My baby is 1 year old!

I can't believe it's been a year since I released Never Stop Falling. It's crazy how fast time flies. To celebrate my baby, it's available FREE on Amazon Kindle until March 5th! 

To all of my family and friends, and all of the bloggers and readers who have supported me throughout this crazy journey--THANK YOU!!

And in case you're wondering, I do have something in the works. I don't know when it will be released, but I'll be sure to post any updates here on my website, or follow me on my Facebook and Instagram page!

xoxo

Ashley Drew

The Christian Grey Complex

Fret no longer, fellow book whores. We’ve watched the trailer on YouTube numerous times (you know at least a thousand views belong to you). We’ve played out the sexy anthem by Taylor Swift and that One Direction dropout who, by the way, ties the record with Michael Bolton for hitting the highest ball-yanking note.

We’ve waited long enough.

Fifty Shades Darker—the second installment in E.L. James’s bestselling trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey—hits theaters this weekend right in time for Valentine’s Day. And what better way to show the one you love just how much you love them than by dragging their ass to the movie theater so you can let another man ravage your imagination? Bravo, Universal Pictures. Not only is that great marketing, but you’ll probably manage to flush a good 30% of relationships down the toilet before the holiday, thanks in part to a little thing I like to call The Christian Grey Complex.

the·christian·grey·complex, n. A man’s compulsion to undermine the fictional character in order to make himself feel less inadequate.

With the impending release (no pun intended), I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had a little Christian on the brain this week, and don’t you worry girlfriend…that’s okay. What’s not okay is when the movie ad pops up on the TV and your dad begs the question during a nice family dinner (and in front of your five-year-old, mind you)—what’s the appeal? What is it with women and their infatuation with Christian Grey?

Hold the phone. Let’s take a step back, shall we? I think you’d agree that there are fifty shades of wrong written in those last two sentences, the obvious being the words dad and Christian Grey, because they should never appear in the same sentence together, let alone in any conversation or figment of my imagination.

Naturally I went on the defensive when my old man went into one of his rants on our damaged hero. Because that’s what us readers do! We defend our book boyfriends! Then again, he hasn’t been the first man to pose the question. We’ve heard it all before: What’s the big deal? Why do women like those books? He’s fictional. It’s “mommy porn.” It’s not real. I hate to break it to you, men—neither is the stuff you watch on PornHub, but do you hear us saying anything?

Yes, it’s cheesy, and the writing is just okay. Some critics say it plays on women’s insecurities and condones abusive relationships. CUE THE EXAGGERATED EYE ROLL. If you want relationship advice, pick up Relationships for Dummies. Don’t expect it to change your life, or inspire you to run off to the desert to hum Kumbaya songs in a sweat lodge. It’s not that kind of a book.

Ladies, do me a favor. The next time someone decides to judge you for your choice in literature or book boyfriend, don’t be afraid to use the handy middle finger. Don’t ever feel shamed by the phrase mommy porn. And for those who’ve reached cougar status by joining the 30+ club, embrace it! We all need a little Christian Grey in our lives.

Therefore, men—get over your Christian Grey Complex. We know he’s not real, and that’s the appeal. And in case you’re still wondering what all of the fuss is about, here it is. Ask and you shall receive.

And ladies—you’re welcome.

*Note: Yes, I know this isn’t Jamie Dornan. It’s Matt Bomer. That’s because dear Matty was my Christian Grey, starring in my imagination in every way, shape, and form…and playing the part so very well.  

Cheers to Eleven Years

New York City, 2005—

I remember getting off the 1 at Franklin Street. It was the end of September, and even though fall had officially begun, summer wasn’t quite yet ready to relinquish its control. At nine in the morning, it was already hot and humid, and by the time I reached the corner of Hudson and Franklin, I was a gross, sticky mess. I found the job on Craigslist and without much restaurant experience, I was lucky for even landing the position. It was supposed to be temporary, a simple job that I could do to pay my rent while going to school and working toward my English degree. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I had no idea. When I walked through the doors all those years ago, I was a naïve 22-year-old who didn’t really know what she wanted out of life. Eleven years later, I’m walking out those doors a completely different person.

As I finish this last chapter of my life and start a new one, I’m fortunate to be bringing with me the lessons I’ve learned over the years. There are far too many to list, so I bring you one lesson for each of the past eleven years.

And they are:

1)    The term “Fine Dining” takes on a whole other meaning.

“Hey Cindy. Did you see the new server? He is so fine.”

 

2)    Psychologists/Psychiatrists are actually the crazy ones.

Because calling me the “C” word and then denying it isn’t crazy at all.

 

3)    When you have to scrap one friend because the extra person screws you from getting the reservation.

It makes you wonder which friend goes on the chopping block.

 

4)    “J” in the phonetic alphabet will never be the same again.

“My name is spelled B as in Boy, A as in Apple, J as in Jizz…”

 

5)    A restaurant is NOT the perfect place to get engaged.

Come on, guys. How about a little originality here?

 

6)    Thousand dollar bottles of wine do exist.

What I’m really thinking: That’s a lot of Two Buck Chuck I could buy.

 

7)    Small portions at $100 per person don’t faze me.

Or you can eat at The Cheesecake Factory and leave with a doggy bag and a few clogged arteries.

 

8)    You can be best buds with someone and not know his/her name.

I’m really good friends with that one guy who wears the suit and is always at the front.

 

9)    I’m like the Beautiful Mind of pronouncing and spelling names.

Jaime = High-may / Siobahn = Shi-vonne

 

10) I can spot a liar a mile away.

Pinocchio wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

And finally, the last lesson I’m taking away with me…

11) Family is more than just blood.

“…Our troubles are all the same. You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

To my work family—I wouldn’t have been able to get through the last 11 years without you, so thank you. Thank you for your friendship. Your support. And your guidance. The love. The laughs. And the tears. It really is the end of an era.

