Family Traditions

I love family traditions–what ornaments go where on the Christmas tree, the inside jokes that only the family understands, summer evenings with board games, photos, trips, memories.

Did you know that scents are the strongest memory makers we have? A whiff of cocoanut and you are back on your honeymoon in Hawaii. A scent of cinnamon and you are in your grandma’s kitchen helping her to make cookies. A favorite perfume and you are there with a favorite aunt or your mother, even when they are no longer with us.

When I went to write my story for the Authors of Main Street Christmas boxed set I decided to put a twist on a family legend and cookie.

So, the legend goes that the butter cookie recipe came from Ireland with the Redmond family and has been passed down generation to generation. I can’t say whether the legend is true, but the cookies are to die for. So I took the IDEA of a family tradition of a cookie recipe, hijacked a little of my family history, and came up with Sugar Sprinkled Memories.

Maggie Mason has dreamed her entire life of owning her own bakery and making the family-famous Traveling Cinnamon Cookies. The only thing standing in her way is tall, dark, and handsome Warren Kincaid who claims he owns the building where the bakery now sits and he wants it for his new law office. Tempers rise, misunderstandings get in the way, but just maybe–a sprinkle of sugar, a touch of Christmas magic, and life-long memories will be made for Maggie and Warren.

 

 

Chapter 1

Maggie, age 8

 “Mommy, tell me the story. My story, about Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger,” Maggie Mason pleaded as she snuggled deeper under the covers.

Her mother smoothed the covers as she sat on the edge of the bed. “I’ve told you this story a thousand times. You must know it by heart now.”

She nodded. “I do. But you tell it so well.”

Dimming the bedside light, her mother leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Okay,” she whispered. “The tale of Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger.”

She began, “In the wee village of Dunby, which no longer exists, if it ever did…”

Dunby, Ireland 1919 

Maggie McGill nee O’Shay rushed up the pebbled path to her home, her shawl wrapped tightly around herself on this blustery March day. Winter didn’t want to loosen its grasp this year.

Her fingers tingled from more than just the chilling breeze. Sean at the post office said her ma had received mail special delivery this afternoon while Maggie had been at work in the button factory.

She crossed herself. It had to be good news. The factory was closing next month and that would spell the end of Dunby. Her gaze swept over the cottages nearby. Two more had boarded-up windows and a board across the doors. The Great War had started the end of her hometown with the leaving of all the eligible men and the factory closing would end for those who were left.

“If only…” She sighed. Wishes were for the wee folk, not regular people. Wishing her John had returned from the war wouldn’t make it so. Crossing herself, she wiped her shoes on the doormat. Pity served no one when her John wasn’t the only husband who hadn’t returned.

The aroma of cinnamon wafted over her as she opened the door. She hadn’t dared hope, but her mother’s smile gave her the good news anyway. If the scent of the cinnamon buttons hadn’t proclaimed it before she’d opened the door.

“Mama, mama,” tiny voices cried as Virginia and Robert flung themselves at her legs, wrapping her in a warm muddle of boy and girl.

She hugged them back and then pushed them gently away. “Go clean up, I’m sure Granny will have dinner for us shortly.”

Her mother turned from pulling cookies from the oven. Tears flowed down Maggie the elder’s cheeks, threatening to ruin the precious cookies.

She looked away before she had tears to join her mother’s. Cinnamon was a luxury they hadn’t seen during the war and only had some since they’d had it before the war, hidden away in the back of the cupboard. Saved for only one thing. The traveling button cookies.

Setting down the cookies, her mother opened her arms and swept Maggie into a hug. Her body shook and tears dampened her hair. She clung to her mother. The familiar scents of flour, butter, and sugar painting a picture of her ma she would remember to her dying day.

Maggie stepped back, wiping the tears from her mother’s face. “I haven’t even opened the letter yet. How do you know it is good news?”

Her mother smiled, touching the side of her head. A dusting of flour added to the white strands in her dark hair. “I know you’ll be needing the cookies. You’ll be traveling far over the sea to America.”

Maggie’s fingers trembled as she tore open the envelope. She’d read the few pages in a moment. All she could do was stare at the three tickets for a ship to Baltimore, Maryland. One for her and each of her children. Unconsciously, her hand settled on her stomach.

Her mother placed a hand over her own. “This little one will be born where no one knows he doesn’t have the same father as the other little ones.”

She jumped, her face heating. “I didn’t know you knew,” she whispered, whipping her head around to see if the children were back.

Maggie the elder smiled, touching her head again. “I knew. I will always know how you are. Are you safe? Are you happy? Even when I’m an ocean away.”

