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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Denise Agnew: Writing Out Of The Box: Or Why I Like The Dangerous Stuff


What do I mean when I say I like writing the dangerous stuff that’s outside of the box? Well, I have more than one example.

When I started writing for Ellora’s Cave more than a decade ago, I discovered a whole new world of romance writing that was just getting coming into acceptance with many in the romance reading world. I discovered that no matter what genre within romance I was writing, I often wanted the love story to be hotter and more intense. More than that, I enjoy creating love scenes that fit the characters rather than having the love scenes run the characters. And wow, that is hard to do every time. It’s far easier to take the easy way out and write love scenes that sound too much like the one you wrote before. Sex is just a part of the conflict, the way the characters express a profound attraction and growing respect that changes to deep love.

Writing outside of the box, though, can be even more about the type of stories you write and not the heat level.

Another example! Last fall I released my Asylum Trilogy (Shadows Wait, Shadows Rise, Shadows Fall). All three stories are set in a haunted insane asylum. The first book is set in 1908, the second in 1918 during the end of World War One, and the last is contemporary. Each story is set in the same asylum with different couples fighting an evil that has infested the asylum since the beginning of its construction. In the contemporary there is even a paranormal investigation team.

When I recently published my contemporary novel Blackout, I knew I was bucking the system because this novel is romantic suspense, paranormal and sorta post apoc at the same time. But it was this weird idea that popped into my head one day when I walked by this house with scraggly roses bushes. I got this “what if” idea. The house looks normal and suburbia, but the weeds are growing all over. What if it is haunted and what if…well, you know. The imagination took off and Blackout was born.

I write so many different genres within romance that I can’t say I have a brand or platform. Is that a bad thing? Not for me. I’ve consciously chosen to follow what I like to write. These days I rarely alter a story to fit a particular publisher guideline. The stories inside me are there to be expressed, and if that means one time I’m writing a historical featuring Jack The Ripper as a character and the next a contemporary romantic suspense with paranormal elements…I write it.

What is it about a romance with spine-tingling suspense and kick ass adventure that makes you want to read it? Do you like stories that reach for originality? I’m an inquiring mind, and I’d love to know. Comment and you could win a paperback from my backlist!

Visit my website at www.deniseagnew.com for all the information, blurbs and excerpts from my novels. 

***Denise's winner is Erin!  Please email totebag@authorsoundrelations.com with your mailing information!***

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Unexpected Can Be Good by Fiona Lowe

Life can change in a heartbeat and so it happened in my family last Tuesday at 5pm when my eldest son, who was enrolled and ready to start at university today, got an unexpected offer from another university, in  another state; Tasmania. For those of you who don't know, Tasmania is Australia's island state and the only way to get there is to fly or go by boat.  The other big thing in the email was, "if you accept this offer, lectures start in six days."

His initial reaction was, "No", because his brain was in gear for the university two hours away by train and bus. He could come home every couple of weekends, easy peasy.  But this offer of a double degree in Medicine and research was really was too good an opportunity to pass up so by Wednesday at noon we were suddenly gearing up to not only change universities but to move him "out of state."

It is AMAZING how much you can achieve in 48 hours if you give up the day job of trying to write a book. I tried to set aside my panic about my deadline and set about organising to put the car on the Spirit of Tasmania, booking flights for my husband and son and organising accommodation for him while he un-enrolled in the university he thought he was going to be attending.

I headed off with a fully loaded car including a full size electric piano...The Lad can't study without a piano...a  roof rack filled with bedding and books, and at the back of the vehicle, his push bike. Everything a boy needs for his first year at university or what my US mates call, "college."

Lucky for me, the writing community is global and my dear friend, Melanie Milburne, lives in Hobart, Tasmania. She was such a fabulous resource.

The Lad is living in a residential college and he has a million dollar view! I think I would like to live there. He is going to keep really fit because the road up to the residences is very, very steep!

So a week today I didn't know he was even going to be attending the University of Tasmania ..it's been a huge six days but he is installed, settling in and has attended his first lectures. I have just got home and am feeling a bit wobbly after I find my land legs after nine hours at sea.



After a good sleep or two, life needs to return to normal as I have to get back to writing 'Runaway Groom' the third book in my Wedding Fever trilogy.  Have you ever had to drop everything and make something good happen in a really short space of time? I'd love to hear about it.

Saved by the Bride, the first book in the trilogy is available for pre-order now at the discounted price of $2.99 at Nook & Kindle

I am thrilled with the cover. What do you think?


Fiona Lowe is a RITA® and R*BY award-winning, multi-published author with Harlequin and Carina Press. Whether her books are set in outback Australia or in the mid-west of the USA, they feature small towns with big hearts, and warm, likeable characters that make you fall in love. When she's not writing stories, she's a weekend wife, mother of two 'ginger' teenage boys, guardian of 80 rose bushes and often found collapsed on the couch with wine. You can find her at her websitefacebookTwitter and Goodreads.







Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saranna DeWylde: A Heroine’s Journey


How To Seduce An Angel in 10 Days is my third book in the 10 Days series. So far, it’s been the hardest of all my romances to write.

I was excited to write Tally and Falcon’s story, but the heroine made me gnash my teeth constantly. I think it’s because there is nothing so torturous as watching someone struggle through lessons you learned yourself and being unable to help them. I didn’t intend for Tally to be so much like me, but that’s how she bloomed on the page.

