April 16, 2014

interview with chineka williams

Blogger's Note: I'm pleased to welcome Chineka Williams to the blog as part of her tour for her debut novel Love Illusion. Check out the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!

Change the Word: How did you get the idea for this story?
Chineka Williams: I got the idea for my story by first having Lucy’s character in my mind. I knew that I wanted some suspense so that’s where Charles’ character came in. I also wanted to highlight the serious subjects of alcoholism and domestic abuse in the book.

CTW: What was your writing process like?
CW: My writing process combines a lot of things. I like to start out by writing notes on a story such as location notes, timeline, and character traits. Once that is complete I write an outline. I like to have a rough idea of what to go by while writing. After the first draft is complete I start making edits and rewrites. This is my writing process in the beginning stages.

CTW: Name three things you have to have when you're writing.
CW: Noise canceling headphones, water with lemon, classical jazz

CTW: What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?
CW: Write with all of your heart.

CTW: Who has most inspired you to be writer?
CW: My Dad. He was always writing or reading something.

CTW: What was your favorite book growing up?
CW: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

CTW: If you could spend a day with any literary character, who would it be and why?
CW: I would spend the day with Leslie Carter from Dorothea Benton Frank’s The Last Original Wife. I loved Leslie’s strength throughout the book and how she grew as a character. She also had a southern charm, which was infectious.

CTW: Who is your biggest literary crush?
CW: My biggest literary crush is Eric Jerome Dickey. He has such a way with words and when I met him in person he was so humble. I’m looking forward to his next book release in April.

CTW: What's up next in your writing world?
CW: I am in the early stages of working on my next book. Currently I am working on the location notes and preliminary notes for the book.

CTW: Do you have anything else you'd like to share?
CW: Writing can be extremely emotionally draining, but the end product is worth it. It is the only thing besides reading that has been a constant in my life since I was a young child. Writing is one of my most treasured friends. Thanks to all those who have bought Love Illusion and those who will buy it in the future.

Excerpt of Love Illusion
Lucy shoved the purple sixteen hundred thread count sheets off of her as the sunlight beamed through her bedroom window. She lifted a hand to her face to redirect the stream of sunlight. Her Friday was just getting started and already she was feeling sluggish.

She had a few sleepless nights in between getting moved into her new house and her breakup with Charles. The last few days had been rough. She didn't even want to think about all of the boxes that she still had to unpack and was still getting adjusted to being in her own place. She was so proud of her accomplishment of being a homeowner at the age of twenty eight. She was excited about all of the interior decorating plans that she had and already clipped a few ideas from a magazine.

Working in the public relations field she put in long hours during the week, but it was worth it for doing what she loved and being able to go on the Summer vacations that were so relaxing to her. She took one big vacation a year that usually consisted of a cruise or some lavish getaway.

Her ability to speak Spanish fluently allowed her more flexibility to choose the clients that she worked with. Her sparkling brown eyes, long red hair, and flawless olive skin were sure to turn the eyes of any guy.

She had the fashion sense of some of the best designers in the business She loved flipping through fashion magazines to gain new ideas and put her own spin on it.

She loved taking the outfits that she found on Pinterest and recreating them by finding items at her favorite online stores. She could stay on the site for hours pinning to her board entitled Fashionista Finds. Her closest friends went to her whenever they needed fashion advice.

It was 7:15 am, and with her work day starting at 8:00 am she was pressed for time this morning. Lucy quickly showered and  prepared for the day by listening to her  daily devotional on audio book, while applying mascara and her favorite lip gloss shade, Plum Luster. She took a curling iron and curled her straight hair around it to create soft tendrils. It was an effortless hairstyle that didn’t take long to create.

She made her daily morning smoothie by turning the high quality and professional blender on full speed, blending up a citrus blend of strawberries, peach, and orange juice to keep her energetic and full until lunch. With the smoothie in her hand she exited her house and was ready to take on the day.

Her outfit was one straight out of a fashion magazine. Lucy was ready to take on the days challenges at work by being dressed in a chiffon Banana Republic blouse,  Express black pencil skirt, Nine West pumps, and her signature pearls . She never forgot to spritz on some perfume. Today she was wearing Lola by Marc Jacobs.

She had just arrived at her office. She took a detour to the break room and poured herself a cup of hot tea with a wedge of lemon and a few squeezes of honey. She loved what the flavor of the sweet and sour combination brought to her tea. She plopped the cup of tea down on her desk, creating a splash. On the corner of her desk she was greeted by a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers. They were cheerful and upbeat with their bright yellow hue.

