release day for Thunder Running!

Faithful readers, I owe y’all a blog post on the rather significant event that happened four weeks ago – the birth of our daughter, baby B! Life with a newborn has been as hectic as everyone warned us it would be, so while the full report of B’s birth is TK, I had to pop in and celebrate the release of the third and final installment of The Homefront Trilogy, THUNDER RUNNING!

Thunder Running coverI really love this novella. Like, really love it. I know authors picking their favorite characters is like parents picking their favorite kids, but the truth is I have a special, deep affection for Thunder Running‘s hero and heroine, Chance McKinley and Tara Lambert. I love Chance’s dry-humored recklessness, I love Tara’s tough-talking complexity, and I love the way they navigate the rough waters between their mile-high defenses to come together and form a whole.

Thunder Running‘s release is bittersweet for me, as at the same time I’m introducing the world to Chance and Tara, I’m also saying goodbye to the guys in Echo Company and stepping off the paths they’re following, leaving them to carry on in readers’ imaginations. I hope you’ve enjoyed their journeys as much as I have, and that Thunder Running offers a fitting end to what I hope is a compelling, satisfying trio of novellas.

If you haven’t gotten your digital copy yet, Thunder Running is available via the links below and wherever else fine eBooks are sold. Happy reading!

THUNDER RUNNING now available from Samhain * Amazon * Amazon UK * Barnes & Noble * Kobo

‘born free’

This morning I had my 32-week appointment with the midwives who’ll be attending the birth of my first baby. They’re in a private practice, which my employer-subsidized medical insurance pays for. My appointment was at the private Genesis Clinic, nicknamed the “birthing hotel” due to its luxurious facilities, however for the birth I’m booked into Park Lane Hospital, which also boasts a private maternity ward that you couldn’t be faulted for mistaking with an upscale hotel.

On my way home from the appointment I stopped into Woolworths, South Africa’s high-end grocery store modeled on Marks & Spencer in the UK. The only necessity I had to buy was toilet paper, the rest was middle-class frivolity: cranberry juice, brie, Diet Coke, a single-serving bag of chips, a bar of Cadbury chocolate.

I was debating whether to buy the 18- (slightly cheaper per roll) or 9-roll pack of toilet paper (easier to carry to the car) when an African man tapped me on the shoulder. He wanted to know whether the box of baby cereal (labelled for babies six months and older) and a bottle of full-cream cow’s milk would be okay for his two-month-old child, because the infant formula was too expensive.

I tried to use, simple, sympathetic language to compare the prices, pointing out that when it came to price per gram, the (age-appropriate) infant formula really wasn’t much more expensive than the (inappropriate) baby cereal. I talked about babies’ sensitive tummies, and how the wrong food might make its tummy sore and cause it to cry even more. I asked if he had any way to get to Makro (South African Costco/Wal-Mart), where there would be more brands available in cheaper, bulk quantities (he didn’t).

Now, why wasn’t his wife breastfeeding? I didn’t ask, but I can guess. Maybe she has HIV/AIDS. Maybe she struggled to make breastfeeding work, and had no guidance on how to do it or support to keep at it. Maybe she had to go back to work, probably as a maid in a private home, shortly after the baby was born, so isn’t available to feed the baby, can’t afford pumping supplies and/or has no education on how to use them.

In the end I couldn’t persuade him – and really, maybe it wasn’t a question of persuasion. Maybe there was no way he could afford the R146 ($12) infant formula over the R30 ($2.50) baby cereal and he just wanted assurance that he wouldn’t kill the baby (a question he asked me repeatedly).

South Africans optimistically refer to the ‘born free’ generation, children born after 1994 who’ve never known the oppression of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was a huge advocate for children’s rights, and famously declared, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Yet 20+ years after the first round of ‘born free’ babies came screaming into the world, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and this is especially evident in models of maternity care and childbirth.

A few months ago the Guardian published an article that confirmed what I’d gleaned anecdotally: inequality starts even before the moment of birth, in the very means by which South African babies emerge into the world. Babies born in the private healthcare system (which consumes 60% of total health spend yet serves only 15% of the population) are overwhelmingly more likely to be born by c-section, many of which are elective.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I’ve planned for a minimal-intervention birth. My fantastic obstetrician is a renowned champion of natural birth, and I’ve hired the midwives in order to have low-intervention advocates with me during the birthing process. Whether I’ll be able to deliver naturally remains to be seen, but I’ve been amazed by what’s felt like the need to defend my preference, both informally and in terms of literally building a medical team I can trust. The South African (private) obstetric community seems so ready to encourage women to ‘simply book in for a caesar,’ how do you find the line where your doctor’s medical expertise ends and profit-hunting begins?

