Listen to what your body is telling you


by Jackie Braun

I’m too much of a hypochondriac to ignore changes in my health. But sometimes those changes are so gradual that it isn’t until you really start to feel like crap that you realize something is wrong.


This is me on the drive down to Florida a little over a week ago. It’s a 19-hour drive if you do it in a straight shot. Is it any wonder I napped? Can’t blame that on anemia.

That’s what happened to me. I’d felt tired and foggy for a long time. At first I wrote it off as stress. We all have lots of that, right? And I’d been through some challenging times personally and professionally, so it stood to reason.

But then it got ridiculous. I was so tired that I began napping once or twice a day. No amount of caffeine perked me up. I could drink a pot of coffee and by 10 a.m. I would be on the couch, exhausted. I’d get back up a couple hours later, work for a bit and then find myself on the couch again.

I also had a hard time focusing, to the point that I sometimes found it difficult to follow a newscast or the plot of a television program.

I’m sure you can guess what this did to my writing. Words came at a trickle. Every day I got up and seemed to rewrite the same section of whatever book I was working on. I felt as though I was in the movie “Ground Hog Day.”

I managed to finish my last four or five books, but not without deadline extensions.

A year and a half ago, I mentioned my ongoing fatigue and fogginess to my doctor. My thyroid seemed a likely culprit. I had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism in my 20s and have been taking medication ever since. But even after my dosage was tweaked, I still didn’t feel like myself.

Same for the regime of B12 shots. I’d perk up for a bit, but soon would fall back into my slump.

I wasn’t just tired, I was apathetic. I didn’t feel depressed, though. I’ve experienced clinical depression before. This was different. I just didn’t have the energy to care. Then, at one of those blood pressure machines at the drug store, I discovered my blood pressure was low. I’ve always been on the low side, but this was low even for me.

Well, after a whole battery of tests at my annual physical, it was discovered in late May that I am anemic. I’m happy to know the cause. And delighted it was not as some suggested, the fact that I am now 50 and “slowing down.” Pffft!

REVENGE-BEST-SERVED-HOT[4]I have been taking nearly 1,000 mg of iron a day for more than two months. I am slowly starting to feel human. What caused the iron deficiency is still not clear. More follow-up is in order.

But my advice to anyone who is feeling scattered and tired is to listen to your body. Go to the doctor and don’t stop going until you get the answers you need.

Jackie Braun is the author of more than 35 romances, including Revenge Best Served Hot, out now from Entangled Indulgence. You can find it here


Chokecherries Anyone?


by Donna Alward

The chokecherries are ripening.

When I was growing up, we had several trees/shrubs of chokecherries, but we never did anything with them. The birds ate them. I loved the look of them, but once I tried one and my lips puckered up like…well, I won’t use that simile in polite company. But OMG sour!

We have some on our property and I’d like to try doing something with them. I’ve had several suggestions of chokecherry wine, but I’m a little afraid, because the recipe seems a bit more complicated than I’d like. I’ve considered jelly, but would it be too sour? Plus I already make several kinds of spreads – strawberry jam, blackberry jelly, apple butter, peach…

Then I saw “Chokecherry Liqueur”. Easy peasy – sugar, chokecherries, and a big ol’ quart of vodka or gin. It takes some time (50 days). But I suspect I’ll try it. However, it only uses 2 cups of cherries.

So now I’m asking you…have you ever baked or preserved chokecherries? Do you have any ideas for me?



Shirley’s RWA in Pics…



Taking a cue from the great Donna Alward, I’m sharing my RWA conference in pictures, too. Oooh, and a video! Because, you know, things are always better when set to music, especially dessert 😉 I ran a lot, and I ate a lot…sort of two sides of the same coin. Gotta run so I can eat. Gotta eat so I’m not grumpy 😉

First, it was my birthday month, so…cupcake 😉 014d223b6d60623919a8df94ac4bb0c10ab6370a31

Then running, and running into Holly Jacobs afterwards.

Then the Berkley Book signing for ASK ME WHY 01fb63baff0f2af1171548cccdd13daf682db0c6ce

Then some fun with Chocolate Box authors :-)

And the annual Charlie’s Angels pose with Donna Alward and Katherine Garbera:01f1bfee5e4cbe4819b622b1e7dd098387b9b4a348

Cutest appetizer ever!

And the fancy-dancy Rita awards and my awesome dress…




To see all the pictures I took as a video montage, go to this link.

So much fun with some fabulous friends!



Donna’s RWA in pics…


I never take as many photos as I should, and I know Fiona has more, but I’ll share what I’ve got, thanks to my pals who have forwarded some on. It was a wonderful week!


Taken by Fiona – Juniors, day 1 – and a very early breakfast!

Wednesday – Coffee in the bar with Christy McKellen, Barb Wallace, Nicole Flockton and Amy Andrews

Romance “loop” dinner on Friday – Fiona, Jessica Gilmore, Kandy Shepherd, me, and Susan Wilson

The Not My 1st Rodeo authors: Sarah M Anderson, Me, Jenna Bayley-Burke

And I don’t think this lady needs any intro. :)

It was such a fun week, and for me it was all about the people. The last time I was in New York, I did a lot of touristy stuff. But this time I just enjoyed my tribe. :)

The Instant Connection



For our topic of connections this month, we’ve covered family, patient and time connections, to name a few. Yet there’s one connection that I’m always curious about – the instant connection with someone, whether it be a future husband, mate or life-long friend.

I’m talking about instant connection a guy feels for a girl when they meet and vice versa. I’m sure it’s a feeling that can only be described at that moment in time by those experiencing it.

Romance writers describe the connection in novels for that love at first sight or love at first meeting moment.

More than two decades ago, I met this guy in my second year Spanish class. We hit it off immediately. I’d look forward to the class on every Tuesday and Thursday. He’d make me laugh just by purposely mispronouncing a word in Spanish.

He wasn’t a bad boy per se, but he was very different from me. He strolled into classrooms like he didn’t have a care in the world, wearing ripped jeans and a red bandana around his head. Recovering Type A me didn’t exist then. I walked into a classroom with my face in a book, studying and taking everything seriously.

We shared secrets and a love for classic movies and Spanish romances. We’d sit in the snow and talk for hours despite the cold.

I can’t remember the feeling when I was around him but I think it was a warm and fuzzy sense of contentment.


I would for anyone to share with me that instant connection: when, where, what it felt like. It could be something that happened 50 years ago or something that is still ongoing, it doesn’t matter.

Because for me, the best part of love and meeting someone for the first time can be that instant connection.

Happy Monday, everyone!


Abbi :-)

Chocolate Box Reading Recs by Barb Wallace


I’m busy connecting at the RWA National Conference in New York City this week.  If I were a good blogger, I’d live blog the Harlequin party for you all, but like Las Vegas, what happens at that party stays at that party.  Suffice to say I will be pulling out my dance moves along with Susan Meier, Donna Alward, Fiona Harper and Shirley Jump.  There may be photographs on the Facebook page later this month.

Meanwhile the fact that today is Friday means we can all spend the next couple days connecting with a cold drink and a good book. Might I recommend one of these titles, out this month:

Vettori's Damsel in Distress front cover

Vettori’s Damsel in Distress by Liz Fielding. (A Romantic Times Top Pick!)

Geli – who collects stray animals and went to art college – has turned down a full time job in the family business and traveled to Milan to indulge her love of fashion and art and to remind herself that life isn’t all about ice cream.

Things do not start well.

It’s snowing – who knew? There’s a stray kitten – nothing changes. She can’t find her apartment and this is Italy, where the love affair with ice cream began. And then she comes face to face with Dante Vettori…


bride for the Italian Boss

A Bride for the Italian Boss by Susan Meier (Book 1 of the Vineyards of Calanetti)

Passionate chef Rafe Mancini is renowned for his food—and his temper! No one meets his exacting standards, until stand-in maître d’ Daniella Tate breathes new life into his restaurant, and Rafe…

Daniella is only visiting the picturesque Tuscan village of Calanetti, but with Rafe she finds the sense of belonging she’s always craved. Clutching her ticket home, Daniella must make a decision…return to her old, safe life or stay as Rafe’s bride!



