Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Year in the Life of an Author: November

Where did November go? It blew past like autumn leaves in a Seattle windstorm. Gone!

This month was just one thing after another: page proofs, a reader's conference and writing. Always writing!

Cathy Maxwell at the Masquerade Night

Going down to Dallas for the Readers n Ritas conference had to be one of the highlights of this year. What. A. Fun. Conference. If you love romance books, get yourself there for a fun filled, hilarious weekend. I had a blast. And who wouldn't when I got to hang with my dear friend, Cathy Maxwell. She is a hoot. And here she is as an elephant! This is what I mean about willing to do just about anything. And can this girl dance--she's a wild woman.

But the real joy was meeting so many fun, and I mean FUN readers! Jenn and Kati (follow her on Twitter), I am looking at you! You know you are going to have fun with women who eat dessert first. And don't even wait to get out of the buffet line to do it. LOL. Readers revive my spirit and inspire me daily. Thank you to everyone at the conference who made me feel so special, so much a part of their world.

Kati R behaving badly. Beware: this woman is a riot!
The first part of the month, my page proofs--those pages from the printer that show how the book is going to look and that you have to check not once but twice to make sure there aren't any typos traveled around with me. I know mistakes do slip past, but oh, how those hurt! They really do. And after you've tried so hard to catch them all. Sigh.

Then I was slipping writing into every possible crack of time. Writing is actually very portable. Well, it has to be in my life. I have a son with disabilities, so I spend a lot of time at therapy appointments--often with a notebook in hand and mapping out scenes, writing the threads the dialogue that have been skittering around in my imagination, and playing with plot points and character quirks. But I've written on planes, trains, in the car (not while driving, but I will admit to dictating as I drive). I've written in coffee shops, hotels, the hotel lobby, Starbucks. I've written in waiting rooms, study carousals, even a hospital cafeteria.

Cathy found a hunk named Elvis that night!
But for the next month, fingers crossed, I'll spend my time in the comfort of my home office, tapping out pages and getting the draft of If Wishes Were Earls done. Cross your fingers. Or light a candle. Or just send good thoughts. They all work.

Elizabeth Boyle is the author of twenty historical romance novels, including her latest, Along Came a Duke, which was included one of the Top Fiction Reads of 2012 by King County Library system--the country's largest and best public library system.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christina Phillips: Destined to fall… destined to love…With Giveaway

Many years ago *cough*thirteen*cough* when I first started writing romance, I tried to write hot, sexy Alpha heroes. They were drop dead gorgeous, insanely wealthy and devastatingly talented in bed. It took me about six books before I realised that all I really wanted to do to those guys was kill them. Slowly :)

Not to be deterred by a little thing like that, I decided to shift my focus from contemporary romance to paranormal, a genre I’ve always loved but that had, for some mysterious reason, slid into the shadows for a while. Luckily for me the pendulum started to swing back, and paranormal was once again smoking hot.

I tried my hand at writing vampires (too much fun!) and then, out of the blue, a moody Alpha Archangel appeared on the scene and with just one sizzling glance seduced my quivering muse.

Well, he was an Alpha all right. He was also drop dead gorgeous, insanely wealthy and left me weak at the knees when it came to his sexual prowess. But this time, when he started shaking his Alpha ass, I didn’t get the urge to gouge out his eyes. Instead I just wanted to pour myself all over him like warm honey :)

But of course there’s far more to my Archangel Gabriel than a hot body and eyes that mesmerize at a hundred paces. As his defences were slowly peeled away I discovered the man behind the Archangel, a man whose heart had been shattered millennia ago and who was emotionally crippled with grief and survivor’s guilt.

Gabe’s so sure he can never love again. But then he meets his heroine, Aurora, who against all the odds captures his damaged heart and makes him question everything he’s ever believed in.

The first book in my new erotic paranormal romance series from Penguin’s Berkley Heat line is ARCHANGEL OF MERCY, out on 4th December. Here’s the blurb:

Between an angel and a desperate woman comes salvation-
and a raw passion that challenges them at every turn… 
When Aurora Robinson attempts to open a rift between dimensions to embrace her true heritage, an arrogant Archangel is the only one who can save her from the jaws of hell. And while she owes Gabriel her life, she’s determined not to fall at his feet-despite the desire she feels whenever they’re together.
After his wings were brutally destroyed millennia ago, Gabriel has no compassion for humans like those who ruined him and betrayed the ones he loved. But when he inexplicably finds himself defying ancient protocols to rescue a woman from a fate worse than death, he is shocked by the searing attraction he feels for a mortal.
As the ancient forces that seek to punish Aurora for her actions close in, Gabriel offers the tempting woman protection at his private sanctuary. But as they both succumb to their desires, they discover an even deeper connection-one that threatens to consume them.
Christina Ashcroft is an ex-pat Brit who now lives in Western Australia with her husband and three children. She is owned by three cats who graciously allow her the occasional spare moment to write hot paranormal romance for Penguin/Berkley Heat.
Christina also writes hot historical romances as Christina Phillips for Berkley Heat and Ellora’s Cave
You can keep up with what’s happening in her crazy writerly world over on  Facebook and Twitter. She loves to chat with readers and would love to see you over there! You can sign up for Christina's Newsletter. It’s not a chat loop so your inbox won’t be flooded :)

And now for the giveaway! I have an e-copy of my erotic futuristic fantasy TOUCH OF THE DEMON (writing as Christina Phillips) and some Archangel swag to giveaway to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment or let me know could you live with your favourite Alpha hero if he walked off the page/the screen and into your life?

