Hardened Hearts austins-apology  shadowed-secrets  guarding-greatness 

Cosmo vs. Crunch Berries

My life as a published writer didn’t actually start until about five years ago… partly in response to the many people who always said, “you’re going to need to live a life of your own once the boys are grown”.  It took a little bit to remember what it’s like to have time to myself.

What’s not hard to remember?  Chasing a two-year-old around.  Thanks to Cosmo, my Cockatoo who almost a year ago moved from my parent’s house to mine, all the memories of living with a toddler have come flooding back.

Cocaktoos, as cute as they are, have the mentality of a two-year-old.  He cannot be locked up all day, which means, he roams amongst the family.  He barks at the dogs, he tries to bite their tails, he either loves or hates the boys at any given moment.  He tries to eat things he shouldn’t, loudly declares when he’s not happy, leaves a trail of broken toys throughout the house, and will just stop and poop whenever the need hits.

He also loves sugar… and keeping in mind that these birds have stomachs the size of walnut shells means that three cereal “berries” can lead to an afternoon of hyper-chaotic-overactive-hell.

He ran, laughed, and jumped.  He hung upside down and growled.  He chased Justin with an empty paper towel roll, and he climbed on Dominic’s shoulders to scream at the top of his lungs (which if you don’t know – these birds can be heard up to 2 miles away) and flung water at the vacuum cleaner.

Oh happy days.  I never thought I’d miss the time he sat on my chest and cuddled – making it hard to reach the keyboard… or the day he sat on top of his cage and laughed at the birds outside… or even the day I was a little jealous he wanted to love on Dominic more than he wanted to love on me.

Cosmo taught my boys in one day to do what I’ve been begging for years – wash out your cereal bowls when you’re done eating.  Ugh.

My Ice Cream Dream / Nightmare

As a kid, did you ever beg and beg and beg to eat ice cream morning, noon, and night?

I did.  It was a dream that my parents fought and killed each time that sugary dragon reared its ugly head.  They were good parents.

Well, this past week, I had a severe throat problem – I couldn’t swallow.  Literally.  I didn’t have strep, thankfully, but it was still a very real and scary problem.

After an emergency trip to my doctor, it was determined that my throat was so swollen, so irritated, so damaged that I was given the following directions: no chewing, no hot food/liquids, no talking for three days.  Only cold, smooth, and soft foods.  If it required using my teeth, I wasn’t allowed to eat it.

Oh hell yeah!  I drove home, wrote a grocery list for my son, consisting of every flavor of ice cream I was going to splurge on, and kicked back, ready to live out my childhood dream of all ice cream, all the time…

… and in less than one day, I declared ice cream my enemy.  If I never eat another bowl, cup, shake, smoothie, or spoonful of ice cream, frozen yogurt, or pudding ever again in life – it’ll be too soon.

Turns out, my parents had a reason for refusing such a silly request.  Sugar-induced twitches and calorie overload comas aside… it’s just gross.  I never wanted spinach as badly as I wanted it on Saturday afternoon.  By Sunday, I was dreaming of chicken and rice.  Monday, I would have killed for meatloaf.

Nearly a week later, I no longer feel like I’m swallowing razor blades, and I can sit still without the tremors and jumps that an all ice cream diet induce.  So, I guess on one hand, the doctor knew what he was talking about. 

On the other hand… so did my parents.

Well, this is it. Book four

Well, this is it.  Book four – Guarding Greatness – is in the hands of beta readers.

It’s the story of Gage Martin, our resident disappearing/reappearing, tall, quiet, and handsome mystery man that always seems to show up in the nick of time to be the team’s saving grace.  But, how quiet will he be while he finds his true love?

Guarding Greatness was originally supposed to be book three in the series… but as I write, I learn.  And I learned two things this time around.

The first is, if I my leading man isn’t ready to talk to me, he’s just not going to talk to me. 

That was the case here.   I wrote, scrapped, wrote, erased, wrote, and eventually gave up (temporarily) on Gage.  Sharp stepped up, took his place, and Shadowed Secrets won the number three spot.

It was for the best, because the original story I had in mind for Gage just wasn’t right for him… or his leading lady Genna.  In fact, Genna became a completely different person all together in this book.  I have to admit – I like her a lot more now.

So – enough about my relationship with them.  Let’s talk about what their relationship is all about.

Gage Martin is, as most alpha-heroes tend to be, fiercely protective of his friends, his past, and his heart.  He’s seen true love, but doesn’t trust it.  There is one woman that he doesn’t mind dropping everything for, though… even if she does come from a very public family.

