Behind the Scenes at RWA

Karen and I just returned from San Antonio, TX where we attended the Romance Writers of America Conference. We thought we’d share some of the highlights from the week so you could enjoy the fun with us. For writers, it’s always fun to share news and pictures from signings and reader events since it’s the most glamorous part of our work. Three hundred and fifty days of the year we are decidedly non-glamorous, parked on our couches and dreaming up scenes for our latest creations. To watch us work is not exciting! But when we meet with readers, it’s all good times.

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We had fun signing copies of our books for readers ruing the Literacy Autographing, where all the profits go toward literacy efforts. We were fortunate to find plenty of Young Adult readers in the crowd including these two awesome readers who snagged “I ❤ my Camp Boyfriend” tees.

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We were thrilled to be nominated for a Booksellers Best Award for Camp Boyfriend this year and got to attend a reception for the finalists. We spread the word about the new book in our series, Camp Payback, and hope we intrigued some new readers to try the series. But we also got to leave the conference hotel to explore San Antonio, which was really fun. I snapped a pic of Karen on our riverboat cruise along the Riverwalk:

20140722_204052I’d never been to the city and we were so impressed at how pretty it was. And the restaurants? Wow! We had some amazing meals. Friday night was a party night and we went out to dinner with friends and then on to publisher parties. 

jkpreHQ party

So yes… non stop fun for days! You can imagine it’s tricky to settle back down and start working again after all that excitement. I really liked going out to dinner every day. I didn’t cook or clean, I just had fun celebrating the accomplishments of another writing year. But if we want to attend this event again, we’ll need to settle down soon and write some books. Next year, I’m inviting you all to attend RWA with us so you can visit with other readers and writers. Next year’s conference is in New York City where we can spend mornings sightseeing, afternoons talking about books, and evenings indulging in much better food than we get at home. It’s a real treat, and even if it’s only for a brief time each year, it’s a really nice reward for all the hard work of the days in between. 

 

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I’ll Take Romance in My YA

CampForgetMeNot_FinalCover_2014It’s no secret that the writers behind the JK Rock books are also adult romance authors. I (Joanne) have been writing romance for many years and have written widely across romance subgenres. A little romantic suspense here, a lot of medieval historical there, and a great deal of contemporary steamy stories over all. So when I thought about writing Young Adult novels, there had to be some romance in them.

When my sister-in-law writing partner, Karen, talked to me about possibly writing some YA books, that was my only caveat. I was all in for YA (I love YA!) but if I was going to put my stamp on a story, there had to be a love interest. It didn’t have to be the whole story, but it’s the part of the story I’m always most interested in, both as a reader and as a writer. I want romance, baby!

Falling in love is my story. It’s the tale that is important to me. I love hearing couples’ “first meet” tales or listening to older couples reminisce about the first time they saw one another. It doesn’t matter how old a guy is when he talks about the first time he saw “The One.” He is transported to that moment. He sees his loved one all over again in that perfect, shining light, with the movie slow-motion effect. Ten years, twenty ye9780373608706 (2)ars or fifty years later, it’s still a magical moment.

In YA stories, we aren’t always dealing with “The One.” Not many people find their love of a lifetime as a teenager, although it certainly happens. But I like that the experience of the duds—the cheaters, the liars, the people who don’t like you as much as you like them—all combine to give a character the vision and understanding to recognize the right person when they come along. Dating can be equals part fun and frustrating, but it’s necessary work to help us figure out what qualities we really need or want in a romantic interest. What are your deal breakers? What quirks can you live with and even learn to love?

I guess I like romance in my YA for all the obvious reasons—the swoony moments, the great kisses and my_ladys_favorthe encounters that make my heart beat faster. But I also like it for some less obvious ones. Romance teaches us about love and in doing so, it teaches us about ourselves. Even better, reading romance can provide some of those insights without all the risk to our hearts! I really think that reading romance helped me to know what things I couldn’t accept in a relationship. By reading about a heroine who got her heart broke, I could be a little wiser about dating.

Nothing takes the place of the real thing. Of course. But give me a love story any ay of the week. It’s a story that never gets old for me.

To Pasta- With Love by Karen Rock/JK Rock

I celebrated jkrock3 tree picmy birthday last week doing what I love the most: spending time with my family.  It was a low key affair with maximum meaning. My husband, daughter and I shared a quiet day with a meal out, cake, presents, and a trip to see Richard Curtis’ (writer/director of Love Actually) latest film About Time. I’ve always loved his films, such as Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, for their emotional intelligence and sensitivity. Yet About Time offered more than a beautiful love story and intriguing characters. It contained a message that stayed with me past the end credits. To quote the main character, Tim, “Live life as if there are no second chances.”

