Do you hear the Siren song? It’s release day!

I can’t believe the third Siren book is out today! I’ve had so much fun working on this series with my fabulous editor Heidi Moore!

I’ve also been so fortunate with all the beautiful, ethereal covers for this series from Lyrical Press!

Aren’t they gorgeous?

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The Siren’s Dream has gotten some nice advanced reviews. Here are some of my favorite:

“This is my favorite book of this trilogy and possibly of this author. The little details about the scenery, the contemporary politics, the Pussy Riot shout out, and the researched otherworldly aspect are so intriguing and creative.” — Julia (@readkinginAK)

“I highly recommend this romance to anyone who loves a solid, realistic story of deception, government corruption, paranormal elements with a sweeping romance and undercurrents of forgiveness, embracing life and being yourself.” — N.N. Light Blog 

 

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Here’s a fun little excerpt:

Sensations freewheeled through Katya’s racing mind and churned in her empty gut. She’d gone so long without feeling a damn thing, and now every sensory neuron she possessed screamed constant news at her.

Cold.

The comforting squeeze of clothing over bare skin.

The drone of a TV on in the next-door apartment.

The irrational desperation of a starving belly.

And the even more irrational desire to wrap her whole body around the gorgeous but skeptical bear of man pouring her a cup of coffee.

The odds were about one in a hundred that Nikolai, with his tense jaw and perpetually narrowed eyes, actually believed she was a ghost. She tried not to take his disdain personally, to keep calm and appear to be extremely sane. She would convince him somehow. Insisting on the most improbable of truths wasn’t going to work. Maybe the militsya’s reports would be the ticket.

She sat at the kitchen table—which stood exactly where Fedir’s had been when she’d moved in, and where it had remained for the four months she’d lived with him—under a row of bright windows that provided a view of the busy boulevard below.

Nikolai set a steaming mug of coffee in front of her. “Cream? Sugar?”

“No, thanks.” Normally, she took both, but her empty belly roiled from the rich odor of the dark brew—far better than the generic stuff Fedir had preferred. Her recently dead stomach gnawed and grumbled at her, but the sensations didn’t precisely translate into hunger, more like outrage.

Still, the warm cup felt heavenly on her fingertips, numb with cold. She plastered her icy hands to the ceramic vessel. In spite of the sweatshirt and socks, she grew more and more frigid by the second.

With a coffee mug in his left hand, Nikolai dragged a chair out with his right, scraping its legs on the tile floor.

He’d pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, no socks. His feet were remarkably masculine—both wide and long, with barely an arch to them, and they were worlds easier to look at than his face, which was disarmingly handsome and currently distorted by a skeptical scowl that resembled his orgasm expression.

She never would have guessed a man could have sexy feet. Fedir’s had been pale, narrow, and peppered with black curly hair, rather like the rest of his body.

“So, why don’t you start by telling me what happened to you?” Nikolai had gentled himself and spoke in soothing tones. The skepticism in his voice had almost vanished. Almost. He would be an expert at drawing stories out of people—she’d overheard he was a reporter in his conversations with his niece, just as she’d learned his name, his routine of swimming laps before work, his habit of buying takeout and frozen meals.

His longish chestnut hair was still damp, and a lock had fallen rakishly against the tortoiseshell glasses, leaving a bead of water on the lens.

Her heart beat a little faster. Apparently, roguish geek was her type. Too bad she hadn’t known that when she’d been alive.

He took off his glasses and rubbed the lens with his tee shirt. “Well?”

“You first,” she insisted. “What sins did Lisko commit against you?”


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Some prayers for the post-election day.

One of the best things about being a part of the Episcopal Church is our prayer book, full of prayers and liturgies penned by true lovers of language.
If, like me, you find it hard to put your feelings into words after election day, or struggle to know what to hope for, I offer you a selection of prayers for civic life from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
Even if you aren’t Episcopalian, Christian, or particularly religious, you might find some of this language helpful or meaningful. Personally, I don’t hope or pray for a time when everyone is Christian, but when all people are united in our treatment of human life and all of creation as sacred, so when I read phrases like “all nations may serve you…” I am translating them in my mind to something like “all nations may serve the common good.”
My favorite is the one for social justice, below.
I hope some of you may find these helpful, as I am today.
Amber

For the Human Family

O God, you made us in your own image: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

For Peace

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.

For our Enemies

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Prayers for National Life

For our Country

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the President of the United States and all in Civil
Authority

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided
by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governor of this
State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom
and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the
love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

For Sound Government

The responses in italics may be omitted.

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we
may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to
other nations of the earth.
Lord, keep this nation under your care.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors
of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative
authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their
duties.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our
laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and
foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to
fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding
and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and
justice served.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to
accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they
may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for
the well-being of our society; that we may serve you
faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as
head above all. Amen.

Prayers for the Social Order

For Social Justice

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Unemployed

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer
want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this
land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find
suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment
for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Cities

Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of
that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their
glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth.
Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life.
Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate
poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail
with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and
women from different cultures and with differing talents may
find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Towns and Rural Areas

Lord Christ, when you came among us, you proclaimed the
kingdom of God in villages, towns, and lonely places: Grant
that your presence and power may be known throughout this
land. Have mercy upon all of us who live and work in rural
areas [especially ___________]; and grant that all the people
of our nation may give thanks to you for food and drink and
all other bodily necessities of life, respect those who labor to
produce them, and honor the land and the water from which
these good things come. All this we ask in your holy Name.
Amen.