***Christina's winner is DonnaS!  Please email with your full name and mailing address!***

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Adventures in Publishing

Hello again:

When Lee was kind enough to have me here last month, I mentioned that I was taking a step into self-publishing.  

I've taken that step.

I'd love to call it one giant leap for mankind (are you old enough to remember the moon landing?) but the truth is, this is one step for someone—me—who's been published by Harlequin Presents (still am) for twenty-plus years. And it's scary.

It's also exhilarating. Remember your very first roller coaster ride? It's like that.

I sent my self-published baby into the world not quite two weeks ago.  His name is The Prince of Pleasure, and  sending him out on his own was… interesting.  Then I started the waiting game. Would my Prince fail? Would he vanish into e-book obscurity? Would readers like him, read him, would he succeed? I think I sent my son off to kindergarten with less trepidation!

The good news is that The Prince of Pleasure is doing beautifully out there.  He's risen through the ranks at  amazon kindle  at  Smashwords  and at Nook.  As I write this , he isn't  yet at i-Books  because the folks there had some kind of server woes but, fingers crossed, he might be there even  as you read this.   He's gotten amazing reviews. And I'm getting wonderful notes from readers who've fallen in love with my sexy, arrogant, gorgeous, rich hunk named Khan.

I think you'll really, really love him, too.

If you do, and if you have time, you might want to write a quick review. Or you might just want to "like" him.  Whatever you do or  don't do, that's fine.  I'm just happy to know you'll read him..

The Prince not only great in his own right, he's also  a  prequel to my newest saga, The Wilde Family—and the first Wilde Brother book is out right now as well. The Dangerous Jacob Wilde, from Harlequin Presents, has received wonderful reviews. You can buy it at amazon or at eharlequin. It's as sexy, as romantic, as passionate as The Prince of Pleasure.  One reader wrote to tell me she spent one night with Jacob and another with Khan. Sounds like a plan to me.

Last but far from least, I want to tell you about the contest I'm holding on my facebook page, .  It's going to be easy and fun.   It's my way of thanking all of my readers—all of you—for being so wonderful. I call it The Twelve Days of Christmas contest.

Each day, for 12 days, I'll be giving away a $100 amazon gift certificate to one lucky winner, drawn at random. Yes, I'll give away a $100 amazon gift certificate EVERY DAY from Dec 1 through Dec 12.  All you have to do is 'friend' me at Facebook, if you haven't already.  If  you have, or once you have, simply enter my contest by Commenting on my page or Messaging me through my page… and did I mention that a bunch of  other favorite writers are giving away other fantastic prizes, too? We're doing it all through Facebook so go there for more information, and I'll have information on my website, as well.

Good luck! And Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Kwanza to you all.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Victoria Alexander: Anatomy of a Series

People are always asking how I plan a series of books and I'm not sure they believe me when I say I don't really know. I tend not to plan series—they just seem to happen. Oh sure now and then I plan a trilogy or a set of stories (the Last Man Standing books) but a real series is something that for me evolves. The Effington Family and Friends books grew because I'd write a character in one book who would be way too interesting to let go. And I'd have to figure out what happened to him or her. My new series What Happens at Millworth Manor is a perfect example.

Here's what happened.

When I wrote What Happens at Christmas, set at Millworth Manor, I had planned it as a stand alone book. But the idea of centering stories around a place rather than a specific family came up and it was one of those ideas that seemed more and more intriguing the more I thought about it. And there was that one character who just wouldn't leave me alone . . .

In What Happens at Christmas we meet the hero's cousin, Winfield Elliott, Lord Stillwell, and find out he's been engaged unsuccessfully several times. Obviously there's a story there. And just as obviously, this is a character crying for a happy ending. So I wrote his story in The Importance of Being Wicked (Feb. 2013). Plus, there was the tale of his ill-fated attempts to get to the altar begging to be told. That became the e-book short Lord Stillwell's Excellent Engagements (available Nov. 26th). Still, as his lordship's home is Fairborough Hall not Millworth manor, I did have to figure out a way to get him to Millworth.

What's a poor author to do?

I burned his house down. J

Happy Holidays!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Opal Carew: The Confessions of an Erotic Romance Author Or, How I Research my Erotic Romance Books

Do I do all those things I describe in my books?

As an erotic romance author, I find that people seem to be fascinated with how I research my novels. It is the most frequent question people ask me — usually with a wink and a grin. At a recent signing at a show called Sexapalooza in my home city of Ottawa, Canada, many people asked if it’s personal experience. I glanced around at the piles of books (10 different novels) and winked, telling them I’ve been a very busy lady. (My husband of over 30 years just chuckled! Um, yeah, I was about 2 when I got married!)

So how do I do my research? Well, I’ve found that there is an unexpected wealth of information all around us. At a family gathering, my niece, who has studied hypnotherapy, told me about an intriguing concept called erotic hypnosis. That inspired me to write a scene where one of my heroines (Hanna in BLUSH) enjoyed a very hot erotic fantasy with a plethora of sexy, leather-clad bikers. What I loved most was that I could really push the limits because it was a guided flight of imagination.

In another instance, when my husband was chatting with some ladies on the bus to work—he always shows them my latest book cover and tells them what I’m working on—he told them I was starting a book on BDSM and one of the women told him that she’d done research about the lifestyle for her Master’s thesis. That led to me having a long chat with a submissive who’d been involved in the lifestyle for many years. That fascinating discussion gave me a lot of insight and helped me add a lot of heart to my book SECRET TIES.

What do I do if an expert doesn’t fall into my lap? The Internet and books are my biggest resource. Google and Amazon allow me to pull together a wealth of information right from the comfort of my own home. While surfing the web, I can find on-line forums specific to my area of research, like the swingers sites I visited while writing my second book, SWING; on-line lingerie stores to find a great lacy corset I can describe in detail; or sites that describe how to tell when someone is lying, so I can have one character who is knowledgeable in such things evaluate another character’s behaviour. (That latter also comes in handy for personal reasons, since I have teenagers—not that either of my kids ever lies!)

When you want to get out and see things in real life and maybe talk to a live person, going to adult stores is a start. In Ottawa, there’s a store called the Adult Fun Superstore, which is large and bright and not at all intimidating. They have various lingerie and products on display and the staff is helpful and can recommend various workshops that the store offers.

One place I go every year is the Sexapalooza show. For the past three years, I’ve had a booth there to promote my books. The show was two weeks ago and over fifteen thousand people passed through the conference centre. Between manning the booth and doing my talk on Women’s Sexual Fantasies, along with doing some readings, I slipped away to explore the show. They had a stage show, with pole dancers, belly dancers, a burlesque dancer, bondage bed demonstrations, pony play, etc. I wandered into the dungeon to see a bondage demonstration where the subject is tied up and suspended from above. I also talked to a man with a large variety of floggers laid out in front of him, from soft suede to a wicked looking flogger with braided leather. (None of those will appear in my books anytime soon!) My son and a group of his friends roamed the show and one fellow tried out the solitary cage. Apparently, the others had great fun poking him through the bars.

Of course, videos are a great resource, too. I’ve found YouTube to be wonderful for instructional videos. Also, adult films can show what is possible with respect to positions. In my book PLEASURE BOUND I wanted a love scene on a motorcycle. I found a video where a couple did just that. It gave me a lot of ideas, but I took my written love scene much further.

Not all my research is about the erotic aspects of my books. Let me give you some examples from my book FORBIDDEN HEAT. I received one of those funny videos in an email from a friend who knows I like cats. It showed a cat riding one of those robot vacuums. One of my characters, Trey, loves technological gismos, so I worked this into the book. See the video, it’s really cute!

I had a scene at a wedding and I needed to describe the wedding party, including bouquets. A small detail, but I found it easier to look at some bouquets on-line for inspiration. In the reception scene after the wedding, there was dancing so I thought I’d have Trey ask Danielle to dance the Tango. My husband and I took lessons to learn the Argentine Tango a few years ago, but I couldn’t remember all the steps, so I got onto YouTube to help me out. Check out this video. (I love this exotic dance. It’s so sexy!) And, check out these two scenes from the movie Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas. The first is a scene where Banderas’ character illustrates the Tango to his students. The second—well, basically a threesome on the dance floor! Totally inspiring as far as I’m concerned!
So although I dance the Tango, practice Tantric sex, sometimes watch hot videos, and know a lot about sex toys, I’m not my heroines. But I love bringing the fantasy to life.
You can find out more about Opal and her books at:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Melissa Cutler Asks: What Do You Find Irresistible?

Melissa Cutler here, and I'm so excited to be on Tote Bags 'n' Blogs today talking about The Trouble with Cowboys, a sexy mash-up of western and culinary romance novels, with a cowboy hero who not only raises prime beef but knows what to do with it once it hits the kitchen and a heroine who's a failed reality Chef show contestant (a lá Top Chef) who's returned to her small town home to open a restaurant.

Amy, the main character in the book, has a serious weakness for everything cowboy. As she tells her sister Jenna, she's the only woman she knows who gets turned on when the song 'Desperado' comes on the radio. She attributes her epic fail on television to a conniving fellow contestant posing as a cowboy and has sworn off cowboys for good to focus on her career. So it figures that her key supplier is Catcher Creek's most eligible bachelor, Kellan Reed—exactly the sort of Stetson-tipping bad boy she finds impossible to resist.

