Sunday, May 8, 2016

When Mother's Day Isn't All Flowers and Brunch

For the last twenty years or so, I've had a love/hate relationship with Mother's Day. As a mom, I love the way my husband and kids have always surprised me with breakfasts in bed, the perfect cards, and idyllic days spent together.

The Past

As a daughter, more of my memories are bitter than sweet. Growing up the fifth of seven children, we all had a "label" to distinguish one from the other. I wasn't the "pretty one," or the "smart one." I wasn't the "oldest" or the "youngest." I wasn't "one of the twins." I was the "other one."

No. Seriously. I would go to family gatherings and relatives would say, "Now, which one are you again? Oh, right. You're not one of the twins or the pretty one; you're the 'other one.'"

There's a helluva moniker to live up to, huh? 

That was basically how I lived my life. As the Other One, never feeling like I fit in with my own family. And my parents not only allowed it, they pretty much encouraged it. I was six the first time I begged my mother to tell me I was adopted or the milkman's child--something to explain why I felt like such a stranger in my own home, why I was always the target of all the torment and torture of my siblings. Her reply (every single time) was to say if I didn't react to their abuse toward me, they wouldn't find so much entertainment in it. My father's reply was to mutter under his breath that I was "useless" or "oversensitive" and ignore my tears and pleas for help.

I could write a book about what I put up with over the years, but there's no point. I'm not alone and this post isn't about making anyone relive their own particular brand of misery.

The Decision

It was only when I saw the cycle repeated with my own kids, who were considered not as "special" as the other grandkids my parents had and wound up crushed by the callousness of those who should've loved them unconditionally, that I made the decision to divorce my family. I cut them out of my life. And for the first year or two afterwards, I became the subject of so much online harassment and destructive behavior from my siblings, I had to involve the police. 

I can't tell you how many people tried to convince me to return to the fold with comments like, "What if your parents die and you've left this unresolved? Will you be able to live with yourself?"

The answer is yes. I tried. I really did. I spent too many years putting up with the abuse and running back for more, hoping, this time would be different. But it never was. And when my father passed away after our estrangement, I allowed my daughter to attend the wake. Naturally, my family embraced her immediately and told her how horrible I was to keep her from them. She believed them and blamed me. I said nothing and kept my own counsel, allowing her to discover for herself the truth that I knew. It took less than two weeks before my mother showed her true colors and one of my siblings attacked my daughter online, dragging friends and other family members into the mess. My poor girl found out on her own what I'd protected her from, and after that, she vowed to make sure her baby brother never experienced what we had.

When my mother passed away, there was no guilt, no feeling of a lost opportunity. There was a sense of peace for me that I no longer had to hope for some kind of resolution that would never come. Do I wish our circumstances could have been different? Of course. But I also understood that my parents were who they were, crafted from their own pasts and the relationships they had with their own families. Nothing would have ever changed. The limbo would have just continued for a longer period of time. 

The Aftermath

My kids have suffered no ill effects from not knowing my side of their family. In fact, they've flourished without that ugliness in their lives. They're independent, bright, witty individuals who know their place in the world and feel sure about where they stand. They don't suffer the self-doubt and insecurities that plague me to this day. 

I'm extremely fortunate that I have my mother-in-law. She is the mother and grandmother all kids deserve. She's loving and generous with her time. She adores all her grandchildren. Ask her about my place in her family and she'll tell you, "Gina's not just a daughter-in-law. She's my daughter." I am so grateful for her influence in my family's life.

The Others

I know I'm not alone in my experience. Nor are we the only ones who are less than thrilled to face Mother's Day this year. 

For all those who've lost the mother who loved them unconditionally, a woman who gave them support and encouragement and inspiration, I wish you find some peace and comfort in realizing how lucky you were to have that kind of mother in your life. So many of us never knew her or only knew her after we married.

If you've lost a child, there are no words I can provide to ease your burden, and I won't dare to try. I don't know your pain and I pray I never do. 

To those who are still trying to find a way to make peace with their toxic families because you're afraid of what people will think if you break away, please know I (and many others like me) understand why you're torn. You can divorce a spouse after experiencing a lot less abuse and receive sympathy and support, but for some reason, it's still not acceptable to admit you have no contact with your parents, no matter what they've done to you.

Find your joy, my friends. No matter why you may not be celebrating this day, don't dwell on the misery. Seek out whatever makes you happy and understand there are many of us who share your feelings, even if it's not for the same reason.

Wishing all of my readers love, today and always!

