Thursday, December 24, 2015

New York—These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

My husband and I recently returned from a weekend getaway to New York City to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary, and it was amazing! The last time I was in NYC I was a senior in high school on a trip with my music performing group, a show choir named Mixed Company. So this trip was long over due!

The first day/night, we stayed in Tribeca in a cute boutique hotel. In the afternoon, we found what is now my favorite coffee shop/ bakery and had yummy hot cocoa and the most delectable blueberry muffin.

After an afternoon of exploring Tribeca, Soho, and Chinatown, I found my new favorite clothing store (crazy to think I'd never heard of it before!). Joe Fresh. Anyone else as clueless as I was that this store even existed??

That first night we ate at what is now one of my favorite restaurants, mostly because of the decor and ambiance, not necessarily for the food. I'm fine with occasionally dining at fancy restaurants, but to be honest, I'd prefer chicken tenders and french fries any day! The one thing I do love about nice (meaning expensive) restaurants is the ambiance. Beautifully decorated in twinkling lights (for Christmas) and glowing stained-glass chandeliers, the Tribeca Grill (owned by actor Robert de Niro) was as romantic as it was pretty. We had octopus appetizers (not a fan!) and lamb meatballs (cow ones are infinitely better!) and other stuff that I won't attempt to rename on here because I would butcher the names of the dishes completely. :)

Inside of the restaurant, but it's hard to see...

Our second night, we stayed in my favorite hotel ever! The room was contemporary and chic and we had a view of Central Park. In the other direction, we were only a few blocks from Times Square and the Rockefeller Center. And we walked those blocks many, many times. We did lots and lots and lots of walking! (gah, my feet hurt just thinking about it!)

My favorite part of the entire trip was seeing Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. We were only four seats from the stage so I could see every facial expression, every bead of sweat, even the way Carlotta's arms jiggled as she sang. It was AWESOME! And when they raised the giant chandelier, it went right over our heads. I probably could have touched it if I wasn't scared I'd get kicked out and not see the rest of the show! 

Don't be surprised by this picture. The theatre was packed full—we were just early. :)

While we were in New York, we really wanted to see some stand-up comedy since New York is the jumping off point for so many famous comedians. We looked into a few different stand-up comedy places, but once we realized Jim Gaffigan would be performing at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, it was a no-brainer. We had to see him! 

And as we watched him, we totally felt like a New Yorker instead of some awe-struck tourist. Probably because all the "tourists" were camped out in Rockefeller Center trying to get a glimpse of the giant Christmas tree. I believe my exact words, as we were crushed by the half-million people all straining to get to it, were: "What's so great about a giant Christmas tree?"

You can see the tree in the background.

Okay, I admit, we did eventually squeeze our way to the tree to get a pic,

The infamous ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

On our last day in NYC, right before we had to go to the airport to catch our flight, we found this total dive of a burger joint, appropriately named The Burger Joint. We waited in line AT LEAST 30 minutes and then because there were so many people and not enough tables, we shared a table with two perfect strangers. Hello New York! :) But the burger and fries were worth the wait!

The wall of The Burger Joint. People have signed their names EVERYWHERE! All part of the unique decor!
And one of my favorite things about New York? People watching! I could seriously sit in Central Park and watch people for hours. I'm so amazed with everyone's sense of style (even when they are only out for a stroll through the park with their baby/stroller.) My husband and I had a lot of fun exploring Central Park, but I think we only saw an eighth of it—it's huge! 

Central Park

I loved all the tunnels in Central Park. It reminded me of the movie Kate and Leopold which I'm pretty sure was shot here somewhere. :)

Look at my husband looking all suave! :)

I couldn't have asked for a better trip or more romantic anniversary. New York City is one of my favorite things for sure! 

But even after such a great trip, I was ready to go home and see my kids. And even more ready to get on the airplane and sit for an hour. We were both sick of walking! :)

Well, it's Christmas Eve and even though I've tried to stay on top of things, there are still presents to wrap, food to make, stockings to stuff, etc. etc. But I'm so excited for Christmas day—we got the boys a BIG surprise and I know they will be thrilled! I've had a hard time not blurting it out all week! Let's just say I'm not the only girl in the house anymore (and no, it's not a baby!) :)

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a wonderful day tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review and Interview with Kelly Hashway

Most of you who know me know that I'm a sucker for a good YA contemporary romance. Not only do I love to write YA romance, but I love to read it as well. And Ashelyn Drake's Our Little Secret did not disappoint. With a secret crush turning into stolen kisses which results in a covert relationship and a betrayed best friend, this book was a recipe for success.

Becca has had a crush on her best friend's popular and good-looking twin brother for as long as she can remember. But her friend Tori has a very strict hands-off policy when it comes to friends dating her brother Toby. But when Toby begins tutoring Becca in Math, it appears the attraction goes both ways. Between fake study sessions and secret meetings, Becca is in over her head but doesn't know how to tell Tori, without ruining their friendship, that she's falling for her brother. But, of course, no secret is safe forever, and in the end, Becca is forced to choose between the perfect guy and the perfect friend.