Genna VanJohnson is an every-woman… or rather… as much as she can be while also being the cousin to a Prince-In-Waiting.  She knows that a giant spotlight is never far away from her family, and does everything she can to live her normal life for as long as she can – before the spotlight finds her.

They’re paired together on a Teams mission that turns personal when the small island chain Genna calls home becomes the center of a political game of cat and mouse.  They’ve worked together well in the past, but when both the job – and the partner – become personal, that’s when things get hot.

The second thing I learned is that not every team member is created equal.

Turns out, the plans I had to make this a six book series have been dwindled down to just five.  The young and fun medic, Marcus Marcado  - who has an amazing scene in Guarding Greatness – was going to have his own book, but I stole the one scene I always had in mind for Marcado and gave it to Gage… leaving Marcado without anything to call his own.

Will he make an appearance as his own book? I’ll never say never, but he may have to do a little growing first.

In the meantime, I hope you’re as excited as I am for Guarding Greatness.  There are still a few more chores to be done before I can hand Gage over to you, but when I do, I hope you have as much fun reading him as I did writing him.

Free Time = Writing Time. Not.

There is a running joke in my house… I (as a single parent) raised my oldest son to the age of 18 without any major surgery, mishap, or emergency room trips.  The VERY DAY he turned 18 – he cracked his kneecap in two places, ripped not one but 3 ligaments, tendons in his leg, and required surgery. 

Two years later (to the month) I found myself in the family waiting room for a second surgery.  This time – his shoulder. 

The difference was this time, there would be no one in the waiting room with me.  Partly by design, partly just circumstance. 

So I packed.  I took two books, a magazine, my laptop, a pad of paper, and plenty of ideas.  I’m in the first chapters of Book #4 – so this will be nothing but prime writing time – right?


Not only did I never open my laptop, I think I somehow lost both of the books I brought in the waiting room, a toddler ripped up my magazine while I was deciding between trail mix and salsa flavored chips at the vending machine, and the Ink Master marathon was one I’d already seen.

In the week immediately following, life was a little like when I first brought him home from the hospital 20 years ago.  I slept when he slept – which was rarely.  I cried when he cried.  I hurt when he hurt.

Not a single word was written.

But, I’m ok with it.  I heard once that writing time counts in many different ways – and one of those ways is in brainstorming.  In my sleep deprived, mentally unstable, and pizza craving state I managed to plug a plot hole, change the color of my heroine’s hair, change it back, and figure out who my bad guy (girl?) is and what he (or she?) wants.

Basically, in ignoring the writer’s block I’d been suffering from – the ideas came flooding back.  A week later, my son is playing video games (or as best he can with one arm in a sling), and complaining that his bandages itch. 

Me?  Well, I’m writing again, and complaining that I forgot to buy wine on my last grocery store trip.

So in a nutshell – things are slowly returning to (our version) of normal.

Until next time, stay weird - author's need a pool of characters to draw from.

The Waiting Game

I don’t know about other writers, I can only speak for myself, but… as I sit around waiting for the first reviews to come out for Shadowed Secrets, I have a craving for a giant margarita.

Waiting is probably one of the hardest parts of being a writer… at least for me.

It is one more step to being published. One more day closer to setting a piece of work you have put two years into, and letting strangers judge it… judge you. Ugh. Once the formatter has done its job, you can’t change it. No more second chances. Writers stress. They worry. They stay up late and get up early all in the name of writing. Turning passing thoughts into believable people who have the potential to make readers smile, laugh or cry is an emotional rollercoaster.

Writing and creating is fun. Editing is frustrating. Making something public that you’ve put months and sometimes years of your life into so that it can be judged is nerve-wracking.

So for now, I wait for strangers to become fans… and in the end, that’s worth it all.
Shadowed Secrets is out now!! I hope you’re as excited as I am nervous.

Coming Soon... Shadowed Secrets

I know, I know… I’ve been saying that for months. But I promise it’s coming!

Between work life, mom life, niece life, treasurer life, and writer life… I’ve been so swamped. I’m taking eye of the storm, to-do lists a mile long, dogs wondering why they haven’t been walked every morning kind of chaos.

Something had to give, and sadly, for longer than I wanted, it was Sharp and Sawyer. Our smooth-talking Irishman of the Teams who has finally found his match in strong-willed Sawyer O’Connell. They had the easy part of the process – finding each other, falling in love, battling against shadows filled with danger, and overcoming secrets to find love…

… I have the hard part in getting them out of my computer and into your e-readers.