For the Poor and the Neglected

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you
all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us
to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick,
and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those
who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow
into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for
our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Oppressed

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Right Use of God’s Gifts

Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we
possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our
substance, and, remembering the account which we must one
day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For those who Influence Public Opinion

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many
voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where
many listen and write what many read; that they may do their
part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and
its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Why this Priest Writes Romance

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The following essay was published in There’s A Woman in the Pulpit, released by SkyLight Press in 2015. It’s an amazing collection of essays by clergy women, which I heartily recommend! 

Danielle Steel vs. St. Paul

Long before I became a romance writer, one of my favorite priestly duties was to preach at weddings.  I loved to get to know a couple and to tell their mostly secular family and friends about the miracle of their love–the ways it was full of grace and the ways it challenged them, the ways it was an icon of God’s love for humanity, shining outward brightly for us to see.

I also love the description of marriage in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer as meant for mutual joy. Whether a person is religious, spiritual, or a secular humanist, anyone with a body knows that phrase alludes to sex, among other shared pleasures. As an ordained person it feels profound to proclaim this gloriously sexy, and sometimes also awkward spiritual truth: romantic and erotic love are sacramental.  Sexual pleasure is divine gift.  It’s a radical message, especially to people who expect the Church to be either silent or damning on the subject.  Mature romantic love is not saccharine or simple, but a discipline that leads us to transcendence.

As a young woman exploring sexuality, my primary texts were the Bible and romance novels, and they were running in my head side by side.  St. Paul endorsed married, straight sex as a stopgap measure for those who couldn’t handle celibacy until the second coming.   Romances were the stories of people whose desire and connection to each other were so strong they could overcome immense internal and external obstacles to love.

I am very glad I didn’t only have Paul.  Romance novels taught me that passion, mutual pleasure, and that kind of ecstasy were things to seek out.  They taught me my desires and the physical expression of affection were good, holy even, and nurtured an inkling that St. Paul was wrong about some things. Right about a lot, but not a perfect recipe for sexual ethics in modern life.  The truth is, since the beginning, the Church has failed at putting forward a sexual ethics for everyday life.  The tradition has not acknowledged the holy and hard work of being a sexually whole person.

When I was twenty-three, my ordination process was put on hold because I was unmarried and living with my now-husband, though I was honest about our cohabitation and the work we were doing to be ready for marriage.  I felt deeply ashamed. The message was clear: as long as my sex life was invisible, it was okay.  No one seemed to think I was doing something wrong, it just wasn’t holy enough for a priest…Except, of course, that doesn’t make any sense.  The faithful work of being a whole human in reconciled relationship with others IS HOLY.

The church is rightly focused on the noble goal of sexual abuse prevention, yet out of fear, and a tradition of neglecting the fraught subject, we are largely silent about the goodness of sex.  Meanwhile, our culture, for both good and ill, becomes more sexually explicit and permissive.

I write and read romance novels because they have helped me find wholeness.  They are smart, fun, passionate romps which have taught me about love and all the ways it can heal and redeem. Although I write with a pen name, I’m public that I’m a priest because I want to be a voice in claiming the holy, hot spiritual goodness of human sexuality.

I began writing romance with trepidation, fear for my career, and shame about being a publicly sexual person that lingered from my ordination process (as if my children were immaculately conceived).  But thankfully I have received great support from colleagues and superiors. Since I started speaking out about the connectedness of sex and spirituality, I have found both secular and religious people are starving for this conversation.  Once, at a romance readers’ convention, someone asked me how writing racy books and being a priest go together. I said, “Very well, because God loves Love.” To my surprise, the room burst into applause.

Since then, I have had people contact me via Facebook for pastoral sex advice because they don’t know any clergy they can talk to, or to confide their pastor condemned romance novels from the pulpit and they felt ashamed because they experienced those books as life-giving.  I have met people who did not know there were Christians who celebrated sexuality.  Each time something like this happens, I become a little more free of my lingering shame about my own sexuality, and more sure of my pursuit of writing about sex as a complementary vocation.

Because, people long for the good news that their mutual joy in erotic love is a taste of divine blessing. When a clergy person proclaims this truth, God’s wanton love for humanity becomes a little more accessible.  And that’s why I write romance novels.

Cover Reveal — The Siren’s Dream

sirensdreamI’m thrilled to reveal the cover of my third Siren Romance, The Siren’s Dream. I couldn’t be happier with the gorgeous covers Lyrical and Cora Graphics have given me for this series!

Fans of the series will recognize all the familiar characters, but meet Katya, an entirely different kind of siren. This book was a fun, twisty one to write, as it’s antagonist is Dmitri, the hero of the first book.