With that being said, I suck at goodbyes. My ugly cry never fails to make an appearance and is usually accompanied by projectile snot. Lots of it. So in order to avoid that at all costs, let’s not say goodbye and simply say we’ll see each other soon.

Until then, I’m yama.

Writing Retreat or Retreat from Writing?

I recently returned from one of the most epic weekends I’ve had…EVER. My reading/writing buddy put together a writer’s retreat which she and her husband hosted at their amazing home in Canyon Lake, Texas, about an hour outside of San Antonio.

So what goes on at a writing retreat, you ask? My dad asked me if it could be compared to the meeting of “The Romantics” at Lake Geneva, Switzerland in 1816.

Well, Dad, if Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and Mary Wolstonecraft participated in any of the following, then you are absolutely right:

1)    You hang out with people you’ve never met in person before but feel like you already know them.

2)    You drink piña coladas. And margaritas. And bloody marys. And tequila. And rum. And wine. White wine. Red wine. Chocolate-flavored and sangria wine.

3)    You run and slide down the slip-n-slide after consuming all beverages in point #2.

4)    You feast and gorge until you gain all ten pounds you lost before you got there, all because Martha Stewart, Jr. can whip up a meal like nobody’s business, and has an eye for creative theme dinners.

5)    You drink more. Lots more. Everything in point #2 plus beer, champagne, and Prosecco.

6)    You climb the tree house in hopes you can climb back down without breaking any bones.

7)    You learn that coozies are still a “thing” and people actually use them.

8)    You also learn that the term “Yeti” takes on a whole other meaning in Texas.

9)    You play Cards Against Humanity until one person’s cards reveal how they lost their virginity. #dickfingers

10) You listen to Peter--the British guy on Natural Reader—read sex scenes from our books/current works-in-progress while Debbie Does Dallas plays on the side of Robin’s house. (Yeah, don’t ask me about this one)

11)  You drink a little more.

12) You wake up with a hangover.

13) You learn the only way to cure that hangover is with “hair of the dog.”

14) You make banana splits at midnight with Erica’s homemade ice cream.

15) You watch The Princess Bride on an inflatable outdoor screen, while your peripheral vision keeps a close eye on any critters trying to fly or crawl at you.

16) You talk books! My book. Robin’s book. Erica’s books. Fabi’s favorite books. Books we love. Books we hated. Books we DNF’d. Books that left us with a “WTF did I just read!” at the end.

17) You light fireworks even though the 4th of July is long gone but you can because it's Texas.

18) You talk, tell stories, and enjoy each other’s company.

You’re probably wondering where the writing part comes into play? Here’s the thing about a writer’s retreat:

You don’t really write.

The truth is, none of us could actually sit down and write. We had way too much fun getting to know each other and talking about the thing that brought us together in the first place—our love for the written word.

I thought for sure I’d return home with at least two more completed chapters of my work-in-progress, but I returned with so much more—memories, a whole lot of laughs, and new friendships.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

My eyes are puffy and red. It’s 10:19pm on Saturday night. Seven hours and twenty-three minutes into my book hangover after reading One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I am an emotional mess. It’s rare that I ever blog about a particular book I’ve read. Usually I’ll rate it on Goodreads, tell a few people to read it if I really enjoyed it, and move on to the next book. But there is no way I can do that today. I even thought that talking about it with my reading buddy would help, but it didn’t. To say that this book wrecked me would be the understatement of the century. Before I go any further, this is not a review. My thoughts here are not so much about the book itself, but more about how it left me thinking about my own personal experiences with love. It left me feeling sad and confused, and then I realized why.

I can’t really say what I need to say without telling you the premise of this book. You can read the entire blurb here, but to sum it up, think Cast Away in Helen Hunt’s character’s point of view. A woman thinks she loses her husband in a helicopter accident but eventually moves on and learns to love again, only to be faced with the shocking reality that he is very much alive. This reality makes her question who her one true love is, what it means to truly love a person, and how love with different people can shape one’s life.

All day (and night), I’ve been trying to figure out why I can’t let this book go. It’s fiction for crying out loud. It’s a story that was fabricated in someone’s imagination. The characters don’t exist. None of it is real.

But that’s not entirely true, because all of the thoughts and emotions that I’m feeling at this moment are very real.

It’s because I know what it’s like to fall in love, lose love, and then fall in it all over again, perhaps not as tragic as it is portrayed in this book. Then again, isn’t losing love tragic regardless of how it is lost?

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. It’s the reason why I enjoy reading and writing about love. And like the characters in this book, I think it would also be accurate to say that my experiences with love have shaped the person that I am today. People need love like they need air and water; it’s necessary for survival. I’m not saying that I’m an expert on the subject. During my singlehood, I was never even a “dater.” I was either in a committed relationship, or I wasn’t. There was never an in-between for me.

So I guess the question I’ve been asking myself all day is what true love means to me. The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I’ve realized how much my perception of love has changed with time. It grows and matures like a flower, starting with the roots until it blooms into something beautiful.

And those roots began to grow in the second grade. There was a boy, and I thought he was the cutest boy in our class. He was also the smartest. He was tall and athletic, and although I didn’t know what it meant to be attracted to someone at such a young age, all I knew back then was that I looked forward to school every day, because I knew I would see him. But for some reason, I could never find the courage to talk to him. I could probably count on one hand the number of times he and I ever spoke. Maybe even at a young age, we understand the idea of rejection, and I was just as afraid of it back then as I am now. Even so, he was always there, in most of my elementary and middle school classes, but years would go by before he’d find out that I had been crushing on him for so long. I still remember that day. It was the last dance of middle school. In typical adolescent fashion, his friends and my friends worked together to get us to slow dance together. And we danced. I don’t remember what song we danced to, or what I was wearing, or if there were any other kids on the dance floor. All I remember was us, and how long it took him to notice me, and how I wondered if he could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. When it was over, we simply smiled and parted ways, going off to different high schools and never seeing each other again after that. I don’t completely believe that what I felt was love, but it must have been some version of it if it still resonates with me to this very day. It may not have been the kind of love that I know now, but there was something so sweet and innocent about it.

