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THESE ARE FROM A BLOG TOUR FOR READERS WHO GET A FREE BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW.

“Mormon Girl: Incognito” Blog Book Reviews:
HIGHLIGHTS:

“LOVED! LOVED! LOVED! IT!
Jack and Damon are at it again…SO GOOD!!!…This is a perfect romantic suspense!”
-Shauna Wheelwright @ http://ilovetoreadandreviewbooks.blogspot.com/

“I loved the first book and have to say that I loved this one even more! Be warned that once you pick this up, it will be hard to put down. It can be read on it’s own, but these books are highly entertaining so you will want to read them both. They are perfect for anyone that enjoys clean, contemporary romantic suspense! I hope there will be more of Jack and Damon in the future!”
-Mel @http://melsshelves.blogspot.com/

“Jack is sort of bumbling, at times immature, but you really can’t help but love her…If you love a humorous romantic suspense, then you have got to get a copy of this one!”
-Julie Colter Bellon @ ldswritermom.blogspot.com

“Ooh, I really loved this book!… The ending was explosive and crazy! So good!
I’m so glad I am on the tour for this book (and sorry I missed the last one!) This is an author now on my radar and I can’t wait to see what comes next!”
-Kelly Oram @ http://gettingyourreadonaimeebrown.blogspot.com/

“It would have been nice to have the other book (A DATE WITH A DANGER*) mentioned somewhere…Other than that, I loved everything about the story. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves a great adventure full of tension and high stakes.”
-Bonnie Harris @ http://bonnieharris.blogspot.com/

“Jack’s character just got better and better for me in this book…Reading it was almost like taking a trip there [Las Vegas]. I’m hoping for more books by this author about Jack and Damon!”
-Cathy @

http://mybookaday.blogspot.com/

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7 Ways to Have a Happier Pregnancy

(When You’re a Normal Pregnant Human and Not a Magical Pregnancy Unicorn)

Vomiting. Exhaustion. Swollen clown feet. Bursting into tears for no reason at all.
Ah, pregnancy.
Don’t get me wrong. Pregnancy is, in many ways, awesome. There is no feeling in the world like those first stirrings when you can finally detect your tiny one moving around in there. Or prodding that bulge on the side of your tummy and realizing that’s actually a knee. Not to mention hearing that initial, underwater rhythm that is the baby’s heartbeat. When people use the word “magical” to describe being pregnant, they’re not wrong. Knowing that you’re growing an actual person and feeling inexplicable love for a little miracle you’ve never met…magical doesn’t fully capture it.
But, if I’m being honest, there are some ways that pregnancy is also the worst. I thought people were exaggerating about swollen feet until I hobbled into work two weeks before delivery wearing my husband’s enormous slippers—the only shoes in the house that would still squeeze on. I’d never realized that morning sickness is like having both the regular flu and the stomach flu all the time (never had I so longed for food poisoning which is over after an agonizing 24 hours; not an agonizing 3 months). And while the entire system of growing a baby in your stomach is by far the coolest thing the human body does, I came to realize there are certain inescapable laws of physics– like how the idea of carrying a car in a wheelbarrow is bound to make the wheelbarrow break down eventually (“A baby is not the same as a car” you say? Well, it sure starts to feel like it around eight months. Big ol’ Sports Utility Vehicle).
Despite being warned about the many side effects to the miracle of life, the actual experience was—and continues to be—a true shock to the system.
And then I’ve spoken to those rare few who seem barely affected by the process. We’ve all seen them—as mythical and elusive as Bigfoot but somehow still in existence. The kind so skillfully portrayed in the film “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by the “magical pregnancy unicorn” who doesn’t gain an ounce and still manages to totter off to Pilates in high heels seven months in. I’ve actually spoken to women who insisted they felt at their “physical best” while carrying a child. While I know it’s radically different for each, this idea is absolute madness to me. And as happy as I am for these baffling creatures, I’m also gripped with secret jealousy.
It’s infuriating to read profiles in motherhood and pregnancy magazines about the glamorous nine-month adventures of actresses and professional athletes. They talk about how in they’ve adjusted their rigorous workouts by swapping weights for eliptical and dealt with the additional hunger by adding beans to their lunch. Beans.
Who are these people?
Just once I’d like to pick up a pregnancy magazine and read a profile about a woman who was flat on her back for the first three months and eats ice cream for breakfast. Not that I’m promoting true unhealtiness while baby is depending on you. But a little dose of reality, especially for those of us barely hanging on, would be refreshing.
As a Pinterest junkie (my “Binterest,” i.e. “Pinterest binge” records have gotten truly epic) I’m always looking up those “Ways to ___” articles about whatever I happen to be going through. I’m grateful for those lifeline bloggers who throw me a rope at 4 a.m. when I search something like “How to Not Lose Your Mind When Your Children Were Clearly Bred by the Military to Exist on Zero Sleep.” I’ve read my share of posts giving advice for a better pregnancy. And while many have great points, I still feel that sometimes these words of wisdom are written for someone far out of my realm. Like someone in those gorgeous pregnancy portraits that look better than I did in my wedding photos (somewhere there is a field full of beautiful, posing preggers. I think they grow there).
For those of you normal humans who feel like you’re somehow failing at pregnancy, I give a little advice on how to be happier at a time when you cry because your shoe came untied and bending down to re-tie it would be about as easy as pole vaulting. That’s a Tuesday for me. So here we go!