While her story is a romance and has its lighter moments, Tally’s story is about learning to love yourself. It’s about accepting your own flaws without fear and learning to live in your own skin.

That lesson can be a hard one and the road is bumpy and not just a little terrifying. I traveled that road myself when I worked as a corrections officer. Learning to love myself after the mess I’d made of my life was maybe one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

I’m a better person for it, and a better writer. Or at least I hope I am. I think Tally is, too.

So since we’re talking about lessons today, is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self? What it is and why?

Got Angel?

Drusilla "Tally" Tallow does. Both fallen and otherwise because she's got ten days of Heavenly and Infernal Parole after knocking Falcon Cherrywood from his broom. All she wanted was to settle down with a nice warlock, have babies, and grow old together. But she's got a bad habit of falling for the wrong warlock. She blames Cupid. Too bad her Heavenly Parole Officer is none other than the heart bandit himself--the newly appointed Cupid and current fixture in all her fantasies, Falcon Cherrywood.

After smiting Cupid with a fireball, Falcon Cherrywood must now play the Diapered Archer. He can't think of anything more humiliating than flying around in pink wings shooting arrows into hopeless fools. Archery was never his strong suit and Falcon doesn't even believe in love. But more troubling are the feelings his sinfully irresistible parolee sets off in him--for only Tally has the power to make him believe in things better left to fairy tales, like Happily Ever After.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hannah Jayne: Writers on Vacation


The End: Often considered the two sweetest words in the English language for an author. We love our jobs, we love our characters, our stories, our work days that include pajama bottoms and coffee that is more sweetened-something syrup than coffee. But after tapping in the requisite 70, 80, or 90,000 words of a manuscript that is due far sooner than one imagined, there is nothing quite as compelling or momentous as those two words.

In the last nine months, I typed those very words three times. Three times, once every three months, back to back…to back. I generally stagger deadlines between week-long margarita breaks, but due to something businessy and not an unfortunate love for every reality show on TLC, I found myself and my work schedule surprisingly compressed. So, once I typed the third set of end words, I decided that I wanted – no, needed – some time off. A month, this time. No writing. Just relaxing, reading, getting in touch with my inner-domestic goddess (i.e., doing laundry for the first time in a month and finally scraping up that fuzzy thing in the fridge that will either be toxic mold or a new pet. Or possibly a combination of the two).

I woke up the first morning with a lightness I hadn’t felt in months. Nothing pressing! Nothing immediately due! I lounged in bed for an extra half-hour, snuggling my cats until they both began claiming starvation. Then there was the meandering breakfast, the hour at the gym and devouring a few chapters of a great new book by Lisa Jackson. And then it was noon and I had no idea what to do with myself. I’m usually just looking up from my laptop by noon, my stomach growling, my coffee ice cold, my breath rank from ice-cold coffee.

By one o’clock, my fingers were twitching. Let me just write a few things down about a book I’m thinking about… just a few lines…and then, I promise: Nothing but relaxing and folding socks and laying in the sun reading…

No writing. On vacation. Hiatus.
That was three chapters ago.

They say that you don’t choose a writing career; a writing career chooses you. And here, on vacation in a dazzling locale and wondering when I’ll kill my next character, I know that’s true.

I just wish the career that chose me included more margaritas.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kieran Kramer: Why I Write


Hi, wonderful readers!

Oftentimes, readers ask me why I write, so today, I’d love to answer that question. Meanwhile, at the end of my post, I’ve got details about a giveaway on my blog that I’d love to share with you, as well. If you like Kindle Fires or Coach bags—and if you love a sexy, light Regency romp, which describes my newest release, THE EARL IS MINE—then be sure to check out http://kierankramerbooks.com/theearlismine-contest/.

Do I write my stories for fame?

No. Although being number six of seven children born in nine years, I got lost in the shuffle sometimes. I was lucky to grow up in a loving family, but if there was a way to stand out, we took it. I think there’s a little bit of that kid still inside me who likes knowing I’ve made Mom and Dad proud. But I don’t feel the need to be in the spotlight with the rest of the world. I’d love my stories to be there, of course! And I love to meet readers at conferences and book signings! :>)

Do I write for the money?

Heck, no! A lot of people think all authors must be rich. Nope. After taxes and my agent’s portion are taken out, most of my book money I put toward my kids’ college tuition (my first two kids were born 16 months apart), and the rest I plow back into my career. I learned that from Debbie Macomber. I’d love to sell millions of books; I’m always open to that sort of success. But as for the money, it’s not why I do what I do. When you grow up in the country—five of those years in a trailer--you realize you don’t need much by way of material things to be happy. Dogs and cats, a pretty sunset, and the love of your family and friends, is what you need.

Then why do I write?

I write because it’s in my blood, like a song.  Writing for me is a celebration.

I’m celebrating people.

Everyone has a story to tell—everyone. I want to celebrate people’s bravery. Showing courage always brings something good into our lives, even if we don’t get the outcome we thought we wanted. I want to celebrate hope, too. We must never relinquish it. Life grows parched and dull without it, like a flower that needs watering.

And in my books, I’m celebrating relationships. Going on around us every day are millions of little love stories, most of them invisible to the world but oh-so-important to the people living those relationships.