She couldn’t stop the tears, even when Virginia came back into the room and wrapped her long arms around her mother and grandmother.

“Did someone die?” the eight-year-old whispered, her face blanching white with her freckles sticking out like the pox.

Maggie wrapped her arms around her. It had only been a year since the men had come and told them of John’s death in a nameless field in France. Her little boy had only been three and would never remember the devastating news or the father who would remain just a few pictures and stories and memories from his mother.

“Ginny, we’re going to America. Uncle Thomas has sent for us.”

The little girl’s face lit up, her green eyes sparkling with the idea of a grand adventure. Her red hair bouncing on her shoulders as she grabbed up Robert and danced around the room.

“Robby, we’re going to America,” she crowed as they spun across the wooden floor.

She started to speak up, but her mother’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“Let them have their fun. Time enough to hear the story of the traveling buttons before we get you packed and sent on your way.”

A week later and Maggie the younger stood among the bags and trunks of all her worldly goods. Her vision blurred but she refused to let tears fall down her face. Her last moments with her mother would find her with a smile on her face as she waved good-bye to the only family and home she’d ever known.

Virginia held the tin of cinnamon button cookies as her granny did up her coat.

“Ginny, this is why they are traveling cookies,” she explained as her fingers pushed the buttons into their buttonholes on the coat. “They are only to be made when someone is going away from home forever.”

The young girl sniffled as she put on a brave face. “But, we will have a new home? Mama and Robby will be there?”

“Of course,” Maggie the elder said, straightening Ginny’s collar made of a fox’s tail. “But the baker makes them to send a piece of themselves with the travelers and the travelers eat them, one each day, to remember the baker.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around her granny, cookie tin and all. “I’ll write to you all the time, Granny. And Robby too, as soon as I teach him how.”

Her comment set them all to laughing and put smiles on their faces as a truck horn beeped outside.

Maggie the elder scooted them around and had Maggie the younger, and the children, and all their belongings soon settled in the truck. She marched up to the driver and leaned in the window.

“Padraig, you take care of my babies. Don’t you leave until they are safely on their ship.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, doffing his hat and pulling it back on as the truck slowly moved down the road.

Maggie the elder stood there until the truck turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Only then did she allow tears to flow into the cinnamon-scented hands covering her face.

*****

Since we only make our family’s butter cookies at Christmas I loved the idea of a cookie that was only for a certain occasion, in this case when a loved one is moving far away and never returning home. Now, in our connected global world today, that is usually not true anymore, but I liked the idea that you can return home but it isn’t the same when you make a new home and are just a visitor to your childhood home and memories.

Hope everyone will check out our new boxed set when it is released….Jill

Let Your Characters Write Their Story

You’ve heard authors say, “My characters were resisting me” or “My characters ran away with the story.” Some writers complain about that. I call it magic when the characters talk to me and tell me their love story.

When I set out to write In My Dreams, all I had was that snippet from the song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas–if only in my dreams. It is my favorite Christmas song and brings me to tears every time. In my mind, that song says all there is to say about wartime and a soldier’s yearning to be home with his family and his friends. I can not imagine anything sadder than being away from home for the holidays, doing the same old, same old, as every other day in the service or on the battlefield, wishing you could be home for the holidays.

So, when I sat down to start the story, Juan Montoya was a soldier, halfway around the world in a jungle, fighting warlords and guerrillas, dreaming of Christmas and song, and home. And since this was a friends-to-lovers story, I had Jessie Ortega back home in Lake Willowbee, being a nurse at the local hospital. And…no matter how many times I tried to start with Chapter 1, it just wasn’t happening. Until…Jessie announced she was a soldier, fighting in Africa and Juan was a physical therapist back home, working with wounded vets.

Like finding the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the story came together. Juan and Jessie told me of their childhood friendship, how they had been there for each other through everything, until their friendship broke, and they hadn’t spoken to each other in years. Even with the years between them, at her lowest moment, Jessie’s first thoughts are of Juan.

In My Dreams is a story of the power of wishes and being careful what you use them on. It will be in the Christmas Wishes on Main Street boxed set with the other Authors of Main Street.

Do you believe wishes can come true?


Jill James, romance writer

Seasons

Being originally from Baltimore, Maryland I was used to four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Moving to California–not so much. LOL I’ve always joked that Cali has two seasons: wet and cold and hot and dry. Nowadays, it seems like it is landslide and fire.

Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

I did not realize when I moved to Reno, Nevada last year that we would again have four seasons. It has been glorious. It is already becoming autumn here. Today’s high was 74, with it being barely 50 this morning. The leaves are turning colors, the wind is cool and crisp, and the skies are a bright blue with a million stars at night.

 

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

The natives said summer was hot. After the years in California’s Central Valley, not so much to me. We had most days in the low 90s with a few days during the whole summer hitting 100. It was awesome.

 

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Spring was amazing. In the winter, everything is dormant and dead-looking, so each new bud, every little flower is a celebration of the earth waking up after a long-winter’s nap. If it wasn’t for allergies, spring would be the best season of all.

 

 

 

 

Photo by pparnxoxo on Unsplash

For the first time since I was a very little girl, we live where it snows for the winter. Looking out over a blanket of white covering everything is magical, no matter how old or young you are. Where we live, the snow is a few inches overnight and in the morning. By afternoon the sun hits it and it melts away.

 

 

It has been an experience to write for the boxed sets with the Authors of Main Street. Trying to feel the heat of summer when I’m sitting in my slippers, sipping hot tea and trying to envision the chill of a snowy mountain day as I swelter with the fan on full blast. A writer’s imagination is her greatest gift, but mine is still tasked sometimes to bring to life the opposite season it is. 🙂

Coming Soon! In My Dreams by Jill James in the Christmas Wishes on Main Street boxed set.

What is your favorite season? And why?

Jill James, romance author

A Summer Romance to Remember

Have you ever had a summer romance? One that only lasted as long as you were at summer camp or on vacation? I had one of those.

beach during sunset

Photo by b. on Pexels.com

When I was a teenager, we did a lot of camping. Our favorite place was Sunset Beach near Santa Cruz, California. Warm during the day, cool enough at night for sweatshirts and bonfires, and a long trek down the side of a cliff to the beach.

The summer that I would turn sixteen, we went for a week-long trip to the beach. In the campsite beside ours was another family. A family with three boys. Two were young, but the oldest was my age.

Philip was gorgeous in that tall, dark, and handsome way of bad boys forever. He played the guitar. And he seemed to like me. I had never attracted boys (late bloomer) and certainly none that looked like Philip.

For a week, we were inseparable. Down to the beach. Climbing rocks and trees. Kissing at the campfire. And then it was time to go. We traded addresses, promising to write to each other…forever!!

I wrote to him every day and I got a letter back every two or three days. Then…

He showed up at my house to see me. It was surreal. Somehow, Philip was supposed to remain at the beach in my mind. A little summer flirting to look back at in the future as a fun, romantic time. Not at my front door.

My mom thought it was the most romantic thing ever. I thought it was stalker-like. He was supposed to stay where I left him. LOL

I can’t remember what I said or what we did that day he showed up, but my confusion and coldness must have shown, because he left that night and I never saw him or heard from him again. But, I choose to remember the time at the beach and keep that good memory.

Did you ever have a little summer romance?

RetreatInterrupted 200x300

Make sure to check out my story, Retreat, Interrupted in our Summer Romance on Main Street boxed set.


Jill James, romance writer

I’m back!

Yes, I made it! I’m here.

Except it seems nothing is going or went as it should. My email is down. (Still don’t know what is wrong with that.) I’ve locked myself out of a dozen different sites trying to access them from my daughter’s house in North Carolina while I recuperated from my surgery.

My old cat decided he was lonely while I was gone and did a few not so nice things. I did have a friend checking on him constantly, but she isn’t his mommy. My being gone for two months must have been very upsetting to him. I’ve yet to discover how to reason with one of my pets. Their concept of time isn’t very good.

Sugarplum, my tiny dog, stayed with my oldest daughter and enjoyed playing with twins, 80+ pound Basset hounds. My daughter kept Sugarplum spoiled with lots of lap time, belly rubs, and treats. But she played so much she lost a little weight. She’s eating her weight in dog food since she’s been home and her ribs are still poking out. I think she’s only seven and a half pounds – normal for her is eight pounds. At least she’s not overweight. She’s happy and healthy. She also adores my daughter and her Significant Other. We’ve nicknamed him the dog whisperer because he’s so very good with animals and they love him.

The animals did fine. I’m the one who had problems. The actual surgery appears to have gone very well. Waking up and realizing that I was alive, moving, and thinking clearly was a terrific feeling. It’s impossible to explain how scared I was going into that surgery.

A whole chunk of my hair was shaved off and several spots on my head had little sections of hair removed. What a mess! But I sweep my hair to one side and hide the largest shaved area. One of the smaller spots of shaved hair was along my part line, so I moved my part. I think it’s a great camouflage job. Guess eventually enough hair will grow back that I’ll simply be able to cut my hair to one length… Five years from now I’ll get that haircut.