7 Ways to Have a Happier Pregnancy:

1. Find your way to move.
I’ve never been the most athletic but I’d classify as sturdy and energetic (Not unlike the description of an up-and-coming race horse). Imagine my surprise when I emerged from the nausea of first trimester to discover every muscle had all but deserted me. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything my body had previously done. Certainly this was compounded by my absolute lack of exercise when I was too ill to even watch someone else exercise (Seriously, it made me motion-sick). But most women find their pregnant body unable to keep up with the rigors of previous workouts.
And yet, exercise during pregnancy is so important.
I know, some of you are weeping openly just at the thought of trying to move. Let’s clarify up front that in my opinion, the first trimester is a no-fly zone. If you experience any degree of serious morning sickness, you won’t argue with this. Give your body a chance to work through that ever-present nausea and exhaustion before you start demanding anything beyond existing from it (and if you’re one of those unlucky ladies whose nausea lasts the whole 9 months, I will send you a gift basket because you deserve it!)
But once you’ve evened out, discover a system of movement that works for you. Maybe you can still conquer your morning jog (Kudos to you. I can’t even play tag). Or maybe you’ll find that a nice walk in the evening is about all you can handle.
For those of us who get winded just waddling to the bathroom, I suggest two great options.
First, pregnancy yoga. Pluses: you can work out for as long or short as you want at any degree of easiness or difficulty. If you can only handle five minutes of light stretching, stick to that!
*AWESOME ALERT!: Some genius went and invented a beautiful thing called bed yoga, which is exactly what the name suggests—yoga that you do in your bed. They should win the Nobel Prize in Pillow Sports (Sure, I just invented it. But I think I’ve been subconsciously training for years). You can do bed yoga right after you wake up—before you even sit up—to jump-start your day (Also it combines two of my favorite things: pajamas and calculated laziness).
Second, my personal favorite: swimming. There are countless articles about why swimming is the best all-around workout for your body and it has added pluses while you’re pregnant. Not only is it gentle on the joints and limits risk of exercise-related injury, it also relieves your body of its excess weight; which inevitably feels heavier when you try to work out.
During my current doozy of a pregnancy I went to swim a few laps and was once again amazed by how lighter-than-air I felt. I started to think, “Maybe this pregnancy isn’t so bad. Maybe I’ve just been having a rough patch and now I’m better! Or maybe I’m actually a mermaid who was meant to be pregnant in the waves and now I’ve returned to my fluid and beautiful self!”
Then I got out of the water.
And hobbled like Igor-off-for-more-electrodes all the way to the locker room.
If that wasn’t an argument for the gravity-defying power of swimming, I don’t know what is.
Swimming is also good for the soul. Experts say that swimming can be stress-relieving and even muscle relaxing. Being in water can have a soothing effect which, at this hormonal time, is always a good thing. Just be sure to invest in a nice maternity swimsuit. Nothing will spiral you into a breakdown faster than seeing yourself in a pre-preggers bathing suit.
Maybe you think that doing Happy Baby Pose with bed-head or managing six measly laps won’t make a difference. But, as with all exercise, it’ll boost your energy and relieve many of the pains and stiffness that come with pregnancy. It will also buoy your self-confidence. Because even though you’re rapidly becoming a stranger to your expanding body, you’ll know that you’re still trying to do something healthy for yourself.
Go at your own pace, and find the workout that’s right for you right now. You’ll be happier for it.
2. Find a balanced eating plan.
Here I say something many women seem ashamed to admit: I LIKE FOOD.
Let’s be honest. I love food. Food and I have a not-so-secret romance that includes midnight trysts by the light of the open fridge where sneaking a spoonful of frosting turns into emptying half a can. I’ve always had a weight problem partly because I just love food, dash it all!
Love of food becomes a whole different animal once you’re pregnant. Again, during that no-fly first trimester, everything you thought you knew about your own likes and dislikes may go right out the window. Suddenly just the smell of dishes you once loved can make you gag, and consuming perfectly normal foods sounds like absolute torture. TMI—I’ve thrown up at a mere glimpse of certain foods during those first few months. It’s strange indeed when just the sight of a perfectly harmless can of olives sends you running to the sink.
Despite all my good intentions about “doing it right this time,” first trimester becomes a time when I eat any food my body doesn’t reject. This includes existing on Captain Crunch and watermelon for several days at a time when that’s all I can physically keep down. Or having another pickle-and-potato-chip sandwich (Don’t knock it until you try it. Perfect combo of sour and salty crunch). It’s not the healthiest, but better to eat than not to eat.
That’s why it’s especially important, as soon as you’re body is willing, to find a balanced place with eating. I say balanced very seriously. During my second pregnancy I nearly laughed when an OBGYN scolded me for not consuming only produce and white protein. Then, when I realized she wasn’t joking, I felt like smacking her. Your body is being ruled by a whole mess of hormones and a sudden ravenous hunger (that makes transitioning canines in werewolf films look like dainty, high-class diners) and many people expect you to eat only rabbit-approved sustenance. Having a balanced way of eating is important, pregnant or not. But let’s look at the word “balance.”
Balance” can be defined as something in “equal or correct proportions.” This says a lot about how we eat. It’s what led to my discovery of the only diet I’ve ever found that actually worked for me (see my upcoming post,“The Indulgence Diet: How I Lost 30 Pounds But Kept My Sanity”). The bottom line is allowing yourself that balance. In my book, that includes eating a few cookies, allowing yourself that piece of cake, or snacking on nachos if you’ve also tried to make healthier choices that day. I think a little buttered popcorn is okay, and even emotionally beneficial, if you’ve also had a serving of carrots and swapped out bread for a tortilla.
Especially during pregnancy you need to cut yourself a little slack. This doesn’t mean eating only pie for half a day (which I’ll admit to doing more recently than not). But it does mean finding a way to fuel your body with healthy food—without completely ignoring your cravings and newly amped-up appetite.
Remember to drink water—lots and loooooots of water. I know this is a joke when you’re already running to the bathroom roughly 6 times an hour. But the more water you drink, the better you feel—and the less chance you’ll get those pesky dehydration side-effects like cramping muscles and premature contractions.
Again, experiment and discover a system that works for you. And ignore those people who glare when they see you eating French fries. You’re growing a person—you deserve fries!
