My recent release, Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, features amateur chef and professional restaurant manager Nikki Mercer. By day, she’s overseeing the serving of traditional diner dishes at the Blue Plate, where she’s been working since she took over from her aunt. The Blue Plate Diner is a venerable country cookin’ establishment, with tried-and-true recipes like fried chicken and meatloaf. The whole town loves the Blue Plate, but Nikki’s culinary aspirations run a little higher…
Nikki whips up a few delicious recipes throughout the course of the book, many of them for Thanksgiving dinner at Notch Gap Farm. When I originally envisioned the book, I planned to include recipes in the back copy. But time got away from me and, it must be admitted, they’re not my recipes!
There is no copyright on recipes, which makes the world of cookbooks and cooking blogs a wild, wooly one I don’t care to enter at this time. Instead, let me link you to the recipes which I used for inspiration as I wrote Snowfall at Catoctin Creek.
Sweet Potato Cinnamon Pecan Casserole
Nikki makes this casserole to replace the usual mini-marshmallow sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving dinner. I took the idea from Cooking Classy. I meant to make it at Thanksgiving this year, but I didn’t have time to cook, so maybe next time!
Whiskey Glazed Carrots
I called these honey bourbon carrots in the book, but I was working off memory. When I looked up the actual recipe I used, I found they’re called Whiskey-Glazed Carrots. These carrots are absolutely delicious. I made these for Thanksgiving one year when I lived in Brooklyn, and when I poured in the bourbon, a purple flame shot up and I thought I was going to burn my entire building down. Find them at the Pioneer Woman site, and they’re also in her holiday cookbook.
Orange-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash
Joining Kindle Unlimited is the best life-hack a reader could ever want. Yes, I genuinely love this program. While I think as authors, we all have gripes about the exclusive-to-Kindle requirement to keep our books in KU, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Since I know a lot of readers are on the fence about Kindle Unlimited, I thought I’d lay out my favorite things about it in one post.
Note: This post contains affiliate links for Kindle Unlimited, but it is not sponsored content. I just genuinely like KU, and not everyone’s library supports digital reading, which makes this a cost-effective alternative.
Positive 1: Kindle Unlimited makes reading more affordable for more people.
Books are expensive, and for voracious readers that can gobble up one, two, or even five+ books per week, there’s almost no way to keep up! Libraries help sate my constant need for new reads, but even my tech-forward library can’t keep up with new books in every genre I’m looking for. I couldn’t possibly afford my reading habit without my library and Kindle Unlimited working in tandem.
Positive 2: Kindle Unlimited helps me deal with my short smartphone attention spans.
Weirdly, it even helps me cut down on the time I spend scrolling social media. If I always have a book ready on my Kindle app, I can usually catch myself when I’m just “scrolling to feel something” and click out of Twitter or Facebook and onto a book instead! What if I can’t focus on a thick contemporary fiction novel and need something lighter? No problem, I can quickly download a rom-com or a marketing manual to get my brain ticking properly again.
Positive 3: Kindle Unlimited works for my writing style.
Yep, as an author, Kindle Unlimited works for me. Does keeping my books in Kindle Unlimited affect the way I write? Yes, but probably only in ways that readers appreciate. Two things that work great for Kindle Unlimited page reads: long series, and books that are at least 85,000 words. That’s about 350 pages, in paperback terminology.
So if you like a nice, thick book with lots of substance, and if you like long sagas with plenty of updates on the characters you love, KU’s pages-read royalty program actually encourages authors to work in those formats.
Fortunately for me, that’s how I’ve always written. Not that I haven’t considered writing shorter books to get them done more quickly! But when I did the math, continuing to write long, detail-packed novels is a better business proposition for Kindle Unlimited books. Going short to save time doesn’t make sense. And frankly, I’m relieved, because I didn’t want to try brevity for the first time in my life!
Positive (for me): Ebook prices are going up.
Have you noticed the trend in ebook pricing? Authors are starting to ask for what they deserve for all of that hard work. Not too many years ago, the top-priced self-pub ebooks were going for $2.99. Now, many authors with big backlists are hitting $5.99 or more, and they’re still seeing great sales numbers.
This is important because we share our royalties with the ebook store, and we also bear significant marketing costs to get our books in front of readers. Not to mention that most books take between two months and a year to complete, and have behind-the-scenes costs like cover design, editing, formatting, and large bags of fun-sized candy bars for when the words just aren’t coming.
Rising cover prices are a positive for me when someone buys my books, but they’re a negative for me when I want one of those higher-priced books! In fact, the rise of the $5.99 ebook is why I joined Kindle Unlimited. Buying two books would cover my monthly cost and then some. Easy decision.
Negative: Kindle Unlimited ebooks are exclusive to Amazon.