It’s easy to feel self-righteous and skeptically alert to the ‘business of childbirth’ as I thumb through my imported copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy Edition, or enjoy a workout in my immaculate, brand-new gym, or buy calcium supplements without looking at the price, or tip the Zimbabwean painters who’re doing up the baby’s room (in the house that I own, in an affluent neighborhood, on a quiet street).

The truth is, I’m so privileged. I can choose to have a low-intervention birth. I have access to whatever medical care might be necessary to facilitate that birth. And if it all goes pear-shaped, I can have an epidural and a c-section and a private room to recover in at a moment’s notice, without a thought for how much it’s going to cost.

I’ve spent the whole afternoon thinking about the two-month-old baby who’ll be fed cereal and cow’s milk tonight, and wishing I’d just given the man R100 to buy the infant formula. That baby will have so many more obstacles in its life, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to give it a little bit of a head start.

Instead I’m reminded to check my privilege, to be grateful, to see my house/work/traffic stresses as great luxuries. My baby will be born into the South Africa with world-class medical care, spacious homes and brand-name strollers. I won’t sacrifice to keep it fed, I won’t worry about access to clean water, I won’t have to choose between a tin of formula and taxi fare for a trip to the doctor. I’m on the right side of this hopelessly imbalanced scale, and for that I’m unbelievably, undeservedly lucky.

shoes, ships, ceiling wax

Oh dear, I’ve taken my time updating this poor old blog, hey? Well, there’s plenty to discuss today, so let’s get on with it!

#ROSACon2014

This past weekend was the inaugural South African romance writers’ conference, nicknamed ROSACon, held over a day in a half in Johannesburg. I think all of the attendees would agree it was a complete success! (Full disclosure: I was on the organizing committee.)

ROSACon2014 audience

Rapt audience at #ROSACon2014

We had about 30 delegates, and the activities ranged from Skype pitches to editors at Mills & Boon and Harper Impulse, to a first-page critique session by a panel of authors, to a fabulous talk on category romance writing from our local celebrity Joss Wood. Other than the massive highveld storm during Saturday night’s gala dinner, the weekend went without a hitch and it was a fantastic opportunity not only to meet so much of the South African romance writing community, but to be energized and enlightened by a variety of experts on a whole range of writing-related topics. On that note…

Facebook

Having learned during Tristan Banha‘s social media talk at #ROSACon2014 that Facebook is the most popular and fastest-growing social media outlet in South Africa, I’ve created my very own Facebook fan page: facebook.com/rebeccacrowleywrites Will I be better at updating it than this blog? Doubtful! But in the meantime feel free to cruise on over and check out the gorgeous banner the Samhain marketing team made for my next release. Which brings me to…

The Homefront Trilogy

This set of military-themed novellas is steaming ahead! I’m currently working on edits for the third installation (Thunder Running) and have just posted the cover for the second book (Alive Day) on the Books page. Meanwhile, tomorrow is release day for Homefront #1, Boots on the Ground!

Boots on the Ground

Sexy Sergeant Grady Reid and his erstwhile heroine Laurel Hayes are already garnering some lovely reviews, most notably from USA Today, Desere at Romance Book Haven and Nanee from Up All Night. If you haven’t already pre-ordered, you can one-click your copy tomorrow wherever ebooks are sold.

Last But Not Least

In case you didn’t spot my subtle announcement on Contemporary Romance Cafe (cleverly tucked in after the gratuitous photo of Jensen Ackles), the biggest news of all is that Baby Crowley will be having his or her own release day somewhere in between Alive Day and Thunder Running (March 3rd, to be precise). The good news is there’s no need to book a blog tour or organize a release-day blitz. The bad news, well… ;-)

copa mundial 2014

Ah, the World Cup: full of patriotism and passion, dramas and controversies, the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. For one month every four years the world comes together in celebration of this truly global, egalitarian sport.

I’ve been reflecting on the last few World Cups as we approach Sunday’s final, and I realized how perfectly memories of this tournament illustrate different stages of my life. There’s always one standout moment, and these are some of mine:

South Korea 2002: Ireland vs. Spain

I know I’m not the only football fan for whom this was a momentous match. 2002 was the first time I watched the World Cup, having only really gotten into football over the previous 18 months (a fledgling Manchester City fan in the Stuart Pearce era!). I had finished my first year at college in New York City, and was back in Kansas for the summer. It would be the last time I would spend more than a couple of weeks in my hometown, and was my last real goof-off student summer, as the following year I stayed in NYC and worked full-time. Underdog Ireland played with so much heart, and after spending the whole match 1-0 down, Robbie Keane scored in the 90th minute. I remember sitting bolt upright in my little desk chair, pulled right up to the TV in my bedroom, as the match progressed to penalties. Spain defeated Ireland 3-2, and in that instant I understood the tribal, soul-deep love that football seems to inspire in its fans. I was so invested, so devastated, yet so proud of Ireland’s effort. I was hooked.

