, was really my only friend, though HIS friends usually made me the butt of their jokes whenever possible.

Really, with him, it was like I had a brother. Given I had always wanted one, this was fine by me.

When their Grandma came to visit from the Midwest, I had high hopes for that, too. But I was about to learn some big lessons on compromise. Namely - what it means to live peacefully with people who refused to make any.

It all started with the Christmas tree. Our trees in the past were colorful, usually taking two complimentary colors and pairing them together to make the tree more striking, like the blue and yellow silk bulbs on the 1978 Christmas tree.

Their tradition, however, involved only one color. Red.

I wasn't feeling it. The whole palette bored me to tears. I wanted a little variety, a little excitement. They wanted it decorator perfect. I realize that red is perfectly Christmasy. I wasn't trying to be a pain in the ass when I no doubt tried to plead my case. I probably wouldn't have minded if there were other colors in there, but red, red, red and more red?


But when you're forced to live with folks you might not have anything, really, in common with... certain complications arise. The best you can ever do is make the best of it.

As you can see from the perfectly color-coordinated tree, it was a battle I lost, though I can't remember why. Maybe it was their tree. Maybe I just didn't want to make a huge deal about it. Sometimes it's just easier to keep the peace, although I can't imagine I was all that peaceful back then. We may not have been related, but Beth and I had skirmishes that rivaled those of Becky and Darlene Conner from TV's Roseanne.

Needless to say we didn't live together very long. They had moved out by the end of school in 1982, and we were back in Abilene before the summer was over, back in the house we owned but had rented out for income.

The Christmases after that weren't well-documented. Limited income brings a whole new set of complications. No money for film OR cameras probably topped that list, along with my mother's retail work schedule, which no doubt played havoc with any kind of holiday traditions like, oh I dunno, being home to share it with someone.

Christmas doesn't fill in until 1987, when I had a job of my own, and could participate in the gift-giving, photograph-taking, damned-if-I'm-gonna-remember-this-holiday festivities.

As you can tell from this fuzzy photo, Dan wasn't quite feeling it.

The point is the memories are scattered, like memories get sometimes. You pull forward what you need when you need it, and store the rest for safe-keeping.

That's kinda what I've always had to do to manage, when it came to my past, when it came to my Dad... when it came to all those lean years afterwards.

Last year I worked some of this out in a book called THE LEFTOVER CLUB, which turned out to be one of my most personal stories yet. I leaned heavily into my past to craft the plot, with several scenes based upon actual events, even if they were enhanced for effect. This included two single moms who lived together, with their kids, to make ends meet.

Of course I took some literary license. Like I've said, my books give me a chance to work through the past and create a better future, if for my characters alone. Nowhere is this truer than with THE LEFTOVER CLUB.

This book goes in and out, jumping back and forth, between the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, which made it a lot of fun to write. It was also very healthy to remember, no matter how the pieces fell into place.

I almost didn't finish that book. Roni was me sixteen years ago, and I barely recognized her anymore. There have been a lot of new memories to fill in the blanks now. Still... I think it was a positive to finish, and to put that old me to rest once and for all.

The memories are back in the box, stored properly, at the ready if I ever need them.

Better still the future is opened to new memories, one with enough room for a multi-colored Christmas tree that isn't any more perfect than I am.

Which could be why it makes me so happy.


Since we're on a nostalgia kick anyway... how about some favorites that defined the decades?


Okay. I'll admit it. There's a reason that I'm waxing fairly nostalgic today. One, yes, it is because it's my Dad's birthday. But two, I found a wealth of nostalgic goodness on The History Channel, which is playing a 4-part series of "Christmas Through the Decades." So far, I'm enjoying the 1960s, but I see my day being swallowed up with the 70s, 80s and 90s too.

So... yeah. I highly recommend the Christmas special. I was excited to find it and pleased it didn't let me down. But of course, history holes usually don't. Never stop learning, that's my motto.

And um... yeah. We did have an aluminum tree. Circa 1973:


I did it! I managed to bake a recipe! It is a family staple, not just around Christmas but *always* at Christmas.


You can find the recipe on my Twelve Days of Christmas Pinterest Board.


Well, we talked about it a little earlier. My most personal book on one of my most personal days. THE LEFTOVER CLUB is free all day today, December 19.

Here's an excerpt in honor of my dad.


June 7, 1976

I don’t remember what I had been dreaming about first morning of summer break, but I remember that I woke up feeling happy. In fact, if pressed, I’d say I woke up most days feeling that way. I was privileged in the way that I all my basic needs met for a six-year-old in the 1970s. We lived in a nice suburb in a nice two-bedroom house with a big back yard complete with an orange tree. I had a beautiful purple bedroom, with frilly lace and dozens of stuffed animals, as well as a white canopy bed that made me feel just like a princess.

There were pictures of puppies on my wall in matching white lattice frames. It was the closest I could actually come to owning a dog, considering my dad was allergic. It was a grudge I held every time we went to the park just down the street from where we lived, where I watched kids play with pets that would love them unconditionally. In those days, every kid my age wanted a Benji dog, a loveable mutt that was smart enough to be a best friend, but cuddly enough to snuggle with while going to sleep each night.

I woke up as light began to pour through the wispy white curtains behind the darker purple drapes. I might have smiled at my closest ally, my pioneer-themed doll with long, yarn pigtails, a cheerful bonnet and a fabric face with a perpetual smile, who sat in her perch in a white rocking chair by the window. But before I could greet her with, “Good morning, Holly,” my door was creaking open and my mother’s head popped through.