Obviously this is a negative, because I’d like my ebooks to be available on every platform. But I have hope that ebook subscriptions will open up in the future. After all, music and podcast subscriptions don’t have this exclusivity issue. And while no one wants to give Amazon too much credit these days, I have been self-publishing for ten years, and Amazon is the platform which gave me that ability. They still have the most accessible ebook store that works for both readers and authors. I have to give them credit for that. Would I have my career if Amazon hadn’t normalized self-publishing? Doubtful.
It’s too good a promotion to miss, and since 95% of my books are available on Kindle Unlimited, it’s the perfect way to read everything by Natalie Keller Reinert… and a load of other equestrian authors!
And if you’re having trouble finding authors who write about equine themes, take a look at some of my favorite Amazon bestseller lists. The category titles can be a little deceptive because there is no General Fiction: Equestrian category, but we do our best to group our books together!
November brings the 8th anniversary of the EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, celebrating cinema and literature with a focus on the horse! This year, The Hidden Horses of New York is part of the festival’s Literary Corral. Since we couldn’t all get together in person, the festival has gone virtual this year.
I did a special video interview to talk about The Hidden Horses of New York just for EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, which you can watch below!
You’ve been asking for it — now she’s here. The prequel to the bestselling Alex & Alexander Series is coming in just a few weeks!
Runaway Alex has been my biggest project of 2020, and I’m so excited to bring you the backstory of this horse racing duo. Alex and Alexander have taken me so many places: to Saratoga for horse racing’s first-ever con, Equestricon; to Keeneland for the finalist party of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award; to Pimlico for a signing on Preakness weekend…the list goes on and on. And I can’t even begin to list the amazing people I have met because of this book series.
So it’s my very great pleasure to bring you the story of how they met, what drew them together, and the first days of the Alex and Alexander story.
Horse racing isn’t for nice girls like Alex. She’s been told again and again: stick to horse shows, stick to riding lessons, stick to the relative safety of the suburban equestrian center where she has been a working student since grade school. Even better: go to college!
But Alex can’t shake the conviction that the Thoroughbred life is her destiny.
Can’t wait to get started? Here’s the introduction where we meet Alex for the very first time…
Runaway Alex: Prologue
My feet hit the ground with a little puff of dirt. Grass won’t grow in this spot anymore. My dad, the resident gardener, does everything he can to fix the bare patch outside my window. He doesn’t understand why the thick runners of St. Augustine grass can’t overcome the gray sand. Some day, I won’t have to jump out the window anymore, and then the grass will grow back in a thick, lush, tropical carpet, and he’ll never be able to explain it.
He’ll never know it was because I was running away, every chance I got.
Although at some point, he’ll probably wonder how I got so good at riding horses.
If you want to read on, click here to sign up and I’ll send you a link to read the first three chapters in a special preview ebook!
2020 is going down as the year of constant distraction.
Well, among other things.
For many of us, the difficulty of being stuck home through lockdown and the subsequent months of unending, ongoing “quarantine” has been made so much worse by an inability to pay attention to one thing. Namely, to books! I think in March, a lot of us looked at our TBR pile and thought: “Well, at least I’ll get a lot of reading done.”
(This is also what I think anytime I consider what would happen if I were ever jailed for some reason. And it went down just as successfully as I guess it would if I were ever jailed.)
Not a lot of reading got done.
It was impossible to concentrate long enough to finish a book, or even get halfway through it. I abandoned book after book after just a few chapters, tweeting mournfully that another appealing novel had gone back to the library unread, or that I just couldn’t seem to get into the plot.
It was starting to look like I was going to fail at even reading a lot during a mandatory stay-at-home order.
Sound familiar? I’ve talked to so many people, all year, who have said the same thing. Lots of doomscrolling on social media, but not enough brain power to lurch through a novel.
Then I found a solution…romance!
I had started to write a romance novel as a sort of feel-good escape from reality. I did some reading about the art of romance-writing and was getting familiar with the “beats” and general requirements of the genre. Romance readers are known for being very persnickety about their books following a certain arc, and, having basically spent the past ten years writing character-driven literary fiction, I had never worked within a prebuilt structure before. It was really interesting.
I had looked back at a few historical romances I had really loved over the years (especially My Sweet Folly and Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale) but now I did something (in the name of research) I hadn’t ever really done: I picked up a new contemporary romance and started turning the pages.
The book was No Offense by Meg Cabot and I was intrigued because it was set in the Florida Keys, and I knew it would be light-hearted and fun, and wow was it ever! I read that little book in two days and was hungry for more. My year took an abrupt shift — suddenly, I couldn’t read enough. I was devouring contemporary romance like it was a plate of cinnamon buns with extra icing which were guaranteed to give me energy and shiny hair.
