Thursday, December 27, 2007

Contest Winner!


Apologies for not posting the winner of my "What's Sophie Saying?" cover contest on the 23rd, like I promised. I was stuck in the wilds of western Florida with very spotty Internet access (the horror!).

Just as a reminder, the Alex in my December Intrigue, Telling Secrets, is 26-years-old and wouldn't be caught dead wearing a patchy leather vest that looks like it belongs to one of the Village People, so I invited people to look at the book's cover (pictured above) and send me their best guess as to what "Sophie" is whispering to "Alex."

My impartial judges (i.e. my brothers Tom and Troy and sister-in-law Suzanne) had a hard time coming to an agreement, but they finally decided on a winner! And since it was so close, we also picked a second-place winner.

The winner of the $25 bookstore gift certificate and copy of one of my backlist books is Cathy Pegau! Here's her winning entry:

"I said, 'WHERE'S THE 26-YEAR-OLD?' Turn up the hearing aid, Gramps!"

And the second place winner, who will get a copy of one of my backlist books, is Jennifer Y. with the following:

"Don't look now, but I think that deer over there is related to the hide you're wearing. He looks angry."

Jennifer Y. and Cathy, please email me your addresses so I can send out your prizes this week.

We also had several honorable mentions:

1) "Are you wearing the matching loin cloth?" --Jenn. G.

2) "Mmmmm ... naugahyde." --Sharron McClellan

3) "Next time you want to take on a bet, please tell me about it first, I would not have wished to be seen with you wearing this thing." --Nathalie

4) "The smell of Deep Woods OFF makes me HOT!" -- Denver Gman

5) "This isn't a time-travel, buddy. Back to the 70s with you!" --Cathy Pegau

Thank you to everyone who entered and helped me mock the vest. I'm really glad my brothers and SIL helped me out, because I was at a complete loss to pick a winner. There were plenty of other entries that cracked me up, as well, so take a look at the comments to the original contest entry on this blog if you want to see more.

BTW, I'll be blogging at the Intrigue Authors site tomorrow, so there's still one more chance to win a free book from yours truly. All you have to do is show up tomorrow and comment, and you'll be entered in a random drawing.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Worst Christmas Songs Ever

OK, everyone, you've waited all year long, and finally, my brother Tom is back, doing his Grumpy Old Christmas Man thing and ranting once again about how much he hates certain overplayed Christmas carols. I'll be chiming in via the italics feature here and there, but as always, this is Tom's show. Take it away, Tom!

TOM: Over the past couple of years, many of you have been on the receiving end of my ranting regarding terrible Christmas songs. The majority of my anger has come from Sirius Satellite radio. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Sirius and highly recommend it. However, when Christmas rolls around, they turn their Channel 2 into all Christmas music. Seems great for us gentiles, but then upon further examination, they torture me by playing the stupidest songs ever or repeating holiday favorites over and over until I hate them. I was about to rant about this yet again this year until I discovered something new. Sirius has added 2 more channels of holiday music! One is “Country Music,” so I stay away from that. The other is Channel 86 and is classical Christmas. What a breath of fresh air! I can now go between the 2 stations and be guaranteed of hearing something that won’t make me want to rip my Sirius from the dash and toss it out the window! With that, I have decided to remind people of hazardous Christmas songs, but also sing the praises of some great songs!

The Worst

Okay, first of all, I will try not to repeat any from last year. I have, therefore, retired some of my worst Christmas Songs ever and they are the inaugural class of the Worst Christmas Song Ever Hall of Shame. These songs include: “All I want for Christmas is You” by no-talent Vince Vance and the Valiants, “Christmas Shoes” by New Song, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” by the Eurythmics. The Lifetime Achievement of Crappiness award goes to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

TRACY: Don't forget "Santa, Baby" by Madonna. :::shudder::::

TOM: Now, onto my new crappy songs:

“Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney: I have called this one out before, but I didn’t want to retire it yet, because it's such a tragedy. It is just a terrible, terrible song. It almost sounds like something Dana Carvey would have done as Paul McCartney on SNL. I wish that Heather Mills would receive this song as part of the divorce settlement so that it does not have to be associated with Sir Paul anymore.

TRACY: :::snicker::: (That Heather Mills line was genius. High five!) My first pick is Anything by Josh Groban. The whole world seems to love Josh Groban except me, including Oprah who just gave his Christmas CD away during her favorite things episode. For all I know, he may be a very nice boy. And I'm hardly a classical music purist, owning a CD by a duo called the "OperaBabes." But for some reason, whenever homeboy opens his mouth to sing, he just bugs. And that "You Raise Me Up" song? All you raise up, Groban, is my middle finger. Can't. Take. Anymore. I want this CD to take a flying leap off my universe.

TOM: “White Christmas” by Michael Bolton: How about all Michael Bolton? I cannot believe that he had the audacity to remake this classic. The whole Michael Bolton-is-back trip is just sad right now. Now a choir show on NBC? Lord help us through these trying times.

TRACY: Amen, brother. To make it a matched set, I also nominate "Blue Christmas" by Michael Bolton. As you imply, Tom, any Christmas carol "sung" in Michael Bolton's constipated alto should just be banned. Find the master tapes, crush them into tiny pieces with a sledgehammer, and rain the shards down on the terrorists. Or perhaps PLAYING Michael Bolton to the terrorists would be a better wartime tactic.... Like Tommy said in last year's Christmas song blog, the King and ONLY the King should sing this song.

TOM: “Step into Christmas” by Sir Elton John: Anyone knighted should never make Christmas songs. What does this one even mean? It is like someone said, “Let’s take 'Crocodile Rock' and add in the word 'Christmas.'"

TRACY: "I remember when rock was young ... CHRISTMAS. Me and Suzie had so much fun ... CHRISTMAS...." Yeah, that sucks.

Anyway, my first pick probably should have been "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" by Lou Monte. I heard exactly fifteen seconds of this song for the first time while driving the other day and nearly hurt myself in my zeal to change the station. Horrible. Just horrible. My brother Tom hadn't heard it yet, so this year I treated him to the sample snippet from iTunes, but he didn't quite make it through the whole thing before the F-bombs started flying. Do yourself a favor--if the words "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" flash onto your car radio screen at any point, put the car in park and run away.

TOM: Amen to “Dominic the Donkey.” What the hell is that? It is just plain stupid. I honestly cannot get through more than 15 seconds of it.

TRACY: And then there's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band-Aid 20. Like the Highlander movies, there should have been only one. This song was never a masterpiece, and as I noted for the past two years, the lyrics are condescending and weird. But there's something just so eighties kitsch about the original that makes me love it in all its melodrama and political incorrectness in spite of myself. (FEEEEEEEEEEED THE WOOOOOOOORRRRRLD!!!!) Remaking the song in the 21st century with the no-talent likes of Natasha Bedingfield and Will Young and inserting a horrible, horrible rap in the middle was not only a bad idea, it makes me want to jab out my ear drums with a pencil. The fact that Sirius Channel 2 INSISTS on only playing the new version makes me want to hunt down the programmers and jab THEM with pencils until they come to their senses.

TOM: The Band Aid thing is tough for me. I agree with Tracy that the new one should never be played. EVER! However, the inaccuracies of the original are also troubling. The way that Africa is generalized is just bizarre. Today, we have the Internet to easily refute the accuracy of the lyrics. However, back in 1984 when I was playing Lazer Tag and watching 5 channels on a TV with a spinning dial, we didn’t know any better.

For example “Where nothing ever grows.” Really? Nothing? How about “No rain nor rivers flow.” Anyone heard of the Nile? Even the title, “Do they know its Christmas?” Well, the song was probably written with Ethiopia in mind and guess what? Over 61% of Ethiopians are Christians! I know that there have been other rants about this, but I just wanted to pile on.