Then high school happened, and that was the game changer. That’s when I realized that love wasn’t always sweet or innocent. It could be cruel and ruthless, and I had to learn that the hard way. I learned about it when a boy I liked said I was ugly. I learned about it when another boy led me to believe I was the only girl he was talking to when I wasn’t. I learned about it when I paged 143 to the boy I thought would be my first real boyfriend, and he paged back (in code), “too bad, bitch.” Sometimes, I’m not exactly sure how I got past all of that, especially having to deal with the common social issues that most teens struggle with in high school.

Somehow, I got through it, because at seventeen, I fell in love. Like really, deeply in love. For the first time, I felt what it was like to be wanted…to love and be loved in return. It felt good to have someone tell you that you were beautiful, and felt even greater to hear those three little words for the first time. The words came so naturally, as if we had been saying them to each other forever. I loved being able to hold hands in public, our relationship on display to the world, our PDA a sign for every other guy or girl to back off, because we belonged to each other.

But that’s where I was wrong, because loving someone doesn’t mean belonging to them. You can be in love so deep but you mustn’t ever bury yourself in it. And I found myself being buried; I lost sight of who I was. We grew so dependent on each other; it was like an addiction, constantly enabling one another until it grew into something very unhealthy. We became angry and resentful, and what began as words of love turned malicious and mean, words that people who love each other should never say to one another. Our lives had become this tangled series of knots, and I found myself eventually wanting to untie myself from them. I was young. I wanted to be me again. So I untied them, and it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. But what we had was no longer love but an idea of it that we were trying to hold on to. And we deserved more than that.

So, I moved on. I moved away. I grew up. And eventually I met someone. I thought I knew enough about love that this relationship would be different, that I would be able to protect my heart this time. I put up my walls as high as I could, and I thought they were stronger than ever. But I learned the hard way again. Even the highest walls aren’t high enough; the strongest walls aren’t strong enough. He was sweet, kind, and caring. He showered me with compliments and gifts, and gave me everything I could want out of a relationship. But here is what I figured out: a person can give you everything he has, but if he can’t give himself completely to you, it was never meant to be. I took a risk and fell in love again, and when I didn’t get it in return, I was devastated.

I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong because all along, I thought I had been doing everything right. I felt defeated. Maybe I didn’t really know anything about love like I thought I had. Maybe what I thought was true love really wasn’t. I had gone from being wanted too much to not being wanted at all. I needed something in the middle and wasn’t sure I knew how or where to find it.

And now I realize this. It’s what essayist Anais Nin once said:

You don’t find love. It finds you.

And it found me. In a little restaurant in Tribeca. With a man who I would soon realize was the one for me. He was selfless and patient, kind and forgiving. And he allowed me to find my “middle.” Before him, I only knew how to love other people; I was so consumed by love for someone else. But with him, I loved us wholeheartedly while learning to love myself apart from us.

For the first time, I was able to admit to myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had been doing everything right. Just not with the right people. I’m not saying that out of disrespect or in a negative way. I’m not saying those people aren’t right for anyone else. All I’m saying is that they weren’t right for me. And that’s okay. I didn’t see it that way back then, but I’ve made peace with it now.

Love has no conditions or stipulations. It can be sweet and innocent. It can be unkind and heartless, wonderful and exhilarating. It can be all of those things. But you can’t love wholeheartedly and expect to be loved unless you love yourself first.

And that, I believe, is true love.

Those who are close to me may already know who these people are. Those who sort of know me may have an inkling. And those who don’t know me, well, now you know a little bit more. And no…you won’t find them connected to my social media if that’s what you are hoping for. At least I don’t think you will…

I didn’t write this to make a statement. I didn’t write this to out anybody, or make anyone feel like they wronged me. I wrote this for myself, because I needed these people to know that I have no resentment or anger. If anything, I am thankful. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am—in true love, with a husband and a beautiful daughter who I am thankful for every day. I fell in love and lost it more than once, but I consider myself pretty lucky. Sadly, some people may never get to experience that kind of love at all.

So, to all of my past loves—

I’m not sure if you’ll ever read this. A part of me hopes you will and the other part hopes you never do. But if our lives never cross paths again, and you are reading this, then there is just one thing that I want to say to you:

Thank you.

Under the Tuscan Sun (Italy Part 2)

In case you missed last week’s post, I talked about the first half of my trip to Italy here: Roman Holiday (Italy Part 1).

To say that I’m still battling an Italian hangover would be the understatement of the century. A Fiat drives by, and images of narrow, cobblestone roads flash across my mind. Or I’m sitting at my desk at half-past twelve, and memories of early afternoon aperitifs and people-watching from a piazza café bring a smile to my face. Maybe it’s borderline obsessive, but it’s an obsession you can’t possibly understand until you’ve experienced Italy for yourself.

After five amazing days in Rome, we packed up, said arrivederci to the beautiful city, and hopped on a high-speed train to Florence. The ride took a little less than two hours and was full of spectacular countryside scenery. I absolutely love train travel! At least for me, it’s the perfect setting to sit down and write. My next book takes place on a train, so you can only imagine how giddy I was to be able to write part of the story on this trip!

And I'd say that Audrey was pretty productive, too (thanks Syd for this photo!).

When we arrived in Florence, we picked up our rental car. Actually, I think I’m being too conservative with the word car. Do you remember the mockery that was Jon and Kate Plus 8? And that gargantuan bus they traveled in? That was us and the van we rented. Minus the multiples. And the awkward husband bashing. And the unflattering soccer mom haircut.

We needed something big enough to fit all eight of us, but we weren’t expecting a semi. Now, if you’ve been to Italy, you’re probably laughing and shaking your head at me because who the hell rents something this big over there (cue the laughing, Robin)? Especially if you visit the little towns, the streets are SUPER narrow. There were so many times we’d be driving through a town, and the road would grow so narrow, we figured that it had to be a walkway. Most of them were, in fact, roads, but this one I’m not so sure about. We barely passed through this tunnel with probably no more than six inches of space on each side. I almost died.

