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Once upon a time, two little angel babies were resting on the cloud where they had so lovingly been placed by the Lord, looking down at Earth at the man and woman who had once hoped to keep them when they were just little Twinkles. One of the angels of the Lord came to fetch them, for the Son wished to speak with them.

When the angel babies were settled on Jesus’ lap, he gathered them very close. “I know you remember with great love and wistfulness the man and woman for whom you once were chosen,” he said softly. “You know from your watchful vigil over them that they have thought about you and loved you, especially the woman, every day since you left them.”

The angel babies nodded and snuggled against the Son’s shoulders. “Sometimes it seemed like they had forgotten us,” the older angel baby said. “But they haven’t. We wish we could have stayed with them.”

“I know,” Jesus said, “and so does my Father. But now, you have a chance to help the Lord choose another Twinkle to send to the man and woman.”

The angel babies looked at each other. “But what if that Twinkle can’t stay with them either?” they asked.

Jesus kissed the tops of their heads. “It is always a chance that is taken. And they have given up hope of ever receiving a Twinkle to keep. But perhaps this time will be different.”

Then, the Son brought the angel babies to the Father, who was waiting with the beautiful box from which he selected Twinkles for loving families on Earth. Even though the box was still closed, they could hear the peals of bell-like laughter from within. When the Lord saw the little angel babies, He smiled, His love and joy shining brighter than the noonday sun.

“Come forward, my dear children,” said the Lord, “for I have a very important task for you.” Then he beckoned the angel babies forward, opened the box, and let them peer inside.

Golden light filled the heavens, and at the Father’s urging, the two angel babies looked at all the little Twinkles. They wanted to find the perfect Twinkle to send to the man and woman, because they knew how important it was. At last, they chose one and pointed it out to the Father and the Son.

“A good choice,” Jesus said with a smile.

The Lord reached into the box and drew out the little Twinkle. An angel who had been waiting nearby came forward and took the Twinkle. “Remember,” the Lord said. “This Twinkle is precious and must be delivered safely. It is unexpected and will be all the more loved because of it.”

After receiving these instructions, the angel left Heaven and went to the man and woman to deliver the Twinkle, seeing it comfortable within the woman’s womb. The angel babies, meanwhile, returned to their cloud to watch over the man, woman, and Twinkle. For nine months they watched over the little family as the Twinkle grew. They saw how the man and woman worried, how they hardly dared to pray that this Twinkle might be the one they could keep. Now and then, they were called to sit with the Son and talk about how the Twinkle was doing.

At last, the day came when the Twinkle was ready to enter the world. The angel babies watched over the man and woman as the time grew near, and they knew the other angels and saints in Heaven were also watching and praying. They even heard the prayers of the woman, and the thoughts she had, even while trying to bring the Twinkle into the world, of the two angel babies she would not meet until she, too, came to Heaven.

Finally, the Twinkle came into the world and let out a cry. The woman’s heart and soul rejoiced, and she thanked the Lord for the beautiful baby He had bestowed upon her and the man.

Every romance author (and reader) knows – it’s all about the HEA. The Happily Ever After. In an ever increasingly cynical world, where most of the real-life stories we read and hear about have anything but a happy ending, it’s no wonder the romance genre is so popular. We want to escape the disappointments of the real world, lose ourselves in a story that, we know, will end on a positive note, with the antagonist thwarted, the people involved safe and sound, and yes, the main characters riding into the cliched sunset toward romantic, if not wedded, bliss.

Romance Writers of America defines the romance genre thus:

“Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. “

Those of us in romance (aspiring or published author of, or consumer of) know those elements are required. The ending has to satisfy and wrap up those romantic loose ends, either with the classic “Happily Ever After” or HEA, or the “Happy For Now” or HFN that’s increasingly found in contemporary romances and women’s/chick lit.

But that’s in fiction. Real life doesn’t work that way.

Does it?

Photograph by Kain's Photography

Photograph by Kain’s Photography

Five years ago today, I got my HEA. My very own romantic hero and I walked down the aisle, exchanged vows and rings, and went off to enjoy everything that’s suppose to come after “and they lived Happily Ever After”. The road to wedded bliss followed the general expectations of that central love story. We both had our hang ups and jaded views of love and romance, for various reasons. We had to learn to trust and confide in each other, how to communicate respectfully and effectively, overcome obstacles and conflicts, both internal and external, before we could enjoy our happy ending.

And that’s the end, right?

Well, as we all know, real life doesn’t usually end with the HEA. If we want to be honest and fair, even though it’s never shown, we have to imagine the HEAs of our favorite romance novels aren’t really the end either. Relationships are constantly in need of review, repair, and reflection. No HEA is every truly set in stone, even if books make us want to believe so. The thing is, people expect their HEAs to be the end, that they will never have to put another ounce of effort into keeping the HEA happy.

But it does take work. If you forget to nurture your relationship, even after the HEA, it’s going to fall apart eventually. Here’s my take on it – the Central Love Story that got you to your HEA needs to remain the Central Love Story after the HEA. There will continue to be challenges and conflict – family crises, financial matters, career aspirations and goals – that will make it hard to keep the happy in your HEA. Sometimes you have to learn to communicate all over again. Sometimes one or both of you will have to make sacrifices in order to allow the other person to grow and achieve success. Both people in the HEA need to feel like a vital, successful part of the Central Love Story. You’re in it together.

My hero and I have definitely had to deal with our share of challenges and conflict. Sometimes we handled them with grace, and other times we forgot how to approach them in a way that would keep our Central Love Story completely  healthy. But we never forgot the Central Love Story, or the need for a Happily Ever After.