TRACY: Right, but as you say, we didn't know any better in the '80s, and neither does our nostalgia. So I say on with the original, death to Bandaid 20 albums everywhere!

TOM: Finally, anything by Mariah Carey or Clay Aiken. Do I really need to spell this one out?

TRACY: I'll spell it out--they are awful. Maybe once Mariah stops plucking her eyebrows within a millimeter of their lives and dressing like the hootchie 40-something all the other PTA moms talk about, I will consider removing her from this list. Until then, the original PopWreck is BANNED from my household! As is Clay Aiken, because he just is.

The Best

TOM: Again, I have my favorites that I have called out before: Anything by Nat King Cole or the Barenaked Ladies, "Christmastime is Here" from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, "This Christmas" by Jeffrey Osborne, "Oi to the World" by No Doubt, etc. There are a few more that I have discovered that I suggest for everyone.

“Skating” by Vince Guaraldi: I dare you to download it and play it and not think of the opening scene of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It warms my heart when I hear that song thinking of days long ago watching it on CBS every December.

TRACY: Awwww. I love the Vince Guaraldi Trio. My first pick is "Gabriel's Message" by Sting. Christmas music and Sting. Could any combination be more perfect?

TOM: I agree with Sting. I have discovered his Christmas material this season and love it. My next pick is “Riu Chiu” by the Monkees. I may have suggested this one previously, but there is a new twist. The song is on the Billboard Top Christmas album, but for some reason, Davy Jones has been replaced on the single! Try instead to download it from iTunes off of the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones album. You will hear it as originally intended with Mr. Jones in a great 4-part harmony.

TRACY: And who found that for you? Your awesome sister, that's who. I pick the entire Christmas Songs album by the celtic group Anuna, which also includes a gorgeous men's choir version of "Riu Chiu" and my current favorite, "Winter, Fire, and Snow."

TOM: “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion: The greatest singers of all time doing a duet? ‘nuff said.

TRACY: The greatest singers of all time would include Sting, but I forgive you for your oversight. But here's a good one--"Noel Novelet" sung by opera diva Jessye Norman. Lovely, just lovely.

TOM: “Still Still” by Manheim Steamroller and others: This is one that I hear now on Sirius 86 by different choirs. I love quiet, almost haunting Christmas songs and this fits the bill. “Christmas Waltz” by Frank Sinatra also is another quiet Christmas song that I love.

TRACY: I just bought the Jars of Clay Christmas album (They had a mainstream hit back in the 90s called "Flood,"), and there is an awesome (original?) song on there called "Peace is Here." It starts out a little cheesy, but then it rocks the free world. Jars of Clay is still rocking the '90s acoustic/unplugged style, even on their Christmas album, and I'm all over it.

TOM: "Here Comes Santa Claus” by Elvis: Everyone immediately gravitates to “Blue Christmas” by The King, which I love, but in the words of a drugged up Paula Abdul, the King makes this one “his own.”

TRACY: My final two are the Modern Mandolin Quartet's "Arabian Dance" (Yes, it's the one from The Nutcracker, and yes, I know I'm horrifying all you classical music purists out there again. But mandolins are pretty.), and "Sleigh Ride" by Los Straitjackets. Mariann, who comments here from time to time, told me about them last year--they turn Christmas carols into Frankie-and-Annette, surfer-style songs. They also play live shows in Mexican wrestling masks! How can you not love that?

Oh, and do yourself a favor and get the free MP3 download of "O Holy Night," as performed by Troy "Trombone" Shorty and a group of New Orleans musicians on the now-defunct show Studio 60. The show might have gotten a critical drubbing, but I enjoyed it, and the musicians' performance of that song was one of the most gorgeous moments on television. One listen, and you'll remember exactly why it's so important to rebuild New Orleans and keep the music going. Download it at

Inexplicably, Trombone Shorty plays the trumpet on this song, but hey, guess he's just a multitalented musician.

TOM: Finally, I want to say, “Why the f@^$ are songs that have nothing to do with Christmas becoming Christmas songs?” This became apparent to me when the Men’s Choir that I am in was doing ‘Lo, how a rose ‘er blooming” this fall and it was intertwined with “The Rose.” Yes, “The Rose” by Bette Midler. Since when did “The Rose” have anything to do with Christmas? I know that these are hard times right now, but do we have to stoop this low? I am talking about you, too, “Hands” by Jewel. Just because you add a choir and the word “God” is in there doesn’t make it a Christmas song! “Celebrate me Home” by Kenny Loggins? Also, “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi--which pains me because I love Peanuts, but it is not a Christmas song! C’mon, we are losing valuable playing time of favorites with these very fringe holiday songs. Why not make “Home” by Simon and Garfunkel a holiday song? This has got to stop, people!

TRACY: OK, my brother is now going to lie down in a dark room with a cold cloth over his head before he bursts something. Thanks once again, Tom.

Happy Holidays, everyone! I'll be back later next week. In the meantime, remember to check out the Intrigue Authors Christmas Blog Blitz, which is going all the way to the very end of December!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chica Lit Blog Tour, Day Nine: The Drill, with Recipes

OK, here's the drill:

1) First, the winner of Kathy Cano-Murillo's prize is Pam K. Congratulations, Pam! Visit Kathy's website to contact her and claim your prize.

2) As tour stop number nine on the !2 Days of Christmas Chica Lit Blog Tour, I'm offering a prize today as well. Answer the following question, about my story below, and comment. I'll choose a random winner and you'll get a copy of my December Intrigue, Telling Secrets, and a batch of Fair Trade gourmet chocolate.

The question: What is the search and rescue helicopter's call sign (i.e. the way the trackers address the pilot via radio)?

3) Tomorrow, visit Jamie Martinez Wood's website,, for another story and another chance to win a prize.

4) And finally, a note about my story. Winter, Fire, and Snow features the search and rescue team I've been writing about lately in my Harlequin Intrigues. Aaron Donovan and Sabrina Adelante appeared in last April's Finding His Child, and Alex Gray and Sophie Brennan star in this month's Telling Secrets. (NB: Alex looks nothing like the guy on that book's cover.) The story stands on its own, but there's also history here for anyone who's read those books.

5) Whoop, almost forgot. We're supposed to be giving out recipes. So here's a disclaimer first: My Honduran mom never really cooks any Latino cuisine other than homemade tortillas and refried beans. I don't know why, but there it is. So I called her yesterday and sent her frantically calling my aunts in Honduras to get the recipe for a warm, wonderful concoction I've had there called poleada. It's kind of a cross between a milk pudding and some kind of weird Starbucks drink. Unfortunately, my aunts and my mother all use The Force when they cook, so they don't have recipes. ("Recipes? What are these 'recipes' of which you speak?")

After much international conferring, they have settled on the following attempt at a recipe for poleada. If it doesn't work, they said to "just play around with the ingredients" until it does. Ay.


* Mix 1 Tbsp. corn starch thoroughly with 1/4 cup of water, or so, until you get a thick yet runny mixture. Set aside. (Mom says, "If that doesn't work, try 2 Tbsp. corn starch.")

* Heat 2 cups of milk until almost boiling.

* Add sugar to the milk "to taste, until it's nice and sweet." Throw in a cinnamon stick.

* Fold in the corn starch mixture, keeping the milk heated to that almost-but-not-quite boiling point.

* When it's nice and warm and has achieved the consistency of a thin pudding, pour it into a cup. Let it cool enough so that you don't sue me for burning off your tongue, and eat with a spoon.

Just in case you'd rather not cook with The Force, here's an actual recipe from one of Mom's cookbooks for Honduran guacamole. Honduran guacamole is chunky, like a salsa, "not that mushy stuff they make here," says my mother. Yes, she's feeling a little superior in the guacamole department. Here it is, if you'd like to try it:

Honduran guacamole

5 avocados

4 hard-boiled eggs

3 tablespoons mayo

finely chopped cilantro (to taste)

1 Tbsp. or more of olive oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

salt and pepper, to taste

Peel avocado and eggs. Cut them in little square pieces. Mix avocado and eggs together. Add mayo and cilantro (finely chopped). Then, add in the olive oil.