She wasn’t used to getting flowers at the job and her intuition kicked in. It was on high alert. With her heart pounding like two beating snare drums, she  sensed that the flowers were from her ex-boyfriend, Charles. He  had been sending her things to the office trying to get her attention for the last two weeks. Obviously he was having a hard time letting her go.

Lucy quickly took a picture of the arrangement with her cell phone and slipped it back into her purse. She walked around the flowers, observing their fragile petals and inhaling their fragrance.

She took the card out of the plastic stem and flipped it over. When she looked at the card, which had a red rose border, her suspicions were right. The card read “Some sunflowers for my sunshine. Love Charles.” Lucy traced the handwriting on the card. The note looked to be rushed and the handwriting was angry. She put the card in a zip loc bag and sealed it.

She would put it in a box that she had at home that had evidence of what Charles had been sending the last few weeks. She was worried that Charles was getting too out of control. This had to be stopped.

Their breakup had been on her part because she didn't feel that Charles could be the man that she needed him to be. He wasn’t as mature as she had wanted him to be and then there were his anger issues. He had demonstrated to her  several times while they were dating that he was controlling.

One time he had snatched her arm back when she walked ahead of him in the grocery store. The imprint of his hand had been on her forearm for days before the bruise had healed.

Charles would get mad when they were with friends and she would voice her opinion. He would also check the browsing history on her computer when he occasionally used it. He liked to feel in charge, and most of all important.  He had serious self-esteem issues, which were evident in his actions.

There came a point when Lucy couldn’t take the mental and physical abuse any longer. She knew that she was worth more than being treated like a rag doll and she made the decision to end the relationship.

Lucy would call her best friend Jade as soon as she got a chance to get her advice on the situation. She always gave sound advice and was always willing to lend a listening ear. She wouldn’t worry Jade too much though, since she was in the process of planning her wedding. They  had been friends since high school and had been through a lot together, including growing pains. Jade  was always there and was the one person who never let Lucy down.

For  now Lucy would focus on planning and advertising  the event for her next big celebrity client, author Angela Dobson. Lucy had read a few of her books and enjoyed them. She was well known in the literary world for her books on bold topics and independent women. Angela wanted an upscale tea party for about twenty of her biggest fans as a way to say thank you for their support. She had ran a contest on twitter and personally selected twenty people to attend the tea party.

Since people were flying from all over this event had to be special and unlike any other tea party. It would include appetizers that were sophisticated and a twelve piece jazz band. It would be sure to keep those invited entertained throughout the event. Angela had a list of things that were required to be at the tea party.

A spreadsheet with all of the above details as well as a list of contacts lay beside Lucy’s MacBook Pro. The desk that it lay on was organized with pink metal containers for her pens and highlighters. It was time to start sending out emails to some of her most trusted contacts in order for this event to be a success. Lucy tapped away at her keyboard, carefully choosing the correct words to describe the upscale tea party. For an hour she emailed everyone from wholesale florists, vendors for table linens, and fine china companies.

After a brief staff meeting going over what the agency had on their calendar for next week it was time to go. The boss kept talking about how the clients had certain expectations and how they needed be treated a certain way. He knew how some of them could be overly demanding, but he urged the employees to not take it too personally.

It felt like the workday would never end. Today it seemed to drag on.  She was ready for the weekend to start so that she could relax and finally get some things done around the house. She was planning to paint an accent wall in her living room the perfect teal color, Mariner by Sherwin Williams. Film from her Nikon F Classic 35mm film camera would also have to be processed. She would go to a lab with a dark room to process them.

Lucy had always loved photography, but she really got into it when she took a few photography classes in college. She loved the different assignments that she had the opportunity to take pictures of like the holiday toy drive and the annual picnic. She then began to understand photography terms like shutter speed, aperture, and f-stop. Everything about dark rooms and processing film on classic cameras she learned by watching youtube videos and taking notes on them.

She loved the feeling of looking through the lens and creating something out of pixels and light.

Before these things she would have to attend an important event this evening that she attended every year. She looked forward to being in the company of celebrated media professionals while enjoying a night out. The annual Media Professionals Gala was tonight.

About the Author
Chineka Williams found a love of reading and writing early on as a child. She is a graduate of North Carolina Central University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Books and Stilettos is the blog that she maintains for all things women's fiction and writing updates. Outside of reading, her hobbies include baking, playing the clarinet, photography, and DIY. She can always be seen with a cup of tea close by. Love Illusion is her debut novel.