After reorganizing my life a little (a lot) I have finally found that time. A few beta readers have already had a peek, and the response has been amazing. So give me just a little bit of time to get it formatted and set, and he’ll be all yours.

Want more details about our favorite Irishman? Here is a little something to help wet your whistle:

Sawyer O’Connell runs her life and her business with an iron fist and a strict schedule. Colin Sharp is a man with a laid-back reputation, despite his position within a combat troubleshooting team. When Sawyer’s life is threatened, Sharp is called in to protect her. Can Sharp convince Sawyer to give up control enough to save her from dangers unknown, or will shadowed secrets steal their chance at love?

Not enough? Ok, how about this random snippet:
She slept, albeit fitfully. This morning, after dressing, packing, and stepping out of her room, she expected to find him standing there waiting for her as he did every morning. Instead, she found an empty hallway. So, she stood, outside his door, her bags by her side, afraid to face him the day after melting down in his arms. Nice arms, but still...

Sawyer took a deep breath and raised her hand to knock.

Before her knuckles made contact with the door, it opened. Sharp stood before her, breathless, wet, and wrapped in a towel. Sawyer knew she was staring, but could not stop. His business slacks, button down shirts and loosely knotted ties did everything to hide his physique.

This man had muscles. Many muscles. She remembered the feeling of them from the previous day, but seeing them - up close and personal - had her tongue-tied. Besides the tan skin, defined body, Sharp also had a Celtic cross tattooed on his upper arm, and several small scars scattered across his upper arms and chest.

"Sawyer." He snapped his fingers in front of her face to get her attention. "Get in here. The last thing I need is to give that clerk any ideas."

"What is going on?" She found her voice as she grabbed the handle of her bag and followed Sharp into his room. His suitcase was open on his bed, clothes neatly folded inside. Steam billowed out of the bathroom, cut off only when he stepped back in and closed the door behind him.

"Went downstairs to the hotel gym." His muffled voice sounded from behind the bathroom door.

"Gee, I feel safe," she muttered. Walking over to the bed, she sat next to his open suitcase. The man was a mess this morning. He was not frazzled, but was definitely running full force to play catch-up.

She frowned down at a plain brown file partially sticking out from under this suitcase on the bed. When she heard the bathroom door open, she looked up, pulling her hand away from the file.

"Don’t start with me,” he snapped. “You aren't supposed to leave your room without me. Damn near broke my toe jumping out of the shower to grab you in the hallway when your alarm went off." His voice was calm, but the tone spoke volumes, as he returned to the small bath area.

"Yeah, it's my fault." She tilted her head and lifted her brow. Once the bathroom door closed, she pulled at the file again.

Opening it, she hesitated focusing on the words, feeling a moment of shame.

Then she saw her name.

The Art of Dating…I Mean Writing

So, it turns out, I kind of get around town.

Ok, not really. But if books were any indication of my dating style, it would seem that I am footloose and fancy free. I get a little… antsy, I guess is the best way to describe me during various stages of the writing process.

When I’m researching, I’m not really that connected. Research a little here, research a little there, it’ll get done. I’m pretty mellow about the whole thing.

When I’m writing, I’m consumed. I must write. There are sticky notes all over my car’s dashboard. My purse is crammed full of notes, reminders, and napkins that ideas from the current book that spawn my interest into the next book. This is my love phase… with a little death and danger thrown in for good measure. I come up for air only when my kids remind me it’s time to eat, or my laptop runs out of juice.

When I’m in the editing phase, I’m a pain in the butt. I hate editing. I fight it. A lot. There is a fighting around this time. We’re talking cursing, accusations, disbelief, distrust, and jealously over how easy other writers make it appear. You name it, I experience it.

But… before the book is out and ready for you, there is that small period of someone else editing and tearing apart my book. This is when the cover is designed, the blurb is written, and the almost overwhelming urge to leave is born. It’s at this stage, I’m already looking over this book to the calendar to mark when I can leave this one, and say “hellllooooo!” to the next one.

So what stage am I in now? Well, Shadowed Secrets, the story of our favorite Irishman Colin Sharp is in the hands of an editor, I’ve emailed some ideas to my amazing cover designer, and the blurb is written:

Sawyer O’Connell runs her life and her business with an iron fist and a strict schedule. Colin Sharp is a man with a laid-back reputation, despite his position within a combat troubleshooting team. When Sawyer’s life is threatened, Sharp is called in to protect. Can Sharp convince Sawyer to give up control enough to save her from danger, or will shadowed secrets steal their chance at love?