Add the salt and black pepper to taste.

My mom swears it looks really pretty. As a variation, she says they also throw in some chopped onions in her hometown of El Corpus. My tia Yesenia says that to simplify it, you can just chop up the avocados and the eggs, and then throw in some chopped red onions. She doesn't add anything else, except she sticks the avocado seed in the middle, which interestingly enough, keeps the avocado from turning black.

Winter, Fire, and Snow

And you, little son, come safely home
Riding the tail of the wind
May you always come this safely home
In winter, fire, and snow.

The endless spread of clouds hung heavy and low, looking like a gray, pregnant army marching across the sky. The wind had that certain crisp smell and bite on the skin that usually signaled imminent snow.

Snow. It would have been beautiful a few minutes ago, the perfect cap to the Noche Buena celebration going on at Sabrina Adelante Donovan’s home without her, where her aunts and her mother were undoubtedly making tamales, per Honduran tradition, and gossiping in rapid-fire Spanish, their hands flying through the air like masa-covered butterflies. They came every Christmas Eve, armed with food and recipes and the good-natured intent of increasing her catracha-to-gringa ratio by speaking to her only in Spanish and feeding her copious amounts of flan and other Latin American treats. All they ever really increased was her waistline, and her Spanish remained functional-yet-clunky from year to year, despite her best intentions. But the food was so amazing, she’d never dare complain. In either language.

But now, the Christmas Eve celebration went on without her, and the impending snow had turned into something deadly hovering over their heads, ready to lull a lost little girl into a sleep from which she might never wake up.


With an impatient flick of her wrist, Sabrina checked her watch again, feeling like her skin was on too tight and the whole world was moving too slowly. “Where’s Alex? He should be here.” She planted the end of her walking stick on the ground with a sharp click and surveyed the parking lot.

“Don’t see his truck.” Beside her, her husband Aaron scanned the dense snarls of green beyond the stretch of blacktop on which they stood. But she knew he wouldn’t see anything—it was never that easy.

The dark rise of Renegade Ridge, the mountain from which the land they were standing on got its name, hulked behind the glass-and-pine cabin that served as Renegade Ridge State Park’s main ranger station. Maddy Perkins was up there somewhere, cold, alone, and so lost, her mother had had to call in the park Search and Rescue team to find her.

Sabrina was the leader of tracking team one, but she couldn’t very well go out looking for Maddy without someone to lead--and to trade off that lead when her eyes grew tired. And that someone would be Alex Gray, tracker two and one of her dearest friends. The other member of her team, Jessie DiCosta, was in Europe on a much-deserved vacation.

Actually, all three of them were technically on vacation. Which made the fact that they’d been called in on Christmas Eve all the more serious.


Savagely biting into her glove, she pulled it off with her teeth and fished her cell phone out of the pocket of her all-weather parka. Flipping it open, she punched in Alex Gray’s number, tempted to throw it across the parking lot when she hit the wrong digit and had to start over. Aaron watched her in silence, his still, gray eyes revealing nothing. But she knew what was behind them—Maddy’s chances grew worse with every second. He knew it, she knew it.

God, she just wanted to move.

With a whoosh, the glass and metal doors to the ranger station flew open, and Alex Gray burst outside. The chorus of Foreigner’s “Urgent” blared from the cell phone he held, and he broke out into his best ’80s hair band falsetto as he grooved toward her. His girlfriend Sophie Brennan trailed behind him, her expression torn between amusement and mortification.

“Not that I need to feed your considerable ego any more, but if ever decide to fire you, you probably could join a Guns N Roses tribute band,” Sabrina shouted over Alex’s wail of “EEEEE-mer-gen-cy!”

“OK, stop!” Red-haired Sophie reached up and placed a mittened hand over her boyfriend’s mouth. With her free hand, she yanked the phone out of his grasp, opening then shutting it again with a snap, mercifully silencing both it and Alex. “Before whoever just got lost goes all hypothermic waiting for you to quit shaking your groove thing and find them.”

Sabrina silently blessed Sophie, who controlled hyperkinetic Alex much better than Sabrina ever could. Sabrina was the worrier on their team--Alex always started off a search convinced he was invincible, the team was unstoppable, and the lost hiker would inevitably be found, safe and whole. “Didn’t see your truck. I thought you were still on your way,” Sabrina said.

“And you thought calling and nagging me would make me get here faster?” Pulling his Seattle Mariners ball cap out of his jacket pocket—which he generally substituted for appropriate winter headgear unless Washington state was officially in the middle of an ice storm—he jammed it backwards on his head and grinned. “Sophie drove us in her Civic. We just got here, so we don’t know anything yet. What’s up?”

Sabrina glanced at Sophie, the expression on her lightly freckled face a mixture of curiosity and mild concern. Alex always insisted his girlfriend was psychic, but Sabrina had yet to witness any evidence of Sophie’s powers. If only….

“Little girl disappeared this morning, while walking with her mother up Black Wolf Run,” Aaron supplied in his deep baritone. “The mother wanted to take some pictures in the snow, near the hot springs.”

Alex’s happy-go-lucky countenance morphed into something uncharacteristically sober. The search coordinator generally only provided details by phone to the team leaders, whom they counted on to brief their trackers, so Alex hadn’t known until this minute how serious this call was. “How old?” he asked.

“Seven,” Sabrina said. Alex swore under his breath as Sabrina’s stomach lurched at the thought of someone so young, lost for so long. She glanced at her watch again as Sophie sighed beside her.


“The SAR teams have been looking for her since around ten a.m,” she said. “They’re pulling fresh teams from the off-duty list, which is why we got called back in.”

Alex’s eyes darted briefly toward the mountain behind them, with the Olympic range beyond it. And she knew what he was thinking—there wasn’t much “rest of the day” left. It would be dark in a few hours, and once darkness fell, temperatures would plummet, putting that lost little girl in even graver danger.

Move. They needed to move. Pushing off with her walking stick, Sabrina headed toward the ranger station doors. “Her name’s Maddy Perkins. Dark brown hair, blue eyes, wearing a pink satin Dora the Explorer winter jacket with white trim and a purple backpack. Skylar said she’s wearing rain boots.” Warm air blasted her in the face as she pushed through the double doors, heading toward Skylar Jones’ office. The search coordinator would have a copy of Maddy’s footprint if one were possible.

Alex cursed again, obviously realizing that rain boots had near-zero traction on the steep temperate rainforest trails, and no traction if it started to snow. The Olympic mountain range could be deadly to seasoned hikers with the best equipment. A small girl with thin-tread rubber boots in near darkness? She didn’t even want to think about it.

Just as Skylar rose from behind her desk to greet them, a pale woman hugging her crumpled navy blue jacket to her chest intercepted them.

“Sabrina? Are you Sabrina Adelante?” Her hand clutched at the air near Sabrina’s elbow, before she pulled it back at the last minute without touching her.

“Yes.” Sabrina knew without being told that this was Maddy’s mother. The details weren't hard to spot--the desperate hope behind her words, the way she clung to her coat like a security blanket.

“They said you were on vacation, that you might not come.” The unshed tears in the woman’s dark blue eyes threatened to spill over. “I prayed that you’d come. I heard about how your team found those teenagers who were lost a few months ago….” The treated fabric of her coat rustled in her grip.

Sabrina tried not to scowl at the thought of this woman considering her presence a sign from above. She’d learned long ago that God didn’t always answer the prayers of every lost hiker. Sure, some were found, hungry and tired, but alive. And some got lucky and wandered in the right direction, finding their own way back. But some took a wrong turn off a precipice or stepped into the river that snaked through and around the trails, or succumbed to the intense cold of a mountain winter, and they came home zipped into a body bag, while their loved ones wept over their still, cold bodies. And some didn’t come home at all, but stayed lost in the deep, emerald green of a forest that would never give up all its secrets. She would have liked to believe that God would spare every lost child, but years of tracking experience had taught her otherwise.

