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Jess Russell is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Dressmaker’s Duke

“The Dressmaker’s Duke” by Jess Russell

Published as… Historical Romance

Jess Russell’s Guest Post

What is the appeal of writing and reading regency romances?

We all want to be transported. Think of the appeal and popularity of Downton Abby. We love the clothes, the manners, the intrigue. We love the separation of class and how that separation gets muddy and the classes (dare we say) mingle. We love to have rules and see how they get broken and the consequences of breaking those tried and true rules.

In the world of Romance writing there is always a happily ever after—the HEA. It is a prerequisite for the genre. Unfortunately that is not always the case in the real world where so many women struggle to gain their freedom, both personally and economically. Most likely there is no knight in shining armor to ride in and save the day, but we are strong and resilient when given the tools to be so.

However, in 1810, the time of, The Dressmaker’s Duke, woman had very few avenues open to them. A good marriage was the penultimate. Other options were few and far between and the consequences were dire when women pushed up against society’s rigid rules.

I chose to write a slightly older Regency heroine. At twenty-nine Olivia Weston was considered old; definitely “on the shelf” in terms of contracting a good marriage. As a widow she has experienced some of life and knows how precious real love is. She will not compromise. But what opportunities are open to an “on the shelf” widow who is also a lady? Not many.

I sew and so I thought Olivia being a dressmaker would be a good fit for my story. By posing as plain “Mrs. Weston” she is freer to pursue her business, but by being in “trade” she opens herself to behavior no lady would ever be expected to tolerate. This is where Rhys Merrick, my monkish duke comes in and he poses quite a threat to Olivia’s good intentions.

The world of a Regency woman is narrow, but she still has all the feelings of a modern day woman, she just must express them in more subtle ways. I see this as a challenge; a kind of mental and social tightrope. I think the best historical writers embrace these strictures and learn to move gracefully and creatively between the confines of their chosen world. These characters are not just witty cardboard cutouts from 200 years ago, they are thinking, feeling folk with problems just like you and me.

I love the challenge of weaving a tale within these tight Regency confines while still making it authentic to the period. Pitting my strong, independent lady-turned-dressmaker against my tightly wound duke was great fun!

“Have you nothing else to compensate me with?”
the duke asked, as if mentioning the weather.
Olivia’s whirring mind stopped dead. Ah…now we
have it. Her vision narrowed. The bloody cheek of the
man.
“Surely you have something you can barter with,
Mrs. Weston?” he continued, paying not the slightest
attention to her most lethal stare.
Two could play this game. “I am a dressmaker,
Your Grace. I make and sell dresses. That is the full
extent of my commerce.”
~ from The Dressmaker’s Duke

About the Book

Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned, he must have this fiercely independent woman.

Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.

As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?

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About the Author

Jess Russell Author Photo
As a girl Jess escaped the world of rigorous ballet class and hideous math homework into the haven of toe wriggling romance novels. She never imagined in her dyslexic brain she would ever come to write one, but one small scene grew into 359 pages, and contest wins, and multiple contract offers. Dreams sometimes do come true, just like the happy ending in the stories she loves.

Jess lives in New York City with her husband and son and disappears to the Catskill Mountains whenever she can. She is a sometime actress, award winning batik artist, and accomplished seamstress. Along with her sewing machine, she loves power tools and, what’s more, she knows how to use them.

Jess is currently working on revamping her Manhattan kitchen as well as writing two other stories, (working titles), Heart of Glass, and Mad for the Marquess. Please check them out in BOOKS.

Jess Russell is a member of RWA, as well as the Beau Monde and the NY chapters of RWA. THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE came in first in the Fool for Love Contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving Contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest and the Golden Rose Contest (also winning the best of the best). And finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City Opener, and the Lone Star Contests.

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Carmela Cattuti is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

Between the Cracks

“Between the Cracks” by Carmela Cattuti

Published as… Historical Fiction

Carmela Cattuti’s Guest Post

The Rewards and Challenges of Writing a Story Inspired by a Relative

There are many questions one should ask oneself when writing a story based on a relative’s life. How closely should I base my character on his or her real-life characteristics and circumstances? What about the peripheral characters with whom the main character interacts? Sometimes we need to employ literary devices to highlight a point that completely changes the character’s circumstances. I found writing a story about my great aunt, Angela Lanza Barone, a humbling experience on many levels.

Until I wrote Between the Cracks, I did not realize the depth of her influence on my life choices. I knew her quite well, in fact, she was my nanny of sorts. We lived in the same house with her and my uncle twenty five miles north of New York City. The house was a Queen Anne Victorian with four working fireplaces, large sliding French oak door, stained glass windows, and a grand staircase. It was a Grand Dame and one of the grandest homes in town. She told me her life story over and over again until I could repeat it verbatim. Angela handed me my novel on a silver platter as she did most things. I could have written it exactly as she told me and still have come up with a solid piece of work.

Unfortunately, it is a work of fiction with all the pitfalls and challenges the art form presents. I had to embellish parts and cut certain characters and scenes that were part of her landscape. I had to ask myself the difficult question: what do I let go of and what do I keep? When you are writing about a relative you know well answering this question becomes the ultimate challenge, so it is imperative you know what you want to accomplish by writing fiction. For myself, I wanted to integrate her qualities throughout the book so readers would ponder their choices in regard to religion, relationships, setting boundaries, and expressing individuality.