3. Accept where you’re at physically.
I distinctly remember the time in a restaurant when, squeezing through a tight arrangement of tables, I knocked over a stranger’s water glass with my pregnant belly.
Proud, proud moment for me.
Sometimes we’re not fully aware of our own newly acquired girth. Sad is the day when you can no longer see your own feet and walking becomes waddling. This growing body doesn’t look or even move the way it used to. And there is nothing more disheartening than standing in front of your closet and realizing that not a single item will fit anymore.
Picking out clothing can start to feel less like a fashion activity and more like a camping problem. How much square footage of tent is needed to comfortably shelter all the tent’s inhabitants? Dressing your pregnant body may become equally strategic and passionless. Not to mention many available maternity clothes are about as stylish as said tent (and cost 3 times as much).
A friend told me she’d never felt as beautiful as when she was pregnant and I longed for an equal feeling. Around the seventh month I tend to feel more like a great sailing ship about to depart the harbor. Just break a bottle against my hip for good luck and send me out into open waters. The S.S. Preggers has left port.
Maybe your feelings aren’t equally extreme. But as pregnancy progresses, many women feel less like a female and more like an incubation chamber. Not few are the times I’ve cried about my size and how utterly unattractive I’ve come to feel. But unlike feeling overweight while not carrying a child, there’s a new hopelessness because you realize there’s only so much you can do about it. You can try to eat well and exercise but your body will continue to grow no matter what (another of those inescapable laws of physics). That’s why it’s so vital, despite how impossible it may seem, to accept where you’re at physically.
When the early stages of my third pregnancy sent me to an all-time high weight and I buried my sorrows in a vat of cookie dough (hormones do not make us rational), my husband said something very profound. He looked right into my eyes and said, “You are more beautiful to me than you’ve ever been because you’re giving yourself for our family.”
While this may sound born of desperation to make a hormonal woman just stop crying, I believed him. I see that love in his face as my belly grows. It’s the same way I view other pregnant women who appear as adorable as they do noble, no matter their size. But feeling that way about yourself is not as easy (Especially when your “fat jeans” don’t make it past your hips).
All jokes aside, focusing on your weight gain can lead to a dangerous state of self-loathing and depression.
So how do we accept ourselves? I’ve found a few small ways.
First, don’t weigh yourself. During my first pregnancy I decided not to weigh myself at all. In fact, I purposefully looked away when they weighed me at the doctor. I was doing my very best to be healthy (though I wasn’t always succeeding) and the last thing I needed was added anxiety about the weight gain. When you’re trying to lose or maintain weight that scale can be helpful. When weight gain is unavoidable and even somewhat necessary, that scale is nothing but heartache.
Break up with your scale for 9 months (longer, really, to let yourself recover post-birth) and do not shame call it in the middle of the night. Like the shame call, it will do nothing but make you cry more the next day. You can even request that nurses not reveal your weight during check-ups. They’re very understanding about that. After all, some of them have been exactly where you are.
Second, find yourself a new style. If you’re a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom like me, you don’t require a lot of “going out” clothes. For me, it’s all about cute pajamas. They’re comfy, they expand with me (no condescending zippers and buttons at the waistline), and they take my focus off how I look. Find the type of clothes you can put on in the morning and not worry about for the rest of the day. If you feel better wearing matching pajama sets all day long, do it! If you need to trade in those tailored work blazers for some flowy blouses and leggings, trade away! You may not look how you used to or feel especially confident, but your clothes need to function for your current size.
Third, tell yourself that this is temporary. You might never get back to those size 2 jeans but feeling like the S.S. Bloat won’t last forever. Where you are is not where you’re going to live from now on. This is temporary. This is temporary…Let this be your mantra. Tell yourself, “Right now I’m making a baby and that’s what matters. This body isn’t who I am.” It’s easier said than believed. But the more you tell yourself, the more it might start to sound like the truth.
All this doesn’t mean you can’t still feel good about yourself. Which leads me to the next point–
4. Find ways to still feel like you.
Yes, you may have to make concessions to your personal style. But you can still have pieces of what you really love, no matter how differently you need to dress.
I’m all about neon colors and big jewelry. Those things make me happy; make me feel like myself. I’m more comfortable in an obnoxious T-shirt and sweats than I am in a pair of sensible trousers and a blouse (I’m not even comfortable with the fanciness of those words. Trousers. Blouse. Tea in the conservatory. I just hear them in an English accent). You might be the opposite of me and that’s okay! What’s important is that you identify the things that make you feel like you, and find ways to still incorporate them into your style.
This includes the little stuff like painting your nails (whether that’s a classic manicure or a glittery polish), jewelry (which can always fit, even if you need a longer chain), and even accessories. You might be wearing pants you don’t love but you have a killer purse. That can still make you feel like yourself.
This can also mean finding ways to still do activities that you love. I once saw a pregnant woman getting a pedicure who said, “This is my only fun thing right now.” Maybe you love pedicures too. Maybe you like getting a facial. I’m in heaven when my husband takes the kids so I can go to a movie all by myself. The solitude, the entertainment, the popcorn that I don’t have to share with anyone…It’s good for my soul (And if you think I don’t wear those afore-mentioned-pajamas to the theater, you’re wrong. I’ve stowed slippers in my purse and switched them for my shoes once I was seated. Once I even brought in a sleeping bag from my trunk and climbed into it after the lights went down. Best movie ever).
You might not have a ton of time on your own or the ability to afford some great spa day each week. But there must be things that will still help you visit your happy place. Write them down and then make a plan for how to include them in your life.
Through these small triumphs, connecting with who you feel like you were will make you happier. Because you still are that person! You’re just wearing slightly larger trousers (Hee hee!).
5. Allow yourself quiet time.
Being pregnant is exhausting. Even if you get a decent night’s sleep, about halfway through the day you’ll probably feel like you ran a marathon and then got beat with a stick at the finish line. Your body is creating another body inside itself—understandably, it’s a little worn out!