“Find my little girl.” The woman’s breath caught, and she took Sabrina’s hand and pressed something into it. “Can you find my little girl? I’ve been waiting here for ... hours.”

Yes. She so much wanted to say it, to give this grieving mother the promise she wanted to hear. She looked down to see that the woman had given her a school photo, of a girl with tousled brown hair, freckles across the bridge of her nose, and a sweet, gap-toothed smile. “We’ll do everything we can,” she said to Maddy’s picture.

“I didn’t mean to lose her. I told her to stay near me. The snow looked so pretty on this fallen tree, and I just wanted a few pictures.” She broke down into quiet sobs as a man who was probably her husband approached. He took her gently by the shoulders, trying to guide her away from the trackers. “I tried to follow her, but I couldn’t see where she’d gone. I didn’t mean to lose her,” she cried softly, allowing herself to be led away.

Aaron put a steadying arm around Sabrina’s shoulders, and she leaned against him, more grateful for his warm, solid bulk than she could remember.

“Can I see that?” Sophie asked softly beside her, the tip of her mitten brushing against the photo Sabrina still held.

“Sure.” She handed it to Sophie, whose wavy red hair fell forward as she studied the image, a thin line of concentration forming between her eyebrows. If only….

Alex came toward her from the search coordinator's office, holding out a sheet of paper. He'd apparently gotten the rest of the details while she'd been dealing with Mrs. Perkins' grief. “Skylar found a store downtown that carries the type of rain boot Maddy’s wearing. They faxed us a print.”

Just as they’d suspected, the tread of Maddy’s rubber boot was thin and pretty much ineffectual—a series of hair-thin, horizontal lines spaced about a millimeter apart. They’d be no match for slick mountain mud or a sheet of ice.

Maddy could fall in those boots, like Alice down the rabbit hole, down to a place where they’d never find her.

“PLS?” She tucked the paper into her jacket pocket and charged for the door, needing to get out, get going. Now. Alex fell into step beside her, Aaron and Sophie bringing up the rear, well accustomed to getting out of the way when their significant others needed to move.

“Point last seen was about three miles up Black Wolf Run.” Black Wolf was an intermediate, five-mile hiking trail that wound up the first third of Renegade Ridge to the park’s famed hot springs—some hidden, others out in the open. It was one of the more straightforward trails in the park, but it was also a gateway path to the vast weblike network of advanced trails that snaked through the 1,400-square mile park. “There should be a marker.”

When they reached Sabrina’s Jeep, which they’d drive up to the Black Wolf Run trailhead, Sophie handed the photo back to them. Sabrina let Alex take it.

“Anything?” he asked. Sabrina wasn’t in the least surprised when Sophie shook her head.

“Nothing,” Sophie said. “I’m trying, but I’m not getting a thing.”

Alex pulled Sophie away for a quick goodbye, leaving Sabrina somewhat alone on her side of the Jeep with Aaron.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go home?” she asked him. Aaron, a police detective, would be little help here, but she knew even before he answered that he’d insist on staying in the ranger station. He’d keep vigil here—all night if he had to—drinking stale coffee and offering staler reassurances to Mandy Perkins’s mother. Just in case the worst happened and Sabrina needed him when she came down the mountain.

He gave her that crooked smile she loved so well, brushing a stray wisp of black hair that had escaped her ponytail off her forehead, then skimming his fingertips down her cheek. “I’ll be here. Waiting.”

“Love you,” she whispered, her heart full. It was their first Christmas together as a married couple. It should have been wonderful—for them and for the Perkins family. Now, it was a dice roll.

Leaning forward, he brushed his mouth softly across hers, moved up to press another kiss against her cool forehead. “Love you back,” he breathed against her skin.

She leaned into him, just for one more second, watching the wispy tendrils of her breath curl and twist in the cold air. “What if we don’t find her? What if we do and she’s … gone?” It was stupid, but she wanted Aaron to tell her everything would be all right. He couldn’t guarantee it—no one could. Maddy had been gone for way too long. But right now, she had the ridiculous sense that anything was possible, as long as he said it was.

“It’s Christmas Eve," he said. "Miracles happen. And you and Alex are more than a miracle coming to help her.”

She pulled out of his arms, opening the driver’s-side door and shoving her walking stick into the back. “Everyone deserves a miracle, Aaron. But not everyone gets one,” she said to the car’s interior. She turned to face him, feeling suddenly angry, though not at anyone in particular. “With the exception of God, gravity, and tPluto's status as a non-planet, I can’t believe in what I never see. Even on Noche Buena.”

* * *

Alex and Sabrina made short work of the three miles of steep inclines and switchbacks to the point along Black Wolf Run where Maddy had last been seen. And as promised, the team that had been on Maddy’s trail earlier in the day had left a marker near her footprints in the packed earth—a thin wire stake tied at the top with a wisp of pink tissue paper. Baby girl pink.

How appropriate.

Someone’s baby. Someone’s little girl.

Sabrina knelt down next to the rounded prints, with their too-thin treads made for slick asphalt, not mountain switchbacks. The icy wind picked up as she studied the tracks, the lady ferns lining the trail beside her scissoring in the sharp breeze.

“She puts her weight on the insides of her feet.” She pointed a gloved finger at one of Maddy’s prints, which was more pronounced on the big-toe side. The outside of her print was barely visible in the loose dirt lining the side of the trail.

She looked up at Alex, who smiled sadly. “She’s knock-kneed.”

The image of Maddy’s gap-toothed smile came into sharp focus in her mind, but this time, Sabrina could also picture a little girl’s stout body to go with it, her seven-year-old belly jutting out slightly over knees and toes turned endearingly inward. “Yes.” The word came out on a sigh.

She thought she’d hidden the sharp pang of almost-tears, until Alex broke into her silence. “You want me on point?” He was acting as her flank tracker, scanning the area ahead while she focused on the ground directly under their noses, ensuring that she wouldn’t run into a tree or miss an obvious sign up ahead.

Get a grip, Adelante. You’re no help to anyone if you start bawling. “No, I got it.” She rose from the ground to scan ahead for the next print. it took a moment before she spotted the barest hint of a heel curve in the packed dirt a few feet ahead. Damn those soft, rounded boots, with no sharp edges to dig into the ground and leave something behind.

The dimming light combined with the girl’s light-as-air prints made the going painstakingly slow. Every few steps, they called out Maddy’s name, hoping she’d step out from behind the thick trunk of a western hemlock or a fallen, moss-covered log. But of course she didn’t.

Too slow. Too slow when darkness is coming.

The average adult could cover about five miles in an hour, moving at an average pace. So even if Maddy’s little legs covered less than half that, say two miles an hour, they were still looking at a search area of roughly 300 miles. They’d managed to limit that area through old-fashioned footprint tracking, but even that had gotten them so far beyond the ranger station that they were out of radio and cell phone range. They had to rely on Piper Watkins, a helicopter pilot who was assisting with the search, to relay messages when she happened to fly within range. Sabrina could hear the faint whir of the chopper to the south, and figured it was only a matter of time before Piper checked in with them again.

The only good piece of news had surfaced about an hour earlier, when they had come to a point where the first tracking team’s sign veered off down the mountainside, toward another trail that headed northwest. Sabrina was able to find another, barely visible patch of thin lines indicating that Maddy had gone in a different direction. The first team had lost their way, but maybe, if Alex and Sabrina moved quickly enough….

The humming to the south grew louder, and then, in a burst of static, the radio clipped to Sabrina’s belt came to life.

“Tracking Team One, this is Air Watch RT64Z. Tracking Team One, this is Air Watch Romeo-Tango-Six-Four-Zulu, do you copy, over?” Piper’s Tennessee drawl came in loud and clear, and Sabrina hoped she wasn’t imagining the note of excitement in the pilot’s voice.

“Air Watch, this is Tracking Team One. Do you have news, over?”

“I have a message from base, over.” Piper’s chopper whirred above their heads in a swift arc across the small patch of gray sky visible through the trees.

“Which is what, Piper? We’ve got work to do,” Alex said into his own radio as he craned his neck upward and squinted at the break in the forest canopy. They heard the chopper turn and the hum of its blades grow louder again.

“Al, your Sophie wants to join you, over. Says she thinks she can help, over.”

Alex dropped his gaze and focused his dark eyes on Sabrina, letting the radio fall slack at his side.

“What?” she asked, her thumb off the talk button so Piper couldn’t hear their conversation. The chopper flew off again into the distance.

“What, what?”

She just glared at him. Sometimes, being team leader really sucked.

“I have faith in my girl,” he said, his expression all macho determination. “If she says she can help, she can.”

Sabrina shook her head. “Al—”

“Don’t ‘Ah-uhhhll’ me. She can.”

“What about the time she told me I shouldn't go on a search because I was going to get hurt, and nothing happened? Or the time she said I would win a ton, yes, a ton of money if I just bought $100 in scratch tickets, and all I won was more scratch tickets?" She jabbed her radio at the man who’d been her best friend since high school, wishing for all the world that she could believe in his stupid pipe dream.

Alex winced. "You asked her to predict something for you. She's not good under pressure--"

“And this isn't pressure? What if Sophie’s wrong, Alex? She can’t do her Miss Cleo thing under pressure—which is pretty much any time someone other than yourself is around. What if we find Maddy while Piper is busy picking her up, and those extra minutes we’re waiting for a pickup make the difference between a successful rescue and that little girl dying out here?”

Alex didn’t respond. The first few flakes of snow finally started to fall, light, airy things that danced in the silence between them like tiny fairies.

Her mother, who for some odd reason believed wholeheartedly in Sophie’s hit-or-miss skill, would kill her if she knew Sabrina was refusing to take a chance. “Nena, sometimes it’s not so good to have both feet stuck so firmly on the ground,” she’d say. “You have to leave the door open for los milagros.”

But her feet would always be on the ground, exactly where a tracker’s boots belonged. She had a job to do, and she couldn’t make a possibly life-or-death decision based on someone’s fantasy. Even someone she trusted as much as she did Alex.

“Tracking team one," Piper interrupted as she flew overhead again. "Sophie also said to tell you you’re going to find something blue and wish she was there.”

According to Maddy’s mother, the little girl was wearing a pink coat with a purple backpack, a white shirt with a black penguin on it, and gray pants—she wore nothing blue and carried nothing blue. It was hardly surprising that Sophie had gotten it wrong.

Sabrina brought the radio to her mouth and pressed the talk button. “Air Watch, please stand by in case we need you. Do not, I repeat, do not head back to base, over.”

Alex’s jaw worked angrily, but he didn’t say anything. The look he gave her said it all.

“Affirmative, oh, fearless leader.” Piper’s tone didn’t sound much friendlier, even masked by the crackling static. “Relaying message.”

* * *
Darkness fell, which slowed Sabrina and Alex down to a frustrating crawl. It hadn’t helped that Maddy had abandoned the trail and was making her way through the undergrowth. The rainforest, a thick, near-impenetrable cave of dense green in the daytime, turned into a light-sucking black hole at night, swallowing the beams of their bright flashlights so they could barely illuminate their feet, much less the trail before them. The thick cloud cover allowed no moonlight to break, so the two of them couldn’t see much of a difference when they walked under the forest canopy and when they walked under sky.

The snow fell in earnest now, lightly coating the ground wherever there was a break in the canopy. She could hear the crunch of their hiking boots as they walked, the sharp wind whistling eerily through the trees. The wispy branches of the Douglas firs and western hemlocks rustling against each other as they communicated in the way that trees do. Alex’s measured breathing beside her. The thump of their walking sticks as they hit the ground, then swept in careful arcs before them to keep them from walking into something, or each other.

Then, to her left, she heard Alex’s stick hit the ground, but its thump was muffled. She heard him pull the stick back, and then the unmistakable whirr of its tip running along weatherproof fabric. Both of them whipped their thin flashlight beams toward the direction of the sound.

A small pink coat lay crumpled on the snow. Sophie dropped into a crouch, shining her light around until they rested on a pair of red mittens not two feet ahead.

People in the most advanced stages of hypothermia sometimes felt like they were burning up, even though their bodies were actually freezing to death. If Maddy was shedding her clothes….

Hypothermic. Her little body couldn’t fight the cold any more. And if she was feeling the illusion of warmth, it wouldn’t be long until her seven-year-old heart would stop beating. And Sabrina and Alex would have to bring a body down the mountain, would have to tell a mother on Christmas Eve that her little girl was gone.

She felt Alex crouch down beside her. “Ah, hell,” he said softly.

Slowly, she reached down, grasping the pink satin with its cheerful white fur trim in both of her gloved hands. Bringing it to eye level, she buried her face in the soft fabric. It smelled like baby shampoo and bubble gum.

It was the smell that finally got to her.

“Please.” The word came out on a sob, quiet but still harsh. Tears squeezed out from under her eyelids, turning icy in the merciless black wind. Eight years she’d been a search and rescue tracker, and this was the first time she’d lost it on the job. “Please, God, don’t make me tell that mother—”

“Jeez, Bree.” Alex reached out and grasped her arm with a warm, gloved hand. He was trying to comfort her, but she’d heard his voice break when he’d said her name.

Unable to finish her sentence, Sabrina lowered the little coat, tried to focus on the snow-covered ground. A frantic urgency crawled up her chest, clasped icy fingers around her throat and clung there. She scanned the ground visible in her flashlight’s moving beam of light, once, again, willing an indentation to appear in the ground—a heel curve, a tiny zigzag of rubber boot tread, a flat spot in the snow.

But the snow was new, and it covered what she wanted to see.

Little girls didn’t just vanish. But it was so dark, and Sabrina couldn’t see a thing. Stupid, stupid, damn Christmas snow. “Alex,” she pleaded as he moved up beside her. Before she could even turn to look at him, she sensed him shaking his head.

“I can’t see anything, Bree.”

The jacket weighed heavy in her hands.

She’s cold. So small, and cold.

She might be dying. And I could take an hour to find the next print, the next sign of Maddy.

It’s Christmas Eve. Her husband’s words came back to her, and then her mother’s. It’s not good to keep your feet stuck so firmly on the ground all the time.

Sabrina clutched the jacket tighter. This time, she felt a hard, round shape inside its softness. Jamming her flashlight between her shoulder and cheek like a phone, she felt around until she found the coat pockets. Her hand scrabbled inside the first, then the second, where she finally felt a lumpy, cool shape she couldn’t identify by touch.

Pulling it out, she moved it into the flashlight beam to examine it.

It was a clay ornament in the shape of a lumpy star, lovingly fashioned by clumsy, seven-year-old hands.

Maddy had painted it blue.

She turned toward Alex, shining his light in his direction, though her vision had blurred so much she couldn’t even make him out. The whirr of a chopper sounded overhead, distant, but close enough.


“Call Piper, Alex. I need a miracle.”

* * *

“Give me her coat,” Sophie said.

Sabrina was glad Sophie couldn’t see her expression. “Will it help?”

Sophie made a confused noise that sounded something like Ayuhnoh. “Can’t hurt, right?”

God, she hoped she’d done the right thing, wasting precious minutes waiting for Piper to fetch Sophie, then waiting for a break in the clouds so the pilot had enough moonlight to land and drop her off at the nearest clearing.

