Why I’m a Christmas Junkie by Rachelle Ayala @mimisgang1 #mgtab

Christmas in 1965, I’m the one in the blue.

Recently, a friend asked me why I write so many Christmas romances. [I’m working on #24]. I thought back to my earliest Christmas memories and why this holiday is so special to me that I start singing Christmas carols in July. It turns out that I’m nostalgic for all the Christmases past and the family fun times and memories.

Back in the 1960s, Christmas thoughts started with the arrival of the Sears Wish Book. We would take turns flipping through the entire catalog and dog ear the pages. Although we rarely got anything from the actual wish book, it was fun to keep hoping for that rock tumbler and be happy with the clothes or books found under the tree. I do remember getting the Lite Brite set and Spirograph. Even though my family wasn’t religious, we were always reminded that it was Jesus’s birthday first but that He gave gifts to us.

Back then, we worked on Christmas plays at school and made ornaments during crafts time. I was in the orchestra and we played Christmas music like Little Town of Bethlehem. The Christmas cartoons, Charlie Brown, Rudolph, the Grinch, the Little Drummer Boy, etc. were always highly anticipated. We’d go to our friends’ houses to watch them together. Sometimes, the parks and recreation would show a movie and have a tree lighting. Everyone wished everyone a “Merry Christmas” and our mailboxes were flooded with Christmas cards and letters.

Christmas morning was always exciting as it was hard to go to sleep the night before. Even though we lived in a small tract home in Southern California, my siblings and I wondered if we could hear the reindeer land on the roof. We were worried that my mother stored books and magazines in the fireplace and there wouldn’t be any room for Santa. Never thought what my friends who had actual fires in their fireplace would do.

On Christmas morning, we had to eat breakfast and get dressed first before venturing into the living room where the tree stood. That was the rule at our house. No opening presents in PJs. After the pictures are taken, the carols sung, we’d open our presents and yell out our thank yous to aunts and uncles [even if they weren’t there]. People would drop by [they didn’t need to call or text before coming], and then we’d run outside to share our toys with our friends. Some would have new bikes. Others skateboards, a baseball, or a board game. In the background, my dad played albums by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. I also remember Mele Kalikimaka was one of my favorite songs and imagined Christmas in Hawaii [wrote about it in Seashells & Mistletoe].

What are some of your favorite Christmas memories? Why do you like to read Christmas romances all year round? What do you miss about Christmases past? What do you look forward to on Christmas day?

I love living everyone’s Christmas fantasies by reading Christmas romances and love stories. This year, we at Authors’ Billboard have eleven Christmas stories for you in Unforgettable Christmas Miracles. Each author brings a different and interesting perspective to this favorite of all holidays. Mine is crazy and off the deep end. Nick’s Christmas Ride where two irascible Texas Hold’em playing ancestors, three social media narcissists, an old-time fiddler, and a flying car seem kind of normal for Nick Jolly and Hayley Brockman’s unexpected Christmas Creek romance.

Unforgettable Miracles – brought to you by Authors’ Billboard

Magical Realism in Romance #RachelleAyala #mgtab @Mimisgang1

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

Take a modern-day contemporary romance and set it in a familiar city or town. Keep the technology: texting, cell phones, the internet, and all the engineering wonders of the 21st century. But inject an element of magic or time travel or even a bit of shapeshifting or ghostly visitations. Since it’s a romance, you have a hero and a heroine. One of them or both are ordinary human beings. Or perhaps he or she appears like an ordinary human being–sometimes. Add in elements of mythology or magic but keep the romance front and central. This is what I’ve been doing in some of my stories which mix magical realism with romance.

I didn’t decide one day to incorporate magical realism into my stories. I’ve always liked reading stories that have strange and unexplained things going on. But it all started with a novella in 2015, Christmas Stray where a boy who claims to be an elf and his puppy appear behind the woodpile to a couple snowed in for Christmas.

What is this thing called magical realism romance? It’s easier to say what it’s not.