I’ve been asked how my family felt about the book. It has been resoundingly positive. Even my ninety nine year old mother has nothing but praise for novel and shows if off to her friends in her nursing home. I set out to honor my great aunt’s personal experience of immigration and assimilation into an evolving culture in the new world. My brother said, “You have done the family proud.” The positive feedback from my immediate family has aided me in continuing with the second book. In the next installment I am diving into Angela’s unfoldment in not only a changing America but a changing family and social structure. I think she was disappointed in how her life unfolded. She was cultural, creative, and spiritually aware at a time when Catholicism reigned supreme.

Many of my choices in life were based on her influence and her perception of me as a creative individual who should do exactly as she pleases. So, as I embark on the second book in my trilogy, I would support any writer to take on the challenge of writing about a relative. Self-awareness is the benefit.

About the Book

Join Angela Lanza as she experiences the tumultuous world of early 20th century Sicily and New York. Orphaned by the earthquake and powerful eruption of Mt. Etna in 1908, Angela is raised in the strict confines of an Italian convent. Through various twists of fate, she is married to a young Italian man whom she barely knows, then together with her spouse, immigrates to the U.S. This novel is an invitation to accompany the young Angela as she confronts the ephemeral nature of life on this planet and navigates the wide cultural gaps between pre-World War II Italy and the booming prosperity of dynamic young America. Author, artist, and teacher Carmela Cattuti created Between the Cracks as an homage to her great-aunt, who survived the earthquake and eruption of Mt. Etna and bravely left Sicily to start a new life in America.

Buy the Book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Book Depository

About the Author

Carmela Cattuti Author Photo
Carmela Cattuti started her writing career as a journalist for the Somerville News in Boston, MA. After she finished her graduate work in English Literature from Boston College she began to write creatively and taught a journal writing course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education As fate would have it, she felt compelled to write her great aunt’s story. “Between the Cracks” has gone through several incarnations and will now become a trilogy. This is the first installment.

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Between the Cracks

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Shirleen Davies is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

Wildfire Creek

“Wildfire Creek” (Redemption Mountain, Book Two) by Shirleen Davies

Published on… 26 January 2015
Published as… Western Romance

Shirleen Davies’ Guest Post

The Appeal of Western Heroes

Today, we’re going to talk about a fun subject: what makes the western hero so very appealing.

If you’re a fan of my work, I assume you agree that cowboys have a certain “je ne sais quoi” that makes them irresistible as leading men and romantic figures. You’d be in good company: the cowboy is an American icon, personified by men like Sam Elliott, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Tom Selleck. Let’s try to put our collective finger on their appeal, shall we?

1. The obvious, raw sex appeal.

This one requires little explanation. Cowboys have swagger. They wear jeans and boots, they always seem to have the perfect level of five-o-clock shadow, they’re strong and tan from working outside, and the cowboy rocks that kindly loner image like no one else.

2. They can, and do, take care of business on their own.

He’s tough, determined, rugged, and resourceful. All those masculine traits, and he can still cook his own dinner, mend his own clothes, and tend to his own home (or camp). A cowboy is a man who does what needs to be done, period, and it’s not a matter of what he should or should not have to do by virtue of his gender.

3. They display kindness and sensitivity.

Cowboys are known as men of honor, integrity, and simple kindness. They have good manners when they pass through town, and they’re good with animals (especially their beloved horses). These traits aren’t rare or hidden, either: they’re basic components of the cowboy ethic.

4. They live on the fringes of society, but integrate with grace.

Cowboys aren’t necessarily used to the creature comforts of living in a town. They don’t expect or need a roof over their heads, a clean and comfortable bed, a hot bath and a shave, or a woman lying beside them at night. “Need” is the operative word, here: they don’t need these things, but when the chance to have them arises, cowboys receive hospitality with unparalleled class and grace.

5. They’re gentlemen, without the baggage.

This ties in to both number four and number two. Cowboys don’t need women to take care of their more domestic needs, and they aren’t totally used to a woman’s company. The combination means that cowboys don’t have the unflattering, cosmopolitan trait of believing that his needs are a woman’s problem, but they do hold the appealing attitude that women deserve the utmost kindness, gratitude, and respect.

Sexy, self-sufficient, sensitive, gracious, and chivalrous…what’s not to like?

About the Book

“A passionate story of rebuilding lives and working to find a place in the wild frontier during the years following the American Civil War. A rugged, heartwarming story of choices and love in the continuing saga of Redemption Mountain.”

Luke Pelletier is settling into his new life as a rancher and occasional Pinkerton Agent, leaving his past as an ex-Confederate major and Texas Ranger far behind. He wants nothing more than to work the ranch, charm the ladies, and live a life of carefree bachelorhood.

Ginny Sorensen has accepted her responsibility as the sole provider for herself and her younger sister. The desire to continue their journey to Oregon is crushed when the need for food and shelter keeps them in the growing frontier town of Splendor, Montana, forcing Ginny to accept work as a server in the local saloon.

Luke has never met a woman as lovely and unspoiled as Ginny. He longs to know her, yet fears his wild ways and unsettled nature aren’t what she deserves. She’s a girl you marry, but that is nowhere in Luke’s plans.

