A Look Back at 2015 – and Forward Ho!

When I wrote about New Year Resolutions last year, one of the things I wrote was that I would not beat myself up for what I didn’t get done, but to celebrate what I did accomplish.

I’m having a hard time with that as we head into 2016 – even though my writing-related accomplishments aren’t too shabby for someone with a FT ‘regular’ job and kids:

But there were so many MORE things I wanted to do! I wanted to work on Lady Biker Book #2. I wanted to reacquaint myself with ideas I had for Biker’s Kiss ‘editions.’ I wanted to get farther along on the Army Ranger Series.

I passed up an opportunity to produce a condensed version of Taiko True (musical drum drama) at the Fringe Festival (which turned out to be a good thing since my motorcycle accident happened just days before the show would have opened).

shirt_shredAnd as I write this, I’m at 40K words on my small-town romance featuring an ex-baseball player (I had hoped to have a finished rough draft by now). And his best friend is just itching for his *own* story. Do I take more time away from my other projects to tell it?

And don’t get me started on promoting my books (I was dismal at that this year)!

My excuses? The usual:

  • Work (not even going to go there)
  • Kids (actually, being a soccer mom is pretty fun most of the time)
  • Motorcycle crash (definitely derailed my writing plans for a quarter of the year)

But I did learn something about my writer-self this year: I prefer to write full-length novels (rather than novellas).

So I guess this is what my goals in 2016 revolve around: learning more about myself as a creative entity, and continuing the path of creative discovery, even when what I create may not be considered ‘commercially viable.’ And to keep dreaming big!

What about you? Do you have a dream or idea you wish you had the time, money or guts to follow? Or did you DO IT in 2015? Drop me a note and tell me about it!

Let’s Get it Over With: Breaking my New Year’s Resolution

garfieldMy 2015 New Year’s Resolution is to be more funny.

There. I’ve gotten it over with; I’ve already broken my resolution.

Because I am not funny.

(It’s true. I’m more about drama and struggle. If I have a sense of humor at all, it’s a bit dry and sarcastic.)

So now I’m free to make another resolution, and that is to be true to myself. I have to make this resolution every year. Because sometimes it’s hard to be myself. Maybe you feel the same way sometimes!

Take being an independent author. It’s mind-boggling how much there is to manage when you’re on your own, especially the way the publishing market is now. Most days I feel there’s no possible way that I can do it all. Some days I despair that I spend more time trying to get the word out about my books/novellas than I spend actually writing them. Sometimes I think I should be writing a different genre, one that’s more popular, instead of the stories my heart is moved to share. So I resolve to keep writing what I love.

Take being a business owner. The last couple years have been extremely challenging; there are days I wonder if the market still wants what we make. It would be easy to stray from our commitment to manufacture our products in the U.S. Again, I find myself making a resolution: I will stay the course. Hopefully the market comes around and supports us, but if not, I will know that I was true to my beliefs.

Take being a mom – perhaps the hardest ‘job’ of all. I’ve learned to live with a constant low level of guilt. I feel guilty if I don’t spend time with my children. I feel guilty if I spend time with my children and they drive me up a wall and I wish I could get away from them! So making a resolution to have a good balance of work and family is the best I can do.

So what are my New Year’s Resolutions? To be true to myself, to set goals that are achievable and realistic. To not beat myself up for what I didn’t get done, but to celebrate what I did accomplish. Really, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it? New Year’s Day or any other day of the year. Sometimes we just need the reminder.

The Kelly Family Goes to Mexico!

My husband and I have talked about going to Mexico for 20 years. We finally did it! Although not quite what I originally had in mind … We waited so long that what was supposed to be a romantic getaway became a family trip. (Not quite the same if you know what I mean!)

But it does make for more interesting stories. Here’s a typical exchange:

My daughter to a stranger: “My brother’s kind of an idiot, he threw his goggles up on the roof… my mom dropped her shorts in a puddle… and I lost my goggles in the ocean.”

My son: “Yeah… it kind of runs in the family.”

To which I replied: “Ah, you are secretly funny.” (from the movie The Princess and the Frog) A line that we used many times throughout the week! (But hey, nobody got sunburned.)

Unlike the last time I travelled (when I got stuck in an airport for 10-1/2 hours), getting there went remarkably smoothly (but 15 hours of travel was still exhausting). We only missed the resort once in the dark and had to backtrack – but our room was awesome.