Connect with Chineka
Facebook Author Page

About the Book
Lucy is a confident PR professional, who is fearful of her troubled ex-boyfriend Charles. He is in denial about their breakup. With issues of alcoholism and abandonment, he spirals out of control.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s best friend Jade has found love and is about to get married. She is a loyal friend who is there for Lucy every step of the way.

Feeling trapped, Lucy is determined to fight back against Charles, but it won’t be without complication. After great debate, she optimistically accepts a new job offer miles away. Lucy soon embarks on an uncertain journey all connected to love.

Buy the Book
Barnes & Noble

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April 14, 2014

interview with samantha march

Blogger's Note: Today Samantha March is stopping by on her Chick Lit Plus blog tour for her latest novel, A Questionable Friendship. Be sure to check out the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post.

Change the Word: How was the process different for writing book three than it was for books one and two?
Samantha March: It gets smoother with each book. With the second book I knew what worked for me and what didn’t through trial and error with the first book, and that only got smoother when I started plotting out the third. I knew my strengths and weaknesses when it came to plotting, editing, and creating my writing schedule. I’m currently writing my fourth novel, about 30K words in, and I’m happy to say that I took plenty away from book 3 to help this time around, as the setting once again is somewhere I have never been and the characters are quite a stretch from my own life.

CTW: What was your favorite part about writing this story?
SM: Getting to do something new. Really challenging myself on creating the atmosphere and building the character’s lives. I didn’t let myself get too invested in plotting and knowing each next move my character would make, I let the words and the ideas flow when my fingers hit the keyboard.

CTW: What is the biggest difference between this book and your previous two novels?
SM: Book three was pretty different from the first two in regards to my writing research, because I was writing about a place I had never been before and writing from a perspective as both a wife and mother, neither of which I was at the time of writing (I am since married).

CTW: Finish the sentence: When I sit down to write, I need ____, ____ and ____.
SM: When I sit down to write, I need a water glass, the TV off, and a hair tie. I cannot write with my hair down because I constantly play with it!

CTW: What literary character do you have a crush on and why?
SM: I’ve been asked this question just recently, and I honestly don’t think I have one. I feel like this makes me quite weird in the book world.

CTW: If you were having a dinner party and could invite five characters as guests, who would attend?
SM: Rachel and Darcy from Something Borrowed because who doesn’t? Drew from Pulled Beneath by Marni Mann because I would love to see how things are working out with Saint! Roxy from Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie because I’m dying to know how her journey is continuing! And then Lexi from Hard Hats and Doormats, because I’m curious how things are going with her and Jason! :)

CTW: What are a few songs you like to listen to while you write/edit/work-out?
SM: I actually can’t listen to music while I write or edit, or watch TV. It’s just too distracting. When I workout I like a good beat, so I typically go for rap or hip-hop to keep me in the groove!

CTW: Since the last time you published a book, you've gotten married, moved into a new home and expanded your family with a puppy. How has that changed your writing career?
SM: Whew! It’s definitely made me need to juggle my time better and more efficiently. Especially with having the pup around, she demands our attention, so I have to plan to write on days she is in doggie daycare or in between her kennel time, because I could get nothing done when she’s out! But it’s also given me more ideas for my next books – the book I’m writing now is all about planning a wedding, and I have plenty to say on that topic :)

CTW: What's in store next for you and your writing career?
SM: I’m hoping to get book four out by the end of the year or early 2015, and release a new book every 12-15 months after that!

Excerpt of A Questionable Friendship
I lay in bed by myself that night, as Trent said he still had some reports to look at. I flipped onto my stomach, my favorite sleeping position, and tried to will myself to sleep. But my mind wouldn’t shut off. I flashed to the papers I found in Trent’s desk last night, purely on accident. I had never thought to snoop on my husband of two years. I was trying to find our tax returns from last year to give to the accountant, as we were severely behind and the April deadline was just around the corner. I had tried calling Trent to see where they were, but his phone was going to straight to voicemail. I knew he was driving home and sometimes his service cut in and out, so I didn’t think anything of it. I decided to find the papers myself, mostly out of boredom and the need to do something.