In this time-traveler tale, Tim, along with the other males in his family, can go back in time to correct their mistakes.  Yet this beautiful story of unconditional love showed thaabout timet some things cannot be changed, however much we might wish it so. I completely identified with Tim’s longing to see a deceased relative. There are many moments in my life I wish I had a second chance to relive. Times when I let every day stresses and worries keep me from fully enjoying my life and those I loved.

If I could pick one day to revisit, it would be the day my nonna taught me how to make homemade pasta. As her health was failing, the need to learn our family’s Italian recipes became urgent. I’d already learned how to make her gravy (sauce as it is normally called), focaccia bread, eggplant parmesan and other recipes. Yet, as a busy college student, I hadn’t found the time needed to learn how to make pasta from scratch. I phoned my grandmother and planned a Columbus Day weekend visit. NonnaHowever, when the time neared, I regretted making that commitment. My boyfriend was acting strange and distant, I had a paper due, and my roommates hadn’t chipped in to pay the electric bill. When I called to cancel, my Aunt Pam lectured me. She said Nonna had been preparing all week for my visit and had spoken of little else in her excitement. Nonna had insisted, despite her arthritis, on scrubbing her entire apartment and having my aunt take her grocery shopping so that she could personally pick out the ingredients. It would crush her if I didn’t follow through. Resigned and resentful, I agreed to make the trip.

Nonna wasn’t one to show affection. She dished out her love through her food. When I arrived, she handed me a plate of my favorite cookies, her almond biscotti. It was her way of saying, “I’m glad you came, and I love you.” Yet I was too upset about my troubles back in Albany to notice. I listened with half and ear as she prattled in her broken English. Whenever she was excited, her speech was mostly in Italian, and I didn’t try translating it this time. Instead, I let the words wash over me as I thought about my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Michael. I went to bed early, knowing she’d wake me up as she always did- at five am- by poking me with a broom’s bristles, followed by her booming belly laugh. But my restless night made me cranky in the morning. Instead of giving in and getting up, I refused to leave my bed until seven. When I finally showered and dressed, she’d been sitting at the kitchen table, ingredients at the ready, for almost two hours. Ungrateful person that I was, I barely apologized and we set to work, my hands following hers as we went through the steps and set the pasta out to dry.

orecchietteAlthough I went through the motions of making Orecchiette (pasta sometimes called ‘little ears’), my heart wasn’t in it. Nonna grew quieter as the day went on, sensing, I’m sure, my lack of enthusiasm. I spent the evening arguing on the phone with my boyfriend instead of watching television with her. In the past, we’d always poked fun at game show contestants, ranted about the evils of the world while watching the news, or clucked in sympathy with talk show guests. But this time, she sat alone, hunched on the sofa, silent, as I had what I thought was a crucial exchange with Michael. The next morning, I did get up at five a.m. But my early rise was motivated by my need to leave quickly. I wanted to get home and continue my fight with Michael, finish my paper, and round up my roommates’ share of the electric bill.

Well, I did get the money for the electric bill, I earned an A on the paper, and Michael and I made up- for the time being. Yet all of that pales in comparison to what I’d lost: the chance to fully appreciate the last time I’d see Nonna alive.  She died a month later, and all I have from our last day together is a hastily scrawled recipe. I would give anything to have a second chance to redo that time. To linger over coffee and almond biscotti with her, to pay close attention to what she said, to jump out of bed and help her set up for pasta-making, to patiently learn our family recipe rather than rushing through it, to sit beside her as we watched TV, her hand slapping my knee as she laughed, my head on her shoulder as I inhaled her favorite scent- gardenia.

italian thanksgivingAbout Time was a great reminder that life doesn’t give us do-overs. We shouldn’t let the stresses and worries of our everyday lives keep us from appreciating those we love and the wonderful blessings we’ve been given. The message couldn’t come at a better time given the Thanksgiving Season. Being thankful isn’t enough. It’s important to take action as well- to be engaged- to pay attention to the things that matter most. The normal moments I take for granted are the ones I will want back someday. Better to appreciate them now, than wish I had another chance to enjoy them. So my wish for this Thanksgiving is for us all to be thankful and to be giving. To commit our hearts and minds to those we love instead of allowing other, less important things, to steal that time from us.

campcoverwithquoteIf you could have a second chance, and go back in time, which moment would you relive? I’d love hear your thoughts! Answer in the comment section below, and be entered to win a copy of Camp Boyfriend, print/Kindle/Nook version- your choice. I will announce the winner on http://www.facebook.com/jkrockwriters tomorrow. Thank you so much for commenting! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving full of family, laughter, and unconditional love. Oh- and pasta too 🙂

Love Triangles: Love Them or Hate Them?

