Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving thoughts from the Rockville 8

Sure, we should each of us live in a state of constant thanksigiving all year round. You first! Seriously, though, one of the things I'm grateful for is our national holiday that calls on us to reflect on our blessings, spread goodwill throughout our communities, and tell our families and friends how much we love them.

Plus, food.


This year on the R8 blog, we're noting our big thanks with small lists:

Candy Lyons:

I'm thankful for having lost 80 pounds in 2012, for good health, for a great family, and wonderful friends. I'm also thankful for the ability to earn an income in a year that has held lots of economic challenges for many. I have much to be grateful for this year!

Lisa McQuay:

I'm thankful for the people who love me and whom I love. I'm thankful for my daughter's laugh and for my husband's steady nature. I'm thankful for writing, both my own and that of others. I'm thankful for having a car that's paid for. I'm thankful for the good times and I'm thankful for being able to get through the tough times. I'm thankful for my quirky little dog. I'm thankful to still have both my parents. I'm thankful for the joy I feel when I am near the water. I'm thankful that I can still be thankful.

Evie Owens:

I'm grateful for all the incredible peopel in my life - my daughters and my granddaughter, my friends, and my writer friends. I'm grateful to have a place to live and a job to (almost) pay for it. And I'm grateful to have a calling in my life because it gives my something to reach for.

Nichole Christoff:

I'm grateful for opportunities. It seems they're all around - if we'd only just look for them! If you're like me, you might nt recognize an opportunity unitl it's long gone. But in this great land of ours, we can go on to find another opportunity to grasp with both hands. I'm extremely thankful for that.

Shellie Williams:

Thankful? In this acquisitive season, the glass seemed only half full, but with Rosemary Clooney's voice in my head I started counting my blessings. I'm thankful to have lived to an age when I know: you can't always get what you want; there's got to be a morning after (and things will look better by then); when it's a magical night for a moondance, dance Woman dance; I believe in miracles (still!); love IS a many splendored thing; and, really, in the grand scheme, everything's comin' up roses for you.

Keely Thrall:

I'm thankful for a kitchen remodel finished in time for me to host Thanksgiving dinner for my family for the time ever. I'm thankful for a weight loss journey that means I can shop in "normal" stores again. I'm thankful to have my health and to join my friend on T-giving day for a 10k race. I'm thankful for writing, sparking wine, good jeans, a comfy blanket. And what's that other thing? Oh yeah, the community of friends and family who are the coolest, awesomest blessing in the whole entire world. Yeah, that one. Thank you!

Friends, what are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beer, Writing and Romance for Real Life: An interview with author Liz Crowe

Every so often we here at the Rockville 8 blog like to bring in a topic expert we think our readers might learn from and enjoy. Twiddling my thumbs, I wondered who the heck I know who’s an expert on anything interesting. Well, the Usual Suspects turned to me and said, “Duh, your brother. You know, the brewery owner?” Oh yeah. And he says, “Sure, love to. Only…wouldn’t my business partner, Liz Crowe, be a better fit? Seeing as she’s not only a beer expert but a multi-pubbed author as well?”

Oh yeah. Hell yeah!

Thankfully, Liz was game to answer my gazillion questions. Read on to gain a little insight into an author of erotic, emotionally complex, singularly modern stories and why fans read her not so much for the standard “HEA” but rather the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”).

Keely:   Welcome, Liz, thanks so much for being our topic expert this month! I’ll jump right in with a burning question: In fiction, each genre has a certain set of characteristics that consumers rely on. The same can be said for different kinds of beer. What kind of beer do you suggest romance readers drink as they hunker down with their favorite subgenres?

