An Ode to Supportive Men

On Valentine's Day, my husband sent me flowers.

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He didn't send them because it was Valentine's Day, which we'd celebrated the weekend before. He sent them because, earlier that day, I'd been on a roller coaster ride with a potential agent that ended in a confidence-shaking rejection. So my husband sent me flowers.

These, "You got this and I believe in you" flowers meant more to me than "I love you" flowers could.

This is a hard blog to frame. Woman have played the role of "supportive" for so long that it seems like it's written into the job requirement: cook dinners and rub feet and say uplifting things. So should men really get a bravo when they rise to the same standards? Yeah. First, because I believe in positive reinforcement. And second, because when both people in the equation are supportive, that's where the magic happens. 

Supportive Men Are Sexy

I thought my latest book, The Billionaire's Prince, was going to be about strong women. It derived from the concept: What if the billionaire CEO was a woman? I wanted my female lead to take control and ultimately be the person who swoops in to save the day. But since I write cisgendered, hetero romance novels, I needed the man to be "manly." I needed him to be sexy and strong, but in a way that didn't impede on my heroine's strength.

The book became an exploration of the behaviors of supportive men as much as it was about strong women. I realized that the way for him to be strong and sexy was to accept her strength as a matter of course, for him to lean into and on her strength, and ultimately that one of his strengths -- and one way that made him immensely sexy -- was how much he enjoyed hers.

Men, take note.

Supportive men are Active

Chris Pine in the role of Steve Trevor in the "Wonder Woman" movie did an astonishing job playing the role of the strong, sexy!!!! supportive man. It's easy to think of support as passive, a rah-rahing from the sidelines while the other person does all the work. But Pine is lockstep with our (yes, we've claimed her) Gal Gadot all the way. He's attracted to her, overwhelmed by her, worried for her. He pulls her back when she insults a general and marvels at her when she enjoys ice cream. But never once does he doubt her abilities. He's the one who tells his burly compatriots to place a platform on their backs so they can fling her into battle. 

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Watching Chris Pine in that role gave me hope for the future of story telling. Watching Chris Pine in that role made me sad for how rare we see that type of man.

Supportive men are complicated

The movie "Hidden Figures" -- which tells the story of three African-American female mathematicians who helped the U.S. win the space race -- does an incredible job of exploring too many unknown stories. One piece I noticed was how the husbands reacted to their incredibly smart wives.

Aldis Hodge plays the husband of Mary Jackson, NASA's first black female engineer. In the beginning of the movie, he is critical of his wife's efforts to be the first black woman in white-only classes. He is afraid for her. Ultimately, though, he supports her. Hodge says about his character: 

"He supported his wife — supported her in a very avant-garde way given the time frame. This is the '60s, so I loved what he represented and what they represented."

Support doesn't come instantly or easily. It's earned, learned, and taught. Even the character of Col. Jim Johnson, played by Mahershala Ali, missteps wildly in this awesome scene before he goes on to become the supportive husband of physicist and mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson.

supportive men are rare

I've become a big fan of The Wicked Wallflowers Club podcast, which showcases big-name romance writers and explores why the genre is awesome. More than once, authors have mentioned how they don't feel supported by their partners or families, how their husbands don't "get" what they're doing.

This makes me sad. It also makes me deeply appreciate of what I have and reminds me not to take it for granted. My mom reads and comments on all my books on Wattpad. My brothers share my stories on their social media profiles.

But most importantly for the day-to-day Angelina who sits down and slaves at this writing thing every day, my husband believes in my writing every day. He's believed in every story, he's cheered on every query and request for full, and he's commiserated with every rejection. In December, when an agent asked for a full manuscript before I was quite ready, he spent a weekend editing it while I frantically wrote the end. 

He is not perfect in all things, and I wouldn't want him to be because that's waaaaay too much pressure. But in this, this active, sexy, and complicated support of my writing, he has been perfect. 

So while this is an ode to supportive men, I guess it's also a little bit of an ode to him.

Happy Valentine's Day, my love.

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How to Fill the Well as a Writer

New York Times bestselling author Joan Johnston talks about the need for writers to "give yourself the opportunity to fill the well so you have something to write about," in the latest issue of Romance Writers Report. I found this so inspiring. Writers cave up, have endless deadlines, and tell victory stories about how many days in a row it's been since they've showered. Many of us, no matter our endeavors, stick our noses to the grindstones and then proudly compare how little nose we have left.

Stop it. Fill the well. Writers, if the only world you have to write about is the Bermuda Triangle of your desk-couch-fridge, I'm sorry but that book is not going to sell. Everyone else, you know you need to go have a good time.

Here are ways I like to #fillthewell. I've included A TON of links. I hope they help you discover your own inspiration!

Museums

I'm a huge fan of museum gazing in the winter time because you get shelter, exercise, and inspiration for a modest price. Here in the D.C.-area, where we have an embarrassment of museum riches, many of our museums are free. A friend and I recently went to the Smithsonian's Freer|Sackler, which has an incredible collection of Asian art. There we saw Buddhas and Chinese wine cups and dazzling Indian jewelry and the beautifully carved heads of pharaohs. Did you know that some Buddhists venerated a Lord of Burning Desire? I didn't either. But that's the kind of useful inspiration you can get when you go to your local museum.

 Aizen Myoo, the Lord of Burning Desire, “avatar of sacred lust...recognizes and emphasizes the disruptive power of sexual passion” against evil. 

Aizen Myoo, the Lord of Burning Desire, “avatar of sacred lust...recognizes and emphasizes the disruptive power of sexual passion” against evil. 

Volunteering

My responsibilities as a volunteer force me to step away from my writer's desk and provide that glow that comes with giving time instead of getting paid for it. I've served as a docent at the Hillwood Museum in northwest D.C. for a year and that beautiful house and gardens have provided so much inspiration. I've learned a ton about strong women who can buy their own fancy houses, about the joy of sharing what you know with others, and about the pleasure of strolling through a greenhouse dripping with orchids and pretending -- just for a second -- that it belongs to you. 

 Tomorrow come celebrate the oncoming spring with  La Chandeleur or Crepe Day at Hillwood . Enjoy crepes, decorate your own version of priceless porcelain, and let me show you some of our incredible French treasures when I give a family-focused gallery talk at 10:30 and tours at 11:30 and 1:30. Come join me!

Tomorrow come celebrate the oncoming spring with La Chandeleur or Crepe Day at Hillwood. Enjoy crepes, decorate your own version of priceless porcelain, and let me show you some of our incredible French treasures when I give a family-focused gallery talk at 10:30 and tours at 11:30 and 1:30. Come join me!

Booze

I want to insert this in here before I give the impression that I only enjoy heady pursuits. I like booze. I like to learn about the origin and creation of various alcohols, I like to read about burgeoning alcohol trends, I like to experiment with my own concoctions, and I like to have long-winded conversations about how cocktails are made. And I like to drink them. One of my favorite places to do all of the above is the Dogwood Tavern. Dogwood is the kind of place where the bartenders remember you, remember your drink of choice, make it spectacularly, and whip up a concoction with you if you catch them when it's slow. They'll also give you a pleasing nickname if you're a regular. Ours is "Angeleter."

 Drew's Bulleit Rye Old-Fashioned

Drew's Bulleit Rye Old-Fashioned

Wine

I also enjoy wine. This is my stepfather's fault. In 2009, my parents bought a 6.5-acre property in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley and started Gantz Family Vineyards. Suddenly I, who'd had a passing interest in wine, was part of a family that grew Pinot Noir grapes in one of the premiere Pinot Noir regions in the country. Things got much, much worse when they asked me to help them market the vineyard, and suddenly I had to learn about wine and winegrape growing in order to be able to communicate vaguely intelligently about it for their website and social media. This window into this incredible world helped inspire my latest book, The Billionaire's Prince, and the follow-up book that I'll begin in February. Here in D.C., my go-to spot for getting educated (and inspired) about wine is the the Capital Wine School. I rave more about it here.

 Gantz Family Vineyards

Gantz Family Vineyards

Friends

I love my husband and my kids and my family. But I would be nothing without my friends. My friends are a wonderful pressure valve from the rest of my life, and whether they provide me tips on the writing industry or help me understand my kids better or share in a laugh and a glass of wine, they inspire me and help calm me so I can be open to inspiration. Some of my dearest friends can inspire you, too!

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  • Parenting coach Paige Trevor - Paige and I bonded over a shared love of this Jonathan Rhys Meyers lip bite 15 years ago and we've never looked back. Through classes, seminars, and one-on-one sessions, she helps parents understand the connection between an organized house and a calm and content family. As a Certified Parent Educator with PEP, Paige has trained over 1500 parents in the Washington, D.C.- area. Her weekly blog, Nifty Tips, is a funny, heartfelt, tough-love dose of realistic parenting advice. 
  • Author Sharon Wray - Sharon is the most generous soul I know, and a large portion of the romance writing world would agree with me. Sharon is a fount of selfless information and good cheer and believed in me as a writer when I didn't believe in myself. Her book, Every Deep Desirea genre-bending romantic suspense reunion story set in Georgia swamps that hide a deeper, darker world, will come out on March 6. 
  • Life coach Wendy Reed - Wendy is the dear friend who introduced me to the concept of "living with intention." Living with intention means you live life proactively -- you choose to pursue a career as a creative professional or flirt more with your husband or be patient with your children -- rather than living life reactively, getting batted along the path that life chooses. Wendy is now taking this philosophy into her work as a professional life coach, helping people discover their own intentional life and then helping them figure out how to make it a reality.

Podcasts

Not all of my filling of the well is done out and about. I spend an impressive amount of time luxuriating in my pajamas and yoga pants. Podcasts give me inspiration when I'm emptying the dishwasher or walking the dog. My three recent favorites are:

  • The Thirst Aid Kit - "Thirsting," as used by these brilliant hosts, is the act of desiring, crushing, lusting from afar that women do so well. This podcast honors that thirst -- an act that has sustained the movie industry and keeps the publishing industry afloat -- with intelligent, diversity-aware, and screamingly funny conversations about the people we thirst for and why.
  • Girl in Space - Girl in Space is an audio drama about a girl in space, written and performed by a girl. This act should not seem so revolutionary. And yet this podcast has such a unique, interesting, wise, and funny point of view of sci-fi and space travel and story telling that it does seem revolutionary. 
  • The Wicked Wallflowers Club - I have been endlessly tweeting about this new podcast devoted to taking the shame out of romance reading. As I've said endlessly on Twitter, this podcast is like grabbing a coffee with your favorite author and smartest friends and talking about what makes romance novels great.

Please share your favorite ways to #FillTheWell in the comment box below. Fill free to include links, too, if you've got them. I love sharing the inspiration!

How Publishing to Wattpad Helped Me Fall Back in Love with Writing

In 2011, I stopped writing fiction. I'd researched, outlined, and plotted my way into hating my writing process. My thin skin and the rejection letters didn't help, either.

But in 2014, I discovered Wattpad. Described by some as the YouTube for ebooks, Wattpad is an app that allows writers to share their work and readers to read, follow, and comment. It encourages serialized posting of chapters, and many writers write from their phones. For me, a writer who'd spent three months researching and outlining her last attempted book and then couldn't get through the first chapter, this felt like freedom.

Four years later and with a finished book under my belt, I can honestly say that Wattpad gave me back my love of writing.

How? Wattpad allowed me to:

Break stultifying writing habits

In the first fevered days of trying out the Wattpad app, I wrote the following in my bio:

"I've always been my worst critic, and my fiction writing became paralyzed by my editing. Discovering Wattpad was a godsend because I just write and publish; beyond checking for typos and spelling errors, I work really hard to not let my judgey self get in the way of my Muse."

For years, I bound myself in chain after chain of writing "how-tos." Wattpad, with its phone-to-app publishing, its generous fans, and its encouragement to publish chapter-by-chapter rather than in whole book form, supported experimentation. Throw it at the wall and see what stuck. Don't like it? Erase it.

I felt like I could breathe again. More importantly, I felt like I could write again.

Connect with readers

The hardest part about putting a book under my bed that had been rejected by traditional publishing was the realization that my characters were never going to live and breathe in the minds of readers. I felt like I'd let my characters down. I felt like I'd killed them.

Wattpad connected my characters to readers, and the readers gave my characters life.