“What the hell is up with those shoes, Brennan?” Alex shone his light on the trendy black boots Sophie wore, their stacked heels and undoubtedly miniscule tread hardly appropriate for near-blind mountain climbing.

“You were in a hurry when we left. I thought these would be okay,” she said lamely.

“Okay to do your little turn on the catwalk, Ms. I’m-too-sexy-for-real-boots, but not up here,” Alex retorted.

“Excuse me,” Sabrina interrupted, more sharply than she’d intended, “but I need Ms. Cleo to do her thing. Now.”

She whirled on the vaguely Sophie-shaped patch of darkness in front of her, shining her flashlight just under the woman’s face. “Soph, it’s taking us half an hour just to go from one foot print to the next. We’re losing her.” Dammit, she felt the tears welling up and inflating her throat, cutting off her ability to talk like a team leader shoulod. So she just spoke like the desperate woman she was.

“I know you don’t work well under pressure, but we’ve got to find her. Help me find her.” She swiped a gloved hand across her cheekbone. The forest she knew like she knew her own face had never made her feel this small. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Sophie’s great green eyes looked at her with a mixture of pity and fear. Alex moved into Sophie’s space, resting a possessive hand against the small of her back. He’d stepped into Sabrina’s light beam, and she could see that he continued to glare at his girlfriend’s shoes.

Her gaze still locked on Sabrina, Sophie pressed the pink coat into Alex’s chest, and he grasped it. “Can I borrow your walking stick?” she asked.

He handed it to her. “You got something?”

“Trust me?”

Alex didn’t miss a beat. “Do your thing, honey.”

Sophie took off into the darkness, moving as fast as her stack-heeled boots would take her.

If only….

* * *

Sabrina was the first one out after Piper landed the chopper in the ranger station parking lot. The blades still whipped overhead, even though the engine powering them had been shut down, the considerable downdraft causing Sabrina’s hair to break free of its ponytail and whip into her face, now that she'd shucked her hat.

Her eyes landed on Aaron, and her stiff, cold body moved almost involuntarily in his direction. But her heart lurched when she saw Maddy’s mother burst through the station’s double doors behind her husband.

Piper’s radio had inexplicably died just as the pilot was relaying the message that they were returning. Mrs. Perkins had no idea what the outcome was, whether Sabrina would make her Christmas or break her heart.

A thin siren wailed in the distance growing louder with every step Sabrina took away from the helicopter. Aaron would have called an ambulance to the scene, even though he had no idea what his wife was bringing back.

“She’s alive,” Sabrina shouted.

A shudder moved through Mrs. Perkins’ thin body, and she closed her eyes, swaying against Aaron, who placed a steadying arm around her shoulders.

The ambulance pulled into the parking lot, and Alex practically jumped into its path as he directed it toward the helicopter.

“She’s suffering from advanced hypothermia, so we still have to be really careful with her,” Sabrina explained, able to use a more normal tone of voice now that the chopper was powering down. Mrs. Perkins had opened her eyes again and was clasping Sabrina’s elbows like a lifeline. “Moving her could cause her to go into cardiac arrest, so she’s not out of danger yet.”

“God won’t let her die now. Not after all you’ve been through to get her.” Mrs. Perkins reached out and wrapped her arms around Sabrina, her grip a lot tighter than she would have expected from a woman so small and pale. “Thank you. So much.”

And then she took off running toward the helicopter, where the EMTs were carefully strapping Maddy’s tiny body onto a stretcher.

“Nice work, babe.” Aaron bent down to kiss her softly.

She put a hand on his chest, suddenly overcome by an exhaustion that went down to her bones, grateful to have him there to lean against. “Actually, it was Sophie who found her. She was amazing.”

Her husband pulled back to look down at her. “Seriously? Huh. Good for her.”

“Seriously. She took off running, in near-pitch darkness. And when she stopped, the moon broke through the clouds, and there was this perfect footprint in the snow right beneath her feet.” With a sigh, Sabrina lay her head on Aaron’s broad shoulder, watching the ambulance as it drove off and disappeared behind a stand of trees lining the road back to Port Renegade.

“So then what?”

“Alex and I followed ten perfect boot prints to where that little girl was lying against a tree trunk, just about asleep.” She didn’t want to think about what could have happened if they’d found her any later. “She’s severely hypothermic. We had to be so careful moving her.”

She felt Aaron nod. “"So her heart wouldn't stop.”

“I was so scared,” Sabrina said. “But you know Piper is trained as an EMT, so she helped us get Maddy in the chopper and secure her. And here we are.” She paused, listening to the sirens grow fainter and fainter. “You think she’ll make it?”

A low rumble of a laugh sounded deep in Aaron’s chest. “It’s Christmas Eve. You’re not going to get a half-assed miracle tonight.”

She didn't know why, but she had the strongest sense that Aaron was right.

As if on cue, Alex and Sophie walked up right at that moment. “So, was that the best Christmas ever, or what?” Sophie asked, clearly riding the high of a successful search.

“Really? Best Christmas ever?” Alex asked, one hand draped over Sophie’s shoulder and the other stuffed in the pocket of his parka.

“You two saved that little girl,” she said. "How could it not be?"

“You saved her,” Sabrina broke in. “I will never, ever doubt your powers again, Miss Cleo.”

Sophie laughed, a light, sparkling sound. “Oh, go ahead and doubt them. I suck as a psychic. Just not tonight.”

“On the best Christmas ever,” Alex interjected.

“What?” Sophie turned on him, lightly thwacking him in the chest. “Clearly, you are annoyed about something.”

He flashed his trademark up-to-something grin at her. “Not annoyed. I’m just disappointed that you won’t need this.” Pulling a small object out of his pocket, he tossed it in the air. “Seeing as you’re already having the best Christmas ever.” He caught the square, velvet box one-handed.

Sophie froze. Alex tossed the box in the air again and caught it once more.

“Is that for me?” she asked carefully.


Sabrina and Aaron went completely still. Sabrina hoped that if they stayed quiet, their presence wouldn’t keep what she what pretty sure was happening from happening. Which was always a threat when hyperkinetic Alex and his short attention span was involved.

“That’s so totally for me.” Sophie lunged for the box as it flew into the air again, but Alex was too fast for her, snapping his fist around the box from above like a striking cobra.

“Gimme that!” Sophie clasped Alex around the elbows, then gripped his shoulder and started jumping up and down, trying to reach the object he now held high over her head. “Mine!” Laughing, the two of them continued their bizarre little dance until Sophie unexpectedly yanked his arm downward, finally claiming her prize.

Turning her body away from Alex and hunching over the box in case he tried to take it from her, she opened it. “Oh, Alex,” she sighed.

Sabrina could see the sparkling diamond even from several feet away.

Alex moved up behind his girlfriend, who continued to stare at the ring, one hand pressed against her cheek. “You like it?”

She turned around. “Of course. Even though it came with a truly unromantic proposal.” But Sophie’s heart was in her eyes, so they all knew she far from upset about it.

All the same, Alex gently pried the box out of Sophie’s hands and sank down on one knee, the snow on the ground undoubtedly soaking through his cargo pants. “Marry me, Soph.”

Sabrina didn’t think she’d ever seen Alex look as happy as he did when Sophie wrapped her arms around his neck and dissolved into happy tears. She felt Aaron’s hand on the small of her back and let him lead her toward the ranger station, giving their friends some privacy.

“Best Christmas ever,” she said.

“Give a guy a chance,” Aaron said, pulling her against his side as they walked. “When we get home, I’ll run you a bath.” He dipped his head to nuzzle her neck. “Wrap you up in blankets, and carry you to bed. And then we’ll see who has the best Christmas ever.”

They’d been together for more than two years, and the guy could still make her melt with just a look or a word. Or, in this case, a very lovely promise. “I adore you, you know that?”

The smile he gave her was pure heat, mixed with something deeper. And the kiss he gave her rocked her cold and tired world. “Then my Christmas is already the best. … although I might have to amend that if your aunts waited up for us….”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chica Lit Blog Tour--prizes!