From where I stand, that means it’s time to do a little flirting a little with my next man – I mean book. What do we think about the ever mysterious Gage getting a chance to stand in the spotlight?

I'll start eyeing Gage, but you should keep an eye out for Shadowed Secrets. It'll be ready for you about mid-December!

Arriving Soon...

He came, he conquered, he fell in love.  

Colin Sharp, the man with the Irish brogue is next in line to have his story told... and as of this week, his story is done!  He is such an amazing man, as you know from his appearances in Hardened Hearts and Austin's Apology.  Smart, funny, insightful, I thought I knew him well, but as I wrote, he surprised even me in this book.  

For starters, he was originally scheduled to be book four in the series.  But each time I tried to work on Gage, my original book three, I struggled.  Gage and I fought, I cursed, I cried, and he laughed at me from the blank screen.  Sharp on the other hand, walked in, and wrote himself in three months.

Sharp also changed his story.  Originally planned with a political background, Sharp's story turned into a story of control, self-discovery, and an appreciation for family both biological and adopted.  

Our favorite Irishman is joined on his journey by Sawyer O'Connell.  I felt like for a man of such strong sense of self, he needed an equally strong woman.  Not that Harper and Addison weren't strong in their books, but Sawyer's strength needed to be different somehow.  So hers was forged from a lifetime of independence, and that confidence that attracts Sharp to her cracks a little over their story.  

As they work their way through their story, she learns that it's ok to lean on someone else for help, as he is learns he doesn't always need to rush in on a white horse. 

His story is written, so now the hard part begins.  The editing, the revisions, and the cover work are about to begin.  So keep your eye out for Shadowed Secrets.  It'll be hitting the e-Book shelves soon.

Oh!  There might be something to what whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing because Gage is finally speaking to me again.  I don't think his arrival is too far behind!

When To Give Up


Never stop writing, never stop dreaming, never drown out the voices in your head that ultimately become your hero, heroine, funny sidekick, or ultimate villain. That having been said, if you do find yourself wanting to empty the dishwasher more than you want to write, or that last episode of reality TV seems just oh-so-appealing instead of finding happily ever after for your characters… then it might be time to take a break.

Not from writing of course, but maybe from that character. While I’m currently writing a “series” (they don’t have to be read in order though), I found that book three, Gage, whom I’ve had the hots for since Hardened Hearts, just wasn’t working. 11,000 words were written, scrapped, rewritten, cursed at, and sent out to friends and family for thoughts.

That wasn’t helpful either. Some liked version 1 better than version 2. Some wanted version 3 to start off like version 1 but end like version 2. Other wanted...

That’s when I realized I’d written the prologue to the same book four different times. (No one liked version 4 for the record.) Sometimes, the best laid plans are just that… plans. Plans can be changed, altered, and rewritten. Three months and I never seemed to get further than Chapter 2.

I was in love with Harrison (Hardened Hearts) when I wrote his story. Austin (Austin’s Apology) and I had to warm up to each other. My third team member to find love, Gage, we had a plan, but now… we’re on a time-out. I still love him, and I still know his story, it’s just not his time. It turns out, the plans I had for him… just aren’t ready yet. But that’s okay, because it has left the door wide open for another team member to find his happily ever after.

The time I wasted fighting to get Gage’s story down on paper was a lesson learned, because a different team member has picked up Cupid’s arrow and is running full force towards the woman who holds his heart. Once I stopped fighting with one character, it allowed another to shine, which is how I found myself writing until 1 in the morning even though my alarm is set for 5:30.

So, never stop writing, just... write something different until you stop being stuck. I guess it’s true what writers say... we can’t control the crazy, we can only write it down.

Second Book Syndrome… and its cure.

Is it a real thing? Probably not, but it is my job to make stuff up, so, it could be.


My Writing Process - Blog Tour

Thank you for stopping by during the blog tour for My Writing Process. This is my first tour, so bear with me as I learn the ins and outs of talking about myself, and putting a spotlight on all my crazy, because let's face it, you have to be at least a little bit - off - to be a writer.

First, a thank you to Lisa Heartman, who tagged me to share my particular brand of foolishness on the unsuspecting public. But to make sure I'm not standing here alone in the spotlight, here's a little bit about Lisa: Lisa has a BA and MBA in Business Administration with a minor in Marketing. Although business is her first love, writing has become her passion. She loves the creative possibilities and escape it provides from a sometimes hectic everyday life. Lisa writes contemporary romance novels. She is finishing up her first book and looks forward to getting it into the hands of her readers. In addition to writing, Lisa enjoyes movies, music, reading, anything dark chocolate or coffee related, and hobbies like jewelry making and sewing. Her blog address is: www.lisaheartman.com/lisas-blog.html

That's just a little about why I like Lisa and consider her a friend. So I really hope I don't embarrass her during this chat about "My Writing Process":

What are you working on?

To be honest, I'm multi-tasking. The sequel to Hardened Hearts will be Austin's Apology. It's in this second book we learn more about our fearless leader of the Teams, Austin Stewart, only to find he has plenty of fears – including facing Addison Malloy. During his first official mission as leader of the do-gooders, he sent Addison, a newbie agent, into a family of human traffickers, where she barely escaped the experience, and not without more than a few emotional scars. Now, he has pull her out of hiding, but ask her to help him save his family by sending her right back into the same dangerous situation she barely limped away from the first time around.

Now that Austin is officially written, he is in his first round of edits. That means my mind is free to start playing around with Gage, our dark sunglasses wearing, mysteriously appearing/disappearing messenger of the Teams series - and Gail, the only woman who may be up to the challenge of bringing him out of the shadows and into the light.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

In my mind... or in reality? In my mind it is my strong women who save themselves, and the twists I do my best to weave in and out of each story. In reality, it's probably nowhere near that impressive. So, I'd have to say it is my heart. I've been escaping into these pretend worlds of mine for so long they seem real to me. I talk to my characters in the car, at my desk... and yeah... in the shower. My people tend to have flaws, real human life flaws both internal and external that range from petty grudges to honestly crippling addictions. They have to fight for themselves in order to fight for whatever fate has waiting for them.

Why do you write what you do?

Honestly? During my last three years of high school I lived with my grandparents. The only thing my grandmother had to read were big thick books with half-naked pirates on the covers. Don't get me wrong – I'm all for half naked pirates, but after awhile the books all began to read/feel/sound the same. Then, after a trip to a second-hand paperback book store (yeah, I'm that old), I found an emotionally wounded man working surveillance alone in the mountains until a feisty red-headed woman happened along and saved him from his inner demons. I was hooked instantly and haven't been back on a pirate ship since. And since they say to write what you love...

How does your writing process work?

Wait – there's an actual process to this madness? Maaaan... no one told me! I don't have one, not really. I write whenever and wherever I can. Music is usually blasting in my ears to drown out the kids, the dogs, the neighbors, the t.v., the... you get the picture. Certain songs get put on repeat for intense scenes and emotions. If I'm truly distracted, I can be found at the public library or my neighbor's kitchen table.

Anyway, once a book is done I read it, stress over it, curse it, send it to a friend to read, curse it some more, let a beta reader give it a once over, and after learning the hard way from Hardened Hearts, beg for a professional editor to read it before I hit "publish". I self-publish for two simple facts: 1. I crave instant gratification and 2. I fear rejection.

So there you go... my obsession in a nutshell. Are there others out there like me? Of course there are! So, just like Lisa Heartman tagged me, I am tagging one of them to help keep the "My Writing Process" blog tour alive on April 14th:

Vijaya Schwartz: Born in France, award-winning author Vijaya Schartz never conformed to anything and could never refuse a challenge. She likes action and exotic settings, in life and on the page. She traveled the world and claims she also travels through time, and feels just as comfortable in the future as in the far past. Her novels collected many five star reviews and literary awards. She will make you believe you actually lived these extraordinary adventures among her characters. Visit her blogs at: http://romancingscifi.blogspot.com/ or http://medievalnovels.blogspot.com/

Hi. My name is Lena

Hi. My name is Lena. I’m a procrastinator. Also known as: an author with writer’s block.

How do I know? Because, for the last three months, each and every time I’ve sat down in front of a computer, all of the ideas that had plagued me in the shower, on the drive to work, in the grocery store, during my favorite TV shows – they all disappear. I open the laptop, I pull up the current file and then… Well, it turns out there is an abandoned Marine Hospital in Illinois that I want to buy one day. There’s also an abandoned church in Michigan, a haunted hotel in Columbia, and an apricot orchard in California all just begging for me to turn into my personal hide-away from the world. I can tell you every FAQ and Trivia fact listed on IMDB.com for the last seven movies I’ve watched. Oh, and depending on which website you check out, I can tell you that the name Lena is either Hebrew for Woman of Magdala or Greek for The Bright One.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing at all. Actually, I’ve been writing a lot about the last Teams member in the series. I’ve drafted two outlines to some of the forthcoming Culver siblings. I’ve even written two grocery lists, and a list of things to get cleaned/fixed/painted around the house. Chances are though, none of that counts.