Liz:      I'm going to twist this around a little and give you a taste of how I relate beer to my writing process.  I am a hard and fast "hop head" thanks to my work as a brewery owner and marketing director so I reach for my own brewer's lovely, bitter, astringent India pale lager for my early creative process. Sometimes I will alternate with a malty amber lager. I find that having a bottle of craft beer next to the keyboard spurs my creativity in a very positive way. But once I reach the hard core editing process (the stage that many budding authors hit and give up at because honestly, if your editor is singing your praises during this stage--you need a new editor. Your editor is NOT there to be your cheerleader. He or she is there to make you better and the only way to make you better is to push you, challenge you and make you think hard about your characters' motivations, your word choices and your storytelling. It's a tough moment as a writer, but one that you truly owe it to yourself to experience). So at THAT moment, I'm reaching for the higher alcohol, darker brews.  

Then, when I hit the post line editing or galley stages, it's straight Kentucky bourbon all the way!

Keely:    I’m a dark beer drinker, the chewier the better. A good friend of mine loves only Belgian beer brands. And another is happy with plain old Miller Lite. What goes into different beers to give them such a variety of flavor? Do you find one style of beer is more popular at the Wolverine State Brewing Company Tap Room than others?    

Liz:      The color/taste profile of beer is originally set by the malt that you start with--and I will let you guys in on something: NO beer in its purely "natural state" is yellow.  According to the Germans who invented "lagers" which are the bulk of the "macrobrews" these days, beer is made up of 4 ingredients only: Water. Malt. Hops. Yeast. Anything outside of those 4 things are considered "adjuncts" or ingredients that are unnecessary for real beer.

However, as tastes evolved and more folks wanted a lighter taste to their daily brew, rice syrup was added to make the natural amber color of any typical beer yellow.  Now all sorts of crazy shit is added to make funky brews, but that's a story for another blog most likely.
A "stout" or "chewy" beer is a result of deep, dark, rich malts that go in as the original ingredient.  Then a bit of light hops are added and an ale yeast is used to create the flavors you refer to---the fruity, pruney esters that are the natural result of fermenting on an ale yeast.

Essentially however you use the four main ingredients of beer is how beer SHOULD be altered. What malt you start with, be it light, dark, chocolate, crystal or anything in between, plus the style and amount of hops you add next, then the type of yeast you call upon to ferment the wort is how beers are made different, fun, and interesting.

Keely:    How did you get into the beer business – and was it before or after you started writing? I know you are also a Real Estate agent. My dad always said, ask a busy person to get something done. Do you find juggling these three careers helps keep you focused on getting stuff done? Do you have a daily word count you try to make?

Liz:      HA! that sounds like something your dad would say, Keely.  Ok, so I have a degree in English and have worked my whole life in fund raising, public relations and marketing in various environments including newspapers (in the "olden days"), non-profit powerhouses like United Way and small businesses. Finally, I got my real estate license and kind of found my element -- where I could use my innate marketing chops to make money for myself.   Then, I found myself as a trailing ex-pat spouse for the next seven years. I had my 3rd child in Japan and from there we moved to Istanbul, Turkey then to London. When we returned to the states (and Ann Arbor, Michigan) I retrieved my license from escrow and jumped back in, having some killer years selling houses in a down market. Then, I met a guy named Trevor (Keely’s brother).  

He and his business partner had invented a lager beer they'd been selling around Ann Arbor but in the way of people who succeed, they felt that had something awesome and wanted to make it bigger. So they sought out a marketing professional. Urban legend is that I am the only one they talked to---I'm going with that. 

I knew very little about beer, much less craft beer and told him as much but they promised to teach me that part. So I chronicled my craft beer journey, from beer school sessions with our newly hired brewer to brewing days with said brewer all the way to the grand opening, in my blog: I have a huge reach with this blog and support it with a FaceBook and Twitter presence. I didn't spend any real cash that first year in advertising, just working online and out in the field, bringing beer to as many non profit events and other places where I could run my mouth about our lager revolution. 