Germany 2006: England vs. Ecuador

I supported England in the 2006 World Cup, during which I was living and working in New York City, having graduated from college a year earlier. The time difference meant many of the matches were on in the morning or at midday, and England vs. Ecuador started at around 10 AM on a Saturday. I remember this match not for Beckham’s winning goal, but for the venue where I watched it: 11th Street Pub in the East Village, a small, innocuous-looking bar that is in fact the meeting place for a rabid bunch of Liverpool FC fans. They showed the match on a big screen at the back and a half-and-half mix of Brits and Americans gathered around communal tables, making friends, sharing snacks, cheering and booing in unison. The atmosphere was awesome, and illustrated one of the great things about the World Cup: the way the sport brings together complete strangers, who for two hours have nothing more in common than the ferocious desire for a ball to find its way into a net.

South Africa 2010: Spain vs. Netherlands

I know, choosing a final seems like a cop-out, but it’s nonetheless the most memorable match, for me, of 2010. By this time I’d been living in England for almost three years, and experiencing a World Cup in Europe, where everyone lives and breathes football all year long, made a brilliant contrast to the relatively niche fandom one finds in the US. We were in the process of moving from Camden Town to Belsize Park during the tournament, and were lucky to have a slight overlap in our lease because, in typical British fashion, it took ages to get our internet up and running in the new flat. On the Sunday night my now-husband and I trekked back down to our empty Camden Town flat armed with a laptop so we could watch the match. We sat on the floor, cheering on Spain via an occasionally stuttering web broadcast. It was on a couple seconds’ delay so we would hear huge cheers or groans from the pub down the road before we saw the goal/foul/chance that prompted them. The match finished, Spain were the victors, and we took the Tube two stops back up to Belsize Park…where we rode the lift with a handful of depressed-looking Dutchmen in orange jerseys.

Brazil 2014: USA vs. Belgium

usmnt

In the 12 years I’ve been able to truly call myself a soccer fan, I’ve loved watching the sport evolve in my home country. I love seeing more American players in the Premier League, I love the constantly improving quality of MLS games, and I loved all the news reports of the fan support for USMNT this year (and tried to ignore the pang at being 9,000 miles away!). I won’t remember USA vs. Belgium because it’s the game that knocked the US out of the World Cup – I’ll remember it for the unparalleled commitment, ferocity, and determination with which USMNT played. I was emotionally prepared for it being the USA’s last match of the tournament, but I had no idea it would be so hard-won. Every year the USA creeps that little bit further through the stages, and I can’t wait to see them in a quarter-final in 2018.

I’m excited for the 2014 World Cup final on Sunday night, but I’m also a little sad that come Monday, this sporting whirlwind will be over for another four years. I’m going to miss tuning in almost every night and arbitrarily picking a country to root for, and I’m going to miss the morning-after dissection of attempts, chances, and dives. I’m even going to miss the crazy stories, like the Black Stars’ cash-filled plane and Suarez’s bite marks. But I suppose much of the romance of football is down to its fugaciousness: today you’re a champion, but tomorrow someone’ll be doing everything they can to take that title away. Winners and losers, dreams and failures, it really is the beautiful game.

announcing…

Considering my dad concluded his brief stint in the army way before I was born, my fascination with military heroes in romance is maybe a little odd. I can’t get enough of the transient lifestyle, the lethal prowess beneath an ordinary exterior, the distinctive combination of remarkable bravery and vulnerability. The late photojournalist Tim Hetherington did a series of portraits of sleeping soldiers that beautifully illustrates this stunning intersection of impenetrable strength and totally susceptible humanity.

'Doc' Kelso sleeping at the Restrepo outpost in the Korengal valley, Kunar province, Afghanistan, July 2008. Photograph: Tim Hetherington/Magnum Photos

‘Doc’ Kelso sleeping at the Restrepo outpost in the Korengal valley, Kunar province, Afghanistan, July 2008. Tim Hetherington/Magnum Photos

The space I particularly wanted to explore – and which I’ve struggled to find satisfyingly interrogated in what romance I’ve read (and I’d love recommendations on this front!) – is the Stateside reality of life in the military. I’m not talking about superhuman Navy SEALS and Airborne Rangers and elite intelligence operatives. I want to read about your garden-variety infantry, guys without college degrees, who can’t kill you seventeen ways in six seconds, who don’t have super-stealth training or high-tech equipment, who enlisted because they weren’t sure what else to do and never quite got out. What happens when an unremarkable, working-class guy is thrust into remarkable circumstances? And what happens when the dust settles and it’s back to life in the barracks?

