My Rescue Me series inspiration
I can safely say I get more ideas for novels than I’ll ever have time to write. By the time I’m wrapping up the first draft of a manuscript, I'm rarely able to recall the story’s inspiration. This is partly because, as opposed to a lightning strike, most of my ideas come in sprinkles, a little bit here, a little bit there, until they morph into something worthy of a full-length manuscript. That said, I remember well that it was this lovely canine who inspired the first book in the Rescue Me series when she came into our lives twelve and a half years ago.
My family adopted Hazel, a border collie mix, from a small rescue organization when she was eight weeks old. She, along with her ten siblings, were dumped in a plastic bag on the side of a busy road. Thankfully, after spotting the wriggling bag, a man rescued the litter and brought them to the shelter. The puppies were in fair health, but Hazel had a scar on her forehead from an unknown injury she’d sustained while mere days old and ended up needing surgery post adoption. It was during this time, while raising young kids and attempting to train an energetic and high maintenance puppy, that I had the idea for the first Rescue Me book. I had already drafted a handful of manuscripts, and my early career involved working for animal-centered non-profits, but it wasn’t until Hazel entered our lives that I had the idea of using my experience with animal rescue organizations in my writing.
In her twelve-plus years, Hazel has been witness to so many life changes, from the loss of an older dog in our family who taught her the ropes, to moving houses a handful of times, to family members growing up and moving out. The kids, her once favorite playmates, have gone to college or moved into places of their own and are gone much of the time. Hazel has also needed to learn that our two cats are not, in fact, related to squirrels but are part of the family and not to be chased or herded. She’s adapted from suburb life to country life to city life. She’s gone from the youngest dog in the house to the only dog to the oldest.
And all the while, she’s never complained.
If you ask me, it’s one of the most beautiful things about animals, their great adaptability, their skill at accepting what is.
When Hazel was born, I was in my late thirties and in the midst of those remarkable years of being a mom to young children, a time when it’s easy to think life will go on forever just as it is. In dog years, Hazel has morphed from a playful puppy into a serious adult dog with a herding habit, and now, into a graceful senior canine who’s showing her age. She’s gone a bit gray and cloudy eyed and lost a few teeth. She needs a bit of help shedding her coat. She puts herself to bed right after dinner and doesn’t wake up before dawn for much of anything. Added to that, I can’t say if it was days or weeks that went by before I realized she was no longer jumping up on my bed for her daytime naps because the jump up had become too high or the hop down to the hardwood floor was too painful.
She perks up most in anticipation of her twice-daily neighborhood walks and even prances along with the energy of a much younger dog, ears perked forward and tail lifted, after limbering up. Once every week or so (for myself and for the dogs) I head out in the woods on hikes with family or friends. I bring water for the dogs and make sure to avoid high temps, and I bring Hazel along whenever possible. How couldn’t I? Her whole body still wags at the promise of a hike.
More and more, I second guess whether it’s right to bring her on the longer hikes. So far, she’s still loving them, even if she falls asleep in the backseat in minutes on the way home. This weekend, we hiked a gorgeous but strenuous trail along the bluffs in Illinois. There were a lot of hills and the terrain was rocky and steep, but the weather was chilly and we stopped for water breaks. At the highest lookout point, as always when we’re there, she stood closer to the ledge than I’m comfortable with, sniffing the wind and gazing over the valley below, looking entirely at peace. I wondered if, like the afternoon naps on the bed, this would be her last time up there.
I hope I’m savoring this time with her enough, with everyone I love enough. It’s one of the things about dogs that’s as miraculous as it is sad, the way we get to be there for the full spectrum of their lives, the riotous but endearing beginning, the easy and long middle, and the somber final stretch. If we’re really present and paying attention, there’s so much they can teach us. As for whatever Hazel has left to teach me, I’m doing my best to listen.
Stepping back in… author events and more
After an icy start in St. Louis to 2022, spring is in the air, and many things seem to be rebounding after a trying two years. With some of my favorite conferences being held in-person and with less than a month until my first in-person author event since before the pandemic, that sense of excitement I experienced as a kid a few weeks before Christmas is bubbling up.
For many of us, stepping back in comes with a touch of trepidation, while others are diving in headfirst. This week, a dear friend gifted me with the Rose of Jericho, an ancient desert plant that’s symbolic of the resurrection, renewal, and transformation. This remarkable plant is well accustomed to feast or famine and can dry up and remain dormant for years before being revived in water. As humans on this bustling planet living through a pandemic, I suspect we can all learn something from this remarkable plant as we return to a new normal, weathering both the rain storms and the long quiet between them.