Revenge never felt so sweet… 

Murdered by a bullet intended for her beloved, Katya Dvoynev’s fate is to haunt the building where she took her last breath. That is, unless she can lure her killer into her clutches and find the vengeance her mara spirit seeks. But destiny has other plans, and handsome Nikolai Zurkov arrives instead, filling Katya with a desire so strong she must fight to remember it’s revenge she seeks, not love…

 
Investigative journalist Nikolai is on a mission to bring down a corrupt corporation responsible for so many deaths. If the gorgeous ghost who enters his dreams holds the key, Nik has no problem sharing in the seductive beauty’s nightly encounters. But when he discovers Katya’s intent is murder, he’ll do anything to keep her from getting blood on her hands. For only true justice can give her the love she longs for and keep her in his world.

 

Bloggers/reviewers: If you would like an Advanced Reader’s Copy, you can request on Netgalley or via this form.


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Reflections on my Wooden Writing Anniversary

growth_rings_-_kolkata_2011-06-04_3709A few weeks ago, I reached a minor writing milestone. Five years since I started this endeavor to write novels. I hesitate even to admit that number—so many of my writer friends have been hard at this work for many more years, and their practice and experience show in every word of their writing. When I compare my own words, I feel like a novice.

I’m winding up this year with four releases, so for this anniversary of timber (wood being the traditional 5 years gift), I’m asking myself lots of questions—Am I on social media enough? (No.) Am I writing in the best genres for the market and my voice? (Probably not, I write the stories I fall in love with, and my generous agent helps me wrangle them into a strategy.) Could I do more to market my books? (Yes, but maybe not while taking good care of my family and my own health.)

My answers to questions one and three are compounded by current events. As the summer progressed, I found myself retreating further and further from social media. I know a lot of people enjoy it as a medium for political discourse, but I’m not one of them. This election cycle, I discovered a powerful need for face-to-face conversations about how to speak and act in a world that feels especially broken. I’ve looked for ways to stand for justice and peace in my work as a priest instead of online as an author.

I miss Twitter, and I admire people who are able to have tough, meaningful conversations there. For me, those kinds of exchanges require a longer form, and I only seem to be able to post silly quotidian observations and date night Tweets.

Sadly, my absence from social media has made me feel less like a writer. When I first started writing, I was that jerk who could only talk about writing. My babies were just being babies. The thing I was most excited about was writing. I was really annoying. It even contributed to the death of one dear friendship.

Nowadays, I don’t talk about writing much, except with the few people who want to hear about my stories in progress. My spiritual director always asks me for an update, and he says I light up when I tell him, which proves (his words) that writing is maybe my most important form of prayer. I so appreciate this reminder when I’m seeking the elusive writing/life balance.

It’s ironic that my withdrawal from social media had made me feel less like a writer, because I’ve been writing ALL THE WORDS. This summer, I had the glorious experience of words pouring off my fingertips as I wrote a 95K book I’d been dreaming of for 18 months. I was in the writer flow, even as my imposter syndrome kicked in big time.  

If a writer writes at her computer alone and no one on Twitter sees her, is she still a writer?

I am trying hard to believe that the answer is yes.

First round beta readers have confirmed that book doesn’t suck, and for a very raw first draft, that is great news! As those beta readers were reading, I turned my attention to my next Hot Under Her Collar book, another that I’d been pondering for months. I decided to handwrite a long-form outline, essentially a synopsis. Again, the words flowed. In a few hours, I had a whole book in mind.

These two anecdotes point to a change in my writing life. I’m no longer a pantser. It turns out, I can know everything that will happen, know my characters so well that the whole story is clear before I start writing. And when I do, I can write fast! Which is good, because I only have about two hours a day devoted to writing at this moment in my life.  

So I’m writing in the traditional isolation of all writers, pre-social media. I’m still here, I haven’t quit. I still love pouring myself into a new book project. I still believe in stories. If the pantser thing is any sign, I might even be evolving as a writer—understanding a story better from the outset. (Although, as soon as I say that I’m bound to find myself pantsing my way through the next book.)

I’ll be popping in to social media sometimes. I have a November release to promote, after all. But if you notice my absence on Twitter or Facebook and want to say hi, send me a message! We can communicate in long form, that ancient technology that conveys nuance so nicely: an email.


Not A Mistake Ebook CoverGiveaway!!

To celebrate five years of writing, I’m giving away some gifts! Kindle copies of Not A Mistake. You just have to hop on over to Amazon and enter for a chance to win:

Not A Mistake (Writing Anniversary Giveaway)

Writing Female Friendships & some recs from you!

She-nanigansWhen I set out to write the Hot Under Her Collar series, I wanted to write about women clergy. It wasn’t really a choice to focus on female friendships as much as it was to mine the conflict-ridden, boundary-tangled world of being a young woman priest or pastor. Of course, it made sense these women would be friends as part of the series premise, “Sex in the City goes to seminary,” but showcasing their friendship wasn’t really a part of my original intention.

Maybe that’s because I don’t have an easy, sparkly relationship with the idea of female friendships. When I think about it, I get hung up on the ones I failed at, the ones where I was rejected, and especially on the feeling that I often fail to return the generosity of others. I’m pretty sure I didn’t really know how to be a good friend to other women until adulthood. I have several important friendships far older than that, but for years they were probably an act of mercy toward me.

Fortunately, that’s changed. I suspect it has to do with how I eventually came to accept myself and learned to choose the right friends for the real me.

