Romance Written Right

It’s been a season of transitioning at the Proctor house. We’ve transitioned into our new life in Charleston, SC, thanks to a work promotion for my husband (Hooray for the beach!) and me? I’ve transitioned into . . . SOLITUDE. For the first time in sixteen years all of my children are in school. I admit, it was a day I thought I would celebrate, but in truth, I spent several weeks feeling weepy, not knowing exactly what to do with myself. It wasn’t so much that I missed my kids. The youngest was ready for Kindergarten. He’s thriving. I know he’s where he needs to be. I just didn’t know how to be alone. How to make choices when the only person I had to consider was ME. How to spend my time effectively.  So I didn’t. I watched hours of Netflix. And took really long naps. And of course, I read stacks and stacks of books.

And so, in an effort to dust off this, an infrequently used writing space, I’m here to recommend a few of those reads to you. We’re focusing on Romance for today–romance that in my estimation is written just as it should be.

The Fall of Lord Drayson (Tanglewood, #1)The Fall of Lord Drayson, by Rachael Anderson

When Colin Cavendish, the new earl of Drayson, informs Lucy Beresford that she and her mother need to vacate the house they’ve called home for the past two years, Lucy is fit to be tied. They have no money, no relations they can turn to for help, and nowhere to go. How dare the earl break the promise his father had made to the Beresfords without so much as a twinge of conscience?

Fate plays her hand when Lucy discovers the earl unconscious and injured in the middle of the road. When he awakens with no recollection of who he is, Lucy seizes the opportunity to teach the earl a much-needed lesson in humility and tells him that he is nothing more than a mere servant. Her servant, in fact. 

And thus begins the charming tale of a pompous lord and an impetuous young woman, caught together in a web so tangled that it begs the question: Will they ever get out?

Guys, I loved this book so much. I often complain that Regency novels all feel the same. You can only tell a Regency Romance so many ways when limited by the social constraints and customs of the time. But this novel felt fresh and entertaining and funny, which is something you don’t always see in this genre. I can’t wait to read more of Anderson’s work. FIVE out of FIVE STARS.

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The Start of Me and You, by Emery Lord

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live? 

This one is an adorable Young Adult Contemporary romance that was nerdy and sweet and pretty much perfect in every way. The chemistry was so good, the characters felt authentic and oh, so real, and the writing was effortless. I wouldn’t call this one fluffy–it has some depth because of the personal struggles the main character faces, but it’s not heavy either. It’ll make you swoon in all the right places and leave you smiling and happy. A sweet feel good love story perfect for fans of contemp YA. FIVE out of FIVE STARS.

It’s 2014, and I’m . . . Here? I think?

Guys, this is so hard. It’s been so long and it feels like I’ve forgotten how to put words together. It’s funny, my writing started with blogging and now the thought of writing a blog post feels harder than writing a novel. But I have things I want to say so I’m pushing forward, hoping I’ll fall into some sort of a rhythm. I know better than aspiring to regular blog posts. (I’ll be happy if I make it to the end of THIS post.) But maybe if I get my feet wet again (by writing a post about nothing? I’m beginning to question my reasoning here.) it will feel easier to come and talk and share and write.

I didn’t post anything on Facebook or here on the blog about the New Year. I didn’t pick a word or make a list of New Year’s Resolutions. I didn’t even think about what my resolutions would be if I did decide to write them down. Last year rolled into this one with little fanfare or reflection. That feels a little sad, so let’s reflect, shall we?

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2013 was a good year. My family life morphed into something that frequently makes my head spin.  My oldest turned twelve, a landmark that brings all sorts of added activities and responsibilities. My youngest turned 1, turning my life into a constant stream of toddler induced chaos and total mayhem MOST OF THE TIME. Nothing screams peace like a toddler in a diaper, standing in the center of your kitchen table flicking the keys off your laptop.  I mean, I’m not complaining. He’s totally adorable which makes the mayhem much more tolerable. But oh my word, he makes me tired. Funny how easy it is to forget how destructive a tiny person can be until you have another one, streaking naked around your living room, squealing with delight and sloshing his overturned bottle around like a maraca, spraying your sofa, your hair, your dog, even the ceiling with tepid milk. You can feel it, can’t you? The peace that fills my home? 

Also contributing to the general peace and quiet around here, 2013 was also the year we started homeschooling our three elementary age children. Because of limited educational opportunities in our very small town, we felt like it was the best option for our kids. I’ve been told all you should strive for the first year of homeschooling is simply to survive. And well, we are surviving. But I’m also not afraid to admit it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The constancy and the noise and the SO MANY THINGS to keep up with. It hasn’t been easy. It’s getting easier though, slowly but surely, which is promising. We’re settling into more of a routine and I’m learning not to be too hard on myself when things don’t go as planned. Because really. When does anything ever go as planned?