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Romance Blogger: Maybe You're Reading the Wrong Books

Recently, I read a blog post from a romance blogger/reviewer complaining that she was "done" with contemporaries because they were all full of the following (this is not the complete list, just what I remember off the top of my head):

Step-brother romance
Women who can only find self-esteem thru sex with a man
Poorly written sex scenes
No emotional connection between the characters
Bare-chested men on the cover

Might I suggest...?

You're reading the wrong books. I have none of the above in any of my contemporary romances, and I'm not alone. In fact, I could give you a good, solid list of writers like me who think the emotional connection drives a satisfying happy ending. 

My heroes are construction workers, auto body shop owners, radio deejays, a small town police chief, and even a hospital janitor. Not a billionaire or sheikh in the bunch. Even my "wealthy" investment banker is homeless when he meets the heroine! 

The sex stays off the page so it doesn't get in the way of the emotional relationship between my characters, and there are no poorly written scenes struggling to come off as erotic. Double bonus: all my covers contain fully clothed individuals, if there are individuals at all.

So, why are bloggers and readers griping about this? You have to *look* for my books. Try typing "sweet romance" into your Amazon search engine and see what comes up. You'll find small town heroes, emotional arcs instead of pages of poorly written sex scenes, and no bare-chested men. The problem is, you haven't been looking for what I write. Not until you glutted yourself on stepbrothers and hot sex and billionaires. And the publishers noticed. So they kept feeding you the same pablum.

In my household, we call this "the Vanilla Swiss Almond effect." When my husband and I first married, a few decades ago, I made the mistake of introducing him to Haagen Dazs's Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream (at the time, my favorite.) After that, it was all my husband ever bought--until I reached the point where I couldn't look at it anymore. It's been thirty years, and maybe...I might be ready to try a spoonful again in another year or two.

The lesson here is this. If you want books that are "different," try expanding your horizons. Come to the sweet side. We have cookies. And lemonade.  

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Finding My Muse in the Bathtub

Photo Courtesy of Morgue File
I'm currently 28,000 words into the next installment of the Calendar Girls series, HOMECOMING IN NOVEMBER. After spending a year working on a manuscript I just couldn't bring to fruition, it feels great to have my groove back.

Writers are sensitive creatures. Every book we write we fear will be our last. Every time we get stuck, we worry that our muse has left us for good, that we'll have no more stories to tell, that our creative well has gone dry.

This year was tough for me. After releasing WAITING IN THE WINGS last spring, I thought I was ready to finish the story for my editor at Harlequin, only to discover (some eight months later), by trying to make the story fit my editor's requirements, I'd created a Frankenstein story that I hated. So...back to the drawing board for Harlequin.

In the meantime, winter arrived and with it, one of my favorite winter activities: a hot bubble bath. And because I like to read while I'm soaking in the tub, I pulled up what I'd previously written on HOMECOMING, rather than taking my Kindle or an anticipated paperback with me. Within minutes, the story started flowing through me. I was caught up in the excitement. I loved the characters, the plot, the humor I'd begun writing last year. With a clipboard, pen, and stack of scrap paper, I wrote. Page after page, adding hot water when the tub grew cold. I must have stayed in there for about two hours. The spark was back.

And now, I'm eager to get this finished, off to my editor, and contact my cover artist to get her started.

So stay tuned, dear friends. I hope to complete at least three stories this year, and thanks to that fateful bubble bath, I'm on my way! 

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

An Open Letter to My Readers (For All Our Sakes)

Dear Readers, 

The following is copied from a forum I discovered through a Google Alert (links and actual names of pirate sites have been removed--emphasis, mine): 

I was planning to go for a small trip on my holiday. So I decided to read a couple of books on my Kindle. I started searching the internet and I found a lot of rubbish websites. So I am an obsessive reader, but lately I haven't had enough time to go to the store and buy a book so I really want to know a place where I can download or read book online. I am interested in the book Charming for Mother's Day (A Calendar Girls Novella) by Gina Ardito. Thank You
That particular title is under copyright, which means that's illegal. If you want a free copy then start with your local library. Most loan ebooks in addition to physical ones. If they don't have it then they may be able to get it for you via inter-library loan.

You can spend the whole day looking around for pirated e-book websites, but be sure you won't find anything better than XXXXXlibrary
It's a simple and invaluable goldmine of hundreds of thousands of great e-books. Just give it a try.

Dear Readers, please don't do this. 