My biggest problem is damage to one eye. Nine hours of surgery, I think most anything could happen and apparently it did.  The specialists who have cared for my eye have suggested several explanations as to how it was damaged. It’s physical damage that was done. It shouldn’t have happened but it did.

My girls brought me “home” the day after surgery with a caveat from my neurosurgeon. I had to have an appointment the following day with an ophthalmologist. My eye was flaming red. Thus started a long process of trying to heal and protect my eye from more damage. I still have no clue if it will ever be right or if I’ll ever be able to see more than hazy light through it. It’s been frustrating and debilitating.

What is amazing is how much and what medical science can do today. My surgery is mind-boggling in itself, but what they are doing to save my eye is unreal. These procedures weren’t around thirty years ago. I’m not giving up on the eye. I’m working closely with the retina specialists to heal and keep this eye healed. I think it will happen.

At the moment, my time on the computer is limited. Using only one eye, the one that was the weaker of the two, is all I have. It tires easily. But I’m determined. I’m a little behind on my writing schedule because of the complication with my eye, however, I’m still writing. People have faced worse things and have kept going. I figure I’m a little like that pink rabbit that just keeps going and going. I refuse to give in or give up. I’m crossing my fingers that in another month, my eye will be better. Progress will be made!

The Authors of Main Street have our newest boxed set up on Pre-Order for 99c. That box does not contain my story. BUT!!! If you order the boxed set, my story will appear on an update shortly after you receive the book. That gives you plenty of time to read the other stories first. And this time, I’ll be as surprised as you because I haven’t read a single word in this release. I can’t wait to indulge in another AoMS reading fest of great stories, knowing that each one of these summer romances will entertain and be different.

Fifty Miles at a Breath

Retreat, Interrupted

Retreat, Interrupted is my story for the Summer Romance on Main Street boxed set. In this book, I return to my fictional town of Lake Willowbee.

Cassie Stone is a failure. At least, she feels that way. She is a writer who hasn’t written in two years. She’s lost her publisher, her agent, her friends. Now, she returns home to Lake Willowbee to bury her father and take care of her mother, who is slowly losing her mind to Alzheimer’s.

Ben Bridges is the chief of police and mayor of Lake Willowbee. His town is dying and its only hope is Cassie Stone and the book festival, the highlight of the summer. With all she has on her shoulders, can he add saving the town?

Is Cassie the teenager he remembers who ran away at the first opportunity, or has she become the woman he can rely on, he can fall in love with, who will stay?

My cover artist, Elaina Lee, of For The Muse Designs, has created another beautiful cover.

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Cassie was my funnest heroine to write so far. Making her a writer let me connect with her flaws and quirks all too well. Unfortunately, she is suffering from a case of writer’s block I hope no writer will ever have to suffer. (knock on wood)

I can’t wait to read all of the other stories in this set and to let readers experience

Summer Romance on Main Street


Jill James, romance writer

How real is an imaginary home?

One of my greatest joys of writing is making an imaginary place come to life. Back in 2011 I was with The Wild Rose Press with my first published book, Tempting Adam. That book took place at a movie studio in Hollywood. I loved the setting, but I tried to stay real to the place. Then a new story came to me–Divorce, Interrupted. The easiest title I’ve ever come up with. It said it all. What if a marriage ended over an affair and tragic misunderstandings? What if the embers of love still burned between the couple? Todd and Lisa Miller were born. But they needed a home and town that didn’t exist.

lakeside home 2So, I invented Lake Willowbee, a small fictional town in the Sierra Nevadas. I’d been to the Sierras enough to write a town there, but all the ones I knew just weren’t right for the story. I needed a small downtown AND a good-sized lake. I needed a dam high on a hill to flood the town. In the foothills the towns are too big and higher up the mountain, the towns are too small. So…Lake Willowbee.

Since that first story, I’ve set all of my contemporary romances in Lake Willowbee. From time to time, a character will make a small appearance in a new story. Not enough that you need to read all the books (but I would love if you did!), but enough for readers who have followed along to say ‘aha, I remember them.’

I’m still working on Retreat, Interrupted for the summer boxed set with the Authors of Main Street, but a character from Dare to Trust has already appeared. There could be more.

To me, Lake Willowbee is a real place inhabited by real people. It is cute, quaint, and the friendliest place you could visit. Don’t forget to stop on by.


Jill James, romance writer

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash