Jaya and Grover: A Writer’s Best Friends

My sabbatical is a story of two spectacular dogs with strange names. It started with sad news when we lost our nearly 15-year-old dog, Grover. She was quite a character. Had she been human, she would have headed up a crime syndicate.

Grover dog of author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Grover had struggled with back problems for years, occasionally losing control of her hind legs. But she always bounced back—until she didn’t.

Our older dog, Jaya, was the one we had expected to go first—but just to spite his sister he hung on for another whole year. He was by my side through my whole sabbatical, but today it was time to say goodbye. He was almost seventeen years old—approximately 108 in dog years!—but he took a turn for the worse.

Jaya dog of author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

We had Jaya for 17 of our 19 years of marriage, and he truly made us a family. Both dogs helped “encourage” our move to the Philippines by getting in a wee tussle with a student in our dorm, but that move led to me writing romance—one of the greatest gifts anyone could have given me.

Grover dog of author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

To quote the Gilded Age cowboy philosopher Will Rogers: “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

Jaya dog of author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

How to Blue Apron: Jen’s Tips from Sabbatical

Note: I received no compensation from Blue Apron for this post. (I mean, if they offered, I might take it. But they didn’t.)

One of the biggest drawbacks of sabbatical was losing access to my school’s wonderful dining hall. Would I ever eat a vegetable again? I certainly did not know how to cook any.

Enter Blue Apron. My friends at work laugh because they don’t think this is really “learning how to cook.” That’s unfair. As you can see, these are not ready-made kits. You are sent raw grocery ingredients, along with instructions on how to prepare them. That’s cooking! Blue Apron does have its peccadillos, though. Here’s how I’ve learned to best “Blue Apron” your kitchen:

  • Buy a big thing of quality olive oil and keep it next to you at all times. Don’t worry too much about measuring oil for your pan, like the instructions say. Learn to eyeball it.
  • Keep kosher salt in a bowl for easy seasoning—you’ll do it a lot. I also recommend a good pepper grinder.
  • The box of food comes once a week, but don’t worry about sorting through it right away. Just throw it all into one of the bottom drawers of your fridge, and keep it separate. (If you use Blue Apron, you will be buying less food at the store. You’ll find the room.)
  • Use your dishwasher to clean all those prep bowls and plates, especially if it has a quick cycle. Treat yourself.

  • Blue Apron’s instructions show every ingredient in its own cute little bowl. Well, dishwasher or no, that’s a lot of waste. Read down the instructions and find out what’s going to be thrown into the pot together, and combine them now. You can see the comparison between Blue Apron’s prep bowls and mine for the same dish (above). Because the ginger and rhubarb were going to be cooked together, I let them start together. Same with the celery, garlic, and scallion bottoms. Why not?

  • You will be peeling a lot of vegetables. (Mr. Hallock and I are not vegetarians, but Blue Apron does excel at vegetable-rich dishes.) Get comfortable with a selection of peelers and knives to take the skin off everything from radishes to large squash.
  • Deseeding lemons? No, thank you. Look at the instructions, see how the juice will be used, pre-squeeze it, and fish out the seeds.

Those are just a few easy tips for making cooking manageable with Blue Apron. I’ll be back in the dining hall soon, but I will be keeping a lot of the recipe cards for my own “sabbatical cookbook.” And this from a woman who had to be taught how to boil water in college. You can teach a dog new tricks!

Spring into Romance!

My wonderful trip to Manila may be over (sigh), but that doesn’t mean sabbatical is over. In fact, since I don’t start the day job until September, I still have half a year left. What will I do with all that time?

Character board for Sugar Moon upcoming book in the steamy Sugar Sun historical romance series set in the Philippines during the Gilded Age

  1. I am currently editing Sugar Moon, Ben Potter’s redemption story. What woman is strong enough to bring this man to heel? There’s only one. Allegra Alazas, Javier’s spitfire cousin. This story is a grittier and more suspenseful than the others. Interested? Look for a late 2017 release. (Then, yes, Sugar Communion is next. That’s Andrés’s story. He’s a tough one.)
  2. I also have some great reader and author events coming up. In addition to attending RT Booklovers Convention for the first time, I am helping to plan a smaller, more intimate conference right here in the Boston area. I am the assistant chair of the New England Chapter of RWA®’s Let Your Imagination Take Flight 2017 conference. In addition to all the amazing workshops, we have a big signing on the night of April 7th. Your favorite authors will be there, there will be over 20 baskets of books and goodies to win in our free raffle, and there’s a cash bar! See more details at the linked pages or in the banner at the top of this page.
  3. By the way, I will be donating another #MabuhayLove basket to the raffle. The books might be slightly different (I picked up new ones in Manila!), but the concept is the same: emotionally-satisfying, beautifully written global romance.
  4. Finally, I will be doing my research workshop one more time. It’s called The History Games: Using Real Events to Write the Best Fiction in Any Genre. The Hingham Public Library has invited me back to speak to their patrons on April 22nd at 1pm. As with all events I do for libraries, it is free! If you’re in the area, come check it out.

History Games research workshop in Hingham Massachusetts at the public library for authors and students studying history and writing fiction

Thank you all for helping make my sabbatical the best year ever! Another big thank you to all the authors and readers who welcomed me so warmly in Manila. It was thrilling to meet all my #romanceclass friends in person. You guys are truly the best.

And, in case you missed it, Tempting Hymn is out and has been getting some nice buzz on social media. Thank you to all those who have helped others find my books by leaving a review. I really do appreciate the time it takes to share your thoughts.

Tempting Hymn by Jennifer Hallock of steamy Sugar Sun historical romance series set in the Philippines in Gilded Age


Truths about Sabbatical So Far…

  1. You wake up at 6:30 but do not dress until noon…
  2. Your day is divided not in terms of  three meals, but in terms of two courses: coffee and wine.
  3. Calendars and computers are more important than ever because you have no clue what day it is otherwise.
  4. Because you live in a house heated by wood, you share your husband’s excitement about his new chainsaw.
  5. And that’s when you realize you are a full-time writer married to a lumberjack—like a romance novel, and therefore awesome.
  6. You binge-watch Alaska: The Last Frontier with your lumberjack husband and think, “That’s not a chainsaw. I’ll show you a chainsaw!”
  7. You view your meal delivery service as a correspondence cooking course—and vegetable insurance.
  8. You cook for your 16-year-old dog because you can, and because he deserves it. He doesn’t always eat it, though, because he’s just that spoiled.
  9. You take longer to release books because you have time to make them the best they can be. And your lumberjack is a tough editor.
  10. You look forward to writing conferences and other appearances so that you have an excuse to wear big girl clothes and have human interaction beyond your aforementioned lumberjack.

Speaking of #10, I am off the New Jersey Romance Writers’ Put Your Heart in a Book Conference tomorrow (hence the early post). I’ll mostly be offline, so have a great weekend, everybody!