Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Neil Gaiman Made Me Cry (in the best possible way)

Earlier this month my son's school hosted "Movie Night." The best thing about Movie Night is my kids get to spend hours at school eating pizza, watching movies in their jammies and having pillow fights and from 6 until 9:30 pm my husband and I have the night off. This year we decided to go out to dinner. So how does Neil Gaiman figure into all of this, do you ask?

The restaurant doesn't take reservations. So when Matt left to drop the kids off at school and I went to get a table. While waiting for Matt to join me I was reading The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2013 edited by Paula Guran and The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury by, you guessed it, Neil Gaiman. The story's main character is forgetting things and words, and people. He decides it is his task to remember one thing so God doesn't have to and if he fails in his task the thing vanishes. Ray Bradbury is his task. He says:

And I fear that I am going mad, for I cannot just be growing old. If I have failed in this one task, oh God, then only let me do this thing, that you may give the stories back to the world.
We get dementia stories, on average one or two a month, over the transom at Flash Fiction. Generally, these are told from the perspective of the caregiver. The few stories that tackle the tale from the victim's standpoint are often a mess.

Why did this story make me cry those slow silent tears that creep down your face when the pain's too pure and true for sobbing? The ones you don't know have escaped until they drip onto the table?

Let's give praise where it's due. Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller. He manages to keep the necessary rambling when the character's mind drifts off point relevant and beautiful. But there was more to the why of being moved to tears.

Take it as a given that the story has lovely and heart breaking imagery. Take it for granted that you can hear Neil Gaiman's voice as you read the words. Take it for granted that the story didn't make the disease progression trite and treated the main character with dignity. Why did this this beautifully written story provoke such a visceral response from me?

Two reasons.

Neil Gaiman is good friends with Sir Terry Pratchett. Neil Gaiman was late to the 2013 World Fantasy Convention signing he's pictured in above because he had been out to dinner with Terry Pratchett. In 2006, Terry Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The literary community, heck, the world, reeled.  After all. if Terry Pratchett, who used his mind to create amazing worlds, could fall victim to Alzheimer's no one was safe. Because I know that the two men are close I felt like this one had been more than just a story to Neil Gaiman, that The Man Who Forgot was as much about losing Ray Bradbury in 2012 as it was about Terry Pratchett. Whether or not it was is irrelevant. I added an emotional layer to the story because of my supposition about the writer's motives. I'd also just seen Terry Pratchett and attended his interview at World Fantasy. I watched him struggle to find the words. And it broke my heart. And then I added another emotional layer to my reading experience.

My father suffers from Lewy Body Dementia. He was diagnosed in 2011 after my mother and I took him to a movement specialist. Unfortunately, my folks live in Florida so I can help out with his care as much as I would like. Still, in reading The Man Who Forgot I could see my father in the main character. Could see his struggles in the character's attempt to remember a word by coming at it sideways - thinking of book titles that contain the word to see if it will drop into place. Unfortunately, my Dad's dementia is progressing quickly.

The best stories, and this is one of them, touch our soul. We take more from them than the bare words. They give us a chance to address problems in our own lives through the thin veneer of fiction.

And that's why Neil Gaiman made me cry. And why I'm thankful to him for it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Santa Author

by Sam Cheever
Some authors like to give stuff away and some don’t. I personally know one author who refuses to give away copies of her books and just gives bookmarks and trading cards away at conferences. No bling for her. She’s not alone.

Promotional items cost money, giving away books takes sales out of an author’s pocket. But what about the old business adage, you have to spend money to make it? Does it apply to creative businesses as much as traditional ones?

I think it does.

Nobody can chart a direct affect from a promotional item to a book sale. It isn’t possible to identify a monetary result, because it’s not a direct transaction. It really isn’t even monetary. It’s emotional.

People love getting free stuff. They especially love getting clever and useful free stuff. And when they get something they really like they generally remember the person who gave it to them. That’s why I love fun promotional items.

When I start researching a new item to take to conferences or give out to new fans in their goodie boxes, my first goal is to find something nobody else has thought of. I rarely give out bookmarks anymore. I have boxes and boxes of them in my closet as proof!

When I give away a print book I include a Romance Trading Card because those are collectors’ items and they’re more fun. I load heart-shaped memory sticks with free reads, book trailers, and first chapters and give those away. They’re useful, they bear my website and tagline on their shiny red surface, and they contain lots of fun reading and viewing that will hopefully inspire someone to buy one of my books. It’s a win-win!

For my Declan Sands books (MM romance) I found a tiny tool kit with four screwdrivers and a tape measure. Again, useful, and bearing my website and tagline in case someone decides he/she needs a great book to read while repairing their computer with the toolset. I have knit caps with my website on them, book lights with twisty stems, mouse pad planners that double as notepads, and lots of other fun stuff.

Call me Author Santa.

Yeah, the stuff costs and I have no way of knowing if I’ll recoup my investment in book sales. But when people receive a goodie box or promo item from me they remember it and hopefully they’ll remember me. In fact, people often come up to me at conferences and exclaim, “Oh, you’re the one with the great promo stuff!” I just grin and offer them something else from my red velvet bag. ‘Cause I’m selling fun and smiles…hopefully I’ll even sell some books!

Happy Reading Everybody!

Bitten by Paranormal Romance gives Cupid a 4 – A Pack Howl!

"This is a delightful and sexy story of competition not only in the office, but between a cupid and a demon." Long and Short Reviews: "Cupid Only Rings Twice was a very cute story that was short but entertaining.”

This Valentine’s Day, Rori’s gonna meet an honest to god Cupid. And he’ll use more than arrows to win her love.

Rori Foster is too beautiful to find love. Men just can’t seem to look past her exterior to recognize the human being inside. Unfortunately he’ll have to save her from the bad intentions of a cocky Love Demon first. But Damios is determined to protect her. Even if he loses her in the process.

To read more or purchase Cupid Only Rings Twice please click the vendor's name. Musa Publishing | Nook | Kobo | Sony | ARe | Kindle | |

Sam Cheever writes mainstream romantic suspense and fantasy, all heat levels; and Declan Sands for M/M romantic suspense and fantasy. Her books are fast paced and fun loving. Not one of them will solve a single world problem, but you definitely won’t be bored while reading them! Sam’s published work includes 40+ works of young adult, romantic suspense, and fantasy/paranormal. Her books have won the Dream Realm Award for fantasy, been nominated and/or won several CAPAs, were nominated for Best of 2010 with LRC and The Romance Reviews, and won eCataromance’s Reviewer’s Choice award.

She is published with Ellora’s Cave, both Romantica and Blush; Changeling Press; Electric Prose Publications (her own imprint), Musa Publishing, and Red Rose Publishing. She lives on a hobby farm in Indiana with 11 dogs, 2 horses, and one husband.