Even though we’re five years into our HEA, I bet the rest of the story is going to be a fantastic, satisfying read.

Photograph by Kains Photography

Photograph by Kain’s Photography

The last couple months have flown by, and there have been several days when it felt like I had no time to breathe. The end is in sight, at least in terms of school – only nine days left until summer vacation, and we’re all feeling it.

Looking ahead to the end of the school year brings to mind what, exactly, I hope to accomplish writing-wise in July. The past two summers, I’ve utilized JulNoWriMo, which resulted in the birth of the chick lit romance and the growth of the historical romance. But this July, I have a bit of a laundry list of threads in need of tying, and time is rather of the essence.

So here’s the list of things I hope to complete before the end of July:

  1. Finish the historical romance. Right now, it’s standing at about 95k, more than I anticipated or intended, but I’m very close to the end. Once it’s done, I can let it sit for a while before I start trimming and revising.
  2. I hired a copy editor in April to give the chick lit romance the once-over, but other than a cursory glance, I haven’t had any time to sit with the MS and work through her suggestions. So that’s on the list.
  3. Catch up on critiques I owe to critique partners.
  4. Work through some of the preliminary planning of a new historical romance idea I came up with a couple months back and sort of brainstormed a bit last weekend at the CNYRW mini conference with Susan Meier.

Beyond those four items, I would like to send the chick lit romance out to a few agents and editors, start testing the waters with it. If it happens, bonus, but if not, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I also plan to catch up on some reading, watch some movies, and generally just relax as much as possible.

Especially since there are Big Important Things happening in August that will take up most of my time and energy, and rightly so.

A lot of projects have been getting derailed lately, mostly by real life. I’m finally on the upward swing toward summer vacation (there are 34 school days left, not that I’m counting), and now that we’ve made it past state testing and parent conferences and report cards, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a whole lot of writing has been going on.

Don’t get me wrong. I managed close to 8k new words on the historical romance during the April “Book in a Week” challenge, which brought me within three chapters of the end. My chick lit romance is currently in the hands of a copy editor, who’s giving the MS a thorough once-over before I start sending out queries. And an online critique partner is doggedly slogging through the historical Magnum Opus Part 1 a few chapters at a time.

I guess I feel like I haven’t been particularly productive. Add in the fact that our master bathroom is under renovation, which means much of the house is under renovation dust, and toss in a hearty helping of “I don’t have the energy to get off the couch most nights”, and you can imagine how it feels like I’m just treading water right now.

The end is in sight. I think the historical romance will be wrapped up, at least the rough draft, by the end of June. I’m shooting for the end of May, but I won’t be surprised or disappointed if that deadline whooshes past. If I can get all my current projects ship-shape and moving in the right direction toward possible publication (submissions, queries, maybe starting to really look into indie-publishing options) by the end of July, I’ll feel very accomplished.

This has been a tiring year. A great year, and I’ve been so blessed with all that’s happened in the past several months. But I’m ready for a little break. My plans for July involve chilling on my couch, watching back-seasons of Game of Thrones and a variety of other stuff.

Because, come August, I will be busier than ever.

I’m a long-time user of Microsoft products. I’ll admit it. And to be honest, the main reason is because of necessity. The computers in my high school had Windows 95. All the campus-owned computers at my college ran Windows 98 or XP. The computers at work run Windows XP (though we’re now slowly upgrading to Windows 7). All of our personal computers have run a Windows operating system of one generation or another.

And with that came the productivity software. When I purchased my first computer for college in 1999, we dropped the dollars to have it come with whatever version of Office was current at the time. I purchased MS Office 2003 when I upgraded my computer for grad school. And the hubs and I gladly reused that Office 2003 license on our home computer when my grad school machine finally gave in to The Blue Screen of Death.

In the past couple years, however, we’ve avoided anything related to MS Office on our home computers. Our desktop needed a major reinstall of Windows about a year ago, due to some freak registry error I couldn’t comprehend, and we just barely managed to save the contents of our hard drive (including thousands of vacation photos, the value of which cannot be priced). We decided not to bother reinstalling Office 2003 and went with OpenOffice instead.

I had made the decision to do the same for my Acer netbook. Yes, the one that nearly died six months after purchasing it, and which the hubs resuscitated.

For a really long time, this seemed to be a good decision regarding our productivity software. I mean, free is always the best price, and I don’t do a lot of fancy stuff with Word or Excel or anything like that. Plus, since I use WriteWayPro as my writing software, all I really needed a word processing program for was to format drafts in their entirety and work on stuff from, well, work.

We’ve batted around the idea of biting the bullet and purchasing MS Office again for quite a while. For one thing, just about every file I transfer to and from work requires some fixing on either end, because we upgraded to Office 2010. And despite OpenOffice being “compatible”, it really isn’t. The formatting is off 99% of the time.

And as for writing – well, OpenOffice has decided it no longer knows how to recognize American English, despite the US dictionary extension being installed. I can’t do a true spell check if the program thinks every word is spelled wrong. And the formatting issues irritate me too. It’s just really getting to a point where OpenOffice has outlived its usefulness.

Microsoft has its ups and downs. I think we’d be hard pressed to find a productivity suite anywhere that does everything just as its supposed to, with no bugs. The bigger headache now is that you can’t even buy a multi-machine license anymore, unless you want to “subscribe” to Office 365 – for $99 a pop every year. I get that the point is so you can get the latest updates every time you renew. But really, Microsoft? You’re that short on funds that you have to make your productivity software a subscription? I can’t even just buy Word?

Greedy bastards.

You do not play fair.

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