Trent’s office in our 2200 square foot ranch home was on the first floor, all the way to the east. I rarely ventured in there as I had no reason too, only popping in when Trent was working. It felt a little foreign being there, but I sat at his desk chair and looked around me. His desk wasn’t just some shoddy little thing tucked into the corner, no, the desk ran almost the full length of the wall, big enough for three people to easily fit at. He had one desktop computer set up and a laptop as well, and he carried yet another laptop with him on business trips. A printer that doubled as a scanner sat on one corner, and a fax machine on another. He had multiple calendars hung up with agendas scribbled on the majority of the dates, and another smaller calendar that sat to the right of the desktop. It was opened to that date, March 14, and scribbled on there was “Petosi.” He had been in that town for the past two nights, and was due home late in the night.

After some searching, I finally found the drawer that seemed to hold important records. Our passports were in there, our wedding license, birth certificates, and deed to the house. I found the titles to both our vehicles, but no tax information. I frowned, trying to think of another spot he would have them. I slipped all the papers back in the appropriate files and shut the drawer, and when I did, a single piece of paper had floated down to me, from somewhere at the top of the desk. I grabbed the sheet and read over the words, my eyes growing wide, then squinting as I read and re-read. My body turned cold as I sat in shock, trying to process what I had read. When I realized I’d been sitting there for probably thirty minutes doing absolutely nothing I jumped, understanding that Trent could walk through the door at any minute and find me. Then what would I say?

Carefully, I pushed myself up and climbed onto the office chair, putting the piece of paper back where I thought it had come from. From my new vantage point, I saw the top of his desk was riddled with other papers and...a calendar. I swallowed hard as I peered closer and saw what was written in under March 13. My stomach heaving, I quickly left the office after righting the chair to its original spot, and fled to the bathroom.

I blinked back tears in bed as I forced myself to calm my mind. Trent had some explaining to do sure, but how did I tell him what I had found? Did that really even matter in the grand scheme of things? But knowing the Trent as of lately, he would try to turn this around on me and make me look like the bad person. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for sleep. I just wanted to sleep, to forget about what I had found. The day had been torturous enough, trying to make everything seem like it was hunky dory and nothing out of place. And what would tomorrow bring? More questions. And next week – Trent would be gone for two weeks. Would he be going where he said he was? What was he actually doing on his trips away?

The bedroom door opened and I saw Trent enter the room, already in just his boxers. I let my breathing become even so he would think I was asleep.

He plugged his cell phone in and set it on the nightstand, then pulled the covers back and crawled in. I felt his cold feet touch mine and jerked involuntarily. “Are you awake?” he whispered. I could feel his erection pressing into my back, and knew what he wanted. He probably touched me on purchase.

“Mmmph,” I mumbled, not opening my eyes.

“Port. You awake?” he asked again, clearly not getting the hint as his hand wandered to my breast.

I rolled away and made more sleeping noises, begging in my mind for him to leave me alone. He stayed quiet for another moment, then finally rolled the other way.

I was off the hook – at least for one night.

About the Author
Samantha March is an author, editor, publisher, blogger, and all around book lover. She runs the popular book/women’s lifestyle blog ChickLitPlus, which keeps her bookshelf stocked with the latest reads and up to date on all things health, fitness, fashion, and celebrity related. In 2011 she launched her independent publishing company Marching Ink and has three published novels – Destined to Fail, The Green Ticket and A Questionable Friendship. When she isn’t reading, writing, or blogging, you can find her cheering for the Green Bay Packers. Samantha lives in Iowa with her husband and Vizsla puppy.

Connect with Samantha

About the Book
Brynne Ropert and Portland Dolish have been best friends since being paired as roommates in college. Seven years later they are now twenty-five, married, and living in Maine–– but the two women couldn’t be more different. Brynne finds fulfillment in her life as a wife, mother and owner of a small cafĂ© and bookshop, but is struggling to expand her family. Portland is still coping with her mother’s death during her childhood, and her marriage is unraveling before her eyes. Portland envies her friend’s seemingly stable and easy life while Brynne doesn’t understand the growing distance between them and cannot begin to guess what secret Portland is hiding about her husband and crumbling marriage. While one woman feels shut out, the other enters into a web of lies to protect herself.

A Questionable Friendship explores what really makes someone a true friend, a support system, a sister. How much trust goes into a friendship and when is being a friend not enough? Brynne and Portland’s story will attempt to answer those questions, and show that happily ever after isn’t in the cards for everyone.