And so in my books, I’m celebrating love. I want to help spread the word that true love is possible. Not only is it possible, it’s already all around us, not just in romantic relationships, but in sister, brother, friend, parent-child, and even stranger-to-stranger relationships.

That’s what my stories are about at their essence. They’re about how love changes everything. It can take the most hopeless, dreary situation and scrub it bright and brand-new...

What a powerful thing love is! There’s nothing more powerful on this earth.

And that’s why I write. Because I crave joy--joy borne of love. I’m addicted to it. It’s my reason for being. And so I’ll shove everything aside in my quest for it. Which is why you caught me writing an unusual blog post today. As bleak February wears on and spring is yet to appear, I like to remind myself of that spark in my heart, the one that makes me look out my little house window in my small corner of the world right now and remember that I’m not alone, that we’re all in this together.

We’re love-seekers. And we’ll stop at nothing to find it.

So that’s why I write!

I hope you’ll enjoy Gregory and Pippa’s story in THE EARL IS MINE, which comes out February 26th.  And don’t forget--if you’d like to enter my Kindle Fire or Coach bag giveaway contest, please stop by http://kierankramerbooks.com/theearlismine-contest/.

Thanks so much, dear readers, and have a wonderful spring!

Hugs,

Kieran :>)

Double Rita®-finalist and USA Today bestseller Kieran Kramer writes Regency historical romances for St. Martin’s Press. THE EARL IS MINE, the second in her House of Brady series, is her latest release. SAY YES TO THE DUKE premiers in August 2013. A former CIA employee, journalist, and English teacher, Kieran’s also a game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer.  She lives where she grew up--in the Lowcountry of South Carolina--with her Naval Reserve commander husband and their three children.



Saturday, February 23, 2013

Linda O. Johnston: Second Month of the Year Means Two Books!




Hi.  I’m Linda O. Johnston, and I’m delighted to be guest blogging on Author Sound Relations.

It’s a good month for me to be blogging--and a busy one.  Two books of mine, both in series, have been published this month!

First, let me say that I sometimes kill people for a living.  Fictionally, of course.  I also save animals, both fictionally and in real life since I volunteer at a private pet shelter.

That’s the background of my Pet Rescue Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime, which is a spinoff from my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery Series.

This month, my fourth Pet Rescue Mystery, OODLES OF POODLES, has had its premiere.  OODLES OF POODLES takes place in the film industry.  It’s sort of a story within a story, since it’s about a movie being filmed about rescued poodles, starring--you’ve got it!--rescued poodles!  My cozy mystery protagonist Lauren Vancouver, chief administrator of the wonderful HotRescues animal shelter in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, gets involved because of those cherished and adorable poodles and because the HotRescues benefactor one of the film’s co-producers.  Lauren visits the film sets often to observe how the dogs are being treated.  One night the director, who had been endangering the poodles during the filming, is run over by a car.  Murdered.  The chief suspect is Lauren’s good friend, veterinarian and TV personality Dr. Carlie Stellan.  Of course Lauren has to find the real murderer and solve the crime to help Carlie... and the dogs.

Coincidentally, in this second month of the year, my fourth paranormal romance in the Alpha Force miniseries I write for Harlequin Nocturne, UNDERCOVER WOLF, has been published.  Alpha Force is a covert military unit of shapeshifters.  In UNDERCOVER WOLF, the hero Quinn is a shapeshifter and the heroine Kristine is a shapeshifter’s aide, both members of Alpha Force.  When Quinn’s brother and new sister-in-law disappear on their honeymoon, Quinn and Kristine go off together to find them--going undercover as newlyweds themselves.  You can see where that could lead to some interesting attraction between them.

Does it surprise you that I’m an animal lover?  Even my paranormal romances contain animals--well, people who shift into animal form, mostly wolves.  I also write for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and enjoy it--but no animals appear in those stories... at least not yet.

In any event, I again appreciate blogging here on Author Sound Relations.  It’s fun to talk about my new releases... and about animals. 

Do you like reading about animals?  What’s your favorite pet--and have you seen anyone like it in a book?

I’ll be giving away a copy of OODLES OF POODLES to someone who comments here, either about your pets or about my writing!

***Linda's winner is Debby!  Please email totebag@authorsoundrelations.com with your mailing information.***

Friday, February 22, 2013

Opal Carew: Sexapalooza


Hi.  I must apologize because I really haven’t had time to write something wonderful and entertaining this month.  So far this year, I’ve had non-stop releases with my serial novel, His to Command, starting on January 8th, and releasing one part per week after that, then Northern Heat, an anthology of Canadian erotic romance stories, Valentine’s Day.  Next Tuesday, my novel Illicit comes out.

So the most entertaining thing to tell you about is the Sexapalooza show that I’ll be at this weekend in Ottawa.  The first year it opened 5 years ago, more than 15,000 people attended over the three days.  According to their website, “Sexapalooza is a fun, upscale adult consumer show and shopping experience that has been growing and expanding for the past 5 years. The show offers a safe yet titillating unique environment dedicated to entertaining and educating you on all aspects of sex and sexuality. Enjoy fantastic stage shows and learn new “how-to” sex tips at our seminars given by professionals in the adult industry.”

I’ve had a booth at the show since they started.  I enjoy taking a break and wandering around to see what the other exhibitors have to offer.  The first thing I always notice is the sea of… um… fake male organs.  It’s amazing how many shapes, sizes, and types of materials are available.  Latex and silicon, sure, but also glass and crystal.  And chocolate!  There are also a myriad of other interesting toys, accessories, devices, manuals, et cetera.  If you’re looking for ideas on how to furnish and accessorize your dungeon, this is the place to be.  Or maybe you want to try out a sex swing.  You can hop on and give it a try.

Booths with lingerie and leather, including sexy high-heeled boots abound.  There’s also fun and flashy  jewelry, and makeup.  One year, I bought some nice nail polish called Flame Opal and another called Wildfire Opal!  (Both very appropriate, given my name!)  There are even gorgeous feather fans , the kind exotic dancers use.  I love those! 

The stage shows include belly dancers, fan dancers, and pole dancers.  Many include audience participation, like the fake orgasm contest.  And then there are the great demonstrations.  I found the one for the bondage sheets quite amusing.  You can check out the pictures on my website.  (http://www.opalcarew.com/events.php#bondage_sheets)

So that’s where I’ll be from Friday to Sunday to promote my upcoming book, Illicit.

It promises to be an interesting few days.

Illicit
Contemporary Erotic Romance
February 26, 2013
St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN-13: 978-0312674625
When Lindsay receives an invitation in the mail to live out her most illicit fantasies, she thinks it’s her best friend playing a joke. Little does Lindsay know, the invitation is from someone else. Someone who knows of her deepest desires…and intends to fulfill them.
Erik was the one who sent Lindsay the invitation—and the one who orchestrates a steamy weekend getaway to explore her most decadent desires. From their first night together, there is an inexplicably deep connection between them, and with Lindsay in his arms, he feels both thrilled and unnerved. The truth is, he’s hiding a deep hurt, and as Lindsay brings his fantasies to life, he’s unwilling to let her go. But can he tell her how he knows her deepest fantasies, and will stay with him if she learns the truth?
You can read an excerpt at: http://www.opalcarew.com/bookshelf/illicit.php
You  can learn more about my books at: www.OpalCarew.com

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kendra Leigh Castle: Words of Wisdom



I’m probably exposing myself as a lousy student of the craft for this, but in all my time as an aspiring and then published author I have read exactly one book about writing.  Not because I feel like such books aren’t worthwhile, but because with the number of kids and deadlines in my life, I prefer to spend my limited reading time engrossed in fiction.  Becoming an author has messed me up as a reader anyway—I now spend too much time noticing how the pieces and parts of a work are put together and functioning than just enjoying the ride.  That’s educational, right?  And annoying.  But I digress…

The singular craft book I have on my shelf, while a lonely representative of its genre, also happens to be one of the most inspirational books I’ve ever read.  Maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t have any others…I can’t imagine needing much that isn’t in my well-loved copy.  What is it?  On Writing by Stephen King.

King has been a favorite author of mine since the sixth grade.  I can’t really remember which of his books I started with.  I think it may have been The Stand, which I definitely read that year, and which remains among my very favorite books.  Regardless, I am very sure I tore through everything from Carrie to It that year, utterly engrossed by the vivid (and often terrifying) pictures King painted.  Weirdly, I am a huge chicken who refuses to watch horror movies, and horror novels aren’t really my thing either…except for his.  It’s his style, which is incredibly intimate, and his characters, which seem to live and breathe, that hook me every time.  So I guess it stands to reason that any book he’d write about the craft would interest me.  Still, On Writing turned out to be my go-to read for the times when my artistic battery is running low, when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, when I am completely certain that I’m a fraud who will soon be found out, at which point several publishers will start hounding me for their money back.  Stephen King may specialize in the weird, but reading his words about becoming a writer, about the business and the craft and his own journey, are comforting.  The business itself is pretty weird, honestly.  It’s why writers enjoy connecting with one another.  Shared weirdness tends to be reassuring.

So is there some secret, groundbreaking advice in On Writing that rocked my world and made me love this book, forsaking all others of its ilk?  Well…no, not really.  That’s a thing you find out as a professional writer, you know.  There are no secrets.  It’s talent, and a lot of luck, and sheer stubbornness.  Everybody has a different formula.  Sometimes the stars align, and a lot of times they don’t.  We’re all just plugging away because we can’t quite help ourselves.  And what’s lovely is that in his book, King acknowledges just that.  There are some interesting exercises, if you choose to do them, but in the main, the book is a conversation—a conversation about writing with one of my favorite authors, in his famously intimate style.  Even he says, near the beginning, “We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room…except we are together.  We’re close.”  And you feel it.  He talks about how he came to writing, how he got where he is, the difficulties (some self-inflicted) along the way.  It’s all fascinating, often funny.  And then, of course, he talks about writing itself.  How the road to hell is paved with adverbs.  How “books are a uniquely portable magic.”  One of my favorite sections deals with the necessity of getting your butt in the chair on a regular basis…and how often you’re doing good work even when you feel like you’re only shoveling crap from a sitting position.  That’s reassurance I need on a regular basis.

