Writing as Therapy

After I had my second child, I ended up with a really good case of Post Partum Depression. A big enough case that I was hospitalized for a short time and then treated on a regular basis for the next 6 months until being shifted back to my family doctor. A lot of what I learned about therapy was feeling entitled to take care of myself and put myself first. I made sure I got walks in the fresh air and sunshine. I took time every day to sit and read or just do something FOR ME. And when my mind started to race, I learned to write things down  – I journaled.

I don’t know why this was such a shock. I mean, I was never a diary-keeper but in high school when I was going through all that teenage angst, I was always writing poetry etc. as a way of expressing my feelings. Why did I stop? Who knows. I do know that it helped. Writing down my fears and worries suddenly made them smaller. Let me put them in perspective. Or simply let me acknowledge them so I could deal with them.

Then I started writing books – this was partly an emotional outlet and also fit into the “do something just for me” thing. I fell in love with it – with the words, the process, with the happy feeling of a happy ever after and the sense of accomplishment. I had a goal – I wanted to be published. It was something for me to work towards. And I got to do it while still being home with my girls.

In some ways, writing saved me. And in some ways, being ill saved me as now I’ve been able to turn that therapy into a career.

BUT.

But sometimes it still works as therapy. Because as we all know, life ain’t easy. We all have ups and downs – and while I’m on the subject I have to say the Fillies here at the Junction are some of the strongest and most compassionate women I’ve ever met. Last summer when my father in law was ill, they were there for me. I knew they would understand and they did. They knew exactly what to say. I love my Filly sisters.

And while all this was going on, I had a book to write. I didn’t get much done on it before September, and it was due at the end of that month. But things took a turn for the worst and my father in law passed away at the end of August. My focus was on family.

But as we all know, things don’t go back to normal right after a funeral. And I wrote THE REBEL RANCHER while dealing with a lot of feelings – some of my own, some simply worrying about my husband and his family. You don’t come through something like that unchanged.

This book will always be a bit special – both because I absolutely fell in love with the hero but because I wrote it during an emotional time in our family’s life and also because I worked through a lot of my feelings as Ty dealt with the changes in his family and falling in love with Clara. If Ty is strong and gentle and giving, it’s because that’s what I experienced watching my husband and his family come together. If he is hurting, well, I saw that too. And Clara is there for him, and she understands. I hope I was able to give that sort of support. And writing it helped me deal with all that had happened through what I think is the greatest medium of all – love and happy endings.

Writing was my escape and I love when I get mail from readers telling me that my book allowed them to escape for a few hours or helped them cope with something going on in their lives. If I can bring a smile or a happy feeling in the midst of trouble, I consider that a blessing. I have the best job in the world, don’t I?

THE REBEL RANCHER winds up the Cadence Creek Cowboys duet, but there’s another Cadence Creek story in the works right now.  Ty and Clara’s story officially hits shelves tomorrow. It’s dedicated to my father in law, and my husband, and in a stroke of brilliant luck also has my favourite cover ever.

Happy reading (and writing!)!

 

Learning to Fly Again

When my new duet was in the conceptualization stage, I knew that my heroine was a social worker. I knew that because she showed up in an earlier book, PROUD RANCHER, PRECIOUS BUNDLE, as the case worker who helped Wyatt and Elli as they cared for Wyatt’s niece. She intrigued me.

I had an idea for a women’s shelter – a place that Angela would be personally invested in and something she’d believe in passionately. And I got thinking – so many times we think of shelters as a place for women to go when they leave an abusive situation. But then what? How does a woman rebuild her life when she’s left her old life with, perhaps, nothing more than the clothes on her back?

The shelter in the story is what we call “Second Stage” housing. It’s for women who are at the point where they need a helping hand getting started – finding a job, finding housing, taking those last steps to independence.  Like Clara Ferguson, for example. Clara is a sweet, strong woman and Angela’s first resident. Clara’s focus is on finding a job and saving enough money to afford a place of her own, growing emotionally stronger as she goes.

When it came time to name the house, I really struggled. I’m not good at that sort of thing. In the end I settled on Butterfly House. Why? A few reasons. It’s a place where its residents can grow and change, to gain their confidence again and feel whole and beautiful and worthy – not unlike a caterpillar transforming into a beautiful butterfly. And while they’ve been injured and had their wings clipped, Butterfly House is a place where they can put their past behind them and learn to fly again.