If you’re able to take a nap in the middle of the day, nap it up. There’s no shame in allowing your body some well-earned rest. Even if this means just closing your eyes for ten minutes in the car on your lunch break, it can still be a mental and physical breather. We need sleep as much for our mental health as for our physical health (at least it feels that way). So if you can lay on the bed and snooze to some relaxing music for an hour, you’ll be much better afterward.
This leads me to an important point. Being pregnant can be extra difficult if you already have children. Suddenly you’re trying to take care of other little people while your body is going through all this chaos. Plus, it can drastically change the day-to-day relationship you have with your kids. They may grasp the concept that you’re pregnant, but it doesn’t mean they’ll fully understand why you can’t race them up the stairs or chase them around the park anymore.
And your need to rest doesn’t coincide so well with parenting. No matter how desperately you need a mere twenty minutes of shut-eye, going off-line for just twenty minutes might not be an option (unless you want to wake up to a freshly-painted house).
You might have to get creative. If you don’t have someone who can take over while you nap it cat-style, you and your kiddies will have to figure it out together. This third go-round the preggo carousel, I’ve found a decent system. On those days when I just can’t keep my eyes open, I utilize my youngest’s nap time. The three of us (four if you count The Belly) pile into one big recliner chair where I put my littlest lady to sleep. Then, with her secure in one arm, I tell my older girl that I’m going to “Close my eyes for a few minutes” while her sister sleeps. She understands what that means and stays dutifully by my side and watches Kids YouTube on my phone while the rest of us get a little shut-eye. This way I’ll rouse instantly if either kid moves or needs something (the better to catch them if they’re eying a bottle of nail polish and stretch of empty wall). And having that close proximity allows me to actually shut down my brain for a little while.
It also gives me something else badly needed at this changing time—snuggle time with my girls. I can’t play with them the same way I could and this big difference has caused something of a wedge. Having said snuggle time helps me re-connect with them in a way I’m physically able to. Even if I don’t nap, that time with the three of us heaped in one chair, sharing one fuzzy blanket, invigorates all of us for the rest of the day.
Find a time and method for resting during the day—with your kiddies or solo—that will give you a chance to breathe and recharge.
6. Use whatever help you can get.
It’s an old adage: “It’s hard to ask for help.” It’s especially hard to ask for help when you need help because you’re doing something millions of women do everyday. With such a drastic range of experiences, some people seem to find it baffling that a woman would need help with just the day-to-day of being pregnant. Those women that “barely notice” (yes, that’s a direct quote) that they’re pregnant as they go throughout their day might give you that look when you mention how hard it is just to get your kids dressed in the morning.
Other than the unicorns, all of us could use help of some kind. Even having someone come by and do a single load of dishes or take your children out for ice cream can be a life-saving moment. So even if you find it difficult to ask for help (If I was up to my neck in quicksand and someone asked if I needed a tree branch to grab hold of, I’d probably keep insisting, “I’m fine!” so as not to inconvenience them), be willing to accept help whenever it’s offered.
There’s no shame in needing others. And if you have kids, they might need that extra, outside attention even more than you do. If you can’t accept help for yourself, at least accept help for them.
Help comes in many forms. For me, Kids YouTube is an absolute miracle. Unlike regular YouTube where some disturbed individuals have taken innocent kids’ videos and inserted something lewd or inappropriate (to who I say, “Come on, people. Do you really have nothing else to do with your time?”) Kids YouTube is all filtered specifically for children. It includes settings for age and timers—the app will literally go to sleep after the time is up. So I can hand it to one of my kids for thirty minutes and know they’ll be entertained and protected from bad content while I try to put away laundry.
People tend to turn up their nose at screen time for children. And I heartily agree that too much time in front of the TV, phone, computer, tablet, or whatever isn’t healthy for anyone—especially kids who are developing habits during these formative years. But when you’re a pregnant mom to toddlers, sometimes extra screen time is needed. I like to do “sitting activities”like molding Play-Doh or putting together puzzles with my girls so I can engage without standing. But there are a lot of hours to fill in a day, and watching a few extra movies might be necessary to the survival of all involved.
Whatever help you can get and whatever form in which it comes, don’t be ashamed. If you’re having a particularly bad day and you need to feed your kids pizza and chocolates while you all binge-watch Doc McStuffins, then GET YOUR ‘STUFF-ON!
7. Ignore everyone—including me!
Whaaaaaat?? I’ve given you all this advice and then told you to ignore me? YES. Because this post is about being happier in your pregnancy. That includes ignoring anyone who doesn’t understand your specific situation.
We’re human and we all love to judge other people. I put myself first as guilty in this category. We see someone struggling with something-or-other and think, “If only they’d do this,that would fix it.” But do we really know? Maybe that poor, pregnant soul who’s become a certified hermit for all nine months has developed agoraphobia because she can’t go even five minutes without throwing up (Yes, that’s someone I knew personally). Or maybe that mom buying her fussy kids a toy at the grocery store just wants to get through the line without bloodshed because she’s been having bad contractions since her 8th week of pregnancy (that one might be more personal).
The point is we never really know what someone is going through—especially when it seems like virtually any side effect can be attributed to pregnancy (“Oh, your ears spontaneously fell off? Yeah, that happens sometimes in pregnancy”). And they don’t really know what you’re dealing with either. So even when someone means well by insisting your nausea could be solved by a “brisk two-mile walk at dawn,” you have to learn to graciously accept and privately dismiss the advice that doesn’t actually apply to you. Because no one knows how it is to be pregnant inside your body but you.
I’ve cried and cried about being a “bad mom” because my pregnancies have made me so exhausted and unavailable—unable to even make a decent meal for my family or pump gas on my own. My sensible husband made another impactful point: “You’re doing the best thing you possibly can for our family right now by expanding our family.”
I think that’s good to remember for all of us. If you’re growing a human, you’re doing exactly what you should be doing right now.
So if you’re pregnant and doing your darnedest to take care of your little miracle, you’re not failing. I’d say you’ve NAILED IT!!