The writing bit kind of paralleled this but only by accident. I latched on to some erotic writers to expand my usual mainstream reading and took a nascent idea about a couple of realtors and made all the rookie errors of head hopping and passive voice and submitted, collected rejections, found some critique readers I trusted, lost my nerve, got it back then teased out a side story from this realty series and subbed it as a short story. That got accepted first.  That series (Brewing Passion) has just been returned to me from the original publisher and I plan to rework it and release it the way it was meant to be in 2014.  I had a series accepted by Decadent Publishing (the Turkish Delights Series) and a stand-alone (Cheeky Blonde) which taught me a LOT about professional editing. Then I was approached by a start-up publisher who had read a ménage novel I had released (Vegas Miracle) and wanted to talk to me about my distinctive voice and style.  I pulled the Stewart Realty series out of mothballs and sent it to them. Since then I've been published by Ellora's Cave (Lust on Tap, a ménage story). And now, here we are.  

I have 2 full time jobs I love.  I fit it all in but do not adhere to word count targets.  I am about writing the story, not meeting the word count.  I am an avowed marathon writer--the story hits me, I head write a bit, then sit down and just open up the laptop and let it flow.  Essence of Time (the 4th Stewart Realty book and the one most fans claim as their favorite) is a little over 100,000 words. I wrote it in 3 months.  Escalation Clause (book 6) is nearly the same length and was written in 2 months.  

I don't claim that this is the correct way to do this--it's just my way.

Keely:    Liz, the tag line on your website ( says, “Romance for Real Life.” What do you mean by that? What sets the stories you write apart from more traditional romance and why do you think that taps such a rich vein with readers?  

Liz:      The Romance for Real Life tag line was actually coined by one my fans--she is/was a "hard core" romance reader, had never ventured much beyond the "canon" of accepted publishers and writers until recently thanks in no small part to the 50 Shades phenomenon.  One of the vows many of us published authors made (oh, ok, maybe it was just me but whatever) over this year of the "erotic romance revolution" was to learn--learn from what has been introduced to a new crowd of fresh readers.  One of the ways I learned was to read what I did not like, find what I truly did like and discover my spot within the spectrum of options. 

When I started my own writing journey about four years ago I promised myself I would write what I wanted to read. And what I wanted to read was more real than the majority of what I was finding the deeper I delved into the erotic romance genre.  Don't get me wrong. My favorite authors in this realm remain among what I maintain are the best at what they do: Lauren Dane, Shayla Black, Joey W. Hill---but not their paranormal stuff. I am neither entertained nor titillated by vampires, were-anythings, angels, demons, ghosts or zombies.  But that is just me, so please don't be offended by this--"subjective" is the Name of the Game here, as you well know if you have been reviewed.

So I took a fairly familiar set up: the super alpha male confronts his ultimate female--the one who will "tame" him or "make him whole" - choose your cliché - and put a twist on it.  I made both of them ... real...that is to say, challenging and difficult and even, by the time you hit the 3rd book of the (now) 6-book series flipping their roles somewhat. 

It was truly an experiment in "can I do it?" and, after my fair share of rejections from agents and publishers alike, it finally found a home.

But the interesting thing about my entire backlist is that you can apply the "real" moniker to pretty much every book or series I have written.  My readers use words like "frustrating," "aggravating," "made me want to hurl my kindle at the wall," but to a person, I always hear, "When can I get more?"

It's a combination of my voice, which is realistic and down to earth and the situations that make my characters react like real human beings--they make stupid mistakes, say idiotic things at the wrong moment, learn, fail, succeed and keep trying. And for the most part are NOT billionaires but people who own businesses and work hard--and play hard---every day.

Keely:    Your upcoming release, Paradise Hops, is set in a brewery. Give us a sense of how that book came together. The inspiration for the setting seems clear – the Tap Room. Did that come first, or did you have a character at loose ends who decided to go down to the pub for a drink but took a detour into your story instead?  

Liz:      Actually, the Tap Room was not the inspiration for this book.  My inspiration came from a story I read on or HuffPo or someplace about a woman who had been brutally attacked as a teenager and not expected to survive but who ended up running her family's restaurant business thanks to her father who forced her into a healing mindset by learning the business and taking over.  I just extrapolated that into the brewery business.