Maybe it’s just this one project that has me stumped. Austin, who yes, still needs a title, and a book cover, and an editor (look at that – another list of things to do has been drafted) is for the most part complete. There was a small portion that has to be rewritten but as I stalled in the process (I think, somewhere around the Michigan church) I realized, it’s not just this one project. I’d done the same thing with Harper and Harrison in Hardened Hearts. The closer to finishing the book and typing out the words “The End”, the harder it was to sit down and commit.

In the end, it took a bottle of Moscato, a dark room, a slice of New York cheesecake, and a whole lot of tears before I was able to actually write the epilogue and put Hardened Hearts to bed. It seems I have a pattern when I write my books. The question is: How do I learn to let go without wasting almost a year searching for the end of the internet?

Well… it’s one of the questions anyway. The others could be – how did I not think twice about drinking a whole bottle of wine in one setting by myself? I don’t even like apricots, why would I buy a whole orchard of them? Even better, how could I even contemplate buying a haunted hotel in another country when I’m afraid of the dark, and don’t even like crossing state lines to visit my family? Those sound like problems to solve another time. For now, I have a book to finish… and a bottle of wine to buy.

A Cheating Writer

Ok, admittedly, I am obsessed with writing. I think about it all of the time. In the shower, on the drive to work, at work, on the drive home, while making dinner, in the middle of the night...

That having been said, I also write a bi-weekly blog post for single moms. I'm an office manager for a family law firm. I have two teenage kids and three rambunctious dogs. I'm also the oldest of seven siblings and am in the midst of massive family drama. So finding time to write is hit or miss. Normally I try and get some writing done in the evenings, but I, like most people, tend to get distracted by Facebook, Twitter, emails, kids, dogs, dinner, etc. I was doing pretty well in the mornings before work, but then it got cold, and my bed was soooo warm.

Then there's the problem of my own mind. Brenner's Do-Gooders on the Teams are my first loves. Harper/Harrison, the now finished - and soon to be published - Austin/Addy, and a decent start on Gage's story have lead to ideas on the rest of the teams. (Did you know Austin has a sister? I did – and she has her own book in the series. Who will she end up with? Well, knowing how I name my characters, and her name is Macy – I'll let you figure out who she falls for.)

But... and oh what a mighty big but, I have a problem. See, there is another series I've had in mind, but until recently haven't done more than outline it. It'll be the Culver Cove series.

Is it weird to feel like I'm cheating on the Teams? What little writing time I've had lately seems to be spent at the Cove instead of on base with the Teams. And I do feel like I'm cheating. As a hardcore reader, I know the pain of having my favorite author take a break in a series to write something I don't read. But suddenly, their defection seems to makes so much sense. I don't love Gage any less than I loved Harrison, but Kole, Brody, Jaxene and the rest of the Culver siblings... they're all becoming such a powerful pull!

In either case, there'll be no shortage of books anytime soon. I guess that means I need to find time – in the morning, in the evening, or somewhere in-between – so that I can get these voices out of my head... and make room for more!

The First Step...

So if a blog is a look into my life as a writer, what better way to do so than to hear how it all began? Not the box of yellowed paper typed up on my grandmother's IBM Select typewriter, but perhaps something a little more recent, and the two people that changed the course of my dreams.

In the sober light of day, no one I saw on a daily basis knew I wrote, what I wrote about, or how passionate I am about it. Then, last year, I decided to go back to college. See, in real life, I'm a single mom who has been consistently employed in random jobs in order to keep my family afloat. I've done it all from radio d.j. to data entry specialist to high school librarian and even did a stint as a phone sex operator. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I've had my fair share of jobs, which combined with the kids, meant I had to put my own schooling and desire to write on hold.

Early in 2012, I finally decided I was ready to go back to school. I decided that a BFA was the way to go. After all, if I'm going to write for a living (or, at least for fun) then a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree seemed only fitting.

Person #1 - Theresa
In order to be accepted into an academic program, I needed to provide a writing sample. However, as you can tell from Hardened Hearts' first version complete with multiple embarrassing mistakes, you need to have someone read through it, catch mistakes you can no longer see for yourself. (FYI, Hardened Hearts has since been professionally edited.) So, I asked Theresa to read over the first ten pages of what then were only about two chapters.

At that point, what was supposed to be a writing sample became a living breathing thing. Theresa (the proof-reader turned bully) harassed me daily for chapter after chapter, cursing me each time I ended a chapter on a cliff-hanger. Within three months, Hardened Hearts was a fully written book.