Confession time! What do you find impossible to resist?
With the holiday's approaching, I can tell you one thing that I find absolutely irresistible—homemade sweets. I have a much easier time saying no to store-bought goodies than anything home cooked, especially sweet treats. I'm also willing to admit that I have a serious weakness for men wearing boots, whether they be work boots or cowboy boots or fishing waders. Any kind of boots. There's just something rugged and blue collar and extra manly about a man in boots that turns me all melty.

For your enjoyment, here's a scene about Kellan and his boots from The Trouble with Cowboys:
Bracing his side against the doorframe, he tugged a work boot off and there was no mistaking her long hiss of an exhale. Interesting. When he started in on the second boot, he watched from the corner of his eye as her fingers smoothed over her skirt and locked on her bare knee.  Note to self—the lady’s got a thing for boots.
"Rule number one," she said in a bare whisper.
"What? Something about a rule?"
"Huh? Me? I didn’t say anything." She jumped to her feet, color staining her cheeks.
Kellan stifled the urge to brush his thumb over her pink-laced freckles. In the spirit of discovering what else turned the skittish Miss Sorentino on, he lifted his work hat from its peg by the door and dropped it on his head.
Amy’s eyes turned dark. She bit her bottom lip.
That look alone was worth feeling like an idiot by putting on a hat to go indoors.
Working hard to keep a triumphant smile off his face, Kellan swaggered into the kitchen, leaving the door open behind him. He busied himself at the coffee maker until a long shadow materialized on the tile floor. Amy had moved into the doorway.
He glanced at her. "You want onions too?"
"Celery should be enough to get me by."
Her throaty voice was turning him all kinds of hard. He felt her eyes on his ass and gave her a real good look as he bent into the open refrigerator, pretending to search for the celery that lay in plain sight on the bottom shelf. "You want all three bunches?"
"Yes, I’ll take it all."
The room went darker. The door clicked shut. Well, well, well…

The Trouble with Cowboys is in stores now:

So tell me…What do you find impossible to resist?
Leave a comment and you'll be entered into my giveaway. In keeping with the theme of irresistibility, I'm giving away a print or digital copy of one of my favorite books, Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis. Best of luck!

My thanks to Tote Bags 'n' Blogs for hosting me today. I love hearing from readers and am really easy to find at, on Facebook ( ), and Twitter (@m_cutler). And you can always email me at or sign up for my newsletter ( to find out about my latest books and upcoming events.

***Melissa's winner is Kathleen! Please email with your mailing details!***

Monday, November 19, 2012

Laurie London: A Piece of Advice I’m Glad I Followed

When I set out to write ASSASSIN’S TOUCH, book one in the Iron Portal series, it started out as simply a fun diversion. Something to keep my mind off the fact that my Sweetblood series was out on submission.
In case you don’t know that that means, it’s when a literary agent shops an author’s book around to the various publishers, trying to find an editor who loves it and wants to buy it. If you’re the author, you obsessively check your email to see if there’s any news yet. When the phone rings before 2 pm (in Seattle, that marks the close of business on the East Coast), you jump and fleetingly wonder if this is it—if this is the day when you learn you’re going to become a published author. The submission process can take months, and as you might imagine, it’s very nerve-racking. It’s truly a lesson in patience.

A wise author friend told me I should work on a completely different project to take my mind off the fact that editors in New York were reading my other manuscript. That way, if my vampire romance series didn’t sell, I’d have another story world and characters to be excited about. You know the old adage about not putting your eggs in one basket...

Thankfully, I did what she told me to do, and ASSASSIN’S TOUCH, the first book in the Iron Portal series, was born. The Sweetblood series did sell, so it wasn’t until now that I had a chance to revisit Rickert and Neyla’s story. I fell in love with them all over again. Even though there aren’t any fangs, there’s plenty of danger. It’s still the same dark, sexy paranormal romance with alpha heroes and strong heroines that readers have come to expect from me.  

Have you ever gotten a piece of advice from someone that you’re glad you followed?
I’m giving away a digital copy of ASSASSIN’S TOUCH to one random commenter. Please leave your email in your comment so we can easily contact you if you win. 

Two worlds. Two enemies.
Haunted by loss, Cascadian assassin Rickert D’Angelus is on a mission of vengeance. Determined to stop the Pacifican army from finding a portal to his world, he leads a group of warriors into New Seattle with one goal—to kill all Pacifican soldiers.
Neyla Trihorn had the perfect life until a deadly accident revealed her latent para-abilities. Now, the former fashion designer is the Pacifican army’s hottest commodity in their fight against the invaders.
When Rickert discovers a beautiful, unconscious soldier on a cold mountain ledge near the portal, he realizes she’s a Protection-Talent and cannot be killed. To prevent the army from using her skills again, he takes her as his prisoner instead.

One fated touch…
But when he pulls her into his arms, a sexy and compelling vision appears, awakening something inside him. Something he can’t ignore.
Torn between duty and passion, Rickert must decide if the vision is a Talent trick designed to foil the enemy or the answer to his deepest desires... 