Complicating their tenuous friendship, a twist in circumstances forces Ginny closer to the man she most wants to avoid—the man who can destroy her dreams, and who’s captured her heart.

Believing his bachelor status firm, Luke moves from danger to adventure, never dreaming each step he takes brings him closer to his true destiny and a life much different from what he imagines.

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About the Author

Shirleen Davies Author Photo
Shirleen Davies writes romance—historical, contemporary, and romantic suspense. She grew up in Southern California, attended Oregon State University, and has degrees from San Diego State University and the University of Maryland. During the day she provides consulting services to small and mid-sized businesses. But her real passion is writing emotionally charged stories of flawed people who find redemption through love and acceptance. She now lives with her husband in a beautiful town in northern Arizona.

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Carol Cram is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Towers of Tuscany

“The Towers of Tuscany” by Carol Cram

Published on… 16 December 2014
Published as… Historical Fiction

Carol Cram’s Guest Post

Tell us about researching Italy of the 14th century

I think the key to researching a period for an historical novel is to maintain an open mind. The Towers of Tuscany was my first historical novel. When I started writing it, I often got bogged down in details. I’d spend hours combing through books and the Internet in search of a specific detail, only to be often frustrated. I soon learned the art of reading research materials with my mind relaxed and at the same time alert for finding nuggets of information I could embed in the narrative. For example, I read a primary source about laws governing the management of the Campo (the principal piazza) in Siena and discovered that a law on the books in the first half of the 14th Century prohibited the eating of figs in the campo. What a great detail! I included it in the novel as an example of the control exerted by the civic government over the populace. This tiny detail foreshadowed the reference in the novel to the much more serious law prohibiting a woman to dress as a man. The existence of this law plays an important role in the plot.

My research consisted of many, many hours flipping through academic texts related to the period (I LOVE university libraries!) and searching out primary sources. Two favorite sources were Boccaccio’s Decameron, particularly for his description of the plague in 1348, and Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte. This second source played a huge role in teaching me about painting practices in the 14th Century. Written in the late 14th Century by Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, Il Libro dell’Arte is an amazing handbook for painters. Cennini advises painters about all aspects of the trade—from grinding pigments to making sizing from goat’s hooves to using gold leave to build haloes. He acknowledges the need for painters to have “passion and enthusiasm” for their work. A painter in the 14th Century did not consider himself an “artist” as we would use the word. A painter was a craftsman who served a long apprenticeship to learn the skills of the trade. Painters were also businesspeople who, with their painted panels and frescoes, made important contributions to religious and secular life in the 14th Century.

In addition to reading books and poring over source materials, I spent a great deal of time just looking at reproductions of the paintings and frescoes of the period. The historical novelist can learn a great deal about the dress, customs, and physical appearance of people by studying the art. All of the paintings referenced in the novel are real and still exist. or are based on paintings from the period. For more information about the art that influenced Sofia and The Towers of Tuscany, readers can check out the Art Guide on my Web site: http://carolcram.com/art-guide/

Over the past two decades, I’ve visited Italy several times on family trips, but in 2011 I made a solo trip to Tuscany to research The Towers of Tuscany. I spent many happy hours wandering the streets of San Gimignano and Siena, where the novel takes place. I also visited several art galleries, most memorably the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Uffizi in Florence, and the Pinoteca in Siena. The goal of my trip was to soak up atmosphere, which is not difficult to do in Tuscany. In San Gimignano, I also visited San Gimignano 1300—a museum that includes a scale model of how San Gimignano looked in the year 1300. What a gift to an historical novelist! I spent an amazing morning examining the model from all angles and talking with a lovely young guide who good-humoredly answered as many of my questions as she could. Readers who visit San Gimignano should put San Gimignano 1300 high on their list of things to see: http://sangimignano1300.com/eng/index_eng.html

During my research trip to Italy, I took just one day off to enjoy a wine tour of Tuscany (highly recommended – see my blog for details!).

Researching Tuscany in the 14th Century proved to be an exhilarating experience. I loved “reading between the lines” of academic texts to explore the motivations and beliefs of the people. The goal of an historical novel, to my mind, is to bring history to life and to see the connections between people in our own time and in the past. Some readers have expressed relief because they are not women living in the 14th Century. However, the plight of Sofia in The Towers of Tuscany is still shared by many millions of women today. I think historical fiction can remind us that not everyone in our world is fortunate enough to follow their passions and dreams without fear.

About the Book

Sofia is trained in secret as a painter in her father’s workshop during a time when women did not paint openly. She loves her work, but her restless spirit leads her to betray her extraordinary gifts to marry a man who comes to despise her for not producing a son.

After Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco during an attack motivated by a vendetta, Sofia realizes she must escape her loveless marriage. She flees to Siena, where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.

Meticulously researched settings and compelling characters are united with a strong heroine in this rich portrait of medieval Italy.

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About the Author

Carol Cram Author Photo
Carol M. Cram is the author of The Towers of Tuscany, an historical novel about a woman painter in fourteenth century Italy. In addition to writing fiction, Carol has enjoyed a great career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications for Cengage Learning. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist. She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada.

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Mercedes Rochelle is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

Heir to a Prophecy

“Heir to a Prophecy” by Mercedes Rochelle

Published on… 12 December 2014
Published as… Historical Fiction

Mercedes Rochelle’s Guest Post

What makes Macbeth stand out compared to the other Shakespearean tragedies?

What is it about Macbeth that stands out from the other Shakespeare tragedies? I think it might be easier to ask: what makes Macbeth a tragedy at all? Even though his eerie meeting with the Three Witches sets him on a destructive path, his rise and fall are truly of his own making, driven by his hunger for power. We the audience don’t cry for him when he gets killed in the end; rather, we are pretty satisfied by the event. Nor do we mourn Lady Macbeth as she descends into madness and suicide. Shakespeare has other heroes destroyed by their inner demons: Othello is eaten up by jealousy; Hamlet is doomed by his own indecision; King Lear, that old fool, is humiliated by his wicked daughters. Actually, none of these seem tragic to me, but at least we get a morality play of sorts. But not with Macbeth. His is a fairly straight-forward tale of ambition led astray; the bad guy gets it in the end.

Or is it that simple? Macbeth is a pretty multi-faceted story if we take a closer look at it. First of all, there is the supernatural angle. King James I, reigning monarch and Shakespeare’s patron, was the Witch Hunter extraordinaire. Why throw in the witches who seem to get away with wreaking havoc on poor unsuspecting Macbeth (not to mention Banquo, who certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered). Perhaps this was called a tragedy because Macbeth couldn’t resist the Witches’ spells, and so he was really a victim of their evil designs?

If you look at Shakespeare’s source, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, he suggested the Witches could have been “weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie“. The word “weird” has its origins in the Saxon word wyrd meaning fate, or personal destiny. Some even attribute the first modern use of the word “weird” to Shakespeare. If you look at the Weird Sisters from the Scandinavian point of view, the word wyrd translates to Urðr in Norse, namely one of the Norns of Scandinavian mythology who controlled the destiny of mankind. I favor this interpretation and used it in my novel.

Back to James I, if we remember that the King had only been on the throne for three years, there’s a good possibility that Shakespeare was introducing Scottish history to the English masses by glorifying the ancestors of their new King. Macbeth was written one year after the Gunpowder Plot, when James was nearly blown up with his Parliament. Guy Fawkes and his accomplices were horribly tortured, and it has been thought by some that the play was intended as a cautionary story for any other potential king-killers.

So it has been said that Shakespeare wrote this play specifically to please James I, which certainly makes it unique. I would be inclined to throw it in with the History Plays instead of Tragedies; after all, we have the Tragedy of Richard II and the Tragedy of Richard III grouped in with the Histories. Why is that? I see Richard II as much more a tragic figure than Macbeth. Who made this decision, anyway?

On the other hand, the historical Macbeth died two years after the Battle of Dunsinane (and not by the hand of Macduff), so I suppose the play is more imagination than history anyway.

About the Book

Shakespeare’s Witches tell Banquo, “Thou Shalt ‘Get Kings Though Thou Be None”. Though Banquo is murdered, his son Fleance gets away. What happened to Fleance? What Kings? As Shakespeare’s audience apparently knew, Banquo was the ancestor of the royal Stewart line. But the road to kingship had a most inauspicious beginning, and we follow Fleance into exile and death, bestowing the Witches’ prophecy on his illegitimate son Walter. Born in Wales and raised in disgrace, Walter’s efforts to understand Banquo’s murder and honor his lineage take him on a long and treacherous journey through England and France before facing his destiny in Scotland.

Buy the Book at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), Barnes & Noble, Book Depository or IndieBound

About the Author

Mercedes Rochelle Author Photo
Born in St. Louis MO with a degree from University of Missouri, Mercedes Rochelle learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they built themselves.

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Catherine Lloyd is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

Death Comes to London

“Death Comes to London” (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, Book Two) by Catherine Lloyd

Published on… 25 November 2014
Published as… Historical Mystery

Catherine Lloyd’s Guest Post

Regency England is a very popular setting for books. Why do you think this is, and why did you choose to write about it?

I think it’s a surprisingly easy time period for modern readers to understand, and with the popularity of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Regency romance novels, it is quite familiar to a lot of readers. Personally, I just find that era fascinating because we have war with France and the newly emerging nation of America, we have a Royal family who behave appallingly, and an emerging population wanting the right to vote and control their own destiny. It’s a huge period of change and totally unlike the repressive Victorian period that followed, which in itself was a reaction to the profligate nature of the Hanoverians.

Mystery writing was a new venture to me so I wanted to make sure I was familiar with at least the historical time period as I worked on making the mystery elements the best that they could be. I’m comfortable in the Regency and thought it worked really well with the constraints of writing a more ‘cozy’ type mystery where the setting and the small cast of characters play an integral part in the creation and the solving of the murder.

I imagined a village rather like Agatha Christie’s St. Mary’s Mead and realized that the daughter of the rector had the ability to transcend all social classes and poke her nose into everyone’s business. Setting her against the bad-tempered lord of the manor who is confined to bed after injuries sustained at the battle of Waterloo just gave the series a slightly different twist, which I enjoy writing immensely. In this second book, even though Major Kurland is on his feet again, Lucy Harrington still takes an active and sometimes dangerous part in solving the case.

About the Book

A season in London promises a welcome change of pace for two friends from the village of Kurland St. Mary—until murder makes a debut…

With the reluctant blessings of their father, the rector of Kurland St. Mary, Lucy Harrington and her sister Anna leave home for a social season in London. At the same time, Lucy’s special friend Major Robert Kurland is summoned to the city to accept a baronetcy for his wartime heroism.

Amidst the dizzying whirl of balls and formal dinners, the focus shifts from mixing and matchmaking to murder when the dowager Countess of Broughton, the mother of an old army friend of Robert, drops dead. When it’s revealed she’s been poisoned, Robert’s former betrothed, Miss Chingford, is accused, and she in turn points a finger at Anna. To protect her sister, Lucy enlists Robert’s aid in drawing out the true culprit.

But with suspects ranging from resentful rivals and embittered family members to the toast of the ton, it will take all their sleuthing skills to unmask the poisoner before more trouble is stirred up…

Buy the Book at Amazon, Amazon (Print), Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Books-a-Million, iTunes or IndieBound

About the Author

Catherine Lloyd Author Photo
Catherine Lloyd grew up in London, England in the middle of a large family of girls. She quickly decided her imagination was a wonderful thing and was often in trouble for making stuff up. She finally worked out she could make a career out of this when she moved to the USA with her husband and four children and began writing fiction. With a background in historical research and a love of old-fashioned mysteries, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to wonder what a young Regency Miss Marple might be like, and how she would deal with a far from pleasant hero of the Napoleonic wars.

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DJ Donaldson is Visiting!

Louisiana Fever

“Louisiana Fever” by DJ Donaldson

Published on… 5 March 2014
Published as… Mystery

DJ Donaldson’s Guest Post

What inspired you to start writing, and when?
Oddly, the thought that I wanted to become a novelist just popped into my head one day shortly after my fiftieth birthday. Part of this sudden desire was a bit of boredom with my real job. I was an anatomy professor at the U. of Tennessee and had accomplished all my major professional goals: course director, funded NIH grant, teaching awards, and many published papers on wound healing. So I guess I needed a new challenge. And boy did I pick a tough one.

I wondered, how does a novice like me learn to write fiction? Taking a few writing courses is an obvious answer. But I had the vague feeling that there were a lot of unpublished writers teaching those courses and I worried that all I’d learn was how to fail. I’m not saying this was the best way, but I decided to just teach myself. I bought ten bestselling novels and tried to figure out what made each of them work. What tricks were the authors using to hold my attention? What made these books so popular? In a sense then, maybe I didn’t teach myself. Maybe Steven King, Robin Cook, Pat Conroy, Michael Palmer, Larry McMurtry, and James Michener did. In any event, eight years later, I sold my first book. So, it took me about as long to become a published novelist as it did to train for medical research and teaching.

What is your preferred genre?
My first book was a mystery. As a beginning writer, that seemed like the best genre for me because mysteries have a classic structure that guides the behavior and direction of the main characters. In a very general way that structure provides those characters with goals and motivation: Goal: find the killer. Motivation: It’s their job. The genre also provides a structure for conflict: The killer doesn’t want to be found, so he will try to thwart the investigation. I had no idea that my first book would lead to six more with the same characters.

After six series mysteries I took a break to try my hand at writing stand-alone thrillers. (Stand-alones have a different cast of characters in each book.) Someone once asked me what the difference is between a mystery and a thriller. There can be a lot of overlap in the two, but generally thrillers put the main character in danger throughout the book. In mysteries, the danger often arises only when the protagonist begins to close in on the killer.

I have to say I like series and stand alones equally well. If you look at my list of published novels (seven forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers), it’s obvious that I’ve drawn on my academic background to write both kinds of books. They say to “write what you know”, and I have. Except that for every book, It’s taken about six months of intensive research to learn a lot of necessary material, both scientific and otherwise, that I didn’t know when I started the book. That research has been a lot of fun. For one book, I spent a week in Madison Wisconsin, visiting dairy farms… even had a milk cow poop on my shoes. (Okay, I didn’t like that part much.)

What was the hardest part of writing LOUISIANA FEVER?
Did you learn anything from writing that book and what was it?
My intention in each book is to reveal more about my two main characters, Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn by putting them in situations that cause them to change and grow. And the more books I write about them, the harder it is to develop these little character arcs. LOUISIANA FEVER was number four in the series, so my two protagonists were already fairly well fledged out when I began work on the book. At that time, I had no idea what would face them in the new story, or how they would react. But as pieces of the project took shape, opportunities appeared, as they always seem to do. In fact, those arcs for Andy and Kit turned out to be more significant than I ever expected. Strange as it sounds, in each book my characters teach me something new about themselves.

Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants?
I do a lot of planning and thinking before I start writing. In my mysteries I always know who the killer is and why he did it. Knowing who he/she is establishes a lot of the story and tells me who some of the other characters should be. If I didn’t know who did it when I started writing, it would be impossible to scatter the appropriate red herrings and real clues throughout the book. Even my medical thrillers all have a surprise reveal at the end. Those revelations have to be carefully set up. Having done all that planning, I then have to be sure I don’t make it all too obvious. Many of my readers who write Amazon reviews say they were surprised at the end. Occasionally though, a reader will think the story was too predictable. I’m never sure exactly how to take that. If they mean all the loose ends were tied up and everybody got what they deserved, fair enough. Because that’s exactly my intent. Our real lives are full of unresolved conflict and irritation, including hearing about killers and rapists who get off on technicalities. I think people read to escape that world. I want my readers to smile with satisfaction at the end of my books.

Are any of your characters based on real-life friends or acquaintances?
I’m sure my characters contain parts of many people I know. At first I was worried that they might recognize themselves and not like what they read. But I soon discovered that no one sees themselves as others see them, so any similarity goes completely unnoticed even when it’s there.

Tell us your latest news?
I’ve always wanted my books to be available on audio. I’m excited to tell you that my entire New Orleans forensic mystery series is now in production with Audible books. I haven’t yet heard any of it, so I’m really looking forward to listening to what they’ve done. The narrator is Brian Troxell, who has narrated about 75 other books for Audible. I’ve listened to some of those and I think he’s going to do a great job. When he asked me for some hints about how to portray Broussard, the greatly overweight New Orleans medical examiner, I told him to think of the character actor, Wilfred Brimley. From the moment I wrote the first words about Broussard I pictured him being played in film by Brimley.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t write for wealth or fame because most writers in the world, even those who have sold books to major publishers, can’t claim either of those status symbols. There’s an old quote that says, “You can get rich in this country by being a writer, but you can’t make a living.” Write because you love it. If you don’t love doing it then you can be crushed by the difficulties inherent in the pursuit.

About the Book

When Kit goes to meet an anonymous stranger—who’s been sending her roses—the man drops dead at her feet before she could even get his name. Game on.

Andy Broussard soon learns that the man carried a lethal pathogen similar to the deadly “Ebola”—a highly contagious virus, feared worldwide for killing its victims (grotesquely) in a matter of days. When another body turns up with the same bug, widespread panic becomes imminent. The danger is even more acute, because the carrier is mobile. The man knows he’s a walking weapon and… he’s targeting Broussard.

And when Kit Franklyn investigates her mystery suitor further, she runs afoul of a cold- blooded killer, every bit as deadly as the man searching for her partner.

Louisiana Fever is written in Donaldson’s unique style: A hard-hitting, punchy, action-packed prose that’s dripping with a folksy, decidedly southern sense of irony. Mix in Donaldson’s brilliant first-hand knowledge of forensics, along with the sultry flavor of New Orleans, and readers will be fully satisfied with this irresistibly delectable mystery.

Buy the Book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

About the Author

DJ Donaldson's Author Photo
D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology. His entire academic career was spent at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center, where he published dozens of papers on wound-healing and where he taught microscopic anatomy to thousands of medical and dental students.

He is also the author of seven published forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his wife and two West Highland terriers. In the spring of most years he simply cannot stop buying new flowers and other plants for the couple’s prized backyard garden.

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Holly Payne is Visiting!

Damascena

“Damascena” by Holly Payne

Published on… 9 September 2014
Published as… Historical Fiction

Holly Payne’s Guest Post

To create three dimensional, almost holographic characters and story worlds, I believe you have to inhabit your story as if you are living it yourself. That’s the only way I know how to draw authentic characters. I have to travel deep into the story world on the page and in real life. I’m a trained journalist so research is a natural part of my work, and often what I love most about it.

I usually spend time in the location of my story world first, regardless of the time period. My books are set in fairly exotic destinations, which is just a great excuse for me to explore new cultures. I spent a winter and summer in Dubrovnik, Croatia for The Sound of Blue, my second novel set during the Balkan War in the early 90s. I needed to see the landscape, architecture, the light, the foliage, all the colors, smells and sounds. I absorbed so much more than I could have ever learned in a book or online. I made some friends and was able to ask questions about the war that I would have never been able to learn otherwise. That level of human interaction is the most valuable resource for any book I write. I need to immerse myself in the place and get to know the people first and foremost, even if I have to leap back in time while I write.

When I was writing my first novel, The Virgin’s Knot, I spent many months traveling through Turkey over the course of a few years. I needed to know about the rug producing regions and meet the weavers, because my protagonist was a famous weaver in the 1950s. This brought me to Konya, Turkey—home of the Whirling Dervishes. I ended up at Rumi’s tomb in Konya.

At the time, I had no idea who Rumi was, what he had written or what he stood for. Everything changed after that day. I literally felt a charge in the air at the tomb of the tekke, the dervish monastery that’s been converted into a museum, where millions of people visit each year to pay homage to the great poet and mystic. I couldn’t believe I had no idea who Rumi was and I was eager to learn as much as I could when I returned to the United States. Fifteen years later, I ended up writing Damascena: The tale of roses and Rumi.

It was during my travels in Turkey when also had learned about rose oil production. I had a friend and colleague who was traveling with a group of aromatherapists on a mission to buy rose oil—a powerful healing agent. I saw an article in the Turkish magazine, Cornucopia. The pictures blew me away. I had never seen so many rose petals. It was gorgeous. The writer said something about being able to smell roses as far as one mile from the distilleries. I couldn’t believe that it took nearly four tons of rose petals to distill one kilogram of rose oil. I also couldn’t believe that rose oil was the binding agent for all perfumes and could not be synthetically reproduced. No wonder it cost nearly $1000 for a kilogram of rose oil. I was immediately hooked and compelled to travel to the world’s most famous rose production region, Bulgaria’s Valley of The Roses to learn as much as I could for Damascena.

One of the most magical travel experiences of my life happened during that trip. I hired a translator, a young woman my age, who had never set foot in any of her country’s villages. She kept kidding me, calling me “Crazy American lady,” when after befriending some of the rose pickers in a field, I accepted their invitation to pick with them at4 a.m. the next day. They were actually joking with me but that’s why I had come. I wanted to know what it was like to pick the rosa damascena, the kind of roses that yield the most power rose ‘attar’ oil in the world.

Picking rose petals required my translator to accompany me, and we ended up in one of the rose picker’s houses, sleeping shoebox style in a single bed, head to feet and feet to head. In the middle of the night, we left with the other workers to pick roses on a full moon. We climbed into a truck bed, covered with canvas, sitting knees to chest with only the cherry embers of cigarettes flashing in the darkness. When we arrived at the field, the workers continued to smoke, which only slightly masked the intoxicating scent of roses all around us. I would have never had this experience if I hadn’t prioritized traveling for research, and I’m so grateful I did.

About the Book

Holly Payne’s spellbinding tale brings the unparalleled poet, Mevlana Rumi, to life, and transports readers to the enchanting world of 13th century Persia. Simply but elegantly told, the story unravels the mystery surrounding a legendary orphaned girl, who discovers her gift of turning roses into oil. Named after the flowering rosa damascena, the girl reluctantly assumes the role of a living saint for the miracles she performs—longing for the only one that matters: finding her mother. Deeply wounded by the separation since birth, Damascena undergoes a riveting transformation when she meets Rumi and finally discovers the secret of the rose.

Imbued with rich historical research and inspired by the devastating disappearance of Rumi’s most lauded spiritual companion, Shams of Tabriz, Holly Payne has courageously opened herself to receive Rumi’s teachings and offer a timeless love story. Inspiring and magical, the story of Damascena transmits the wisdom of the heart, inviting us to transform our pain into love.

Buy the Book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Holly Payne's Author Photo
Holly Lynn Payne is an award-winning, internationally published author, writing coach and founder of Skywriter Books, a digital press and publishing consultancy. She is the author of four books. Her third novel, Kingdom of Simplicity, based on true story of forgiveness after she was struck by a drunk driver, won the Benjamin Franklin Award and was nominated for a national book award in Belgium. It has been published in the Netherlands, China and Taiwan.

Payne has served on the faculty of the Academy of Art University, California College of the Arts and Stanford, and loves helping people reclaim their voice through storytelling. She can sometimes be found hiking with her young daughter on Mt. Tam. She received her MFA from USC and writes stories of inspiration at www.hollylynnpayne.com

Her recent novel, DAMASCENA: the tale of rose and Rumi (Skywriter Books, 2014), explores the secrets of love during the time of Rumi. Foreign rights have been sold to Hungary and Turkey, where it will be published in 2015.

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Shanna Hatfield is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Christmas Cowboy

“The Christmas Cowboy” by Shanna Hatfield

Published on… 18 September 2014
Published as… Western Romance, Holiday

Shanna Hatfield’s Guest Post

It Happened at the Airport

Shades of black randomly interspersed with hues of tan and gray surrounded me as I gazed over a sea of cowboy hats at the Las Vegas airport.

After working our way through the crowd, my husband, Captain Cavedweller, and I settled at our gate to wait for our flight. While he read the newspaper and jiggled his boot-covered foot impatiently, I observed those milling around. Like us, the cowboys prepared to depart after attending the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and many of the accompanying activities.

Each December, the city of Las Vegas takes on a country vibe as the rodeo comes to town, bringing with it hundreds of vendors, thousands of spectators, and a whole lot of fun. As we sat at the airport that morning, the idea for a story began churning in my head.

Since so many of the cowboys who compete professionally spend a good deal of time traveling, I began to wonder how many of them flew from one rodeo to the next. If they were flying, it made sense that they might meet a girl at an airport who turned their head.

I began jotting down notes for a story idea and by the time we reached home, The Christmas Cowboy (Rodeo Romance, Book 1) was born.

The sweet western romance tells the story of Tate Morgan, a successful saddle bronc rider, who falls in love with Kenzie Beckett, a corporate trainer he frequently runs into at the airport. Despite their mutual attraction, the relationship is going nowhere fast. Kenzie has sworn of men in general and good-looking, charming cowboys in particular. It doesn’t help that Tate is the most handsome, personable guy she’s ever met. If he hopes to win her heart, this Christmas cowboy is going to have to pull out all the stops.

The second book in the series, Wrestlin’ Christmas, highlights Tate’s friend Cort McGraw, a world champion steer wrestler. Sidelined with a major injury, Cort struggles to come to terms with the end of his career. Shanghaied by his sister and best friend, he finds himself on a run-down ranch with a worrisome, albeit gorgeous widow, and her silent, solemn son. Five minutes after Cort McGraw lands on her doorstep, K.C. Peters fights to keep a promise she made to herself to stay away from single, eligible men. When her neighbor said he knew just the person to help work her ranch for the winter, she never expected the handsome, brawny former rodeo star to fill the position.

While researching details for The Christmas Cowboy, I became aware of a great organization called the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.

The JCCF is a non-profit organization that assists rodeo athletes who’ve sustained catastrophic injuries and are unable to work for an extended period. Because I think it is a terrific cause, now through Dec. 24, I’ll donate 10 percent of the net proceeds from all my book sales to the JCCF.

About the Book

Flying from city to city in her job as a busy corporate trainer for a successful direct sales company, Kenzie Beckett doesn’t have time for a man. And most certainly not for the handsome cowboy she keeps running into at the airport. Burned twice, she doesn’t trust anyone wearing boots and Wranglers, especially someone as charming and handsome as Tate Morgan.

Among the top saddle bronc riders in the rodeo circuit, easy-going Tate Morgan can handle the toughest horse out there, but trying to handle the beautiful Kenzie Beckett is a completely different story.

As the holiday season approaches, this Christmas Cowboy is going to need more than a little mistletoe to win her heart.

Buy the Book at Amazon, Amazon (Print), Audible, Barnes & Noble, iBooks or Smashwords

About the Author

Shanna Hatfield Author Photo
A hopeless romantic with a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure, Shanna Hatfield is a bestselling author of sweet romantic fiction written with a healthy dose of humor. In addition to blogging and eating too much chocolate, she is completely smitten with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.

Shanna creates character-driven romances with realistic heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”

She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America.

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H. D. Gordon is Visiting!

Santa’s Little Helper

“Santa’s Little Helper” by H. D. Gordon

Published on… 31 October 2014
Published as… Horror

H. D. Gordon’s Guest Post

I’ve spent all my life living in really old, really big houses. The kind of houses with dank, cement-walled basements and rusty hinges. The kind of houses a child could spend hours playing and hiding in, discovering strange new things in dark corners and crevices that gave pause upon approach.

The rooms were deep, but not tall. The sunlight that filtered through the windows in contained rectangles always seemed somehow dustier, floating with tiny specks that made you hold your breath, so as not to breathe them in, as you passed through.

If you’ve ever lived in one of these places, you know that the very walls, the ceiling and the floorboards are constantly singing out to their occupants; groaning and creaking and “settling”–as my mother liked to call it– all around you. To me, the sounds always reminded me of a complaining stomach, and I couldn’t help but feel as though I was the undigested meal inside it.

Yes, I had an imagination. A tendency to envision impossible possibilities. And boy, was it a source of pain for me when I was younger.

I remember one night in particular. I was an embarrassing thirteen years of age, and just then trying my darnedest to sleep in my own room, with the lights off. (I spent a long time sleeping in my mother’s or sister’s room, secretly hoping that when the monsters showed up–because I was certain they would show up–they would eat the other person first, leaving me with a chance to escape.)

I was lying there, telling myself there was nothing to be afraid of, when I heard it. The tiniest of noises, the slightest of “settlings”, and my body went board-stiff in the bed.

It was Chucky! That evil, hideous doll from Child’s Play! I was certain! And there! There! Did I hear correctly?! Dear LORD, please tell that wasn’t the pitter-pattering of his little plastic shoes crossing my bedroom floor, huge knife in hand!

Dear Reader, you may be laughing now, but I was frozen with terror. I tried to scream. For the love of GOD, I tried with all my will to scream my head off, but I was so scared that I’d lost control of my vocals!

That was the only time in my life–save for the occasional nightmare– when I literally had my voice snatched from me by fear. I can tell you, it was not a pleasant feeling.

What happened, you wonder? Well, after what seemed like an eternally long moment of sweat-chilling terror, I finally regained control over my body, and bolted out of the black room, barking my shin on the dresser and somehow escaping with my life.

By the time I worked my courage up to return to the room–standing with my body out in the hallway and searching the inside wall blindly for the light switch–Chucky had hidden from sight.

The point I hope I’m making is, I’m no stranger to terror. Specifically, the kind of terror only an over-imaginative child can feel. And if you were like me, and would like me to take you back there, back to that time when you used to lie staring into the shadows, shivering under the covers, just take my hand, and I’ll lead you there.

I’ve got a little buddy named Santa’s Little Helper, and he’s just dying to meet you.

About the Book

He shows up in a white box, with a bright red book under his arm… He wears a jolly grin and hat, a suit with gold bells and green yarn… He watches you for Santa, or so his red book claims… But though his grin is jolly, he’s not here for fun and games…

The children have been chosen, such precious little souls they are… And may the Gods be with them, if they wish to make it very far… For Santa’s Little Helper does not say, but knows important things… He knows when you’ve been bad or good, and what monsters stalk your dreams… He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…He’s picking out his presents…He’s got some souls to take.

Buy the Book at Amazon

About the Author

H. D. Gordon Author Photo
H. D. Gordon is the bestselling author of THE ALEXA MONTGOMERY SAGA, THE JOE KNOWE SERIES, and THE SURAH STORMSONG NOVELS. She is a lifelong reader and writer, a true lover of words. When she is not reading and writing, she is busy raising her two daughters and keeping the world’s zombie population under control.

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