Person #2 - My son
You know those movies where a character sits and stares thoughtfully into the distance as daylight turns into night? It really happens, and I'm living proof. I sat, Hardened Hearts loaded and ready to go, but I just could not bring myself to push one little button. In my defense, that one little button contained the word "Publish", which in all honesty is as daunting today as it was then. I sat, in the overstuffed chair, cross-legged, laptop on a t.v. tray in front of me, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The laptop itself had gone into and out of hibernating mode countless times. Finally, right at 6 p.m., my 17 year old crossed through the living room, looked from me to the laptop and back again before shaking his head and sighing. "This is just sad," were his last words before he reached over, shook the mouse, and pressed the all powerful "Publish" button.

My Fantasy Life as a Writer

I have wanted to be a writer for I don't know how long. In junior high school, I remember sitting in my guidance counselor's office taking a career aptitude test. The results: journalist. In high school, I was on the school's paper; had all of my homework assignments kept by the creative writing teacher to be used as examples in other classes. Last week I took one of those "Perfect Career" tests on Facebook. I'm destined to be a writer... and Facebook never lies.

So, I guess really I never had much of a choice. I mean, I never wanted to be President, an astronaut, or veterinarian. I'm so not a girly-girl, so high heels and runways never held much of a hold on my heart. Storylines, characters, and plot outlines... that's what makes me dreamy eyed and tingly.

Imagine it – a life spent curled up with a shawl and a laptop, sitting in a lounge chair on the back porch of a seaside cabin, the sound of soft water pushing up on the beach, a glass of Moscato by my side... mmmmmm.

Ok, that was my fantasy.

In reality, I'm curled up on the couch, a dog farting at my feet, a bottle of beer next to the couch, my neighbor's rockabilly pool party in full swing, and the my kids (18 and 14) asking why I haven't made dinner yet a mere three hours after lunch... uugghh.

The place, setting, and sounds may not be the things my dreams were made of, but the contentment remains the same. It used to be such a plain word, contentment. But even when reality is such a far cry from the fantasy, contentment really is a perfect – my perfect – kind of peace.


I would say welcome, but that just sounds... weird.

If you've found this site, you've either heard of Senator Brenner's Do-Gooder Teams, read the first book (Hardened Hearts), or spelled something wrong. In either case, I'm excited that you were either interested enough (or unlucky enough) to read this far.

So that you know a little about me (because it doesn't look like I can get out of this without sounding like I'm filling out a dating website questionnaire)... I grew up in my grand-parent's house. Have you ever experienced life as a teenager living in a house with two chain-smoking, news-watching, never-talking 70-somethings? I did - - and as a life-long chatterbox, it was what ended up being the start of my ability to escape my reality and find someplace all my own. I'm not saying I didn't love my grandparents, quite the opposite. In fact, to this day, I credit them with (in their own way) helping get me started with my writing.
I began writing, by reading. My grandmother was an avid reader of rogue-pirate-warrior-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of books. In the spirit of honesty, I read some of them. Okay, I read a lot of them. But after a while, I was bored. How many times can the misunderstood pirate and his heart of gold kidnap and fall in love with the kind-hearted pillar of society? Then, one day, a small town sheriff with emotional scars and a scrappy woman on the run from her past changed my world. Ah yes, the power of the contemporary who-dunnit romantic suspense novels had me hooked.

When I read more books than were brought into the house, I had no choice. I had to start writing my own material. My first stories (they were in no way considered anything BUT short-stories) were handwritten on yellowed sketchpad paper I found in the coffee table. Somewhere around my junior year I graduated to an IBM Select typewriter. Oh my goodness – when I found the beauty that was the school's library computers and printers – I was a goner.

Those stories are still packed away in a box in my closet, and when I need a good laugh, you had better believe I pull out that box and thumb through them.

Fast forward a few (ok, a lot) of years, and after a friend found out my deep dark guilty writing pleasure, Hardened Hearts became an actual book. As a first attempt, I am begrudgingly proud. My teammates, my heroes the women that love them, are my world on display now, and I cringe when mistakes are pointed out or someone doesn't love them as much as I do. Yet, those very mistakes are currently in the process of being corrected, and will ultimately make me a better author for the next book, and the book after that. Those of you that do love Harrison, and Austin, and Sharp, and Gage, and.. well... you know... as much as I do have helped me as much as my grandparents did all those years ago - - and I cannot thank you enough for wanting to read about them as much as I want to write about them.