If you live in Florida, or will be traveling there, please join me and the lovely Mara Wells for a “Doggone Romantic Evening” on Tuesday, April 12th at 6:30 PM EST. We’ll be at Kay Rico Coffee in Hollywood, Florida, and I’d love the opportunity to connect with you.
I'm often asked where I get inspiration for the Rescue Me series stories. While I’ve been writing long enough that ideas for scenes, characters, and meet cutes strike on a daily basis, coming up with unique rescue stories for the dog stars in the books also flows fairly easily. Some of my ideas come from my experiences working with nonprofits and shelters over the years. Sometimes, however, that inspiration is closer to home.
Although the breeds are different, Rolo's personality in To Be Loved By You is almost all Nala, my family’s six-year-old “humane society special,” who upon testing proved to be a mix of pit bull, Rottweiler, Neapolitan mastiff, and Basset hound. Nala is playful and sweet, and a bona fide cat lover. She’s also a “foster fail” in that, within a few weeks of fostering her as a young puppy, we knew we wanted to adopt her. For her first few years, it was just her, Hazel (our border collie mix who’s six years her senior), and Owen, our cantankerous Maine coon who rules the roost. Once Nala’s puppy craziness settled down, it was fairly easy sailing. Having an older dog in the house to show her the ropes and a cantankerous cat who won't take flak no doubt helped.
Even so, with two dogs and one cat, I had a strict “no more pets” policy. Then my nearly grown daughter learned of a few-week-old lethargic and dehydrated abandoned kitten and stepped in to help get him to accept a syringe of kitten formula. Max needed care around the clock, proving too much for his owner. Suddenly, he was with us full time, and the house was in chaos again. Owen did not like the idea of sharing the house with a kitten, and Nala wanted to be up close and personal in the rescue process, but at some point over those first few months, it became clear that Max was here to stay.
When Max was about two months old and wild enough to have earned the nickname “squirrel” for always darting about the house with his long tail completely fluffed, he slipped out the door one night while we were hauling in a Christmas tree. In the chaos, it took a bit to notice he was missing. By the time we realized he’d snuck outside, he’d disappeared. It was dark and below freezing, and my teens and I were quite worried. A windstorm was blowing through, and even though we could occasionally hear his frail little meows carried on the wind, we couldn’t locate him.
Inside the house, Nala was going crazy, barking out the window and wanting to be part of the action. We finally got the idea to let her outside off leash, and sure enough, nose to ground, she dropped into four-wheel mode and sniffed her way right to where Max was hiding several houses down in a backyard. Her scent-hound genes had kicked in and Max was safe! Ever since, Nala has taken good care of her little friend!
When drafting To Be Loved By You, I knew I wanted to write about a cat-loving dog, and affable Rolo was born. With a cat-loving dog in the mix, it was clear there needed to be a kitten rescue included, though the one in the book is a touch more dramatic than the real life story.
If you’ve not had a chance to read the sixth installment in the Rescue Me series, I hope you love it and enjoy Rolo as much as I do. I’m pleased to share that last week, To Be Loved By You was an Indie regional bestseller, hitting #10 in the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association Bestseller List for mass market books.
Until next time, be well and stay pawsitive!
A love story to be thankful for
I wonder if you're as thankful as I am at the promise of a more typical summer this year. For most of us, the past fourteen months haven’t passed without considerable trauma, and many are moving forward with a life that will never be the same after losing loved ones during the pandemic. I read all your comments and emails, and my heart goes out to you. When we least expect it, life can have a way of handing us what we aren’t prepared for. It certainly did for me earlier this year, which I’ve shared a bit about on social media and in my newsletter.
I’ve long been a sucker for a good love story. Not only is crafting them what I do for a living, but they’re also the first books I reach for and movies I watch. With that being said, I’m dedicating this blog to my parents, who recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary. They met in the late sixties at a drinking fountain at work in a large company, and six months later (yes, only six months…a sign of different times!), they were married. Like most real-life love stories, life wasn’t always perfect, but it was good. They loved each other, raised children, and eventually became empty nesters and grandparents.
This year on Valentine’s Day, the day before their anniversary, they came as close as they’ve been to their love story coming to an end. A week prior, my father underwent surgery to have a knee replacement. With him still bed ridden, Valentine’s Day and their anniversary celebrations were minimal. As a giant snow storm pressed in, promising to blast the Midwest in near-record snows, at some point while my dad dozed, my mom started not feeling well. Her symptoms—which she doesn’t remember but which we’ve since pieced together—included a headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Not knowing her condition was far more serious than she could conceive, my mom lost precious hours caring for herself in one of their spare bedrooms. She was having a stroke and didn’t know it. Her brain was bleeding, and her body was shutting down.