5 Mistakes Romance Writers Make

I’ve been writing romances for a very long time and reading them for even longer. I’m “one of those” that thinks the best stories are love stories or at least have a strong element of romance. In fact, I get a serious case of righteous indignation if there’s the potential for romance in a book or movie that’s never explored (and don’t even get me started on those times in movies when they don’t give me the kiss. The kiss is half the reason I’m watching, people! If you’re going to build a compelling romantic relationship, you darn well better make it pay off!).

 

I love reading and watching all kinds of stories. My very specific niche is Victorian era action-adventure with a strong element of romance (there definitely need to be more of these out there). But true love stories are still my big weakness, especially if the love is well crafted.

 

And that’s really the catch, isn’t it? In the story world there is no shortness of romance. But quite often there is a lack of romance that has been skillfully molded.

 

Clearly I’m not referring to that genre of fiction is which a thin element of attraction is used as a catalyst to a large element of, ahem…intimate action. Those books aren’t big on realistic relationships and they’re really not trying to be. They know what their audience likes and they deliver.

 

I’m talking about stories in which the romance between two characters takes center stage, or at least plays a strong supporting role. Stories in which they really want you to believe in the love that blossoms between the leads because otherwise you have no reason to go along for the journey. If the writer is asking me to invest in that love, I expect it to be worth investing in.

 

This is a scary thing for writers—I would know! My only published work and the soon-to-come sequel are both comedies with a touch of mystery. But at their heart they are love stories. I know I’m asking my readers to believe in this couple and I agonize over whether I’ve done my job to make that possible for them. There are, I’m sure, some flaws to the relationship I’ve built between the two of them. But as someone who has been writing novels for 20 years (I almost passed out when I calculated that) and reading for nearly three decades (that’s an even worse number), I tried to avoid what I’ve come to recognize as the oft-visited pitfalls of fictional romance.

 

Not to say I haven’t fallen into these traps myself. Usually I’m aware of a mistake with writing technique because I made that very mistake myself once (or maybe nine times). But I hope that by sharing these flaws with new writers, I’ll save you those years of doing it wrong like I did.

Here are 5 big mistakes romance writers make:

1. Giving an unrealistic time frame for falling in love.

We have all seen this. Many modern romantic films do this without blinking. It’s boy meets girl, boy talks to girl for four minutes, boy is madly and irrationally in love from there on out. Often they will chalk it up to “love at first sight” and we all sort of roll our eyes and ignore just how unrealistic this is.

 

Not to completely discount love at first sight. I’ve come across a few people in real life who claim to have genuinely fallen in love at first sight, and who am I to tell them they’re wrong? I also really do believe in connection at first sight. This is often what leads people to pursue each other romantically after meeting—they feel a spark or they “just click” with this person and want to explore that connection. My own husband insists after one evening of talking to me he felt like I was the kind of girl he wanted to marry (you have my permission to say “Awww”). But that’s very different from actually proposing marriage after only that one night of conversation.

 

Connection at first sight is necessary as the inciting incident to move the romance forward, but it cannot be the entire foundation for the relationship. Recently I was watching a movie in which the two main characters had a few awkward, even angry encounters, and thereafter vowed their undying love. They even went to great extremes for each other, all because of that horribly stilted handful of conversations. Really?

If you’re going to build a skyscraper that can withstand winds and weather, be sure to construct a strong foundation for that tower.

2. Not providing enough details:

Anyone who has ever fallen in love can attest that you fall in love with a person’s details—their history, their hobbies, all the little quirks and idiosyncrasies of their personality. I fell in love with a thousand tiny things about my husband, including the totally random things—like his tendency to name his cars after characters from old-school fantasy films.

This clearly coincides with having a long enough time frame to fall in love, because you must have long enough to learn the details of someone’s personality before you can fall for who they really are. Otherwise what you have isn’t love, it’s infatuation.

 

Infatuation can do a lot of things. It can realistically carry us from “boy glimpses girl in a coffee shop” to “boy chases girl twelve blocks and hops aboard a speeding bus to get her phone number.” We buy that because we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all been infatuated enough with someone to do something crazy (I will admit that I just “happened” to walk past the spot where I knew my crush hung out between classes in college. And anytime he “happened” to notice me and start a conversation, I was always “so surprised” to see him there. Yeah). A romance requires initial infatuation for a physical attraction to develop into an authentic relationship. But our leads can’t remain in the infatuation stage.

 

When a spouse in a story claims that an affair “didn’t mean anything,” what they’re saying is they cheated with someone they were infatuated with, not someone they loved. That’s because infatuation cannot carry a true romance.

If you want to craft a real relationship, you must provide the characters with the chance to get to know the many facets of their love interest’s life and attributes.

3. An unbelievable leading man:

When I was first writing romantic novels, I wrote a lot of what I call “wish fulfillment fiction”–creating leading men and romantic scenes that I badly wanted in my own life. This was a fun way of fantasizing about the kind of love I envisioned for myself, but it didn’t lead to very realistic stories.

 

Sadly, I’m not alone in doing this. So much of fiction feels like a writer having a “wish fulfillment” moment. This is especially apparent in our leading men. I’m amazed by how often I’m introduced to a leading man that is the ultimate female dream and nothing more. He’s sweet, sensitive, just manly enough to protect and defend her, and will go to any lengths to save her. But on top of that, he never gets annoyed with her. He never wants time away from her. He never just acts like a guy who would rather play video games with his friends one night than talk her about her hopes and dreams.

 

I mean no disservice to guys, here. They can be all those amazing things I listed, and often they are. But they’re also human beings with flaws. They get cranky, they lose their patience, they say something stupid during a fight that they wish they could take back. We could easily get on board with Mr. Sweet, Sensitive, Manly and Protective if those qualities were balanced by some natural human failings.