It’s not Fantasy or even Urban Fantasy. The setting is in the real world and the main plot line does not center around the fantasy world. There is no battle between kingdoms and realms and most of the characters are not aware of the magic taking place. Furthermore, no undue attention is drawn to the magic that happens. It’s accepted as “just is.” The main character does not permanently change into a creature imbued with special powers, and it’s not a journey of discovery and mastery in another world.

It’s not Paranormal Romance, although there are elements of the paranormal. Perhaps some can interpret a character as a ghost or a time-traveling spirit. However, the story world looks normal to ninety percent of the characters, and the plot does not center around the otherworldly creatures. There is no explanation of the changes or appearances that take place or any lore about the strange creatures like in vampire or werewolf shifting stories where there is a system of clans, transitions, fated mates, etc. Instead, the central plot line is an ordinary contemporary romance set in a mostly ordinary world.

What we’re left with is a romance with elements of magic rooted in the real world.

Of the eighty romances I’ve written, I count thirteen of my books to incorporate magical elements into the mostly realistic storyline. Nine of them are Christmas stories, and ten of them are concentrated in my Christmas Creek Romance series where something strange happens in most but not all books, and yet, at the end of the story, the strange happenings are forgotten or kept secret by the affected couple.

This last detail, of having most of the characters unaware of the time shift or otherworldly visitation or excursion to another realm is what keeps my stories in the dimension of magical realism which is defined as a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. Magical realism is a part of the realism genre of fiction. Within a work of magical realism, the world is still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-magical-realism

Are you ready to be shapeshifted into a vintage MG Roadster convertible while the guy you’re crushing on is driving his dates around your small town? That’s what happens to town wallflower Hayley Brockman in my newest Christmas Creek Romance, Nick’s Christmas Ride.

Nick’s Christmas Ride by Rachelle Ayala

Let me know if you like magic realism in romance. If you do, check out gem girls, Sapphire and Ruby, where ordinary women meet up with demigods on the streets of San Francisco. Black Tied: Sapphire [wok firefighter, the son of the kitchen God] and Red Hexed: Ruby [accidental sword bearer to Lord Frey of the sword that can stop Ragnarok].

7 ways to show someone they matter #RachelleAyala #mgtab @Mimisgang1

Photo by cottonbro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/mother-and-daughter-in-the-kitchen-table-5491324/

These days it seems we’re busier than ever. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I wake up I have things to do. There’s running the household to running a business while trying to find time for exercise and writing. Many times, I’ll think about what I can do for a friend or a family member without actually doing it. However, thinking is not the same as doing, and while you can tell someone you love them or were thinking about them, they’ll feel like they really mattered to you if you do something to show them. It’s the same concept of “Show, don’t tell” in writing.

Here are seven simple ways you can show someone they matter to you.

  • Call them or drop by for a visit. Your most valuable possession is your time. Calling a friend or a relative to wish them a happy birthday or taking them out for lunch shows you value being with them. It’s not just the “thought” that counts, but your presence.
  • Invite them to an outing. It could be a walk in the park, or a trip to Chinatown to pick up spices, or the neighborhood repertory theater, or a church activity, or a meet-an-author book-signing. Experiencing something new together is a great way to discover more about another person.
  • Cook a meal together. One of the funnest activities I did with a friend back in college days was to shop and try out a new recipe every Friday evening. We both learned how to cook and endured burned dishes and lots of laughs. Two cooks are always more fun than one.
  • Offer to babysit or do a household/yard chore. Lending a helping hand is a great way to show someone you value them. Maybe they’re new parents or bought a fixer-upper. Many hands truly make short and cheerful work.
  • Listen while they speak and draw out the silent ones. Being interested in a person shows them they matter. Listening carefully and drawing them out shows that you respect their ideas and thoughts.
  • Give up your seat on the bus or your place in line. Putting another person ahead of you shows them they matter to you. You’ll likely be rewarded with a smile and friendly words, and even if it’s only a grunt, you gave someone else first place for that short moment.
  • Respect their opinions and wishes. Everyone has their opinion and wishes, whether you agree with them or not. Respecting another person’s thoughts and feelings shows how you esteem them as an individual with their own agency.

What are some of the ways you show someone they matter? Enter them in the comments.