Interview with Lena Jakes

How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has done the hardest part for me - getting Hardened Hearts out to the public! There are so many different formats, processes, requirements for each different vendor. With Smashwords, I was able to submit my book once and have it instantly distributed to various vendors. It saved me time, frustration, and sanity!

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Escape! It always has been. I'm the oldest of seven children, and now am the single mom of two teenage boys and three dogs. I've never officially had control of the remote! Really though, I spent my high school years living with my grandparents. My grandma had shelves upon shelves of high-seas pirates and wanton maidens, but after a while, they became repetitive. When I started writing my own things, I was able to create any situation, with any character I could think of. No more half naked pirates turned gentlemen for me!

What do your fans mean to you?
They are my justification and they vanquish my fears. Hardened Hearts had actually been written for a while, but I never published it because I didn't want to hear how awful it was. Finally, with the help of a pushy friend, I published Hardened Hearts on 11-12-12. Exactly 12 hours later I had my first five star review. It's cliché, but I spent the next month thinking, "They like me! They really like me!" I actually researched the heck out of that first reviewer to make sure it wasn't a family member being nice to me! Of course, now I'm afraid of letting my fans down. Someone emailed me from Canada and asked when the 2nd book was coming because she loved the first one so much she couldn't wait. Talk about pressure!!

What are you working on next?
Just six hours ago I finished the second book in the Teams series. It's in the hands of beta-readers now, and will be sent to the editor after that. I'm hoping to be able to hit "publish" before the end of next month after the cover is designed, I figure out a title, and the editor yells at me a little. This second book, I won't lie, it was a hard to write. Not because I didn't want to, but because now it has such a high bar to live up to. Still though, now that it's done, I'm already plotting out books three, four, and five in the series!

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Oh wow. I've mentioned before that I'm single mom of two teenage boys, three dogs, and a guinea pig. I'm also an Office Manager for a family law firm, a regular blog writer for a parenting website, student, and a best friend. I'm thinking about having business cards made up saying "Professional Troubleshooter / Chauffer / Chef / Groomer / Housemaid"... but that would be a pretty long business card.

What is your writing process?
For me, it's all about the music. Originally I had headphones in to block out the dogs, and the TV, and the kids. Then it became a mood stabilizer. For love scenes, there will be a particular song that just seems like a love-making song, and I'll hit repeat. I have favorite songs for action scenes, dangerous scenes, creepy scenes, sad scenes... now it is not uncommon for me to hear the same song 30 times in a row until I can get a particular scene written. I am also a fan of complete darkness in a room when I can get it, and writing first thing in the morning when no one is around to need me for anything. I try and aim for 15 minutes a day, but am jotting notes down on any and everything whenever something pops into my head.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Yes and no. The first story (outside of children's books) I remember reading was Lamb to the Slaughter. I honestly think it has influenced my love of the twist ending, followed by a very close second Gift of the Maji. If you mean the first story that gave me the writing bug, it was Zach's Law by Kay Hooper. There were no pirates, no stolen virtues... but there was a damaged hero, a tiny woman with a big personality, and a group of men and women who were driven by making the world a better place. I was hooked! I still to this day have that book, taped pages and all.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I'm a little ashamed to admit, but I got my first e-reader device last year. I was a firm believer that paper was best. Books are trophies. I like seeing my collection grow. Then, for my birthday, my dad sent me an Acer tablet. Suddenly, I was able to purchase, download, and read a book within minutes. I could (and often do) stay up until 2 a.m. reading without having to turn on a light. Now I can't put the tablet down. It has my Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Overdrive apps on it. I cannot imagine my life without it anymore.

Describe your desk
It's a chair. Yup. A chair. See, the kids want nothing to do with me until I lock myself in my room where I have an actual desk. Then I can't keep them away from me. So, I tend to put in headphones, and write in the living room. However, I'm not a fan of coffee tables, so I have an old computer chair that swivels, rolls, and is height adjustable. So I place my laptop on that, roll it to whichever end of the couch hasn't already been claimed, and type away. If you're still interested, it's a hideous shade of lime green, lost it's back about a year ago, and has a bbq sauce stain on the edge. Sadly, so does my actual desk.

What's the story behind your latest book?
I am working on the second book in the Teams series, following Hardened Hearts. Austin Stewart sent newbie agent Addison Malloy into an undercover situation with human traffickers based on her questionable family background. The operation went horribly wrong, leaving Addison with a drug addiction and serious trust issues. Four years later, Austin's niece is in danger from the same people, forcing him to not only hunt Addison down, but gain her trust back and convince her to face the very situation that nearly destroyed her once before.