I do giveaways almost every month. Whenever I have a new book available, I put a call out on Facebook and Goodreads for readers to get advance copies in exchange for reviews. I give away copies to my newsletter readers on a regular basis. I'm an email away via those same channels and my website if you really, really want a copy and can't afford to pay for it. My books are generally priced lower than a price of a cup of coffee in your favorite shop and I have scads of backlist copies in my house that my husband would be thrilled to see disappear. 

What bothered me about this particular post was that the original poster didn't say (s)he couldn't afford my book, just that (s)he didn't "have time" to go to the store to buy one. This person has time to check out pirate sites and post on a forum but can't go to Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Smashwords, or any of the other places where my books are sold through legitimate channels online? The thing with these pirate sites, as writers have been shouting about for years, is that authors do not see a dime when you download from the pirates--not on the download, and not toward future sales. Your (ahem!) acquisition (because it sure as hell ain't a "purchase") does not register on our royalty reports, and therefore cannot be used in contract negotiations, even if we received the (dis)honor of "Most Stolen Book."

These days, I work a full-time job that's more than an hour's drive from home. I leave at 6:30 am and come home twelve hours later. I squeeze in my writing before work, during lunch, and for a brief hour or two after dinner's been cooked, served, and cleaned up after. I also do editing for other authors, cutting deeper into my slice of the writing time pie. What does this mean to you, dear readers?

It means I'm way behind on books I should have released this past year, and I'm struggling to find time to market the books already out there. I'd love nothing more than to have the luxury to stay home and write all day so that I can churn them out as fast as I can think of them. But as long as pirates are still stealing the money from my pockets with posts like this, I'm stuck working a full time job outside the home to keep food on the table and a roof over my head. 

For my readers who would never dream of going to a pirate site, thank you. If you want to help your favorite authors keep churning out those stories that you love, buy their books through legitimate channels. Follow them on social media and share their posts. Recommend your favorites to friends, and please, if you have the time, write reviews on the sales sites. 

Thanks for listening.



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Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

My apologies for ignoring this blog for the last several weeks. 2015 closed with a lot of work that required my attention. What did I learn this year?

I'm resilient. I can take the hard punches and get up again.

I'm fortunate. I am surrounded by love. What else do I need?

I'm not too old to learn new tricks. New job, new challenges, new friends. Every day is an opportunity to discover something new.

I'm poised for another year with new stories to come, roads to travel, and new people to meet. 

I'm hopeful. I've got a lot going on in the coming year, but I'm ready. How about you? 

Come on. Let's kick this year's butt and sit back on December 31, 2016, stronger and prouder of all we've accomplished together.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bad Behavior at the Supermarket

Last night, the Hubster and I spent the day running errands and at around 5 pm, decided to pick up a few things from our local grocery store for dinner. The lines at the cash registers weren't crazy, just a bit busy, with about three customers waiting at each line and eight out of ten registers working. Hubster and I got in line behind another couple and waited, chatting without paying much attention. Until...

The couple in front of us started grumbling. It began with minor nonsense about the wait, but became more and more obnoxious. Apparently, the customer in front of them was having trouble with her payment and was forced to take some items off her bill.

These two graduated from grumbling to insulting and finally became loud. The woman shouted, "Aren't you going to open any more registers? I have an emergency at home and can't wait for people to get their act together." To which the husband replied (not as loud so only heard by those around them), "Yeah. We have an emergency. We gotta go home to eat dinner." And then they started laughing.

I could tell the woman at the front of the line was humiliated, and my heart went out to her. If I'd noticed the issue sooner, I might have offered to pay the difference (I found out from the cashier, it was only $13.00). 

My first reaction to the rudeness of that couple was to wish them the misfortune of being in that very same situation while someone publicly drew attention to them. Then, I reconsidered. I don't wish that scenario on anyone, no matter how much they need to learn to walk in someone else's shoes. 

Maybe what most people need is empathy.You don't have to have lived an unfortunate incident to connect with the people involved. What you need is a dose of humanity. To that couple in the supermarket yesterday, I hope you find it. Fast.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

OMG! It's National Coffee Day!

All hail the magic bean juice. We honor thee for all you do to keep us sane, motivated, and energized. And best of all, there are places giving away your magnificence for free today. The only thing better would be a national holiday with the day off from work. But alas! Small steps, dear ones. Small steps.

So go, my friends! Head to your nearest pusher...umm, coffee, retail store...and partake of some caffeinated goodness. Do it for your heart, do it for your brain, do it for all the junkies out there like me. Join us. Come to the dark side. Literally.

Here are some links to help you get started:

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