I don't typically take bar patrons and put them into a story. I do take elements of peoples' lives and try and mold them into an interesting narrative. And many of my characters are amalgams of people I know, including myself.

Here is a snippet from Paradise Hops – a conversation between Garrett, one of the men in Lori's life, and a small but very important character, Mrs. Anderson, a long-time employee of the brewery when he is frustrated by Lori’s apparent recalcitrance:

“What?” He winced at the sound of his harsh voice. 
“I will take those tickets, thanks, but in the meantime I need to tell you a little story.” 
“I don’t have time for—“ 
“You will for this one.” 
He turned and glared at her, but she sat and arranged herself for a long chat. 
“Lorelei Brockton was the biggest tomboy, the toughest teenager, the most amazing, smart, beautiful girl.” She stopped, as if to gather her thoughts. “Her mother died when she was twelve. Cancer took her in something like six months. It was awful. Her father was…is a tough man, and he took over her teen-aged years that way, on his own. They fought, good Lord did they fight. But he loved her and thought he was doing the right thing, making her defend herself about everything from her hair color which turned pink one year to her college classes.” 
Garrett shifted in his seat. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more, but she went on. 
“She graduated from Michigan with honors, and an acceptance letter to medical school, but she balked. Something happened. Probably her dad pushed her hard one too many times. She turned it down, took a job selling prescription drugs and bought herself a little house. She did well, for about three years, and then she met that Thad.” 
Garrett’s hands clenched into fists under the desk. 
“After that terrible incident, she literally became a different person. She wouldn’t leave her dad’s house, stayed in her old room for months. Made her dad get rid of the piano she loved. We all tiptoed around here for almost a year. Mr. B would blow up at the slightest provocation, but we all let him do it. We understood.” She shook her head, and wiped her eyes. Garrett frowned but didn’t know what to say so he kept his mouth shut. 
“Finally, one day nearly a year and a half ago now, she appeared, a shrunken, scared version of herself. Her father declared her ‘well’ and ‘ready to work’ and that’s when the rotations began. She started in distribution, worked the warehouse for about nine months. Then went to the pub, doing everything from food prep, to bartending. I was so worried about her. She lost more weight, hardly talked to anyone. We all said we’d give anything to witness a good knock down drag out between her and her father, like the old days.” 
Garrett looked out the window, realizing where this was headed. He closed his eyes and fought the need to get up and pace. 
“Then, Mr. B. tells us he’s hired a manager. A general business manager. Someone who will take over most likely, and here you are.” Mrs. Anderson stared at him, making him squirm. “The old Lori is back, Garrett, and we have you to thank. But that means you have to understand her, stop trying to be so controlling because that Lori won’t be controlled. Thinking you can will only lead to your unhappiness.” 
She stood. “I’ve watched you and her. I see what’s happening, and I can’t think of a better thing than for you two to be together. You balance each other, but only if you are willing to let go a little. Otherwise, it will never work.” 
He frowned. “So, who’s giving her the little pep talk about how swell I am?” He couldn’t help himself. 
The woman smiled and patted his shoulder. “Oh, hon, Lori has twenty or so moms and big sisters, and even a few big brothers, in this building. I’m pretty sure somebody has, or is right now.” 
“I hate this.” 
“But you love her.” 
He nodded, not speaking. 
She smiled at him. “Well then, that’s really all you need. Trust me. That and patience. She’ll see the light.” 
She turned to go as her desk phone started ringing. Then threw out something that Garrett would remember for a long time. “You know, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s as if between you and that horrible man Eli, you brought our Lori back.” She smiled, but he felt his heart sink to his feet. 

Keely:    You are a wizard at PR. Have you learned anything promoting Wolverine Beer that you’ve applied to your writing career and/or vice versa? Do you have any tips for authors on effective self-promotion and how to get the most bang for your promotional buck? 