 

Here I reference the great Charlotte Bronte. Her leading man in “Jane Eyre” is one of the most skillfully written in all of literature. Rochester has a dark and painful past that turned him from an idealistic youth to a jaded man in search of a life of distracting pleasures. Rochester has his share of flaws. He can be cranky, rude, and deceitful. These things make sense when you have a full picture of his past, but they also make him a very real rogue. When he’s confronted with Jane, the goodness he’s never had in his life, he proves himself kind, loving, and capable of change, and proficient in those achingly romantic confessions we all secretly wish for. He would do anything for Jane—including endure a life of personal torment just to make sure she’s taken care of. And we believe all those hugely heroic things about him because we’ve already come to know his weaknesses.

 

It’s not enough to mold a man you think the readers want.

If you want to craft a believable leading man, you must make him balanced and human.

4. An un-redeemable love interest:

Clearly I love a good rogue. I’m a big fan of the tortured soul who, deep down, loves so profoundly he would walk through fire for his lady. But just as those heroic qualities must be balanced by humanity, so must a rogue be given enough redeemable qualities to believe he’s worth loving.

 

It’s less common, but every now and then I come across a male lead that’s such a dark and tortured soul I wonder why in the world the girl is sticking around. Yeah, those brooding guys are intriguing. But they still have to actually be heroic.

 

 

Same goes for the women. Ever read an “average” heroine that everyone in the story just happened to be in love with? I’m a big advocate for falling in love with the “average” girl (wish fulfillment again). But no one how has ever loved anyone believed their love to be unexceptional. Even if that girl is someone normal that we relate to, we still have to see why someone else would find her amazing and want to be with her.

 

Here I reference another Bronte sister—Emily, the writer of “Wuthering Heights.” Yes, it’s a classic piece of literature and I love it. It’s one of those stories that’s so sad we like to torture ourselves with it every now and then for funsies. But I have a real bone to pick with both main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy (Yes, I know I’m begging for an egging here).

*Warning: Spoiler alerts imminent.

 

Heathcliff and Cathy share a love that is as primitive and inexplicable as it is enduring. They both claim to love each other as their own soul. Yet, they spend their lives rejecting and betraying each other, then venting the pain of that betrayal by torturing everyone else who happens to be within arm’s reach. We can sympathize a little more with Heathcliff who was orphaned and is later abused by his adoptive brother Hindley. But whatever Heathcliff suffers, he regurgitates on others tenfold. Heathcliff’s revenge spares no one, including his pregnant wife and several innocent children. He allows his thwarted love (that he was partly responsible for thwarting) to destroy not only his life but the lives of everyone he can possibly drag down with him. It’s for this reason critics argue whether Heathcliff is meant to function as a hero or villain. His heroic qualities seem seriously lacking.

 

Cathy is no better. In fact, given her confidence and happy childhood it’s hard to understand why she decides to actively sabotage her own life. She admits her love for Heathcliff is immovable and eternal, then skips off to marry someone else. Though she clearly regrets her decision, she never acts to correct it. Instead she behaves like a spoiled child who thinks herself entitled to use and abuse others because they adore her too much to correct her. She goes to her grave rather than make logical choices to fix her life or sacrifice for others.

 

Though I still weep for Cathy and Heathcliff, I never totally believe in their love. I don’t doubt their love is as enduring as they claim. But to me it doesn’t qualify as a great love because it consumes everything and sacrifices nothing. Heroes and heroines can and should be flawed. But they can’t be so beyond redemption that they no longer qualify as a hero.

If you want to create love interests that your audience can root for, they must have redeemable qualities.

 

5. Ridiculous Obstacles:

There’s a flawed formula seen especially in certain romantic films. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, then… Oh, now what? Often screenplay writers get a couple to the point where they’ve fallen in love, they’re happy, and now would be a great time to end the story. But they have about forty-five minutes of film left to fill.

 

 

So what do they do? They come up with some ridiculous reason why the couple can’t be together. It’s like, “Yes, I love you desperately but you threw away that pair of shoes that I adored and now I can’t forgive you!”

 

Okay, it’s not that extreme. But sometimes it isn’t that far off. Often times people (in literature and in life) will use flimsy excuses to sabotage romance because they’re afraid. But if you’re going to make someone scared enough to undermine a genuine relationship, give them a compelling reason to be that afraid. If they’ve got a horrible past from which they earned very understandable trust issues, then we buy into them breaking off the romance because their shoes got tossed. That makes the obstacle understandably daunting in the face of their personal issues. But if we’re given two seemingly well-adjusted adults without a crippling fear of intimacy, it seems a little thin for them to scurry the second something goes remotely wrong.

 

This is especially annoying in sitcoms. True, they can’t get a couple together and keep them happy right from the pilot, otherwise the audience has no reason to keep tuning in. But it’s agonizing to watch a couple slam into obstacle after ludicrous obstacle because the tension must be drawn out over an unknown number of seasons. I’ve stopped watching certain TV shows because of this—I simply couldn’t handle that the couple was never allowed to get together and have some semblance of happiness. There has to be a balance.

 

If you want the audience to feel victorious when the odds are beaten, the obstacle needs to be large enough to be realistic, but also one that can be overcome.

 

A lot factors into a good romantic formula. But these major pitfalls can be avoided and your romance will be stronger because of it. Give us realistic characters with layers, virtues, and vices overcoming true obstacles. Make us work just as hard as your hero and heroine and we’ll fall in love with them too.

And if you could throw some Victorian action-adventure in there, I’d really appreciate it. 😀    

My “Mom Bod!”

I’ve never been…the skinniest.

I like to joke that I peaked at fifteen when my face emerged from its awkward phase (we’re talking scraggle hair and snaggle teeth) coupled with me finally figuring out how to do normal makeup (although retiring my silver lipstick was a tragic day). There was a rare five minutes of my adolescence where I was not only normal-looking, but downright cute.