Just a reminder that I'll be posting my short story for the Chica Lit Blog tour tomorrow. Kathy Cano-Murillo, aka the "Crafty Chica," posted her story today. I think her website has been down for awhile today, so you have a good chance of winning her prize if you go read it right now and comment! Visit

And come back tomorrow to my blog to read a story revisiting my Intrigue search and rescue trackers and possibly win a copy of Telling Secrets and some yummy Fair Trade, gourmet chocolate!

Friday, December 14, 2007

O, Christmas Bread ...

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Over at the Intrigue Authors blog (Did I mention we're giving away free books? ), Ann Voss Peterson wrote yesterday about traditional Christmas foods. Which started me thinking about my grandmother's Christmas Bread.

While I'm sure I've mentioned before that my mom is from Honduras, most people don't know that my dad's side of the family is Czech--my grandma and grandpa were the children of new immigrants from "the old country," and still speak fluent Czech. In fact, my dad took Grandpa to the Czech Republic a few years ago, and apparently the citizens there were fascinated with how he spoke, because, when you think about it, his Czech is more than a century old and sounded as old-fashioned to them as a time traveler speaking 19th-century English would sound to us.

As much as I adore them, I have to confess that the Czech side of my family leaves me somewhat bewildered sometimes. My dad and his brothers never pick up the phone and call each other. And when they do come into contact, they can be oddly formal. Dad adopts what we've come to call his Formal Work Voice, which is about an octave deeper than his normal speaking voice and stiff as all get-out. "HI!," Dad will boom when he sees one of his brothers--doesn't matter if it's been a few moments or several months since they've last seen each other. "Yup," my uncle (any of them) will grunt in reply. They'll stand there with their hands in their pockets for a moment, and then inevitably drift away from each other to go watch football in companionable silence.

My brothers and I, on the other hand, are loud and demonstrative and obnoxious whenever we see each other--we sort of regress back to our teenage years and start jabbering on about how cool it is that Voltron is now on DVD or when we should park Troy (the youngest) in front of Tommy's mega-wide flatscreen and make him watch all three of the original Star Wars films again and again until he properly appreciates them. If one of us grunted "Yup" at the others in greeting, I am confident that the other two would grab the offending sibling in a group hug, smack him upside the head for being such a dolt, and loudly demand that he hug back and greet us with appropriate warmth and the verbal onslaught of news we were expecting. Actually, Troy is a little more sensitive and might just glare at us until we went back to normal. But you get my drift....

Anyway, family gatherings at my grandparents tend to see the men all clustered in the living room collectively grunting at some sporting event on TV, while the women liven up the rooms away from the television set with loud laughter and boisterous conversation--that's generally courtesy of my mom (the loudest), my dad's sister Rita (a close second to my mom, especially after she hauls out the Limon), and Grandma (who taught Rita to be loud). My other aunts aren't quite as loud (although Uncle Michael's wife, my aunt Gail, has the most amazing laugh), but they definitely interact on a more polysyllabic level than my sweet but quiet uncles. Oh, and cards. Grandma and Grandpa love games, so we play lots and lots of cards--occasionally interrupted by Grandma talking smack at me until I agree to yet another rematch to see which one of us, finally, will be the the Scrabble Champion of the World. (So far, it's still her. And yes, I have a graduate degree and she didn't continue on past the eighth grade. I KNOW.)

Every Christmas, my Grandma hauls out this one traditional family recipe (actually, I think it may be archived in her head), passed down from generations of Simons and Rysavys from "the Old Country," and makes Christmas Bread.

I have no idea why, but Christmas just isn't Christmas without Christmas Bread. Grandma's Christmas Bread is basically a boulder of dense, rock-hard raisin bread with a bulletproof crust and the consistency of ground cardboard. I have no doubt that you could seriously injure someone if you chucked a loaf at them, even fresh from the oven. I have no idea how Grandma cuts it into slices, but I suspect it involves a bandsaw and a blowtorch, or maybe some kind of elaborate pulley system.

But I love it. And, it seems, so do many other members of the family--or we'd probably have a makeshift mountain of stacked up Christmas Bread sitting behind my grandparents' house, refusing to decompose like a Catholic miracle and waiting for 2007's loaf to come join them. Every Christmas at Grandma's, to be polite, I'll reluctantly take a slice under her watchful eye, slather it with butter, and choke it down--eyes watering, throat feeling like someone took a Dremel tool to it. And then I'll invariably grab another. And another.

Ah, Christmas Bread. I'll never understand your allure, but how I long for you to scour my esophagus with your sandpapery goodness....

We haven't spent Christmas at Grandma's in a few years. We spent two Christmases in Korea, had Marin close to Christmas the year we came home and so didn't want to take our newborn on a germy plane, and last year my parents came down for New Year's, so we figured we'd just stay home. This year, being our last year in Florida, I figured it was only right that we spend the holidays with my husband's family in Florida before we leave the state for the frozen tundra of Minnesota. And while I'm sure Christmas there will be fun (Flan! Did I mention how amazing Jose's Tia Selma's flan is? I'm totally going for the flan. I'm totally revving up my exercise regimen after the flan.), I will definitely miss Grandpa, Grandma, that whole big family gathering, and, though I don't completely understand why, Grandma's Christmas Bread.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Come Visit!

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I'm blogging today at as part of the Intrigue Authors December Blog Blitz. Come on over and win free books!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Three Ways to Win Free Books

So I'm taking part in three holiday promotions that are offering free books to readers. Sooooooo, if you're a bookaholic like me and just went "Oooooh, free books! Where? Where?" here's the scoop on all of them:

1) Did I mention my contest? (Heh.) We've gotten some great entries, but I'm not sending them to my judges (i.e. my brothers and frequent guest-bloggers) until Dec. 23. So you can still enter, as many times as you wish, to win a $25 bookstore gift certificate and a copy of any book from my backlist. Scroll down four entries or visit for more information.

2) The Intrigue authors are blogging up at storm at, all throughout December, and we're giving out free Intrigues every day to randomly selected people who send us comments. I'll be blogging Dec. 12th and 19th, but you can also visit any day this month for amusing anecdotes, interesting questions, holiday recipes, and random digressions from the likes of Patricia Rosemoor, Julie Miller, Ann Voss Peterson, Dana Marton, Rebecca York, and more.

3) Starting today, a group of today's hottest selling Latina authors (and, er, me) are posting holiday short stories as part of our 12 Days of Christmas Chica Lit Blog Tour.
Every day from December 11th to the 23rd, travel to a new blog for an original holiday story, recipe, and prize giveaway!

Avon author Mary Castillo starts us off today. Visit to read her holiday short story.

Here's the tour line-up:

TODAY, Dec. 11: Mary Castillo, author of Switchcraft. Visit to win a $15 gift certificate.

Dec, 12: Berta Platas, author of Cinderella Lopez. Visit to win Bath and Bodyworks Bath Gel and a copy of the Friday Night Chicas anthology.

Dec. 13: Mayra Calvani, author of Dark Lullaby. Visit to win a copy of Dark Lullaby.

Dec. 14: Caridad Pineiro, author of Holiday with a Vampire. Visit to win a copy of Sex & the South Beach Chicas and a Victoria's Secret bag filled with goodies.

Dec. 15: Lara Rios, author of Becoming Americana. Visit to win copies of of Becoming Latina In 10 Easy Steps and Becoming Americana.

Dec. 16: Caridad Ferrer, author of It's Not About the Accent. Visit to win copies of Adiós to My Old Life and It's Not About the Accent and an iTunes gift card.

Dec. 17: Margo Candela, author of Life Over Easy. Visit to win a $25 Bath & Body Works gift.

Dec. 18: Kathy Cano Murillo, author of Crafty Chica's Art de la Soul. Visit to win a surprise.