One of the best ways to tell an author she matters is to email her your thoughts about her book and/or write a review. It shows that her story or nonfiction made a difference in your life, and that’s ultimately what we’re here for–touching other lives and making a positive difference in the world.

Photo by RODNAE Productions: https://www.pexels.com/photo/mother-and-daughter-smiling-while-looking-at-each-other-holding-mugs-8489007/

Ten Reasons to get More Sleep #RachelleAyala @Mimisgang1 #mgtab #BookReview

We’re having a global brain climate crisis!

Last month, I had my entire worldview about sleep overturned. I went from a sleep denier to a sleep advocate once I realized the detriment I was doing to my health by burning the candle on both ends. I also read Matthew Walker’s entire book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. My emotions went from skepticism to alarm to curiosity to concern as Dr. Walker laid out the reasons for every adult to get at least seven hours of sleep [babies and children obviously need more]. I highly recommend the book because it is footnoted with a lot of research and backed up by real-life experience. He talks not just about the quantity of sleep but also the quality of sleep and the importance of each of the stages of sleep.

Here are at least ten reasons why you should get more sleep. [Note: page numbers are approximate and come from a PDF file which might not correspond to the printed book, but you should be able to flip forward or backward to find the referred material.]

  1. Drowsy driving is dangerous. When you don’t get enough sleep, you drift off for a few seconds into unconsciousness. A few seconds at sixty miles per hour is lethal. While drunk drivers are slow to respond, drowsy drivers don’t respond at all because they are asleep. All it takes is a few seconds of oblivion. A study showed that later start times for high school students reduced accidents by 70%. To put it in perspective, anti-lock braking technology which was hailed as revolutionary reduced accidents 20-25%. (pg. 226) It is estimated that every 30 seconds, someone gets in an accident that is caused by drowsy driving. Even worse, truck drivers are 200-500% more likely to get into an accident. (pg. 106)
  2. Lack of sleep devastates your immune system. Even a single night of sleep deprivation (four hours versus eight) swept away 70% of natural circulating T-cells. These are the cells that fight infection and cancer. (pg. 136). In fact, studies show that if you didn’t get several nights of good sleep before a flu shot, your subsequent immunity is roughly 50% of your well-slept counterparts. You can imagine what a lifetime of sleep deprivation can do to your immunity and ability to ward off cancer.
  3. Lack of deep NREM sleep and dementia/Alzheimers go hand in hand. The brain uses deep NREM sleep to clean out the amyloid plaques (or debris) between the neurons. The less deep sleep, the more amyloid, the more amyloid, the less deep sleep. How can we prevent this downward spiral? Start getting more sleep whatever your age. Those of us who are already past midlife will have a disadvantage but we can still try to clean up as much as we can by sleeping more. (pg. 120)
  4. Unhealthy sleep, unhealthy heart. Here the data is clear. Study after study shows how even a single night of short sleep raises blood pressure, calcifies the coronary arteries, and elicits the fight-and-flight emergency response system and speeds up the heart. Deep NREM sleep soothes and calms the fight-and-flight branch of the nervous system. (pg. 126)
  5. Sleep and lose weight. When we find ourselves needing to lose a little weight, we immediately turn to dieting and exercising. While these two activities are proven to work, they will get a significant boost if we also increase our sleep. No matter how strong your willpower is, you can’t beat these two hobbit-like hormones, leptin and ghrelin. One (ghrelin) makes you crave food and turns you ravenous, and the other (leptin) signals that you’re full and there’s no need to eat. Sleeplessness unleashes the ghrelin (cookie) monster while a full night’s sleep allows leptin to do its job. Research shows that giving people five or six hours of sleep a night caused them to increase their caloric intake by 300 every day or 70,000 a year (10-15 pounds). (pg. 129)
  6. Sleep enhances learning and memory retention. One experiment showed that sleeping before learning improved learning. Not only that, sleep the subsequent nights increased long term memory. Sadly, even one night of disrupted sleep on the third night after learning decreased retention. For example, a college student sleeps well all week, but goes out drinking on Friday night. That one night of disturbed REM sleep washed away their progress. It’s unknown how many consecutive nights of adequate sleep will make these newly formed memories safe. Dr. Walker says his class groans when finding this out. (pg. 199)
  7. Sleep and emotional stability. Dreaming reduces stress. Studies have shown that the stress chemical noradrenaline is entirely shut off ONLY while you’re dreaming (REM sleep). (pg. 153) Deprive someone of REM sleep, and their minds will attempt to make up for it by dreaming or hallucinating while awake. This research is so unethical that no attempts are made to recreate the studies from the 1960s when young people were deprived of REM sleep. Their hallucinations could not be distinguished from psychosis. (pg. 224)
  8. Sleep Deprivation and Bad Decisions. Another alarming fact is that medical doctors and residents are chronically deprived of sleep with the thinking it would “toughen them up.” Many of us are unaware, but the doctor who came up with this tough training regimen was a cocaine addict and made many mistakes himself, including leaving young residents in the middle of surgery alone while he had the shakes. This legacy has killed countless patients, and yet, the medical profession prides itself on it’s sleeplessness. Perhaps they should be ashamed if we equate sleeplessness with being naked. It would actually be safer for patients if they were naked rather than bereft of sleep. The stats are chilling. (pg. 230)
  9. Sleeplessness makes you Unpopular. Research was done where observers are asked to rate the attractiveness of random people. Each person had a picture taken when he or she was well rested, and another picture taken when he or she was sleep deprived. Even though the individuals were the same, the raters who didn’t know the purpose of the study rated the pictures of the sleep-deprived state as less attractive. Perhaps that’s why we call it a beauty rest or beauty sleep. (pg. 134) Furthermore, sleep-deprived individuals are less able to pick up on social cues. They tend to attribute negative thoughts to others by defaulting to a fear bias. (pg. 158) Imagine what happens when a nation or world of sleep-deprived individuals ascribe negative motivations and exhibit fear-based responses toward each other.
  10. Great sleep make great creativity (and sex). Ending on a positive note, sleep has always been the source of creation, whether of the arts or procreating new human beings. Dreaming and a good night’s sleep gave us the periodic table, neurotransmitters jumping across synapses, Paul McCartney’s Let it Be and Yesterday, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (pg. 163) Sleep also keeps testosterone levels healthy (pg. 132). Take that, you alpha males bragging about how little sleep you get. Under-slept men have smaller testicles and lower sperm count, the testosterone level of a man ten to fifteen years older, and a dulled libido. Under-slept women have irregular menstrual cycles and are more likely to suffer miscarriages. (pg. 133). Therefore if you want to birth and raise healthy babies, make it a habit to prioritize sleep, and give your children great sleep habits, too. It’ll increase their learning, social attractivness, emotional stability, and overall health.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD

I hope you read the book for yourself. Dr. Walker covers tips for a better night’s sleep. These do NOT include sleeping pills, alcohol, and caffeine. Unfortunately, all of these chemicals disrupt normal sleep patterns. Sleeping pills are habit forming. Alcohol sedates the cortex but creates nonrestful sleep, and of course caffeine with its long half life make getting to sleep difficult. You also cannot “bank” up or “makeup” for sleep by bingeing on it over the weekend. What’s lost is lost. You can only go forward and give yourself at least eight hours of sleep opportunity a night.

Within a month I’ve increased my average sleep time from 5 hours a night to 7 hours a night. I wear a Fitbit Charge 2 to track my sleep so I don’t have to record it every night. I also go to bed earlier and have had to shift my writing time, because I used to write late into the wee hours of the night. My latest book, Not My Boss, was written before I added 2 hours a night of sleep. It’s available in a new Workplace Romance Boxed Set, Madly in Love with a Coworker. My self-driving car romance, Nick’s Christmas Ride, is written with 7-8 hours of sleep a night and will be in the new Author’s Billboard Christmas set coming in late October. I’m still proud of my late nights with Not My Boss: Can office pranks, HR violations, and a doggy fashion show get Dixie the divorce she thinks she wants?

Madly In Love With A Coworker, 99c or Kindle Unlimited