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Happy 2014!

Since I did a wrapping-up-the-old-year-building-goals-for-the-new-year blog post around this time last year, I thought it would be fun to look at my goals from last year and see what kind of progress I made on them.

1. Finish and Edit Works in Progress

So at the beginning of 2013, I had wrapped up revisions on Waking the Dead and it was on its way to submission by my fabulous agent, Natalia Aponte. That left me with another novel (first in a paranormal romance series) that needed an extra 20K words added to bring it to a commercially viable length. I also had a stand alone contemporary romantic comedy novel half written, and the the second book in a series half written.

That was a $^%#-ton of stuff to finish!

So how’d I do?

Well… not to shabby, as it turns out. The paranormal romance (working title Nixies in Dixie) got its extra 20K words, part of which contained a new subplot with a new character who will get his own book in the series. It placed second in MCRW’s 2013 PITCH Contest, and it is currently under submission by my other wonderful agent, Victoria Lea.

My rom com (working title Going Dutch) is finished and under submission as well. I’d like to thank my darling Dutch husband for the 13 years worth of material on which I built the banter in the story and for answering all of my annoying questions about Dutch-isms, aviation, and for the continued exploration of our fascinating cultural differences. I’ll give a shout out to my mother-in-law for reading it and correcting the Dutch language and usage parts.

Yes, you read that right. I sent my risqué novel to my mother-in-law to read. That’s one of the really cool things about the Dutch. They’re probably the least uptight people on the planet, and they have an incomparable sense of humor and the ability to laugh at almost anything, including themselves.

Alas, I didn’t quite finish up the second book in the paranormal romance series, but I did manage an extra 20K. Hey, it’s progress! I also went through three rounds of edits for my debut novella, Red Shoes for Lab Blues, and it was well worth it for the experience and the end product. Lyrical Press published it in May 2013 and as of the end of December, I met the personal sales goal I’d set for myself. I’m looking forward to selling more in 2014 as Lyrical joins forces with Kensington Publishing (see below).

2. Learn All I Can About Marketing and Promotions

Through contacts in my author networks and a few unexpected but VERY welcomed reviews (thanks, Booknatics!) , I was able to get hands-on experience promoting the novella through blog interviews, tours, and conferences. I was fortunate enough to win free admission to the 2013 Killer Nashville Conference through The Killer Nashville 2013 Investigator’s Sweepstakes. HUGE thanks to Logan Masterson for sponsoring the sweepstakes. Look for his debut, Ravencroft Springs, coming from Pro Se Productions 2014! I was lucky enough to catch a preview when we traded work for critiques, and let me tell you, this guy’s writing will give you chills.

I’m very pleased to have a second shot at marketing the novella, this time with the power of Kensington Publishing Corporation. Lyrical Press became an imprint of Kensington in 2014, and I look forward to a re-release and the opportunity to build a broader readership for Red Shoes and future work.

3. Give Back

Probably one of the most rewarding parts of this journey has been encouraging other authors and watching them begin their own journeys. One of my cyberpals made her first sale at the end of the year. To my great delight, she told me that my encouragement was one of the factors that made her decide to write and submit original material. How cool is that? I get to be a mentor, too! And…one of my crit partners is working on her first novel. Look out, world – she’s got a great story in the making and I cannot WAIT to see what she does with it.

I am so pleased to report that my cyberpal, M.Q. Barber, published Playing the Game: Neighborly Affection Book 1 with Lyrical Press (follow the link to read my interview with her) and she’s gearing up for the next installments in the series. Like me, she’s waiting for re-release from Kensington, and I have no doubt she’ll find wild success! After all, she didn’t make the top reads of 2013 Lists at Red Hot Books AND Satin Sheets Romance for nothing!

My critique partner, friend, and all-around fabulous writer Sophia Jones published three great stories this year: The Phantom and the Psychic, The Pharaoh and the Curator, and Desert Dreams (follow the link to read my interview with her). She’s geared up to share more of Shaylene and Derek’s adventures with a follow-up, Desert Desires. She’s promised me (okay, all of her readers, but I know she’s really writing it for me) a pirate story and I’m cashing in on that promise in 2014 – you hear me, lady?

I’ve been able to give back through my MCRW chapter by serving as a Melody of Love Contest judge – this is one of my FAVORITE ways to give back. I got my start with contests, and the valuable and constructive feedback I received have made me a better writer. I hope I’ve been able to do the same as a first round judge. I’ve also had the opportunity to beta and crit for some of my MCRW sisters and I’m hoping to see their work on my Kindle and/or in my hands this year – I’m looking at you, Adventure Girl (and thanks for the feedback on Going Dutch)! Look for Jody Wallace’s Witch Interrupted in February 2014. I got to beta that one and I LOVED it even more than the first in the series, Pack and Coven (and I loved that one a lot)!

I’ll have the opportunity to give back to many of my fellow Aponte Literary authors. Look for Debbie Herbert, Ariel Swan, Brynn Chapman, M.V. Freeman, Tanisha Jones, D.T. Krippene, Eileen Charbonneau, and Juliene Osborne-McKnight on my blog soon. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these authors and their work and look forward to sharing with my readers!

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 1.10.49 PMSummary

I’m counting 2013 as a success, and I think I’ll keep the same goals for 2014. Well, I’ll add a wish for more fangirl dream moments like the one I had meeting Jeaniene Frost at the Southern Magic Romance Readers Luncheon.

Squee!!!

So that’s my year in review and my hopes and aspirations for the coming year.

What are yours?

Welcome Mae Clair!

I am pleased as punch to welcome wonderful and talented author Mae Clair to my blog. Mae is a sister author with Lyrical Press, and I’m delighted she agreed to stop by to talk about her new release, Twelfth Sun. Now it’s no secret that I love a hot geek hero, and Dr. Elijah Cross fits the bill. Even better, heroine Reagan Cassidy is a bit older than Elijah, which is rather refreshing in a sea of older-man-bags-hot-young-thang titles. Elijah is no mere boy-toy, and both of the primary characters possess depth and plenty of heart. Throw in a maritime mystery and a scavenger hunt hosted by an eccentric and curiously absent host, and you’ve got yourself a page-turner!

 
twelfthsuncover
The hunky young PhD knows all about seduction, but what does he know about love?

Reagan Cassidy is settled in her life. She has a thriving interior design firm, an upscale condo, two cats, and a goldfish. As a favor to her uncle, she agrees to team up with his marine archeologist friend to validate and retrieve a nineteenth-century journal, reputedly that of a passenger aboard the doomed schooner Twelfth Sun. Finding a hunky twenty-five-year-old coming out of the shower in her hotel room wasn’t part of the deal, but it’s hard to complain…

Dr. Elijah Cross is cocky and he knows it. He enjoys trading barbs with the lovely Reagan. Barbs, and some innuendo. He can tell she’d rather get back home to her business than stick around for the extended treasure hunt they’ve been talked into, but he’s fine with the situation. At least, until the “clues” start getting personal.

Reagan finds Dr. Gorgeous is as skilled in matters of the heart as he is behind the lectern. Throw in a series of clues which mean more to Elijah than he’ll explain, several odd-ball competitors out to win the journal, a saboteur, and a lavish seaside mansion, and Reagan has enough trouble keeping her head straight, let alone her heart.

WARNING: Younger man, older woman, nautical riddles and romance.

Mae, let’s start with your heroine, Reagan. She’s on a mission to retrieve the logbook from a passenger aboard the nineteenth century ship, Twelfth Sun, detailing her disastrous final voyage. She wants the journal for her uncle, and expects assistance from a stuffy old academic-type marine archaeologist. Imagine her surprise (and ours) when a gorgeous twenty-something shows up instead. Reagan has more than a little trouble taking him seriously at first. And she certainly isn’t in the market for any romantic entanglements. So what is it about Elijah, aside from his good looks and sometimes-charming-often-cocky manner, that appeals to her?

D.B., thanks so much for having me as your guest today and for that fab intro! *blush*  It’s great to be here, and I love your insight into my characters! Reagan definitely didn’t expect Dr. Elijah Cross to turn out to be….well, Elijah…but because of the promise she made to her uncle, she’s stuck working with him. At first she’s irritated by his cavalier attitude, but it’d that façade that eventually makes her look deeper. She’s intrigued by the contrasts she sees in him – one moment confident and in control, the next charmingly awkward at a social function. And there’s no doubt Elijah’s persistence plays a part too. He doesn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer.

Oh he is most definitely persistent! Speaking of Elijah, I LOVE how authentic and well rounded you made his character. With his genius I.Q., he was thrust into the world of adults at an early age and is intellectually mature, yet you still give him that boyish charm expected from twenty-something males. He’s a bit socially awkward, but doesn’t fall into those over-used geek stereotypes; he can maintain complete focus on the task of interpreting clues, yet he’ll still take a plunge into cold ocean waters on a dare (and in order to impress a lady). How did you balance all of these complex character traits (which you did very well, by the way)?

Thanks for that lovely compliment! J Elijah was fun to write. I always love to explore what makes a character tick and Elijah was a proverbial fish out of water for most of his life (genius kid thrust into an adult world). I didn’t want him coming across brooding or reserved so I had to find a way to balance his intellect. I wanted him to be a character the reader could relate to. Maybe that was out of the question with his academic background, but most could relate to his insecurity at social gatherings or his quirky addiction to grape soda. And hey, any twenty-five-year-old is going to jump when challenged on a dare. Genius or not, some things never change, LOL.

Point well-taken, and any male between the ages of four and sixty+ is would most likely jump on a dare. Though she’s thoroughly modern and confident, Reagan struggles a bit with the age gap. This is a reflection of what is, IMHO, an unfair double standard in romantic fiction and our society as a whole. I definitely appreciated the fact that your story bucks this convention, as well as the cougar female and boy-toy younger male stereotypes. What inspired this pairing for you?

I heart star-crossed romances that buck impossible odds. Age gaps between the hero and heroine naturally have a built-in problem meter to overcome, so it makes a great launching point. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, believing in love at first sight and love overcoming all obstacles. Because of the stigma often associated with an older woman and younger man, it was the perfect set-up for what I wanted to accomplish. It created great conflict, especially for the first half of the novel while Reagan struggles with her attraction to Elijah.

Naturally I was a sucker for the romance, star-crossed and otherwise, but I also very much enjoyed the rivalry/bromance between Elijah and his rival, Brody Simpson. How important is it for you to round out your side characters?

Extremely. Side characters play a key part in every manuscript I write. My hero and heroine always take center stage but I like to delve into other relationships. It adds to the complexity of the plot which is important to me.

Any hints about what’s next from the Pen of Mae Clair?

That’s so cute! J I have a couple of projects in the works. I just finished the first draft of a romantic adventure novella, tentatively titled Solstice Island. It will be included in an anthology with several other authors and offered as a free read on Amazon. We hope to pub the end of the year or early in 2014.

I’ve also completed a romantic mystery called Eclipse Lake that revolves around two estranged brothers, a free-spirited photographer who falls hard for one, and a fifteen-year-old unsolved missing person’s case. If all goes according to plan, I’ll probably publish that in April or May of 2014.

You’ve been busy (adds to my TBR list)! How do you balance life and writing (yes, I always ask that question of my author guests because I’m always looking for advice on that!)?

I tread water most days. Honestly, sometimes I’m so exhausted I can’t see straight. My husband knows that Sunday afternoon is my day for writing. It’s a set commitment, so barring an emergency (or the occasional rare Sunday when I goof off), I spend 5-6 hours glued to my computer. I write blog posts in the evenings during the week (I work full-time) and occasionally even manage to grab an hour or two for my WIP of the moment. For now it’s working, but I look forward to the day when I can retire and devote more hours to writing!

Oh, I can definitely relate! Desert island – three must-have books?

The Bible. It’s got unrequited love, lust, murder, patricide, matricide, sibling rivalry, betrayal, forgiveness, uprisings and redemption!

The Terror by Dan Simmons. A masterful blend of history, myth, mystery, grisly horror and romance. And at over 900 pages for the paperback copy, it’s guaranteed to entertain for a while. J

Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts, because I’d want a good romance and Caleb Hawkins is probably my favorite romantic hero (though Phillip Quinn in Nora’s Inner Harbor is a close second) J

Mae ClairThank you so much for the wonderful interview. To learn more about Mae please visit her website www.MaeClair.com  Twelfth Sun is available now from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and iTunes. You can also connect with Mae onTwitter (@MaeClair1), her Facebook Author Page, and on Goodreads.

Mae Clair opened a Pandora’s Box of characters when she was a child and never looked back.  Her father, anartist who tinkered with writing, encouraged her to create make-believe worlds by spinning tales of far-off places on summer nights beneath the stars. She snagged the tail of a comet, hitched a ride, and discovered her writer’s Muse on the journey.

Mae loves creating character-driven fiction in settings that vary from contemporary to mythical. Wherever her pen takes her, she flavors her stories with conflict, romance and elements of mystery. Married to her high school sweetheart, she lives in Pennsylvania and is passionate about writing, old photographs, a good Maine lobster tail and cats.

Welcome M.Q. Barber!

I am delighted to welcome wonderful and talented author M.Q. Barber to my blog. M.Q. is a sister author with Lyrical Press, and I’m delighted she agreed to stop by to talk about her debut release, Playing the Game: Neighborly Affection Book 1. I was lucky enough to receive a sneak peak at the first few chapters when M.Q. was shopping it around, and let me tell you – she hooked me right away. I’ll admit I’ve not read much in the BDSM/erotica subgenre of romance, partly out of being a bit…squeamish. Playing the Game changed my mind and won my heart, however, with its emotional and psychological depth, strong heroine, and two very different yet equally compelling heroes.

 

PlayingtheGame_400pxBlurb:

She expects dinner with neighbors, but gets sex with a side of safewords.

Mechanical engineer Alice still drools over her sexy neighbors a year after she’s moved in. She can’t decide whether they’re roommates or partners, but either way, they spark a wanton desire in her that has her imagination–and vibrator–working overtime.

Henry, director of everything around him, studies human nature and applies philosophies to his paintings as well as his relationships. Quirky, polite to a fault, and formal, he follows his own code of honor even when it means denying himself.

Flirtatious and playful, Jay needs stability, guidance, and to please others. His antics counterbalance Henry’s stuffy ways while he brings a level of vulnerability and fun to everything the trio does.

BDSM play with the enigmatic artist and flirtatious joker across the hall allows Alice to put aside the linear thought processes which have kept her unsatisfied and distant with other lovers. She must dismiss her preconception of love, sacrificing her independence, if she’s to find a permanent place in their beds and hearts.

CONTENT WARNING: Explicit sex, graphic language, BDSM, bondage, spanking, M/M/F menage.

M.Q., I found your three main characters so compelling, particularly in terms of the way they balance one another within the context of their rather unconventional relationship. Since Alice is your POV character, we’ll start with her. She’s a smart, strong, and very independent woman who winds up becoming a submissive. This seeming contradiction actually works extremely well in your story. How did you reconcile these two opposing facets of her character development?

Thanks, D.B. I’m elated that the character balance works from a reader perspective. The three of them grew together that way; I’m not sure I actively did something so much as they showed me what they needed.

In Alice’s case, it’s been a very long time since she’s had someone taking care of her. She has a strong sense of responsibility to the people in her life, and letting go of control is both difficult and freeing for her. It demands an enormous amount of trust. Submitting to Henry is only possible for Alice because he has demonstrated his trustworthiness in their friendship. He creates a safe space for her to relax.

I think of it like having a public persona and a private one. Alice is the sort of person who wouldn’t break down and sob her heart out at her desk at work if she got bad news, but the second she got home and closed the door behind her to lock out the world, the tears would come. Henry’s shoulders are much nicer than an empty apartment.

In much the same way, submission is an emotional release. It gives her something she doesn’t know she needs in the guise of a game, a challenge that appeals to her competitive drive.

Makes perfect sense. Playful Jay serves as a wonderful foil for Alice. Clearly he has some past issues that have made him uncomfortable with certain aspects of domination play, yet he appears to have near complete trust in Henry. Their relationship is fascinating, particularly as viewed through the lens of Alice, who sometimes feels like an interloper. I LOVE that she struggles with intimacy issues more than their ‘games.’ What is it about Alice that draws Jay or that he needs from her to augment his dynamic with Henry?

Yowtch, you go right for the tough questions. Book two, Crossing the Lines, answers that question in more depth from Alice’s perspective as she learns about Jay’s past, and a separate Henry-and-Jay prequel shows how the two men got together from Henry’s perspective. But let’s see what I can say without spoilers. 😉

Two of the main factors at work are Jay’s primary kink and his playful orientation to the world. I said above that submission for Alice is an outgrowth of her trust in Henry. For Jay, submission is a primary kink, meaning he prefers to submit to his lovers in any sexual encounter.

That’s not to say he doesn’t trust Henry – he does, and with good reason. But it does mean he wants to be told what to do in the bedroom all the time. If he’s attracted to a woman, having Henry tell him how to seduce her makes her even more attractive. Since Henry has a strong voyeurism/exhibitionist streak, Jay is thrilled to play with Alice while Henry directs them. He gets to make two people happy and get laid – it’s a dream job for him.

As for why Alice in particular, the non-spoilery answer is that they both have a playful side. You may have noticed that Henry’s a somewhat serious guy, LOL. He’s loving and indulgent, but he’s a quiet, controlled man and Jay is an energy-filled flirt. Alice is Jay’s partner in crime, the woman who’ll tease him and laugh with him and still understand his need to submit to Henry.

She’s also an example of strength for him, but one that’s accessible because she, too, submits. Alice and Jay complement each other in that way: he sees her bravery in their physical games, and she sees his bravery in emotional contexts (more on that in book two). As you might expect, it’s a balance that Henry works to foster.

Yes, the three of them do work and play very well together. Now, to the enigmatic, intriguing (and flat out sexy as hell) Dom Henry. He is in charge, a true dominant, yet he is also thoughtful and caring while carrying the mantle of alpha male. As with your strong heroine in the role of submissive, these seeming contradictions give Henry so much depth and make him such a compelling character. Was it difficult to balance the alpha-Dom with the thoughtful gentleman?

Henry makes it easy, I think. Is an alpha who spends all of his time blustering and posturing and acting like a spoiled child with broken toys really an alpha, or is he an uncontrolled mess with insecurities he takes out on everyone around him? From Henry’s perspective, there’s a proper time and place for everything, and a man who means to call himself a dominant had better be able to control himself first. If he can’t master his own desires, who is he to say he can master anyone else’s?

When Alice and Jay give him their trust, he in turn gives them the domination they need from him. Neither of them have a kink for substantial humiliation or degradation, which is why you’ll never see Henry ordering them to lick the floor clean or hear him calling them whores or sluts. He studies his submissives carefully; he keeps track of their reactions to various games. He enjoys using his control to deliver an experience of overwhelming pleasure.

Henry is a gentleman because of his upbringing, and he’s a dominant because he prefers to be the chessmaster in his personal relationships. Neither precludes him from being a tender teacher for his subs, especially when their exhausted satisfaction is what he most wishes to see.

I agree! An alpha male can and should also be thoughtful and caring – those traits only enhance his appeal. For me, the best romances are those that incorporate plenty of emotional and psychological intimacy into the hot and steamy scenes. You don’t hold back on the sex scenes, but they are so beautiful and reveal so much about the characters and their motivations. How important is the sex-psychology interplay for you and does it come naturally (or do you have to work hard for it, pun probably intended)?

LOL! It comes first, actually. A sex scene that is only about putting Tab A into Slot B is more boredom than titillation for me. If it doesn’t engage my mind, I skim. So when I write, the sex is a vehicle for those emotional and psychological intimacies that the characters can’t always express in other ways.

It helps that Alice is highly analytical and that Henry’s very talkative. She’s always trying to make sense of her experience, and he’s always trying to coax revelations out of her. Bring the two of them together, and the sexual tension becomes a dance of cognition and recognition. If the sex scenes excite readers on intellectual and emotional levels beyond the physical, then I’ve done justice to the characters.

Any hints of what’s to come in Book 2?

Hints, eh? How’s this: the evolution of their arrangement, confusion over where the lines should be, tension as the emotional strings tighten, a deeper understanding of Jay’s fears, and confessions that change the game.

Sound fun? 🙂

Yes, sounds fun indeed and I cannot wait to read it! How do you balance life and writing (yes, I’m always looking for advice on that!)?

Oh, I’m terrible at giving that sort of advice – you’ve caught me. When I’m writing, I ignore just about everything else around me. The laundry piles up, my husband scrounges for his own dinner, and friends who text with invites get “Can’t. Writing.” as a reply. The characters completely take over my head. I scribble notes during lunch breaks at work and on the back of my grocery list while I’m standing in the checkout line at the store. When the characters are done with me, I take a deep breath and set the house to rights until it’s time for another round in the ring.

 Desert island – three must-have books?

Only three? You’re killing me. But you already know the first one I’d pick: The Silence of the Lambs. The literary language, the character complexity, and the symbolism and suspense make it a book I can re-read again and again.

For the same reasons, I’d pick Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Preferably the whole run of the series, if you let the four volumes of the Absolute edition count as one book, but if not, then the Worlds’ End collection. I love the story-within-a-story motif that shows up in those issues. Aside from being an incredible example of art and mythology and fantasy and reality and literature and just humanity in general, the Sandman books were the first comics my then-friend, now-husband loaned me. I might have fallen in love with his book collection before I knew I was in love with him. 😉

After that, well, there are a few hundred books I’d like to bring along. Forced to pick just one, I’d probably choose a childhood favorite. Charlotte’s Web, maybe, or one of the Little House books, or The Secret Garden, or Black Beauty, or Where the Red Fern Grows, or Little Women, or … yeah, it might be better to put all of the books I love in a box and take the first one I pull out in a blind test. Luck of the draw. I might feel less guilty about leaving the others behind then.

 The Silence of the Lambs would be tops on my list as well, yes. Thank you so much for the wonderful interview. To learn more about M.Q., please visit her website. Playing the Game: Neighborly Affection Book 1 is available now from Amazon, and Barnes&Noble, and iTunes.

Thanks so much for letting me visit, D.B. I’m always happy to babble about Henry, Alice, and Jay. Anyone who wants to keep up with my babbling or ask questions of their own is welcome to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Celebrating Strong Heroines

I’ve been spending way too much time on Facebook.

In the sea of cute kitties, the musings of George Takei, and political banter, I’ve fished out a few links that have made me think. Even better, links like the one below, courtesy of Upworthy.com, proved inspiring. Admittedly, the video clip created by Anita Sarkeesian is long, but it’s well worth a look and well worth considering:

Anita Sarkeesian on Misogyny and Damsel in Distress Tropes in Video Games

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.12.48 PMThe misogyny and worn out, overused, been-there-done-that-damsel-in-distress tropes she discusses in the context of video games are, of course, relevant to fiction. Genre fiction is filled with them, as are all forms of visual and written entertainment. In fact, what Ms. Sarkeesian so eloquently describes explains my aversion to a very popular fantasy series recently adapted for television.

On a positive note, however, I’ve found some very refreshing novels in the romance and urban fantasy genres (among others) that not only deviate from the classic ‘big, strong, dominant alpha male rescues helpless, submissive, weak female’ trope, they turn this trope upside down, shake it up, and churn out some incredibly compelling strong heroines (and heroes) in the process. These ladies kick ass, take names, and are as complex and capable as their male counterparts. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites:

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.14.13 PM1. Clarice Starling, Hannibal Lecter fictionverse

She is one of my all-time favorite characters from one of my all-time favorite novels, The Silence of the Lambs. Women are still underrepresented in law enforcement, including the F.B.I., but in the 1980s? As author Thomas Harris observes through the eyes of his protagonist:

All of Buffalo Bill’s victims were women, his obsession was women, he lived to hunt women. Not one woman was hunting him full time. Not one woman investigator had looked at every one of his crimes.

Not only must Starling face serial killer Buffalo Bill, she must overcome the old-boys’ network, her own personal demons, and she must match wits with one of the most frightening and fascinating killers ever conceived in the realm of fiction – Hannibal Lecter.

In the follow-up to SOTL, Hannibal, the genius killer himself sums up everything you need to know about Clarice Starling in a letter to his favorite lady:

You are a warrior, Clarice. The enemy is dead, the baby safe. You are a warrior.

The most stable elements, Clarice, appear in the middle of the periodic table, roughly between iron and silver.

Between iron and silver. I think that is appropriate for you.

2. Early Anita BlakeScreen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.20.20 PM

I resisted this series for the longest time, but I’m so glad I finally got around to reading the first 5 or 6 books, featuring the adventures of this necromancer/private investigator who specializes in cases revolving around some pretty frightening supernatural creatures. She’s a tough as nails heroine, though to author Laurell K. Hamilton’s credit, she portrays Anita’s strengths in a realistic manner. At just over 5 feet tall, Anita has to rely on weapons and wits (plus a bit of magic at times) rather than brute strength when confronting vampires, were-creatures, serial killers, and a host of other threats.

She definitely holds her own with male colleagues and suitors as she fights beside them. More often than not, Anita actually rescues the guys. If I had to wander the dark and dangerous streets of Hamilton’s St. Louis, I’d definitely want Anita to have my back!

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.27.43 PM3. Cat Crawfield, Night Huntress series

I’ve had a ball following half-vampire Cat Crawfield’s exploits in Jeanine Frost’s Night Huntress fictionverse. From vigilante vampire hunter to covert ops team leader to up-and-coming Master Vampire, Cat’s growth and journey toward confidence and self-acceptance are as delightful to read as her relationship with hot, sexy Master Vampire hero, Bones. They fight their enemies (and sometimes one another) as equals. And anyone who can earn the respect of the most infamous, bad-ass vampire of all, Vlad Tepesh, is a heroine worth celebrating.

4. Angel Crawford, White Trash Zombie seriesScreen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.16.07 PM

I’d been introduced to Diane Rowland’s Kara Gillian series by a friend (loving that one, too), but when I read the title of her first zombie book, I knew I’d have to grab a copy pronto. Yeah, I bought My Life as a White Trash Zombie for the title alone. Angel Crawford begins as stereotype destined to become a statistic. A high school drop out shacked up with a loser boyfriend, she can’t keep a job for more than a month and turns to pills and booze to stay numbed out. Her life takes an unexpected turn, however, when she becomes a zombie.

Angel is a fascinating character with a lot of depth and potential – becoming a zombie (seriously, it works!) gives her the impetus and means to get her life together.  Add in a series of unsolved murders, some entertaining side characters, and one hot cop, and you’ve got a great set up for a fabulous series featuring a kick-ass heroine. I also love her growing self-reliance as the series progresses – she even puts the brakes on the fast and furious relationship with her hot cop for the sake of personal growth. How refreshing.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.18.26 PM5. Ciara Griffin, WVMP Vampire series

I’ve become a HUGE fan of Jerri Smith-Ready’s work. After Requiem for the Devil, I fell in love with the vampire DJs of WVMP and their unlikely protector, marketing intern Ciara Griffin. Wicked Game blew me away with its originality, powerful themes, and middle finger to all of those over-used conventions that riddle the vampire fictionverse (e.g. uber-alpha/high-handed heroes and damsel-in-distress heroines).

The vamps of WVMP are scary creatures of the night, as vamps should be, but with some unusual quirks. They become trapped in their era at the time of turning and have trouble adjusting to change, often resulting in OCD and mental deterioration. Working as DJs helps them stay connected to the outside world (through current events featured in their news stories) while maintaining ties to their musical ‘Life Time.’ Ciara Griffin, recovering con-artist and jaded cynic extraordinaire, makes it her mission to save the vamps and their radio station safe haven from the clutches of soul-sucking corporate radio.

She falls for hot-yet-angsty grunge rock era vampire Shane McCallister along the way, but the romance blends seamlessly with the larger plot and, fortunately, doesn’t overshadow it (or Ciara).

6. Dr. Elsa Brandeis, Soldiers of Fortune seriesScreen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.24.11 PM 1

I adore everything written by my writing mentor, Jenna Bennett, but Fortune’s Hero proved an interesting departure from her mysteries. Captain Quinn Conlan has nothing left to lose – betrayed by his girlfriend during a weapons smuggling mission, he’s being held and tortured within an inch of his sanity by Rhenian ‘medics’ on their inhospitable prison colony. Among his torturers is icy Rhenian, Dr. Elsa Brandeis. His one and only chance at escape puts the frigid doctor in his clutches when he takes her hostage. In order to survive the elements on Marcia-3, free Quinn’s crew, and hijack a ship and flee the Rhenians, these two bitter enemies must form an uneasy alliance.

The alliance breeds understanding and attraction, but can they trust one another, or is their passion just a case of Stockholm Syndrome? When the Rhenians catch up with them, will Elsa rejoin her ‘side’ and condemn Quinn to a fate worse than death, or will she risk everything she’s ever believed in to save the rogue smuggler? Starting off as a Dr. Mengele-style torturer, Elsa is pretty much the antithesis of submissive. What Jenna manages brilliantly, though, is to humanize this strong, cold character while preserving her strength and cunning.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.26.06 PM7. Lt. Taylor Jackson, Taylor Jackson series

Thanks to J.T. Ellison, Nashville’s finest are well-represented in the form of homicide detective Taylor Jackson and her team, who spend their time chasing serial killers in and around the city. I could wax poetic about Taylor’s strengths and virtues, but J.T. sums it up best under the FAQs section of her website:

I wanted to write about a…woman in control, who’s strong without being strident, who commands the respect of her peers and her enemies. One who’s worked hard and paid her dues.

As far as I’m concerned, J.T. has succeeded and I’d rank Taylor Jackson right up there with Clarice Starling. I look forward to delving into her spinoff series featuring medical examiner Samantha Owens.

8. Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death seriesScreen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.32.56 PM

Think CSI meets The Canterbury Tales. Adelia Aguilar, the medieval equivalent of a forensic pathologist, faces a plethora of challenges when she’s called into the service of King Henry II of England: royal and local politics, the oppressive Catholic church (the grand poohbahs of which would love to see her burned), and a serial murderer of children she is charged with stopping. Adelia is the antithesis of an ideal medieval female, and thank goodness for that! Still, she manages to capture the attention of a knight – sort of. Former crusader Sir Rowley Picot, the king’s ambitious tax collector, is also out to catch the killer. When Dr. Aguilar saves him from a near-fatal knife wound, however, an unlikely romance blossoms amid the backdrop of the larger mystery plot.

The late Diana Norman (w/a Ariana Franklin) created a memorable, epic ballad-worthy heroine in her mistress of the art of death.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.33.55 PM9. Dr. Marina Singh, State of Wonder

State of Wonder was my introduction to Ann Patchett’s work (thanks to my fabulous Agent, Natalia Aponte, for the recommendation!). Being a laboratory researcher myself, I found reluctant heroine Marina Singh authentic and relatable. Singh embarks on a  journey reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (with a splash of the 1992 film Medicine Man). Her mission: travel to the Brazilian rainforest to discover the circumstances behind the death of colleague and friend, Dr. Anders Eckman, on behalf of her pharmaceutical company. The stakes are high, as formidable research team leader and Singh’s former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, claims to have discovered a compound that extends female fertility. Corporate greed, ethical questions larger than Swenson’s ego, and the exotic, deadly jungle setting round out this heroine’s journey and make for one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve yet read.

I also thank my lucky stars that I’ve never had a run-in with anyone as brutal as villianess (or anti-heroine, depending on your personal perspective) Annick Swenson in my own academic career!

10. Lisbeth Salandar, Millennium seriesScreen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.35.25 PM

Reading about the brutality inflicted upon bad-ass hacker Lisbeth Salandar at the hands of her so-called advocate was difficult. How she exacts her revenge upon the sadistic pig was nothing short of a kick-in-the-balls to male oppression and a no-holds-barred lesson in eye-for-an-eye justice. Love her or hate her, she’s the sort of heroine you won’t soon forget. While I found much of the narrative…sluggish, I never skimmed when Stieg Larssen gave Salandar page time.

Short list, but these characters are among those I’ve found most engaging and inspiring – they represent what I hope to achieve in the heroines I create.

So, good people of the Internet, tell me – who are your favorite strong heroines and why do you love them? I’ve always got more room on my TBR pile and I’d love to find some more great reads featuring strong female leads.

Welcome back, Jessi Gage!

I am delighted to welcome fabulous author Jessi Gage back to my blog. Jessi is a sister author with Lyrical Press, and after reading and loving Wishing for a Highlander, I just HAD to grab a copy of Road Rage. Everyman hero Derek’s day goes from bad to worse when his temper causes an accident on the freeway and he flees the scene. His guilty conscience plagues him with nightmares, and his only solace comes in the form of a beautiful dream girl – a dream girl who turns out to be very real and the map he needs for his journey to redemption.

 

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 2.33.35 PMBlurb:

Lashing out in anger, construction worker Derek causes an accident on the freeway. His truck escapes unscathed, but he can’t say the same for his conscience. Plagued by nightmares of the wreck, his only comfort comes in the form of nightly visits by a mysterious woman who interrupts his dreams with sensual caresses and words of solace.

Cami has no idea who she is, until she wakes in a hospital bed and learns she’s been comatose due to a car wreck. Her visits with Derek must have been a dream, so why can’t she shake the feeling he was a real man who truly needed her help?

When Derek learns his mystery woman is none other than the driver of the car he cut off and she is fighting for her life, he must decide: Is he man enough to face her and ask forgiveness, or will he run away and avoid the consequences of his anger, yet again?

CONTENT WARNING: Sex with a perfect, imaginary dream girl who really isn’t imaginary

A Lyrical Press Paranormal Romance

Jessi, your hero Derek is so relatable (love the ‘Blue Collar Boyfriends’ concept, BTW) – we’ve all been stuck in traffic, usually at the worst possible moment when we’re late and stressed about a plethora of problems large and small. Dealing with Nashville traffic on the morning commute definitely puts me in a mood – who or what inspired this character and his situation?

Thanks for the compliment, DB, and thank you for having me! I’m so glad you connected with Derek. He’s not a hero that’s going to please everyone because, like you said, he does something pretty horrible at the opening of Road Rage. But for those readers who are willing to give him a shot and see where his story leads, they won’t be disappointed!

Derek was partially inspired by my observations as a timid driver. I hate road rage, like hate it with a fiery passion. Anger on the road, where we’re surrounded by fast-moving weapons of glass and steel, is so incredibly dangerous. But like you said, we’ve all been in situations where we lose patience on the road, yes even me. And I consider myself such an easygoing person. Driving seems to be one of those things that brings out the worst in people. But are the people who act out on the road bad people? Does a bad decision or a single action that harms another make a man unredeemable? That was the seed that started Road Rage, and I learned that redemption IS possible. Key is taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Ah, yes – growth and working through one’s flaws is a great theme in fiction and in life. Flawed heroes are my favorite kind – give me a good, angst redemption story any day! That being said, it can be difficult to balance flaws with keeping a hero/heroine likable. What quality do you think makes Derek most redeemable?

Add-a-kid, LOL! I needed something to make the reader’s heart melt for Derek, because in my head, he wasn’t a bad guy, just a guy who needed to do some growing. He had to be a romantic hero not only whom my heroine’s love could change but also a hero worthy of her. I accomplished this through making Derek a divorced dad who spends weekends with his eleven-year-old daughter. His love for her is apparent in almost everything Derek does, and through that, the reader can see past all the exterior anger (which is explained, by the way, and is never directed at his daughter) to his tender heart.

I loved Derek’s relationship with his daughter and you’re right – it definitely shows his tender heart. Now for your heroine, Cami – also relatable and suffering from her own demons (and a coma!). In spite of those steamy ‘dream’ visits, she has plenty of reasons to hate Derek for what happened to her. What gives her such a capacity for compassion and forgiveness?

Poor Cami. She’s had a rough go of it. From the outside, her life looks pretty perfect. She has a good job, she volunteers, she’s active and healthy. But what people don’t see are the scars she bears both inside and out after making a mistake on the freeway. She was driving, and thus blames herself for the outcome of that accident that tore her family apart. While she still talks to her mother and brother, she has never really felt they forgave her for what she did. So she’s thirsty for love and acceptance. These are things her “dream guy” is all too happy to give her! Then when she learns Derek is the one who caused the accident that put her in the hospital, she has the unique perspective of someone who has been in a similar situation in the past and understands that one bad decision does not make a person bad.

So… Blue Collar Boyfriends implies series… Hooray! Can you give us any hints about what is to come?

Thanks for asking! I have two novels in the works that fit the mold I’m trying to create with Blue Collar Boyfriends. I love rough and ready men who go all soft and melty for the right woman. I love men who work with their hands and face danger on a daily basis.

I have one novel finished…just working up the courage to submit it to Lyrical, and I have a couple more that are in the idea stage. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really “branded” myself as an author yet. I write Highlanders and contemporary alpholes. Those two things totally don’t work together, but it’s what I like, so it’s what I do. Lyrical is awesome for bearing with me while I find my feet as a writer, LOL!

I think you should just focus on writing what comes naturally. Your themes of growth and redemption are universal and come through in highland warriors and alpholes (love that terms!) alike. Random question just for fun – dark chocolate or milk?

Dark.

Top three absolute favorite romance heroes?

Jamie from Outlander (duh, if you couldn’t figure that out from reading Wishing for a Highlader)

Raiden Miller from Kristen Ashley’s Raid

Jericho Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series (this series is not romance, but for urban fantasy it has a wonderfully satisfying emphasis on sex and love)

Thank you so much for the wonderful interview. To learn more about Jessi, please visit her website. Road Rage is available now. You can grab a copy using the links below.

zz_Jessi Gage headshot2Bio:

Jessi lives with her husband and children in the Seattle area. In addition to writing paranormal romance, she’s a wife, a mom, an audiologist, a church-goer, a Ford driver, a PC user, and a coffee snob. Her guiding tenet in her writing is that good triumphs over evil, but not before evil gives good one heck of a run for its money. The last time she imagined a world without romance novels, her husband found her crouched in the corner, rocking.

Buy Links

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Lyrical Press

Jessi Gage links

Website | Blog | Facebook Fan Page | Twitter | Goodreads

Red Shoes on the Loose!

My contemporary romance novella is now available from your favorite eBook vendor! Red Shoes for Lab Blues – a fun read that might just give you a nerd-gasm 🙂

redshoesforlabbluesBlurb:

Dr. Stacey Jamison thinks she’s close to validating PharmEx’s new anti-cancer drug. Her budding independent career, her boss’s tenure, and a ton of research dollars are at stake. She just has to prove Compound Z kills cancer cells.

So far, it doesn’t.

Then along comes Dr. Henry Chan, the department’s new rising star. Henry is smart, handsome, and confident. He’s also captivated by the enigmatic Dr. Jamison, who seems oblivious to her own charms. But will Henry risk his heart when the research project is at stake?

A rival drug company, an insider with a personal grudge, and militant animal rights protestors force everyone’s plans into disarray. Can their love overcome everything being thrown at them?

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

Welcome Jessi Gage!

zz_Jessi Gage headshot2I am delighted to welcome fabulous author Jessi Gage to my blog. Jessi is a sister author with Lyrical Press, and I’m thrilled to be in her company for upcoming new releases in June. I recently picked up a copy of her sweeping and steamy historical romance, Wishing for a Highlander, and boy, am I glad I did. With an unconventional heroine (my favorite kind!), a red-hot Scottish warrior who balances his alpha nature with a surprising tenderness, and a dash of magic, this is a great read you won’t want to miss!

 Blurb:

While examining Andrew Carnegie’s lucky rosewood box, single-and-pregnant museum worker Melanie makes a tongue in cheek wish on the artifact–for a Highland warrior to help her forget about her cheating ex. Suddenly transported to the middle of a clan skirmish in sixteenth-century Scotland, she realizes she should have been a tad more specific.

Darcy, laird in waiting, should be the most eligible bachelor in Ackergill, but a cruel prank played on him in his teenage years has led him to believe he is too large under his kilt to ever join with a woman. He has committed himself to a life of bachelorhood, running his deceased father’s windmills and keeping up the family manor house…alone.

 

wishingforahighlanderDarcy’s uncle, Laird Steafan welcomes the strangely dressed woman into his clan, immediately marrying her to Darcy in hopes of an heir. But when Steafan learns of her magic box and brands her a witch, Darcy must do what any good husband would–protect his wife, even if it means forsaking his clan.

WARNING: A pregnant museum worker, a sixteenth-century Scot, and a meddlesome wishing box.

If my gushing isn’t enough to convince you, getting the insider scoop from Jessi ought to do the trick.

Jessi, your heroine Melanie starts off in a bit of a bind – namely, she’s pregnant and alone thanks to being abandoned by her commitment-phobe of a boyfriend before she’s transported back in time and meets Darcy. What inspired you to take a risk on this unconventional situation for a romantic female lead (which works beautifully, BTW)?

Thank you for having me, D.B.! I’m honored to be here and so excited to share a release day with you! Red Shoes for Lab Blues looks like so much fun. I can’t wait to read it!

I was actually pregnant myself when I started writing Wishing for a Highlander. I remember feeling all at home in my body for like the first time ever, and I might have been a tad more interested in sex than before. I’d never felt more womanly than while I was pregnant. I thought, why aren’t there any pregnant romance heroines? Pregnancy is sexy! That’s how Melanie was “born.”

Oh, I remember those days – pregnancy hormones definitely spice things up, don’t they? I fell in love with Darcy from the get-go. He’s all male, all warrior, and definitely carries with him the masculine mindset of 16th century Scotland, yet he comes across as caring rather than high-handed. How did you balance keeping him true to his time while maintaining his appeal to his modern-day lady?

Well, the idea for Wishing for a Highlander started with Melanie, the pregnant heroine who loves history so much she works with it every day at the Charleston Museum. Darcy started out as this enormous boulder of a warrior who was kind of a cardboard cutout until I figured out what his issues were and how Melanie could help him deal with them as much as he helps her in the novel.

My characters tend to evolve slowly as I write. The key for me is always discovering what the characters’ goals are and what motivates them to keep trying to achieve those goals even when things go way wrong for them. (GMC, goals, motivation, conflict: if I can nail that, the novel writes itself—okay not really. I still have to do kind of a lot of work, but it’s way more fun when I know GMC.)

I think you created the perfect hero for Melanie in Darcy – the contrast between his tough exterior and carefully guarded heart was a great source for goals, motivation, conflict, and depth. And…speaking of, er, interesting cultural differences, I found Melanie’s efforts to educate Darcy on the joy of foreplay and her slow, patient awakening of his sexuality very authentic, amusing, and touching. What inspired this aspect of their story?

I’m so thrilled you liked that aspect of the story, D.B. I love me a good alpha hero. Karen Marie Moning writes some of the best (Highlanders too–YUM!). But I was curious about exploring a hero who had some alpha qualities on the battlefield but some beta qualities in the bedroom.

I did this by writing a twist on the much-loved theme of the hero educating the heroine in the finer points of sex. I turned it on its head and let the heroine be the teacher. Darcy has some deep-seated personal insecurities even though he’s strong in other ways. Melanie needs and appreciates Darcy’s strength and protection, and she’s able to reciprocate by patiently helping him overcome his personal issues.

It’s a dynamic I haven’t seen a lot in romance, I suspect because it can be a challenge to keep the hero believably strong. Maybe I’m a masochist for trying it, or just too new to know better, but it sure was fun, and I’ve gotten some good feedback, so I consider the dynamic a success.

Oh I do love to see conventional tropes turned upside down – you made it work beautifully! I was over-the-moon excited to hear there’s a sequel in the works. Can you give us any hints about what is to come in this series?

The Wolf and the Highlander will be the second book in my Highland Wishes series. In it, I will tell Anya’s story. That’s right. I’m giving the murderous whore a chance at redemption, and with a wolf-man no less!

Anya was a very naughty girl in Wishing for a Highlander. She’s got a lot to make up for, and she’ll get her chance to prove she can be selfless instead of selfish. In The Wolf and the Highlander, stakes get raised, and the steaminess will climb a notch. You won’t want to miss seeing Anya go from brash villainess to selfless heroine, all because of the love of one poor trapper with a rather large axe (you thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you?) Well, you won’t be disappointed in that regard, I promise.

Can’t wait to find out how Anya redeems herself! How do you balance life and writing (yes, I’m always looking for advice on that!)?

It’s a struggle and a joy. I stay home with my two little monsters…I mean darlings, and I keep very busy running them around, playing outside, keeping them out of trouble, and trying to be a good mommy. I write in chunks of time here and there, largely when they have TV time or are napping or are in bed.

I’d prefer to be able to focus on writing for larger chunks of time. 4 hours is a good length of time to sit and write, but I don’t get that. I might not get that luxury for a few more years. My motto these days is: Make it happ’n cap’n. You just gotta do it when you can and be smart about how you use your time.

One thing I’m HUGELY thankful for is that my mom babysits for me every Friday morning rain or shine so I can go to Cupcake Crew, my wonderful critique group. I get my weekly dose of critique, cupcakes, and snark and am good to go for another week. I don’t know what I’d do without my critique partners or my mom, who makes it possible for me to see them each week.

My goal is to produce 1-2 books per year. So far, I’m managing that much and am a happy camper. Maybe someday it will be more. *fingers crossed* But for now, I consider myself blessed to have such a wonderful opportunity to be with my kids so much while I do what I love (write!) in those windows of time that appear at random intervals throughout the day.

Sounds like you got some great strategies for success there. Desert island – three must-have books?

The Bible. The Stand. KMM’s Fever series (I’m cheating and making the third book a whole series of 5 books, but if you’re going to be a stickler, I’ll take the fifth book, Shadowfever).

Thank you for having me, D.B.! I’m so glad you liked Wishing for a Highlander and loved chatting about it here on your blog.

Thank you so much for the wonderful interview. To learn more about Jessi, please visit any of her online haunts:

Website | Blog | Facebook Fan Page | Twitter | Goodreads

 

For more information about Wishing for a Highlander or to buy your copy, here are the links:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Lyrical Press
All Romance