Promise to Proposal by Kate Hardy

If they hadn’t written matching online dating profiles, midwife Ruby Fisher would never have admitted her attraction to gorgeous Dr. Ellis Webster! He promised her late husband he’d look after her—and he’s the last guy she should fall for…

Ellis doesn’t do permanent—he’s due in Africa soon! He must shake off this uncomfortable desire for lovely Ruby. Except his plan to help her start dating again fails spectacularly…because she’s the only woman he just doesn’t want to let go of…


What title am I forgetting…. Oh right – when you’re done with the above, consider picking up A Millionaire for Cinderella, my June title.  If you already have, thank you!


Thanks again for everyone who bought Amy Rachiele’s mobster books to honor her husband.  Major (Ret.) Tim Rachiele was laid to rest last week.  We here at the Chocolate Box appreciate all the support you showed her.  Romance readers are wonderful people.  (But you know that, don’t you.)

Remember to look check the Chocolate Box Facebook Page for NY shenanigan photos!



Connections…then and now


bigstock-Social-media-concept-43274035 half sizeWhen I first started writing I was totally on my own. I had my desk, my keyboard and my imagination. I knew no one else who wrote, no editor, had no support group other than my family who almost certainly thought I didn’t know what I was doing but were prepared to indulge me.

Eventually, after several false starts, my first book, An Image of You was published. Family celebrations, lunch out with my editor and back to the keyboard. It was, I have to tell you, lonely.

One day I read a book by a fellow Romance author, Grace Green, that I enjoyed  so much that I wrote her note, sent to the Mills and Boon office and asked if they would pass it on. A while later I had a letter from her and an invitation to join a newsletter group of fellow Mills and Boon authors. We all sent out news and views (by snail mail – no email then) to an author in Australia, she put it together, sent a copy to an author in New Zealand, America and the UK to photocopy and circulate locally. You’re grinning here…

The joy of hearing from fellow authors was unimaginable because only another author can understand what you’re doing, how it feels, the struggle with ideas – and publishers who don’t want you going off piste and doing something “weird”.

Fast forward a couple of years and the printed newsletter became an email loop. Faster, more information, instantly. A chance to chat one to one and the kind of support that you couldn’t buy at any price. And then, along with my first Rita nomination, a trip to the Romance Writers Conference in Washington to meet some of these people. Connecting, sharing ideas, making friends and leading, eventually, to the creation of this blog – a chance to support each other, share our news with a wider audience.

These days our connections have spread to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and include our readers as well as fellow writers. We are a community.

Some of the Chocolate Box Writers will be in New York this week at this year’s Romance Writers’ of America conference. If you’re in New York this evening, you can go along a meet them, buy a book (to support literacy – the publishers give them freely) and make a connection of your own.

The 2015 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing will be on Wednesday, July 22, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the New York Marriott Marquis in the Westside Ballroom


Liz Fielding’s latest Harlequin Romance, Vettori’s Damsel in Distress is out now!

Book Giveaway Vettori

Time well spent


By Donna Alward

So by now I guess you’ve realized that this month we’re talking about connections a lot. At first I thought about making new connections. But then I thought, “what about nurturing the connections I already have?”

As a mom of teens, my family seemed like a good place to start.

In the summer, I spend more time with my husband. He is around more and we walk the dog once or maybe twice a day. We chill and talk more, too.

One way we’ve made time to be together as a family is by working in the vegetable garden. We’ll all go out and do yard work together – weeding, cultivating, transplanting, mowing, whatever. It’s been really nice family time. We’ve always made a point of family dinners, and that gets a little more difficult as the kids get older and have jobs that run over the supper hour. But we do try to have several a week if we can. A mom-and-girl activity is dvr watching, since we like stuff that the lone male member of our family doesn’t – Masterpiece Theatre, for example. So if we get a night where everyone is home, we spool up an episode of Poldark and make some popcorn and prepare to swoon.

One weekend my eldest and I made a road trip to visit my family. The two of us, hanging out, talking, singing along with CDs? It was really great. I think we both enjoyed it.

When my youngest left for a week-long camp, we drove to the university and made an afternoon of it, picking strawberries and having a picnic for our supper before her registration time. One of the things we’ve been meaning to do is grab a take-out lunch and eat at the Public Gardens. It’s so gorgeous there.