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I first learned about love triangles in Charles Shultz’ cartoon, Charlie Brown. My heart ached for Peppermint Patty’s unrequited love for “Chuck”. Her awkward attempts to move them out of the friend zone made me want to call him a Block Head! Yet I still cheered on Charlie, hoping he and Patty’s BFF, sweet-natured Marcie (such a great foil for the aggressive Patty) would finally get together. The hopeless situation was endlessly fascinating and equally painful. Kind of like growing up… and in contemporary Young Adult novels, that’s what it’s all about. Love triangles in novels work well when they represent a deeper conflict for the main character- figuring out who she or he is in order to know whom he or she loves.

In CAMP BOYFRIEND, our main character Lauren, has always identified herself as a lover of science, an outsider, and Marvel superhero fan- well… Spiderman to be exact. Don’t even get her started on why he kicks every other superhero’s butt. You’ll never win that argument… trust me. She’s found acceptance with her quirky cabin mates at Munchies Manor at Camp Juniper Point and love with her best friend and fellow science nerd, Seth. Yet his wish to avoid long distance relationship problems means he’s convinced her to end things at the end of the past two summers. So far she’s accepted that, but now she wants more… especially after a year spent in a new school where she lost her braces, glasses and catapulted to popularity by dating the school’s star quarterback, Matt. She’s come to realize that she’ll never truly fit in with that group and breaking up with Matt is the first step to returning to her old self… only it’s not that easy when his parents’ divorce means he gets to ask them for what he truly wants, to attend camp with Lauren.

In this way, CAMP BOYFRIEND’s love triangle is more than just a conflict of a girl deciding between two hot guys; they each represent a part of herself. Deciding between them isn’t just about knowing her heart, it’s about discovering who she is- part of her journey in the summer of CAMP BOYFRIEND. Some might say, why does she have to choose which type of girl she is- geek/outsider vs popular/insider… and that’s the heart of the book- the understanding that labeling is a stop sign on realizing your true self. Lauren needs to accept that she can be all things, even if her friends and the boys in her life are slower to come to those conclusions than her. Ultimately, this summer read is a fun romance that also speaks to issues of self-acceptance and not judging one another or ourselves.

Here’s an excerpt in which we see Lauren struggling with this issue:

How ironic that I’d come back to camp to get back to the things I’d loved, especially Seth. But Matt had stopped that chance and, suddenly, I was glad he had. What was so wrong with liking dance and astronomy? Cheering and the science club? The popular and the outsider cliques? The problem was, I hadn’t realized I could do both, be both. If I’d gone back to Seth right away, I would never have learned that.

I looked over at my drying wedge sandals by the fireplace. They were awesome, even if they had slowed us down. And yeah, I was the girl who worried about weather-induced hair frizz.

So maybe I had changed. And Seth had a point about letting my dreams lapse. But why couldn’t he see through the make-up and clothes to the person who still thrilled at the site of a meteor shower and drew constellations on her notebook covers?

I laid back, tired of justifying myself. “That girl’s gone, Seth. I’m different now.”

Seth stretched beside me. His amber eyes searched mine in the shadows between us, a wistful smile lifting the corners of his mouth.

“It’s not a bad thing,” he agreed, his fingers toying with my curls. “I just miss the old you sometimes.”

I closed my eyes and enjoyed his touch, knowing it wasn’t going any further. After all, he cared about someone else, someone I’d never be again.

“Sometimes…” I edged a little closer to ease the empty ache inside. “…so do I.”

I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. To learn more about CAMP BOYFRIEND, check out our website at http://www.campboyfriend.net or at http://www.facebook.com/JKRockwriters. Love triangles can be great, but- for me- the choices need to be more than just about the boys. Please share your thoughts on love triangles in the comments section below and be automatically entered to win an autographed copy of CAMP BOYFRIEND, currently available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. Thanks so much for stopping by Scene 13!

