Monday, November 30, 2015

Romancing The Smokies, 2016

You may remember me talking before about my next signing appearance, an event called Romancing the Smokies, which will be held in Alcoa, TN on March 19th, 2016 (I also got a GORGEOUS new banner, and several awesome swag/giveaway ideas). In the past two weeks, I've gotten a few emails from readers wanting to ask me about this event, with questions varying from "what day is it" to "how can I get there" to "how much does it cost", so I thought I'd take a few minutes to put together a little FAQ for those among you who want to know about this event or are planning to attend.

What's the event about?
Romancing the Smokies is an event hosted by the Hummingbird Place, and is a signing event / meet-and-greet luncheon for romance authors and their readers. At Romancing the Smokies, readers will be invited to come in and purchase books (or bring books you've already purchased) to be signed by the attending authors. This might also be a fun time to grab a quick photo with your favorite authors, a memory you can keep forever after the event is over. But the major excitement of this event lies in the luncheon to be held prior to the signing, where VIP attendees will share good food and more intimate conversation with the attending authors. If you're especially lucky, you may even find yourself sitting right next to your favorite author during the luncheon!

Alright, so who's going to be there?
The keynote speaker for this event is USA Today Bestseller, Tonya Kappes. Featured authors (at this point, according to the event website) will include the following: Destiny Blake, Hallee Bridgeman, JK Ensley, Leanne Tyler, Mallory Kane, USA Today Bestseller Nancy Naigle, Sandy Sullivan, Shannon West, Suzan Tisdale, Trista Ann Michaels, and of course, myself. But that's still not all! Also attending (and signing) as sponsors of Romancing The Smokies are: Andrea Renee Smith, Carolynn Carey, Debra Parmley, Jean Joachim, Juli Alexander, Kate McKeever, Kathi Daley, and Vicki Vaught.

All those authors under one roof? And I can hang out with them? How much does it cost?
If you're a blogger, author, or other industry professional who would like to network at this event, Gold and Silver sponsorships are still available here (for $265 and $107, respectively), and the perks of either option are listed on the event website. Not a professional but still want a chance to enjoy a fabulous luncheon with the authors you love? That's easy, too. Just click here, and purchase a reader's luncheon ticket for just $44!

Do I need to purchase books there, or can I bring my own?
Most authors will have books available for purchase at their tables, but as some authors are coming in from out of town, you can guarantee having your favorite book signed by contacting the author to preorder a copy or bringing your own copy with you.

How much will books cost?
Book price varies by author, but most range from $5 to $20. Most authors are also able to take your credit/debit payment via a paypal or square card-reading device, but you can also use cash, which is generally easier on all parties. It might be good to have both on you though, just in case you happen to find that one book you just can't go home without.

Where/When is it again?
Romancing the Smokies will be held on Saturday, March 19th, 2016, at the Knoxville Airport Hilton in Knoxville, TN.

What if I'm from out of town?
Not to worry, the hotel has reserved a block of rooms for out of town travelers wishing to fly in for the event! The hotel is right next to the McGhee Tyson airport (for easy traveling, there's even a connected walkway!), they have room service and a few other on-site dining options, and the surrounding area is equipped with everything you could find yourself in need of. Once you've got your flight all settled, you can register to book your room here.

Where else can I find more information about this event?
Check out the Facebook like page. And make sure you mark yourself as attending on the specific event page, too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What's On Your Bucket List?

Did you ever see that movie, The Bucket List? It's got Morgan Freeman in it? And Jack Nicholson? It's one of my all-time favorite movies -- I still remember how incredibly inspired I felt the first time I watched that movie ...

For those who haven't seen it, it's a movie about two men with terminally ill cancer, and as they come from very different backgrounds, they have led very different lives. But they meet in the hospital, and as they get to know each other, dying together sort of forces an unwilling friendship between them. As they each face their own impending death, they have conversations about their lives, the things they did ... and the things they didn't do. And then, they decide to get up and go do those things while they still can.

So I guess you can see why it's called the Bucket List, then.