With that, I’m truly delighted to announce the forthcoming release of The Homefront Trilogy from Samhain Publishing. A stone’s throw from the gates of Fort Preston, the small Kansas town of Meridian has seen soldiers come and go since the Civil War. But when the 13th Infantry’s Echo Company rotates home from a catastrophic nine-month tour in Afghanistan, the men in its ranks carry much heavier burdens than the packs they left with – and they’ll need a lot of help to ease them off their shoulders. This series of novellas explores duty, honor, and sacrifice as returning soldiers find love, rediscover life, and redefine what it means to be home.

The first novella in the series, Boots on the Ground, will release from Samhain in October, followed by Alive Day in January and Thunder Running at some point after that. Now I know what you’re thinking – will all the serious, analytical chat above be redeemed by a super-sexy cover reveal? You know it will!

Behold, possibly my favorite cover ever for any of my books thus far:

Boots on the Ground

With a life that started in foster care and nearly ended in the mountains of Afghanistan, Grady Reid is more than ready to hang up his sergeant’s stripes when his Army contract expires. Small-town Meridian, Kansas seems as good a place as any to finally put down roots. He’s dumped his savings into a ramshackle farmhouse and is on his way to trading bullets for bull breeding when an exquisitely beautiful, totally unattainable blonde turns his head faster than a pivoting cutting horse.

Dr. Laurel Hayes longs to escape the confines of stuffy, small-town life for an adrenaline-
fueled, transient lifestyle delivering medical aid in unstable regions around the world. Then she meets Grady, a man with enticing eyes, a slow smile—and not an ounce of the wanderlust that tugs at her soul.

Their lives are headed in opposite directions. But as something more powerful than attraction, desire, or even lust draws them together, something’s got to give…or their hearts could break under the strain.

Expect more details and even more gorgeous cover reveals in the months to come (I’ve seen the mock-up for the second cover and…y’all…let me just say the word muscles) as I endure months of excitement waiting to introduce these characters I love so much to the world of romance readers!

harper harlequin

The internet is abuzz with the news that Torstar has agreed to sell Harlequin to Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation, where it will become a division of Harper Collins. Though not normally one to get embroiled in romance industry happenings, I thought I might as well share my $0.02 – or R2 in South Africa – this once.

Rupert Murdoch: the Dark Lord of global media

Rupert Murdoch: the Dark Lord of global media

Putting on my management consulting hat for a moment, I can’t say I’m totally surprised. Torstar reported a 7% loss in revenue at the end of 2013 and book publishing – especially in the US market – was one of the segments that decreased. When the COO was swiftly appointed to replace the retiring CEO (rather than finding and appointing a big-name external with an editorial background) I did wonder about what felt like a playing-it-safe hire given the degree of flux in the industry at the moment. Surely this was the time to bring in fresh blood and big vision? But executive moves are my bread and butter and I tend to consider them far more than most people, who probably couldn’t really care less.

With today’s announcement, the recent C-suite reshuffle leapt immediately to mind. Retrospectively it makes sense – who better to steer a company through a merger than the tried-and-tested operations guy? Equally it’s not hard to see how a shift in the top brass could open the way for a merger; without the advocacy of a long-serving CEO, a newer executive may struggle to influence the relevant stakeholders. At the end of the day Torstar needed the money, and Murdoch was willing to pay it.

From an industry perspective I think it’s a bit sad. It’s certainly the end of an era, plus it’s almost never good for a company to be subsumed into a huge corporate as that almost always means cost-cutting and big compromises. News Corp will see value in the Harlequin brand but not necessarily its culture or identity. Harlequin as we know it may eventually go the way of Silhouette, now not much more than a logo.

As an author published by Harlequin’s Carina Press, it’s hard to see the positive side. Harlequin’s existing value is in its distribution and readership, so it’s unlikely authors will see either of those increase. It also already has a large, well developed marketing and publicity department so it’s unlikely authors will feel anything there, although if HC decides to run HQN’s marketing on its own, I’m the sure the job losses in the HQN department will be palpable! From an administrative angle I wonder whether, as happened to Lyrical Press authors when it was acquired by Kensington, existing books will be temporarily pulled from sale while authors sign new contracts. And what will the terms of those contracts be?

So much remains to be seen here, but as a slightly tangential aside I wanted to take this moment to acknowledge how much I love my other publisher, Samhain. I don’t know whether it’s down to Samhain being a genuinely independent, private company or simply its culture, but my author experience has been that of a small, intimate start-up while the sales numbers comfortably compete with Carina’s despite its much greater resources. Soon I’ll have some exciting news to share about an upcoming project over in Samhain’s corner, but in the meantime I’ll settle for feeling grateful I’m one of their authors.