As you can see, none of these things are expensive outings. That’s not what connecting is about. It really is about time and UNPLUGGING. I think the unplugging is key. That’s when you really enjoy someone’s company, and I think by reconnecting as a family we’re also demonstrating how you don’t need to be online all the time to be social.



Ask Me Why – a new anthology!


A new anthology is out this month and it’s full of delights, including a novella from Shirley Jump! It’s called ASK ME WHY and each contributing author has included a novella from their ongoing series.

Shirley’s is part of the Southern Belle’s Book Club:  Wrapped Around Your Finger: Maggie McBride is just one of the guys in the hard-knocks world of construction. Until she’s dared to ask Nick Patterson to a wedding, enticing her to knock down some walls—and risk falling in love.

Other authors are Jodi Thomas, Marie Force, and Virginia Kantra. For more info:

Amazon   Barnes and Noble

And you can visit Shirley at her website at http://www.ShirleyJump.com!

The Reader Connection…Or Is That Writer Connection?


Before I became a writer, I was a huge Nora Roberts fan…still am. I would read her books over and over and over again, until one day I started wondering who she was. Was she old? The name Nora suggested to me that she was old. But the ideas in her books were young, fresh. (Remember, there was no Google back then!)

When I began to write, one of my greatest fears was that people would start trying to figure me out from my books, the way I had Nora! LOL So I worried that using “what I knew” would absolutely clue people in on things I might not want revealed. Worse, using ‘what I knew’ I could insult friends and neighbors. LOL If I wrote about the conflicts I knew — bad neighbors, goofy bosses. even marital spats — I might as well name names and I couldn’t have that.

But the more I dipped into this career, the more I realized the real way an author connects with readers and readers inadvertently connect with writers isn’t through the external plot points of a book, but through the deep stuff. The stuff that doesn’t have to have a neighbor’s goofyness or a boss’s idiosyncrasies because it’s what we feel, what we believe — about ourselves.

The greatest relationship we have is with ourselves. And the greatest way a book can impact a reader is by changing how she feels about herself.

In the TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS, the heroine, Eloise is alone, and deep down feels she’ll never be connected to anyone because she screwed up the beginning of her life so badly. Haven’t we all felt like that at one time? I have. So I hoped that by showing readers how she picked herself up and got herself together I would inspire them to believe one mistake doesn’t ruin a life. Oh, it can come close. Eloise kissed failure square on the mouth. But when you fall, you have to stand up again.


In HER BROODING ITALIAN BOSS, the heroine, Laura Beth, has hit one of those unexpected life shifts. Not only did she get pregnant by a man who didn’t love her, but also both of her friends had found the loves of their lives. They were her roommates so when they left, she could no longer afford her apartment. Suddenly, she was alone and broke, homeless and pregnant. Her life changed in the blink of an eye — mostly through no fault of her own — and she wasn’t prepared to deal with it.

But the interesting thing about Laura Beth’s situation is that what looked to be a problem was actually life shifting gears, turning her in the direction she needed to go to fulfill her destiny.

Ah. Haven’t we all looked back and realized that something that seemed AWFUL was actually the Titanic of our life shifting AWAY from the iceberg. LOL

That’s what I wanted readers to see. That sometimes what looks like the gates of hell at our doorstep is actually just another door.

That’s the connection that I want to make with readers. I don’t want them to think that I once had roommates who left me or that I ran away from home my first year at university. I want you to see that I’m an optimist. That I genuinely believe that problems serve us. They don’t hurt us. I believe in love. Not just “love” but LOVE. All caps. Change your life. Change the world kind of love.

I believe.

And I like to think people who read my books see that and think…Yeah, I believe too.

Or if they don’t believe, they read my books and a little part of their hearts stirs enough that they can think…Maybe that’s true.

And if they can’t get to the point of even thinking maybe that’s true…at least the story lifts their spirits, makes them happy.

That’s what I want you to see. :) That life can be good or great if you take another look at your bad times. Because that’s what I believe. That’s me in a nutshell.


In honor of Happy Thursday…Beer Friday Eve…I’m going to give away a copy of HER BROODING ITALIAN BOSS and THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS to two people who comment below.

Happy Thursday

Believe in love. Believe in yourself. Just believe. :)


susan meier


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