Like I said, none of it is earth-shaking literary advice.  I doubt such a thing exists.  But King says the kind of things I need to hear when I’m struggling to put words on the page.  That’s the trick, I guess, with utilizing books about the craft for those of us who practice it.  It’s finding someone whose message resonates in just the right way so that in this lonely business we no longer feel quite so alone.  For me, it’s Stephen King, who seems to be a pretty normal guy despite all his fame, and who, in the book, is a little unnerved by the fact that speaking to a group about his work means that he has to pretend that he doesn’t put his pants on one leg at a time like everybody else.  I like normal.  I like dealing in the reality that is the desk, the keyboard, the sweatpants I may or may not have been wearing for a week straight.  And most of all, I like words like the ones I’ll leave you with from On Writing:  “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends.  In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.  It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over.  Getting happy, okay?  Getting happy.”

Who inspires you?  Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Immortal Craving!

Kendra Leigh Castle is the author of numerous paranormal romances including the Dark Dynasties series, the RITA finalist Renegade Angel, the MacInnes Werewolves trilogy, and the upcoming Hearts of the Fallen series.  She lives in Maryland with her husband, kids, and menagerie of pets, and can be found at her website (www.kendraleighcastle.com), facebook (www.facebook.com/authorkendraleighcastle) and Twitter (@KendraLCastle).

***Kendra's winner is Nicole Laverdure.  Please email totebag@authorsoundrelations.com with your mailing information.***

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When the Parent Becomes the Student by Jenny Gardiner

I find that as a parent it’s easy to get caught up in being the teacher. While raising children for such an extended period of time, we have long been the ones in charge, the ones to impart lessons learned from our own hard-fought experiences (lessons our kids usually want nothing to do with learning). Moms and dads become habituated into being right, which isn't actually the best of habits, when it comes down to it.

But now that my kids are grown, more and more I'm finding that they've become the teachers, and I their student (sometimes willing, sometimes not so much). It's an interesting twist on the relationship but in many ways things seem to come full circle, which is nice role reversal.

Take for instance my son, who watched his peers signing on for big bucks jobs during the end of his senior year of college, and opted against that himself. Back when I was in college, that was pretty much what you did. (Well, except for those of us with degrees in Liberal Arts, who watched all of our peers making gobs of cash while we practically lived in cardboard boxes beneath bridge spans and begged for our supper). But nowadays I think our kids are learning that there's more to being happy than making lots of money. You're likely to be far more content when following your passion than filling your wallet.

My son did just that, instead choosing to travel for a while after working hard in college. And in so doing, was able to grow so much as a human being, immerse himself in vastly different cultures, learn a new language, and find inner peace under fairy Spartan living conditions. He reveled in being able to go with the flow, to be happy in the moment, and really grew to understand the importance of hard work. Such essential lessons to learn at such a young age, and I envy him that he was able to do that before becoming entrenched in the have-to's of life.

But not only did he do that, he also did it with a great level of fearlessness. So much of what holds us back in life is our fears: we need to arm our teachers for fear of random shooters, we practically strip naked (and remove our shoes) for fear of terrorists on planes, we need to live a life of fear in order to have a false sense of security. It's really a rather twisted way of living, when you think of it. At the end of the day, none of us has much control over our lives, and to spend so much of our waking hours trying to control things so that they don't go badly can end up being very self-defeating. You lose the true zest for life that way.

And speaking of fears, my older daughter teaches me often how important it is to not let worries win the day. Despite overwhelming fear of the unknown in going off to live in another country for a semester, she sucked it up and did it. And then proceeded to jump out of an airplane over the Swiss Alps, travel alone, staying in sketchy hostels at times, and even camp in the Sahara desert in Morocco despite not speaking a word of the language, which made travel there challenging. She shunned her anxieties and allowed herself the gift of going off to quite literally explore the world. It's not an easy thing to do; it's far simpler to be paralyzed with fear, which is what so many people opt for.

In addition, she has taught me so much about facing down adversity. In dealing with various medical problems over which she had no control, she has powered through hard times and kept a brave face going. It's more than many adults could do.

My younger daughter has shown me what strength and determination and hard work will get you. She worked hard enough to gain admission to an Ivy League school, no small feat. But then she had the maturity to decide the massive debt accrued by enrolling in such a school made little sense, and instead knew she would be perfectly happy at a highly-respected but more affordable school.

And she regularly proves to me that if you keep chipping away at a problem, a solution will be found. She has shown me time and again that if you fight through it, you will succeed.

Unfortunately, sometimes reflected off my children are my own vast shortcomings -- those things I desperately need to improve upon. It's my kids who will call me to task for being intolerant or critical or shrill. They're the ones who will remind me to not be impatient, or nosy, or annoying. And they'll gladly wince while telling me my jokes are painfully bad. They're sometimes too quick to find my faults but that's okay, because it's honest. I may not like what I see in the mirror they're holding up to me, but what better way to know what to prove upon? I don't know, maybe I'm just inherently quite flawed and they're wise to it. But I'd like to think this is just how the world works, and I'm at the tipping point now. It's their turn to get even, in a good way.

I've spent more than 20 years imparting my dubious wisdom on my kids, but it's abundantly clear they have much more to teach me: to follow your dreams, to do what makes you happy and happiness will follow, to struggle through adversity, to prove them all wrong.

I have become the Grasshopper to their Master Po (Forgive my bad Kung Fu reference), and I'm honored to be learning at their feet now.

Jenny Gardiner is mulling whether she has the courage to skydive too. Until then, you can find her at www.jennygardiner.net


Sleeping with Ward Cleaver





Slim to None










Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me









Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)


















Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

















I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)



















And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions


















The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

















Naked Man On Main Street
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cheryl Brooks: The Joy of World Building




Imagine the galaxy of the distant future. Human culture remains similar to our own, but the details are fuzzy. Who else lives in this universe, and how do they relate and communicate with one another?