Then came puberty.

One day before my sixteenth birthday these hips arrived in the mail with no return address or refund option. I’d always been a scrawny early teen and quite suddenly I was handed the body of a woman—with no idea what to do with it.

I didn’t know how to dress the additional square footage or relate to my peers who could still shop at 5-7-9. That was the biggest adjustment. By high school my awkward peers had grown into their limbs, decided their image, and become those average-sized girls high school is supposed to be full of.

And I stuck out. I’m not saying I was huge or anything. But I’d become, in a land of skinnies, resolutely curvy.

Enter my low self-esteem. I know, I know—most people aren’t super confident in high school; not even those average-sized girls I was so envious of. But I wondered if they grappled with such an ever-present sense of self-loathing. If they watched their friends constantly choose more slenderly inclined girls time and again while I wondered if I possessed the willpower to stop eating (I didn’t. Just couldn’t quit the frosting).

It’s a common enough story. I’m sure there are countless ladies out there who relate.

Eventually I was found, wooed, and married by a man who declared my curves beautiful. And (warning: cheesiness forthcoming) in the foreign landscape of his unconditional love, I learned to see more value in myself.

Enter now, the cutie: our baby. Of my many worries at forthcoming motherhood (affording the baby, birthing the baby, keeping the baby alive once it was birthed), getting larger wasn’t a huge concern. I was going to be one of those adorable pregnant ladies with the perfect bump. And even if I did gain some weight, I’d probably lose it during breastfeeding like all those celebrities, right?

You’re probably laughing right now. Present day Kari would be laughing at back-then Kari if I didn’t so want to smack her.

Pregnancy brought a lot of surprises. Perks: 1. Finally, a time when having your belly stick out is actually cute! 2. You’re growing a tiny miracle in your own body; feeling it move and be alive inside you, connecting with and loving it before you’ve even seen its face.

Drawbacks: Morning sickness, acne, exhaustion, weird cravings, swelling in the feet (I kid you not when I say they were twice their normal size. Twice). Oh, and the fact that at some point in the third trimester, you start to feel not so much like a person but more like a great sailing vessel. Like one of those aircraft carriers that are so big, they can land planes on them.

Our little angel finally arrived and let me clarify right now that she’s worth everything—all those pregnancy snags, all the exhaustion and insanity of parenthood. Being a mom was and is the best thing I’ve ever done and my very greatest honor.

But I did not lose weight during breastfeeding like all those celebrities (are we sure they don’t have some kind of magic potion? I’m suspicious). No, I gained weight while nursing my daughter and the day she was weaned I had arrived at the heaviest of my life.

Enter the second cutie, and I’m sure you can all guess. I’m currently pregnant with our third and while the numbers on the scale have increased, the confidence has plummeted to an alarming, all-time low.

And the longer I’ve been a mom, the more I’ve noticed something.

There is something very wrong with how we view what I now call the “Mom Bod” in society. My whole life I’ve heard jokes about “mom jeans”, having a “mom butt” and the general disparity on the physical image of mothers. It seems like there’s generally the two extremes when it comes to maternal archetypes—the cougar and the frump. A mom is either acceptable because she’s attractive enough to still be considered female. Or she’s that female-ish creature who now wears high-waisted jeans and has become somewhat un-gendered.

Not until I experienced it myself did I fully appreciate the tragedy of the mom body evolution (what follows is a generalization of the experience, not common to everyone). Women start out all shapes and sizes, but pregnancy causes inevitable weight gain. Even if the pant size doesn’t greatly increase, the shape and instincts of the body shift drastically. Most women discover, after pregnancy, bulges in places they had no idea could bulge and an excess of skin that—by the laws of rubber bands—should snap back into place once its no longer needed. Sadly, it does not.

Quite often that new mom doesn’t manage to “bounce back” before having the next baby. And many find themselves, several kids later, bigger than they’ve ever been and now just old enough that their body doesn’t quite remember how to easily lose weight anymore. So many never have the chance to return from that place. Especially because, unlike actresses who are being paid to get back in shape, now that they’ve had the baby, they’re pretty busy raising said cutie.

There have been many recent strides in a body-acceptance revolution. But for all that progress I still regularly hear comments like, “Yeah, she’s a mom but she’s still hot,” or “She could look good again if she just tried.” It hurts me to see so many women treated like they’re invisible because they traded a conventional female image to bring life into the world.

My biggest beef in this issue is with myself. I hate that when I walk into a room of people I haven’t seen in years, I subconsciously search for the opportunity to bring up the fact that I’ve expanded. I’m not looking to be contradicted or fishing for compliments. On the contrary, I’m hoping they’ll agreed and abruptly changed the subject. I only feel the compulsion to bring it up so they won’t be secretly thinking it, and wondering if I’m unaware of how far I’ve fallen.

There’s that melodrama again. I seriously doubt anyone is thinking something half so harsh when they look at me. And the genuine truth is I don’t look at any other mom the very way I fear I’m being viewed. I see in mothers a beauty that goes beyond being merely attractive. It’s what my husband lovingly called my “even greater beauty” because I sacrificed my body to have our kids.

My own mom is a rock star who, when I expressed such a sentiment, said with absolute surprise, “It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a gift.” And she’s right. I’d never trade my angel daughters for anything, including the kind of body I never had.

I’ve always half-scoffed at that saying, “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” (it may very well be true, but I’ve often wondered if the skinny person who coined this phrase had ever eaten Godiva chocolate cheesecake). I would say instead, “Being skinny can never make you as happy as being a mom”–no matter what your size (and sharing Godiva cheesecake with your kids is absolute bliss).

But I wish I could see the same beauty in myself that I see in other moms. Yeah, there’s a sad inequality in how we, as a society, look at moms. But the real problem is how I look at myself.

So I’d like to propose another revolution: that of championing what I will now call with only the utmost gumption and respect, the “Mom Bod.” And if it’s only a revolution of one, it’s still long overdue.