Liz:      I will tell you, the whole social networking thing is a mixed blessing. I have learned to use it, but it is not something you can just start and then stop and hope it works. It's a 2-way street, no matter what. You cannot simply open a Twitter account, mention how hard you are working at your revision and then go away and come back hoping there are 1000 more followers.  I have nearly 2500 followers, but use Twitter as a promo platform AND a place to find others interested in things that interest me.  I have conversations with people, and take the time to seek them out.

But, first things first, guys. Write the book, get it beta-read, critiqued and subbed. THEN mess around on social networks.  If I had been FaceBook- and Twitter-distracted in 2008, I would never in a million years have cranked out the equivalent of 200,000 words that eventually became the first 3 books of the Stewart Realty series.  *shiny* *sparkly* *internet*!  

Don't get me wrong---have a blog platform and use it to practice writing. The only way to practice writing…is to write. So you can blog, daily, if you want, but writing a FaceBook post or a Twitter update is not writing. It's promoting.  Understand the difference.  

I use FaceBook and Twitter for both the brewery and my reader audience but only because I know when to turn them off and focus on the engine---> getting the beer sold by getting in front of people, or, by writing the next book.

It is not easy. But if you want it bad enough, you will make it work.

Keely:    Last, you have several stand alone titles and two very successful book series published. After the release of Paradise Hops, what’s next for you?  

Liz:        My 2013 release schedule is pretty set and includes a late 2012 release called Honey Red (a brewery based story of "real" ménage--which by any true life standards is a challenge at best). Then I will release the next Stewart Realty series book Mutual Release, which will serve as a potential stand alone novel exploring a more hard-core BDSM lifestyle that serves as release for 2 wounded individuals from the first realty books, Evan Adams (who owns a brewery) and his wife, Julie. This releases on February 14th and we will host a Valentine's Day book signing event with books, beer and chocolate in conjunction with Nicola's books (the one remaining large indie book store in Ann Arbor, and a local chocolatier). The fall will bring the release of the Black Jack Gentlemen series, a soccer-based offshoot from the Stewart series that is hinted at in the 6th book (Escalation Clause). These three books are: Man On, Free Agent, and Penalty Kick.

Finally, I will wrap up the year with a novel I've already contracted about the dark side of the "BDSM lifestyle" that is so seemingly fascinating right now.  What happens when that "Dream Dom" is really just an abusing jerk? How do you rebuild your life and self esteem once it's been ripped apart by such a man? In His Shadow will be something completely different, more than a little controversial and hopefully very compelling.

I will end the year by releasing the final official Stewart Realty book, Good Faith, which will be a long novel about the lives of the children of the original set of characters.  It will include a very difficult psychological exploration of addiction.  

Keely:  Liz, this has been super! Your creativity and dedication are an inspiration to me. Thank you for taking the time to answer all my nosy questions!

Liz:      Thanks for this Keely! I welcome all questions and comments and hope you get a chance to read my books soon!

Find more Liz Crowe here:

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Most dictionaries define Courage as some variation of “the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.”

Many people often think of courage when they think of the military—those men and women who bravely defend those who cannot defend themselves. Yes, that is certainly courage. However, we don’t often think of the courage required of us almost every single day of our lives. There are a host of things that require courage, no matter what stage of life or what situation in which you find yourself. It’s necessary in: love/commitment, staking your independence from your family, confronting illness and disease, surviving abuse or a traumatic childhood, aging, learning to be yourself, creativity, career and relationship changes, and following your dreams.

All of these situations (and many more) make us confront fear. And we have only two real instinctive responses to fear—fight or flight, both of which are strongly rooted in self-preservation. If we stand against that fear, the question we ask ourselves is will I survive this? Can I find the couarge to fight and to conquer this fear? Or will it overwhelm me?