Buy the Book
Barnes & Noble – eBook
Kobo – eBook

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April 11, 2014

the two 10k weekend

Source: Freeimages.com

In my efforts to get healthier, I've let my Camp NaNoWriMo goals get away from me. But instead of being hard on myself for slipping up on one aspect of my life in the pursuit of another, I figured I'd find a way to make them work together.

That's why I came up with my Two 10K plan. Here's the concept: between tonight and Sunday night, I'm setting a goal to write 10,000 words and walk/jog 6.2 miles -- or 10 kilometers. If all goes well, I'll have taken care of my novel and my body. Both would make me incredibly happy.

To make it happen, I've set mini-goals. Here's the break-down:
  • Write 2,000 words tonight
  • Take a break half-way for a quick 2-mile walk/jog
  • Write 2,000 words tomorrow morning
  • Go for a 2.1-mile walk/run mid-day
  • Write 2,000 words tomorrow afternoon
  • Repeat Saturday on Sunday

Though, I'm willing to cut myself some slack if it doesn't go exactly to plan if I do my best. See -- I'm being all zen about ambition. Isn't that healthy and well of me? (ha) While this will be a lot of work, I hope that by breaking everything down into smaller pieces, I can also give myself ample time for fun and relaxation. I'm sure I'll be able to appreciate those times more if I've accomplished these goals of mine.

I came up with this plan last weekend, and I have to say it's given me a lot of peace this week. I was able to focus on the workout and meal routines I made, my work at the day-job and even plug away at some other writing and personal projects.

Who knows? If it works out, maybe I'll have a new way for creating some sort of work-writing-life balance in my own life.

Have any of you found some unique approaches to creating your own writing happy place?

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April 9, 2014

interview with hilary grossman

Blogger's Note: I'm pleased to welcome Hilary Grossman to the blog as part of her tour for Dangled Carat. Check out her other Chick Lit Plus tour stops. Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post.

Change the Word: What was the inspiration for this book? 
Hilary Grossman: Dangled Carat, while it reads like chick lit, is a memoir about my attempt to convert the ultimate commitment-phobic man into a doting husband with a lot of help from his family and friends. While many of the things that happened to me (two faux engagement parties, for example) were very unique being involved in a relationship with a commitment-phobe is a very common situation.  I felt that my story was something that so many women could relate to.

CTW: What did the writing process look like?
HG: I have a very high stress, long hour “day job” so I was only able to devote time to writing Dangled Carat on the weekends. But for the seven months or so that I worked on the first draft, writing Dangled Carat was all I did. I would sit myself down at my dining room table in front of my laptop and type from early in the morning until about 6 PM every Saturday and Sunday. I would only get up to refill my water bottle.... 

CTW: What surprised you most about the writing process?
HG: I am so pleasantly surprised by how generous and supportive authors are. I am used to working in corporate America where everyone’s main objective seems to be their own success.  Authors are different.  They really seem to want to go the extra mile to help one another. They are always eager to give advice or a just shoulder to lean on.  It is a wonderful feeling to be part of such an amazing community.

CTW: How do you keep yourself motivated to keep going?
HG: Some days are easier than others... But, when I need a moral boast I think to myself I am living my dream...

CTW: What is the best writing advice you ever received?
HG: If you want to write, just write. Don’t worry finding readers. Don’t worry about publication. And don’t worry about sales. None of those things will matter if you don’t have any words written.

CTW: Who is your biggest fictional book crush? Why?
HG: With the exception of the red room, Christian Grey. I love how he was so strong and in control but also had a vulnerable side.

CTW: If you could be any fictional character for one day, who would you pick and why?
HG: Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz....  I would love to be able to spend a day in that magical place.  How much fun would it be to hang with the Tin Man, The Scarecrow and my all time favorite the Cowardly Lion? I always wanted to give that guy a hug!

CTW: What are the three most worn-out books on your bookshelf? (Meaning ones you go back to and read and re-read.) 
HG: Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster - this is the book that motivated me to start my blog and write my memoir. It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse - by far one of the funniest books I have ever read. Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock - this is a book where nothing is as it seems and when you turn the last page you just have to read it again....

CTW: What else is going on in your writing world?
HG: I have actually started my next book. YEAH!  This time I am dabbling in fiction.  I haven’t written much yet, but I like where it is headed... And I especially like that I don’t have to relive so many difficult moments in my life, as I had to do with Dangled Carat.

CTW: Anything else you'd like to share?
HG: I just want to thank you for welcoming me to your blog....

