These past few months of guest hosts on Jeopardy have been amazing! With guests like Katie Couric, NFL player, Aaron Rodgers, some former winners like Ken Jennings and current guest host Anderson Cooper, but we’ve got a new recently announced guest host that will make your heart happy. LeVar Burton, actor and former host of the iconic PBS program “Reading Rainbow” will be guest hosting the show this summer from July 26 to July 30.
A fan petition to get Burton to fully take over Alex Trebek’s roll started in November of 2020 after the late host’s passing. There is no word if he will be the permanent host but thanks to over 200,000 signatures he has put into the star studded rotation of guest hosts.
The Christmas season can be a great time for many but unfortunately isolating for others. This year we are all feeling the isolation. Not going on the trips we had planned, not seeing the family and friends we thought we would. We all need some coziness and warm feelings because, let’s face it, 2020 has not been the greatest year.
So instead of being a grinch this Christmas, let’s get into some romance, warmth and holiday spirit with 5 holiday romance & family writers. First up we have Sara Arden author of A Glorious Christmas.
Madelyn Morrison is going home for Christmas to get an interview with America’s newest sweetheart. Madelyn grew up with the hero, so she knows she’ll get the interview, but she has bigger problems. The biggest stands six foot two inches and his name is Johnny Hart. He left her standing at the altar.
For barista and café owner Sari Tomas, Christmas means parols, family, and no-holds-barred karaoke contests. This year, though, a new neighbor is throwing a wrench in all her best-laid plans. The baker next door—“some fancy boy from Manila”—might have cute buns, but when he tries to poach her customers with cheap coffee and cheaper tactics, the competition is officially on.
And Baker Boy better be ready, because Sari never loses.
After, Ms. Guzman, we have Mary Alice Monroe. Monroe was named by the South Carolina Academy of Authors as a 2018 inductee of the Literary Hall of Fame. She’s also the recipient of the International Green Fiction Award and has sold over seven million books around the world.
Her novel A Lowcountry Christmas, is the fifth book in her Lowcountry Summer series. Instead of focusing on romance, this Christmas novel explored the love of family and the bonds we share between siblings and parents.
As far as ten-year-old Miller McClellan is concerned, it’s the worst Christmas ever. His father’s shrimp boat is docked, his mother is working two jobs, and with finances strained, Miller is told they can’t afford the dog he desperately wants. “Your brother’s return from war is our family’s gift,” his parents tell him. But when Taylor returns with PTSD, the stress and strain darken the family.
Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can’t stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana’s determined to prove that she belongs…even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town’s hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose.
Last but definitely not least, we have Teri Wilson. Wilson is a USA best-selling author. Three of Teri’s books have been adapted into Hallmark Channel Original Movies by Crown Media, including UNLEASHING MR. DARCY (plus its sequel MARRYING MR. DARCY), THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is also a recipient of the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novel THE BACHELOR’S BABY SURPRISE.
Her newest solo holiday romance release is Christmas Charms that came out this past October.
Ashley’s supposed to be having the Christmas of her dreams. After four years of working at an upscale jewelry store in Manhattan, she’s finally going to get a little velvet box of her own―from her boyfriend Jeremy, who’s taking her on a romantic trip to Paris. What could go wrong?
She has a more recent project that came out this December where she and 10 other award winning, best selling authors collaborated on a novel called Christmas Actually. Where each auther has written a short holiday romance story.
Now, that we’ve meet our authors, let’s get to the questions!
How did you fall into writing in the previously niche Holiday Romance genre?
Sara Arden: I’ve always loved holiday romances and at the time, I was writing my Glory series for HQN, and I asked my editor about doing a holiday story in the world. Small town romance plus that special holiday sugar that just makes everything sweeter? It was a win for me!
Carla de Guzman: I suppose I fell into it the same way I fell into writing romance—accidentally, and because simply wanted to. Christmas is a huge holiday in my country, and it’s always been a big part of my life. So I couldn’t imagine not writing at least one story set in that time.