Now imagine the planets themselves. Earth is already filled with wonders—many of them as yet undiscovered. Take them a few steps farther and they become the wonders of a dozen new worlds, filled with creatures whose talents are often lurking just beneath the surface.

Adding a magical component is unnecessary. Those alien beings have abilities different enough from our own so as to seem like magic, but what is magic for us is normal for them.

This is what makes science fiction so much more believable for me than fantasy. Sure, it’s nice to be able to turn into a bat at will, but explain how that happens without some form of magic. My practical mind won’t let me do it.  

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good ghost story as much as the next person, but believing in them is difficult. I can, however, believe that life exists on other planets throughout the galaxy, and even though the facts discovered thus far don’t support it, the potential is still there. On the other hand, neither I, nor anyone I know, have ever come face-to-face with a vampire or a werewolf.

That being said, science fiction still requires the suspension of disbelief. The idea that space travel could ever be fast enough between star systems to establish any kind of community stretches credibility, which is why I set my Cat Star Chronicles series a thousand years in the future. Already, several milestones in futuristic fiction have come and gone. We don’t have flying cars—at least none that are practical—and a utopian future is still a dream.

I’d like to believe that mankind will grow up someday, and stop the waste of life and resources on war and conquest. I’d like to believe that one day our descendants will look back on us as we look at cavemen now—primitive, savage, and uncivilized. My vision of the future a millennium from now is not perfect—the need for growth and greater understanding remains—but that vision of the future is why I dream.
And also why I write.

What about you? How do you envision life in 3013? Would you want to live in that time or ours?
Post a comment telling us your thoughts for your chance to win a signed copy of Wildcat, book nine in The Cat Star Chronicles! 

***Cheryl's winner is Erin!  Please email totebag@authorsoundrelations.com with your mailing information.***

Monday, February 18, 2013

Michelle M. Pillow: How did you first find the romance? (with contest)



The first romances I ever read were straight historicals. I admit, I got into my mom's stash...though considering the more frank and racy nature of today's romances that statement would have different meaning today. Since it's what I first started reading (coupled with the fact that I ended up with a BGS in History), it was only natural that the first romances I wrote were historically set.

My newest release, Lord of Fire, Lady of Ice (Jan 2013) is set in Northumbria, 871 A.D. in period commonly known as The Dark Ages. Late in the 8th century, Vikings raided the English coasts. By the end of the 9th century, they were a powerful force that reigned over the Anglo-Saxons, settling and ruling much of England—including Northumbria. The Norse king, Guthrum, wanted Wessex—the only territory left to conquer. Though they fought, no side claimed victory and Wessex’s borders remained secure.

When the book starts, Alfred the Great had just taken his throne. Even with a new Anglo-Saxon king, the Viking army was vast and none could predict how young Alfred would fair against them. For those Anglo-Saxons living under Viking authority, it was a hard time. In a land torn by war, ruled over by fierce warriors, it wasn’t wise to change allegiances.

Ice: These politics greatly shape Lady Della’s fate. As Saxons under Viking rule, it’s in her family’s best interest for her to marry the neighboring Viking lord—a warrior who’s legendary prowess isn’t reserved for the battlefield. Only, Della hates everything to do with the Viking people and blames them for a horrific childhood incident. She’s reserved, some even call her cold-hearted, but that is her way of protecting herself from getting hurt.

Fire: The hero, Lord Blackwell, is passionate and bold where Della is reserved and cool. He soon discovers that his bride is anything but the meek and mild woman he envisioned for his wife. One minute she’s kissing him back, the next she’s swearing to do whatever it takes to dissuade him from their marriage.

I wrote this book in the style of my award winning, Maiden and the Monster. Though the stories are not technically connected, there is a cameo appearance by Maiden and the Monster’s hero before his story took place.

For a chance to win an ebook copy of Maiden and the Monster, comment and tell me: How did you get started reading romances?


To learn more about me: www.michellepillow.com

Maiden and the Monster: http://ravenhappyhour.com/Maiden_and_the_Monster.html


***Michelle's winner is Jeanne M.  Please email totebag@authorsoundrelations.com with your mailing infomation!***

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tina Leonard: Pecan Creek Series