For more information about Laurie’s books, please check out her website at
To be the first to find out about new releases, please sign up for her newsletter at
Download ASSASSIN’S TOUCH for $2.99 at

***Laurie's winner is Victoria! Please email with your mailing details!***

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Christina Hollis - Writing In Winter

It's often said that other countries have a climate, England just has weather. That's been very true in 2012. The year started with the country stricken by drought. Then it started to rain, and didn't stop for weeks at a time. Now we're heading towards the coldest months of the year, we're all hoping it doesn't turn to snow. We've been snowed in for days on end during both the last two winters. That's always a hazard when you live off the beaten track,  but it had been twenty years since such severe weather happened here. The good thing about spending long period inside is means there's plenty of time for writing. I always keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas and the short, dark days of winter are the perfect excuse to review them and plan the next year's projects. A diary would be ideal for this: unfortunately, each January 1st I start one with high hopes, only to become dispirited by the number of blank spaces I have to turn past each time I remember to pick it up. I've solved this problem by getting a  large book of blank pages and calling it a journal, rather than a diary. There's plenty of space for pictures and recipes as well as notes, and there aren't pre-printed dates to induce guilt. I like to include lots of different sources of inspiration, and it's lovely to be able to look back on things when it's too dark and cold to venture outside.

Despite all the rain this year we did manage a few walks in the surrounding countryside. OH took the top photograph on one of our rambles through the Gloucestershire countryside. He had to snap the scene between torrential downpours, then tweak the image to make the sky look lighter than it actually was, to give more contrast. He was aiming for the Old Master look, and I think it turned out pretty well, don't you?

What's your favourite source of inspiration at this time of year? There's a warming recipe from my winter journal for a comment picked at random!

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,  Winter of the Wolf, will be published in early 2013. She loves to hear from readers - you can contact her through her website or her blog.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Marin Thomas: Dear Author: What's a Continuity?

A Continuity is a group of books written by different authors in which an overall theme or plot runs through the series, but each book has a unique hero and heroine with their own romantic plot and happy-ever-after. My November release, Beau: Cowboy Protector is the 5th book in the six-book Harts of the Rodeo—Born to Ride series by Harlequin American Romance.  I'm also thrilled to share that the book is a RT Book Reviews 2012 Reviewers' Choice Nominee.  

Here's the publisher's blurb for the series--can you guess what theme or plot carries through all six books?

Harlequin American Romance is thrilled to introduce HARTS OF THE RODEO, a new six-book miniseries about a family determined to rebuild their ranch and their lives, with love, hard work, and the help of a legendary stallion...

What many readers and reviewers aren't aware of is that the authors selected to participate in continuities usually have little say in the overall concept of the series.  The editors supply the authors with a "bible" which outlines the series concept, the setting, characters—right down to their names and physical descriptions—and a bare-bones plot for each book.  It's up to the author to take that information and create a unique and compelling story.

Continuities can be a lot of fun to participate in.  You get to collaborate with authors you might only know in passing and at the end of the series you've formed lasting friendships.  You also enjoy the benefit of six authors helping to promote the series so hopefully you see a bump in your sale's numbers as well as gaining new readers from those who follow the other authors.  It's true that more often than not once a reader buys the first book in a series, they'll buy the rest and because of that your individual book remains in the public eye longer.  The publisher is also more likely to put more effort into promoting the series.  Harts of the Rodeo Book Trailer  

On the downside…the collaboration-with-authors part takes a lot of time—mostly at the beginning when authors are brainstorming their stories and characters.  By the end of the more-than-six-month period of writing and promotion, you'll have exchanged hundreds of e-mails.  Another downside to continuities is that you can't choose the name for your hero or heroine and depending on which of the six books you write, you might find yourself limited in some areas: If you have the first book, then you must introduce all the characters, the setting and close the book with a hook that compels the reader to buy the next story in the series.  If you have the final book in the continuity, then it's your responsibility to tie up the plot, show the reader what's happened with the previous characters in the series—recap the marriages, babies etc—and you must do all this in addition to writing your hero and heroine's romance.

Harts of the Rodeo—Born to Ride is my second continuity with Harlequin American Romance and I've enjoyed every minute of the experience!  If you're interested in reading about the Hart family, stop by HarlequinJunkie, where you'll find character interviews, author blogs and giveaways.  Links to all the books in the series can be found on my website.

So tell me…do you like continuities?  Why or why not?  Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of Beau: Cowboy Protector.  

Marin Thomas grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. She left the Midwest to attend college in Tucson, Arizona where she earned a B.A. in Radio-TV and played basketball for the Lady Wildcats. Following graduation she married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony at the historical Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. Over the years she and her family have lived in seven different states but have now come full circle and returned to Arizona where the rugged desert and breathtaking sunsets provide plenty of inspiration for Marin's cowboy books. 

***Marin's winner is Erin! Please email with your mailing details!***

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Experiencing a Bit of History by Michelle Styles

One of the great things about history is that it doesn’t always stay in the past.  But you can see echoes of it around you.  And sometimes you are not even aware of it until later.

Recently I went on a visit to Cambridge. Not only did I get to see the somewhat new Corpus clock --  Chronophage or Time eating clock which looks like it is straight from a sci fi movie or Dr Who set and will suddenly come alive and break free of its captivity, but  I also unwittingly got to experience some of the old when I went out to dinner.

