3 Seas Literary Agency, led by my agent Michelle Grajkowski, is having a great holiday giveaway this week. While collecting 29 recipes from 3 Seas authors, you’ll be earning entries toward the giveaway of a $300 gift card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes. Many of the authors, myself included, are doing additional giveaways on our sites or social media platforms (my details included below).

To find out the rules and all the details about the contest, visit the 3 Seas Facebook page here.

To enter my additional contest for a chance to win 5 surprise books from my backlist, be sure to sign up for my newsletter here and like my Facebook author page here if you haven’t already. I’ll choose a winner at the end of the week. Remember, reading books curled up in a blanket with a hot cup of hot chocolate, coffee or tea is a great way to pass the winter months. And books make great holiday gifts. :)

And now for my recipe, one that was given to me by a co-worker years ago after I nearly inhaled all the cookies she’d brought to a work function.

PISTACHIO CREAM CHEESE FINGERS

1 cup sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 3/4-ounce package instant pistachio flavored pudding and pie filling mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (3 squares) semi-sweet chocolate or 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon shortening

In large bowl, beat sugar, margarine or butter, and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In medium bowl, combine flour, pudding mix, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to cream cheese mixture; mix well. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least one hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets. Wet hands to avoid dough sticking to your hands. Shape teaspoonfuls of dough into 1 1/2-inch fingers. Place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 9-12 minutes or until set. Cool completely. In small saucepan, melt chocolate and shortening, stirring constantly until well blended. Drizzle a small amount of chocolate over each cookie. Allow chocolate to set before storing.

Happy baking and Happy Holidays!

Showrunners Director Des Doyle introduces the film at the premiere at the Television Academy.

No, one of my books hasn’t been made into a film, although a girl can dream. But I recently had an exciting trip to Hollywood, my first. A couple of years ago, I happened upon an announcement of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a documentary film called Showrunners, about the creative forces behind the development and running of television programs. These include names like Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof, Ron Moore and Jane Espenson, among others. As I read about the project and the perks available at different funding levels, I felt myself becoming more and more excited. Anyone who knows me or who even follows me on social media knows that I’m a big fan of quality TV programs. I derive not only pleasure but also inspiration for my own writing from well-written TV shows, things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Doctor Who.

A large Emmy at the side of the theater

In fact, though I’ve never met Joss Whedon, I credit him for preventing me from quitting my journey to become a published novelist. Several people have heard my “Summer of Buffy” story, but for those who haven’t it goes like this: It was the summer of 2006, and I’d been trying to get published for a decade. I’d left my full-time position as a magazine journalist the year before to pursue the dream full-time, but those intervening months had continued to be filled with rejections from publishers. I was at an emotional low, wondering if I should just quit and start applying for journalism jobs again. After all, I couldn’t make myself write. Why bother? It was just going to be wasted effort anyway, right? Instead, each day after my husband went to work I stretched out on the couch and watched TV. I’d borrowed the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD from my friend Jody Wallace. I’d never seen the show (I know, gasp!), but it seemed every writer I knew talked about it in worshipful tones at writing conferences. Let’s just say that when you’re watching 8-10 episodes a day, you start going through seasons quickly.

White Witch, book 1 in the Coven series

That summer, I ended up watching all seven seasons of Buffy, all five seasons of Angel and the first season of Eric Kripke’s Supernatural. And even though I wasn’t thinking about writing, a writer’s brain is never truly not thinking about writing. Somewhere in the back of my brain, an idea started to form. By the end of the summer, that idea wouldn’t leave me be, so I sat down and rough drafted a young adult novel called Coven. That novel eventually got expanded into the opening trilogy in my Coven series, which was bought a few years later by Bell Bridge Books. Though that wasn’t my first book sale, it was the book that kept me going, got me excited about writing again, and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award the next summer in the Young Adult category.

So, yes, I credit TV and excellent TV writers with the eventual achievement of my dream of becoming a published author.

Now, back to the Kickstarter campaign. In my mind, I was thinking two things: 1) If I donated at one of the top levels, I could go to a Hollywood premiere and meet some of the showrunners as well as the forces behind the documentary, and 2) It couldn’t hurt to meet people in the TV/film industry if I wanted my work to eventually be translated to TV/film. It might not help, but it couldn’t hurt. I talked to my husband about it because it wasn’t an insubstantial amount of money for a writer who isn’t hitting the New York Times list on a regular basis. J.K. Rowling, I am not. At least not yet. :) He, being the awesomely supportive guy he is, said he was okay with it. So with my heart beating rapidly, I hit the donate button.

The premiere was initially projected to happen the next May. But as often happens with creative endeavors, obstacles presented themselves (sort of like how my current book is progressing). The director and producers were apologetic, but I was like, “Dudes, stuff happens.” I’m sure they got tired of my periodic questions about timing when I was trying to make sure I didn’t schedule conferences, speaking engagements or vacations that would conflict with the premiere. There was no way barring severe illness or me croaking that I was going to miss that event.

The Southwest Chief

Over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve communicated via e-mail with Director Des Doyle and Co-Producer Ryan Patrick McGuffey, two really nice guys from Ireland. By the time I found out a couple of months ago that the premiere was going to take place in October of this year, I was looking forward to meeting them as much as anyone else. I appreciate dedication to and passion for a creative endeavor, and they had it in spades. Through nothing more than e-mail conversations and Facebook posts, I could tell how hard they were working, along with the rest of their team, to bring Showrunners to the screen. It wasn’t unlike the months or years of work that go into developing an idea for a book, writing that first draft, several rounds of editing, providing information for the cover design, etc.

I indulged my love of Disney with my first trip to Disneyland.

When I found out the premiere date, I booked my trip via Amtrak (I like sitting on the train watching the world go by and having time to write without interruptions). I also grabbed my friend Lara Hansen and headed to the mall for something to wear to the premiere. I am a girl after all. Since I was going to be going all the way to California from Tennessee anyway, I decided to go a couple of days early and visit Disneyland. I’ve been to Disney World several times and love it, but I’d never been to Disneyland. So I spent two days walking around Disneyland’s two parks, riding rides, eating ice cream and enjoying the Southern California sunshine.

With the Showrunners gang

Then it was up to Hollywood from Anaheim and dinner with Des; Ryan; two other Kickstarter backers; Tara Bennett, who wrote the companion book; and Executive Producers Jason Rose and Jimmy Nguyen. We went to Cafe Med on Sunset Blvd. As I sat there and chatted with everyone, all very lovely people, I thought about how a young girl growing up in rural western Kentucky in the 1980s could have never imagined eating at a restaurant in Hollywood with filmmakers. It was sort of a surreal moment, which would be followed with more surreal moments the next evening.

With Jane Espenson

Finally, the big night came. The red carpet premiere of Showrunners was held at the Television Academy, complete with big Emmy statues on the sides of the theater. Prior to the showing, I got to hang out in the “green room” and met Janet Tamaro (showrunner for Rizzoli and Isles), Hart Hanson (showrunner for Bones, and a really nice, fun guy) and the fabulous Jane Espenson, who has written for or been the showrunner for eight wonderful shows of which I’ve been a fan, including Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood and Once Upon a Time). I kept thinking about how good friend and fellow writer Tanya Michaels would possibly pass out if she were there. She adores Jane (and the writing sprints she does on Twitter) as well.

At the appointed time, we were led into the theater, which was already nearly full with guests, many of them Television Academy members. I ended up sitting on the end of the second row next to Jane, across the aisle from Damon Lindelof (showrunner for LOST and currently The Leftovers). I did mention surreal, right?

With Bones showrunner Hart Hanson (second from left) and fellow Kickstarter backers Jennifer and Michael

The film was a great mixture of behind-the-scenes truth telling and humor. I and the rest of the audience laughed out loud many times at what the showrunners had to say. The next “I can’t believe this is happening, and if I’m dreaming don’t wake me up” moment came as the credits rolled and I saw my name listed with the other Kickstarter backers. I might have uttered an “Awesome.” I can only hope that Jane Espenson didn’t think she was sitting next to a dork. But seriously, when is my name ever going to be in the same credits as Joss Whedon again?

After the credits finished, several of the showrunners involved came out onto the stage for a panel discussion moderated by Tara Bennett. In addition to Tamaro, Hanson, and Lindelof, the panel included Matthew Carnahan (House of Lies), Ali LeRoi (Everyone Hates Chris), Mike Royce (Men of a Certain Age and the cancelled-too-soon Enlisted), and Steven S. DeKnight, showrunner for one of my all-time favorite shows, Spartacus (yes, I’m the girl who had a pendant made of Agron’s shield). It was a great panel, and I soaked up every moment, knowing that the magical Hollywood evening was coming to an end.

With Spartacus showrunner Steven S. DeKnight

As I went back to my hotel and packed to head home the next day, I thought back over the entire experience. I’d met some really interesting, talented and nice people, and I came away newly energized to write really good stories and to finally try out that scriptwriting software I bought to adapt one of my books. After all, a girl can dream, but the dreams have to be accompanied by hard work. Luckily, I’m used to both.

If you’d like to learn more about Showrunners or get a copy for yourself, visit the official site here.

Chances are most people reading this have bought at least one book this year and read that book plus others you already had. Did you enjoy any of those books? And if so, did you leave review for the books anywhere? I’d say nine times out of ten, the answer to this last question is no. And I’d have to answer “no” as well. I’m just like everyone else in that my time is limited or I simply forget to write a review for a book I enjoyed. But I need to be better about leaving those important reviews at sites such as Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble and via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Why are reviews important, particularly if you enjoyed a book? There are several reasons. Here are a few.

1. We live in a world where people are much more likely to vent online if they hate something than to post something nice if they enjoyed it. Sad but true. So if you have 100 people read a book and 98 love it but only the two who thought it was garbage post a review, guess what. People who come across that book on a retailer’s site are going to think it’s garbage. They won’t know about the 98 people who thought it was a wonderful story with engaging characters. Those negative reviews could keep people who might enjoy the book from buying it, depriving the author of sales that are necessary to help pay his or her bills.

2. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, authors look for good opportunities to get the word out about their books. Sometimes online advertising venues have requirements such as a certain number of positive reviews on retailer sites before they will even consider selling you an ad. The same is often true of book review sites, especially if those sites are popular and have a lot of clout among readers.

3. I feel like a larger number of reviews, especially positive ones, helps books get seen on sites such as Amazon.com. We authors have heard about the mysterious algorithms that determine which books pop up on things such as the “you might also enjoy this” suggestions, but we don’t know what aspects of our books are weighted more heavily than others. Visibility is important in a marketplace flooded with books, so every little bit helps. I have seen mentioned elsewhere that it takes 10 reviews on Amazon before a book can be added to those “also bought” and “you might also like” lists, so my goal is to have at least that many for each of my books. But the more, the merrier.

4. Word of mouth. If someone sees a positive review of a book and decides to give it a try, he or she might also enjoy it enough to not only leave a review but also tell their friends about it. We’ve all heard stories about how word of mouth sent a book from obscurity to the bestseller list. Sure, it’s a long shot, but it’s better than no shot.

Authors truly do appreciate the time and effort it takes readers to write and post reviews. We know your time is every bit as valuable as ours, so I for one would like to thank everyone who has ever taken the time to leave a review for one of my books. And if you leave one for any of my books in the future, I would be ever so grateful. And if you’d like to share this post via any of the social media below, that would be awesome, too. Thanks!

Why romance? by Trish Milburn

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer from the time I was young, and even before I was aware there was such a thing as a romance genre I was writing romantic stories. I still have a school project I did in the 6th grade that was a cloth-bound little book that I wrote and illustrated. It’s the story of how a prince and princess fell in love and lived happily ever after.

When I was in high school, I began reading books in the romance genre courtesy of a good friend and her mom. I fell in love with those stories, even though some aspects of those ’80s romances would likely make me cringe now. But at their heart was the basic human desire to be loved and to be able to share the love within us with someone else. Like most things, the romance genre has evolved. While you might still find damsels in distress, they are just as likely to save themselves as be saved by some knight in shining armor. But even though the heroines have become stronger and more self-reliant, that doesn’t mean they don’t want love in their lives. And despite those critics out there who like to denigrate the romance genre, I firmly believe that love is a basic human need. We can have all the food and water our bodies require, but we’ll still crave someone to love and be loved by. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Honestly, in a world where the news is filled with one horrible thing after another, I think positive stories of falling in love and making a commitment to another person is just what we all need. Some light to counter all the encroaching darkness, something to remind us that the world isn’t all bad, that there is still reason to hope. I was reminded of this when I passed a sign recently that bore a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

I’ve never understood the need some critics have of writing romance off as unworthy. There are a lot of readers in the world, so there is room for romance just the same as there is for mystery, thrillers, nonfiction, religious fiction, and literary fiction. The existence of the romance genre doesn’t keep a literary novel from being published. Good writing of all types will rise to the top and find an audience. So I would challenge critics to refrain from putting down another genre in hopes of elevating their own. And this goes for fans of romance, too. It bothers me just as much to hear romance authors or readers putting down literary fiction as it does to hear the authors and readers of literary fiction poo-pooing romance. Rise above your prejudices, and realize that just because something isn’t to your taste doesn’t mean it is less or unworthy. And I challenge you to read the types of books that you may have in the past looked down upon. You might be surprised when you’re touched by a story of love, of struggle, of deduction or a unique perspective on the world around us.