Family has always been so important in my life, so when I got the idea for a mom and two daughters who found themselves needing a new start, I knew I had to get to know them better.  Sugar Cassavechia feels responsible for her mother and sister, especially now that she’s dragged them to Pecan Creek, Texas, on a mission to start her online business, hotterthanhellnuts.com.  Yet the only person in town who seems to welcome them is Jake Bentley—and Sugar’s not all that pleased with her new landlord, not after seeing the house he’s rented them.  Jake appears determined to charm her out of her shell—and though Sugar has seen red-hot charm before—something about Pecan Creek makes her hope this time will be different.
There’s lots happening in this small town where sex is a hot topic.  I hope you enjoy this excerpt—and I invite you to also check out HOTTER THAN HOT, a free online prequel for the Pecan Creek series, available at www.samhainpublishing.com.  Please join me in Pecan Creek—it’s going to be fun! 
HOTTER THAN TEXAS
Sugar got into the car, gunning the engine so Jake would know she was good and ticked and backed up fast, making him jump back a foot.
Lucy giggled. “What a bunch of wooden dummies.”
“I liked them,” Maggie said. “Why’d you drag me off?”
“Because they were being rude, Mom.” Sugar glanced over at her mother. “They don’t want you to be the mayor.”
“So? I don’t want to be a mayor. I don’t want to be anything. I just want to be.” She lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply. “They’re just a little set in their ways.”
“They’re a lot set in their ways.” If she saw Jake too soon, she was going to slap him silly for subjecting Maggie to that. “The casting for Norman Bates’s mother could be any one of those women.”
“I don’t care how frozen they are,” Maggie said. “I’m not trying to sleep with them, for heaven’s sake.”
“Who would?” Lucy asked.
“They looked at us like we were termites.”
Sugar shuddered, remembering Vivian’s piercing glare on her sister’s clothes. “Cockroaches.”
“You girls are too sensitive,” Maggie said, and her voice was so cheerful that Sugar just shut her mouth and drove home in silence.
* * *
“Jake, a word, if you can spare a moment.”
Jake watched Sugar’s long blue ragtop Oldsmobile fade into the distance. “Sure.”
“What exactly do you think you are doing by renting our house to those people?” Vivian asked.
He couldn’t say he hadn’t known this was coming—just perhaps not this soon. “Where do you expect me to find the kind of people you want? Blue- blooded, wealthy, well-heeled aristocrats don’t just drop out of the sky into Pecan Creek looking to rent a rundown house decorated like Rancho Sex-o.”
Vivian drew in a sharp breath. “Those rooms are art.”
Jake sighed. “They are not art, unless it’s art you’d find— Never mind, Mom. The Cassavechias are nice people.”
“A little class would be nice, Jake. That’s what would have been nice. Do you have any idea how embarrassing this is?”
“Embarrassing to whom? I’m not embarrassed. I was over there today, and they’re taking great care of the house. Between the repairs I’ve done and the flowers they’ve planted, the place looks alive again.”
Vivian’s brown eyes pierced him. “The young one is trash, a slut. The mother is a trollop. I don’t even know what to say about the oldest daughter except that she seems tough.” Vivian’s voice rose. “They all look low class, Jake. Like fifty miles of bad road.”
He’d thought Maggie was a pretty soft cookie, actually, and Sugar wore her heart in her eyes. She tried to be a general, but she was trying to keep everything together. Lucy, he’d grant, was nobody’s fool. “You’ve got a bit of toughness in you too, Mom. And you know,” he said, his voice softening, “we haven’t rented the place in over two years. It was time.”
“The family home,” Vivian said bitterly.
“Yeah, and Dad’s not coming back.” Jake took no joy in the pain that flared in his mother’s eyes. “He’s not. He found another woman years ago, and he’s made a life with her, and he’s gone. That’s it. Over. One day, you’ll have to accept it.”
Vivian’s shoulders slumped. “They’re trouble, Jake. You don’t think I recognize trouble when I see it?” She gazed at her son’s unmoving face for a few moments, then seemed to realize Jake had no intention of bending. She turned and walked away. Jake watched her go, hating himself for saying anything, for shattering his mother’s illusions that she wrapped herself in, but Sugar had a right to be upset. Vivian had been rude as hell to Maggie, and as far as he could tell, there was no reason to turn away good money just for the sake of illusion.
The fact was, Sugar wasn’t the kind of woman he’d throw out of his bed for eating crackers. He wasn’t about to toss her out of his house just because Vivian’s self-righteous standards had been violated.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Writing From Life

URL: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3c/Snowdrops_-_geograph.org.uk_-_322320.jpgAttribution: Colin Smith [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsHTML
Photo by Colin Smith 
I'm involved in a major non-fiction project at the moment, charting local customs through the year. With so much of our lives conducted online nowadays, it's a worry that many things we used to enjoy will go into decline, in the same way a lot of village shops and independent booksellers have disappeared. Research does get me out and about, but I still spend most of my working days driving a desk. Writing doesn't use up many calories (more's the pity!) so this weekend I'm starting some heavy-duty spring cleaning to  counteract all the comfort eating I've been doing during this long, cold, miserable winter. 

Here in England we've just celebrated Shrove Tuesday, which is both the traditional time for a clear-out of tempting ingredients from your store cupboard before the Lenten fast (if you are devout) and a fantastic excuse to stuff yourself silly with various sweet or savoury pancakes. Our new young hens have been laying an egg each per day right through the winter, which gives pancakes  a lovely rich yellow colour. I used 2 eggs, 8oz flour and enough milk to make a fairly thin batter (around 15 fl oz) and then cooked a stack of pancakes to eat with maple syrup or  lemon and sugar. That definitely didn't help the diet, so today I'm going to start on the ground floor of the house and work steadily through every room until the whole place is immaculate. Well, that's the theory...

Photo by J. Eudes 
It's not only Tottering Towers that is getting spring fever. The end of winter means our colonies of honeybees are beginning to get out and about. The catkins in the hazel coppice tempt them on fine days, and they soon find our snowdrops and hellebores. Once all that pollen gets back to the hives, the various queen bees will start laying. Each colony will expand rapidly from about 5,000 insects to around 30,000, and pressure on space inside the hive makes them think about swarming. It's a race against time at this time of year to get all the spare equipment ready to anticipate swarms. All the old, worn out honeycomb has to be melted down and the frames cleaned ready for the new season. This year I've managed to refine over twelve pounds of wax. I can't decide whether to use it to make cosmetics, candles and polish or trade it for more bee supplies. 