In THE LAST REAL COWBOY, Angela has to move beyond her own past to accept both Sam’s help and his love.  It’s harder for her because she knows she’s got to set the example as the director, and yet she has her own issues that she hasn’t addressed.  Good thing Sam is strong and patient – but not too patient, of course!

And in the second book, out next month (THE REBEL RANCHER), Clara meets Ty, Sam’s adopted brother. Ty is trouble – and also surprisingly gentle – just the kind Clara needs to restore her faith in men – and in herself.

You can find out more about my Cadence Creek Cowboys duet at www.donnaalward.com/LastRealCowboy.htm and www.donnaalward.com/RebelRancher.htm

Welcome to Cadence Creek!

I can’t wait until May. Why? Because in May my readers get to visit a brand new town in a duet I have coming out called Cadence Creek Cowboys (yeehaw!). This duet was the most fun I’ve had writing in a while. Why? Well, take a brand new Alberta small town setting, throw in some sexy, confident cowboys, and pair them up with a couple of damaged but unbelievably strong women and poof! A joy to write from start to finish.

That’s not to say there’s not a bit of seriousness involved. For those of you who know me at all, you know that my characters are usually facing some pretty big personal challenges. In book one, THE LAST REAL COWBOY, Sam Diamond is dealing with his father’s illness and what that means to the family, as well as butting heads with Angela Beck, social worker and Executive Director of Butterfly House – a special shelter for women who have escaped abusive relationships. Angela feels a lot of pressure to make the project a success, but she also has to face her own demons. Not necessarily light stuff. But throw in a ankle-biting escape artist called Morris (the cat), Sam’s warm and welcoming mother, Molly, and the shelter’s first resident, a sweet woman name Clara, and things balance out just right, I think.

Book 2, THE REBEL RANCHER is out in June – Clara gets her own story and you get to meet the legendary Tyson Diamond – and his reputation has definitely preceded him. Ty was one of my favourite heroes to write – EVER. A rebel by reputation but underneath he puts the gentle in gentleman.  And Clara, despite being sweet as chocolate pie, has a spine of steel. The girl’s no pushover.

In some ways it was a challenge to write both Angela and Clara. Both have a lot of baggage to get past, a lot of trust issues and downright fear. But I also felt very strongly about giving them their happy-ever-after – because I truly believe that there is always hope. That even after the worst has happened, there can be someone out there for all of us who has patience and gentleness and strength.  That everyone is worthy of being loved.

So the good news is you can buy THE LAST REAL COWBOY a month early here at harlequin.com. And if you’ve got a hankering for more, I have a reprint out right now too – my second-ever Harlequin Romance Marriage at Circle M is out in THERE AND NOW, by Linda Lael Miller.

Now, let’s hope those April showers kick in and bring some May flowers – up here in Canada we’re REALLY ready for winter to be done!

 

Snow Day?

Last night we looked at the weather forecast and got very hopeful. Snow in the evening, over night, and into the morning. Not a vast amount, but enough that there was the possibility of a snow day.

In the two years that my husband has been teaching at a local college, he has never had a snow day. This winter, the kids have had exactly ONE.  Bearing in mind that last year we had a few and that the year before that I think they had almost one a week, this year has kind of felt like we’re getting cheated out of snow days.

The funny thing is that in the years when we have a lot, I start to curse them because it is definitely harder to work with the kids home. But the odd one is like a treat, and a snow day on a MONDAY would be even better. Not just because it’s the first day of the week but because it’s also the heaviest extra curricular activity day and I’d be saved a whole lotta running around.

So last night the kids put spoons under their pillows (no idea where THAT came from) and wore their jammies wrong-side out in the hopes of a snow day.

I woke up several times in the night, I really did. Wondering if it was snowing. Dreaming about the alarm going off and hearing the words that the district schools were cancelled.

Instead the sun was peeking out, a few inches were down but everything was going on as normal (albeit a bit carefully on the roads this morning). It is currently flurrying, but this afternoon I will still be doing the volleyball/choir/badminton run.

I mean really. If we have to have snow in March, can’t we at least have enough to get a day off? Dang it, I had promised the girls that if school was cancelled, I’d work for a while and then we’d watch another episode of Downton Abbey.

Ah well. The house is quiet and I have lots of work to do. The snow day will have to wait.

Hell On Wheels

How much do I love SuperChannel?

A friend mentioned that I would probably like a new series called Hell On Wheels. I checked it out (On Demand) and the husband and I watched the first episode and LOVED it.

 

 

It all starts with a Union Soldier in a confessional, seeking absolution for things he did during the war. In particular, what happened to a woman. When the confessional is over, both man and priest emerge, but it’s not a priest at all. It’s Cullen Bohannon – the woman’s husband. And he’s out to get every man that brutalized and then murdered his wife.

It takes a cold dude to kill a man in a church and then walk out with his greatcoat flapping.

His search takes him to Hell on Wheels – the travelling camp of the men building the Union Pacific railroad. As you can imagine, it’s rough. A good portion of the workforce is freed slaves, and as we all know the term free was a formality more than anything else. He’s hired as a supervisor to the crews, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elam Ferguson (played by Common).

The whole thing is ruled by Thomas Durant, who’s a bit greasy and not above manipulating senators and stocks to see that the railroad gets built. Durant’s chief surveyor, Bell, is killed in an Indian attack but his wife, Lily, survives – and it’s Bohannon who brings her back to camp. And all the while Bohannon is trying to find the last of the men responsible for the death of his wife.

It’s a great story, a fantastic setting, wonderful, complex characters (The Swede as Durant’s “muscle” is deliciously creepy). Of course the cast isn’t hard to look at either. My husband is rather partial to Lily Bell.  I, of course, adore Bohannon (played by Anson Mount). In fact, there may be a reclusive rancher in a story soon that bears a striking resemblance.

And I’ll admit it – best of all was the night Bohannon and Elam had to fight each OTHER. I looked at my husband and said, “I hope they fight with their shirts off.” Yes, I’m just that shallow.

The result?

A bit of history, a bit of romance, a lot of action. Can anyone say “All aboard!”

A Down Home Christmas

One of the things I love about Christmas is traditions. I’m a farm girl, and I have a lot of “country” based traditions that I remember fondly. Some of them have gone by the wayside as I bring up my own family, but I remember them with a special sense of nostalgia, and one of the things I love about writing Christmas stories – in particular westerns – is that I can bring those traditions back to life.

Sometimes I think those traditions are part of what’s missing these days, too. Our lives get so busy that it’s a challenge to take the time to put in extra effort-  it’s easier to go into a store and buy it. But there really is nothing like a down home holiday and I think readers like them too – it provides a connection that they might not experience, or it may bring back fond memories too.

So what makes a down home Christmas?

Do you all know the scene in Christmas Vacation where they go out looking for the Griswold Family Christmas Tree? It’s a little extreme, but there’s nothing like going out in the back 40, finding the perfect – or not so perfect – tree and cutting it down for Christmas. Then freezing your feet off when you haul it back on a toboggan, and then put it in a Christmas tree stand and turn it to hide the “bad” side.

For our family, it’s also Christmas carols and movies. We have our favourites and make a point of watching them curled up on the sofa, or playing the carols as we work around the house. When I was a girl, I adored The Sound of Music. And I lived for Christmas specials on television. DVDs have kind of made that a little more “unspecial” because you can watch it when you want, however many times you want.

How about a candlelight Christmas Eve service at church?

When I was a girl we also used to gather at my brother’s house after church on Christmas Eve and have a potluck. My fond memory of that time is my sister in law’s chocolate bundt cake with peanut butter frosting. MMMM!

And speaking of food – how many traditions revolve around food? I’m guessing more than any other. There’s the Christmas dinner, of course, complete with turkey and stuffing and potatoes and vegetables and any number of desserts. My mom used to make a steamed pudding with sauce, and she always had pie for anyone who wasn’t into pudding. But beyond the meal there’s so much more to enjoy. For me, it’s the making of it that is as special as the eating. I have carried a lot of traditions forward to my girls. Some we’ve changed to suit our tastes – making shortbread is a big one, and fancy iced cookies, and my daughter makes a gumdrop cake each year and her younger sister is the master of Chocolate Peanut Butter Clusters. I remember being in the kitchen and making mocha cakes with my mom – what a mess! My mom did so much Christmas baking she could feed an army – and often did. We had a lot of drop in company in December, or she’d go to a church or community function with a big tray of goodies. Peanut Butter Balls, Scotch Cakes, Mocha Cakes, Doughnut Holes, Squares of every variety….

And there was always time to put on a kettle.

When the baking was done and the mess cleaned up, it was pretty normal to find my mom sitting with her latest knitting project in her hands, too. That’s how you’ll find me a good portion of the winter – especially Sunday afternoons, curled up with my girls and a movie.

It’s those sorts of things that make me really happy to be writing a holiday story right now. Not just drawing on the experiences but the warm, happy feelings that the memories bring. I can’t wait to bring this story to readers next November!

 

Behind The Book: How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart

I started setting books in my fictional town of Larch Valley a while ago – in fact, it was the first book I did with my current editor after my first editor at Harlequin got promoted. I wrote the end of it with a cast on my arm, a glass of wine at my elbow and a husband gone to Hawaii in the middle of a brutally cold January. The book was called The Rancher’s Runaway Princess.

Despite the adjustments that happened during the writing of that book, I went on to write a duet set there – One Dance With the Cowboy and Her Lone Cowboy. I loved bringing back characters from the first book and introducing a few new ones. One character I loved writing – even though his role was small – was Clay Gregory. Even with his walk-on role he was a big ol’ sexy cowboy and I knew I wanted to write his story.

But I couldn’t find him the right heroine. I had a few proposals but none of them really flew. I wrote three more books for the Romance line before I finally figured it out. The woman he was supposed to be with was Megan Briggs – his best friend’s little sister.

It was fantastic going back to Larch Valley. Each time I do, past characters show up and a few new ones get introduced. Megan had been mentioned in One Dance With The Cowboy but never on screen; now she’s front and centre after disappearing for cancer treatment. I wrote the opening of this book something like four times (which is not unusual, this happens in nearly every book until I hit upon the right time and place to really start it). In the end, what worked was Meg trying desperately to get her life back to normal. She’s shoveling you know what. And in struts Clay with his boots and heavy jacket and all around sexiness.

It was both difficult and easy to write Meg’s character. Easy because as a cancer survivor, there’s automatically some internal conflict and a lot of emotion built in. Difficult because I feel a great responsibility for getting it RIGHT – all the hopes and dreams and worries and fears that Meg still has.

It really came down to one particular scene for me. One that I thought my editor might read and that she might tell me was too risky. But she never breathed a word about taking it out, and I was thrilled. I cried buckets writing it!

Romantic Times gave it  four stars, but what I really liked was the quote that went with it: Great characters bring life to this beautifully written story that explores trust, friendship and hope.

Trust, friendship, and hope. Yes, that just about nails it.

I’m giving a copy away today to one commenter! And please – don’t forget to do your self exam or get a mammogram if you’re over 40. 🙂

Simplify

Well, here I am back at the junction again to share another word of the month. I kind of like the idea, actually – it’s like each month I have something new to work on and develop and learn.  Last month I talked about productivity and how the fall gets me all juiced up for new projects.

Well, sometimes all that energy and enthusiasm has me committing to more than I should. And before I know it I’m stressed. So this year I’m making a pre-emptive strike against over commitment. In my productivity efforts the one thing I’m most proud of is how I’m trying to simplify things.

Let’s face it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and see all there is to do. New projects, promotion, this that and the other social media, book signings, copy edits…and that’s just work. I haven’t even hit on the home thing yet.

One of the first things I did was look at my yahoo loops. Anything I hadn’t read/contributed to since the summer began I deleted. Now my groups are totally streamlined.

I also streamlined my social media. A lot of it feeds into each other, and the inefficiencies got the delete key. My hootsuite panel looks gloriously efficient now. Anything I didn’t enjoy maintaining, I’m not. There are still lots of places for readers to find me which is most important.

I looked at my commitments for 2012 and made some tough decisions. But you know, once the decisions were made I felt really good about them. It was the right thing to do and I think will cut down my workload substantially while still giving me the exposure I want. Because things need to be fun. I always have said when it stops being fun, that’s when I stop doing it (or in the case of writing, when it stops being fun and I fulfill my contractual obligations, lol!).

I simplified by putting myself and my family first. I’m far happier when I do that and miraculously I can spend fewer hours in the desk chair and be just as productive.

And while it takes a bit more time, I’m making a lot of this year’s Christmas presents. I’m enjoying it a lot. There’s something so satisfying about it – working with my hands and crafting things in the old traditional ways.

What about you? Do you ever get the urge to simplify your life? It’s not easy to do. How do you simplify?

 

I’ve got a few brand new stories out this month – HOW A COWBOY STOLE HER HEART and OFF THE CLOCK. Today I’ve got an e-copy of OFF THE CLOCK to one lucky commenter!  Here’s a bit about the story:

The last thing she needs is a hero…

Paramedic Gabe Brennan’s job is saving lives. When he witnesses an accident and rushes in to help, the victim brings back memories of the night that marked him forever. The night he almost couldn’t save his best friend, Brandon. Brandon’s sister is in the car. She’s pregnant. And his longing for her is just as sharp as ever.

Carly’s never been so glad to see a friendly face. Gabe’s gallant rescue-and the gentle kiss he bestows upon her at the hospital-resurrect feelings she buried long ago. Having just closed the book on a crumbling marriage, she’s not too keen on opening herself up to hurt again. Not even for the one man who’s always seemed to be there when she needed him most.

Gabe knows he shouldn’t be falling for Carly, especially since she insists she’s off the market. But the chemistry still simmering between them after all these years is no accident. Now all he has to do is convince her she belongs in the empty space he’s always held open for her. The one next to his heart…

Product Warnings

Caution: Contents-and paramedic hero-may be too hot to handle!

When You Need A Hero . . . Day 1

Grab your silk fans, ladies, and start them flapping. It’s about to get very warm here at the Junction. We’re giving away prizes all this week and all you have to do to enter is cast your vote on some very fine specimens of western manhood. What could be better than free books and cowboy eye candy? Donna and I have the honor of kicking off this shindig, and we’ll be giving away four books, so get those eyes peeled and those voting fingers ready.

 

Karen’s entries:

When I need a hero for one of my books, there are certain qualities I look for. He must be rugged, strong, and capable of handling any challenge that comes his way. Much like  Hero #1. On the other hand, he must also be warm, tender, and a man who laughs. See Hero #2.

Hero #2
Hero #1

                                    

                                                                                                

 

Donna’s entries:

I’m entering a pair of lovely gents. Blake Shelton (Hero #3), who I think is going to be cast as the hero in my upcoming Christmas book. This is a guy who needs to be big as a barn door with a heart of gold.  And second up is Hugh Jackman (Hero #4). I swear he’s the sexiest drover on the planet.

Hero #4

Hero #3
 

So what do you think ladies? Which man would you like to ride the range with?

To vote, simply leave a comment with the hero’s number that you prefer. And if you want, tell us what drew you to him. By voting, you will also be entered to win one of the four books we are giving away today.  Have fun!  

   

Word of the Month

September is one of my favourite months of the year. It’s harvest time – is there anything more fulfilling? The leaves change colour and the days are mellow and warm, the mornings and evenings crisp and cool. I start making comfort foods. It’s back to school time – and I LOVED going back to school, cracking open new textbooks and scribblers and sharpening pencils.

So it’s no surprise that when September rolls around, I throw myself into work with a renewed energy. I make goals. I make LISTS (I’m a huge list person). I make things and freeze them.

Suddenly I seem to become rather efficient.

So the word of the month for me is productivity. I tend to be really productive in September. My office is now kid and noise free after the low-key, more relaxing summer months with a looser schedule.  Add that into my energy level and it really is a recipe for getting things done.

To be productive, I break things down into lists. My work list for this month includes handing in my latest book before October 1, updating my website and organizing the October promotion for my next releases (and I have 2 in October, which means it’ll be busy).  Then I have longer term goals – my upcoming projects mainly, and ensuring I hit word counts sufficient to make it happen. One thing that’s really helped me focus is the #1k1hr hashtag on twitter. I get a lot done that way!

I have “home” lists too – like projects to finish before Christmas, and another list – what needs to be bought for presents. I hate trying to cram shopping into the last minute, so by organizing it I can have everything done for family (all of which live out of town) by mid-November. If I do that, I’m ready for any opportunity to send things with people if they visit or get them in the mail in lots of time.

I really enjoy the harvest part too, and find myself spending a Saturday peeling 2o lbs of apples to make applesauce to freeze for eating or using in muffins and stuff.

I don’t use any fancy organizational tools, I just make my lists and take great pleasure in checking things off. What about you? How do you organize your life (or do you?) and what are your productivity secrets?