My smile quickly faded when I saw the ravaged look on her face. Her cheeks were puffy and her eyes were red, and my mother – who I had never seen cry – sobbed instantly when she saw my face. I sat a little straighter in bed as she raced to my side, taking me in a powerful hug. “Mama?” I had asked.

“It’s Daddy, baby,” she had said, quickly as if she had to blurt it out or never say it at all. “He’s gone.”

She didn’t say that he died, or passed away, or expired. She simply said he was gone, as if he might come back one day. There was no point in sharing painful details like “fatal brain aneurysm” with a first-grader, who thought every boo-boo could be healed with a bandage and a kiss.

But that he was simply “gone” was equally confusing. I had kissed my smiling father goodnight eleven hours before, and by the time the sun broke he was just… gone? Where did he go? Most importantly, why did he go?

In the week it took to plan the funeral and to bury my father, I waited in that rocking chair with Holly in my lap, staring out the window and praying for my dad to come back. I knew it would never be normal until he did. A pall had fallen over my house, which had once been filled with laughter and hugs and unquestioning, unconditional love; a safe place for any child to grow up. My mother wept almost constantly, continually reminded of her loss no matter where she looked in our home, and of course whenever she looked at me.

Strangers that passed as family paraded through the house, dropping off an unending buffet of comfort food, from mashed potatoes and fried chicken to chocolate cake and apple pie.

And every night that my father failed to return, I would sneak into the kitchen and dig into that food so that I wouldn’t feel so hollow inside. It was an empty, endless ache and I was desperate to find any kind of salve.

I was numb by the time we entered that Gothic chapel at the cemetery where my father would be laid to rest. We rode in a limousine, my hand clasped in my mother’s hand, while she clutched a wet handkerchief with the other.

The chapel was full of flowers that made me sneeze and sad people I did not know. They all gave me a sympathetic look as I followed my mom to the pew in front. I stared at the polished coffin covered in even more flowers, trying to wrap my mind around the idea that my daddy was inside of it. The preacher droned on, but I didn’t hear anything he said. I stood when they sang, I sat for every eulogy. Several people wanted to share with my mother and me how much my dad had meant to them.

“We can’t imagine your loss,” they’d say, over and over again. “Gone too soon.” “So tragic.”

The preacher spoke repeatedly about my daddy being “asleep in the Lord,” that he had gone home to be with Our Heavenly Father. He would never know pain or loss. He was now in paradise waiting for us to join him some day.

He wasn’t dead. It wasn’t final. We’d see each other again.

He was just… “gone.”

Finally the words were spent. Men in suits removed the spray of flowers from his coffin and opened the lid, revealing an ivory satin interior. I followed my mother as we began the procession to view the body and say our final goodbyes. Lying within the box was my Daddy, and he was as young and handsome as he had been in life. It did look as though he was merely sleeping. I stood on my tiptoes to get a better look, watching his chest to see if it moved, watching his face to see if he would give me just one more smile.

Everything was just so painfully still.

When I reached for his hand, my mother smothered her sob in her handkerchief and looked away. I touched his hand, which had been placed onto his other hand on his chest. His skin was cold. His hand was stiff.

It wasn’t my Daddy anymore. I knew it the moment I touched him. I didn’t know who this was, but my Daddy truly was gone.

The days bled together after that. I started to hate my room, my house, my neighborhood, the park. Nothing was bright anymore. Nothing was cheerful. Even my dolls had lost their smiles.

By summer’s end my mother was desperate to pull me out of my funk, especially when it was clear we were going to have to move from the house I had known my whole life. The expenses of Daddy’s healthcare and burial forced us to sell the house to pay the bills, not to mention give us something to live off of while Mom re-entered the workforce for a lot less money than Daddy was making. She introduced me to Bonnie Fenn, and I finally got to meet Dylan. I had noticed him on the very first day of school, when he happened to ace a spelling bee in the first week of first grade.

He was smart and I liked that, at a time when I liked very little because the sun went out in my world.

In a last ditch effort to cheer me up, my mother offered to take me to the pound, to get a puppy at last, hoping maybe that would fill the hole I now had in my heart. But every time I had looked at those puppy photos on my wall, I was reminded yet again of what I no longer had.

I learned at six that love didn’t last forever. Any promise otherwise is a promise doomed to be broken.

So I packed those photos and gave them away. It was easier to give up the dream than to wake up to a nightmare.

I don’t think I smiled again until the fall, when we all sat to watch the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. Dylan pulled me up to act out a scene with the Scarecrow, and didn’t give up until he had me in stitches.

I forgot for a couple of hours I was supposed to be sad.

Yet when I went to bed that night, and cuddled with Holly to go to sleep, I was too terrified to close my eyes. I had laughed. I had been happy. It couldn’t last, I knew. The clock was ticking. The hourglass had been flipped and the sand was falling fast.

I stayed up all night, determined to greet the sun. I couldn’t go to sleep. Bad things happen to happy people when they’re asleep. I’d stay awake and then maybe the boogeyman would skip over our house entirely. Around three o’clock, I crawled into bed with my mom, wrapping my arms around her waist so I could feel her breathe. When I met Dylan for cereal and cartoons that next morning, I was thrilled to see that we’d both made it through the night. But I knew that I had to guard my heart. I couldn’t risk the rug being pulled out from under me again. Some folks could have the life I saw repeated on TV and in movies, where parents didn’t die and people didn’t move and all problems were fixed in an hour.

I knew that blessed life didn’t apply to me anymore. The promise had been broken. And I’d never believe again.