Dec. 19: Tracy Montoya, author of Telling Secrets. Come back here to to win a copy of Telling Secrets and some Fair Trade chocolate.

Dec. 20: Jamie Martinez Wood, author of Latino Writers and Journalists and the upcoming Rogelia's House of Magic. Visit to win a surprise.

Dec. 21: Misa Ramirez, author of the upcoming Lola PI: Living La Vida Lola. Visit to win a surprise.

Dec. 22: Sofia Quintero, aka Black Artemis, author of Juicy Mangos. Visit to win a bundle of three Black Artemis novels.

Dec. 23: Toni Margarita Plummer, author and editor. Visit to win a copy of Palabra magazine and $20 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

Monday, December 10, 2007


LOOKING FOR MY CONTEST? Scroll down three entries or visit

Family and friends are reporting that they're seeing December Intrigues, including my latest release, TELLING SECRETS, in stores now.

The reviews are pouring in:

4 stars! Montoya has a way of layering characters and settings with just the right amount of family drama and psychological suspense.RT BookReviews

"Wow, that cover ... it's ... wow." Tracy's brother, Troy

"I just finished reading your wonderfully written book, Telling Secrets. It was emotionally moving as well as suspenseful. However, it pains me when a wonderful author such as you includes sexually explicit items in a story which does not need them." —A very sweet woman who shall remain nameless, as I'm making fun of myself, not her.

• "I'd like you to come speak to my community group. But about your day job, not your books. Please ... don't talk about your books." —Ed R.

"For the last time, I really think something needs to explode on p. 32." Tracy's husband, Jose

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Intrigue Authors Blog Fest

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The Intrigue Authors are having a Blog Blitz all throughout December. Come visit and win free books!

Every day this month, the Intrigue authors will be chatting with readers about the line, their writing habits, and, if I have anything to say about it, oddly random topics. Authors include Rebecca York, Patricia Rosemoor, Julie Miller, Ann Voss Peterson, debut author Carol Ericson, Rita Herron, and many more! I'll be blogging there on Dec. 12 and 19. And Intrigue Senior Editor Denise Zaza, Editor Allison Lyons, and Assistant Editor Sean Mackiewicz will be dropping by throughout the month.

Each and every day, we'll also be handing out free books, selecting names from people who have left comments that day.

So come on over!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ask Tracy, Get Mental Spew in Return

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In the comments section, Mariann asked: I have this one nugget of an idea for urban fantasy, but lack the persistence to see it through. Tell me, how do you get from idea to outline and then novel??

Can I just say that from a book junkie's point of view, I would LOVE for you to finish this, Mariann? I think the best paranormal and urban fantasy romances are written by people who regularly visit the sci-fi/fantasy horror sections of the bookstore.

I'm not going to be a whole lot of help here, because what made me finish my first book was a giant stroke of good luck in the form of a book contract based on three chapters and a synopsis. Basically, the pressure of not wanting to disappoint my editor combined with also not wanting to have to forfeit my advance check helped move me along. : )

But I did get close with my first manuscript (a horror show calld Tell Me Everything that's currently under my bed awaiting burial at sea). One huge motivation came in the form of my critique group in Washington state. We met once a week over drinks (mostly non-alcoholic, sometimes not) and would talk about the scenes we'd exchanged with each other and had read during the past week. The group was always a lot more fun if we actually had stuff to critique, and I trusted those women enough that I looked forward to their feedback--so that got me to actually write so I'd have stuff for the meeting.

Another thing that helped me was Carolyn Greene's (aka the Plot Doctor) Prescription for Plotting notebook. I have a notoriously short attention span, so-- Look! Something sparkly over there!

Ahem. As I was saying, I have the attention span of an ice cube, so I write in short and sporadic fits. The notebook helped immeasurably because I could complete a worksheet in one all-too-brief sitting that asked me the right questions to help me figure out my plot.

Carolyn's honed the plotting process down to the essentials, so once you've thought your story through enough to complete the worksheets, your plot is essentially in your head just waiting to be spewed onto paper. I totally needed that when I first started writing, because I had a tendency to follow whatever "plot" line or character quirk caught my fancy at the moment, and I ended up with a lot of meandering scenes and no story to speak of. The manuscript under my bed is basically the literary manifestation of adult ADD. It scares me sometimes.

Carolyn's notebook functioned very much like a pair of training wheels for me. Now, I can sketch out a plot on a single sheet of paper, without having to even look at the notebook worksheets. People who write by the seat of their pants seem sort of magical to me--I could never do that. I have to compose the WHOLE thing in my head before I can even start putting more than one chapter down on paper.

In fact, I like to compare myself to Mozart when I'm feeling grandiose, because he also wrote his works in his head before putting them down on paper. Although my books are hardly the literary equivalent to Don Giovanni (Best! Opera! Ever!) or The Magic Flute. But whatever.Long story short, having the whole book sitting in my head is enough motivation in and of itself for me to get it down on paper and out of my poor, overworked mama brain.

And finally, I find that if I can write at least a paragraph every day, I slowly start to slap my narcoleptic muse awake, and the words just start to flow. By the end of a book, for example, I'm churning out at least 20 pages per day, and they all tend to fall into the not-bad-and-definitely-fixable category. There's just something about several consecutive days of writing that pushes me along and sparks my creativity like nothing else can.

It's only after several consecutive days of creative writing (i.e. not work-related green news articles or green living advice, not emails to friends, not the massive to-do lists I'm forced to do because of my post-partum short-term memory loss) that I start doing that wake-up-at-3-am-with-a-great-idea-for-a-story-thing. And when I get there, I know that writing has gone from a battle to something that's actually fun.

I heard a REALLY great workshop from RWA National on what to do when life has you so bogged down, you feel about as creative as a potato. It was given by Susan Mallery and called "Screw the Muse, I'm on Deadline." I highly recommend it! (Email me if you need to know where to find it.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007


(Was the title a bit of overkill? I just woke up and can't tell....)

Anyway, today is the launch day of my first-ever contest in honor of my December 2007 Intrigue, Telling Secrets. So read on, and enter! Up for grabs is a $25 gift certificate to BookSense or Barnes & Noble, and a copy of any book from my backlist.

Alex and Sophie were two of those characters who really "popped" for me. And, like most writers, I have a very solid mental picture of what they look like. It's always a bit of a jolt to get a cover artist's interpretation of what is fixed so firmly in my head, but with Telling Secrets, that jolt was more like a massive earthquake.

I described Alex as a 26-year-old Adam Beach with short hair. That would be this:

But with short hair.

The cover artist saw this:

Now why this guy is most definitely eye candy, he is not Alex. (Nor, for that matter, is he 26.) And I can't imagine what the model's reaction was when someone handed him that vest. For the record, Alex, a search and rescue tracker in the Washington state temperate rainforest, wears sweatshirts, his beloved Mariners ball cap, a Patagonia parka, and a good pair of hiking boots for most of the book, and wouldn't be caught dead in that vest--mainly because IT'S THE DEAD OF WINTER.

But you know, interesting covers happen. And I do like his arms, Sophie works, and the trees in the background are nice.

So on to the contest bit: On my December cover, Sophie is obviously whispering something into Alex's ear. Send me your best guess as to what that is--either by sending me an email (TracyMontoya @ -- without the spaces), or commenting here on my blog (any entry). I'll choose my favorite by Dec. 25, and, again, the winner will get a $25 gift certificate to BookSense (good at select independent bookstores nationwide) or Barnes & Noble (if there's no BookSense store near you) and any book you want from my backlist, including out-of-print ones.

Some examples to get you started:

Sophie is saying:

1) 1970 called. You can so totally keep the vest.

2) Young man, there's no need to feel down, I said, young man....

3) The toxins in my bloodstream will render you helpless in minutes.... (Obscure comic-book reference courtesy of my brother Troy. It's hilarious if you get the context.)

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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