If I made beeswax polish, I could use it after my planned spring-clean and fill the house with its warm, wonderful smell.   I normally hate housework, but the prospect of doing that is very tempting!

Do you have any little rituals to send winter on its way?

Christina Hollis has written both Historical fiction and Modern Romance/Presents for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd, as well non-fiction for national magazines and prize-winning short stories. Her current release, Lady Rascal is available for download from  AmazoniTunes  and many other retailers, while her next book,  Changing Fortunes, will be published in the summer. She loves to hear from readers - you can contact her through her website or her blog.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Some days the best laid plans go awry by Michelle Styles

Yesterday, it was supposed to be a quick trip into town to get some jobs done and out again.
I had not counted on the wind blowing the gate and me putting the rear wind screen out. My plans for the day went and because I had to wait around for the wind screen repair man my plans for today went as well. This is my excuse why this is late.
It was a stupid thing to do but apparently it happens more frequently than you might imagine.  Because we had full comprehensive insurance, the insurance company handled it and the wind screen repair man came to my house and fixed the car.

My April release An Ideal Husband?  features a heroine whose well thought out plans go awry as well. She thought she had everything covered when she decided to help her friend elope and avoid marriage to a toad. Only things don't turn out how she planned and Sophie ends up in a fake engagement to a known rake.  Sophie first appeared in To Marry A Matchmaker and she desperately wanted her own story. In fact, she was lobbying for her own story before I started writing To Marry A Matchmaker.

The blurb reads:TO MARRY A RAKE When heiress Sophie Ravel finds herself in a compromising situation, notorious Richard Crawford, Viscount Bingfield, swoops in and saves her reputation! She might have escaped the attentions of one undesirable, but will Richard's protection expose her to even more scandal? Richard curses his impetuousness�at offering a betrothal in the heat of the moment! He gladly accepts Sophie's terms that their engagement remains a pretence until, quite by chance, he unlocks his shy fiancee's passionate nature. Now nothing will steer him from wedding - then bedding - his blushing bride...

I had a great deal of  fun writing the book (once I figured out the hero's motivations!) and am super looking forward  it coming out in April. It is my last Regency/Victorian for awhile as I have been writing several Viking set romances. The first of these comes out in November 2013 and Mills & Boon/Harlequin recently accepted the second one.

I had planned to get the excerpt up etc but events overtook me. I will have a giveaway for Tote Bag readers next month as I will have received my author copies by then. Until next month...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I J Miller: My Hero's a Brute!


What a challenge!  Last August my editor at Grand Central Publishing commissioned me to do an erotic retelling of Emily Bronte’s classic, Wuthering Heights.  It’s five months later and the result is WUTHERING NIGHTS, available in e-book now, as a trade paperback in April.  I thought the biggest test would be writing a quality book in such a short time, but the true challenge was how to manage a hero, Heathcliff, who is a true brute.

My first focus was making sure that this book was different than your typical erotic mashup and wasn’t built around a lot of verbatim text with some sex thrown in.  I worked hard to stay true to the original language, themes, and characters, but added several new plot twists and turns that help make the eroticism more organic and heightens the romance.  But what was I going to do about Heathcliff?

As I immersed myself in dissecting the original and preparing for the erotic version, I was completely struck by how flawed and brutal Bronte’s hero was.  However, as I went even deeper I realized his awfulness is part of what makes the book so great and why so many remember it.  Bronte seemed to write it before all of the classic unwritten rules of fiction were formed, before self-censorship became a common guide for writers.  She bares all of him, including his selfishness and brutality.  My first instinct was to clean him up and make him more palatable for a modern audience not used to such a flawed hero.  I then decided that would do the book a great injustice and I had to interpret it as true as I could.

So Heathcliff will get your heart stirring one way or the other.  He was abused as a child so he does deserve some compassion.  I also try to get into the deeper reasons behind his harsh actions as well as probe his inner desire for redemption.  But there is no running from the fact that he is someone who likes getting his way and is not afraid to use his physical size and powerful demeanor to achieve his ends.  In WUTHERING NIGHTS he is the same way in the bedroom as both a dominant and sensual lover.  I simply tried to avoid making any judgments and portrayed him in the same exposed way Bronte did, with no punches pulled.  He will still inspire a myriad of emotions in the reader.  Some may love him.  Some may hate him.  Some may love to hate him.  But how cool is that?

Thank you, Emily Bronte for such unfiltered inspiration.


I.J. Miller is the author of five, distinct, literary, erotic works of fiction: SEESAW was translated into two languages, with over 130,000 copies in print; WHIPPED appeared in both English and German; SEX AND LOVE, a collection of short stories, made its debut in the summer of 2011; CLIMBING THE STAIRS, a novella, was released just a year later.  His latest novel, WUTHERING NIGHTS, is an erotic retelling of Emily Bronte’s classic, Wuthering Heights, and is published by the Grand Central Publishing imprint of Hatchette Books.  It is available now as an e-book and will be in bookstores in trade paperback on April 23.  Miller has a Master of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute and has taught creative writing and screenwriting at the university level.
Visit I.J. at http://www.ijmiller.com.  Twitter: @Heathcliffian