Thursday, May 30, 2013

Seressia Glass: Mythology

When I sat down to conceptualize Shadow Blade, my first urban fantasy, I knew I wanted the mythology of Ancient Egypt to be a part of it, but it had to fit into the overall of themes of Light and Shadow and Balance. I knew my heroine, Kira Solomon, was a relic hunter with the unique ability to read and disrupt the magic of anything she touched. At night, she was a Shadowchaser, a sort of metaphysical bounty hunter that tracked down creatures of Shadow who threatened humanity.

So how could I weave Egyptian mythology into that?  I’ve always had a fascination with the magic and mysticism of that culture, so I lent that to my heroine. I decided that being a follower of Ma’at, the embodiment of order and balance, was a natural fit for someone who battled against Shadow and chaos after hours.

For my hero, I already knew his name was Khefar, and that he was Nubian, and he was 4,000 years old because…well, he told me so. He’s also the keeper of the Shadow Blade of the title and wanted it back. Being a Nubian warrior meant that he lived and breathed the gods of ancient Egypt. He followed the war-goddess Sekhmet, but Isis was the one who summoned him after his first death, and charged him to save a life for every life he took while alive. And for some reason Anansi, a West African trickster god, decided to come along for the ride.

All three Shadowchaser books have splashes of Egyptian mythology in them, culminating with Shadow Fall featuring a traveling exhibit of the Book of the Dead. That brought on closer examination of that ancient magical scroll, and having Anubis top of mind, so when my agent asked if I had an idea for a paranormal romance novella for Harlequin, the Sons of Anubis just popped into my mind. There wasn’t going to be much excitement in them protecting the dead, but what if the dead didn’t want to go through facing the hall of gods as their hearts were weighed? They’d become Lost Ones, wanting their lives back, and if they couldn’t have them, taking those lives from others. And who would aid them (and be love interests) other than the Daughters of Isis, priestesses imbued with the magical powers of one of the most famous goddesses of all time?

There is a rich and varied mine of information in ancient Egyptian and in African mythology, and I hope to be able to continue to bring it to the attention of more readers.
Seressia Glass

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eilis Flynn: Building a Story: The Victorian Spartacus (Uh, Spartaca)

When my friend Heather Hiestand and I started to talk about writing a project together, we threw around ideas for what the story should be. Now, since she knows her English history (in fact, her upcoming historical romance, Marquess of Cake, from Kensington, is solidly in the Victorian period) (release date July 4, 2013, so preorder now!), and I love research that has little to do with everyday reality (my major was in anthropology, with concentrations in folklore and linguistics), we figured that in combination, we could come up with something that was both intriguing and fun to write. (And even fun to read!)

This seemed like a good time to use a plot device I had been tossing around for a few years: vampirism as a result of science gone awry. Fun idea, but since we all have a Pile of Ideas to be Fleshed Out Later (PITFOL for short), I just hadn’t gotten around to it. This was the time, I decided.

We tossed that into our cauldron o’ cooking up our story. Now, because Heather had all that good history she’d already done the research for, we decided to make use of that, and decided it would be good to use the Victorian era, and make it steampunk, a fun subgenre. We decided it was going to take place in 1888, that year gouged into the memory of those who remember a little something about British history (hint: Jack the ------).

Now, our characters—the people of our story was a whole ‘nother challenge. Our hero, Lucas, came about little by little with all his strengths and weaknesses, but the heroine of the piece—well. She was a fun challenge.

In the course of her endless historical research, Heather told me, she had found someone that she wanted as the heroine. I reminded her that there could be problems using real people in fiction, and we’d have to adjust for that (that is, history fans go crazy when history is tampered with). There wouldn’t be a difficulty, she said, because this woman seemed to disappear from the historical record after having made a momentary splash. There was precious little about her before and after what made her famous.

Perfect, I said. So who is it? Nellie Clifton, she said. A prostitute, Heather added, jogging my memory, a woman who was known to have had a dalliance with the son of Prince Albert and inadvertently caused the death of Queen Victoria’s husband. Okay...interesting choice, but Heather persuaded me with the lack of historical record. It’s always fun to use real personages who seem to disappear into history. (We can call her the Victorian Spartacus. Spartaca?)

So we decided to use Nellie Clifton. She ended up being a wonderfully fun character to write, using history, fantasy, and even romance, even though she does attack our hero from time to time:

Only an instinct made him turn back around just then, because Nellie took the opportunity to run at him with a second sword, planning to skewer him like a piece of meat. He leaped up, angling toward her, getting perilously close to the archer.
“Damn you,” Lucas shouted. “Stand up and fight like a man!”
At that Nellie laughed. “But I’m not, Mr. Dudley,” she said, her lips curving into a broad smile. “I’m better.”

You might have heard the old saying, “History is written by the victors.” I’ve always had the uncomfortable feeling that studying any cultural history would be one-sided. At least with anthropology you’re studying a historical record without a written record. With a story like Wear Black, it’s a reimagined history, with a reimagined historical character. AND it was fun to write!

From Wear Black:
Death did not end his service to the British Empire
Beneath Windsor Castle, a shadow network of immortals keeps the British Empire safe. Army captain Lucas Fitzrobbins becomes one of them when the cure for his mortal wound turns out to be a vampirism potion. He is abruptly inducted into the secret St. George Protector Society…and it’s not long before the Society’s newest recruit discovers it has dark mysteries as well…

Marked as a target
Hampering Lucas’s efforts to adjust to his after-life is An Tighearn operative Nellie Clifton, a beautiful and enigmatic assassin, who has marked Lucas as her latest quarry. But then…

Secrets are threatened to be revealed
A brutal killer stalks the seamy underside of London. Protectors and assassins alike must leave the shadows to find the fiend before their existence is revealed to the world. Tasked with the job of tracking down the murderer, Lucas discovers that the crazed butcher may have connections that go to the heart of the British Empire. One thing is certain:

The Queen must never know!

Eilis Flynn worked in Wall Street and Wall Street-related firm for almost 35 years, so why should she write anything any more based in reality? Published in a number of genres, she lives in Seattle with her patient husband and the ghosts of her spoiled rotten cats. She can be reached at, at Facebook, and Twitter. Her first collaboration with author Heather Hiestand is the steampunk vampire historical fantasy, Wear Black.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Life Outside of the Office by Fiona Lowe

I made a pretty big mistake last year...I misunderstood my editor and confused the 'production' date of Runaway Groom, the third book in my Wedding Fever Trilogy, with the hand in date of the first draft of the book. What did this mean? I lost SEVEN weeks of writing time. Holey Moley! So as you can imagine, I haven't done much lately except work. However, the book got handed in and I've had a week off before returning to the desk today and tackling my edits. So what did I do?

I visited a friend who has recently moved to the coast.

I went to the movies and saw this art house French film, A Woman in Paris.

I baked my father a flour-less chocolate cake which was amazing! The recipe is here

And yesterday I caught up with some writers including fellow Tote Bags n Blogs contributors, Anna Campbell and Annie West.

It's been a fabulous week out of the cave and I'm ready to return tomorrow.
How do you celebrate the end of a work project?

Saved By The Bride is the first novel in the Wedding Fever trilogy. To follow the story of Annika and Finn, Bridey and Hank and the quirky folk of Whitetail, head to Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Carina Press and all other places eBooks are sold. Picture Perfect Wedding is available for pre-order and is out August 2013

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.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rochelle Staab: Hex on the Ex

A former coworker once asked me to a female empowerment seminar at the home of a healer. I had recently ended a relationship, chanted “I Will Survive” to and from work, and was convinced I’d never find love again. I accepted her invite thinking a dose of girl-power could help cure my ailing heart.

The night of the meeting I parked in front of the stately Georgian residence. We walked up the pansy-lined brick path and I asked, “What kind of healer is she?”
My friend grinned as she rang the bell. “A tribal healer.”

Our elderly hostess, a lovely African-American clad in a turban and caftan, had us join the other participants in a circle. She proceeded to entertain us with a lecture on male vs. female energy, including an unforgettable piece of advice on ending relationships:

“Throw away everything your former lover gave you—each item contains his energy. Discard his gifts and his belongings. You won’t heal or fully move on to new love until you eliminate your old lover’s hold.” She smiled, adding, “Be forewarned—as soon as you clear out his things he will sense loss. He will inexplicably miss you. He will call.”

I went home that night and purged my house of the past. Gave the sweater he bought me for Christmas and his old sweatshirt (as much as I loved to watch TV wearing it) to Goodwill. Tossed out photos. As the healer predicted, within days my ex called. We didn’t get back together—once I cleared out his things I didn’t miss him as much as I thought. I never forgot the energy trick.

This month marked the release of my third Mind For Murder Mystery. I adapted the energy theory for the plot of HEX ON THE EX although my psychologist/amateur sleuth Liz Cooper would scoff at a connection between material belongings and emotional ties. “Object transference,” she’d theorize. “Unresolved feelings seeking an outlet.” HEX ON THE EX challenges Liz’s viewpoint.

Five years after leaving a bad marriage to egomaniac pro-baseball player Jarret Cooper, Liz finally moves out of her transitional townhouse into her own home. She decides to reclaim several cartons of books she left stored in Jarret’s garage. But the energy and remnants reintroduce old troubles back into Liz’s life. Her ex-rival Laycee Huber arrives in town without warning. Despite efforts to avoid the woman, their public confrontation at Dodger Stadium puts Liz at the top of the suspect list after Laycee is found murdered the next morning.

Liz enlists her family, friends, and a colorful defense attorney to clear to her name, but only her boyfriend—occult professor Nick Garfield—could hold the key to decipher the cryptic, devilish clue the murderer left behind. Liz and Nick’s investigation leads to a shocking and vengeful turn of events, begging the question: do we ever really escape the past?

Rochelle Staab writes witty murder mysteries with a supernatural twist, featuring Los Angeles psychologist Liz Cooper and occult expert Nick Garfield. Learn more about Rochelle’s bestselling Mind For Murder Mystery series at:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Peta Crake: Fear: Friend or Foe?

Firstly I want to thank Lee for inviting me to Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs, just looking at the list of past and future guests makes me want to hide in the corner chanting “I’m not worthy”.

I’m Peta Crake and I write urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The funny thing is, until about five years ago I had never heard of the genres let alone read any of them.

You see, since my childhood I had had an illogical fear of supernatural/paranormal creatures, particularly vampires and werewolves. I knew they weren’t real but it didn’t matter. I would sleep with my covers scrunched around my neck or pulled over my head, because monsters could not possibly penetrate thin cotton sheets. I blame it on my parent’s friends having kids who were a lot older than me. On those nights when the adults got together to play cards or have a barbeque, us kids would be holed up in the family room watching television – cue horror movies.

As a result, I did not touch books that I thought might scare me...anything involving people with fangs or fur. I devoured fantasy and sci-fi books though, because they weren’t based on earth so there was nothing to worry about. I could read thrillers and suspense, because the bad guys were always caught in the end. But anything with the hint of the paranormal on earth? No way.

Then a friend dragged me along to a little movie called Twilight. Maybe vampires and werewolves were not so bad after all. She also introduced me to the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. That was it. I was hooked! I scoured my library for any urban fantasy and paranormal romance books I could get my hands on. I would read one, if I liked it I would go out and buy the whole series so I wouldn’t have to wait. My bookcase became overladen with books by Laurell K. Hamilton, Patricia Briggs, Illona Andrews, Keri Arthur, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan and Tracey O’Hara. I even found myself lingering in front of the horror section in book shops because a lot of paranormal romance gets placed there too.

My muse, which had been hiding while I slaved over a fantasy novel for ten years, suddenly leaped out of the shadows yelling, “Hey babe I have a great idea.”

That idea became Harbinger my debut novel, released by Destiny Romance in August 2012. Sadly, it contains no werewolves or vampires (I left that for my next book, Revelry, scheduled for release in August 2013) but it does contain ancient gods and weird invisible demon thingys.

So what about you? Have you ever had a fear that has transformed into something you tolerated, enjoyed or even loved? Has reading a book or watching a movie helped you face a fear? Leave a comment to win a paperback copy of Harbinger.

As a messenger for the all-powerful and sometimes frightening gods, suburban Aussie girl Ophelia Lind is used to being at their beck and call. But when gorgeous demigod Aden moves into her neighbourhood and starts taking advantage of her services, she believes life could not get any worse.
She's about to be proven very wrong.
Without warning an odious creature - evil incarnate - begins to stalk her. Ophelia is accustomed to adventures and scrapes but this is different. Even Aden, finds it difficult to protect her. Suddenly Ophelia is in a battle for survival and begins to question everything - her upbringing, her identity and her true feelings for the alluring and entirely frustrating Aden.

Peta Crake

***Peta's winner is Fiona Yuile!  Fiona, please email with your mailing address.  Thanks!***

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sally Goldenbaum: Knitting a Mystery

Readers sometimes ask why so many mystery writers structure their stories around a theme—like food or knitting or gardening. Why isn’t a plain old murder enough? Who needs herbs and bamboo needles and a trowel when you have a dead body?
The question made me think (even though I should have had a ready answer because I have two cozy mystery series that do exactly that, one revolving around a group of women who quilt —The Queen Bees Quilting mysteries—and the other, my current series, around knitting —The Seaside Knitters Mystery Series.

But I did have to think about it, and how the seaside knitters would be different if they didn’t knit, if they were simply “the seaside women.”

I know I didn’t pick knitting because I’m an expert at it. I’m not. I’m a knitter-in-training (the Seaside Knitters do a lot to help me out along the way—as does The Studio, my wonderful local yarn shop). 

So why?

Here’s what I think:

I think the seaside knitters mysteries are as much about relationships and women’s friendship as they are about knitting. But the knitting provides a kind of centering, a place to bring the women together at Izzy’s Yarn Studio on a regular basis. And because I am writing a series, I’m not only inviting readers back with each book, but also the same characters. They need to grow and develop for their readers, and having a ready-made place to do that—a place to interact, to gossip, to develop their friendship in new ways—is helpful in keeping a series fresh and interesting.

In the newest mystery, ANGORA ALIBI (Seaside Knitters Mystery #7) the knitters surround Izzy as she prepares for the birth of her first baby—a new event in their years of friendship. And when tension fills Izzy’s doctor’s office, an infant seat is abandoned on the beach, and a young man they all know is murdered, the knitters band together every step of the way until the murder is solved.
I also think that knitting provides a metaphor for the way Nell, Birdie, Cass, and Izzy think. Carefully and methodically they knit together the pieces of a puzzle to solve a crime, just like they do with their sweaters and gloves and baby booties.

Yarn also provides clues as the knitters work through the morass of elements that surround a murder. In the first book in the series, DEATH BY CASHMERE, a beautiful cashmere sweater leads the knitters down a path. And in A FATAL FLEECE, the sixth book in the series (recently released in paperback), the yellow fleece that Cass knit for an old fisherman, identifies a body.

And lastly, I think yarn is simply so tangible and visceral and sensual that it provides a feeling that can easily soften the harshness of murder and at the same time, heighten and stimulate the senses. It injects a sensuousness into the mystery, just like writing about food does. Sinking ones fingers into a basketful of Izzy’s buttercup yellow cashmere yarn, for example, or savoring Nell’s garlic grilled shrimp salad with fresh flakes of basil sprinkled on top—and clinking together four glasses of Birdie’s chilled pinot gris—are sure ways to stimulate and sharpen the senses and help the knitters of Sea Harbor explore the intricacies of a young man’s untimely death, as they do in ANGORA ALIBI.

And although readers of ANGORA ALIBI and the other seaside knitting mysteries won’t learn to knit as they join Izzy, Nell, Birdie, and Cass on a Thursday evening in the yarn shop, I hope they take away—not only a feeling of mystery and puzzles, of friendship and caring—but the urge to sink one’s fingers into a tempting pile of cashmere and cotton and luxurious angora wool yarn.

My thanks to TOTE BAGS ‘n BLOGS for inviting me and the seaside knitters to stop by, and for all of you for dropping in. Please visit my website, Facebook author page 
Or follow me on twitter.
Thank you!

Sally Goldenbaum is the author of thirty novels, most currently the Seaside Knitters Mystery Series, set in a seaside town north of Boston. Angora Alibi, the seventh in the series, was released this month. Sally also wrote the Queen Bees Quilter mystery series. She lives in land-locked Kansas but visits Cape Ann, the geographic inspiration for her series (and home of two amazing grandchildren and their parents) every chance she gets.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Jeannie Moon: The Temporary Wife

Hi Everyone!  I’m really happy to be here!  My debut novel The Temporary Wife is taking me all around the web to chat with readers about some fun topics.  One of the things I get asked about has to do with my writing style and how I got this particular book done under a crazy deadline.  Did I mention I had to write this book in six weeks?  No?  Ah.  Well. Here’s the low down on that.

When Intermix offered the contract, my fab editor Jesse wanted the book done in six weeks.  You see, I didn’t sell a finished manuscript, amazingly I sold on proposal.  She here I was with this contract and a deadline.  Oh, and the full-time teaching gig…I had that too. And I was directing the fall drama at my school.  Anything else?  Oh, yes…Hurricane Sandy.  We were lucky compared to other people.  We had no damage to our home, but we were without power for a week.

Yes, I had all of that, but I made a commitment to do something different…I wrote.  I wrote every day.  I set a word budget and made sure to meet my goal each week.  I didn’t play on games or social media when I was on the computer, I wrote.  And I finished on time.

I never saw myself as a fast writer or a plotter, but I learned to do both.  I changed and adapted.  I learned to be a professional.  I did what I had to do to get the job done.  No games. No excuses.

If only I’d done this before I sold I’d have fifty books written by now.

There’s no substitute for writing.  Iconic romance author, Bertrice Small, advises wannabe writers to produce three pages a day, six days a week.  If you do that for fifty weeks every year you’ll have written 900 pages.  That’s nothing to sneeze at. 

Slow and steady, as they say.

Jeannie Moon has always been a romantic. When she's not spinning tales of her own, Jeannie works as a school librarian, thankful she has a job that allows her to immerse herself in books. Married to her high school sweetheart, Jeannie has three kids, two lovable dogs and a mischievous cat and resides on Long Island, NY. If she's more than ten miles away from salt water for any longer than a week, she gets twitchy. Visit her website at

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Elaine Viets - Fall Off Paddleboarding

“Board Stiff,” my new Dead-End Job mystery, is the ultimate beach book. In fact, reviewer Oline Cogdill calls it a “vicarious Florida vacation.”

But researching this novel was no day at the beach.

In my twelfth Dead-End Job mystery, newlywed private eyes Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagement have been hired by Sunny Jim’s Stand-up Paddleboard Rental to find out who’s sabotaging his business.

The smaller recreational companies – Jet Ski rentals, ocean kayaking, paddleboarding, and parasailing – are in hot competition for tourist dollars. According to the South Florida papers, some of them will stoop to sabotage, especially before spring break. The annual migration of college students to the beaches results in a burst of business for locals.

Paddleboarding looked like an incredibly cool beach sport. I watched people get on a board a little larger than a surf board and row with a long paddle. They made it look easy.

That’s why I took paddleboarding lessons for “Board Stiff.”

In the paddleboard ads, women always wear bikinis. Not this woman. I wore a T-shirt down to my knees. If I could have found my grandmother’s bloomers, I would have worn them.

My first lesson was on the Middle River, a calm, condo-lined waterway that runs through Fort Lauderdale. The water didn’t seem quite so calm when I was out there on my paddleboard. The instructor, Mario, started in about three feet of water. He stood up on his paddleboard as if he’d been born in the water.

I was a little – okay, a lot – shakier, but I actually managed to stand up from a kneeling position, holding the paddle (and my breath). This was probably the greatest athletic feat of my life.

I wobbled around in the water, and then I started getting the hang of it. I paddled over to a tree filled with nesting water birds. Because the paddleboard was so quiet, I could get right up to them.

Meanwhile, Mario was watching the bikinied chicks at a nearby condo.

“You can get really close to the wild life on a paddleboard,” I told him.

“Sure can,” he said, his eyes bulging.

I stayed up on my paddleboard for 45 minutes before I fell off when a JetSki roared by. “You fall very gracefully,” Mario said.

That fall led to a bigger downfall a week later. I took another paddleboard lesson, this time on the Intracoastal Waterway, in a section where the big yachts cruise. I got up on the board, and fell off.

I got back on and fell off.

I got up the third time, fell off, got back up and was stuck – rear end in the air, “mooning” the yachts in my red T-shirt.

“Relax!” my instructor said.

I don’t know about you, but the word “relax” makes me go as rigid as that paddleboard.

In my case, pride really did go before a fall.


“Board Stiff,” Elaine Viets’ new hardcover mystery, is set in the cutthroat world of Florida tourism. The New York Times Review of Books praises her “quick-witted mysteries.” Elaine’s bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Elaine’s second series features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards. 

Check out the first chapters of her mysteries at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tracy Solheim—Beating the Odds to Get My Game On.

I still remember the first book I wasn’t able to read.  It was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  My problem was not for the reasons you’d think.  Yes, this was a controversial book at the time—I attempted to read it in 1973 as a young elementary school student.  But the issue was that I physically couldn’t read it.  You see, I was the girl with the Coke-bottle glasses and the rare vision disorder that’s only cool to ophthalmologists.  By the time I’d reached the fifth grade, the books I wanted to read—the one’s everybody was talking about—were printed with a smaller font than the Weekly Reader and my mixed up brain just wouldn’t let my eyes hold focus long enough to see the tiny words.

For an eleven-year-old, not being able to read about Ponyboy, Sodapop, Two-Bit, Johnny and the rest of the Greasers was devastating. My options were slim since audio books were still a blip on some entrepreneur’s radar.  Fortunately, I had a group of devoted friends who volunteered to read the book aloud to me every day at recess.  I spent the next few years being read to, until technology and ophthalmology made life a little easier for me.  Still, I remember being sixteen and having a doctor tell me I would most likely have difficulty earning a college degree much less being able to realize my dream of becoming an author.  The synapse connecting my brain to my vision just wouldn’t allow me to accomplish those goals.

Ten years later, that same eye-doctor marveled at my earning not only a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, but a Master’s Degree in Public Policy.  Better yet, I was working as a writer.  Well, sort of.  I was actually a Congressional investigator who got to write reports and testimony for Congress.  But one of those blue books turned out to be my first best seller, a feat I’m still proud of today—even if the subject matter could be used as a sleep aid.

Fast forward another two decades and I’ve finally accomplished my dream of becoming a published novelist.  Sure, I can’t actually read the printed version of my book, GAME ON.  Not without specially ground hard contact lenses, reading glasses, and a magnifying glass.  But I don’t have to read it.   I wrote it.  Those words on the page came from the voices in my head; voices that refused to be silenced by a nagging disability.  (Okay, there are those who think the voices in my head are my real nagging disability, but we’ll save that for another post.)

My process of getting those words on to the actual page is pretty convoluted.  Fortunately for people like me, the technology that allows speech to text has been perfected and is now widely used.  Who knew back in the days of being read to by friends that a talking phone named Siri would become my constant companion?  Or that the British voice on my GPS would take the place of struggling to read the fine print on a map?

Unfortunately, my reading vision will never improve.  But the stories in my head refuse to be denied. They flitter before my eyes and throughout my brain demanding to be told.  One way or another, I’ll get them on paper and if just one person reads my books and enjoys them, all my efforts will be worth it.  So far, my readers seem to like what I write, but you be the judge.  I’m giving away one of my books here.  Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of my debut novel, GAME ON.  Let me know what you think of it by liking my Facebook page /TracySolheimBooks or stop by my web site at

Monday, May 20, 2013

Jenny Gardiner: Bizarre things you learn on the internet

While my son was training for a marathon over the past few months, I started to notice a strange phenomenon when he returned from his long runs. He'd come into the house and ask me, "Did you just clean or something?"

As if!

Now, anyone who knows me realizes that is a completely ridiculous question to ask. I only clean for company. So obviously that hadn't happened, as we didn't have anyone coming to visit!

After this had happened a few times, I knew there must be some linkage to his distance running. So I went to my old reliable go-to source for knowledge, Google. Sure enough, I typed into my computer, "why do I smell ammonia after a long run?" and Google, via Runners World, told me the answer: because if your body lacks adequate carbohydrates to burn during exercise, it begins to burn proteins, and ammonia is a byproduct of protein metabolism. Your body is actually producing ammonia, which is picked up by your blood and carried to your respiratory system, where you then smell it.

Who knew?

My kids and I have long joked about the bizarre things you can learn on the Internet. Once, late at night on a long drive, we were coming up with stupid questions just to keep me awake, and we decided we simply had to know if spiders experienced flatulence. The answer: not exactly, but sort of. An unsatisfying response at that. Perhaps more entertaining, though, was asking Siri (the iPhone virtual assistant, to this unfamiliar with her) to find that out for us. Siri, the font of all knowledge.

Last week I was making a large batch of granola, only to realize that the Aunt Jemima Lite "syrup" (if you can call it that) in my closet wasn't a satisfactory ingredient: all the recipes called for real maple syrup. Now I'd recently heard in the news a story about a major heist — of maple syrup — due to it's exorbitant price, and realized that the cost of said syrup would preclude my purchasing it to save money while making my own granola instead of buying the expensive stuff already made. But then I remembered, ages ago my mother had sent us one of those odd gifts we never got around to using: a "breakfast" kit, with some sort of flavored waffle mixes and a bottle of — ta-da! — maple syrup, long since relegated to the back of the food pantry. I checked out the bottle, with a veritable antique expiration date stamped on it, and gave up hope on being able to use it. But then, I figured I'd Google it, just in case…And sure enough, I learned from Chowhound that I'm pretty sure I could use maple syrup tapped back in the 1800's, if given the chance. I cracked open the bottle; it was fine, tasted fine, needed not one bit of intervention, and the granola was perfect (although it was likely more perfect because I also used honey from my friend's bees).

We have high-maintenance pets that require all sorts of particular types of foods, but that can also not eat all sorts of particular types of foods or they could die. I am constantly Googling what you can and cannot feed parrots and rabbits, for instance. Thank goodness our dogs and cat can get by with the standard chow. The other day I was happy to see fava beans in Whole Foods finally (a harbinger of spring), and purchased a bunch. I then thought that would be a treat for my parrot. Alas, I learned from those-in-the-know in the bird world that that could've killed her. If you know our surly parrot Graycie, you'd probably have urged me to feed her a bunch, but I simply couldn't do that to the old girl.

Last night I noticed a large brown stain on the stove. Now I've mentioned my cleaning skills aren't exactly the hallmark of my existence, and I am particularly bad at getting cooked-on food off of the cooktop. Invariably I scratch the enamel, which is a bad plan. So as I was failing at Windexing away this large brown burn, I stopped. Let's see what my Google Guru has to say, I thought. Sure enough: a simple paste of baking soda and water worked like a charm. I might even start not loathing cleaning the cooktop. Nah.

A while back we had a large group at our house for dinner in New Year's eve and someone dripped butter on her new silk dress. Now I'd have written that dress off for a goner, stain-wise. But Google knew otherwise. Cornstarch! We rubbed a bit of cornstarch into the stain and it pulled the grease right on out. She was able to head on to another party that night without looking like she'd needed a bib for dinner.

I think the thing that intrigues me the most when I type a question into Google is that someone else has already entered that question. I'm now motivated to come up with bizarre questions that surely no one has contemplated (or at least contemplated into that vast database in the clouds). It's become my obsession to come up with the unasked one. I'd hate to believe there is no more unexplored territory in the world of curiosity, and I'm determined to blaze a trail, Lewis and Clark-style, until that one unknown question materializes. Wish me luck.

Jenny Gardiner is currently an armchair scholar at the University of Google. You can find her at
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
find me on Facebook: fan page
 find me on twitter here
 find me on my website

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Procrastination or Research? - Kylie Griffin

Writing in the fantasy genre most of my stories play like movies in my head as I write. Even in my down time I'll often drift off in a daydream, playing with scenes until it's their turn to be added to the story.

As a visual person I like to have those images recorded in my notes and series bible, so one of the tasks I work on as I type out my story is finding photos of settings, clothing, weapons, buildings, models or actors who resemble the world and the heroes and heroines I envisage. I can spend hours searching for just the right picture, particularly with my heroes/heroines - until I find the picture that resonates the most. 
A village in Italy aka The Gannec Fortress from ALLEGIANCE SWORN

After I've finished writing the book, usually the next task is putting together a portfolio of ideas for the art director at Berkley. My editor takes the photos and written descriptions to a meeting with Berkley's art director and they brainstorm a "look" for the cover of the book. This is made into a brief that is then sent to the cover artist (Gene Mollica is the man responsible for the covers in my Light Blade series) and he does his magic. 
Example of armour I included in my portfolio
The process from start to finish is particularly exciting. I love putting together the portfolio, of showing my editor and the art director the world I see in my head, and then waiting in anticipation as the brief is put together then eventually Gene sending back the finished product. When the cover comes through to my inbox it's an exciting time and I spend several minutes to'ing and fro'ing, hesitating to open the email, knowing months of work of a team of people lie within. 
Chris H. inspired Arek, my hero from ALLEGIANCE SWORN

So far I've been blown away with what Gene and the art director have envisaged for each of the Light Blade covers. The heroes and heroines have matched what I spent ages seeing in my head. Their clothes and the landscapes are spot on. And it makes the time I spend surfing the internet for images worth it. 

Arek & Imhara
But some might call this procrastination, yet I think it deserves the more honorable title of RESEARCH - what do you think? :-)

Do you form impressions of heroes from the books you read? Is there one actor/model you’d love to see play one of your favourite fictional character if the book was made into a movie? Share you thoughts and go into the giveaway for an ALLEGIANCE SWORN tote bag. Don’t forget to leave an email address so we can contact you!

Book #3 of the Light Blade series


There is no mercy in the demon realm. No escape. In this place of desperation and conflict, anyone who is not purebred is virtually powerless. Until a demon leader seeks to unify the races…
With the alliance of the humans and the half-blood Na’Chi forged, the demon Na’Reish prepare for war by seizing human blood-slaves. Captured during a rescue mission-gone-wrong, Light Blade warrior Arek Barial finds himself claimed by a Na’Reishi female who offers him an unexpected choice.

Raised in the elite ranks of a society she abhors, Imhara Kaal lives a dangerous double life as a Na’Reish Clan-leader and an advocate for a caste-free life that honors the Old Ways. Openly rebelling against the Na’Reish would mean her death, unless she can find an emissary willing to present her petition to the human Blade council.
But Arek isn’t about to blindly follow a demon—despite the intense attraction growing between them. And while hatred for the Na’Reish is all he has ever known, Arek must learn to trust Imhara, or risk the destruction of all three races…

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Christina Hollis: Research and Romance...

Sunset over the Golden Horn, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Bertil Videt 2003.
Istanbul by Bertil Videt

I wrote my first romance almost by accident, but found I loved the process. 
My writing career began in journalism. A  piece I did on Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, attracted a lot of interest. Writers love to see how many ways they can use the research they've done, so I decided to try expanding my work into a new biography of Robert. It felt like a good idea, but at the time publishers weren't interested in anyone who hadn’t been immortalized by Holbein - like the much more famous Henry VIII. 

Young Robert led a wild and exciting life, but he ended up as a pretty obscure footnote to English history. Without much in the way of written records or illustrations, I was told his natural habitat was between the pages of an academic thesis. That didn't appeal to me, so I put the idea aside. 

Then one day, BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour did a feature on historical romance. When I was at school, I'd loved the books of Georgette Heyer so I decided to try turning some of the general research I’d already done into a novel. The result was Knight's Pawn, which was published by Harlequin Mills and Boon under their Masquerade imprint. This was followed by five more historical novels for Harlequin, written under my pen name of Polly Forrester. At the time they were only available in the UK. I'm now in the process of bringing them out as ebooks, to introduce them to a wider audience. 

Lady Rascal is already on sale and my next title, Jewel Under Siege, is due for release later this summer. Jewel under Siege is set in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), at the time of the Crusades. Elena is a young widow who finds herself in an impossible situation when tough warrior Emil literally falls into her life. He is the enemy, but the lure of the forbidden means Elena and Emil are attracted to each other despite the dangers. Robert Curthose manages to become a footnote to their story, too!

One thing I've noticed when revisiting my earlier work is that my fiction tended to be sweet, rather than steamy. As my career in fiction-writing has expanded, I've lost some of my inhibitions so I’m busy warming up the scenes between Elena and Emil at the moment 

How do you like your historical romances - tender, or torrid? 

If you'd like to keep up with the latest news about Jewel Under Siege, you can subscribe to Christina’s newsletter by sending her an email at with the word “subscribe” in the subject line. You can also read her blog at, and see a complete list of her published books at