A very personal post

This was sent out as a newsletter this morning, September 1st. 

Dear friends,

I often begin my newsletters to you this way because, in my mind, you are my friends. I share my stories with you, I let you in on behind-the-scenes action, and I often fill you in on stuff going on in my family. You saw the first pictures of my granddaughter, and you encourage me when things are tough.

Of course, most of us have not met one another. Mostly, we know each other through this interchange of words and ideas. Some of you might follow me on social media, too, and then you’d know a little more about me and how I think.

What I’m sharing today is primarily for my fellow Americans. My beloved friends around the world . . . you’re welcome to read along, too.

A few years ago, when things took a turn in my country, I was advised to keep everything in my professional world apolitical. I was cautioned not to let my opinions and beliefs bleed through in my social media, website, newsletter, and books. For the most part, I’ve heeded this advice. My author page remains non-political. My newsletters are always filled with bookish things. I don’t go down political roads in my books.

If you are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you probably know where I stand on some important topics. But I’ve done my best not to let that show in my author persona.

However, a few things have happened recently that have caused me to question this way of doing things.

First of all, when I released The Anti-Cinderella books, I received a small backlash from readers who accused me of ‘shoving that climate crap’ down readers’ throats. Now, to my way of thinking, I wasn’t shoving anything. Yes, Kyra went to school for sustainable agriculture–and I gave her that course of studies because my youngest daughter majored in that. Sustainable ag and sustainability as a whole are passions for my family. But nowhere did Kyra or Nicky proselytize about climate change to the reader–what happened between them and other characters was based on things that have really happened to us, and it was part of their story. This is fiction, but it is inspired by people and events in my own life. That’s my process. I wasn’t making a political statement. I was telling a story.

And then came this year. Oh, my friends, this has been a hard year for all of us. I’ve seen the suffering caused by the pandemic and by the escalation of racial tensions in my country. I’ve cried over George, Ahmaud, and Breonna. I’ve struggled with intense rage over the ignorance of some of my fellow Americans. I’ve seen division and anger and bullying and shameful behavior on the part of our nation’s leadership.

This past weekend, three things happened.

Chadwick Boseman died.
Jim Gaffigan spoke out on Twitter.
I sent an email about football books.
Chadwick Boseman dying would have been a tragedy at any time, but in 2020, it takes on added meaning. I’m not going to delve into the whys and wherefores of that. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. His loss struck deep for me, and judging by the overwhelming response around the world, I’m not alone.

Jim Gaffigan is one of my family’s favorite comedians. We’ve listened to and laughed with him for years. At the end of last week, he began tweeting . . . and well, better to read the story in his own words.

Something Jim wrote as he unpacked his Twitter time struck a nerve for me. So if I believe I won’t sway any voters, why speak out like I did? Honestly, I feel I had no choice at this point. I think Trump is ruining and possibly has already ruined my country. For me this isn’t a debate about the size of government, taxes, health care or even abortion. I miss the days when those were the topics I would discuss with friends. I feel a responsibility to coming generations, my children but selfishly I didn’t want to explain to my grandchildren that I didn’t fight to stop Trump. Maybe they will see that I stood up for decency, rule of law, and equality. That’s way more important to me than selling out an arena.

Responsibility. The word resonated within me. What have I done to fulfill my responsibility to generations to come? How have I been a positive force in this dangerous world? How have I been a light in a world of hatred? I’ve shared posts. I’ve tweeted. I’ve worked for my party during elections.

But have I even begun to sacrifice? I think not.

And then there was the football email.

I think I write about topics that are pretty middle-of-the-road. You know romance is my gig. If you don’t like kissing (AND MORE!!) and sweet nothings and happy endings (most of the time), then you shouldn’t read my books. Some are paranormal; if that spooks you, don’t worry, there are plenty of non-para books of mine out there, too. If you like small-town America, I’ve got a bunch of books you might enjoy.

At one time, I worried that my military romances might offend some people, but silly me–it’s not those. It’s the football books.

Now, you know I love me some football. It’s why fall is my season. I. Love. The. Game. In the past few years, I’ve struggled with this love for a few reasons: the safety and health of the players as we learn more about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and the way Black athletes have been treated by management and how management has so often dismissed the social justice calls of the players.

This weekend, I received a slew of response to my football-themed newsletter, telling me that they won’t watch the game or read the books because football is catering to the ‘criminal terrorists of the BLM’. Some of these emails were mean and nasty. Some called me names. Some were just filled with ignorance. These emails made me very sad.

So this was my click. It doesn’t matter how apolitical I am. It doesn’t matter how often and sweetly I smile and mind my own business, as one reader advised me to do, because no matter what, people are going to take offense at something. And I realized that the people who are working to erode the rights of others, who are standing for prejudice, sexism, racism, fascism, and a bunch of other distasteful -isms . . . they’re not worried about offending me.