I started hitting my Kindle hard for Prime Reads titles in the genre. I subscribed to Contemporary Romance in BookBub and Freebooksy. My library’s holds section is under constant assault. Place hold, place hold, place hold, I click. Yes, I will go on the waiting list!
And as I’ve started replacing doomscrolling, little by little, with romance reads, my life has gotten better. I don’t have extra energy or shinier hair, but I do have more ideas. And I think less about the things I’m not doing, and more about the things I’m going to do, On The Other Side, When This War Is Over, etc.
Three reasons I think contemporary romance is absolutely saving my life in 2020:
The lightheartedness. With some exceptions, I’m reading books that are joyful, humorous, or at least not too bogged down in deep thinking on the human condition. Listen, I love reading deep thinking on the human condition. Just not right now, okay? I need some happiness. And the most essential, happiest part of the human condition is being in love.
The Happy Ever After. I require a guaranteed happy ending right now. I’ve always been pretty naughty about ambiguous endings in my books, because I have always been suspicious about happy endings. But this isn’t strident realism in lit fic. This is a romance. We’re gonna have a wedding, people! Or at least a big ol’ kiss. HEAs are the Official Ending of 2020, in my book.
The predictability. Yes, I’m having fun with this. Not because I know how an author is going to hit each beat, but because I like guessing how the author is going to hit the beat. I like realizing which section belongs to which part of the story arc. It’s a little nerdy, but what part of being a novelist isn’t nerdy?
So, listen. If you’re still having trouble finishing books because of everything (I’m waving my hands in the air for emphasis) consider the romance. Here are a few I absolutely loved so far this year:
No Offense by Meg Cabot. A librarian in the Florida Keys finds a baby in the bathroom, and ends up falling for the town sheriff. The Keys setting is so relaxing! I felt like I was there! Super cute, fun, and light reading. I need to get the entire series set in Lighthouse Key.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca. Holy cow! This adorable romance set in a small Maryland town with an annual renaissance fair was absolutely amazing. No spoilers but the pirate character is definitely Hook from Once Upon a Time and wow, hot. This book is so sweet that the one or two extremely hot sex scenes are kind of surprising. I didn’t mention it above but I don’t really care for sex in novels. I think it’s usually a distraction from the story. I don’t think this needed the sex but honestly? Hot. Can’t wait to read the next book.
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson. Totally off the beaten path, this book includes an elderly matchmaking witch who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone, a Floridian girl who doesn’t know how to fix her life after a break-up, and a lot of ambiguity about what constitutes a relationship versus SexyTimes. Oh, and falling in love via text, one of my favorite tropes because Words! I mean, this book just goes off the genre rails and does whatever it wants, but the structure is there so you still know you’re getting that HEA.
I adored it and I was so impressed that Dawson followed it up with a Mature Relationship Romance between the main characters, which is tougher both to read and to write, but worth your time as well.
All in all I feel like reading and writing romance this year has been the absolute saving of my mental health, and I really encourage you to give it a try! If you’re afraid it’s going to be cheesy, it’s not, I can assure you. Romance is awesome. Take it from me, an extremely snooty lit fic reader! There is so much to love and learn from in this genre.
My latest novel is a romance, by the way: Sunset at Catoctin Creekis about a sweet, small-town girl who has devoted her life to rescuing horses, and the city boy who is her opposite in every way…and her perfect match. I loved writing it so much, I’m halfway through the follow-up.
So, have you been reading any romance this year? What can you recommend?
This post contains affiliate links to help me pay my hosting bills! Thanks for understanding!
Today is the release day for my newest novel, Sunset at Catoctin Creek, and I’m so excited to take you all there.
I spent all summer in Catoctin Creek, and I truly never want to leave! Every time I started editing this book, I found more reasons to rewrite instead of just letting it go to readers. Because once I’m done, I’m back out in the real world, and I don’t like it here!
But there’s more Catoctin Creek to come, as you’ll definitely realize whilst turning the pages. I hope that readers love this little town, this beautiful corner of Maryland, and these lovely people as much as I do. When you need a small town escape, consider Catoctin Creek. With sweet romance and beautiful vistas, it’s the kind of place that we’re all craving in 2020.
I’m looking forward to writing the follow-up, Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, very soon, and after that, Springtime at Catoctin Creek.
While all of these books will focus more on human relationships than the heavily-equestrian storylines of my other series, horses still play a role, and I’m excited about some of the interesting equine pursuits I have lined up for future volumes.
To read the first three chapters of Sunset at Catoctin Creek right here at my blog,just click here.
This year we’ve been waiting for good things…which makes Linda Shantz’s chosen title all too apropos. Good Things Come could be the feel-good phrase of 2020, because it feels like that’s all we can do: wait.