Now I have far more pals than I can reasonably maintain intimacy with (mostly because writing has made meridiculous an asshole who spends all her free time you know…writing). I rely on the mutual trust that meaningful connections can easily be rekindled between true friends. I feel incredibly honored to have the love and regard of so many amazing women (and men), but I have also come to believe I have something to offer in those friendships–humor, frankness, pragmatism, compassion, a spiritual perspective, dirty jokes, mad cocktail-making skills, insatiable curiosity about people and the things that interest them, a small mountain of discarded hobbies about which I can happily converse. There may be more, but that’s probably the best stuff.

When a reader told me she loved the female friendships in the Hot Under Her Collar series, it got me thinking–I must be showing something of my hard lessons learned in the friendship between Jordan, Lily, and Alma. In the next book Not Another Rockstar (because of course I have to write a priest + a rockstar book) you’ll meet another friend, Suzannah.

Here are some of the hard lessons I hope I’ve poured into the book:

braHonest, direct communication, delivered with both humor and compassion: One wise friend of mine has a rule I love--Am I the right person to say this? Is now the time? Are these the right words? When I learned to chose the right friends for me, I sought out people who will tell me the truth like they see it, who can talk me down off ledges even while refusing to blow smoke up my ass. I’m a straight shooter, and while I totally respect subtle, tactful people (and I’ve even tried to write a few) I REALLY like to write about friends who are helping each other grow by being honest, direct, compassionate, and funny. Who better to hold up the mirror for us than a loving friend?

There’s no need for rivalry. I went to seminary as a very young woman–a whopping 22 years old. The institutional tendency to pigeonhole me and the other young women, the generalizations and assumptions made about us–they were intense. In response, my initial instinct was to compete, to try to show myself as THE BEST young seminarian. Fortunately, the actual material I was learning helped me to see this behavior for what it was–defensive and destructive. Now, when I like or admire someone, I show them, and I try to find things to like in everyone I work with. I’m not a saint, but any unkindness is usually the result of hurt feelings–it’s not aggressively judgmental anymore. I try to be supportive and encouraging, even when I’ve decided to say one of those hard, honest, direct things. To me, there’s nothing more respectful than thoughtfully delivered critique.

Vulnerability and even shamelessness. Priest, mother, and writer are among the top jobs for grinding Nice_persondown your ego. Pregnancy does shitty things to your body. Marriage is hard work. Parenting is humbling. Standing in front of people and preaching words of challenge and inspiration is really fucking hard. By being real about this stuff, my friendships have grown so much deeper. Having that friend you can talk about your weight struggles, your sex life, kvetch to about your husband while knowing she will still love your husband, give you totally hot boudoir advice, make you a salad to eat alongside your cake and wine, and tell you stories about her worst sermons to make you feel better–that’s a true friend.  

Friendships in books and life provide the comic relief while also helping us grow, and that’s my guiding principle in the Hot Under Her Collar books. When Alma takes Lily vibrator shopping, it’s both an act of true friendship, and (I hope) pretty darn funny.

A few weeks ago, I asked Twitter for books that include notable female friendships. I heard from so many people with suggestions–too many to list here. But these particular authors came up a lot and I look forward to checking out their books!

Olivia Dade

Nora Roberts

Kit Rocha

Victoria Dahl

Lisa Kleypas

And I’ll add my friend Ruby Lang: her contemporaries about a group of female doctors are wonderful. The friend relationships are very important to the character’s development and complicated in a very realistic way that I love!

If you want to recommend other authors, or share something you think is important/valuable about female friends, leave me a comment!

**much thanks to the fabulous Liz Blue, who found these friend memes for me!

 

NOT OVER YET is out (& the woes of blurbing)

STORIES (4)Today is release day for Not Over Yet, the second book in my Hot Under Her Collar series about young female clergy falling in lust and love, while also finding their professional groove.

I have BIG plans to have brunch with my fabulous editor (and with champagne of course)! Then, to avoid the unproductive glued-to-the-computer-but-not-accomplishing-squat thing that happens to me on most release days, I’m going to paint my bathroom. (I guess I better have only one mimosa, if I want straight lines.)

If you haven’t grabbed your copy of the book yet, why the heck not?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve failed to entice you with my agonized marketing attempts.

Case and point: writing blurbs is one of the hardest parts of authoring/publishing for me. My brain just doesn’t like to reduce the complexities of what I hope is a rich story with layered characters into 150 catchy words. Identifying the best hooks and playing up the tropes sometimes feels in conflict with the truth of what the story is about. And yet, everyone tells you a good blurb sells books!

This is the blurb for NOT OVER YET:

Some people aren’t meant to have it all…

Three years ago, nanny Lily Yee enjoyed a passionate fling with her boss, the recently divorced and extremely eligible Eric Roche. Then the sexy surfer/CEO wanted more than she could give, and she fled to pursue her one true calling—the priesthood.

Eric learned how to love from Lily and wanted to build a happy family with her. But she walked away without explanation, leaving him angry, confused, and…fine, he’ll admit it, occasionally a little desperate for her.

When a crisis in her church leads Lily back into Eric’s arms, his heart calls to her as strongly as the priesthood. He’ll do anything to win her back, but she knows she’s not cut out to juggle a family and a career. She needs to let him go again soon, but she can’t deny they’re not over yet.

Thanks to the help of my patient critique partners, it’s not too bad. But if I had all the words in the world to say what it’s really about, I’d say something like:

Not Over Yet is an In Love with the Nanny meets Second Chance Romance story about a Sexually Empowered Heroine with Exhibitionist Tendencies who is facing the Hard Issues of Gender and Race in her new job as an Episcopal Priest and simply can’t believe she is someone who gets to Have It All with her Perfectly Flawed Hero and his Adorable Daughters, who look more like Lily than their adoptive parents.

Lily is a remarkable, fierce, bright young woman plagued by perfectionism and acutely aware of the expectations of others. Fresh out of college, she gets totally in over her head in an affair with an older man, who falls for her hard. She leaves him for all the right reasons, and accidentally breaks his heart. Three years later, when it seems like all the wrong reasons might make it possible for them to be together, she has to decide if she’s been thinking about her calling in a backwards way all along.

Eric is sexy, sweet, strong and well intentioned. He’s doing his damnedest to be the world’s best single dad. For Lily, he’s Mr. Right at the wrong time. Especially because Lily doesn’t think there will ever be a right time for her. I love how he thinks about Lily, and all the scenes where he is surfing, or getting unwelcome pastoral advice from his hippy priest Fr. Bobby. I’ve never written an all-in-from-the-start hero before, and he was really, really fun to develop!

Damn it. (1)

His almost desperation for Lily made me totally fall in love with the cover art I found, with her on top! (Honestly, it was super hard to find appropriate cover art for these two, and this picture was the only one I really liked. Their positions cemented it for me.)

Far better than a blurb is an excerpt–maybe this little “Second Chance Kiss” scene is the best way to tempt you to read Not Over Yet:

He’d never told her about his past because he’d wanted to present himself as good husband material. But she’d left him, and being around her was sandpaper on the stubborn, raw wound.

Christ. Time for a change of subject. He reached for her laptop, but his shoulder spasmed. “Ow. Fuck.”

She was there in an instant, digging her sharp little elbow into the rock-hard knot of muscle. “I thought you said it was better.”

“It has been.” He ground out the words through the pain radiating up his neck and down his arm.

“Are you saying I’m giving you cramps?”

He laughed, but it came out hoarse with strain. “God that hurts. Don’t stop.”

“Sh. I know the drill.”

In the silence, her delicate but strong fingers kneaded the muscle along the top of his shoulder. As it eased, she expanded her focus down his spine and up his neck. Tingles of pleasure crawled over his scalp and cascaded down his arms. A rush of blood flowed to his groin, but he didn’t fight it—that would only make his desire dig in, as stubborn and intractable as Lily herself.

So much had changed, but she still smelled the same, like the flowery shampoo she bought at the drugstore. Damn, he’d missed her scent. He caught her hand and dragged it around so he could place a single, chaste kiss to her palm.

She shuddered.

His cock pulsed. Okay. Maybe not so chaste.

He spun in the stool to face her. His heart raced, a barrage of desires threatening to break him open so that all his longing might ooze out. Was he actually going to risk her rejection again?

One glimpse at her pretty mouth open in surprise and the answer came back a certain yes. But he had to keep it light, or she would bolt and refuse his help again.

She made a halfhearted attempt to pull away, but he held her hand, and when she encountered the slightest pressure of his grip, she gave up.

Still, her lips pursed. “Eric.”

“I know. Help. Friends.” He traced his fingers over the inside of her wrist.

She leaned closer, letting her belly brush against his knees.

“Lily.”

She met his gaze.

He could say it again, what he’d said the first time. I’m going to kiss you.

But now, with that damn collar around her neck, and her history of rejecting him plus three years’ absence poured on top, a man could only say one thing. “Can I kiss you?”

Her jaw slackened, parting her lips with what could only be surprise.

Score, shouted a voice inside him.

Her pretty, wide mouth spread into an even wider smile. “Only because you asked so nicely.”

And then she leaned in, meeting him halfway, brushing their lips together. Her smell, her warmth, the familiarity of a long-missed caress. His skin buzzed with desire and he ached to touch hers all over, to press their naked lengths together. But she hadn’t even opened her mouth to him, only let their lips linger in the tender kiss. He wanted to tease his way inside her and test if she tasted the same, but he would accept what she offered and not press.

Not yet, at least.

Have I finally succeeded in tempting you? Then go forth and click!

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Why I wrote a POC heroine in Not Over Yet

STORIES (4) For clarity preceding this post, I am a white author.

Not Over Yet, the second Hot Under Her Collar book releases next Tuesday. It’s about a young female Chinese American priest who is a part of my “Sex in the City goes to seminary” crowd and her studly surfer/CEO ex.

I first conceived of writing the Hot Under Her Collar series several years ago and set out to brainstorm about real issues in the church that might work as conflicts in romance novels.

How well-meaning churches invite and embrace racial diversity (or don’t) is one such lively issue, and as soon as I considered it, a whole story and its characters began to emerge, largely inspired by things I had learned from colleagues of color about their struggle to get ordained or hired or simply be respected in our predominantly Caucasian denomination.

In particular, I have one dear friend and colleague who taught me worlds about my advantages (white privilege) by sharing with me her contrasting experiences as our careers have moved in parallel. Here I am resisting the urge to rave about her for a paragraph or so because she is one those people you just feel unbelievably fortunate to count a friend. So, all those years ago, I asked her if it would be okay for me to draw on some of things I’d learned from her to write a story for this series. She said yes.

Damn it. (3)

A part of me wondered if I should even try, since it wasn’t my story. But by then the idea behind Not Over Yet wouldn’t let go, and I wanted to explore the important issues of race in clergy life, just as I explored my church’s confused messages about sexuality in Not A Mistake.   

I’ve worked on this book for about three years, and it was hard for about a dozen reasons. I asked for a lot of help from writing friends and clergy colleagues, especially my Asian American friends in both categories. Sometimes what they told me was difficult to hear or forced me to examine my own assumptions; sometimes it required I change something major about the book. Needless to say, I learned a lot.

Among those many lessons, I found myself weighing conflicting feedback from my sensitivity readers–they came from different backgrounds, were different ages, had different relationships with their parents and the church. I could do my very best and try to understand and incorporate many perspectives, and still, I came to realize, something in the story was likely to rub someone the wrong way.

In the face of that realization, for a while I considered dropping my manuscript into the virtual trash bin. I was afraid that no matter how much I intended to critique my church’s brand of racism and white privilege, I might unconsciously reinforce racist stereotypes. But like my character Lily, I’ve never learned anything by retreating out of fear, so I decided to push on knowing I will continue to learn things from people’s reactions, positive and negative, to this book.

Since I started writing Not Over Yet, there has been a wonderful outcry for diverse books written by diverse authors. I’m not sure I would have begun this project in this moment, because I want to be an ally for diverse writers writing their #ownstories. But the book was already written and Lily’s character is my best attempt at understanding an important story that is not my own story.

Damn it. (4)

At the core, I think that’s what ALL fiction writing is about: trying to understand a character across difference. I’m not any of the characters I’ve written. When fleshing them out, I have to trust there is something universal about human emotions. I have to draw on empathy and the golden rule to IMAGINE another’s lives and motivations.  

Even deeper down, I believe this is true for all human relationships. We are all different, and we can’t read each other’s minds. The only way we achieve intimacy and understanding is by empathy and imagination. (I learned all this from a Roman Catholic theologian named David Tracy who calls it the analogical imagination). Perhaps racism is, among other things, a failure of this imagination, resulting in a lack of empathy.  

Because racism distorts our relationships and impairs our empathy, I had to work harder and take more care to imagine Lily. I had to ask friends to help me stretch my imagination. As I write this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude they trusted me enough to tell me hard truths. I’m sure I got some things wrong, and I’m still going to hit “publish.” But that doesn’t make me brave–it just means I’m doing my job as a writer and a human being.

Now, all these years after I first began this book, in the current conversation about race in publishing, it feels important to me to say I deeply believe we need diverse books by diverse writers, and I am not one of them. Not Over Yet in no way meets that need.

I wrote it from a place of empathy, with an open heart and a desire to share lessons I’ve learned. It won’t be perfect, it might even offend. But I intend to keep listening and learning from people who are different from me and the response to Not Over Yet will be part of that process.

By the way, if you want to follow the conversation about race in publishing and diverse books, check out the #ownstories hashtag. I also recommend following @AlyssaCole on Twitter.  Not only is she a fabulous writer, but she is very wise and articulate about these issues. Her tweets resonate as true to me, and at the same time the challenge me and do just what I described above–help me stretch and deepen my imagination and empathy.

 

Nurture Your Hope: 18 authors & readers rec hopeful romance reads

At the time is post goes live, I’ll be boarding an airplane at SFO, headed out for a week of family vacation, but I absolutely will approve and reply to comments ASAP during my travel day. I hope we get lots more recommendations to add to this list!

Way back when I first started writing romance, I thought a lot about how the genre’s story arc, with its guaranteed happily ever after, resonated with my beliefs as a person of faith. It seems to me that the arc is all about hope.

Hope is something we must cultivate and nurture, because as we’ve seen lately, the world will steal it from you. And without hope, we can’t make any positive changes in ourself or our communities.

Some people call reading romance escapist, but I think it’s about nurturing our hope, our faith in happy endings, in humanity, and the possibility of redeeming personal flaws. If a book brings joy, laughter, comfort, or pleasure, that’s not a guilty indulgence. That’s taking care of our souls, so we can be loving, hopeful people, strong enough to fight for what we stand for.

So I asked a whole lot of writers, readers and bloggers what romances have given them hope.  Here’s what they told me:

Emma Barry, co-author of the Fly Me to the Moon series, said Courtney Milan’s A Kiss for Midwinter

Serena Bell recommended Lauren Layne’s Blurred Lines, because of its empowering message to “go after what you want.”

Amy Jo Cousins mentioned Molly O’Keefe’s book Seduced because it’s “all about being reborn.”

Jenny Holiday also mentioned Molly’s series that begins with Everything I Left Unsaid.

Of course, when Molly O’Keefe’s name kept coming up, I had to ask her! She said she likes books that make her cry and bleed for the happy ending, such as her recent read Never Sweeter, by Charlotte Stein.

Sally Kilpatrick cited the Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev because ultimately the heroine’s belief in love and determination to do what’s right are rewarded.

Ruby Lang, who kindly lent me her ear while I was ruminating over writing this post, mentioned Mia Hopkins‘ fun, well-written steamy books.