The transition from behind to in front…

The 1st of the month was my first book signing. I signed copies of PODs at Book Expo America. And if you ask anyone who was there, I was scared to death. I’m not a huge fan of large crowds. I’m the type of person who loves to chat and joke with people in small 419112_553233378052400_1138348766_ngroups, but I’d rather have a root canal than speak in public. To this day I’m convinced my public speaking professor in college gave me a passing grade because she felt sorry for me. I mean, how could she not? I turned into a blotchy, hived covered, squeaky voiced, mess every time I had to give a speech. I get hives just remembering it.

But this month I found myself transitioning from the writer hiding behind her computer to an author in front of readers and bloggers. And while my hands shook and my voice wavered (and I’m positive I had a hive or two), I realized that the readers and bloggers weren’t going to bite. They were as excited to see me as I was to see them. Unbelievable!

By the time my signing was over I found myself having something I never thought I thought possible while in the public spotlight…fun. I loved meeting the readers. Their excitement was almost intoxicating. And it was wonderful to meet bloggers in person whom I’d been emailing for months.

I won’t say my book signing cured me of my fear of public speaking. In fact, I’m positive it hasn’t. But it has helped me transition into a person who is more willing to push her boundaries and step outside her comfort zone and step into the public speaking arena…hives and all.

Oh, and one more transition for the month…I went from pre-published to debut young adult published author. PODs released the 4th!

Michelle 🙂

Do I write about zombies…or am I one?

And there it goes down the road. A cheery yellow blob disappearing into the horizon, and with it, my carefully planned, but rarely kept, writing schedule. *Sigh*Evan

It’s May and the end of the school year is here. And that means I can kiss my writing time buh-bye.  At least writing during the day. I’ll find time to write/edit. Usually between the hours of ten p.m. and three a.m. with a few hours of sleep before the twins plop in the middle of my bed at approximately seven a.m. demanding breakfast between sticking their faces so close to mine my eyes cross trying to focus. After I drag myself out of bed and plod downstairs to pour Trix for one girl and Fruity Pebbles for the other (I know, very healthy. I give them fruit, too. Don’t judge me! ha-ha), hand the wrong bowl to each girl, exchange the bowls, pop open a Red Bull (because that’s my coffee), walk by the rec. room and tell my son to turn down the Xbox, because surely there are parental abuse laws somewhere that state those things can’t be played at the volume he plays them that early, I’ll drop on the couch and wonder why I stayed up so late the night before and it’ll hit me.  Oh, yeah. I love writing.

So bring on the obstacles of summer vacation, because I actually love having my kids home. Larry and I tried to get pregnant for ten years before Evan was born and another four years before Aleigha and Alana were born. So, summer vacation isn’t an inconvenience, DSC_4675just a minor bump in my writing schedule that I need to work around. The endless trips to the pool, the park, the play dates, summer camps, day camps, sporting events, water parks, the beach, the zoo, Sea World, and the general taxi service I drive for my kids and my mother (who doesn’t drive), I’ll take it all and smile, enjoying every second of it, even if I’m a little (or a lot) bleary eyed and feeling like a member of the walking dead in one of my novels.

And later, when my family is dreaming in their beds, it’ll be my turn to dream…just me and my laptop.

Michelle 🙂
Author, PODs available June 4th
Milayna available March 11, 2014
The Infected, a PODs novel available November 2014

(photo: Alana on the left and Aleigha on the right)

Spring Romance: Love is in the Air

For me, spring is a time for romance. (Can you tell I hate spring cleaning?) The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. People are generally happier. That makes me think of romance. And I’ve noticed that my works in progress have had quite a few romance scenes in them.

This spring, my second YA romance novella releases. It’s titled Advantage: Heartbreak, but rest assure there are plenty of sweet romance scenes. Who are they between? Well that I can’t tell you since there’s a love triangle involved in the Game. Set. Match. Heartbreak series. But lips will lock. Hearts will flutter. And things will get hot.

Advantage Heartbreak

Seventeen-year-old Meg Flannigan thought she’d made up her mind about love. But with two guys still vying for her attention, she wonders if she made the right decision. Ash is everything she’s ever wanted in a boyfriend: loyal, loving, and totally hot. But then there’s Noah: fun, sexy, and the more he sticks around, the more Meg wants him there.

What’s a girl to do?

Make up her mind, before it’s too late. Gorgeous freshman Liz has set her sights on Ash, and Noah is beginning to remind Meg of her last boyfriend—the one who broke her heart. Can she figure things out before she ruins not one, but two relationships? Or is she doomed to serve up heartbreak?

Keep an eye out for Advantage: Heartbreak releasing May 28th through Swoon Romance. And in the meantime, check out Love All, book one in the Game. Set. Match. Heartbreak series.

Does spring bring out the romantic in you?