For a variety of reasons (mainly having to do with Halloween), I ended up eating at the Cambridge Chop House rather where we had originally planned to eat.  I just vaguely wondered about the name and was slightly disappointed there was no explanation on the menu.

The Cambridge Chop House was very traditional British with a twist and the emphasis was on meat with  typically British fare.  I had the braised Ox cheek. I had heard about ox cheek before and figured it was worth a try. Done properly it is a melt in the mouth meat (a bit richer than stewing steak).  I like trying the strnage cuts of meat because then I know. I once had pig's ears which are very chewy and can be chalked up to experience.  This was done properly with horseradish mashed potatoes, as well as steamed cabbage and  some other vegetables. It was absolutely delish. I had bread and butter pudding for dessert.  I had sort of wondered about the name but I wasn’t in Cambridge to do research. And right now I am writing Vikings, rather than Regency or Victorian so I filed the question away.

Then last night, I happened to be watching Clarissa Dickson Wrights Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner on BBC 4 in which she examines the history of Britain three main meals. How did they come about and why. It is the sort of thing I love and I am highlighting it in case anyone else might be interested.  I find the history of food and why traditions came about fascinating. You can pickup little insights into how people behaved and why. It is the little factoids that can really add depth and character when you are creating a historical world.

The episode was on lunch and she went to one of the last remaining chop houses in London –Simpsons Tavern.  Simpson’s dates from 1757 on that site but has origins going back to 1723 and ladies were not permitted to dine there until 1916. Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens both have dined here.  It is now on my Places to Visit when next in London. And I suddenly thought – ah I now know what a chop house is , why they  existed and why they served such traditional British fare. It pleased me no end.  A chop house was where the Victorian upper middle class gentleman ate his lunch when he was working. The chop comes from the sort of meat they served – mainly mutton chops. But they did do nose to tail cooking. The vegetable were mainly root. And the puddings things like bread and butter, treacle tart or stewed cheese (a sort of Welsh rarebit).

 Next week’s episode is  on the history of dinner and its movement from a mid morning meal to a late night repast but I suspect we will also have information on tea which is a relatively new invention. If you have missed the programme, it is on iplayer. I hope it goes over to US on BBC America. Clarissa Dickson Wright also has written a book  A History of English Food which is an excellent and informative read but she is also a presenter who really breathes life into her subject.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide variety of time periods. Her latest Hattie Wilkinson Meets Her Match does have some food in it but not alas a chop house. You can learn more about Michelle  and her books on

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Darynda Jones: Writers Are A Curious Lot

Yep, it’s true, writers are strange creatures, and we are surprisingly accepting of this fact. We’re different and that’s okay. The reason we are so blasé about our uniqueness is because without it we would not have the rabidly creative minds it takes to write book after book. We are like Russell Crowe in that movie A Beautiful Mind only without all the math. Our thoughts bounce at warp speed from one idea to the next. We have so many more plots for great books than we will ever be able to write, and that saddens us. Some stories just need to be told. And when someone tells us they DON’T want to write a book, we gasp. We are taken aback.

What? You DON’T want to write? Are you insane?

It’s a concept we can’t quite grasp, kind of like the math from that movie. And yet, it’s one we’re secretly grateful for. If everyone wanted to write, think how much harder it would be to get published. The competition’s bad enough as it is. I mean, JR Ward? Jeaniene Frost? Jacquelyn Frank? Get outta here.

And that brings me to our favorite kinds of people. Readers! Ah, how we love readers. They make all of our dreams come true. They are brutally honest and get genuinely upset when our characters are hurt. They suffer right along with them. They expect a lot and force us to deliver our best work. Because we don’t want to let them down. Because we strive to make their lives a little better. Their day a little brighter.

And with that, I would love to know who makes your day brighter. Who gets you through the week and spices up your nights? But more importantly, if the Earth were about to explode and you were on the last spaceship to salvation, but you could only take ONE book with you, which would you take?

One lucky commenter will get a signed copy of his or her choice of my books. 