It took us the entire first day to figure out how to get around on this huge resort. Everywhere you went, you took little train-car jobbies. It was the start of ‘waiting on others’… but they were prompt and we were ready for the slower pace.

Tulum_1Day #2 started with free breakfast at a price. Yep, you guessed it – one of those timeshare sales pitches. We also went into Playa del Carmen for groceries, which turned out to be our most authentic experience with typical Mexicans!

Day #3 we took a ‘free’ tour to Tulum (Mayan ruins). I should know better than to fall for ‘free!’ The tour was poorly run. First we spent two hours at a rug & jewelry factory (my kids were remarkably good about reading and entertaining themselves). By the time we got to the ruins it was 2pm and incredibly hot and steamy (89 degrees). In fact, it was hard to concentrate, and we certainly didn’t want to loiter in the ruins area (which had no shade). I was disappointed in the day.

Day #4: Recovery! Spent it by the pool. Clouds and rain came in the afternoon, but we just sat through it. It did, however, drop the humidity and temperature for the rest of our stay.

Xcaret_3Day #5 was my favorite day. We spent it at Xcaret which was sort of a cross between archeological ruins, a zoo and a beach. The aquarium was my son’s favorite while my daughter mostly liked the flamingos, parrots and the butterfly atrium (you’d stand there and literally dozens of butterflies would flutter around you). It had an amazing cemetery built on top of the “Crypt of Sighs.” What I found fascinating about this was the circular design that contained running water at all times. Little troughs ran from the top (where the cemetery was) around the sides of the Crypt and into a circular pattern on the floor (you can see the floor rings in this photo).

There was also an elaborate performance in the evening. In drama and music, it told the story of how the Spanish, Catholic religion came to Maya and changed the culture/religion of the area. Right up my alley!

Xcaret_familyThe last day we spent at the beach on the resort. I remembered the camera – but no batteries. OY! What was supposed to be ‘white sand’ beach was actually hard coral underfoot so not good to wade in. (Apparently some big storm washed the sand away; I don’ t know whether to believe that or not.) It was actually a cool and windy day but I took my daughter into the water at the end of the pier so she could experience the ocean. She was kind of scared when a big wave washed over her head but she was a trouper.

All in all, a nice break from the Minnesota cold. But probably not one we’d do again anytime soon. Our vacations tend to be more active: downhill skiing or white-water rafting are favorites.  In fact, I’m already saving money for my next ‘bucket list’ trip: rafting through the Grand Canyon!

Touring the Burn Unit and Amputee Center at Fort Sam Houston

I recently had the opportunity to revisit Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. The last time I was there was over 20 years ago, when I trained as a Combat Medic. Much has changed since then!

burn_trauma_ORMy first stop was the Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center. This is where doctors and nurses work to keep severely burned patients alive — and then help them cope with the pain of life-changing wounds. Here’s a photo of the emergency suite, which is kept at 90 to 100 degrees since burn patients can’t regulate their body temperature.

Most sobering to me was that most patients don’t even remember their time in the Intensive Care area (average four months!); they are so heavily sedated for pain they wouldn’t want to anyway. Life begins again for them when they reach the Transition area. And after that, it’s still a long road of physical therapy and multiple surgeries.

This was a sobering tour, and weeks afterward, I have to say that I don’t think I could accurately write a character going through this – patient or caregiver!

Second stop was the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), which is where amputees go to get their groove back.

Military War Wounded Get Intensive Treatment At Brooke Army Medical CenterThe CFI was built as a collaboration between government and civilian (much like the fictional Medical Center in True Surrender). In fact, over 600,000 Americans contributed financially to make the CFI a reality.

The CFI is truly world class. It’s where I would have wanted to work had I gone on to become a physical therapist (my original college major). And this tour came at a perfect time, as I’ve been reacquainting myself with my amputee hero, Aaron Bricewick, as I write the script version of True Surrender.

caren_simulator2Highlights for me included the wave pool (think surfboarding indoors) and the CAREN, which is an amazing virtual reality simulator. (For a complete overview of the Center, watch the video here). I was especially gratified to find that my fictional account of Aaron’s gait analysis in True Surrender (based on internet research) was on target.

When I noticed a huge banner of an amputee riding rodeo, I asked my guide if he knew any amputees who were riding motorcycles, and/or if he’d heard of any special modifications for amputees to do so. He didn’t… but I’ll keep in touch. Because I can definitely see a biker/amputee character in a future story!

The Glamorous Life of an Author… Once a Year!

My life as an author is about as far from glamorous as it’s possible to be. Most of the time, I’m in my ‘writing cave’ (when I’m not parenting or trying to make a living doing something that pays better), and occasionally I get out and commiserate with other authors.

But once a year there’s the Romance Writers of America National conference, which IS actually sort of glamorous… but never happens near my home base in Minnesota. It also falls at a terrible time (late July) when I’m frantically preparing to work the Leader Motorcycle booth at the Sturgis motorcycle rally (this is the first year we’ve sat it out). Thus the reasons I hadn’t yet been.

So what was RWA like for this conference virgin?

NLW_on_RiverwalkWell, first: I’m glad a couple of “homegirls” from my local chapter were there (that’s me with Denise Devine and Lauri Robinson on the San Antonio Riverwalk). I had someone to meet for lunch and dinner, and Denise’s husband was the most awesome chauffeur a girl could ask for.

There were 1800 writers there, 99% of them women. I’m used to being around a lot of people when I work motorcycle rallies, but this was different. This was like being on crack for four days straight; the ‘buzz’ was like a pissed-off bee colony! Either I’m getting old, or there’s a BIG difference in a crowd of mostly women versus a crowd of mostly men! 🙂

It took me until Day 3 to stop feeling like I was missing something important, like I needed to be everywhere at once (because of course I couldn’t). And the seminars were a mixed bag: some good, some meh. I learned not to lollygag between seminars or I’d be sitting on the floor for an hour – NOT enjoyable!

I’d hoped to make more connections with other authors, but the sheer volume of people frankly made that difficult. Highlights:

  • pictures with the “cowboys” at a reception hosted by Amazon (here we are at right!)
  • the awards ceremony, which was pretty cool (but too dark for pix)
  • meeting Heather Ashby, my ‘cyber friend’ and fellow writer whose characters I love (military heroes similar to mine!)
  • learning something new about the Alamo (which was literally kitty-corner from my hotel)

Outside the conference, we spent a little time on the Riverwalk. I had been there 20+ years ago, while attending Army Combat Medic training at Fort Sam Houston (just north of town). I have fond memories of my mates/friends drinking on the Riverwalk, but now the Riverwalk just felt claustrophobic, kitchy and just plain hot (the oppressive heat was too hard on this Minnesota native).

Possibly the best use of my time while in San Antonio was the time I spent at Brooke Army Medical Center for research related to future military/veteran characters. But that is a whole ‘nother post for a whole ‘nother day!

How Real-Life Veterans Inspire my Fictional Characters

marine-jesse-cottleLike a lot of people, I fell in love with double-amputee U.S. Marine Jesse Cottle when I came across this photo of him being carried on his wife Kelly’s back.

It’s clear in the photo that Jesse chose joy, chose to truly LIVE even after everything he’d seen and experienced (read more here). Jesse’s sergeant, who was with him the day he stepped on a pressure plate, said: “The way that [Jesse] continues to conduct his life is absolutely amazing and for that reason I would consider him a hero.”

Similarly, in his memoir Battle Ready, Navy medic Mark L. Donald describes in detail an event that laid the foundation for his later struggles with PTSD. He talked about friends and colleagues who didn’t make it home, and two friends in particular that he felt he had “failed” to save in his role as a medic (read more here). Yet there were two “forces” in his life that saved him: his mother and his faith.

When I hear veterans talk about faith, I often wonder if it came naturally to them, or if it was something they struggled with before they finally understood the role or impact of faith on their life.

I suspect it is the latter, and I often have my fictional characters grapple with faith. In fact, faith and sensuality exist side-by-side in my novels. Readers most likely to enjoy my writing are those who appreciate that these things co-exist in our own lives; who hasn’t questioned their faith in the darkest times of our own lives? Why should a character in a novel be any different?

video_zacAaron Bricewick, amputee veteran/hero of True Surrender, returns home to find that he has yet to face his biggest battle – the battle within himself – and finds himself questioning everything he’s built his life on.

Much as countless returning veterans are doing.