Mary Alice Monroe: Although I do not write novels in the Holiday Romance genre, I love reading them! “A Lowcountry Christmas” is a poignant family story with a powerful love story between family members—and a dog, too. Some of my favorite novels are romances and I’ve forged lifelong friendships when I was a member of RWA.
Sarah Morgenthaler: I was writing a holiday novella for two of my Moose Springs characters who didn’t get a lot of page time. They both seemed like lonely people, so I wanted to give them a Christmas gift of finding happiness and companionship around the holidays. When I pitched the idea of the novella to my publisher, they wanted a full-length book, which was even more fun to write!
Teri Wilson: I’ve written a lot of holiday romances! I love this time of year and wrote my first Christmas romance soon after I first became published. My very first holiday romance, Sleigh Bell Sweethearts, was made into a Christmas movie called Northern Lights of Christmas for the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel, so I’ve been lucky to write more and more holiday books every year.
2. The world is filled with romance stories, how do you try and make your novels unique for readers?
Sara Arden: I think stories are very much like people. Sure, there are millions of them, but none of them are exactly alike. Just like the authors who tell these stories. Really, it’s about finding that part of yourself in the story and letting the characters remind you that the dark night doesn’t last forever, the dragon can be slain, and whoever you are, you deserve to be loved.
Carla de Guzman: I think there’s a reader for every romance, so I don’t really focus on what makes my books unique, but really just write the stories I feel like interest me the most. What if I wrote a holiday romance set in Lipa? What if I wrote about a one night stand, but he comes in to her office for a job interview the next day? What if I wrote an art heist?
I feel that if I do it this way, I don’t feel as pressured as I would have, striving for uniqueness, because I’m genuinely interested in what I’m doing.
Mary Alice Monroe: I write a story based on the animals I am researching. After I determine the setting, themes, plot, I create the characters. I strive to inspire through the power of story. This creates a unique setting and storyline, but I’ve found my readers feel inspired as well. This to me is my greatest joy.
Sarah Morgenthaler: I always write about places that I love, and I focus a lot on the geology and the wildlife of an area. I try to let the location become a character in itself. The love I have for the setting hopefully comes through and helps the story to be a sort of “armchair vacation” for the reader.
Teri Wilson: I try to come up with unique hooks that I haven’t seen before or I take a popular romance trope and try to give it a twist. Christmas Charms, my holiday romcom that came out this year from Hallmark Publishing, is about a magic Christmas charm bracelet. As soon as the main character puts the bracelet on her wrist, the charms start coming true, one by one. I love holiday stories that contain a dash of Christmas magic, and I’ve always wanted to write one. I also love charm bracelets, and when the idea came to me, I couldn’t wait to write it!
3. What is it about the holiday season that makes you inspired to write?
Sarah Arden: Whatever you celebrate this time of year, I think the holiday season makes us look at our human connections and it’s easier to open our hearts to all kinds of love. We reinforce familial, platonic, and romantic bonds, as well as our bonds with other humans by acts of generosity, kindness, and charity. With all of that love in the air, it makes it easy to see how people could fall in love. It’s a kind of magic for me.
Carla de Guzman: Like I said, we celebrate the holidays here in a big way—we’ve been playing Christmas music since September, there’s food of all kinds (quezo de bola and fiesta ham are my favorite things, I will accept no criticism), and there are these little rituals that I’ve always found comfort in—Simbang Gabi, Secret Santa exchanges, wrapping gifts, driving to Lipa. It’s all special, and I like the idea of preserving these memories in books, even if that was accidental, because of the pandemic.
Mary Alice Monroe: I love Christmas! While we enjoy watching happy stories, I seek out the quiet pressures or insecurities hidden beneath the veil of smiles. I believe mother’s feel that the success of a family’s joy on a holiday is on them. We mothers are the ones who usually bake the cookies, decorate the house, and often pick out the presents, too. It’s our job to create a great Christmas. And this can be exhausting, and even cause depression.
In “A Lowcountry Christmas,” the problem at the holiday was a wounded warrior son coming home with PTSD. Mama put on a brave face. I wanted to show how PTSD doesn’t only happen to the soldier—it happens to the whole family. I was inspired to write the novel after I worked with the Wounded Warriors Project at the Dolphin Research Center. I was moved by their courage and especially by the relationships some of the men had with their service dogs. I did more research on the dogs, and the story solidified. Like the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, I created a sentimental story set in a small town that dealt with heavy issues. My angel was the dog! The uplifting ending makes the story all the more moving for the reader –and wonderful!
Sarah Morgenthaler:What I love about the holidays is all the emotions floating around…hope, joy, excitement, and even loneliness. I think carrying over those conflicting emotions to your characters can make a holiday novel particularly relatable to a reader.
Teri Wilson: I love writing stories with a holiday theme because I think we can all relate to the ideal of a perfect Christmas. As children, so many of us experienced this time of year with a sense of wonder and optimism, and I think we still carry that dream of a perfect Christmas deep inside our hearts. I really enjoy tapping into that feeling in my writing.
4. What is your favorite thing about the holiday you celebrate? And does that enjoyment end up in your novels in some way?
Sara Arden: While my favorite thing over all is time with the people I love, specifically, I will say presents. I absolutely love giving gifts. I have such a hard time not giving them as soon as I buy them that I have to sometimes hide them from myself.
Carla de Guzman:I have a big family, in every side of the coin. I have 9 siblings, 35 cousins on my Dad’s side and even more on my Mom’s, not counting aunts, uncles and my cousins’ kids. So I’m used to Christmas being loud and chaotic, which is kind of what happened for Sweet on You. Gabriel comments a few times on the familiarity of the noise of Lipa, because that’s the kind of noise, chaos (or as my mom’s relatives would call it, karibok) that I grew up with.
Mary Alice Monroe: My favorite part of the holiday is the gathering of families. I write novels about a woman’s life—her relationship with her husband, parents, daughter, son, siblings. What better time to write a family story than at Christmas? I will continue to look at Christmas novels with an eye to how gathering with loved ones is what is the key to joy at Christmas.
Sarah Morgenthaler: I’m a cookie fan all year long, but I especially love the baking part of the holidays. Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses both made appearances in my holiday romance.
Teri Wilson: All of my novels contain bits and pieces from my real life and personality. My favorite thing about the holiday season is getting to spend time with friends and family, and that is always a part of my Christmas books. The romance is the main plot, but it never takes place in a vacuum. The characters’ family, friends and community are always a big part of the story too.
5. Can you tell us about a whirlwind romance you might have experienced?
Sara Arden: Whirlwind version of my whirlwind romance: I met a guy who was dating my frenemy when we all went out to lunch. Two months later, after they broke up, I ran into him in a bar. He came home with me. We decided NOT to have sex because we liked each other and didn’t want to ruin it. That lasted a whole two weeks. Three months after we first met, we were dating, three months after that, we were living together. Three months after that, we got married. That lasted a little bit longer than three months. ☺ It’s been twenty-one years.
Carla de Guzman: Someone once walked into a room, and I swear my entire world ground to a halt when I saw them. Like, ‘I can’t believe you’re real, because I feel like I dreamed you up.’
Mary Alice Monroe: I’ve been married to the same wonderful man for nearly 50 years and it’s been one long whirlwind!
Sarah Morgenthaler: Isn’t that the best part of falling in love? They all feel like whirlwinds! And my husband definitely swept me off my feet. :)
Teri Wilson: When my husband and I first started dating, we coincidentally gave each other the exact same Valentine’s Card. When it happened AGAIN the following year, it definitely felt like something special. Fate.
Thank you for doing us for our last 5×5 of the year. Many more to come in the new year! Have a happy holiday no matter what you celebrate and a happy new year!
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go belt “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But with some Beyoncé flair, excuse me.
Among Disney's many, many, many, announcements for what they have planned for the next few years, it was announced this Investor Day that a new animated adaptation of A Diary of A Wimpy Kid is underway.
I had the privilege of speaking with acclaimed Black author L.L. McKinney about her work and what it means to create inclusive, real and tangible characters to help give more of a voice in the fantasy genre to Black writers and writers of color. We talked about her series A Blade So Black, her writing journey and career so far and she gave me just a little a bit of info on the third book in the series, A Crown So Cursed, coming out in 2021.
Today, is Nov, 26, the original publishing date of the classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and since McKinney’s famed series uses from the works of Carroll as a stepping stone of sorts for her own, this was perfect day to celebrate both authors.
Every writer has had that moment when they realized that they wanted to write; that they had to tell a story or stories.
1. When did you start writing and what was your ‘A-Ha’ moment when you found out that you wanted to be a writer? And who inspired you to put pen to paper?
I started telling stories and writing when I was real little. I’m talking, like, kindergarten. I wanted to be a writer early on, but I had an English teacher in high school who told my parents that writing was a distraction for me, and I should stop. My parents didn’t really believe her, but my teacher had a problem with me being smart and finishing my work early? Can’t have the fastest kid in class being a Black girl. Anyway, I didn’t write again until college. I tried to read Twilight, couldn’t get into it. Saw the movie at a friend’s house and was like “well, if she can do it, so can I.” Then I started writing seriously.
As a Black writer myself and a lover of all things fantasy, it gets exhausting constantly seeing black people and brown people excluded. So, I’ve done my due diligence to find more authors like yourself who can give me what I need but there is still a disparity in the genre.
2. For you, how important is diversity? And even though things have gotten somewhat better what do you think can be done to bring Black fantasy to the forefront and get it the recognition it deserves?
Diversity is everything. I mean, I like being around and seeing people like me and having examples to follow and heroes to root for and watching people who look like me and my friends and family fall in love and go on adventures. Run on sentence, there. But it’s really important. A BLADE SO BLACK is my first published book, but not the first one I wrote. The first four I wrote were about white boys, because that’s all I read in the genre growing up, so I thought that’s what you had to write to get published. Like, a lack of diversity meant I didn’t give myself permission to be the hero of my own story, one I control, until five books in. That’s messed up. I think in order for Black fantasy to get the recognition it deserves—and this answer is gonna make some people made—publishing needs to make those stories a priority.
Not just say they will, and not take on a couple books here and there to assuage the masses. I mean a for real push like “we’ve got two Black authors, great. Let’s get four more by the end of quarter.” And also hiring Black people within the industry so those books have people who understand them, who will fight to get them support. And THEN, because there are levels, giving MONEY AND RESOURCES to those Black people within the industry to provide said support. It’s a lot, but it can be done.
The Nightmare-Verse series in a way, is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland but it’s so much more than that. We are introduced to Wonderland, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Mad Hatta, the Queens but they are vastly different from the source material.
3. Why did you decide to use those books as an influence for your own? Where they influential in any way?
There was no real reason. I just really liked Alice in Wonderland overall, and when I thought of how it could be a real place and someone could go there to fight monsters, I wanted it to be about a Black girl doing the slaying. The original tale is somewhat influential, I mean I name characters after them and have a few similar themes in setting and whatnot, but I really just sorta used it as a baseline and built on top of the. I mean, most of the foundation is mine in this one.
Your Alice is such a dynamic character. She is pulled between her daily life, going to school and being relatively normal to having to literally fight for her life in Wonderland but all the while she stays grounded. She’s not outlandish or over the top, she feels like someone I could know. That goes for her mom as well. Sometimes I swear, she’s my mother.
4. What do you attribute the authenticity of your characters to?
Writing about the type of character I wanted to read about when I was young, the type of character I wanted to be. I kinda still wanna be. And I used bits and pieces of people I’ve known over the years to add to characters. Friends, family, enemies. I throw some of them in there, too. It’s usually not all that flattering for them, though. By adding in pieces of real people, I think that makes the characters more real. And avoids getting into trouble if someone thinks you based a whole character on them, because you gotta put those characters through some stuff, and folk be getting in they feelings about it, lol.
I think we can all agree that a book’s cover is rather important. A cover of the book can help set the tone for what I am going to expect and gives me a glimpse of what our main character/characters may look like. The covers of your books just happen to be some of my favorites. I love how unapologetically Black, Alice is. She’s dark skin with her natural hair looking fabulous but she also looks incredibly fierce.
5. Were you heavily involved in the creation of you cover art? And was there any push back to change it to something else, to maybe make more “marketable” to more demographics?
I was fortunate enough to be involved in my covers at every step. There was a list of about 16 models, and my editor told me to pick my top four who I thought embodied Alice. Luckily, they were able to get my girl. Then a friend paid for me to fly to New York for the photo shoot! That was a time and a half and I really enjoyed myself. After that, I got a couple fo cover comps, mockups to see how the design was going. I told them what I liked about both covers, and they were able to mesh them together into the first cover of the series.
After that, they pretty much nailed it on each following one, but I gave opinions on weapons and colors and stuff here and there. They really listened to my suggestions. There was no pushback at all. My editor was a woman of color, and she knew having this dark-skinned Black girl with her natural hair front and center on the cover was important to me from jump, so she made it happen.
The anniversary of A Blade So Black has passed. And your baby is couple of years old now!
6. Can you enlighten us on what the journey was like? Going from writing it, to having someone pick it up, to publishing it and having a growing a fan base of The Nightmare-verse series?
It had been more than ten years of trying by that point. As I said, I’d written about four books before that. Maybe closer to 3.75, sometimes you don’t reach THE END, and that’s okay. I was on my second agent at the time, the one who sold A BLADE SO BLACK. See, she wasn’t even an agent when I started writing or querying in the beginning. She was fairly new when I signed with her. And I had stopped counting query rejections a long time before then. I stopped at 250, to give you an idea. Then, after signing with her, we were on submission for two years before it sold.
So, this has been a long, long road, and not the easiest trying to get a story about a Black girl fighting monsters out there without some sort of pain narrative, you know how people love the trauma porn. Now? It’s kinda of surreal. People ask to take pictures with me and want me to sign things and sometimes when I talk to folks, they get really excited about it, and I’m happy, really, but I’m also at the same time like “y’all have no idea how much of a dork I am!” I’m not used to it. I don’t think I’ll ever be used to it, but I’m glad something I’m doing brings people joy. And I’m grateful too be so blessed. I got the best readers in the world. Thank you Jesus for them.
The third Nightmare-Verse book, A Crown So Cursed is coming out in the spring of 2021. When I finished A Dream So Dark, I was expecting a little preview like at the end of A Blade So Black. The book seemed to end on good terms, but I was surprised that it went right to acknowledgements.
7. Do you think you can spare even the tiniest detail of the next book?
IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII guess I can spare a few. I know book two ended on good terms, but don’t get comfortable. There’s lots more cosplay, more fighting, further dipping into Wonderland’s history, love, curses, betrayal, shenanigans, MORE NANA-K!, and hopefully all the answers everyone is looking for. Well, maybe most of them. The Nightmare-Verse is a pretty big place. Or, at least it will be, if I have anything to say about it.
If you haven’t checked out L.L. McKinney yet, I highly suggest that you do. She’s an incredible writer who has personally influenced me and people like me who are fans of fantasy, young adult fiction, diverse literature and just amazing novels all together. This series and her other works are just a few of the novels across genres that are overlooked because the cover art is of a black person or a person of color and the potential reader doesn’t think they can relate.
You might not be able to at first but give a novel you would have passed by a chance. You’ll hear from new voices who come from different places, who have lived different lives than you. But as you read through, you will find things you can relate to on a human level. The themes of growing up, anxiety, pressure, fear and loss are always relatable, no matter where they come from.