I was sucked in at the first page. Kelly truly does have a command of the ultimate teenage voice and the angst of crushing on someone you think you'll never have a shot with. It was a lightning quick read with the perfect amount of romance. The characters were easily likable and extremely relatable. The only character that I sometimes wanted to smack was Tori for being so stubborn about Becca dating her brother, probably because I just wanted Becca and Toby to be together without anyone standing in the way. But even Tori has secrets of her own, including the real reason why she doesn't want her best friend dating her brother.

All in all, I thought Our Little Secret was a great read. I give it five stars and would recommend it to anyone who likes YA contemporary romances and super-quick reads. 

And wouldn't you know it, the author of Our Little Secret, Ashelyn Drake aka Kelly Hashway, was nice enough to stop in and answer a few probing questions. On to the interview!

Interview with Kelly Hashway/Ashelyn Drake

I recently read Our Little Secret and loved it. What was your inspiration for the novel?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this book was inspired by an episode of Victorious that I was watching with my daughter. In the episode, they sang a song called “My Best Friend’s Brother” and I thought that would be such a great book to write. So of course I dove right in.

I love that story! What are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of edits on my YA trilogy, Into the Fire, which releases spring 2016 with Limitless Publishing. I’m also drafting an adult thriller and polishing up an NA romance.

Wow, you are one busy woman! You write YA and NA romance under the pen name Ashelyn Drake. What prompted the decision to use a pen name?

When I decided to branch out and write romance, I wanted to keep it separate from my Kelly Hashway books, especially since I write picture books and middle grade novels. I don’t want young readers stumbling on my romance novels and thinking they are appropriate for them to read simply because my name is on the books.

That's a great point and makes perfect sense. As a busy mother, writer, and editor for Leap Books, how do you balance all the areas of your life?

I’m a huge believer in multi-tasking. I’m always doing two (or three) things at once. I also work (writing and editing) every minute my daughter is in school so I can help her with homework and play with her in the afternoons and evenings.

What’s your favorite thing to do in the summer? Fall? Winter? Spring?

I love swimming and playing tennis with my daughter in the summer, being outdoors and catching leaves in the fall (because I love the smell of the air), and reading by a fire in the winter. (Can you tell I don’t like the cold?)

I love the smell of fall air too! What takes you out of your comfort zone?

I take myself out of my comfort zone all the time by writing different things. I constantly say things like “I’ll never write for adults,” and then guess what? I’m writing an adult thriller. ;)

Never say never, right? :) Okay, sweet or salty? Mountains or beach?



If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?

If you’re not weird, you’re boring. (I tend to do weird things and I think it makes life more interesting.)

What a great slogan! :) If you could spend the day with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and why?

My daughter. She’s my favorite person in the world and we always have fun together.

Aw, that's so sweet! With Christmas coming around the corner, I have to ask… What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?
Oh, I’m dating myself here! I’d have to say the Jem backstage. I was obsessed with Jem and the Holograms. I still have the backstage and the dolls, and my daughter loves to play with them.

Lol. I remember Jem and the Holograms! That is so awesome that you still have yours and your daughter can play with it. :) Thanks so much, Kelly!

Thank you for having me, Kristin!

Kelly Hashway fully admits to being one of the most accident-prone people on the planet, but that didn’t stop her from jumping out of an airplane at ten thousand feet one Halloween. Maybe it was growing up reading R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books that instilled a love of all things scary and a desire to live in a world filled with supernatural creatures, but she spends her days writing speculative fiction for young adults, middle graders, and young children. Kelly’s also a sucker for first love, which is why she writes YA and NA romance under the pen name Ashelyn Drake. When she’s not writing, Kelly works as an editor, and also as Mom, which she believes is a job title that deserves to be capitalized. She is represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

IWSG December: Holiday Crazies

It's that time again! Time for another group posting of the IWSG. Hosted by the amazing Alex Cavanaugh, this is a wonderful group to be a part of. It's never too late to join us, so if you're interested, you can check it out HERE. And as always, a big thank you to our co-hosts for this month.

I've decided to quit querying and quit submitting and start revising—not one, not two, but THREE different manuscripts. They all have potential but they all need tweaking. Based off suggestions from an editor who used to work at Simon and Schuster, I've decided to dig in and make some pretty drastic changes to the beginning of Middle of Knowhere. I need to cut another 5K from Catalyst and revise another MS for pacing.

But here's the thing, I'm not putting a whole bunch of pressure on myself to get it done by a certain time. With the holidays coming up, I've kind of taken a step back from writing. I want to enjoy my family. I want to be present for field trips and class parties, tree lighting ceremonies and Christmas programs. I don't want to miss a single moment, which is how I feel lately—that I've missed so much with nothing to show for it.

I know everyone says that if you're serious about writing then you should write every day. Well, I AM serious about writing, but I know that right now the best thing for me is to take a step back, enjoy my time with my family, and gear up to start back in January. I'm not sure what my course of action will be when January hits, whether I'll keep querying agents or submit to publishers, but right now, I like not having to think about it.

And if you're feeling guilty because you aren't writing everyday, DON'T! Enjoy your life. The writing will be there when you're ready.