Excerpt from Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet

With renewed energy, I pulled back onto Academy— after hitting a drive- through for a mocha latte— and had just started for home when
my phone rang.
“Yes?” I said, illegally talking on the phone while driving within the city limits. Scoping for cops, I waited for Uncle Bob to stop talking to whomever he was talking to and get back to me.
My uncle Bob, or Ubie as I most often referred to him, was a detective for APD, and I helped him on cases from time to time. He knew I could see the departed and used that to his advantage. Not that I could blame him.
“Get that to her, then call the ME ay- sap.”
“Okay,” I said, “but I’m not sure what calling the medical examiner ay- sap is going to accomplish. I’m pretty sure his name is George.”
“Oh, hey, Charley.”
“Hey, Uncle Bob. What’s up?”
“Are you driving?”
“Have you heard anything?”
Our conversations often went like this. Uncle Bob with his random questions. Me with my trying to come up with answers just as random. Not that I had to try very hard. “I heard that Tiff any Gorham, a girl I knew in grade school, still stuff s her bra. But that’s just a rumor.”
“About the case,” he said through clenched teeth. I could tell his teeth were clenched because his words were suddenly forced. That meant he was frustrated. Too bad I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I wasn’t aware that we had a case.”
“Oh, didn’t Cookie call you?”
“She called me a doody- head once.”
“About the case.” His teeth were totally clenched again.
“We have a case?”
But I’d lost him. He was talking to another officer. Or a detective. Or a hooker, depending on his location and accessibility to cash. Though I doubted he would tell a hooker to check the status of the DOA’s autopsy report. Unless he was way kinkier than I’d ever given him credit for. I found his calling me only to talk to other people very challenging.
“I’ll call you right back,” he said. No idea to whom.
The call disconnected as I sat at a light, wondering what guacamole would look like if avocados were orange.
I finally shifted my attention to the dead kid in my backseat. He had shoulder- length blond hair and bright blue eyes and looked somewhere between fifteen and seventeen.
“You come here often?” I asked him, but my phone rang before he could say anything. That was okay. He had a vacant stare, so I doubted he would have answered me anyway.
“Sorry about that,” Uncle Bob said. “Do you want to discuss the case?”
“We have a case?” I said again, perking up.
“How are you?”
He asked me that every time he called now. “Peachy. Am I the case? If so, I can solve this puppy in about three seconds. I’m heading down San Mateo toward Central in a cherry red Jeep Wrangler with a questionable exhaust system.”
“Hurry, before I get away!”

Also check out a Rafflecopter giveaway!

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones has won numerous awards for her work including a prestigious Golden Heart®, a RITA®, and a Daphne du Maurier. As a born storyteller, she grew up spinning tales of dashing damsels and heroes in distress for any unfortunate soul who happened by, annoying man and beast alike. Darynda lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Carolyn Crane: A guide to pop cultures references I’ve used recently in books (that I probably shouldn’t have used, but just wanted to!)

Hey Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs gang! Thanks so much for having me here!

I grew up on a healthy diet of 1970’s TV show reruns, accompanied, most often, by delectable after-school snacks I created myself, like melted chocolate chips with peanut butter swirled in (which I’d eat with a spoon…like soup!) and sugary cereals with sugar sprinkled on.

Maybe it was my sugar addled brain, but I feel like these shows seared into my mind and formed a kind of fiction foundation for me. Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch, Star Trek, Beverly Hillbillies, Starsky and Hutch, Bewitched, and the scariest of all, Twilight Zone (OMG, how did I ever get homework done???) 

However, I think these shows really faded out by the 90’s, so, kids born in the 1980s and later just don’t know them like I do. Which is the saddest thing ever, because I always want to refer to them, but half my audience won’t know them. Plus, readers outside of the US might never have known them.

This is true also of bands. But sometimes a girl can’t help using references.

Recent ones I snuck in. Hopefully I surrounded them with enough context that it didn’t lose anybody:

Jed Clampett: This is the father in Beverly Hillbillies. Basically, he’s a rich Hillbilly who lives in Hollywood but he still wears his old clothes, including a floppy hat. In Mr. Real, my villain wears a floppy hat like that, and I totally couldn’t help but have my heroine make a snide reference to it. “Jed Clampett called. He wants his hat back,” she says. Half my readers won’t get that. But, I call it a “floppy hillbilly hat” enough that hopefully people can picture it without knowing the show.

Kid Rock: My heroine also refers to the villain, who has not only the hat, but longish blond hair, as Kid Rock. Do the kids know Kid Rock? Is he worldwide? It’s so hard to know what people will get!

Brady Bunch: The ultimate blended TV family and three girls and three boys. I once asked my little grade school nieces if they knew Brady Bunch and they did seem to. Is it running on Nickelodeon or something? Anyway, In Devil’s Luck, my standalone Disillusionists novella, The heroine, Fawna, who was cast onto the streets at an early age, adopts the last name of Brady because of her love for the Brady Bunch, and her deep desire that she could be one of the sisters.

Rambo: Surely this is a known reference! Or maybe not. Rambo is the seminal action adventure hero, a war veteran/special forces guy who goes kicking ass on the system. At one point, my Mr. Real heroine (who is apparently as TV and movie-addled as I ever was) calls the hero Rambo 2000. Listen up, Rambo 2000…  I thought it was fun and perfect for her to say.

New Kids on the Block, Johnny Depp, 90210, etc: I had to figure out what posters my heroine and her sisters would have on the walls of their rooms from when they were kids. Personally, I wanted to go with Menudo, but that would not work for a heroine in her 20’s today (despite all the TV references above.) Actually, a few twitter friends helped me here. It was quite the debate: what would girls who went to high school around the year 2000 have on their walls for posters? Between my heroine and her sisters, I used New Kids on the Block, Green Day, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and the cast of 90210. It was fun seeing what my tweeps had on their walls!


I’m giving away on ebook copy of Mr. Real to one random commenter. The question: just let me know what references above you get. Or, you can say which ones you don’t get. Because I’m easy like that! And thanks for stopping by!!