Enjoy an Excerpt of Tangled Carat
For whatever reason, this restaurant attracted an elderly crowd.  Our two tables were pretty much the only ones in the entire place that weren’t occupied by people north of their seventy-fifth birthdays. As soon as the waiter cleared off our dinner plates, my mom headed to the bathroom and Marc sat down in her seat.  “I just want to see what it feels like to sit next to you,” he said as he smiled at me.

As I arched my eyebrows at him, I asked, “Well, how does it feel?”  He pondered for a second, and I noticed the table of two elderly couples sitting to the other side of us.  They were watching Marc and me interact as if they were watching a movie.  We were clearly their entertainment for the evening.

“I think I can get used to it,” Marc replied solemnly.

All too quickly, my mom returned from the bathroom and Marc had to go back to his seat. We continued to chat for a little while as Marc’s brother squared away their bill, and the waiter brought my mom and me over coffee and cappuccino.

As Marc and his family got up to leave, he said, “This was fun.  Can we do it again?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Call me.”

“Are you going to give me your number?”

“My number?” I asked, playing coy.  “Oh, you want my number, do you?”

“Well, it usually does help,” he retorted, “if I am to call you.”

“Okay.” I rattled off “766-722” with a twinkle in my eye.

Marc wrote down the digits and stared at the paper.  A confused look appeared on his face.  “Huh?  You only gave me six numbers.”

Flippantly as if I didn’t care whether he called – though I desperately wanted him to - I answered, “I know…You need to guess the missing number.”

Why I did this, I don’t know.  It wasn’t a plan.  It wasn’t my signature move (not that I actually had a signature move, mind you)  it just happened.

About the Author
Hilary Grossman dated a guy so commitment-phobic that she was able to write a book about their relationship. She is currently the CFO of a beverage alcohol importer and lives on Long Island.

Connect with Hilary
Facebook author page
Facebook blog page

About the Book
Hilary had gotten used to dating the commitment-phobic Marc, thirteen years her senior. They had a great relationship--why rush into things? She saw no need to pressure him for marriage, believing that when the time was right, he would propose. But after they had been together for four years, their friends decided to take matters into their own hands, pushing Marc to propose and making Hilary realize how much she really did want to marry the man that she loved. Unfortunately, Marc still wasn't ready--and their friends' meddling in the form of a faux engagement party led to a disastrous New Year's Eve that brought their relationship to an inevitable turning point.

Buy the Book
Barnes & Noble (print)

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April 7, 2014

greetings from... the south

In my novel Hard Hats and Doormats, human resources manager Lexi Burke travels the Gulf Coast training employees, settling disputes and maintaining order for a chemical company. Like Lexi, my first job out of college involved a lot of travel––I visited more than 20 states in four years. In this series, I'll share some of my real life experiences exploring the country.

During my travels across the country, I spent a considerable amount of time visiting a few southern states. Since Texas is basically it's own world, I'm going to save it for another post and focus on Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

I loved my time hanging out in the South. I only visited Oklahoma and Arkansas a couple of times each, but Louisiana was like a second home for a while there. For me it was the place I'd seen in movies and on TV shows like Steel Magnolias, The Waterboy and True Blood. And I mean that as a compliment. The communities were wonderful -- if a little different from what I've always known -- the scenery beautiful and the food to die for.

My favorite foods were found in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The beignets at Cafe Du Monde were one of the most delicious things I've ever had. And I still think about the crawfish etouffee (served on top of avocado) I had for dinner one night at the Napoleon House Bar & Cafe.

I tried other interesting foods, like fried okra (I didn't even know what okra was until I went down south). I never did indulge in cracklin, though the locals told me it was a must, but I think I ate enough crawfish during my time down there to make up for it.

And of course no trip in that part of the country would be complete without trying the Waffle House once or twice. I kid you not, there must be a Waffle House at every other exit on I-10 between New Orleans and Houston. While there's nothing super special about the Waffle House, it was my first time trying grits, which I soon learned to love. I could actually go for some right now.

I still think a lot about the men and women I met on those trips down south. They opened up to me about their families and told me stories about their lives. Every so often I'll see something on TV that reminds me of one of them. And I wonder how they are and what is new in their world.

Fried Okra.

The swamps of Louisiana.

The rocky terrain of southern Oklahoma.

A full meal -- including grits front and center -- at the Waffle House.

Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter.


Birthplace of President Clinton.

About Hard Hats and Doormats
Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion––because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Who says nice girls have to finish last?

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