There are many definitions of “war hero,” and surely Jesse and Mark exemplify some of them. Perhaps there’s even a little of each in the character of Aaron Bricewick. I hope he does them justice!

Read Free Excerpts Here.

The Writing Life: Why Design a New Cover for Biker Romance “Take Two”?

TakeTwo_COVER_NEW_FI have some rather astute friends and readers.

When I ‘unveiled’ the new cover for Take Two: a Hollywood Romance a couple weeks ago, certain people immediately said, “Is that you on the cover?”

So, okay, confession time: yes, it is me (or more precisely, my legs and torso). And yes, it is my motorcycle. (I must have ‘channeled’ the heroine, Gina, because AFTER the book was published I found my Yamaha Raider – with a paint job eerily like I used to describe Gina’s bike!)

How did I end up adding “model” to my resume?

I suppose it makes sense to first address the question: why re-design the cover? I originally thought the celebrity stalker angle would be more of a draw, so the first cover leaned heavily on the movie star theme. But as time went on, I’ve found better traction with the biker angle. And, after all, Take Two is the first book in the LADY BIKER series. I decided the “biker” part needed to be more prominent than the small series logo I’d given it.

The producer side of me really wanted to do a photo shoot, with models for the male and female lead (of each book!). It would have been fun… but it would have taken a lot of time away from actually writing (the goal in the first place, right?), not to mention…


Being an independently published author, that’s an item in even shorter supply than time! And the kind of photo shoot I dreamed of – eight models (two for each book), a professional photographer, borrowing (or renting) some really cool motorcycles, makeup/wardrobe, and (oh pretty please) an assistant to manage all the logistical details… yikes.

It was time to embrace my logical side.

My friend Brett had taken a photo during the “Cool Rider” video shoot that gave me an idea. What if I did four covers with a similar “shot from low” angle, each a different color/brand motorcycle, showing torso and legs to make it obvious it was a woman rider?

Best yet, I could start with my own motorcycle (no begging or borrowing required)!

I asked my hubby to help with the photography (dare I call him “free labor”?). And book cover designer extraordinaire Gregory R pulled it all together.

TakeTwo_COVER_NEW_FI have to say that I’m tickled. I think the new cover says everything I want to say about this series that features women motorcyclists. Women who are not JUST biker chicks, but who are multi-faceted women whose love of motorcycles is almost as strong as their love for the men who come into their lives.

Help me write the next book!

I’d like to invite YOU to be part of the Lady Biker Series. Visit my (short) survey here and tell me what you’d most like to read – and whose story I should write next!

From Flight Medic to Cockpit: How I Became a Helicopter Pilot

I have the Army to thank for my love of helicopters.

But no, the Army did not train me to fly helicopters. It was a much more circuitous route…

I joined the National Guard when I was 17 and not quite out of high school. It was not for any life-long dream of being a soldier or for the noble purpose of defending my country. My purpose for joining was to pay for college, and the GI Bill seemed like a good deal. It never occurred to me at that time (and age) that I could actually be sent to war!

injuredThe Army trained me as a medic and an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).

I was not a good soldier (as I’ve written about in the past), but I loved being a paramedic. I liked splinting a broken leg. Inserting an IV. Dressing a sucking chest wound.

One weekend a month I was a grunt soldier and a token medic. But for two weeks in the summer I was a soldier medic. And by my third year in the Guard, I had gained enough rank and experience to be assigned triage duty ‘on the field.’ After treating the injured on the ground, I found myself air-lifted out of the ‘battlefield’ in a helicopter.

It was love at first experience.

And I thought to myself: ‘I am going to be a flight medic.’

So I got certified and worked a few shifts at a civilian ambulance service. I figured it was a good gig: work on my homework during down time and get paid for it.

I can handle blood, guts and gore. What I don’t do well with – and what I hadn’t counted on – was the vomit. The battlefield of 20 years ago was about blood and guts; the ambulance on the civilian street was more about drunks, overdoses and trauma to which the human body’s natural response was…you guessed it…vomit.

It was also lots of boredom, punctuated by periods of utter chaos. I think I handled the chaos better than the boredom!

twiggle_helicopterSo, at the grand old age of 20, I gave up the idea of working as a flight paramedic, and set a different goal for myself: I would be the PILOT. I would learn to fly a helicopter – and I would do it before I turned 30 (which seemed like a long way off at the time, ha). And since I had no intention of staying in the Army, I would do it myself.

I was 29 when I started on this BHAG (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal”) and one month shy of 31 when I got my license. It was truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!

My writing is definitely influenced by the time I spent in the military and by the medical training I received there. When I became a helicopter pilot, it opened new relationships with some amazing people, such as the Whirly Girls (a nonprofit organization made up of female helicopter pilots). In fact, it was one of my fellow female helicopter pilots who helped me set up a ride-along with a search-and-rescue team, an experience that was priceless when writing Last Chance Rescue.

What it Means to NOT be a “Girly-Girl” Mom (as described by my son)

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my 11-year-old son.

I don’t remember how it came up, but as we were sitting in McDonalds between picking up his new glasses and an afternoon soccer game, he said, “You’re not a girly-girl mom.” And if that wasn’t enough, he continued: “My sister gets that from you.”

My first reaction was laughter. And as I chuckled, I asked him what the definition of a “girly-girl mom” is. Or, more specifically, how did he know I wasn’t one?

He thought for a while. Then he said, “You never wear dresses or skirts.” (True, except for the occasional wedding). “And you don’t put on a lot of makeup.” (Who knew he even noticed these kinds of things?!)

I told him about my very first job out of college: working as an inbound phone service rep, I was required to wear skirts/dresses and nylons. (No one ever actually SAW me, so how stupid was that?)

Earns MattelMy son looked intrigued, probably because he’s only ever known my work as the owner and ‘boss’ of Leader Motorcycle, and as such it’s true – I have never worn a dress or skirt to work (leather chaps and jacket, yes).

Then he said, “You didn’t have dolls or Barbies.” (Which is also true, but I didn’t remember telling him that. I did have a huge inventory of stuffed animals, most of them with names, whom I used to make up stories about.)

But those are outward things, physical things. I wanted to know if he sensed anything deeper. (This is a kid who compared our greedy politicians to the fall of the Roman Empire when he wasn’t yet ten. In other words, he’s a smart cookie – and surprisingly astute at times.)

So I asked again.

“You ride a motorcycle.”

Ah, yes. The only kid on his soccer team, at his Awana classes, and in his entire school whose mom has picked him up (or dropped him off) on a motorcycle. Personally, I think he’s better for it!

I guess that means I am decidedly NOT a “girly-girl”… and my “tom boy” daughter is (apparently) following in my footsteps! But that’s a story for another day…

Win handmade jewelry in the “Spring is in the Air” Blog Hop

first ride on RaiderHere in Minnesota, we are desperate for warm weather to arrive. Especially us biker chicks! I am especially anxious since I purchased a new motorcycle late in the season last year and was only able to ride it ONCE due to weather (check it out – that’s me!). The first nice spring day, that’s where I’ll be – even if I have to play hookey for an afternoon!

I’m sure that Gina, the heroine in Take Two: a Hollywood Romance, would feel the same. After all, she’s got a Harley (which looks amazingly like my new bike, even though I wrote the book long before I found it) that she uses to de-stress from her job with the “beautiful people” and the pressures of directing a Hollywood film.

When up-and-coming Hollywood heartthrob Zac Davies is poisoned on the set and needs a quiet place to recover, Gina invites him into her home – along with her two teenaged daughters. It’s no surprise he gets hooked on motorcycles at the same time he gets hooked on Gina!

As part of the celebration of spring, I’m participating in the “Spring is in the Air” blog hop March 21-24. As part of that hop, I’m giving away handmade jewelry: a necklace and earring combo!

I’m not sophisticated enough to run special software to track entries, so this is what you need to do to enter:

Make a comment on this post or ANY of my blog posts (my software will let me know when you do) You can include your email address in a format like this: tracey (at) gmail.com to avoid spam-bots picking up your email address.

Here are some blog posts you might find interesting:

  • my first stage drama about a taiko drum group: are they Rebels or Refugees?
  • how an ex-Marine uses ballet dance to share stories of war
  • the making of an audiobook
  • on being a ‘war hero’ at home
  • what singer Pink has in common with one of my Take Two characters

Remember, without your email address in the comments, you can’t win!

BONUS: If you subscribe to my newsletter during this period, I’ll add your name for an additional chance to win a LARGER prize that has yet to be announced! Sign up in the upper right corner!