Book blogger Sunny Lee said second chance romances are some of her most hopeful, including Rekindled and Absolution by Kaylea Cross

Regency writer Sara Ramsey cited the classic Susan Elizabeth Philips book Ain’t She Sweet, for its themes of redemption and forgiveness.

Julia Seymour, romance aficionado and Lutheran pastor recommended Beverly Jenkins’ Indigo and Shannon Stacey’s Exclusively Yours with this high praise: “It makes me feel good about people and families and things being possible if we put in the work.”

Lizzie Shane (who’s going to RWA next week with a double RITA nomination!) recommended Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation as a powerful read.

Also, my pal Liz Blue asked Suleikha Snyder, Amy Jo Cousins, Tamsen Parker, Vanessa North, and E @ Bookpushers the same question. Together, they sent me this list of books that make them smile:

Tessa Dare – Spindle Cove series https://www.goodreads.com/series/58621-spindle-cove
David and Leigh Eddings – Belgariad Series https://www.goodreads.com/series/40739-the-belgariad

Madeline L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18131.A_Wrinkle_in_Time

Robin McKinley – Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End https://www.goodreads.com/series/164261-folktales

Becky Albertalli – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19547856-simon-vs-the-homo-sapiens-agenda

If you have a hope-inspiring book to share, please tell me in the comments!

 

Beyond Family Values–a sermon about Pride, Pulse, and private vs. public grief.

Enough people on Twitter told me they’d like to read my sermon that I decided I would in fact post it here. Last Sunday was a challenging one for preachers of the revised common lectionary, with a doozy of a Gospel text in which Jesus says things like:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Recently a thirteen-year-old came to me for help on a school assignment for a paper analyzing a religious theme in literature. She said, “I want to write about the religious theme of family values.”

“Hm,” I said. “Can you think of places in the Bible that show family values?”

“No, that’s what I’m struggling with.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said. “Because the Bible doesn’t actually talk about the kind of family values you’re thinking of.”

She frowned, perplexed. For many children her age, and many people I know, family is a kind of religion.

Loyalty, love, duty between parents and children–these family values are the most sacred thing in our society. However, they are not Jesus’s religion. When a man offers to follow Jesus but only after he goes home to bury his father, Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead. In other words, if you really care about the Kingdom of God, stop worrying about your duty to family, your observance of all the old customs. Instead, join Jesus’s work, which is so much bigger, and more important, than your individual family.

Jesus says this on his way toward Jerusalem, when it has become clear that the worldly forces of violence and oppression are mounting against him, clear that the world is not yet ready to hear that loving one’s neighbor is as important as loving oneself, and one’s family or tribe.

It’s a tough message to hear. And, let’s be honest. Having a tribe can be fun, having a family can be comforting and make us feel secure. But they can also divide–as we draw closer within the lines we’ve drawn, we inevitably leave others outside the lines.

If you’ve tried to get free from an abusive family, or you’ve ever felt ostracized from a tribe, you know this well. Walling off borders, stereotyping a particular race or religion as dangerous–these are acts of retreat into the safety of tribalism. But it’s not safe for everybody–only the ones inside the walls, willing to conform to the rules of the tribe–and this is not loving our neighbor as ourselves.

From its beginning, Christianity refused tribalism.* Jesus held up the despised tribe of Samaritans as good neighbors and rebuked his disciples for wanting to harm them. The strict Jew Paul became a servant to the Gentiles. In his letters, he refers to his fellow Christians as brothers and sisters. It’s language so familiar to us from hearing his letters that we think nothing of it, but in Paul’s world this is not a small thing. Once, he drew his boundaries around his tribe of Jews and declared God had chosen them alone, but when he meets Jesus, he begins to understand God’s family includes everyone, its bonds are formed by adoption, not blood, and every man is his brother, every woman his sister.

This universal family is a nice idea, right? It makes us Christians feel all warm and fuzzy. But when the rubber hits the road, we’re just making dinner for our own spouse, our own children or parents, not the whole human family. We can’t afford to pay the utility bill for all the tribes of the world, only our own household.

I’m a mom of five-year-old twins who are constantly calling out “mommy” at the same time with competing demands. If everyone gets fed, the house tidied and the dishwasher run, I feel like I’ve run a marathon. This is my number one duty. Little people depend on me. It’s a sacred duty, one that brings me joy alongside exhaustion. In fact, I will even go so far as to say being a mother has brought me closer to God by teaching me what God’s love for us might be like.

But by itself, my family is not the kingdom of God. Concern for, service to others outside our household is what God calls us to. And no matter how many bowls of mac and cheese I serve, how much laundry I fold, or how much love I pour into my children, the world is not yet that kingdom of peace, of justice, of abundance that Jesus proclaimed and God created us to enjoy. Taking care of my own little tribe will not transform the world, what WILL change it is actions that benefit others rather than myself, embracing those “others” as brothers and sisters, and extending compassion, care, support to them even when it costs me, even when it carries risks.

When I was fresh out of seminary more than ten years ago, my boss was a woman rector of a nearby church. She was an amazing mentor. George W. Bush had recently declared the second war in Iraq accomplished, but the Iraqis struggled under their tribal conflicts and teetered on the edge of civil war. One of my mentor’s daughters, a few years younger than me, was a journalist, and she was being sent to Iraq to report there. My rector was so proud of her, and I remember studying her face over lunch one day and looking for the signs of maternal panic I would expect for her daughter heading off into danger. Heck, even I was afraid for the young woman.

When those signs didn’t appear, I said, “Aren’t you worried for her safety?”

“Sure.” She nodded. “But we’ve always taught our children that personal safety isn’t the highest good. Sometimes you have to take risks for the things you believe in.”

Those words surprised and moved me, and they have forever shaped my parenting. My five-year-olds aren’t headed off to report in war zones anytime soon, but I do try to think about how to raise them with a sense of mission, of duty to those beyond our household, to the whole human family. At bedtime we practice loving kindness meditation to cultivate compassion for ourselves, our loved ones, and then all the people of the world. More times than not, one of the twins makes a potty joke or burps during the meditation, but I hold out hope that its forming them as compassionate people who will strive to serve the world and transform it with love.

But sometimes, as a member of a family, it’s hard to face up to this duty, to keep focused on loving the whole world instead of my narrow, personal and private concerns.

Two weeks ago today, my beloved cat Pietro died. I’m just going to say, I’m sure you all have great cats, but my cat was THE best cat in the world—patient with my kids, good natured, spirited and fun. In the last picture I ever took of him, he was next to my daughter wearing Mr. Potato head’s tiny glasses while she sported the matching toothy grin like the Cheshire cat. When our friends heard he’d died, I received a flurry of text messages officially declaring him the best feline ever. That day, out of the blue, he came home severely maimed and my husband rushed him to the emergency vet, but he didn’t make it.

Later that day, I learned about the terrible shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. My heart was already broken over Pietro, and for several days I couldn’t face the news or social media about that tragedy because my private grief was so huge and I had to firmly control it to function with the kids.

Then, added to the mix of my grief, I felt an awful shame over my silent retreat from the public lament and outrage over the shooting. I’m proud to be a priest in an inclusive denomination–the Episcopal Church. I aspire to be a genuine ally to my GLBTQ brothers and sisters. But I had no words of solidarity or comfort for them. After all, Pietro was just a cat and 49 men and women died in that bar. It was selfish of me to be so absorbed by my private sadness for a lost pet.

I kept thinking Jesus would be disappointed in me, would tell me to let the dead bury the dead, to focus on the living, to focus on actions that will make a difference, the words that will help end hatred and violence. But I couldn’t do it. I could only tread water above my grief and focus on daily, mundane tasks.

Finally, I told my friend and colleague Will about this shame. Will is a hospital chaplain and grief expert. He shook his head in astonishment to let me know I’d gotten it wrong. “First off,” he said, “No gay man would ever say your cat is ‘just an animal,’ he was a part of your family just like my dogs have always been my children.” And he said personal grief, close to home, the holes in the fabric of life that a death leaves, the furry spot in my closet where Pietro slept on all my workout shirts—of course that would come first and hit hardest, before my grief for Orlando.

But now, I am beginning to ache less, to contemplate letting my kids pick out a pair of kittens later this summer, lifting up my head to see the larger world. As I wrote this sermon, I read an article that named every victim and shared a little of his or her story. It mentioned the loved ones grieving too, facing those same holes in their lives. And I wept, my own loss finally melding with the larger, corporate grief for those women and men.

Jesus doesn’t ask us not to love our family, he asks us to reach deep into our well of private, personal love and share it with neighbors and strangers, with those beyond our family and tribe.

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus was rejected, homeless, unwelcome when he marched toward Jerusalem and told one man to let the dead bury the dead, told another not to look backward or say farewell to his household. He was headed for a showdown with the powers of violence and oppression, and he WON.

Yet those forces persist. Our world is full of refugees running for their lives and unwelcome in those places they hope to find safety. It’s full of people whose sexual orientation makes them a target for violence, even in the sanctuary of a gay bar.

What does Jesus want us to do about it?

He wants us to re-draw our lines of family and tribe to include all people, to pour out the kind of love we feel for our closest relatives and dearest friends onto outcasts and strangers, refugees and victims of violence. He wants us to do something that already happens in this church–welcome strangers and make them family.

He wants us to do what thousands of people in San Francisco are doing at the Pride Parade right now–marching together as a family of GLBTQ folks and allies who refuse to let violence win, just as the first Christians did.

They will hold up their signs that read LOVE WINS, because they know, like we followers of Jesus know, that love gives life. When people join together across boundaries of family, tribe, sexuality, and all divisions–to proclaim God’s love of all people, to declare God’s complete and total rejection of violence–then love will truly win.



I’ll admit I was nervous about preaching this–in my congregation, the acceptance of GLBTQ folks has been a sticky point for a few folks, a matter of silence for others, even though the majority of members has been readily welcoming GLBTQ folks for many years. As is so often the case, a sermon I thought sounded radical seems in hindsight almost tame.

However, it was very well received. People were especially grateful for a way to make sense of that tricky Gospel passage and to join together in public lament. I wasn’t the only one getting weepy that day.

*Of course, now that I'm posting this online I feel the need to note that in the history of Christianity, there have been many tragic counter examples, where we ignored these anti-tribal roots and descended into hatred and violence.