Learn more about Sam Cheever on her blog Eclectic Insights. Stay connected on Facebook and Twitter. You can also find Sam on Goodreads.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving 2013

At a recent conference the keynote speaker said that 14 was the number of deliverance so that 2014 would be the year of deliverance. All I can say is: Amen to that. During an audience participation segment the speaker asked us (a group of about 40 women and 1 man) what did "success" mean for us. One woman stated that for her it meant being grateful. She had a point. No one gets anywhere in life by his or herself.  Thanksgiving is one of the times we reflect on our blessings. And it's time to consider mine.

I am thankful for my ever supportive and the opportunity to return the favor as he works on a large appeal due on December 16. My boys are both a source of joy and frustration. I am not thrilled about the questions about sex that are starting to appear on a somewhat regular basis. But heck, they are that age and I'm grateful that they feel comfortable coming to me to ask those questions. I'm  a romance writer, right? I should be able to field those questions. Right?

Despite serious health issues my father is still with us. I am humbled by the many many sacrifices my parents made for my siblings and I and for the person they helped me become. While it wasn't my Mom's idea, or even desire, I am glad that they sold their house near Tampa, FL to move into their house in Orlando, FL where my brother lives so he could help with my Dad's care while I was hundreds of miles away. I am eternally grateful to my brother for what he does for our parents, and his long-term employment with Disney so we can get into the park for a lot less than we would otherwise. I am sure my sons echo that last point.

I am thankful for the invitation to become a staff member for Superstars Writing Seminar. I've written about this before so I won't belabor the point but I am eternally grateful to the friends and fellow Tribe members I've met over the years at Superstars. Being part of the Superstars Tribe and the Flash Fiction Online family has done wonders for my confidence in myself as a writer and person.

When I left a second firm in less than 9 months in February, my clients came with me. I can't thank them enough for that leap of faith or their patience with me as I figured out going it on my own. One individual spent several hours tracking me down through three firms and my Linked In profile because I'd worked for one of his company's vendors more than a decade ago, and when they had a problem of a similar nature I was the one they wanted to handle it. I helped several clients get the benefits they were due and that, in turn, made their lives a little better, a little brighter. There are very few things better in life than knowing you were able to help someone who needed it. I thank my clients for giving me the opportunity to serve them.

I am humbled by all of you who spend a little bit of your week with me on this blog.

So, while 2013 has been full of challenges there was a lot of good too. I hope life is kind to you and your family and your life is full of things to be thankful for.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fool Me Once...

Shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This bit of conventional wisdom is particularly applicable in the law. If you need to sue someone for fraud you have to prove - in lawyer speak (and real person speak) - that the person made a misrepresentation of a material fact (he lied to you), when he made the misrepresentation he intended for you to rely on it (he wanted you to believe the lie and do something), you reasonably relied on the misrepresentation (a reasonable person would have believed him, and he tricked you), and you were damaged (you did what he wanted and, usually, lost money).

I've litigated and settled several fraud claims over the course of my career and I'm likely to deal with many more before I retire in the distant future. Resolving fraud claims poses a special problem. If you sue someone for fraud once, you are unlikely to "reasonably rely" on any lie in the future. It's that whole "fool me twice" issue.

In one settlement, the defendant (read as "the alleged bad guy") wanted my client to give up its claims against him before she paid the settlement amount in full. When I wouldn't concede the point with my opposing counsel, the defendant (you know how to read this now) called my client to plead her case. Among other things, she said that if my client released the fraud claim my client could trust the defendant to pay everything she owed.  Fortunately, my client is a big believer in "fool me twice." My client's response was that it was my client's word to release the claim after being paid that they would be trusting.

It's unlikely that a court will help the second time someone defrauds. Why? Because we sued the defendant for fraud. If the person had fooled me once, I should not trust that person anymore. My reliance on his word is no longer "reasonable." While there are some limited exceptions to this they are usually limited to cases where there is a physical or mental disability or where the relationship between the people are so close the continued reliance is acceptable. Fooled me twice is my fault.

Yet, human nature is such that most of us want to trust. Most of us want to believe that the first time was just a horrible misunderstanding. We give scammers our money. Sometimes we let them "sell" us the same bill of goods more than once - i.e. now that you bought our critique of your novel, we think you need some editing services, let us recommend. . . (another one of their fraudulent companies). There's so much noise out there it's hard to tell the truth from a flim flam.

Most of the time we get fooled twice. If we didn't the cliché wouldn't exist. Maybe the best we can do is be a bit more like Malcolm Reynolds (care of Firefly and Serenity). When Mal has to work with someone who's double crossed him before he goes into the deal knowing that he's likely to be bit again. 
Still, fooled me twice isn't a fun place to be. My client had the right of it in the one settlement negotiation. If someone's fooled you once, don't trust them again because . . .well, you know.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fun with Children and Electronics


Okay, I'm not advocating that we combine children and electronics. It seems to me that a child cyborg is the way to Armageddon, but that's another blog post. No, I'm talking about ways that technology  and its limitations can make for a hysterical car ride.

I work about 60 miles from my house. The distant isn't too terrible until you factor in two things. Some days I have "kid duty" meaning I need to pickup or drop off my sons that their schools. Then there's the "usual" D.C. Metro Area traffic.

Rush hour in DC is anything buy usual. At my first job as a lawyer, my boss use to complain that he never knew when I would be there was an hour swing in my start time. Now, I left the house within a fifteen minute window every day, and back then I had to drop both boys off at daycare on the way to the office. If it rained, if the sun shone, if there was an accident, if there were three accidents, f it was Friday or Monday, my travel time varied widely. And don't even talk to me about what happens around here when it snows. One day I called in saying couldn't get to the office because after two hours of commuting I still had at least two more hours to go. If I add a kid pickup or drop off into the mix my commute goes up at least an hour and a half one way.

Now, lots of people have worse commutes. I'm not seeking sympathy. Well, not a lot. But what an hour and a half to two hours of commuting each way with children in the car means is a lot of time with bored children.

We plan for long commutes. The boys are encouraged to bring their electronic game systems with
them because talking about our days only takes up about 15 minutes of the ride. The other day my husband and I divided and conquered to take advantage of the HOV lanes. Mikey and I headed into an hour and a half commute.  On this particular trip, Mikey's game system ran out of power. Ah, the joy of ADD kids who forget to charge electronics. But there's also a backup plan for this. My smart phone has many many game apps. Rather than play one of those, Mikey decided to play with the voice search function. You know, the function when you say "I am hungry" into the phone and it pops up a web search of nearby restaurants. Hilarity can ensue when the voice recognition algorithm misunderstands what you've asked.

Mike wanted to know how many turtles there were in the world. After much rephrasing of the question we learned that the population of pet turtles in the United States was 1,991 million. Singing "la la la la lala la" confused the search request. At one point it appeared that we'd so "frustrated" the search function that it gave up. The last 45 minutes of the drive flew by.