Nevertheless, I have to applaud my hubby and his stellar Italian driving skills. And I hope he’s reading this because he will never hear me say those words about his driving here in the U.S.

The Tuscan villa we called home for the next five days was located in a town called Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, about thirty minutes outside of Florence. There is no doubt, I AM IN LOVE WITH TUSCANY. It’s everything you would imagine when you think of the area—the rolling hills, the mile-long vineyards, the cottony-pink sunsets. It’s absolutely stunning.

And how could I not fall in love with it when I woke up to this view every morning?

The owners of the villa and our hosts, Lucia and Roberto, were so welcoming and hospitable, and their villa is beyond beautiful. Check out their website here: I Glicini. They named their property after the Glicina flower which just happened to bloom at the entrance the first day we arrived.

That night, we celebrated my birthday at this amazing restaurant not too far away called Osteria Il Poggio. It’s another year older, and had I been back home, I probably would have spent it with a cheap bottle of Merlot while looking up alternatives to Botox and binge watching the Fuller House revamp. But how many times can I say that I spent my birthday in Tuscany?

We ate like kings and queens that night. Just look at this spread!

And since we’re on the subject of food, let’s cut to the good stuff. Yes, I was the annoying American who took pictures of all her food. Every meal we had was phenomenal. Other than the restaurant we went to for my birthday, we didn’t eat at any fancy places. Most were simple restaurants with simple menus but were just so GOOD.

I stuffed my face with pastas and meat dishes…

Proscuitto and cheese…

And this butcher shop. I don’t even know if that’s what you call it. We were in awe of it. It smelled like death inside but all the prosciutto and salami and every cut of pork you could ever want was in it.

Of course there was gelato…

And lots and lots of wine.

How I miss the joy and freedom of buying a bottle of wine from a sidewalk street vendor and walking around the city with a glass full of Chardonnay and a nice buzz.

Over the next few days, we walked around Florence…

And Siena…

The architecture is spectacular and rich with history.  

And the sights. Oh the sights…

I just couldn't resist.

But my favorite place that we visited was the small-walled medieval town of San Gimignano. I could have easily spent a few days here, just cozied up in a little apartment overlooking Via San Giovanni. There were so many cute little shops, including a store that sold all types of olive and truffle oils, and one that offered an array of hand-painted ceramics.  

Needless to say, each one of us fell into a deep depression when we had to leave Tuscany. It was a sad, sad day, having to say goodbye to our villa and the beautiful views. We did have a scare on the train ride back to Rome and was probably the only disappointing part of the trip. When we boarded the train at the station in Florence and were getting situated, I discovered an unattended luggage shoved in between the seats. Here in the U.S., any time you see an unattended bag ANYWHERE, you’re supposed to report it. Of course, we were freaking out, especially since the U.S. government issued warnings about Americans traveling to Europe. But here’s the kicker. When we reported it, the train steward didn’t do anything. Granted, my husband shouldn’t have touched it and should have left it where it was, but David was more concerned about getting the luggage off the train. They actually told him to put it back on the train. SERIOUSLY?! We were flabbergasted. And even before we could decide if we wanted to get off the train, it was already pulling away from the station. No other passengers seemed to be bothered by the situation which completely irritated us. Anyway, long story short, the train steward finally realized why we were so worried and investigated it. The luggage actually belonged to a passenger on the train but was sitting on the opposite end of the car. Why she put it where she did, I have no clue. The train steward reprimanded her while I was cursing her in my head. I didn’t want to think bad thoughts, but you can only imagine what was going through my mind in those ten minutes. Although I love Italy and everything about that country, that incident made me appreciate our country and how our government strives to keep our citizens safe. If this incident occurred in the U.S., the entire train would have been cleared. Everyone would have been asked to get off the train. No hesitation.

Aside from that little incident, everything about Italy was perfect—the people, the food, the sights, the architecture. And to think I haven’t even seen it all. There’s still Venice…Milan…the Amalfi Coast. I wait for the day.

I leave you now with a few “bookish” photos. I made it my mission to find some of my favorite books in Italian, and I didn’t come back empty handed. And aren’t these bookstores so cute?

Until next time, Italy. Ciao for now.

 

Roman Holiday (Italy Part 1)

Note: I’m dividing this post into two parts and posting the second half next week because one, it would be way too long, and two, I’ll do anything to keep Italy fresh on my mind as long as I can! Also, I have to give credit to my fam bam for letting me borrow some of these photos. 

It has been almost two weeks since I returned from one of the most amazing trips of my life. Italy is like crack, and I am going through some major withdrawals here, folks. That country is just...wow. What I write/show here isn't going to do that country justice because you have to experience it to understand my newfound love for it. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be there, and I haven't even seen the entire country. I'm almost hoping that Donald Trump wins the election because if he does, I'm saying peace out and buying a Tuscan villa. Hey, I said almost!

This was a trip that my family and I had planned for over a year. We had never taken a trip like this together…ever…so we knew it was going to be interesting. And oh, it was interesting all right! There were eight of us total—me, my husband, and daughter; my mom and dad; my brother; my sister and her husband. Together for almost two weeks, twenty-four hours a day. Different personalities and unpredictable moods. Imagine the McAllisters in Home Alone, Parts One and Two. That was us, and I say that with so much love.

We departed out of LAX on an early flight, and this was Audrey, my sister Sydney, and I at 4:00 in the morning. Early ONLY looks good when Italy is involved.

With a layover in Chicago, our flight time was a total of about thirteen hours, so of course I used much of my time for reading and writing. I had been warned about all of the thieves in Italy, so I was apprehensive about taking my laptop with me and took the iPad instead. And how I love international flights! International flights = FREE wine! And how I love the words FREE and WINE when used in the same sentence! Plus, our flight attendant was extra generous with the pours, but I knew I had to be careful because “one drink at thirty-thousand feet equals two” (thank you, Corinne Bennett).