Do have a bucket list? There are so many people who keep them, and I'm always touched by them, especially the really heartwrenching ones people put together for kids, or the sort-of-funny-even-though-it's-sad ones people do for their dogs. It amazes me to see people checking huge things off their bucket lists, and I can only imagine the satisfaction of totally finishing one. Hell, I've hardly even begun to check things off of mine!

Although I did check off one small thing, one very small thing:

A few weeks ago, just for kicks, I paid for the car behind me for the first time. I didn't need to, I didn't know what the total was, I didn't know if maybe the car behind me at Starbucks was buying one coffee for the driver, or one each for the driver and passenger, or one each for the driver and passenger and people I couldn't see in the backseat ... or if they were two people sent out from some office somewhere to pick up coffee for everyone back at work.

I'm glad it wasn't that last one though.

Still, it felt good to wonder if the person behind me was having a bad day, one of those days where you're just like, "Screw it, I deserve a treat today! I'm getting a coffee/pair of shoes/new couch/whatever!" I wondered if maybe they just got the news that they're getting a raise, or if there were two people in the car because one of them broke down and the other one came to pick them up. Maybe they just came from the doctor's office. Maybe it was good news, maybe it wasn't.

Who knows, maybe it was just two people on their way to a meeting like I was, and they wanted something to drink like I did. Whatever. I didn't need a reason, other than that I could do it and it had been on my bucket list for quite a while. So, I ordered my coffee, I pulled up to the window, I held out my card to pay the barista, and I couldn't hold back a smile as I said, "Swipe this for the car behind me, too."

She looked at me for just a second in surprise, broke into a grin, and said, "No problem." I heard her tell someone else when she turned away to swipe the card, and I grinned a little harder.

And really, maybe it doesn't mean anything, you know? I mean, it's just a coffee. It's not going to change the world. But I can tell you what it might mean to me if I pulled up to that window in the midst of a really horrible day and held out my card to pay for a coffee I felt guilty for splurging on anyway, only to be told that the car in front of me had taken care of it for me, just because.

I know you can imagine as you read this what it might mean for you.

Have you ever had someone pick up your tab somewhere? Or have you ever picked up the tab for someone else? If you have, tell me about it in the comments.

(For those of you reading this by email subscription, just click here to get to the online version of the blog.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Which of Your Books Is Your Favorite?" -- Part IV

Several weeks ago, I had someone ask me which of my books is my favorite, and lately I've been thinking hard about that question. Maybe I could have taken it easy and said that Selkie is my favorite because it was my first novel and it's fun to write fantasy. Or I could have said that any of the first three Kingsley Series books were my favorite, because they deal so closely with real life issues and I love stories that show the depth of the human personal journey. On that tack, I could have said that Fighting For Freedom is my favorite, since it fits so closely with my personal life and the experiences I dealt with in my childhood.

Actually, I did all of those.

But that didn't cover all of my books, and I have to tell you honestly that all of my books are each my favorite in different ways. I've explained that in previous posts (each of the "my favorite" links above goes to a different post), but what I haven't gotten to yet is why my newest release, More Than Friends, is my favorite of my books.

More Than Friends is the fourth book in the Kingsley Series, and is about Michael Kingsley's attempt to heal and move on after divorce. Michael is the first of his family to ever get a divorce, and that alone would have been a hard blow to his spirit and his pride as a man. But when you couple that with the fact that his wife left him with no explanation, you have a man with a truly broken heart. We come into his story a few years after the fact, and the worst is behind him, but he's still struggling to cope in a way that's constructive and healthy. Lucky for him, he has a friend ...

This was the first book I ever wrote that was truly from a male perspective, complete with input and opinions from more than a few men that I talked to during the writing process, and it was very hard. I'm not kidding; I even threw it out and completely started over a few times, and this book is responsible in part for a two year gap in my publishing schedule, because even though I knew the characters and the story, the words simply would not come. This book represents something real for me, something that every writer knows -- the fear that I'm all done, the fear that there are no more words. The burden of disappointing myself and my readers. The pressure to get the book out. The emails from readers. And a heavy depression as I continued to let myself and my readers down. Depression as I sat in front of my computer each day, staring at a blank screen that stayed blank no matter how many words I put together.

This book represents my commitment to myself as a career author, and to you as a Brandi Kennedy book reader. It represents my seriousness and my willingness to keep trying.

Just like Michael, who did decide to try his hand at love just one more time ...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Which of Your Books Is Your Favorite?" -- Part III

Now that you know why each of the books in The Kingsley Series qualifies as a "favorite" book for me (Part I), and you know why Selkie (Part II) is also a "favorite" for me, I'd like to spend some time telling you why Fighting For Freedom is my "favorite" of my books.

For those of you who have followed my writing for any period of time (or read the author letter at the end of Fighting For Freedom), you'll already have an idea of why this particular book means so very much to me ... but for those that might be new to my writing, let me tell you about a girl.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl, the daughter of a single mother. The mother was a high school drop-out divorcee struggling to get by with two kids and often, two jobs. She was probably scared and overwhelmed and terribly, incredibly lonely. She'd dated around a little without much success, and had broken off a relationship with a man she loved very much because he was young and she didn't want to saddle him with two kids he shouldn't have been responsible for. I was one of those kids, and I can tell you with all honesty that my brother and I still think of Greg from time to time. We missed him when he and mom broke up.

She missed him, too. A lot. You might even say she was ripe for the picking.

So when she met HIM, she probably thought he was charming, with his bad boy look and his abundant charisma. She probably thought his tattoos were sexy and his drinking/drugging lifestyle was a fascinating contrast to life as a responsible single mom trying to shoulder all the full-time responsibilities. In the beginning, he was charming. He was funny and different, and I think he had a gold tooth, too. He was intriguing and he rode motorcycles, and his best friend's name was Pork Chop and his mother had a horse. He took me for a ride on it once, when I was little. I rode in front of him, and he kept one hand on my waist to hold onto me.

My hands are shaking, writing this. They shook a lot when I wrote Fighting For Freedom, too.

The wedding was beautiful but by then, things weren't quite so sunshiny. I remember feeling pretty in my dress, which was a cream lace dress with a cream silky-satin tank slip underneath. I feel like I remember having the slips in a couple of colors, but maybe I'm just remembering being at the store and seeing the slips, all hanging together in so many bright colors. They held the wedding at his mother's big house, but I didn't want the wedding. I didn't want them to get married. Maybe I was already afraid of him by then. Now, looking back, I wonder if my mother was afraid of him yet. I have to think she wasn't, that she didn't realize what she was doing to us as a family, or I'll hate her for what I went through and the things I remember seeing.

Once they were married, she was as good as trapped. She lost everything because of him. Her car was repo'd, she ended up losing her job at least once. She almost lost her life. So did my brother.

Damn, this is hard to write. Maybe that's why I've put it off.

Do you like bologna? Back then, we were poor white trailer trash of the worst kind, and we ate cheap Oscar Meyer bologna sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip and Kraft American Cheese for lunch more often than we didn't. And HE liked things done right, you know? He liked the trailer kept a certain way. He liked his wife to behave in certain ways. He appreciated a certain measure of fear in the children. And he ruled with an iron hand.

I still remember being filled with horror, standing in the driveway outside the trailer one afternoon, watching him wrap that iron hand around my mother's throat. I remember looking down and realizing that her feet weren't touching the porch anymore. What I can't remember is whether it was because she put too much Miracle Whip on his sandwich, or not enough.

I remember a blue glass bowl. My mom used to be the kind of mom that would make dinner and actually serve it all at the table, in serving bowls. She had made something with french fries that night, and they were in this big blue glass bowl, lined with paper towels. I don't know what set him off, but if I close my eyes, I can still see that bowl flying toward me, over my head. I can still hear it shattering in the hallway behind me.

I've heard this story a thousand times, the one where HE was playing with my older brother in the trailer we lived in. They were playing cops and robbers, shooting at each other with BB guns. My brother ducked into a bedroom, poked his head back out to see where HE was, and HE fired a BB toward my brother. My brother ducked back, the BB passed him, ricocheted off the microwave door in the kitchen, and when my brother stepped out of the bedroom, the BB hit him in the eye. I have never actually believed that story.