When I was a teenager, we used to swim at a nearby mountain lake during the summer. However, swimming at this particular spot took a certain amount of courage. Not just because you didn’t know what else might be swimming under the water you were about to jump into, but also because there was this one tree that towered over the lake that we used as a high-dive. And I mean really, really high. Someone had nailed boards to the side of the tree, creating a make-shift ladder. This tree was huge. It was awesome. And it was terrifying at the same time. The question you asked yourself as you stood at the top was, would you survive the jump? Sound familiar?

I had no problem taking the initial step to climb that tree. I’ve never been averse to the idea of risk. It’s the actual leap that got me. And still gets me. Even to this day, I remember how long it sometimes took me to work up my courage to take the step off that limb to plunge into the murky cold waters of the lake below.

I don’t think I’ve changed much when I comes to life’s challenges today. I have no problem taking the initial risk required to meet a challenge. I scale that tree willingly and easily, no matter how much work it takes to get to the top or how tall the tree. It’s only when I get to the moment where I need to leap from security (well, relative security in this case) into nothingness that I have a problem. When I ask myself, will I survive?

So, if I look back to this example, how did I do it? How did I overcome my huge fear of jumping off of that tree limb into the lake? As I stood high above the water, trembling, worrying about what I was about to do, what did I do? I bit my lip. I wondered if this was a good idea. I knew this was a horrible idea. I believed I could soar. I was certain I would fall. I inched to the edge. I shrank back. I crept to the edge again. I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes. Then I stepped off that tree. I took the plunge. I embraced courage and I was scared to death.

So, what’s the moral of the story? When faced with challenges in your life where you’re afraid—and yes, oftentimes, there’s fear involved with risk—do what you need to take that next step, whatever it is. It might be just putting one foot in front of another. Whether you’re facing a job change, a career change, a new living situation, a new change in status of life—engagement, marriage, babies, empty nest, reduced income—whatever it is . . . remember to breathe. Then continue to put one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes, that’s the biggest step you can take and sometimes it’s the step that sends you soaring off the high-dive . . . but it’s always the most courageous thing you can do, because you’re taking action despite your fear. And action is courage. The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz believes his fear makes him less courageous and inadequate.

But, truly, courage means acting in the face of fear . . . every day, in everything we do. It takes courage to live life and face difficulties. As Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistence to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” We all face difficulties every day. How will you handle tomorrow’s challenge? Will you stand strong against fear to resist, master, and overcome it? Say, yes.

Let’s live courageously this week!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Two weeks ago, when Candy wrote "... several people I know are going through some significant life changes right now..." one of those people was me.

Life as I had lived it for eleven years was over and all of a sudden I had to find a new place to live. Fast. In short, I had been towered.

The Tower is the 16th card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Some of the key words associated with this card are: Chaos, Crisis, Disruption, Disillusionment, Crash, and other super fun things like that.

This towering was no exception. It was all of that and more. One thing it wasn't, though, was unfamiliar. We all get change thrust upon us, don't we?

It isn't fun, but it usually isn't fatal either. And this time, along with weeping and bemoaning my fate and going through all the stages that Candy outlined in her post, I am determined to embrace my new life. To find not just a new place to live but a new identity.

I didn't ask for this midlife crisis but now that it's here, I'm going to make the most of it.

First things first, I just moved in to my new living situation. Everything is new and discombobulating. I spent the weekend finding my hair brush and other vital things and shuffling around the house, trying to get used to it. This afternoon my friend and I walked down to the Starbucks (a writer thing you either understand or don't) then I spent the evening making sure I have everything I'll need in the morning for work.

I'll spend the next few weeks continuing to unpack and sort and stow. I got rid of a lot of "stuff" before the move, but I plan to get rid of a good deal more. I don't know a lot about the new identity I'm working on, but I do know I want it to be lighter. Faster on my feet.

And that one of the key words associated with it will be: Writer.

Next time I post I'll come prepared with a picture of my new writing space.

I'd have posted some this time if I could find my camera . . .