So…Why “Mormon” Girl?

You may have wondered why, of all the possible blog names in the world, I would choose “Mormon Girl” to be known by.

Friends and family have known me by many handles and nicknames, among them “Bubba” (I’m still not sure where that one came from), “Pajama Girl” (less of a mystery as I literally wore pajamas or sweats to school my entire senior year), “Mermaid Girl” (I haunted the lake my first girls’ camp), “Chocolate Cake Pop Girl” (earned at Starbucks and self-explanatory as well as embarrassing), and “Quill Girl” in college (I was pretty noticeable among a sea of sensible laptops as the only English major using a pink quill pen and blingy notebooks. What can I say? Sometimes a girl has still got to get her Lisa Frank on).

I was born LDS and I’ve always been an active member. But despite being dependably non-rebellious (I asked my husband after we were married if we could sneak out of the house late at night, as I’d never had that experience. He was game but vetoed the sheet rope for safety reasons), “Mormon” probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind to describe me. I’ve more often been called “happy” or “quirky” (which is what people sometimes call you when you wear pajamas in public and write with quills). So, again, why identify myself first and foremost as a “Mormon” Girl?

After almost a decade trying to break into the traditional publishing industry, during which time I received more rejection letters that I care to admit, I learned how to handle said rejection with a surefire formula of crying in private and consuming cinnamon bears. Even though I eventually got some serious interest in certain manuscripts and even worked with an agent for a while, nine years later I found myself still unpublished (and fighting a cinnamon bear addiction).

It was my husband who first suggested I try to write a book specifically for Covenant Publishing—a house owned by my LDS church. At first I back-burnered the idea. Despite having written comedic plays and my general happiness as a person, I’ve been known to write surprisingly dark content for novels. I didn’t know how to even begin switching genres as might be necessary.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized something. I was familiar with LDS dramas, as I’d read several. There are many LDS writers out there who’ve really mastered uniting LDS characters with dramatic genres. Lesser known to me (thought I’m sure they do exist) were comedic LDS characters.

I’m a big fan of writers like Sophie Kinsella. Most famous for her “Confessions of a Shopaholic” series, I consider Kinsella’s greatest strength to be the relatability of her characters. She writes women who are unabashedly themselves; quirks, flaws, silliness, and all. I’ve long admired that and recognized how such characters marry so perfectly with comedy in her novels. As an American (am I the only one who often wishes I was British instead?) her characters also helped me understand and relate to women of a different nationality about whom I’d previously known very little.

Then came the epiphany: Mormons (their own nationality, even their own species to people unfamiliar with us) needed their Kinsella character. We needed an average LDS girl who was unabashedly herself; quirks, flaws, silliness, and all. We needed a girl anchored by her religion who was, nonetheless, struggling with the everyday difficulties Mormons deal with. We needed a girl other Mormons could commiserate and laugh with and non-Mormons could relate to—to humanize us and make us more understandable. We needed a comedic heroin who was a Mormon girl.

If you’ve read my first book in this new genre, “A Date With Danger” (don’t be fooled by the title guys, it is a comedy) then you know to call Jacklyn Wyatt a “hero” might be considered a bit of a stretch. She definitely has her weaknesses (cake and jealousy high on the list) and she’s not the most mature girl in the room (why is she found crawling across the floor in Forever 21? You better read it and find out!). But isn’t that what a hero sometimes is? Someone real who’s doing their best to find courage and hold to who they are? I like to think so.

Still, I was more than a little bit nervous to release Jack into the world. Sure, I was entertained by her. But her quirks, strangely, mirror my own (and one of my weaknesses is that I’m often wildly amused by myself). Besides, I allowed Jack to speak very candidly about the blessings and difficulties of being Mormon. By putting her out there on paper, I was declaring that, at least to some extent, her beliefs were my own. Was I ready for the whole world to know all that?

Seeing people’s reaction to Jack was surprisingly positive. I’m sure there are people out there who were not a fan and luckily those people have never reached out just to tell me how I’m the worst. But seeing how many people liked Jack, related to her, and told me, “She’s just like me!” was incredibly validating.

And it brought on the second epiphany (which is really my quota for the year): if the literary world needed a heroine like Jack to be unabashedly herself and unapologetically Mormon, maybe the world needed another one of those too.

Unlike Jack, I am nothing of a heroine (even though Jack is a lot like me, there were still moments in the book I, myself, wrote where I was like, “You’re crazy, girl! Turn around, go home, and hide!”). I can’t ever promise I’ll just into crazy adventures like Jack does.

But as far as being myself and sharing the joys and oddities of being Mormon? That I can do.

Planting my Flag on the Internets!

Like any explorer traversing a tempestuous sea, this post–my virgin voyage into the unknown world of “internetting”–is a victory riddled with seasickness, scrambled stars, and perhaps a touch of scurvy.

If you know me (or have ever tried to communicate with me via technology) you know that I suffer from a serious condition called Technology Repellance. This condition could be documented. Phones are reduced to a mess of busy signals and lost networks in my hands. Computers spontaneously shut down while the wi-fi evaporates, never to return. I have lost opportunities and friendships along the way when people decided I must be ignoring them because no one human could be legitimately unreachable on so many different forms of communication all at the same time. If they only knew. There are no pills for what ails me. Only the option to return to homing pigeons which I have genuinely considered a time or two. (But who doesn’t love a hand-written sentiment delivered by a skittish fowl in the middle of the night?)

And just as it took me until my senior year of college (no joke) to graduate from poster board to power point, it has now taken me nearly twelve years as a professional writer to finally have a functioning website where I will attempt to blog (still googling exactly how to do so) and be more reachable. So for those of you who have managed to track me down on Facebook to ask why in the world I am a ghost in the virtual world (doesn’t that just make me sound cool, though?) and received no response for a year on average, I am here to internet.

I plant my flag. 🙂