I was strategic about finding fans. I made my first book, Desperately Seeking, fanfiction by turning my hero into Oliver Queen from the hit TV show Arrow. It wasn't a hardship handing over my story idea -- what if a young widow placed a personal ad for "occasional companionship" -- to the gorgeous Stephen Amell.

And it allowed me to tag the story and access fans who otherwise might have overlooked me. Desperately Seeking now has 169,000 reads and I'm connected to 900 fans, a number which makes my little brain shiver.

The whole point, as I previously mentioned, was to HAVE PEOPLE READ MY WRITING.

Read fans' reactions

Not only can people read my book, that can comment on it, line by line. They can comment on their thoughts of the chapter. They can add it to reading lists with heartwarming titles like, "Could Read It Over and Over Again."

Reading people's immediate visceral responses is awesome and terrifying. I am blessed that my interactions have been 100 percent positive. I realize that not everyone is and will be this lucky. As an experienced social media manager, I am quick and ready with the delete, mute, and block buttons.

But I have been blessed, and it's amazing to see what resonates with people, what make them cry or yearn, what scenes fall flat, and what surprises you about what surprises them. People tell you when they've learned something about themselves through your book, and that immediacy is something that other reading platforms can't (yet) mimic.

Vet ideas

My just-completed book on Wattpad, The Billionaire's Prince, began with the idea: "What if the billionaire CEO was a woman?" I thought it up while I was visiting my parents in California, laptop free, and was so intrigued by the concept that I posted a cover and a blurb to Wattpad -- from my phone -- with no sense yet of what would exist beyond the cover.

"Three days a month. That's all the billionaire wants from him. Or rather, three nights. Three nights a month for a year, and at the end, she will divorce him with a settlement large enough to save the small European principality that means everything to him. All the wealthy CEO wants? Three long, hot nights a month in her bed. And his heir."

All those details -- three nights a month, the settlement, the European principality -- I literally thought up in the five minutes it took me to write the blurb. I tacked on "and his heir" as an after thought.

The concept received so many votes and comments right off the bat that I knew it was an idea that had promise. Wattpad, with its 65 million monthly visitors who spend 15 BILLION minutes per month reading, is a wonderful place to try out a title, a chapter, an idea, and see if it has legs.

Find a writing community

The fears I had of showing my work to a critique group, a writing friend, or a judging panel were quickly overcome by the "show it to the world" nature of the Internet. I originally wrote under a pseudonym, but don't anymore. Wattpad forced me to be brave and get over my stage fright.

And in revealing myself, I've found a community of supportive, kickass writers who cheerlead me through chapters, create fanart for me, advocate for me to their readers, and invite me to new opportunities.

Wattpad superstar Fallon DeMornay has mentioned me multiple times in interviews as one of her favorite writers on Wattpad, an honor that knocks me out every time it happens. I will re-pay her one day by showering her in diamonds, cocktails, and attractive men who know how to salsa.

In 2015, I was invited to take part in a Wattpad Valentine's Day anthology by USA Today bestselling author Michelle Jo Quinn. It forced me to write the first short story I'd written in years, and The Phone Call became one of my favorite babies.

Keep ass in chair

My bio mentioned that I've always been my worst critic and that critic can lead me to take loooooooooong breaks, breaks when working for clients or planning family events or cleaning the fridge can all seem more appealing and compelling than finishing my book.

But Wattpad readers have this pesky habit of letting you know when they love you and your work. "Update please," "Update soon," "Update now please soon," are all comments that make Wattpad authors climb the wall. Now, instead of just a dusty keyboard, I have actual human beings telling me that I'm being a slacker and I need to get back to work.

There is NOTHING more motivating to keep my butt in the chair and my hands typing away than the pressure of readers excited and anxious for my words. It's awful. It's terrific. It's awfully terrific, and I'm so grateful that Wattpad has given me the opportunity to connect with readers who give a crap about my writing.


Already a fan of Wattpad or want to check it out? 

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Inspiring Words for Writers

Inspiring Words for Writers

The day-to-day grind of completing a book can sometimes leave me little time or energy for seeking inspiration. But now, in the lovely lull between books, finding and absorbing inspiration is an imperative -- especially as my brain turns from "creating" to "marketing", which can be such an oppressive process.

Here are some of the recent books and articles I've discovered to me keep focused on how lucky I am to be a writer.