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.