***Carolyn's winner is Martha! Please email with your mailing details!***

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sharon Ashwood: I don’t have time for an apocalypse!

According to the Mayan calendar, December 2012 marks the end of the world. Honestly, as if the holiday season wasn’t busy enough without adding an apocalypse!

Inconvenient, to say the least. If time came to a standstill only came one month earlier, I could avoid a book deadline—although with my luck my editor would survive to demand the manuscript anyway, perhaps in fiery letters across a hazy, ash-strewn horizon. Editors are like that about due dates.

Of course I’m joking here—about the calendar, anyway. For one thing, the world doesn’t end whenever my diary runs out of pages, and I don’t see this any differently. But what makes it interesting is the fascination our society has with the cessation of time because, well, it’s the one thing that always seems to be in short supply.

I really felt that while I was on holiday.  This autumn, I went to England for three weeks on a research trip for a trilogy I’m working on. I had a long list of things I wanted to accomplish while I was there, but 20 days of perfect fall weather, no day job, limited Internet connection, and a steady stream of interesting things to do and see had their effect. There were moments when I lost track of time, and for a little while I wasn’t a body hurtling through the day, I simply was.

And when one’s focus is on the here and now instead of a to-do list, great things can happen—like a long ramble across the moors. To say Dartmoor feels ancient is an understatement—history seems to ooze from the ground (right along with the mud puddle I fell into). This is where the Hound of the Baskervilles was supposed to take place. I didn’t see any hounds, but there were a lot of cows. Cream tea, anyone?

 Speaking of timeless, this is a medieval bridge in Dartmoor.  Talk about building to last! That is one of the wonderful things about England—architecture from the past and present is mixed together and somehow it all seems comfortable side by side.

And for the Regency junkies, a shot of Bath. In places, it’s hard to remember you’re in the twenty-first century. It still looks like a piece of the Georgian era.

Of course, all holidays end and the daily round of have-tos and deadlines start up again. But what I really notice is how well I remember the places I went and the things I saw, because I made a point of paying attention to them. This must be what people mean by “being present,” and I find myself wondering what miss on a day to day basis while I concentrate on the ticking clock instead of the world that’s unfolding right before my eyes.

A lesson learned? Maybe. Bad habits are hard to break, but I try to remind myself to make the effort to slow down and enjoy what’s around me. And if I’m a little late with that deadline?  I guess I could always blame it on the Mayans for reminding me to enjoy things while they last!

What’s your favourite method of kicking back and slowing down? I’m giving away a copy of Ravenous or  Frostbound to a commenter (winner’s choice)! Visit my website at to read excerpts and watch videos for the whole Dark Forgotten series!


***Sharon's winner is Lory Lee!  Please email with your mailing information.***

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring, Tra La!

by Anna Campbell

As promised last month, today I've got a stack of photos of Ballarat's beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens to share with you all.

I hope you're in the mood for spring flowers!

Here's the website for the gardens if you'd like more info on this beautiful corner of Australia:

At the start of October, I had a week of travel. I had a weekend in Melbourne and then went out to stay with good friends in Ballarat.

The last time I was in Ballarat, it was a dust bowl. They hadn't had rain for years. The huge lake in the center of town was a paddock with a muddy puddle in the middle of it. Trees that were hundreds of years old were dying for lack of water. All very tragic.

This time I visited after Victoria has had extensive rainfall and it was a different place. Lush and verdant and teeming with life. You would honestly think you were in England, some of these fields were so green and pleasant.

I had a lovely morning at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and went wild with the camera. These are some of the shots!

You'll notice that there's a definite European flavor to the plants and design of the gardens. Deliberately so. Ballarat is a town that was founded on the fortune in gold discovered in the area. In the Victorian era, it was packed with homesick and well-to-do Britons who wanted to recreate a corner of their homeland in what they saw as an arid and alien landscape.

So we get roses and poppies and camellias and magnificent European trees. Because of Dutch elm disease, the elms in Victoria count as one of the last places in the world where you can see mature versions of these magnificent trees.

A treat at the Ballarat Gardens is Adam Lindsay Gordon's cottage. ALG was an early Australian poet who is the only Aussie writer featured in Westminster Abbey, quite an honor.

Here's his Wikipedia entry:

He had a difficult and tempestuous life full of drama and incident. This scion of an aristocratic Scottish family was famous as a jockey and a wild boy.

Here's a picture of his statue which currently stands outside the Victorian parliament in Melbourne. That's a saddle at his feet, in tribute to his abilities as a horseman.

His poetry is full of vim and vigor. One of my favorite quotes of his is the one that many people know, even if they don't know who penned it:

Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone -- 
Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own.

It's not a bad philosophy, is it? The Queen quoted it in her Christmas message a few years ago - which I thought was a nice tribute to Adam Lindsay Gordon.

But enough  literary stuff, let's look at pretty flowers! It's spring down here in Australia. Let's celebrate!

What's your favorite flower? Do any flowers have a sentimental meaning for you? I must say I love a lot of flowers, but I think my taste tends to lean toward the traditional. I particularly love roses and peonies. What about you?