We arrived home with tears in our eyes from laughing so hard, and more than a few story ideas in my head from search requests that went horribly and hysterically wrong. I'm almost looking forward to today's commute.

Monday, November 11, 2013

One Day I Will Wake Up and It Will All Fit Together (after I use a jigsaw to recut the peices).

Royal Pavilion In Brighton
We all dream of that magic moment when life suddenly comes together and we get the thing we've always needed - even if we didn't know that was what we wanted. The overnight success story is part of the American Dream. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, though. If you pull the curtain back, you'll find out the "overnight success" was years and lots of hard work in the making. I'm not a big believe on waiting for things to happen. In fact, I hate waiting. I'd rather be doing something. As James A. Owen says in his book Drawing out the Dragons there are two kinds of people: those who things  happen to, and those who make things happen. If given a choice (and we're given a choice every day of our life), I'll make things happen. So, that's one of the many reasons I attend the World Fantasy Convention.

I knew this year's WFC would be a challenge since it was going to be in another country (England) and very few people I knew were going to be attending. Do you know what I found out?

I was worried about nothing.

Turns out I knew lots of people. People I'd met over the past few years at WFC and maintained loose contact with since. I recognized even more faces than that. One of the great things about WFC is you can go up to anyone, yes, anyone, and start a conversation. A lot of those conversations start with "Were you at" or "Didn't I meet you at WFC in _______?"

Going so far outside of my comfort zone allowed forced me to make things happen.

I saw landmarks that I'd only read about. I walked the streets of Mayfair. We saw a musical. Did you know that if you buy a video game in London it won't work on a game system bought in the United States? We found that out. A very helpful sales clerk at Hamley's allowed us to return the game despite (or maybe because of) our stupidity. I spent the day rambling around London after the boys got on the train to Heathrow, and explored Brighton. A friend, Matt, became acquainted with an antique bunny in the hotel bar (no bunnies or people were harmed in the making of this picture).

Did you know the beach at Brighton is comprised of large pebbles and not sand? Or that when the surf hits the coast it hits so hard that the spray shoots up more than five feet? Or that people surf off the Brighton coast? I didn't until I went.

When your small group of friends is otherwise occupied, and you don't want to sit alone or go up to the room and call it a day, you talk to people you don't know. You have no choice. Even if you manage to find a place to sit by yourself it isn't long before someone you know walks by or someone asks to sit with you. I met a lovely couple who live less than ten miles from my office by way of a mutual friend who lives on the other side of the United States. I talked with publishers, agents, editors, and to writers at all points in their writing careers, from superstars to people just starting out. I talked to fans and readers and  book dealers. I talked to so many people for so long that I lost my voice. And, of course, the collective group ran the hotel bar out of all its beer and mixers by Sunday night.

Okay, so swinging back to the topic - all the pieces in your life magically fitting together.

I believe that people come into our lives for particular reasons. Each person we meet, each interaction, is another piece of the puzzle that makes us who we are and life worth living. When you take a new piece out of the box, you often don't know where it goes or  how it fits with the other pieces. Heck, sometimes you can't tell if the piece represents a cloud, foam from the ocean's surf, the molding around a building or a cow. It takes work for the pieces to fall into place. Sometimes it even takes the handy application of a jigsaw to recut a piece.

If you don't go out and acquire the pieces, you'll never complete the puzzle. If you don't try to put the pieces together, you won't wake up one day and have it all fit together.

So, when one day I wake up and it all fits together that moment of serendipity will be because I spent the time to make the connections (gather the puzzle pieces) at places like WFC.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Conventions as Marketing Tools.

I’m in Brighton, England for this year’s World Fantasy Convention (October 31 - November 2. Like many of my friends my successes in writing can be traced back to my decision to attend a conference. But that's only a part of the story. Showing up is the easiest part. Whether you go to a convention to enjoy as a fan or to further your career be an active participant.

Making a convention a professional marketing tool is hard work. We attend writers’ conferences or seminars, to market our writing, and to meet other writers, agents, publishers and editors. For ease of reference, I’ll refer to agents, publishers and editors collectively as “agents.” You cannot sit in the seminars and only interact with the group of people you came if you are marketing.  Every day of a convention is an interview. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for you to help or hurt your career. So how do you ramp up your marketing potential at a Con?

Before: Do your homework.

One of the things I love about World Fantasy is it posts a list of attendees or "members" so I can see if my dream editor or agent is going to attend. This year WFC also has a separate list of attending publishers so if you don't know that Jane Doe is with XY Literary you can see that XY Literary is attending and investigate further. Conventions are often crowded. Decide in advance who you'd like to make a connection with, why, and how.

A few years ago, I wanted to talk to Peter Beagle because I love his stories. How was I going to meet to him? He was a WFC guest of honor, and was scheduled for a reading, an interview session, and to attend the banquet. So, I knew where and when I could find him. But I also asked my friends if anyone knew him. One of my friends did and she introduced me. Ask your friends and colleagues if they know the person you want to meet. Chances are that one of them does. A personal introduction will usually take you a lot further than cold calling on someone. If the person you want to speak with is not giving a lecture or otherwise booked to be in a specific place be prepared to check the Con Bar - regularly.

If you are planning to pitch a story make sure it's finished. "Finished" does not mean the first draft is complete. It means you have done everything you can to make the story as compelling and as free from typos as you can. Prepare your pitches. Ace Jordyn attended last year's WFC with a list of the people she wanted to meet, and pitches prepared for each work and each person. Amazing, really.

During:  Be professional and bold.

I've written about this before so I'm not going to delve too deeply here. Appearances matter. If you want to be taken as a professional, dress as one. Does that mean you have to wear a suit? No - unless that's your brand. Look at just about any New York Times best-selling author's website and you'll see what I mean. Lisa Scottoline, a retired lawyer and writer of legal thrillers, wears suits. She wore one when she was instructing at the Seak, Legal Fiction for Lawyers convention where I met her. Because of who she is and what she writes the suit is part of her brand. Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson don't wear suits.  In fact, I would guess that the bulk of professional writers don't wear suits. Still, they all look professional. You should too.

Act professional. Don't interrupt; don't be rude. Enough said about that.

Go boldly.  Go to the places the people you are looking for are likely to be. Talk to them when you find them. If you can't find them, ask other people if they might know where Jane Doe is. You must approach strangers at a convention. You must ask friends to introduce you to people you don’t know, but want to. At least one agent has said that she only signs people she’s met at a convention, and the agent doesn’t wear a name tag. She, like every other agent, wants to see you’ve done your research and that you’re passionate about your work. After all, if you’re not excited about and willing to sell your work, why should she be? Sitting in a corner watching the con go by will not result in publication.

Strike while the iron is hot. If you are engaged in a genuine conversation and someone asks what you are working on. Tell them. Don't ignore fellow writers. They might just be the key to later opportunities. And, frankly, most of them are fascinating to talk to.

After: Follow-up.

Oh lucky day! You spent three hours talking to your dream editor at the Con Bar. So, now what? Follow-up with that person just like you would do at any other networking event. Send her an e-mail saying you enjoyed meeting her at the Con. Make the e-mail specific so that if you drinking a purple girly drink remind the editor so she, who met hundreds of people at the Con, has the opportunity to place you. If you were asked to submit to the editor do so now. It not, just thank her for her time. At minimum, follow the editor's twitter feed or friend her on Facebook. Comment honestly on posts. If she posts something you find interesting you should comment on it. If not, you shouldn't. You are trying to forge and maintain a genuine connection.

Don't forget your friends. Remember all those people who helped you research and introduced you around? Thank them as well.

Conventions are one of our most powerful marketing tools if used correctly. Meeting someone at a convention may make the difference between a polite “no, thank you” and a sale. Treat every convention like an extended job interview because that’s what it is. Your primary goal is to form honest and lasting connections with the people you meet. Succeeding at that goal leads to success.

Anyway, I'm off to finish my homework before the official start of the conference. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Time and Money Equation

Okay, I have a commitment issue. Well, maybe it's better to say I have an overcommitment issue.

I describe myself as a mommy, writer, lawyer. Needless to say, each of those things is a full-time job. So, necessarily there are instances when the time required by each of them add up to more than 24 hours in a day. I'm in one of those periods right now.  So, I'll wake up at midnight, carve out four hours of work, then nap for a few hours before I have to get up to feed the horses, and take care of the dogs, cats, hermit crabs. My husband does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to running our boys back and forth to school and events. In other words, I make it work until I fall down. Okay, again not the best strategy but it's who I am.

Time is our most precious commodity. With time you can generate money, which then lets you buy more time by hiring someone to do those tasks you don't want to do or aren't cost effective for you to do. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

As a lawyer in solo practice I can generate my invoices every month. It takes me about 2 hours to prepare the drafts, review and finalize them, and mail the bills out. Two hours isn't a huge amount of time but you then need to put that into the time/money equation. I charge $300 an hour for my time. Generating bills "costs" me $600.00 in lost fees. I can hire someone to carry out this function for me for $24.00 an hour or about $50.00 per month. By hiring someone else I free up two hours of my time for $50. A net profit of $550. Worth it.

This same math applies to home improvements. Sure I can change out light fixtures, build a walk or put up a fence but is all that time worth spending? Probably not. So, while it annoys the heck out of me, I'll hire someone to do a task I could because I'd rather spend my time with my kids or writing or doing just about anything else.

But the equation falls apart when it comes to writing where time spent does not always equal money. In fact, the time/money equation strongly suggests that the time spent writing should be spent elsewhere. Writers spend hundreds of hours on each book and most writers don't their living solely from writing.

So why write?

Writing is a passion. You don't dedicate yourself to a profession where rejection is far more likely than success if you don't care deeply about what you're doing. Writers are self-motivating. We don't punch in on a time clock, literal or figurative. Most successful writers spend every moment they can in some writing-related task. Kevin J. Anderson, who is know for having multiple books published a year, probably works ten to twelve hours a day, seven days a week.  I keep a notebook with me so while I'm waiting for a case to be called I can scribble down another few sentences.

Passion makes all the difference in the world. I don't mind that I'm not up to date on the latest TV show. I'd rather be telling my own stories. I can spend the money earned during the day job to buy me more time to write.

Do I hope that my time investment in writing will pay off? Of course. But that's not why I write. Simple math only takes you so far. Your heart has to take you the rest of the way.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cooking with Musa

My fabulous publisher, Musa Publishing, is two years old this month! Sloane Taylor put together many of the recipes that have appeared on the Musa Blog over the last two years. As part of the birthday celebration you can get the cookbook (normally $2.99) for FREE when you buy another Musa book from its website.

There are recipes that I've posted on my blog but there are lots more you haven't seen before. So, please check it out here: Cooking with Musa.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What's love got to do with it?

A big thank you to Tina Turner for the title of this post.

The Wenches of Words were having a debate last week, and I thought I'd write a bit about the issue.

So, here's the heart of the matter - one of the Wenches wrote a suspense novel, her beta reader liked it, but said "where's the romance?"

Is romance required in every story?

Romance sells millions of books every year. The publishing maxim "romance sells" is still true today.

There are romantic suspense novels where the romance is the main plot line. If you plot those stories they will follow the romance "formula" and the characters will have their happily ever after. Those aren't the stories I'm talking about here.

The television shows "Moonlighting" and "X-Files" both suffered when the writers gave into pressure to have their main characters be romantically involved. "Moonlighting" was a comedy that played a lot on the sexual tension of the main characters. Once the show focused less on comedy and more on romance it lost its charm. The same thing happened with "X-Files," a drama. Once the focus shifted from the mystery of whether aliens existed to romance the show suffered.

So, does romance belong in every story? I don't think so.  In fact, sometimes adding the romance plot line in ruins an amazing story.

Not all men and women thrown or working together have to have sex.

I always find it odd when characters who are running for their lives stop everything to get some. I mean if people are trying to kill you shouldn't you be paying attention to your surroundings? Sure there's all that adrenaline from running, but really, you can't control yourself until the danger is over?

I'm reading a well known suspense series, and am up to the 10th book. In all but two of those stories the male lead has gotten some. I find I'm skimming over those sections because they annoy me. Not only are the characters risking death by taking time out for some, but I find I like the male lead less because he is so promiscuous. Unintended consequences. 

There's another suspense series I read with a female homicide detective as the main character. She has sex in most of the novels too, but it's with her husband who's a real dish. The husband/wife dynamic is a critical component of the main character. As a result, I don't find the romance to be an unnecessary add on.

For me a romantic plot line has to be necessary to the story for it to work in a non-romance genre story. What's that mean? The story has to be fundamentally altered if you take the romance out.  If the plot is unaffected by whether there's a sex scene or not that scene probably wasn't necessary.

So, what do you think?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New Release from Fellow Wench - Sara Daniel

Phone Interview with Willow Jefferies and Colin Vanderhayden
By Sara Daniel

Let’s start with an easy question. What’s your favorite color?
Willow: I didn’t have one until I met Colin. Now I’m partial to blue. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the Colin wearing a blue tie every day.
A blue tie every day. Hmm, so that must be your favorite color, Colin.
Colin: Actually, I like hazel.
The exact shade of Willow’s eyes. Interesting coincidence.  So, I’m curious. What do you each do?
Willow: I’m a massage therapist.
Colin: My massage therapist. I’m a CEO. I don’t have time to leave the office. In fact, I really don’t have time for this interview. I’m expecting another call any second.
Willow: He’s always on a call or doing some sort of work. Life is passing him by while he works himself to death in that office. Sometimes, I just want to disconnect the phone and show him the fun he’s missing.
Colin: I’m planning for the future.
What do you think he should be doing instead, Willow?
Willow: Living in the moment, obviously.
Those seem to be seriously opposing philosophies. What do you think of each other’s sayings?
Colin: She’ll be sorry when she wants to retire and has no money to do so.
Willow: Retire? Seriously, Colin. Yawn. You seem a little uptight. Is your neck bothering you again? Let me give you a neck rub.
Colin: We’re in the middle of an interv— Oh yeah, that feels gooood.
Wait, I still have more questions. Willow, why do you wear blue lip gloss? Colin, how do you stay in good shape when you sit behind a desk all day?
Hello? All right, then, I guess we’ve been disconnected…
By Sara Daniel
Genres: contemporary romance, office romance, medical romance, new adult
He only plans for the future. She might not have a future.
When live-for-the-moment massage therapist Willow Jeffries bursts into Colin Vanderhayden's office, she makes it her mission to loosen up the future-focused CEO, knowing each moment of the present is too precious to waste. Despite her immediate attraction, the only future she can offer is one full of heartache.
The last thing Colin needs is a flighty woman messing up his carefully-constructed plans, but her heavenly massages and addictive personality prove hard to resist. But he has no idea how sick she is.
No longer able to ignore her life-threatening medical condition, Willow slips away to spare Colin a miserable future with her. Is Colin willing to sacrifice his well-laid future plans to get Willow back?
Author Bio: Sara Daniel writes irresistible romance, from sweet to erotic and everything in between. On the personal side, she's a frazzled maid, chef, chauffeur, tutor, and personal assistant. She battles a serious NASCAR addiction and was once a landlord of two uninvited squirrels. She follows research and new developments concerning tricuspid atresia and other congenital heart defects, and she holds a special place in her heart for “heart kids” and their families.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Why Withholding is a Symptom of Lazy Writing.

Have you ever read a story where you thought something was happening, worried about the characters and then found out that what the writer had lead you to believe was dead wrong? Did it annoy you as much as it does me? Withholding is one of the main reasons why I take a writer off my "to be read" list.

Okay, so what do I mean by "withholding"? Simply put, withholding happens when  a point of view (POV) character knows information that is held back from the reader often in order to create a "twist" ending. There are a few times when withholding is appropriate. Withholding is expected in a "heist" story. Think "Ocean's Eleven" or "The Sting." The main character has a plan within a plan. His co-conspirators and the reader doesn't know what his real plan is until the first (and seemingly only) plan goes to heck. I love a good heist story even though I know the writer's withholding information from me.

Withholding is not when a character makes a false assumption. This device is often used in mystery novels. Whether the sleuth is a detective, private eye, college co-ed or a sweet old lady, the sleuth can be wrong. The hero thinks the killer is a man because of the strength required for the crime. Turns out the killer was actually a transgender woman. I just read a novel where the writer used this device and didn't have any issue with it. The "wrong" assumption was natural. Now, I did figure out the "twist" well before the reveal but that was because one plot line made no sense unless the seemingly random character in it was the killer. But to get back to the point when the main character makes a credible error the writer isn't withholding information.

So, let me give you an example.

The book I'm currently reading is part of a large series. It starts with a kidnapping in which at least one cop is killed and the potential kidnapping victim is rescued by our hero. It was a great scene. Until I learned that the kidnapping had been staged and my worry about the safety of my hero, who I've grown very attached to over the series, was unfounded. 

I was furious.


Because I'd invested so much time and energy in false tension. I'm still deciding if I'll pick up the next book in the series. Probably not.

Why is it lazy writing?

Because the writer could have hooked me by showing me the reason for the setup. Then I would have spent my time worrying whether the scam would work or not. Starting the story at the beginning (rather than having a lengthy flashback to set up the scam after it worked) would have given me a chance to know what the stakes were. I would have known why the hero was so desperate to be involved in the situation, and the lives that were actually at stake. I would have been more hooked had the writer bothered to tell me what was going on.

Withholding information generally breaks the contract a writer has with the reader. As a reader I trust you to give me the information I need to understand the story, or at least, the information that the point of view character has. If you withhold information to create false tension, I'm going to feel betrayed.

Another form of withholding is when the writer intentionally misleads the reader. Take the cross-gendered killer I mentioned earlier. I'd read another book from a well respected and well published author where the same twist was used. I will not read anything by that writer again. What's the difference between the transgender killed I mentioned above and this story?

In this one the writer used the killer's point of view and intentionally tricked the reader into thinking the killer was a he and not a she. The writer broke the covenant with me, the reader. The writer tricked me. I no longer had faith in that person's story-telling ability.

Why did the Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis work despite its significant withholding?

Two reasons. First, Bruce Willis's character doesn't know the withheld information. Second, there are clues throughout the movie that make sense in retrospect. The writers did a masterful job in subliminally giving you the needed information. The "big reveal" comes with a sense of "of course" and not betrayal. If you've never watched the movie you probably should. If you have, go back and watch for those clues.

Unless the story falls into the heist genre withholding shouldn't be a part of it. If the ONLY reason the "twist" ending works is because you withheld information or lied to the reader, you might want to rethink your plotting if you want me to pick up another of your books. At least, that's what I think.

So. what do you think?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cooking with Wenches - Vonnie Hughes' Curry and Captive


Welcome to the blog, Vonnie. Take it away...

Stirring up something good. Spice up your life with a new dish that's not expensive and really takes very little hands-on time. I offer you one of our family favorites and I think you'll enjoy it, too. This sweet, mild curry serves eight.


2½ lbs of cubed cheap steak (it will be simmered for ages so cheap steak is fine)
2 finely chopped onions
1 chopped apple
2 chopped carrots
2 tablespoons of ordinary flour
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons of golden syrup (light treacle)(corn syrup)
1 dessertspoon of mild curry powder
1 medium tin of tomato soup
1 small tin of pineapple pieces

Place the steak in a large pot. Add the onions, apple and carrots. In a bowl mix the flour, lemon juice, golden syrup, curry powder and a little of the pineapple juice. Stir this flavored thickening and add to the meat in the pot. Add the tomato soup and pineapple pieces. Cook on a very low heat for two hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (A little extra liquid may be needed. Water is fine).

Best served with rice and a tossed green salad. Now while you have that 2 hour wait, how about a step back in time with an intro to one of my Regency novels?

When Alexandra Tallis sets free the attractive man her sister stupidly tried to hold captive, her actions lead not only to a love she never thought to find, but also to a horrific family secret that threatens that love.

When Alexandra Tallis discovers that her witless sister has imprisoned their father’s nemesis, Theo Crombie in their attic, she quickly frees him, fighting an unladylike impulse to keep him as her own special captive. Despite the brutal beating she receives from her father for her actions, Alexandra continues to yearn for the delicious Mr. Crombie even though she knows that nothing will ever come of her dreams.

Injured and shackled in a stranger’s attic, Theo unexpectedly discovers the woman of his dreams. But how can he pursue those dreams when her bizarre family’s complex relationships threaten the very foundation of his existence? Somehow Theo must find a way through this maze to claim his lady.

To read an excerpt from Captive, please click HERE.

Vonnie Hughes is a New Zealander living in Australia. She loves animals and jogging. Vonnie writes Regencies and romantic suspense novels along with short stories.
She is presently working on a romantic suspense, working title: Innocent Hostage and a Regency novella, working title: A Tale of Two Sisters. Her earlier book Coming Home is about a soldier and a nurse, thrown together during the Napoleonic wars, who find more danger on their return to England than they ever did on the Iberian Peninsula. The Second Son is actually a prequel to Coming Home. A second son, filled with angst, stands to inherit a title and property through the death of a brother he has always loathed and mistrusted. A young disabled woman teaches him how to find his self-respect and how to love.

Another Regency Historical, Mr. Monfort’s Marriage, has businessman Matthew Monfort inveigled into marrying an earl’s daughter. With good reason he loathes the ton, so his new wife needn’t think she’s going to win him over, even though she’s quite delightful…and intelligent…and sweet…However Verity shows him that not all members of the ton are idle layabouts and that he can do much good with his largesse and with—shock, horror—the unexpected and embarrassing title conferred on him by Prinny.

All of Vonnie’s books are available on Amazon and Musa Publishing. Learn more about Vonnie Hughes on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Goodreads.

Nancy here again. I just finished Captive and I really enjoyed it. Alexandra isn't your typical lady of the Ton. In other words, she has spunk and a brain. Theo is pretty yummy too, and definitely as hot as the curry!  Please check it out.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What are books?

Seen on the wall at a bookstore in Baltimore. Seems to say it all, doesn't it?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stranger than fiction

What do we mean when we say that life is stranger than fiction. We mean that if I were to put the specific real life event into a book the reader would have a difficult time believing that the event could happen. The "stranger than" event would intrude into the willing suspension of disbelief and shatter the fourth wall. Sometimes the sense of disbelief comes from the converging of too many coincidences. Sometimes that sense is because the events seem so unusual to be true.

I've written before about the picture at the top of the post. The apparently homeless guy with a solar panels, a cell phone and a computer out protesting in front of an embassy in Washington, D.C. His situation stretches the bounds of what we're willing to accept as "real." I could write a whole thesis on why this is the case, but then this would be a very different type of blog.

Let me share my "stranger than" moment from last week.

The boys and I were driving home on Friday when we passed an airplane on the highway. Not flying above it. But on it. Think about that for a moment before scrolling down to the picture.

I have Bobby to thank for the picture since I was driving.

Apparently, someone had taken the plane apart (presumable at rivet points) so it could fit on the trailer. The wings were strapped to the outer panels of the trailer. Unfortunately, we didn't stay close enough to it in the traffic for me to do all of the mental gymnastics to envision the reconstructed plane. I still think all the parts weren't on the trailer although the landing gear could have still been inside the tail section of the truck.

Stranger than fiction.

For my second "stranger" moment this week I was shopping at a high end grocery store. Now this is one of those places where you will spend $200 a week for basic staples. On one of the shelves near the check out was a magazine with the following cover title: "Making Do With Less." Making do with less?  The store sells $1,000 bottles of wine for the love of Pete.  Geez. Let's put it this way.., if you were in that store shopping you weren't making do with less. Seeing the article was just surreal. 

"Stranger than fiction" moments can work in stories but a lot of groundwork is needed to make these very real moments seem "real." in the fiction context.

In the first case, the man with the solar panels, I'd have to develop some fairly detailed backstory that would have to be conveyed to the reader to explain the apparent contradiction between being homeless and having the disposable income to buy several solar panels, a computer, cell phone and cell phone/ internet plan. If I could convince you he could be real than I'd have a fairly amazing character to work with for my story.

I think I'd have to show you the plane being taken apart and loaded by someone with the knowledge to do so without harming it before you'd buy into the idea that a plane could be transported on a boat trailer. After all, I was watching it drive down the highway and still did a double take.

Stranger than fiction moments give us an opportunity to add depth to our story and address some of the odder things that happen in our life. So, I'm actively trying to figure out how I can insert these moments into my story. I think I have a role for my solar powered friend in my current WIP, Schrödinger Effect.  It's going to take me a bit to figure out what to do with the plane. Still, it will be SO worth it.

Stay tuned and I'll let you know how the journey goes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dress Has Always Been My Strongest Suit - NOT

I'm visiting the Musa site today and talking about that perfect little dress (and the journey to discovering that I was (*gasp*) a girly girl. Please check it out.

Musa Publishing: Dress Has Always Been My Strongest Suit: NOT by Nancy DiMauro Something strange happened to me when I turned 40. I became a girl. I was that Tom-boy on the school playground, w...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bell Pepper Relish from Wench Vonnie Hughes

from Vonnie Hughes
Australia is a large continent so that even though it's technically winter, in the northern areas it's still hot and produces great vegetables. Right now we have a glut of bell peppers (we call them capsicums) - green ones, yellow ones (my favorite, they're sweet), orange ones and red ones. So here's a dead simple recipe for Bell Pepper Relish. Only makes 2½ cups, but you can double it. I made it yesterday and gave some away. It's a roaring success.

Bell Pepper Relish

1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup white wine vinegar
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. allspice
1 tsp. garlic flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Boil at medium-high until the mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally - should take about 35 minutes.

Cool, cover and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated. Enjoy!

How about a step back in time with one of my Regency novels? I hope you enjoy this short intro.

When Alexandra Tallis sets free the attractive man her sister stupidly tried to hold captive, her actions lead not only to a love she never thought to find, but also to a horrific family secret that threatens that love.

When Alexandra Tallis discovers that her witless sister has imprisoned their father’s nemesis, Theo Crombie in their attic, she quickly frees him, fighting an unladylike impulse to keep him as her own special captive. Despite the brutal beating she receives from her father for her actions, Alexandra continues to yearn for the delicious Mr. Crombie even though she knows that nothing will ever come of her dreams.

Injured and shackled in a stranger’s attic, Theo unexpectedly discovers the woman of his dreams. But how can he pursue those dreams when her bizarre family’s complex relationships threaten the very foundation of his existence? Somehow Theo must find a way through this maze to claim his lady.

To read an excerpt from Captive, please click HERE.

Vonnie Hughes is a New Zealander living in Australia. She loves animals and jogging. Vonnie writes Regencies and romantic suspense novels along with short stories. She is presently working on a romantic suspense, working title: Innocent Hostage and a Regency novella, working title: A Tale of Two Sisters.

Her earlier book Coming Home is about a soldier and a nurse, thrown together during the Napoleonic wars, who find more danger on their return to England than they ever did on the Iberian Peninsula.

The Second Son is a prequel to Coming Home. A second son, filled with angst, stands to inherit a title and property through the death of a brother he has always loathed and mistrusted. A young disabled woman teaches him how to find his self-respect and how to love.

Another Regency Historical, Mr. Monfort’s Marriage, has businessman Matthew Monfort inveigled into marrying an earl’s daughter. With good reason he loathes the ton, so his new wife needn’t think she’s going to win him over, even though she’s quite delightful…and intelligent…and sweet…However Verity shows him that not all members of the ton are idle layabouts and that he can do much good with his largesse and with—shock, horror—the unexpected and embarrassing title conferred on him by Prinny.

All of Vonnie’s books are available on Amazon and Musa Publishing. Learn more about Vonnie Hughes on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Goodreads.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Avoiding 5 Writing "Mistakes"

I recently finished editing New Bohemia: Just One Night and am waiting to get it back from the first beta reader. Waiting for those comments is always nerve wracking. Instead of obsessing, I thought I'd share some editing tips I've learned from my "mistakes" along the way. The list below contains some of the things I check my work for before I end the first stage of editing.

1. Don't have disembodied body parts.

I owe my education on this one to Celina Summers, Head Muse at Musa Publishing. It was something that I'd never considered before she pointed it out. Now I can't ignore when it happens. I tend to make this "mistake" when I'm trying to vary sentence structure and not constantly start the sentences with a pronoun or proper noun.

What do I mean by disembodied body parts? When there's no person attribution and the writer uses only the unattributed body part to function as the sentence's subject. 

So, the sentence, "Fingernails scraped across the chalkboard" falls into this category. Really, the nails did it by themselves? They weren't attached to fingers and those fingers weren't attached to a hand? Unless, you're reading a zombie novel and the parts really can act without being attached to someone, it's probably better to write "Her fingernails scraped across the chalkboard." 

2. Watch out for unintentional distancing in the narrative.

My first editor at Musa, Jennifer Ayers, pointed this out to me. It was one of those face-meet-palm moments because it's brilliantly simple once you know what you're looking for.

One of the main benefits of a third person point of view (POV) is it creates a connection between the reader and the character. When we create distance between the reader and the character we run the risk of losing the reader's interest and having her put the book down. Unintentional distancing is a type of POV violation or redundancy.

You create distance with a sentence like: "Bob felt the coarse texture of the rough spun wool under his fingers."

Why? Because we're already in Bob's POV. So telling me that "Bob felt" takes me a step back. A "better" sentence might be "The coarse texture of the rough spun wool abraded his fingers." Why do I think that's better? The precatory language "Bob felt" is gone. Also, the second sentence is more interesting because it tells me more about Bob and the feel of the material.

3. Avoid talking heads.

There are days I wonder if I should have been a screenwriter. My first draft of a scene is generally mostly dialog. I don't fill in the character movements or blocking fleshed out. While "talking heads" scenes are fine in a first draft, there needs to be more detail before the first beta reader gets a look. Long stretches of dialog needs to be interrupted by action, even if that action is as simple as standing up,.

4. When you limit weak verbs, characters rarely just "stand up" or "walk."

Speaking of standing up, motion gives you a chance to show character. Whether a character eases down into a seat, perches on the edge or extends his left leg out straight ad stiff when he sits tells a lot about who he is or his emotional state.  There's a difference between a character who "danced" across the street, and another who "lumbered" across it. The words "dance" and "lumber" evoke different mental images. Did you see a female moving for "danced" and a male for "lumbered"? I did.

Verb choices matter.

5. Remember the setting.

I just finished reading 20 storied for Flash Fiction Online's slush pile. At a guess one quarter of those stories suffered from the White Room Syndrome. It is almost never appropriate to ignore the setting. It is almost never appropriate to set a scene in a white painted room with white furniture. Yawn. I've seen a character waking up in a fully white room work once in a story. Once. And that character woke up in a hospital cell in a futuristic Center for Disease Control Center.

Also, keep in mind that POV matters when describing setting. An interior designer will notice more and different details than a 5 year old when looking at the same room. But both will notice and mentally, at least, comment on the space.

I hope this was helpful, or at least interesting. Now I'll go back to waiting. Sigh.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Holley Trent's Low-Fuss Summer Salad

from Holley Trent
Happy summer, everyone! This easy cold salad is great for potlucks and outdoor parties, and travels well. Combine everything except the dressing the night before to save time the day of your event.

Holley’s Low-fuss Summer Salad

2 cup pearled barley, cooked tender but not mushy
2 small tomatoes, diced
1 large cucumber, diced
2 green onions—whites and greens—sliced thin
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. water

Drain cooked barley and allow to cool.

Toss barley with tomatoes, cucumbers, and green onions. If serving the next day, cover and refrigerate.

Half an hour before serving, mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin with water in a small jar with lid. Shake well. Pour over salad and mix gently.

Serve salad at room temperature.
Easily serves 8.

*Mix extra dressing if you like a less dry salad.
**Salad can be easily doubled or tripled.

Here's a brief intro of my latest release for your reading pleasure.

The psychic didn't go looking for love, but she should have seen it coming.

Marcia Andrews is a freelance psychic consultant. Sick of living hand to mouth, she accepts a contract with Raleigh Police. A new gang called The Cardinals is terrorizing The Triangle, and Marcia gives the department an edge in tracking them.

Help that she is, one cop isn’t so keen on her involvement, and makes sure she knows it. Detective Nat McCoy would rather see Marcia in his bedroom than the bullpen. The gorgeous Scotsman isn’t the typical chauvinist pig, though. He’s keeping a secret that even the psychic doesn’t anticipate.

A close encounter with a Cardinal’s bullet knocks Marcia off her game when the police need her most. She loses hours to trances and ghosts haunt her sleep. She can hardly function, and everything she thought she knew about playboy McCoy suddenly seems questionable.

McCoy thinks he knows the cure for what ails her—him. But can she trust him?

Love by Premonition is available for purchase now at the Musa store and also at third-party vendors such as and All Romance eBooks.

If you’d like to stay up to date on my progress with its spin-off, visit me on my blog or follow me on Twitter. Holley Trent is the author of Executive Decision, Mrs. Roth’s Merry Christmas, and Her Resident Jester – all available now from Musa Publishing's Calliope Romance Line. To see all of Holley Trent's Musa Publishing books, please click HERE.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer Book Report

The summer of “can’t put down” books

        Back to school is around the corner and I’m helping my two boys, who waited until the last minute (again) to complete their book reports. I decided to lead by example. I’ve already confessed to being a not-so-closeted romance reader and writer. You also know that my favorite time for reading romance novels is at the beach, and we’ve just returned from our family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. So, I thought I’d share 10 books from my summer reading list. It’s also a bit more eclectic than normal since I’m researching my next novel, Schrodinger Effect, which features Vonna from Paths Less Traveled. In no particular order:

1.         Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Fantasy.

Neil Gaiman started out writing a short story, but ended up with this lovely little novella. A suicide releases a supernatural creature into our world. In trying to send the creature back, Lettie Hempstock unwittingly allows it to lodge inside a 7 year old boy. Years later, that boy returns home for a funeral and discovers he’s forgotten about that summer day and the magic at the end of the lane.

This is a great little story. I fell into the narrator’s voice, spellbound. I finished it in one sitting, pausing only grudgingly to get a plate of food before the teenagers at the beach ate it all. The only criticism I have of it is the price-point. At $15.00 it’s expensive for a novella, and at $9.99 it’s a really expensive e-book. Now, I bought my advanced copy through Barnes and Noble because it was a signed copy. Still, I think the price is well worth it.   

2.         Kevin J. Anderson – Veiled Alliances – Fantasy.

In my opinion, Kevin is one of the greatest world-builders writing today. Veiled Alliances is a prequel to his Saga of the Seven Suns series. One hundred and fifty years after the Earth sent out its generation ships, Earth’s government has given way to a puppet king controlled by the Hanseatic League. The generation ships are found and given safe harbors by an alien race. With the gift of FTL (Faster Than Light) engines, Earth is poise on the brink of becoming a major player in the universe.  

I “read” this one on audio book. The 4 plus hour recording got me most of the way to the beach. Unlike some prequels this one wasn’t forced or awkward. A large part of that is likely due to Kevin’s detailed outlining. Before Kevin had written the first word for the series, he would have already known the events set forth in this prequel. Whether you’ve read the other books in the series, or Veiled Alliances is your first journey to the Seven Suns, it’s definitely worth reading. 

3.         Jeaniene Frost -  Halfway to the Grave. – Urban Fantasy with Romance.

Cat, the kick-butt heroine, is half-vampire. She hunts the undead in an effort to find and slay her father for destroying her mother’s life.  Then she's captured by Bones, a vampire and vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership. Cat agrees to help Bones cull the undead population in return for his help finding and exterminating her father. Life and unlife is never that simple though, and Cat finds Bones more tempting than any man with a heartbeat.

I also finished this one in a day.  The tone and take no prisoners heroine reminded me a lot of Gini Koch’s Alien Series. One of my friend loaned me this book at the beach when I’d run out of other stories. It was the first time I’d read anything by Ms. Frost. I’m definitely looking up the rest of the series.

4.         Sloane Taylor – French Tart (Naughty Ladies of Nice) – Erotic Romance.

Donatienne Dubois pins her hope for a “normal” life on an exclusive cooking school in Nice, France. But one by one her expectations are shattered. Donni’s lifesaver is a bad boy too hot not to handle. For his part, Mark Anderson, is incognito, hating every moment. To pose as a student while keeping tabs on a rich wild child is his version of hell, until he partners with the dish of Crème Brulée good enough to eat.

I love Sloane’s writing, ability to transport a reader to the exotic locations she sets her stories and her characters. French Tart, a novella, lived up to all my expectations for Sloane’s work. I especially loved the foul-mouthed parrot who develops a crush on Donni.  

5.         John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – The Cases that Haunt Us – Nonfiction.

Certain homicide cases maintain an undeniable, almost mystical hold on the public imagination. This analysis of seven of the most notorious murder cases in the history of crime -- from the Whitechapel murders to JonBenet Ramsey -- often contradicts conventional wisdom and legal decisions. Using modern profiling techniques, the book reexamines cases we all know, and sometimes reaches fascinating and haunting results.

This is one of the many resource books I’m using for Schrodinger Effect. The writers take you through the criminal investigative process for each of the cases, noting how preconceptions or just investigative mismanagement affected the ultimate outcomes. A great resource and well-handled and sensitive narrative given the topics.

6.         Brenda Novak - Whiskey Creek series – Romance

Brenda Novak’s romances are great examples of the genre. One of the things I like about this series is that the first book, When Lightning Strikes, introduces us to a group of high school friends approximately 10 years after graduation, and each book in the series (so far) has focused on one character’s happily ever after.  The world Brenda Novak builds has a high degree of continuity and characters from the other books continue to interact as they really would have in any small community. 

 7.         Lee Child – Jack Reacher series, Books 1-5  – Thrillers. Jack Reacher is a retired Military Police officer with a monster case of wanderlust. His travels seem to leave him in the right places at the right time to become enmeshed in kidnapping, murder and mayhem. Given his military  background and specialized MP training, Reacher’s highly competent in many areas, and more than holds his own against FBI and Secret Service experts. I’ve listened to these books on audiotape. Dick Hill is a fabulous narrator.

 8.         David Farland – Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing – Nonfiction.

 A must read for every writer. Dave has long spoken about by drawing power from stories that came before; resonating with their readers' experiences, and by resonating within their own works. Frankly, Dave could sell this book for LOTS more and it would still be worth every penny. He teaches you exactly what resonance is and how to use it to make your stories more powerful with examples of how it is used in literature and other art forms, and how one writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, mastered it in his work.

 9.         John Scalzi, Editor - METAtropolis – anthology – Post-apocalyptic fantasy

 Audible was running one of its book specials, and out of the audiobooks I could get for $4.95 was this anthology. I have to admit I picked this one because it had one of the longer run times (I drive about 3 hours a day), and the high quality writers who contributed to the work.

METAtropolis is a shared-world anthology, where all the stories take place in the same created urban fantasy world, but it’s more than that. A typical anthology has a common theme – ex. Humorous horror stories – and the writers have little direction beyond that. A braided anthology has a through line and character. This is another step up in continuity. The five writers collaborated on the world. They all had the same blue print when they set their characters free and let them interact with this world.

10.       Harlan Cobin – Six Years – Thriller/ Suspense

Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, recommended Six Years on her podcast. I met Mignon several years ago at Superstars Writing Seminar, and have often liked the books she’s recommended. She didn’t let me down. Again, this was an audiobook for me.

Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd. Then Jake comes across Todd’s obituary. At the funeral, Jake gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife…but she’s not Natalie. As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. His search for the woman who broke his heart, who lied to him, soon puts his life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on a carefully constructed fiction.

This is another “can’t put down story.” It’s not a romance since the love story plays second fiddle to the mystery Jake’s trying to unravel. Cobin handles both the romance and the mystery with a deft touch. The characters are believable and I was rooting for Jake to solve the mystery, find the girl and live happily ever after. But you’ll have to read it to find out if he did.

Now it's time to get out to the pool with a book and enjoy the last few days of summer.