We spent the first leg of our trip in Rome. In order to cut costs and save money, we rented a 4-bedroom apartment on VRBO.com. Our host Cristina was so warm and welcoming, and we loved her apartment! It was well-located and affordable, and I’d highly recommend this apartment if you’re traveling with a large group (click here for Cristina’s Rome Apartment). We arrived early Thursday morning in Rome and were super jet-lagged, so we all passed out the moment we got to the apartment. By late afternoon, we were all showered and ready to see our first glimpse of Rome at night! We visited the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, and then had dinner at the Piazza Navona. I absolutely LOVED all of the little outdoor restaurants. I wish we had more restaurants like that in the U.S. After dinner, we went to the Trevi Fountain and I made sure to throw a coin in. I guess that means I’ll be going back to Rome one day!

On Friday, we visited Vatican City. Guys…ever since I learned about the Renaissance, I had dreamed about visiting the Sistine Chapel and seeing Michaelangelo’s Creation. So you can imagine how LIVID I was when we were ushered in and out of the chapel by the docents. We were literally in there not even a minute before we had to leave. There were tons of people visiting that day, so they were probably just trying to get the crowds in and out. I was so disappointed because I didn’t even get to enjoy it.

On the other hand, my goofy brother always knows how to cheer me up. In true Zachary form, he had a field day with the statues, and did a few face swaps. I thought I’d share this one with you.

And my mom, sister, and I thought it would be fun to mail ourselves a postcard from the Vatican! However, the postcard arrived a couple of days after we returned from our trip, and was the nail in the coffin to my vacation hangover. 

My sister, Sydney, took this amazing shot of the spiral staircase at the Vatican. Isn't it so pretty?

Saturday was a looooong day. We took a three-hour bus ride down to Naples to visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii. We weren’t too keen on the long bus ride, but Pompeii was a must-see (plus, I made sure to bring some reading material with me for the ride…I read RUSH by Emma Scott and I absolutely LOVED it!). It was cold and rainy that day, but luckily the sun peeked out just after noon and we were able to walk around without having to worry about the rain.

Pompeii was another place that I had always wanted to visit after learning about it in school. It’s massive, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t actually see the entire city. It may look like nothing but slabs of concrete now, but the story and the history behind it is so rich and real, especially when you see this…

We spent Sunday touring Ancient Rome and saw the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. Being inside the Coliseum was such a surreal experience. You read about it in school. Countless movies have been made about it. But there’s nothing that compares to actually being inside it.

The entire time we there, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, all I kept thinking about was “Audrey has no idea.” This little four-year-old got to experience the Coliseum before she even learned about it! I’d say she’s one lucky gal.

And that was Rome. Next week, I’ll be posting about the second leg of our trip to Tuscany and our TO-DIE-FOR villa..like Under the Tuscan Sun-type of villa. And I haven’t forgotten about the food. OMG the food. And wine. I’m obsessed.

Have I mentioned that I want a Fiat now? 

Never Stop Falling FREE on Amazon for a limited time

For all you one-clicky fiends, Never Stop Falling is FREE on Amazon for a limited time. No, I'm not jet-lagged or drunk or hallucinating. You read that correctly.

So one-click now before the price goes back up! And ICYMI, Never Stop Falling is joining Kindle Unlimited the week of 5/9.

Happy One-Clicking! --> Never Stop Falling on Amazon

Please note: The offer is free as of this post and prices may change on Amazon.

Never Stop Falling Sale!

Where the heck does time go? I can't believe the year is nearly half over. I've been MIA here for a while but for a good reason because...I just got back from my trip to Italy! I'll be blogging about my trip in the next week, but OMG, guys...this trip was life-changing. I am seriously going through the biggest vacation hangover ever because man oh man...I LOOOOOOVE that country. The sights, the food, the people, the scenery...EVERYTHING. I can't wait to share my pictures and thoughts with you all!

On another note, I want to thank everyone that has read and supported Never Stop Falling! The past couple of months have been quite the journey for my baby. I love hearing everyone's thoughts and seeing all of the hashtags and photos on social media, so thank you for all of your kind words and messages!

With that being said, Never Stop Falling will be joining Kindle Unlimited beginning May 9th! Since it will no longer be available anywhere except for Amazon beginning 5/9, it will be available for FREE on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iBooks until then. It is also on sale on Amazon for a limited time for $0.99!

Now excuse me while I go back to my Italian hangover...le sigh.

 

Dear Author

Social media. It’s the greatest tool at our disposal in the self-publishing world. I think it’s safe to say that we, indie authors, would be completely lost without it. It has given writers a chance to cut corners and publish their work without facing rejection letters and having to wait months, possibly even years, before being picked up by an agent or a traditional publishing house. It can be the deciding factor of your writing career, because it can make you. Or it can break you.

Unfortunately for some, it could come down to the latter.

This afternoon, I discovered the book world in a frenzy over a post that an indie author shared on social media regarding an unfavorable review of her book. Since I’m not writing this post to put in my two cents about the situation, I won’t go into specifics about it. However, I felt compelled to write this because the mess this author has found herself in has made me think about the one question that all writers should be able to answer…why do we write?

I can’t speak on behalf of other writers, but my answer is simple:

I write for myself.

I write for my own personal enjoyment. Because I love this craft. It’s my outlet. My way to unwind at the end of a stressful day. An escape from the real world when it becomes too taxing to deal with. It’s my heart, my mind, and my soul in words.

It’s my sanity.

And if I choose to share what I write with the world, that is of my own accord. I share my words in hopes that others will find enjoyment reading them in the same way I enjoyed writing them. But this is the real world, folks, and the truth of the matter is, that is not always the case.

The world is full of critics. In fact, we are ALL critics in some way, shape, or form. My fashionista sister often criticizes my fashion sense (or lack thereof), but I still love her. My mother never fails to criticize my tattoos or piercings, but I know she only has the best intentions for me. My four-year-old daughter makes it a point to tell me to put on makeup before we leave the house, but I would never disagree with her on that one. See? We are all critics.