He tried to murder his daughter once, but I wasn't there so I don't know the whole story. I know that my mother tried to save the girl, told her to go hide in the car. I know he got into his truck and threatened to run it right over my mom's car, with his daughter inside. I know my mom stood in the way. I know he did it anyway, and she ended up pinned between his truck and her car, for the sake of his daughter's life.

I remember being beaten with a ping pong paddle and watching the broken paddle fly across the room because he hit me so hard that it snapped right off the handle.

I remember being humiliated, standing naked in the office at school while police and investigators took pictures of the bruises all over my body. On more than one occasion.

There are countless other stories too, ones so gruesome that I've blocked them away and I can't remember.

By the time I was in fourth grade, it was over -- at least for me. I was removed from the home for my own safety, and my mother and brother were left to fend for themselves for a year. Until it finally got so bad that he ended up in prison and my mother ended up dead.

That's how I know it's totally possible for what happened to Christine in Fighting For Freedom to have happened. It's possible to be in such a horrible situation that it kills you, and yet somehow you hold on. It's possible to just hold on for long enough to be saved, like my mother was.

She was about my age when she had her first heart attack. She had a blood clot move through her heart and into her left shoulder on its way to her brain. Had it not gotten lodged in the veins in her shoulder joint, she'd have had a massive stroke that day when the clot hit her brain. She'd have died in a way that there's no coming back from.

But that blood clot was the start of everything changing. I wish I knew how it all happened. I wish I knew how it happened that HE ended up fighting to save her arm, that she ended up dead on an operating table, that she ended up so sick she had to move in with my grandmother to be taken care of for months at a time.

I wish, too, that I could remove her memories of him. I wish I could have back the mother she was before HE killed her. Now she's messed up forever because of everything he put her through, and I can only imagine what she remembers that I don't.

Still, her memories are a part of her, as mine are a part of me. I know she has PTSD, and I know that I have it too. I know what it feels like to triple check the locks on your house, and how good it feels to know your dog would eat someone to protect you. I know what it feels like to walk around in the dark, listening to every sound, attending to every breath of the wind.

I know what it means to see shock on a boyfriend's face when a moment of play crossed a memory line for me and I reacted without meaning to, protecting myself from a flashback danger that wasn't even there. I know what the guilt feels like, to think I've become what I once feared and despised with all my heart. And I know the shame that came with having to explain that reaction. (Thankfully, he was very understanding.)

But I know too, what it means to walk around armed and ready to protect myself at any cost. I know how hard it is to move on and rebuild, to become strong and unafraid in spite of my own fragility. I know the pride I felt in that first moment when I realized I wasn't afraid anymore.

And I wrote Fighting For Freedom because I want other women to know those things too. That's why it's my favorite of all of my books. (It could be your favorite, too ... check out the blurb and buy links here if you're interested.)

And now that I've written so much for this post, I guess I'll have to tell you why More Than Friends is my favorite of my books next time. I promise, it won't be as hard to read as this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Guess What's Live?

More Than Friends is now live!!

Michael Kingsley is a broken man. How could he not be, when the wife he thought he’d love forever, the one he thought would love him forever, just picked up and left him with no explanation?

It took him a while, but he’s finally putting his life back together. He’s doing his job, he’s paying his bills – he’s even getting back into his old hobbies. He’s finally doing alright again … mostly. And maybe he does drink too much, but at least he’s finally stopped sleeping around. Now he’s settled on one woman, a curvaceous and flirtatious bartender who never misses an opportunity to warm his bed.

But when Michael’s mother ends up in the hospital, it’s his best friend Renee who stays by his side, and he begins to see her in a whole new way. When they take a step beyond the boundaries of friendship that cannot be undone, what will happen to their relationship?

Will they find something more, something neither of them even realized was there? Or will the fear of changing – and maybe losing – their friendship, be the thing that ends it all?

Introduce yourself to Michael and the rest of the Kingsley family today; books 1-4 are available wherever books are sold. For direct purchase links to each book on each of the various markets, please see the Kingsley Series page.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Haunted

I wanted to take a break from talking about myself and my favorites of my books (because, hello narcissism) to tell you about something that has been haunting me for days.

Sort of.

Y'all know it was Halloween last weekend, right?

Okay. So let me set the stage here. My oldest daughter is eleven, and I feel that she is getting too old to be trick or treating. It's increasingly difficult to find costumes of what she wants to be that aren't oversexed hooker versions, and I just don't want her dressing like that. Not to mention, we never actually eat the candy anyway. Last year she stayed home with me to hand out candy while her dad took our youngest trick or treating. And this year she was going to do it, too. But ... we still wanted to do something big, something fun, something "grown up" to replace the old trick or treat tradition.

"So," we thought, "why not go to a haunted something and get the hell scared out of ourselves?" She loved the idea. I loved the idea.

We began planning.

I looked up several different places, including one that's apparently so scary you have to sign health waivers before you can get in. You know, in case they actually prove that it's possible for someone to be scared TO DEATH. That particular place has five separate attractions, and if you actually make it through all of them, they give you a refund. And I think they don't let anyone under 18 in or something.

Because they take scaring people VERY seriously.

Unfortunately for them, I don't like urine running down my legs, so I chose to look elsewhere.

Frightworks? No, they recommend no one under 12 years old. Hmm. Stumped.

But then, what about the haunted trail at Cherokee Caverns? It's local, it's not too costly. They recommend no one under ten. Perfect!

So we set off on Friday October 30, in company with my cousin Dana and her little charmer of a son. He's the same age as my oldest daughter, so these two have literally grown up together, and they were excited, although I'm not sure anyone was as excited as me.

We get there, we check in, buy tickets, wait in line. And then it starts. Outside, you guys. In the woods. At night. And all I could think was, "Screw all the scary stuff! Don't they know there's bugs out here!?"

We go into this beaten little shack, get told a creepy story about an old abandoned town run by a man who lets the townsfolk stay around (as long as they keep luring in "fresh bodies" for him to "experiment on", of course), and we go out through the back door. In the dark. In the woods.

And I'm the caboose.

It's Dana's son, then Dana, then Josephine, then me. So of course I'm noticing every rustle of leaves, every crunch of grass. From behind me. Because someone is following us. Scarily. Of course.

From this point, everything becomes a foggy haze of alternating fear and amusement, so I can't remember which order all the creepers came in. But here's the rundown, as best I can give it.

There was a clown, because why the hell not? But not like a circus clown ... sort of like circus meets Saw movies, whatever that creeper's name was. Jigsaw?

Anyway. That was fun. Not. I think my poor kid will never see clowns the same way again ... and she's got these big gorgeous eyes that used to be the purest blue and have now gone a bit green, and let me tell y'all, I thought her eyes were going to POP. OUT.

But that was just the beginning. I got startled a lot, but I didn't really feel the first licks of genuine fear until a guy watched us walk by without trying to get us. He welcome us to town, and welcomed us to dinner.

To BE dinner.

Ew.

It was after that that the chainsaws started.

And I mean, I've joked a lot over the years about the size of my booty, and I've joked that if someone could just cut it off ...

Y'all, it's pretty FREAKING scary when someone actually tries to. In the dark. In the woods. While your kid is screaming bloody murder.

I swear, I was running with my ass tucked in so far, I probably looked like I didn't have one. My ass was pulled in like the curve side of a comma. My body was a parenthesis. I ain't kiddin'.

Then we walked into this room, all creepy with a tv on that just had static on the screen like the old days when channels would actually go off the air. The guy in there was standing next to a sink counter,  cutting up body parts with a machete, and everything was covered in blood. The counter, the walls. The guy.

He was pretty chill, though, he didn't even try to be scary. He just turned to the curtain behind him, looked at us, and opened the curtain for us to pass through.

Except he used his bloody machete to do it, and the space was so small we almost had to rub up against him to get by.

I won't lie. I got chills. I shuddered a little. I might have pushed Joey a little to make her go faster when I realized the guy was still behind me.

And then more chainsaws. I remember A LOT of chainsaws.

But I'm pretry sure that's the best $26 I've spent in a long time. I can't wait til next year. 
REAL CHARACTERS. HONEST LOVE. BRANDI KENNEDY BOOKS.