Wait it out with a good book, at least. Good Things Come is the first novel from talented equestrian artist Linda Shantz, and this experienced horsewoman trots out impeccable details and plenty of racetrack lore as she explores what makes horse-people tick. Plus, that cover!
Here’s what the back cover has to say:
Smart horse girls are supposed to go to vet school…but trust a horse to mess with common sense.
If Liv wasn’t such a control freak, it wouldn’t have rubbed her the wrong way when the farm’s new exercise rider stepped in to resuscitate Chique, the first foal out of her father’s favourite mare. But when she drops out of vet school to get her jockey’s license in New York, intent on coming back to Ontario to ride Chique in the Queen’s Plate, he’s the obvious choice to keep an eye on the filly.
Nate’s content to watch Liv go, even though he’s got similar aspirations, when he’s not talked out of them by voices from his past. His growing bond with Chique might earn him Liv’s approval and give him the fresh start he’s looking for, but that’s as involved as he’s getting with the boss’s daughter.
Liv’s determined to keep their relationship professional, no matter how much Chique draws them together. The three of them are going to have to learn to be a team to make it to the Plate.
Set against the backdrop of North America’s greatest racetracks, Good Things Come is a story about the hearts of Thoroughbreds…the people who love them…and the allure of Canada’s most prestigious race.
It’s true, all of it. I had the great pleasure of working on the production side of this gorgeous novel, and I’m here to tell you that if you like racing, horses, or just plain lovely books, you’ll love Good Things Come.
And that’s why Linda Shantz is next up in my very occasional Five Questions!
Five Questions with Linda Shantz
1. Linda, you’re an overachiever! You’re a sensational painter, what made you jump into writing a novel as well?
Well, to be honest, I’ve been writing longer than I’ve been painting, I’ve just been braver about my painting! I started the story that would become Good Things Come when I was eight, because I decided someone needed to write a story about the Queen’s Plate, instead of the Derby. Needless to say, both the story and I have grown up a bit since then!
2. What do you do for fun when you’re not making amazing art?
These days, herding lessons with my young Border Collie. I’ve owned Border Collies my entire adult life, but this is the first dog with whom I’ve done herding. So much fun to see her instinct develop, and a challenging learning curve for me!
3. You write with excellent authority about a number of racetracks, including Woodbine, Gulfstream Park, and Saratoga. How long have you been a horse racing fan?
Oh, probably since my mother started reading The Black Stallion to me when I was about five years old! I went to my first horse race when I was ten, when my dad took me to the Canadian International at Woodbine. The following year I went to my first Queen’s Plate, and have missed very few of them since. Even when I was working on the backstretch, the Plate was always the thing, and if you didn’t have a horse running, you dressed up and went to the front side to be part of it.
4. If you could have one horse from Good Things Come as your own, which horse would you choose?
Claire! I’ve paid my dues with the small, quick, turn-on-a-dime ones like Chique. I don’t get to ride bomb-proof horses, so it would be like a vacation to have an unflappable horse like her to ride!
5. Will there be a follow-up to Good Things Come?
Yes! There is another book with the same characters (and some new ones!), and it follows them through the next year of Chique’s career. It’s been through a couple of drafts and will be out in the spring of 2021. If anyone wants to be kept up to date they can sign up for my mailing list at lindashantz.com/good-things-come-updates
They can also read the first chapter of Good Things Come there.
I’m so excited to join a group of seven other equestrian fiction authors for our first-ever boxset release!
Horses, Hearts & Havoc is a collection of eight full-length novels in one convenient ebook. And the genres! We’ve got thriller, we’ve got mystery, we’ve got romance, we’ve got barn drama: it’s all here.
Best of all, the books are all first in their series. So you could be looking at several new series you want to dig into when you’ve finished the boxset…we’ll keep you busy with horse stories through the rest of this cursed year!
(My entry is Show Barn Blues. Have you read it, or its follow-up Horses in Wonderland, yet?)
I get so many messages telling me that good horse fiction for adults is hard to find — like, shamefully, woefully, ridiculously hard to find — so this collection is going to be such a fantastic helper for so many people searching for equestrian fiction authors they can follow and love.
Check out the authors I’m playing with on this stage:
We’re talking racehorse mystery. We’re talking western intrigue. We’re talking high-stakes horse showing, cowboy romancing, riding academy redemption, show jumping set-ups and bluegrass getaways. This boxset is the stuff horsey dreams are made of.
My first succulent arrived, along with some potting soil.
I repotted my umbrella tree, and planted my succulent, which is an Echeveria. I think the pot I have for the Echeveria is wrong – it needs one with a wider opening. Whoops!
I’ve never liked getting my hands into dirt, which is funny because my mother is an avid and very successful gardener. But I enjoyed sitting on my porch and playing with these plants. I think I’m going to buy more and really get into apartment gardening. I mean, why not? I’m home!