But that’s okay. I’m a critic, and I’m not ashamed of it. And why should I be? We NEED critics. Our world would not function without them. How boring would the world be if everyone had the same outlook on life? If everyone shared the same favorable opinions? We’d have no emotional connection to anything. And if that’s the case, then what’s the point of the creative arts? Why should painters paint? Why should singers sing? Why should writers write? What’s the point of sharing art with people if it’s not meant to stir the emotions, whether they elicit a positive or a negative reaction? Have you ever seen the movie Equilibrium with Christian Bale? Do me a favor—watch it. It has such a valuable message in regard to what I’m trying to say here (and plus, it’s a fantastic film).

What it all boils down to is this:

If an artist—specifically in this case, a writer—makes it his or her choice to make their work public, it is susceptible to criticism. In a perfect world, we would put our work out there and everyone would rate it five stars. One and two-star ratings wouldn’t exist. The alphabet would consist of 23 letters instead of 26 because the dreaded D-N-F would not be a part of it. And trust me, as a writer/author, I’ve been there. And it sucks. It really freaking sucks, because the last thing you want to hear after you’ve poured your heart and time into your work is a bad review.

But that’s the nature of the game we’re playing here, ladies and gents. We know what we're getting ourselves into when we go into this craft. We have to go in with thick skin and a lot of heart. We’re playing to win, but it doesn’t come without a few falls, bumps, and scratches along the way. And the only thing we can do is get up, hold our heads up high, and keep on playing.

And so, I leave you with this, one of the greatest pieces of writing in the history of the written word, and one of the greatest gifts that our Founding Fathers gave to this country:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” –The First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights

 

Fangirl

The first time a reader had said that they were a “fan” of mine after reading my book, it felt…strange. Wonderfully strange. That’s the only way I can describe the feeling. First of all, this entire process is new to me, as I would assume is the case for most debut authors. Prior to releasing my book, I hadn’t even been very open with people about my writing. It was something that I kept to myself, and other than my family and a few close friends, I hadn’t told anyone that I was writing what would become my first full-length novel. Now that it’s out there, people have asked me why I never said anything. Well, I suppose it’s the same reason why any artist—writer, actor, singer, painter, photographer, and the list goes on—might hold back: fear, rejection, doubt, skepticism. I live in a town where every 3 out of 4 people are artists of some sort. A town full of critics. A town in which your art must come with a fairly solid resume in order to justify the use of the “artist” label. So naturally, I kept my mouth shut. Because of the fear. And the rejection. I wasn’t writing for anyone else but myself. I still write for myself, but now that I’ve overcome that fear, I’m not afraid to share that part of me with people.

So of course, when a complete stranger contacts me, telling me that they’re a fan after reading my book, it’s pretty surreal. It’s both humbling and rewarding, and though it isn’t the very reason why I do what I do, it’s an added bonus. On the other hand, I have a difficult time just grasping that word “fan” because to me, people like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Colleen Hoover have fans (yup, that would be me…huge fan right here). People like me don’t have fans, or at least that’s what I used to tell myself, because I recently realized something: I have always had a fan. I had a fan well before I published my book. I had a fan even before I set off on my writing journey.

And this is why:

She keeps a box of everything I ever wrote in elementary, middle, and high school, including a story I wrote in the third grade that got me a 3rd place win in a school wide contest.

She worked hard to send me to college in New York where my tuition was double what it would have cost had I stayed in California. But I wanted to go, and she let me.

A fan is always loyal, no matter what. Even when a singer writes a crappy song or an author writes a book that wasn't as good as their last, a fan is still supportive. This woman is supportive even when I screw up. Even when she gets angry after I get a tattoo or I do something stupid, and she doesn't talk to me for days, she is still there for me.

She read the first several pages of my very rough manuscript back in 2008, and even when I knew it was a piece of crap, she still thoroughly enjoyed it.

She found an article about self-publishing in a magazine after reading that first draft back in ’08, so she cut it out and gave it to me. I just looked at it, stuck it in a pocket at the back of my planner, and laughed at her. I still have that article to this day.

She read every draft of Never Stop Falling (4 drafts)—front to back—proofread the final copy, and read it again when it was finally published.

And for the past week, she has been a woman on a mission, running around the San Francisco Bay Area with my bookmarks (or as my dad calls it, going “Paul Revere” with those things), handing them out to a list of 90 libraries and independent bookstores that she put together, and encountering a few rejections and disgruntled librarians along the way. But that doesn’t stop her. She simply shrugs her shoulders with her head held high and goes on to the next stop on her list. And she has been doing this all without me asking her to do it. She asked ME if she could. All because she wants to see me succeed.

And so, to this fan, there aren’t enough words in the world to express my gratitude for your support. You believe in me even when I find it hard to believe in myself, and for that I am so unbelievably grateful.

Judy Blume once said that her mother was her greatest fan, so I guess there is really only one thing I have left to say:

Thank you, Mom. I love you with all of my heart.

Ramona On My Mind

Side note: I had every intention of writing about my favorite quotes from the books I blogged about last week, but I’m scrapping that and writing about the following instead. I suppose I should stop being such a Type A and rather than plan out what I’m going to write, just write on a whim instead! In any case, I’ll save that post for another day (maybe). On to more important things…

People often ask me when I find the time to write, and when I do find it, where I write. Between a full-time job and being a full-time mom/wife, the truth is—there isn’t much time (in case you missed it, this is the post I wrote a while back on how I divvy up my time: To Blog, or Not to Blog...Now, That's the Real Question). In terms of where, well, that would be where I am right now: in my bed, propped up against my red plush back rest, with my laptop resting on my legs and my four-year-old taking up seventy-five percent of the space (don’t even get me started as to why she’s not sleeping in her room). This is where I write every single night. Nothing fancy. Or amazing. No floor to ceiling windows with sunset views of endless sky and glistening ocean. No blankets of stars or the tranquility of being out in the middle of nowhere. Just my bed in our decently-sized bedroom, with a small bedside lamp, and if I’m lucky, a glimpse of the moon when it slowly passes across the skylight overhead.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind it at all, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you write; it’s what you write. You can write in one of the most exotic places on earth, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to come back with a Pulitzer Prize piece of writing. Then again, where you write could be the key to your inspiration, unlocking ideas you didn’t know you had and getting the creative juices flowing.