The House at Rose Creek Cover2013 was the year of The House at Rose Creek. Oh, what a lovely experience it has been to have my book out there in the world. I can’t think of it without feeling humbled and grateful and so happy that I have the opportunity to write and share my words with others.

book signingThe book launch party in August was a highlight of my year. I’ll never forget how wonderful it was to have so many people that I love helping me celebrate. It was a great night. My next book, tentatively titled Mountains Between Us (don’t get attached, it’ll likely change in the editorial process) is due out in August, 2014. I love this one even more than the first and can’t wait for everyone to read it.

I’m also working on a third novel, this one for the mainstream fiction market, which is both thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. To publish in the national market, rather than the smaller, niche LDS Fiction market, I’ll need to get an agent, a process I hope I’ll be ready for by Spring. I hope I’m ready; I think I’m ready. Nearly Nell (again, working title, but I’m hoping it’s one that will stick around) is a novel I really, really love. (I say this like it’s unusual… like there are authors out there who say, “I wrote a book but I don’t really love it.” Just bear with me, okay? I’ll be done in a minute.) It’s a story that is so very different than my first two and I hope beyond all hope it can find a home somewhere out there in the literary world. I’ve been told the agent hunt is grueling, but I’m hopeful.

Other 2013 happenings? I celebrated 13 years of marriage to a man I’m still falling in love with, more every day. I attended my first LDStorymakers Conference and met many of my online friends in person, validating the unusual fact that many of them I already considered to be among my most cherished friends. The writing community is a wonderful thing to be a part of, that’s for sure. 2013 was the year of musical beginnings for the kids… cello, violin, guitar, piano. We are a noisy house. But it is noise I love.

I have high hopes for 2014; for the family, for my husband’s career, for my writing. But one day at a time, you know? Anything more than that, and it all starts to feel far too overwhelming.

Seriously. Is this adorable, or what. These little people make me very happy. Also very crazy. But mostly very happy.

Seriously. Is this adorable, or what? These little people make me very happy. Also very crazy. But mostly very happy.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, by Me

chocolate chip cookiesI’ve tried a lot of different cookie recipes over the years. We have cookies for dinner every Sunday night; big lunch right after church, cookies for dinner. Over the years, we’ve definitely found our favorite recipes. Glazed Lemon Cookies, Molasses Sugar Cookies, Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. (Don’t worry. I’m slowly transferring recipes from my previous blog. I’ll get them all up soon!) But without a doubt, the cookie we eat more than any other is the classic Chocolate Chip Cookie. Which is why I’ve been working for so many years to find a recipe that embodies everything I want my chocolate chip cookie to be. I’ve found several that have come very, very close, but they weren’t quite there. So I got creative and morphed several of my favorite recipes into one perfectly wonderful recipe.

What I love the most about this recipe is you can tweak it in different ways to change up your flavor. Leave out one ingredient, add another. (I mean, not any ingredient. Don’t leave out the baking soda. Or the butter.) I’ll give you some examples of how I change it up after I share the recipe. Because life is better with cookies. Amen, and amen.

Chocolate Chip Cookies 

  • 1 cup butter, softened 
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 small box instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp Nutella
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped (almost powdered) Walnuts
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter (softened, not melted! Room temperature is fine, or microwave on 30% power for 15 second intervals until it feels nicely squishy, but NOT melted) and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Add brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and pudding mix, blending after each addition. Add the peanut butter and Nutella. Lick off the spoon after each addition. You’re the one in the kitchen. You deserve it.

Mix together your dry ingredients–flour, baking soda and salt–and add to the dough. Add walnuts and chocolate chips. Then taste it and die a little.

Bake in a 375 degree, preheated oven for 8-9 minutes. For all that is good and chewy, don’t over bake your cookies. If you like them crispy, please do over bake your cookies, but if you want wonderfully soft and chewy cookies that are soft and chewy even when they’ve completely cooled and sat on the counter for an hour? It all comes down to baking time. Watch your cookies closely when they are nearly done. A finished cookie will just barely show hints of brown around the bottom edge. The tops might still look a little wobbly, but that’s okay. Leave them sitting on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before you transfer them over to a cooling rack. They should firm up enough for you to transfer them over without breaking. If that doesn’t happen, bake your next batch a hair longer.

If you have a silpat baking mat, use it. If you don’t, ask for one for your birthday. Silpats make good cookies. The end.

Okay, not really the end. The almost powdered walnuts lend these cookies an intense flavor, without the huge chunks of nuts that scare my kids away. They tell me they don’t like nuts in their cookies, but they eat these cookies anyway. (Kinda like how I put grated squash and zucchini in my spaghetti sauce. They have no idea how many vegetables they are actually eating.) If you don’t like Walnuts, leave em out. They’re still great cookies. In fact, you can leave out the peanut butter, or the Nutella, or both, and it’s still a good cookie. You can swap the brown sugar for white sugar, add cranberries, coconut and white chocolate chips, and you’ve got a different, but still wonderful cookie. You can add Reese’s Pieces, and crushed peanuts. So many options.

In it’s original form, with the peanut butter, Nutella, and Walnuts, this cookie  is rich and bold and nutty and it makes me happy. I hope it makes you happy too!