I’m tired of worrying about it. And what’s more, I realize that it’s time for me to stop cowering behind ‘what’s good for my career’ and own my convictions.

If you’ve read this far, you might ask yourself, does she really think her decision matters? No, probably not to most of the world. I’m one romance writer in a sea full of them, and the universe is hardly waiting with bated breath to see what I do.

Or maybe it is. Maybe the universe does depend on small decisions like this, on the tiny courage of insignificant people like me, in order to turn the tide of righteousness. I don’t know. It’s possible. Madeleine L’Engle would say it counts.

Will I lose readers? Most likely. That’s okay. If you’re offended by football players and farmers, you probably wouldn’t stick around long anyway. Also, many of you won’t even open this email, so . . . there’s that! And in the end, to paraphrase Jim Gaffigan, owning my beliefs out loud is more important than selling a few books.

Now, here’s the caveat, if you’ve hung around this long. I’m not planning to turn my books, my newsletters, or my author social media into an endless political debate. I’m not planning to change anything, as a matter of fact. My newsletters will still be about books and characters and fluff. That’s what’s fun. The characters in my books won’t be leading marches or attending rallies or delivering long soliloquies on politics or religion.

I don’t want to argue with you, and I’m not trying to change your mind. Please don’t try to change mine.

But I’m not going to pretend that I don’t care anymore. I do care. I care about my Black sisters and brothers. I don’t claim to understand what they’ve lived with, what it’s like to be Black in this nation, but I stand with them now, and I will do whatever I can to learn so I can be better and do better.

I care about the future of my country. I care about electing leaders who embody HOPE, not those who gain power by playing on fear. I want to work to unify my nation in truth and justice for ALL, not just for some. I want to make this world better for my grandchildren, so that they will have clean air and water and the freedom to be who they are, love who they want, and live lives of fulfillment and peace.

It is fitting for me to end this with the words of King T’Challa as played by the incomparable Chadwick Boseman:

Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.

Peace and love, my friends. If this is the end of our road together (the unsubscribe link is below my signature), go with God. If you’re going to stick around . . . thank you. We’ll keep having fun. <3

Classic book titles . . . reimagined. (And the solutions!)

I posted this on social media, but I thought y’all might enjoy it, too! And just in case a couple stump you . . . the answers are below. Don’t cheat. 😉

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  1. The Old Man and the Sea
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  3. The Scarlet Letter
  4. While I Lay Dying
  5. Grapes of Wrath
  6. War and Peace
  7. Gone With the Wind
  8. The Prince of Tides
  9. Great Expectations
  10. Pride and Prejudice
  11. The Catcher in the Rye
  12. To Kill A Mockingbird
  13. A Farewell to Arms
  14. 1984
  15. Crime and Punishment
  16. The Sound and the Fury
  17. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  18. Lord of the Flies
  19. Hunchback of Notre Dame
  20. A Brave New World
  21. Treasure Island
  22. A Tale of Two Cities
  23. Of Mice and Men
  24. The Red Badge of Courage
  25. The Sun Also Rises

Okay–how many did you get without looking?

 

My next preorders!

Family Recipes

From my aunt Eleanor:

Onions Eclaste

Two large white onions
2 tbs butter
Swiss cheese slices
Cream of celery soup
1 cup of milk
Bread (you can use french bread or just plain sandwich bread, sliced and with the crusts removed–I make my own homemade bread the day before and use that. It’s amazing!)

Slice onions into rings and saute in the butter.  When the onions are soft and translucent, transfer to a casserole and place the cheese atop them.

In the same pan used to cook the onions, heat the soup and milk, blending together.  When it’s thick and bubbly, pour over the onions and cheese in the casserole.

Top with slices of bread and bake in 400 degree oven until bread is toasted and sauce is hot and bubbly. YUM!! (This is great as a leftover, too. I love it better the next day.)

From my mom:

Kalua Cake

1 Devil’s food cake mix
2 cups sour cream
4 eggs
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup Kahlua
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix cake mix, sour cream and eggs together. Pour in oil and Kahlua until well-mixed. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into well-greased bundt pan and bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes. Great with powdered sugar on top. Even better with fresh made whipped cream!!
and

Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce

1.5 cups flour

3/4 tsp ginger

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup shortening

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup boiling water

Grease a square baking pan. Combine the first six ingredients. In a mixer bowl, beat shortening about 30 seconds. Add brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and molasses; beat one minute. Add dry ingredients and water alternately to beaten mixture, beating after each addition. Turn into prepared pan, baking 30 minutes at 350.

LEMON SAUCE

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine sugar, cornstarch and sale in sauce pan. Stir boiling water into mixture and return to boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat and simmer, stirring, until sauce is thickened and clear. Stir in butter, lemon rind and juice. Pour over warm gingerbread.

From my Auntie Harr

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 head of lettuce (I used romaine, but I think my mom always used iceberg)

3-4 green onions chopped fine

2 chicken breasts, shredded (I usually boil mine and then shred it with a fork)

Asian noodles

Mandarin Orange Segments

Toasted sesame seeds

Dressing:  1/3 cup sugar (I used honey and it was just as good–and better for you!)

1/3 cup sesame oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or you can use apple cider vinegar)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Wash and prepare lettuce–toss with green onions, chicken breasts, asian noodles, orange segments and sesame seeds.  Mix dressing ingredients in the blender, then toss with salad.

Let the good times roll with a Mardi Gras menu!

In our family, we laissez les bons temps rouler on Mardi Gras! Our day begins with beignets and cafe au lait as we listen to New Orleans jazz . . . then for dinner, we pull out all the stops: gumbo and mock choux corn, with King cake and praline sundaes for dessert. YUM!

Want to know how we do it? I’ll share a couple of recipes . . .

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, courtesy of his book The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American)

  • 1 pound sausage (any kind, though we prefer andouille)
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 3 pounds of bone-in chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2.5 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tbs poultry seasoning
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of allspice
  • 1.5 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the sausage in a large pot with just a little oil. Remove and set aside. Add the remaining oil to the pot and fry the chicken until brown. Remove and set aside.

Add flour to the pan and cook until you have a dark, rich roux, about the color of peanut butter. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to get up all the goodness. Add the vegetables and the garlic and saute until limp. Add the stock and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings and simmer, cover, for at least one hour.

Add the chicken and sausage, and cook until the chicken is tender, usually about an hour . . . I simmer it all day.

Serve over hot, fresh rice. The proper way to dish it up is to put the gumbo into the bowl first and then add the rice.

 

Praline Sundae Sauce (from The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, my favorite place to eat in the Quarter–best after Mass at St. Louis Cathedral)

  • 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 2 cups dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup double-strength black coffee
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups roasted pecan halves or pieces

Place the sugar in a large, heavy pot and set it over medium heat. Stirring often, slowly let the sugar melt and caramelize until dark brown, being careful not to let it burn. Add 2 cups of dark corn syrup. Add 1 cup of water along with the coffee and butter. Bring the pot to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water.

Add the roasted pecans shortly before serving so they will maintain their crispness. Without the pecans added, the sauce will keep for several weeks in a covered container. If you choose to refrigerate it, which is unnecessary, be sure to let it get back to room temperature before serving.

Happy Winnie The Pooh Day!

Did you even know there was such a thing as Winnie The Pooh Day? I did not until it was upon us today!

Here’s my Pooh history:

I don’t remember being particularly enamored with WTP in my early years, but perhaps I was, because on our very first trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, in 1972, my grandparents apparently offered to buy me something, and it was Pooh I chose.

(Incidentally, I must have been a fan of larger animals and dolls; I also had a HUGE Snoopy, courtesy of my uncle Mitch, and a big, nearly life-sized doll called Blue Boy who had belonged to my dad.)

So Pooh came home with me and took up a permanent spot on my bed, as the guardian of my pillows. He was comfy; as a small child, I used him almost as a bolster pillow, leaning against him as a read.

But my most vivid memory of Pooh is that my dad hated him. I have no idea why Daddy despised WTP; perhaps the voice, slow and somewhat measured and sometimes a bit daft, irritated him. Whatever the cause, he did.

When I was about four, I began having nosebleeds, particularly at night. It was alarming to me, and I would become very frightened. Daddy decided to blame Pooh for the nosebleeds, and he would give the bear a soft punch to make me giggle and take my mind off my fear.

Pooh is still with me. Many of my childhood favorites have gone by the wayside; I don’t know what happened to the supersized Snoopy or Blue Boy or some of my most beloved dolls (I know where my Barbies are, but that is another story) , but Pooh remains–he’s outlived Daddy, something that I think would make my father chuckle ruefully.

What is it that we love about this silly old bear? Well, for me, it’s more than just Pooh himself; it’s the community about him, Piglet and Eeyore and Owl and Kanga and Roo and Rabbit and TIGGER!! It’s the relationships between all them and of course Christopher Robin, too.

The other day, I introduced Delia to one of my favorite Pooh story–the one where Pooh visits Rabbit, eats too much honey and gets stuck in the hole trying to exit. We both giggled, and then I showed her Tigger and sang her the song (The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers!). I hope she’ll enjoy those old tales as much as I have and as much as her mother did.

Today, I’m going to give my silly old bear an extra cuddle and listen to Kenny Loggins sing about Pooh Corner. I’m going to think about a time when the world was kinder and imagine that if we all took a lesson from Pooh and friends, we might be better off.

Happy Winnie the Pooh Day! <3