I came up with a list of places that I would love to seclude myself in and just write…all day long! The first one is a place that I actually stayed at last year, and the others are all places I hope to get to one day.

 

Ramona, California

Capability Ranch Guest House via AirBnB

Last year, I found this AMAZING guest house on a ranch just east of San Diego on AirBnB. The moment I saw the pictures, I knew it would be the perfect retreat to do some writing. Two pivotal scenes from Never Stop Falling were written in the three days that I spent there. Plus, there’s an inspirational story behind the ranch itself, and that’s what also drew me in.

 

Joshua Tree, California

Kate’s Lazy Desert

 Vintage Airstream Trailer? Check! In the middle of the desert? Check! A blanket of stars at night? Check! Though it may feel like an inferno during the summer, this would be pure heaven for a writer.

 

Paris, France

Studio Apartment with view of the Eiffel Tower via AirBnB

It’s Paris. The City of Love. Need I say more? This little studio apartment looks like the perfect place to write that bestselling romance novel.

 

Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Treehouse Suite in Secret Cove via AirBnB

This listing had me sold at “Treehouse,” and the “Secret Cove” was just an added bonus. And I have to admit…I only know of Vancouver Island because of Dirty Rowdy Thing by Christina Lauren. If you know me, I’m a sucker for seeking out real life places in books. And perhaps a part of me hopes I’ll stumble upon Finn Roberts somewhere.

 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Grand Hotel

If you’ve never seen Somewhere in Time with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeves, stop reading this post now and WATCH IT PLEASE. Then I don’t have to explain why this would be the perfect place to write.

 

New Bern, North Carolina

Waterfront House via AirBnB

This is another one of those book towns that I want to visit (yup, The Notebook!). The house itself isn’t what attracted me to it, but that lake? That dock? It has “Noah and Allie pounding rain kiss” written all over it.

 

Adirondack Mountains

I don’t know where in the Adirondacks this is. All I know is that I could sit in one of those chairs with a cup of hot tea and my laptop all day.

 

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Beach Cottage via AirBnB

 This is one of those “I watched the made for TV miniseries but never read the books” places. For anyone that read the books or watched the miniseries back in the 80s, Anne of Green Gables, you know what I’m talking about. I mean, look at it! This beach cottage is just absolutely stunning.

 

There you have it. Aren’t these places amazing? Even if you aren’t a writer, these are all destinations that anyone could find total comfort in. Complete relaxation. And I’m almost certain you won’t have a problem with a four-year-old sticking their foot on your computer screen as you type, or smacking their hand over your keyboarddkfjldkaf every five;oidf minutes.

 

Not Now, I'm Reading

All of my time has been consumed by my book and its release, so I haven't done much reading lately, which has been driving me absolutely nuts! I used to be able to read at least one book a week, maybe even two or three if I have time, but I'm sad to say that I've only read one in the past three weeks! Hopefully I can get back on track now. I'm currently reading Monster in His Eyes by JM Darhower which came highly recommended, and it's pretty good so far. Hopefully it's a winner!

People have been asking me for some good recommendations for books recently, so I thought that I would put together a list of some of my favorite love stories. You'll notice that two of the books on this list are children's books. I figured I would add them because one, these are two of my favorites of all time, and two, not all love stories are romances.

 

The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

A simple, beautifully written story about selfless love

 

Love You Forever, Robert Munsch

This is one heartwarming story that all parents should share with their children.

 

The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks

“The Game Changer.” I picked up this book, and I haven’t stopped reading since.

 

Forever, Interrupted, Taylor Jenkins Reid

This one really tugs at the heart strings! I can’t wait to read Taylor’s next book, One True Loves.

 

Kaleidoscope Hearts and Paper Hearts, Claire Contreras

Both of these are second-chance romances and part of the Hearts series. I can’t wait for the final book, Elastic Hearts, to be released!

 

Bad Romeo, Leisa Rayven

You want a book with a whole lot of angst? Look no further!

 

Before We Were Strangers and Sweet Thing, Renee Carlino

That Craigslist ad (*sigh*), and Will Ryan (*swoon*). Enough said.

 

The Beautiful Series and Wild Seasons Series, Christina Lauren

There is nothing this duo can’t do! All of the books in these two series are fun, sexy reads!

 

Every Wrong Reason, Rachel Higginson

A story about a couple in the middle of a divorce, this one broke my heart.

 

The Deal, The Mistake, and The Score (Off-Campus Series), Elle Kennedy

I’m not big into sports romances, but I’ll play a little hockey with Garrett, Logan, and Dean any day.

 

Archer’s Voice and Grayson’s Vow, Mia Sheridan

Mia Sheridan writes beautiful love stories that tug at the heart strings, and I can’t wait to read Midnight Lily.

 

ANYTHING Colleen Hoover, Colleen Hoover

This woman can do no wrong. All hail Queen Colleen.

 

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

There are no words to describe this book. This is a MUST read. Oh, and it's being made into a movie with Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) who were perfectly cast for the roles of Will Traynor and Louisa Clarke!

I have so many more, but these are books that I can read over and over again. Plus, I have a bunch of highly recommended ones on my TBR read list which I have yet to tackle. 

What are some of your favorite love stories? Share them with us! I'm always looking for new, fresh reads.

Next week, I'll post some of my favorite lines and quotes from these books, plus some others.

Until then...