With my dad confined to bed, and my mom having a stroke and not knowing she needed help until it was too late to seek it, these uncertain hours could’ve led to a Shakespearean-level tragedy for my family. But, dear reader, I’m sharing this story because in the midst of Covid-19 isolation, a massive snow storm, a knee placement, and a stroke, some bigger force won out that day: love. By the time my mom finally sought out my dad, she wasn’t looking for his help. Her body had begun shutting down, and she’d lost her ability to speak. Somehow, she still made it into their bed, curled up alongside him, and snuggled next to him as she fell to sleep. It was at this time that my father realized something was terribly wrong. My mom was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital. The next month was the most trying one of my family's lives so far. In the hours and days that followed, she was given 50/50 odds of surviving and spent the next 17 days in ICU.
That night, while fishtailing in deep snow, I drove to the hospital and later to my dad’s to care for him, leaving my youngest (17) to fend for himself at home for several days. This trying time was filled with prayers, tears, and connection. The days were surreal and exhausting, but we made it through. All of us. After 39 days in the hospital and rehab, my mom was finally able to go home. She could both talk and walk (after we’d been told neither might be possible for her again). While she still had a long road to healing ahead, it has been one we’ve been grateful for every day.
During this uncertain time, I was working on developmental edits for To Be Loved By You (Rescue Me #6, releasing January 2022). While the type of love featured in romance novels is new, uncertain, and exciting, I found myself relating the book’s title to the love that develops over a lifetime of togetherness, and I salute my parents for all the work they’ve done to take this beautiful journey of life together. They married young and have grown together over decades. As with many long-married couples, their love has morphed into the quiet kind that might not sell books but brings families together over the holidays and leaves a mark on the heart like a long-traveled path--the kind that brings lovers together when words, and sometimes even bodies, fail.
Thanks in part to the heartfelt emotion which led my mom back to my dad that night, my parents’ love story continues. In the words of Audrey Hepburn, “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”
I suspect you’re equally excited to begin this fresh new year. I'm quite thankful that those I'm closest to haven't been too adversely affected by the pandemic and were able to spend some of last year exploring new hobbies and knocking out house projects. As a writer, I’m naturally introverted, and many of my favorite pastimes like hiking, gardening, and cooking were there to fall back on when I needed solace from the weighty news rocking the world in so many different ways. So, too, were the stories I was working on.
Last spring, as I completed revisions on Summer by the River (releasing March 2), I was immersed in the fictional world set in a midwestern tea garden in the historic town of Galena, Illinois. In addition to taking twenty-five-year-old Josie Waterhill, the lead character, through her journey as she makes peace with her past and learns to embrace the life she’s created for herself, my thoughts were filled with Galena history, calming tea blends, mouth-watering quiche, and dense, salty scones that helped make the story’s setting come to life. It probably goes without saying I found it necessary to bake my share of quiches and scones while writing this book. As a happy consequence, I have a few favorite new recipes. If you like to bake, be sure to sign up for my newsletter as I’ll be sharing some of the ones mentioned in the book as we near the March 2nd release date.
If you’ve never been, Galena is a quaint midwestern town tucked into the hillsides and bluffs along the Galena River. I highly recommend adding it to your list of places to visit as it becomes time to make travel plans again. One thing I love about Galena is that eighty-five percent of the buildings are on the historic register. You’re surrounded by Victorian mansions, cobblestone streets, and old red brick shops, restaurants, and homes.
While walking through the town, it was if I was stepping back into history. Swept away as I was, I was inspired to work a bit of fictional Galena history into Summer by the River. Carter O’Brien, a freelance journalist from New York, arrives in Galena in hopes of learning the reason behind his grandfather’s disappearance in the town in 1940. While researching an unsolved murder which occurred that same year, he’s directed to speak with Myra Moore, the elderly owner of the tea garden where Josie works. Once there, not only does he unearth some unexpected history, but he also falls quite heavily for Josie, and an unlikely chain of events ensue.
I hope you love this story as much as I do. I’m pleased to share that Main Street Books (a charming independent bookstore in St. Charles, Missouri, another historic town I adore) is taking orders for signed copies now through February 20th.
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RESCUE ME SERIES EXTENDED...AND MORE!
Thanks readers for ALL your encouragement to keep this series coming! I'm SUPER excited to share that not only has the Rescue Me series been extended to a full 8 books, I've also signed with Sourcebooks for two single-titled works of Women's Fiction that will be interspersed between Rescue Me releases. And never fear, these new titles will have happy endings for both the two and four-legged kind, just like in Rescue Me series books.
Look out for Head Over Paws (Rescue Me book 5) to be released April 28, 2020, and check back here for future release information. Until then, I hope you love my newest release, Love at First Bark (Rescue Me book 4), as much as I loved writing it!