When a Fried Brain = An Untitled Blog Post

I had every intention of posting the rest of the #AuthorLifeMonth challenge this week, but as I started to put it together, I stopped. As easy as it is to just post pictures, I’m a little distracted by everything that’s going on right now with my release date in two days. Between writing all of my guest posts and interview answers for my upcoming blog tour and finalizing the formatting for the paperback version, my brain is fried. I haven’t been able to work on my second book for the past week, and somehow, my mind won’t even allow me to read. I’ll read a few pages before I call it quits when usually, I’m able to read at least a quarter of a book in one sitting. I’m barely making it through this paragraph right now.

This entire process has been so overwhelming, and it’s hard to believe that in just two days, I’ll be able to share with everyone the very thing I’ve put my heart and mind into for the past two years. 

With that being said, I leave you with this quote for the week. If I learned anything at all throughout this process, it’s that no one else can stop you from pursuing your goals. The only person who says you can’t do it, is you.

 

The Struggle is Real

I’m in a major struggle right now. To be honest, I’ve been struggling with this ever since I started writing Never Stop Falling. But before I go into that, I need to talk about this first: dream casts.

The beauty about reading fiction is that it frees our imagination, allowing us an escape from the real world even if it’s only temporary. And one of the things I love to do when I read a book is dream cast the characters. Every time I pick up a book and I’m introduced to a character, I’m already thinking of real-life people that could fit the bill.

The fun part about it is that we all could read the same book but have completely different ideas as to who could fit the mold of each character in the story. A while back, I got a group of us to read Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, and when we met to discuss the book, it was really interesting to see who each person imagined as Travis Maddox. Colton Haynes was my Travis who, coincidentally, seems to be a popular choice among readers of the book. I remember hearing Jason Momoa’s name somewhere in that conversation, and me thinking no way! But then I figured, that’s the great thing about all of this—we can imagine who we want and still enjoy the same story, which is the goal that every author wants to achieve.

Anyone who reads romance LOVES to dream cast the hero. Come on, people; let’s face it. Whether we’re single, engaged, or married, we love our book boyfriends. And these are some of my favorites in their real-life form (and in all their beautiful glory):

Christian Grey, Fifty Shades of GreyMatt Bomer

Yes, I was one of the people that signed the petition to get Matt Bomer the role of Christian after Jamie Dornan was announced to play our favorite billionaire dominant. Don’t judge.

Kellan Kyle, ThoughtlessNick Bateman

Miles Archer, Ugly LoveNick Bateman

Bennett Ryan, Beautiful BastardNick Bateman

Okay, so I was on a Nick Bateman kick for a few books. Can you blame me?

Oliver Lore, Dark Wild NightJeff Kasser

Because who doesn’t love a guy with glasses?

Noah Calhoun, The NotebookRyan Gosling

I saw the trailer for the movie even before I read the book, so I didn’t have to work that hard for this one.

 

So based on all of that manly goodness I just presented to you, what can possibly be my struggle? 

I can’t dream cast Nicholas Kelley. 

I can’t dream cast my own freaking character. After spending two years with him, writing him, knowing every part of him inside and out (don’t judge), I can’t think of anyone out there that could do him justice.

And I’ve tried. Trust me, I have. When I started writing, I thought that a young Henry Cavill might work. But then I figured he’s way older than Nick, so then Scott Eastwood came to mind. But then I felt that Scott looked too “rugged” to be Nick. And there’d be days in which I’d browse the internet for hours, searching high and low for the perfect Nick to no avail. Even today, I thought I might have found “the one” in Ryan Guzman. But even after I pinned him to my board on Pinterest, I took another look and finally decided he didn’t fit. 

Now that I think about it, perhaps I haven’t been able to dream cast him because there really is no guy out there that could fit into his shoes; because he only exists in my head.

With that being said, I’m really looking forward to hearing about everyone’s choice for Nick when they read the book. Maybe one of you will finally find “the one” for me!

In the mean time, if you’re interested in finding out who I dream casted for all the other characters in my book, check out this board on my Pinterest:  Never Stop Falling

#AuthorLifeMonth, Day 1-14

So there is this challenge that’s going on during the month of February on social media called #AuthorLifeMonth. The way it works is that you have to post a photo for the next 28 days of the given topic. Of course, by the time day 5 rolls around, I’ve already given up. I suppose that’s why they call it a “challenge.” With that being said, I figured I would kill 28 birds with two stones (or in this case, two blog posts). Day 15-28 (but isn't it a Leap Year?!) will come at the end of the month!

DAY ONE through FOUR:

DAY FIVE: Comp covers

I absolutely LOVE these covers by Okay Creations. 

DAY SIX: Fan art/edit

Thanks Robin!! By the way y'all, if you're a fan of erotic romance, you need to check this out: Waiting For the Sun

DAY SEVEN: Writing music

DAY EIGHT: Awesome moment

This is taken from an e-mail I received from one of my first beta readers

DAY NINE: Challenge overcome

I posted this the day I finished the first draft of Never Stop Falling. I couldn't believe that I had actually written an entire full-length novel. I cried as soon as I typed the very last sentence.

DAY TEN: Non-author photo

I don't know if this counts as a "non-author" photo because I made this trip to Big Sur since I wanted to use these places in my story! This is me at Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California.

DAY ELEVEN: A fave review

This was one of the first reviews that I received. So humbled to have received such an awesome review.

DAY TWELVE: Killed darlings

I had so much anxiety the day that I received my manuscript back from my editor. My manuscript went from 99K words to 84K words. There were so many lines in my story that I wanted to keep, but at the end of it all, I ended up with an even better manuscript. These were a few of my "darlings" that were killed off from one of Nick's chapters!

DAY THIRTEEN: A fave book in genre

I have too many favorites to name, but these are a few of my favorites!

DAY FOURTEEN: Fave of your covers

I've only published one book (so far!), so we'll have to revisit this topic when I publish my second.

Until next week, HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!!

 

Never Stop Falling Paperback Giveaway!

With the release date of Never Stop Falling approaching, I will be giving away 5 paperback copies via Goodreads! Click the link for your chance to win!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Never Stop Falling by Ashley Drew

Never Stop Falling

by Ashley Drew

Giveaway ends April 13, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway