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Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Stacey Joy Netzel

RECIPES FOR RELAXATION

Got a deadline looming on the horizon? Don’t feel like cooking? Have a mountainous To Be Read pile and a whole day with nothing to do but read? That last one doesn’t come as often as I’d like, but when it does, the last thing I want to do is set down my book to cook.

On my final day here with you, I’ve got two quick dinner recipes that will free you from the kitchen so you can do whatever your heart desires for the day. (Like read my books? *grin*) Even those of you who enjoy cooking might want a break once in awhile. What I love about both recipes besides their ease and how yummy they are, is the fact that all ingredients are easily stocked in my pantry/freezer for me to throw one of them together whenever I wish.

HOMEMADE CHICKEN POT PIE (or as close to homemade as I get)

1 package of refrigerated pie crust (2 crusts)

1 can premium chunk white chicken, drained (or 3 cubed, partially microwaved chicken breasts—but this adds time)

2 cans Veg-All mixed veggies

2 sm. cans Cream of Chicken or Cream of Mushroom soup

Salt and Pepper to taste

Line 9” pie pan with one crust. In a bowl mix chicken, veggies, soup, and salt and pepper. Pour into pie pan, top with second crust, form edges, cut slits in top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until crust is golden brown on top. (My mom uses a bag of frozen mixed veggies instead of Veg-All; it’s good but makes the pie runnier. Once in a while, I also add some cheddar cheese into the mix.)

This next one from a co-worker (Thanks Marie!!) bakes in the crock pot all day, so you do have to plan ahead, but it’s as simple as they come and mmm, mmm GOOD!

CHICKEN CHILI (another co-worker called this TACO SOUP)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, uncooked but trimmed

1 med. jar of your favorite Salsa

1 can diced tomatoes

1 med. jar of Northern (white) beans, undrained

1 can black beans, drained

1 package Chili seasoning

Toppings: Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, Tostitos chips (or whatever kind you like).

Dump everything in a crock pot, stir, and set on low for 8+ hours. When you’re ready to eat, use a fork (potato masher works good, too) to shred the chicken inside the crock pot and you’re done. Top with cheese, and sour cream in your bowl to eat like a dip with the chips, or crumble the chips on top. (This recipe makes a fair amount, so if you’re cooking for less people, cut ingredients in half.)


Now I’ll give you a little taste of what I write to whet your other appetite. If you haven’t checked out the excerpts on my website (www.StaceyJoyNetzel.com), here’s a bit of Chasin' Mason for you to enjoy.


When his father announced his engagement to a gold-digger with a lying, scheming fourteen-year old daughter, seventeen-year old Tripp Warner left Warner Ridge Ranch and never looked back. Until the day he got the phone call that his father had died unexpectedly.

Reggie Reed lives with her guilt every day but can't quite work up the courage to track down the son of the man who raised her as his own. When Tripp shows up at his father’s funeral eleven years later--and a hell of a man to be reckoned with--he has no interest in her too-late apology. Worse, they’ve inherited half shares of the family ranch—but only if they work together to catch Mason’s Gold, the stallion a young Reggie let escape and made sure Tripp took the blame for.

Tripp proposes a secret competition to the beautiful witch who stole his life: whoever catches the stallion first gets the ranch all to themselves. It sounds simple, but once they’re out on the range, tempers and passions flare in the Texas heat and nothing goes as either of them expects.


**To make this more enjoyable, here’s a picture of how I envision Tripp.**

~*~

“I expected you hours ago,” she said, exasperation heavy in her tone.

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Hardly,” she said with a delicate snort.

Yet her eyelids lowered as her gaze swept down and up, taking stock of the comfortable tee shirt and jeans he’d worn for the long drive from Galveston. Something flickered in her eyes; something hot he instinctively recognized as more dangerous than a rattle snake. She shut it down quick and lifted her chin so her cute little nose stuck in the air.

“And now that I can see there’s no danger to Grandma, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Her bare feet whispered across the floor toward the stairs. He opened his mouth, then closed it. Shut up. Don’t go there. Don’t—

Her right foot hit the bottom stair, her nightgown swaying with the enticing movement of her hips.

“What about you?”

She paused and turned. “What?”

Hooking one thumb in the front pocket of his jeans, he took slow, measured steps across the floor. Tension spread through him like the flush sweeping across her pale skin. Her fingers tangled in the material of her gown, tugging the hem lower as he came to a stop in front of her. Unfortunately, she also succeeded in lowering the neckline. The thud of his bag dropping to the floor made her flinch.

Tripp lowered his tone. “You said there’s no danger to Nana, but what about you?”

“Th—”

Her voice cracked and her throat muscles worked fast. He dropped his gaze to the rapid pulse beating at the base of her neck.

“I’m f-fine.”

He lifted a hand to the rosy skin of her neck; felt her life beat beneath his finger tip. Anticipation hummed along his nerve endings, making him excruciatingly aware of every shallow breath she took. “Fine doesn’t begin to cover it, Princess.”

When he slid his fingers into her silky hair to rub the back of her neck, her eyelids lowered, then closed. Her hands rose to press against his chest. God, he was pretty sure he hated her, and yet he damn sure wanted her. It was the craziest thing. He shifted closer, slid his other hand over the curve of her hip to press against the small of her back, leaned in to inhale the evocative scent of peaches. The heat of her skin burned through the thin, satiny material of her nightgown to warm his hand where it rested along her spine.

His mouth hovered above her moist lips, his unsteady breath mingling with hers. He started to close the distance.

“You hate me,” she whispered, her hands fisting in his shirt.

“Such a strong word—hate,” he murmured, even though he’d just thought it.

Forgoing her mouth, he lightly brushed his lips over her smooth cheek with its charming freckles. It wasn’t enough. With the hand buried in her hair, he angled her head to give him access to the delicate column of her neck. He pressed his tongue to her pulse, licked, then sucked gently. She made a small noise deep in her throat. His body throbbed in response as his arm curled tighter around her waist.

“You…d-don’t like me, then.”

Stubborn witch wouldn’t let it go. That hadn’t changed. He worked his way back to her mouth. “Do you like me?”

Her violet eyes opened and locked with his, making his heart thump hard.

“Don’t mess with me, Tripp. Please.” The sincerity in her voice was astounding.

“Who’s messing?” he asked, making light of her plea while brushing his thumb over her lower lip. He wanted to taste her so bad, and she just wouldn’t shut up.

“You’re going to take the ranch from me—this isn’t playing fair.”

The reminder of what was at stake in this game was just what he needed. He lowered his head to whisper against her mouth. “Like you played fair all those years ago?”

In a heartbeat, she stiffened and shoved against his chest to be free. Tripp held on; let her see who held the control now. Her eyes widened, and then darkened with a fury that turned him on even more. They stared at each other, breathing uneven, hearts pounding.

And just like that, something changed. Struck his chest so deep inside it terrified him. He released her and spun away as she grabbed the railing for balance. He braced a hand on the wall and hung his head, fighting for a lungful of air.

“Go to bed,” he rasped. “We leave at dawn.”

She didn’t reply. When he snuck a glance, she was halfway up the stairs, white silk panties playing peek-a-boo with the hem of her nightgown. Tripp uttered a low groan and made for the porch like the hounds of hell were on his heels.

~*~

If you’d like to read the rest of Tripp and Reggie’s story, you can find Chasin’ Mason at:

http://www.thewildrosepress.com/chasin-mason-p-1181.html

Thank you to LASR for a great week, and thanks to all of you for visiting! Don’t forget, any comments today still qualify for the regular and bonus give-a-ways.

Take care! Happy eating, reading, and writing!

Stacey Joy Netzel



www.StaceyJoyNetzel.com

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Stacey Joy Netzel

SUMMER VACATIONS

Thursday already! Wow how the week flies. Just like summer. Just like a vacation. Blink a few times and it seems like it’s over before it actually began. Hopefully that just means you had a GREAT time (on vacation—and if you’ve had fun here, too, even better!).

Every once in a while you come across a book like that, too. You read voraciously, can’t put it down, but never want it to end and hate yourself for reading it so darn fast.

Due to our lovely economy, I won’t be taking the kids to my favorite summer vacation spot anytime soon. I spent two summers in Colorado right out of high school and will take a trip to the mountains over the beach any day.

That’s me and Mr. Romance from Wednesday’s post in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado, 1999. I went back once with my son Cody about 3 years ago in October and we had a blast hiking in the snow.

However, even though we don’t see a trip to Colorado in our near future, don’t feel too bad for us. We share a lake cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin with my two older sisters and younger brother, and plan to spend plenty of time up there before school starts again.

  


Not too shabby, right? Best part is, it’s right next to my parents’ house and the kids get to see Grandma and Grandpa. Grandpa keeps the kids busy, and I sit on the swing by the lake with my mom, visiting and reading the many good books on my TBR pile.

Share your summer vacation plans, whether they’re a trip out of the country, or as simple as staying home and enjoying your own back yard.

Even better, share the name and author of a recent book that read like a wonderful vacation to you! (Comments get an entry for the regular and bonus give-a-ways at the end of the week.)

Happy Vacation!!

Stacey Joy Netzel



www.StaceyJoyNetzel.com

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Stacey Joy Netzel

THE MANY DEFINITIONS OF ROMANCE

Happy Hump Day. Yech. Personally, I’ve always hated that saying. It’s just so…unromantic. Not that there is anything inherently romantic about Wednesday in particular, but it leads me into my next topic.




My friend Jamie suggested I talk about some of the things that my husband does that normally wouldn’t be considered romantic, but makes me fall for him all over again. I laughed and told her it’d be a short conversation. Then I decided, “Why not? Surely I can come up with something?”


I sat down to write this and my husband happened by. Hah! I grabbed him for an impromptu interview, and this is how it went:

Stacey: Hey, I need your help.

Wayne: Right now?

Stacey: Please? It’ll only take a few minutes. (He nods, still standing, a look of resignation on his face.) Tell me, do you care about romance?

Wayne: (frowns, what kind of question is this?) Maybe when I was younger. (he’s 38!)

Stacey: Okay, so what did you consider romantic back when you were younger?

Wayne: Being together.

Stacey: What do you consider romantic now?

Wayne: I don’t even think about it. (laughs) You’re asking the wrong person. Maybe you should Google it and see what other guys say. (shrugs, cuz I’ve been scribbling down all his words and now he feels a little pressured) I don’t know—get away from everyone and spend time together—ask Donna, see what she says. (Donna’s my friend, cp, and co-author of Welcome to Redemption—and I’ll get to her later.)

Stacey: (last question, because I’m getting nothing here.) Is there anything I do for you that you consider romantic…or nice? (had to add that, because remember, he considers being together romantic—when he was younger and now!)

Wayne: I don’t know, back massages? Those are nice.

So there you have it, a glimpse of my Hero. Anyone wonder why I write romance?

LOL. I love him, wouldn’t trade him for anything, because he does do little things that turn my heart to mush. Not often, but they’re there. Not to mention, he’s a great dad, he works hard to take care of our family, and I know he’ll always be there for us.

Back to Donna, who was part of the discussion of romantic things that may not seem so to others. Her response was: “You mean like how my husband buys me a candy bar every time he stops at a gas station?” He also tells her he loves her every time he hangs up the phone. (Which reminds me, I almost always get a kiss goodbye, and many times hello—even when I’m sitting on the computer and just turn my cheek.)

Another friend, Dulcie, said her husband “looks at Victoria's Secret catalogs and tells me I look as good as those models.” She gave us a good laugh when she tacked on, “I don't know if that's romantic or senility.” As long as he means it, it’s romantic.

Jamie’s husband is pretty near perfect, so she didn’t say much to make us any more jealous than we already are. *grin*

The thing is, we all have our own definition of romance. What’s yours? (Don’t forget, comments give you entries to the regular and bonus give-a-ways at the end of the week.)

Have a great day!

Stacey Joy Netzel



www.StaceyJoyNetzel.com

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Stacey Joy Netzel

THE NAME GAME

Happy Tuesday everyone! The other day I was at the dentist with the kids, reading a magazine while my little kidlets were in the back getting their chompers scrubbed, and I happened to overhear a conversation at the receptionist’s desk. A man was telling the ladies all about his newborn baby girl, Genivive (JEN-ah-VEEV). Then he said, “So now we have Adriana, Isadora, and Genivive.”

Okay, that caught my attention. I looked up to see a guy dressed in a shirt, tie and sweater vest, looking to be about in his early to mid-thirties. Is it me, or do those seem like really fancy names? Don’t get me wrong, they’re beautiful, but they were different enough, especially hearing the three of them together, to grab my attention.

So I looked them up. According to www.MyBabyName.com, Genivive (with many spelling varieties) is the 25018th most popular baby name at the site, placing it in the top 35% of names by popularity. Isadora, is the 19748th most popular, placing it in the top 28%. Adriana, is the 61896th most popular, placing it in the top 86%. Yet, in 2006, Adriana was listed 287th (top 2%), in 2007 it was listed 99th (top 1%), and in 2008, it was listed 470th (also top 1%). I think Vince Gill even has a song called, “My Pretty Little Adriana.”

Side tangent: Names seem to ebb and flow like the popularity of certain romance genres.

Maybe it was the combination of the three together that really made them stand out to me. I’ve got a Cody, Morgan (F) and Ayden—all names I’d liked from when I was pregnant with Cody (now 16). If Cody had been a girl, Morgan was the one and only choice. She came along 8 yrs later. My main preference was names that couldn’t be shortened to nicknames. When Ayden was born, it would’ve been Amber for a girl, and Joel or Aiden for a boy, with me leaning toward Joel. However, after my first look, he didn’t look like a Joel, and I asked my husband, “So, Aiden?” He said, “I guess, it really doesn’t matter.” Nice, huh? It’s his name! Of course it matters. The nurse suggested the spelling with the Y and we both liked it.

But you know what I found out later? Each name we picked ended up being in the top ten baby names for either the year before, the year of, or the year after of our children’s birthdates. Real original, hey? LOL

Choosing character names in my books can sometimes be super easy, and sometimes it takes days of me looking at books and online lists before a name clicks when I say it out loud with a last name, and with the other main character’s name. Sometimes I look for an uncommon name, other times I’m okay with Rick, or Jenny. There’s not much rhyme or reason, it just has to sound good to me. Same as the names we picked for my kids had to sound good with our last name.

So, how do you choose your names; for a character or your kidlets? (be they two or four legged) When reading, do you mind a really different name, or does it distract you from the story? And how do you feel about shortened names/nicknames?

I came across a female’s name that in my mind was a man’s name (Fallon). I’d never heard it before, and I just couldn’t get past it, so I never finished the book. Another issue is, if I can’t pronounce a name, and have to stop and think about it each time I see it, that distracts me and takes away from my enjoyment of the story.

Give me your take on this subject to be entered into the regular and bonus give-a-ways at the end of the week.

Thanks for reading!!

Stacey Joy Netzel



www.StaceyJoyNetzel.com

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Lyrical Press



When I wrote ‘Djinn’, I set out to write a piece of erotica that had as much true, character-driven story to it as it did hot, smokin’ sex. That’s how it started. What it turned into was an exploration of the nature of submission: submission running so deep that it was an integral part of the character’s motivation. Running so deep that she takes honest joy in it. Running so deep that she is delighted with those who have power over her... all of them... no matter who they are or what they do.

Along the way, it also became about breaking through your own natural constraints to do what is necessary. The djinn is the most fluid of beings, able to change her gender, her shape, gifted with the most broad range of magical powers. Yet she has the most powerful of constraints, unable to go against her master’s will, if she knows it, whatever may be his expressed wish.

And in the end, ‘Djinn’ is a deeply erotic story, touching on the erotic powers of fear, of dominance, of control and of freedom from control. Everyone’s boundaries are tested in this story, including mine. After all, I didn’t set out to write about these deep concepts. Theme, as one of my favorite authors once said, is an emergent property of the writing, not the place to start. ‘Djinn’ took me to many places I wasn’t planning to go, and ultimately, that’s why I write any story.

Monday Spotlight: Stacey Joy Netzel

BACK IN THE SADDLE

Hi everyone, I’m Stacey. I’m very excited to be here at LASR and look forward to a great week!

At the beginning of July I got back in the saddle both literally and figuratively. We have a 6 year old gelding named Bullet who hasn’t been broke to ride yet. Now, we’ve had him since he was 6 months old, so the fault is all mine, but the last time I broke a horse was when I was 14 and fearless. Kaleb, my baby, is now 24 years old and I know how much it will hurt if/when I hit the ground. It doesn’t help that Bullet is taller than Kaleb, either.



Add a saddle, and it’s a good 8 inches farther to fall. (did I mention I prefer riding bareback?)

On the figurative side, I took a break from writing in January until the end of June. I was filling in full time for some people at work, 10 hr days, when my normal hours are 2/10 hr days/wk. I knew I’d be exhausted by the end of the day, I’d have kids begging for attention, and how fair would it be to them if I went straight to the computer after dinner? (Major kudos to anyone who can work full time, write, and still keep their family happy.) Then I was laid off at the end of June, and it was time to write my next book.

Back to the horse. Well, I did it. With my husband (thank God for his muscles) holding Bullet (aptly named by our son, I must say) I pulled myself into the saddle. Good news is, I managed to only get bucked off once--into the manure pile. I know, sounds gross--but it's old manure that's been weathered for awhile and was dry and the best part (yes, there's a positive to this) is that it was a soft landing! LOL I got back on, thought I was going off again, but my dh held on tight and we got Bullet back under control, took a slow walk around the corral, dismounted, mounted, dismounted a few times, and called it a successful enough morning.

Writing wise? I’m 75 pages into my new book and loving it!

Let’s take a look at how writing is like riding a horse. If you get bucked off (i.e.. a rejection, bad review, bad critique) you MUST GET BACK ON. For your own peace of mind, and, you cannot let the horse’s memory of the session end with him bucking you off, or that’s the first thing he’ll try to do at the beginning of the next session. In his mind, it’s “Get her off and I’m done.” Same for writing, if you don’t pick yourself off, dust off your bruises—and there will be bruises along the way—you won’t get back on again, and you’re done.

It’s your dream; you deserve it (to quote the great Sherrilyn Kenyon there). If you’re reading this and say, “Sounds good, but I’m not a writer.", well, guess, what? It works for anything. Insert your dream HERE. Be stubborn and vow to persevere. If you persist and don’t give up, eventually you’ll be walking, then trotting, then galloping around the corral. I’m still walking on the horse, but writing wise, I’ve worked up to a gallop.



To be entered into the regular and bonus give-a-ways this week, tell me what dream you’re working toward, or one you’ve achieved.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Stacey Joy Netzel



www.StaceyJoyNetzel.com

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mrs. Laura Tallmadge Has Moxie by Kathleen Rowland

An old bag, they called her. Well, they didn’t say it loudly, but Laura Tallmadge had heard them. At seventy-five and a bit stiff legged, she held tight to her cane as she hurried down the street. Mr. Willy Jones would be waiting for her inside. She felt a little frazzled as she went through the door of the Woodbridge Senior Center. Had to stop to catch her breath and pat her hair. Escape was exhilarating even though it wore her out. She put herself in order.

There he was. Prompt as always and still a handsome man. William Eldon Jones became her lover after her husband passed. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. The two of them had talked before then. Looking without talking was more intimate than she knew was polite.

Her children wouldn’t understand such a thing. She couldn’t expect them to. They thought she was too prim and proper to know of such things. Laura snickered and put a hand over her mouth. If she were so ignorant, how did she bring four children into the world? Maybe she’d ask them that question someday. Or, maybe not. She wouldn’t want to embarrass them. She’d noticed how embarrassed her middle-aged children had become.

“Hello, lovely lady.” Willy said it with a kiss on the cheek. Her lemonade was waiting.

She slipped her light hand into his dark one and squeezed. “Hello, Sir.”

He pulled out her chair, and she eased into it. “Cheers.” She smiled and watched him raise his glass.

“How are things today with Martha Ann?” he asked with concern.

“Well, she’s the worst one of the four, always has been.”

“Isn’t Martha Ann your youngest child?” He shook his head as if he couldn’t imagine such a thing.

“She liked to play tricks. Danny was more reasonable but followed Martha Ann’s lead. Peggy wouldn’t open her mouth and would do whatever Martha Ann told her. Bobby might just as well be forgotten since he just liked to read about animals. Now, he’s off saving them in Africa.”

Willy reached over and gave her hand a pat. “He should come home and save his mother. You’re an endangered species.”

She laughed. It was Willy’s way of saying she was special.

For the next two hours, they played bingo and chatted with friends. Everyone at the senior center seemed to know they, she and Willy, were an item. A group of seniors walked across the street to Burger Bob’s.

It was late when she crept home. Well, not really late, but she had missed dinner.

“Mother!” Martha Ann said when Laura came through the door. “Where were you this time?”

“Just out,” she said.

“You simply can’t do this,” Martha Ann said. “You are Mrs. Tallmadge.”

“I can’t see why not.” Laura scampered up the stairs.

Martha Ann followed, more slowly.

“A diet would help,” advised Laura as she entered her bedroom and shut the door.

Martha Ann didn’t answer.

Laura heard her daughter walk down the hallway and bang on her own bedroom door. The door creaked open. She heard footsteps and the low, grumbling voice of Martha Ann’s husband. And, then they grumbled together like brown grizzly bears.

In her bedroom Laura saw that the lock on her door had been tampered with. First, she felt a wave of sadness. Next, a little remorse because there were times they knocked, and she refused to answer. They might have thought she’d died, wouldn’t that be a shame. She settled on tiredness, knowing she would have to get it repaired.

She didn’t know how long she could put up with their control. She wanted to escape.

Laura Tallmadge kept her room the way she liked it. She had to keep it locked. Otherwise, Martha Ann would rearrange, always complaining, and throw things out. Martha Ann would stomp around and say, “All this stuff, all this worthless stuff.”

“It’s my stuff.” She was sick of the same old argument.

Martha Ann would stomp off. “You cling to all that junk that should go in the garbage.” She would grumble to her husband, and they they’d grumble together.

Laura Tallmadge slipped into her cool sheets and thought about Willy Jones. She thought of his strong brown arms and pink toes. She thought of afternoons, when they drew the blinds of his condo and sometimes dozed for hours. Mr. Jones, she thought. I just might give in.

In the morning, the atmosphere was oppressive with Martha Ann cracking eggs for a big scramble. Egg shells littered the sink. The stove was a mess. Martha Ann threw an egg at her son, Josh, over some argument. He caught it and winked at his grandmother.

Winking back, Laura knew to choose cereal.

Josh smothered a laugh, and his grandmother swallowed hers.

There was no time to see Mr. Willy Jones that afternoon.

“Come, Mother,” Martha Ann said. “We’re going out.”

“Out? Where, out?” Laura was caught off guard. She hoped she didn’t have an empty expression that could be taken for senility.

“I know I told you.” Martha Ann frowned. “I’ve made an appointment to see that place.”

“I didn’t think that would come up so soon.” Laura thought of the things she needed to do. Oh well, she thought. Mr. Willy Jones would be glad.

Martha Ann drove her mother to the place, and they were given the grand tour. It was a grand tour of old people sitting. It was a parade of seated people, lined up here and there. She wondered if they ever thought of escaping.

Back in the car, Martha Ann asked, “Well?”

“Well, what?” Laura asked back.

“Did you like the Williamsburg decorating?”

“I guess so. I noticed the fabrics were all vinyl.”

“They were still pretty and brocade-like. So, do you like it, Mother?”

“I’m not quite sure.” Laura became busy calculating how many pieces of luggage she owned. She’d have to borrow a duffle bag from Josh but knew he wouldn’t mind.

Martha put the car into reverse with a jolt. She pulled out of the parking lot with a screech. “What will I ever do with you!”

“I used to wonder about that myself.” Laura didn’t say what she was thinking. Of all her children, Martha Ann had been quite a handful.

That evening at home, there was a lot of talking on the telephone, and Laura had to wait. Finally, the coast was clear, and Josh gave her the signal.

Later, she dialed Mr. Jones’ number from her room. As she knew he would be, he was glad.

He said, “I’m going to rush to across the street to the market and cook up a celebration dinner. How does baked chicken with greens sound?”

“That would be lovely, Willy.”

“My darling.” He said those words with affection.

She felt a warm glow in her heart as she slipped down the stairs.

Later, Martha Ann broke the news. “We’ve all decided, the four of us. Peggy agrees and so does Danny.”

“Peggy doesn’t have an opinion. Danny has always been reasonable. Bobby can’t be reached in the jungle.” Laura took to the stairs to grab another suitcase.

“I knew you would understand.”

“I’m all ready.” She enjoyed that moment, watching her daughter’s expression.

“We’re not going now. The place isn’t ready for us.” Martha Ann’s mouth hung open.

“Dear, please close your mouth. It’s distasteful to peer down your throat.”

“Mother, you can’t go without making arrangements.”

“They won’t be necessary. My friend is picking me up.”

A haughty look appeared on Martha Ann’s face. “You just don’t get it.” She spoke to her mother as if she were speaking to a child. “They’re not going to take you just like that.”

“Pity,” said Laura. “Never mind. I’m not going there anyway.”

“Ugh.” Martha Ann made another peculiar sound, something like a howl.

She smiled. Her escape must be done with confidence and composure. “Send my regrets to the place.”

Outside, Mr. Willy Jones had arrived by taxi.

Laura went through the front door.

“Mother,” Martha Ann wailed. “Where are you going?”

Willy took her by the hand. She raised her head and looked at her daughter firmly in the eye. “We’re going to get married.”

About the Author: Kathleen Rowland lives with her husband Gerry now that Jeffery, Johnny, Ted, Marla, and Janny have flown the coop. Her daughter-in-laws, Mary Angela and Jan, and grandchildren Clare, Mary Grace, D’mitri, and Roxanne are also special visitors. When Kathleen is not writing, she likes to sail with Gerry off Newport Harbor, leaving their dogs, cats, and bunnies at home. Visit Kathleen at her website and her blog.

Author Interview: Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

The Long and the Short of It is very pleased to welcome two old friends, Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance, whose debut novel The Geek Girls Guide to Cheerleading was recently released.

Charity and Darcy have both been lifelong readers—loving stories and books. Charity would rewrite movies and books in her head (generally, she told me, because there weren't enough girls or girl power in the books and movies she saw), but it didn't occur to her until after her son was born that she could actually write down all those stories she had in her head. "Why it never occurred to me to do this before, I have no idea," she said. Darcy, on the other hand, had her first (very short) story displayed on Back to School Night by her first grade teacher. "My parents read it and gushed with praise," she told me. "That was the first time I remember thinking, 'Hey! This writing thing might be kind of cool!'"

Charity and Darcy first met ten years ago as part of an online writing group. They became critique partners and friends, then started writing together about two years ago. However, they've only met in real life two times, and the second was just a few months ago for the launch party for The Geek Girls Guide to Cheerleading.

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading is about a self-proclaimed geek girl who, partly as a joke, and partly to support her best friend, tries out for varsity cheerleading and makes the squad. It’s the story of her season on the squad. As Darcy likes to say, it’s also the story of falling in love for the first time and being a good friend even when the other person isn’t being such a good friend back.

I asked them, "What comes first: the plot or the characters?"

Charity said, "For me, it's a bit of both, usually a character in a 'what if' situation," while Darcy admitted she used to be strictly a character first writer.

"For a long time I believed that if a writer understood her characters well enough, the story would grow from within them. I'd still like to think that but, more and more, I find that if I don't have a clear notion of plot my stories wander too much. I'm trying to become a more efficient writer and I suspect that paying attention to plot first, and maybe even outlining, (omigosh, did I just say that?) might be the path I need to take."

I asked Charity and Darcy about what inspired each of them to write their first book.

"You mean my very first book," Charity asked, "the one that won't ever see light of day (unless Darcy comes up with a way to turn it into a young adult novel)? My biggest motivation was writing a book I desperately wanted to read."

The premise for The Geek's Girl Guide to Cheerleading is based on something that happened to Charity her senior year of high school.

Charity said, "When I emailed the idea to Darcy, she sent this back to me: 'I will either steal your idea or kick your scrawny cheerleader butt if you don't write this.' Now that's motivation."

Darcy laughed and countered, "I seriously considered stealing Geek Girls when Charity had seemed to give up on it! And, though her cheerleader butt may be scrawny, I doubt I could kick it. Charity's tougher than she looks. I was inspired to work on the book with her because (1) I loved it from teh very first mention of the idea; (2) I couldn't stand the idea of Chariy pushing it under the bed or in the back of a closet." She added with a wink, "And (3) she let me."

Charity and Darcy each described their writing space for us.

"I don’t have a 'room of my own” or even a closet," Charity said. "My house has an open floor plan and my writing desk is pretty much in the middle of that. We turned the formal dining alcove into a 'library,' and that’s to my right. The kitchen is to my left.

When I write, I also hang out with the pets and the kids and generally speaking, it all works out."

However, Darcy said, "Now that my kids have grown, I do have a room of my own – but I almost never use it to write. I like to have my husband handy to bounce questions off so mostly I write at a desk in the living room. It’s glass and dark metal and holds my laptop, a candle, a desk lamp, a jar full of pencils, a vase of bamboo and a really cool tile a friend of mine gave me when Geek Girls was launched. It says: She believed she could so she did."

Charity and Darcy both still work full time so they don't have a writing schedule the same way many fulltime fiction writers do. Charity said, "I do what I can, when I can. I'll write during lunch, while my daughter is at dance or gymnastics class, on the weekends." Darcy agreed. "I either write or do something writer related every morning before I go to work. I also carry a notepad with me at all times so I can jot down ideas in spare moments. I try to do book promotion work for at least an hour every evening – but after a long day, it’s hard to maintain my focus."

On a more personal note, I asked, "Do you really really want a dog?"

"Dude. I already have the incredible shedding dog," Charity replied. "And with the amount she sheds each day, I can make a dog for everyone."

"Double dude," Darcy echoed. "We already had an 85 pound lab mix (who totally has my heart) then my brother moved in with us last fall and brought along his 50 pound semi-mutt. I feel confident that I can make a dog for everyone, every day."

They also have similar feeling about photographs. I asked, "Do you hate how you look in pictures?"

"Duh," replied Darcy. "Like Mr. Rogers used to sing, 'Some are fancy on the outside. Some are fancy on the inside.' Let's just say I'd rather be x-rayed than have my picture taken."

Charity concurred. "My goal in life is to always be the one holding the camera. I had to get my author pictures taken a second time because I was way too tense in the first set (that, and my agent thought I should show more cleavage)."

I told them, "You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?"

Charity said, "None. Here’s the classic geek reasoning: In Star Trek, Next Generation, Picard does just this, a wish granted from Q (an episode called "Tapestry"--yes, I know, geek alert, geek alert).

"After the wish is granted, Picard finds himself not the commander of the Enterprise but as some mealy-mouth second science officer in charge of mealy-mouth kinds of things. There’s a funny scene where Riker blows him off when Picard asks about potential leadership opportunities. (I recall far, far too much of this episode.)

"I don’t think you can remove those threads from your life and still be you."

"I don’t have a funny Star Wars allegory but I agree with Charity," Darcy said. "Even the absolute worst things in life bring gifts with them that you might not receive otherwise."

"What's a saying you use a lot?" I wondered.

"Ooh, here’s the chance to toss in my own geeky Star Trek reference!" Darcy exclaimed. "When my daughter turned twelve she started inserting the word ‘like’ into almost every sentence she spoke. It drove her dad and me crazy. We even resorted to bribing her to try to curb the habit. We offered to pay her for if she could say ten sentences in a row without a single ‘like’ in any of them. It didn’t cost us much. But, as time wore on, she rubbed off on both of us. Now I find myself saying ‘like’ way too often. My daughter, she’s like the Borg. Resistance is, like, futile."

"I often use the phrase 'going to town' when my daughter is working on some sort of art project, as in, 'Wow, you’re really going to town on that!'" Charity shared. "I never knew just how much I used it until the day she glanced up at me and asked, 'Am I going to town on this, Mommy?'"

Finally, I wanted to know the strangest thing they had each ever eaten.

Charity told us, "Puppy Chow. No, not the human variety snack food, but actual Puppy Chow, the kind you feed real puppies. It was one of those damned if you do/damned if you don’t situations.

"When you’re the new lieutenant and the section master sergeant offers you some Puppy Chow, which, oh by the way, he’s been snacking on for about fifteen minutes now, do you:

"1) Refuse the Puppy Chow? (Result: the section’s enlisted soldiers end up thinking: “The new lieutenant is a priss. She’ll never be one of us.”)

"2) Eat the Puppy Chow? (Result: the section’s enlisted soldiers end up thinking: “Wow. The new lieutenant is *really* stupid. We probably don’t want her to be one of us.”)

"In the end, I ate the Puppy Chow. Because that’s hardcore."

Darcy laughed and went, "*URP*. My mountain oysters incident pales in comparison to Charity’s."

You can keep up with Charity and Darcy on their blog, http://thegeekgirlsguide.com/wordpress

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Sandra Kay

THANK YOU LASR

I want to thank Long and Short Reviews for featuring me on their Author Spotlight this week. It has been a pleasure to be here, and to chat with LASR members as well as guests. I’d love for you to stop by my website and check out my family photos. Please take time to read the wonderful reviews Heart of Stone has received.

I attended a family reunion over the 4th of July, and have to express how supportive my family is. They organized a mini book signing for me. It was fun and exciting. I only wish I had gotten some pictures to post on my website. Maybe someone in the family will send me some.

Before I sign off for the week, I’d like to post another excerpt of Heart of Stone. I hope you enjoy it!
~~~~

“You’ve got to believe me, Amber. Liz doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“Well, I don’t believe you. And I don’t think she believes you, either. I saw the way you looked at her as she left tonight.” Amber’s hands came up in front of her as if to protect herself from his excuses. Her voice shook. “I…I can’t stay here. I’m going to take the babies and go back to the boarding house.” She turned toward the closet to get her small suitcase.

Stone jumped to his feet and grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face him. “Amber, you can’t just run away. Let’s talk this through.”

She pushed at him. Fear crawled over her skin like a living entity. An onslaught of remembered emotions suffocated her—fear, panic, helplessness. Heart pounding, breath ragged. Images of being held down, crushing weight… She fought with all the strength she had, knowing full well that, just as before, her best wouldn’t be enough to save her. Unheeded tears streamed down her cheeks.

Their brief struggle dislodged the remaining strap from her shoulder. The lace clung desperately to the peaks of her breasts. Each rise and fall of her harsh breathing threatened to cause the silky lingerie to slip even further.

Stone’s sudden stillness finally broke through her anger and fear. Like statues, unmoving, they gazed at each other, their common desire forging a daring path through the arguments and misunderstandings.

“I don’t want to be hurt again, Blue-Eyes.”

“Hurting you is the last thing I ever wanted to do.” He bracketed her face in his large hands, lifted a tear from her cheek with his finger and put it to his own lips.

Amber’s knees buckled under the intimacy of his action. He nuzzled her cheek, sending shivers up her spine.

“I’m so sorry, Amber. I’ve been such a selfish bastard.”

His husky voice resonated against her skin. Warm breath stirred the hair at her temples, tickling her ears. He pulled her into a crushing embrace. His lips, soft and demanding at the same time, slid down her cheek to attack her mouth with a fierceness that startled her.

Amber’s hands, trapped between their bodies, felt his quickening heartbeat. Pressed against his chest, she had no defenses against the tenderness of his kiss or the incredibly slow and non-threatening way he caressed her. Instinctively, she knew his power wasn’t a physical threat. This was nothing like what had happened to her before meeting Stone. She relaxed in his arms, giving herself over to the kiss.

His tongue knocked gently at the seam of her lips until, with a sigh, she opened her mouth to answer his passion. Vince Gill’s lilting voice singing When Love Finds You wrapped around her, while Stone’s magic wove a heated path through her.

He lifted his head, blue eyes blazing with a fire to match the one burning inside her. The planes of his face were tight with desire.

“I want you, little gal. I’ve wanted you for so long. Let me make love to you…to my wife.”

His low baritone vibrated against every nerve in her body. She couldn’t think with his hands caressing her back in slow circles, moving lower… “I…I…”

“You want me too, Amber. Say it.” His urgent words pleaded for a response, while his hungry eyes delved into her inner being, seeking an answer from her.

“Yes, I want you, Blue-Eyes.”

At the intimate nickname, the light in his eyes flared, and a growl escaped his throat. One hand tangled in her hair, cupped her head, angled it for better access to her lips. He brushed hers—again and again—before he dipped his tongue inside, exploring the depths of her mouth.

“You taste good,” he murmured against her lips.

“So do you,” Amber sighed.

Stone grazed the thin straps down her arms, causing the lace to lose its tenuous grasp on her breasts.

Title: Heart of Stone

Author: Sandra Kay

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

ISBN: 1-60154-429-4

Buy Link: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/heart-of-stone-p-983.html

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Sandra Kay

LAYERING YOUR CHARACTER’S PERSONALITIES

Oh, this is a process that took me a while to learn. It’s right up there with “Show don’t Tell” on my list of things I thought were so hard at the beginning of my writing career. And it relates, because a reader wants to “feel” the character’s emotions; not be “told” what those emotions are.

None of us are one dimensional. We have ups and downs, bad days and good days. We get angry, fearful, and sad. We laugh, smile and grimace. And sometimes we cry. Frustration can take over our emotions, but can just as quickly turn to joy. Shouldn’t our characters have the same layers we do?

Certainly, if we want them to be interesting, they should.

In Heart of Stone my hero, Stone Brandon, is angry and bitter at a past betrayal. I had to show these emotions, of course. But, like anyone, Stone wasn’t angry and bitter all the time. He had other emotions—hope, empathy, desire, and a protective spirit when it came to my heroine, Amber—that he didn’t want to show to the world.

As a writer, I have to get into “character” in order to show the many layers of my hero and heroine. In any particular scene or situation, how would the character feel? What would he or she say? How would they react? How far would they go to cover their true emotions? Does the heroine have a nervous habit like twisting her hair around her finger? Does the hero have a tic in his jaw when he is angry? Or does he have a sexy wink like the Brandon brothers?

As an avid reader, I love to immerse myself into my character’s lives. I want to experience their hearts pound with desire. I want to tremble when the hero’s hands fist in the heroine’s hair. I need to know the heat of an adrenalin rush of fear.

And sometimes when I’ve laughed, cried and loved the characters all the way to the last page, I don’t want the story to end.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Sandra Kay

RESEARCH

Writing stories that take place in different parts of the world presents challenges when it comes to scene description, dialect, weather conditions, and maybe even style of dress. If we, as writers, have never been to the area we want to locate our story in, how do we go about obtaining the necessary information?

For us lucky enough to be living in the “Technology Age” the internet is the obvious answer. In fact, we are so used to having data at our fingertips, that I wonder what we would do without it. I can’t even imagine how writers used to be able to get the details they needed to write their scenes correctly. Trips to the library; which I still do on occasion. Phone calls to experts; which I do. Talking to people who have been to the area I’m writing about; yes, I do that as well. But my favorite means of research is Google. I can Google almost anything and get a darn good answer.

I once wrote a story with a scene involving a helicopter accident. I have never flown in a helicopter, so my knowledge was pretty much zero. I “Googled” helicopter accidents and was amazed at how much info I received. There is actually a site that gives a list of accidents, when and how they occurred, the damage caused, and injuries to the parties onboard. I have a file on my computer just for helicopter accidents, because once something is researched, I’m certainly not going to delete it!

I have a story in mind that takes place in Alaska. Again, I’ve never been to Alaska, so had to depend on research for details. Since I wanted my story to take place during the hunting season, and I wanted a bush pilot to fly my cast of characters into a remote site, I turned to the internet. I searched for hunting schedules, weather conditions, protected species, and the accepted opinion in Alaska regarding hunting in general. I was able to obtain a wealth in information. That story is still simmering on the back burner.

My Brandon Cattle Ranch series takes place in Texas. Although I was born in California, my family heritage is Texan. Unfortunately, the last time I was in Texas I was only fourteen, so I needed to do some research to add to my memories. For this series, I not only researched on the internet, but I obtained a Tour Guide Book on Texas from the Automobile Club, and I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in Waco, Texas. The Chamber of Commerce was wonderful, sending me a complete file of information about Waco and the surrounding area. Maps, an article about the plants and trees indigenous to the area, information about cattle ranching and stockyards, highway and river info, and, of course, weather.

Something important to remember, is thanking the people, who so generously give up their time to answer questions like the Waco Chamber of Commerce did. I hope that with their help I was able to get all of my Texas facts straight in Heart of Stone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Sandra Kay

SCENE SETTING

This is a blog I wrote for the Blog Carnival I was a part of, and I felt it fit right into the theme for my week of essays. I hope you enjoy it!

The settings in my stories are simply scenic and not especially significant to me, although I do paint them from places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had in life.

I set Heart of Stone in Texas because when I think of cowboys the Lone Star State comes to mind. But, that's not the only reason. Both my maternal and paternal family heritage is Texan. I lived there as a child. I can still remember the summer heat. I can still taste the watermelons we ate out on the porch. I can see the shiny spider webs in the bushes down by the lake. I can feel the cockle burrs sticking in my bare feet. I hear the crickets singing in the grass at night. And I can smell my grandma's fried chicken.

What I'm getting at is simple. As a writer, we experience settings with all five senses. Even today, when I go for a walk I’m watching, listening and thinking about what I see. The dog in my neighbor's backyard that charges the gate when I pass. I never fail to jump, my heart racing. Children laughing at the park--such a happy sound. The fact is, I never know when the impressions I get day by day might fit into a story I’m writing.

I’ll never forget the day I told my husband I was going for a walk along the riverbed. “I won’t be gone long,” I said. I became so engrossed in my surroundings, I lost track of time. The riverbed is part of the flood control in this area and continues all the way to Prado Dam. I stopped along the way to watch the water cascade over the small man-made waterfalls. I absorbed the sound of it splashing and playing along the way.

The birds—hawks soared high above me, on the lookout for prey. Majestic white egrets surprised me by flying out of the brush, so beautiful and large. A couple of swans floated on the lake to my left. And the ducks! The males preened in their pretty feathers, while the females looked dowdy in their brown “frocks.”

The leaves on the trees fluttered in the slight breeze. The high grass rippled. Small animals, rodents most likely, scurried in the brush, hiding from the circling hawk. Lizards did pushups on the hot rocks. Small birds scolded me for getting to close to their nest.

Finally, I turned around and headed back, clueless as to how much time had passed. That is until I ran into Bob and a friend, who were scouring the path looking for me. I guess my musings, and scene painting had kept me longer than I thought. After a “gentle” reminder from my worried hubby, I now carry my cell phone with me when I go on my walks. Lol But, I still take time to "smell the roses."

I think you can see how easy it is to absorb your surroundings, and transfer them onto your written pages.

My stories first form in my mind with the character in a particular setting. As in:

She saw him the minute she stepped through the thick strand of trees. He stood in the bed of the old pickup, hefting hay bales onto the dry cattle range. A modern-day Adonis—shirtless, muscles flexing with each movement of his powerful body. Sweat from a hard day’s work in the blistering heat glistened in the hair on his tanned chest.

With that scene in mind, I have my setting—a cattle ranch; conditions—dry, hot; and the beginnings of a character analysis. From this starting point I can go on to develop my story.

Books can be character-driven. They can be plot-driven. Do you ever hear of one being “setting-driven?” Of course not, but yet setting plays an important role in the overall picture a writer paints with words. It is the backbone that holds the story together. If the reader is unable to put themselves into the setting, my thinking is they’ll be confused. A confused reader is one that will soon leave an author. Remember, they don’t have access to what’s going on in our minds. We have to show them what we see.

And if we’re not sure? Research. People do live in the areas we write about, and they really don’t appreciate us painting the wrong picture.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Sandra Kay


WHERE DO I GET MY IDEAS FOR BOOKS?

Ideas for my stories come from many sources. My husband has often commented that I dream entire movies because I can relate them to him in the morning. I’ve always created scenes in my mind. As a child, they were fantasies of the Cinderella and Prince Charming type. As a teenage girl, my stories were of the dashing hero saving the damsel in distress. As a woman, they are of more experienced love and desire.

My favorite heroes? Cowboys, of course. I’ve always loved westerns, whether books or movies; contemporary or historical. There’s just something about a Stetson tilted at just the right angle, tight Wrangler’s that fit like a glove, and cowboy boots. For me that’s the ultimate in sex appeal. How can you go wrong writing a book about a figure that is so much a part of American culture?

The way I look at it, you can’t. Whether they are riding herd, mending fences, line dancing, or romancing the heroine—they have me hooked.

For my Brandon Cattle Ranch series, the character’s names came first, and then the plots. That’s backwards, I know, but I wanted the Brandon siblings named after historical figures: Cady Stanton Brandon, John Tyler Brandon, Stonewall Jackson Brandon and Jefferson Davis Brandon.

As the oldest brother in the Brandon family, Tyler’s story was supposed to be first. I even started writing it. But, somehow, Stone and Amber’s story called to me. The title, Heart of Stone, came to me so naturally. It fit! And the plot followed. Past betrayal had hardened Stone’s heart. Was Amber woman enough to break through the wall?

Cady’s story is next. As the only female in the group, and as the eldest sibling, her story came to me straight out of Hollywood. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. An older woman, younger man romance. The age span isn’t as great as Demi and Ashton’s, but Cady is old-fashioned enough to believe the man should be older. How will Chance convince her otherwise? BTW, this title came to me easily, also. Cady’s Chance. Again, it fit. It’s time for Cady to take a chance on love; and is Chance the one for her?

Tyler’s story will be the third in the series, and I have a partial plot brewing. One, in which he becomes the sheriff of the small town of Riverbend. This one, though, is making me crazy trying to come up with a title. As I work on it, one will come to me.

The only thing I know about Jeff’s story at this point is that he will be a veterinarian.

I have another work in progress titled Tomorrow’s Promise. This is completely separate from the Brandon series, and the plot came from one of the terrible wild brush fires that race through Southern California almost every year. I have personal knowledge of the devastation of these fires. One burned right up to my sister’s ranch in San Diego County, forcing her to evacuate with her daughters. Her husband and grown sons stayed to fight with everything they had, and fortunately they managed to save the ranch. More importantly, they were not harmed. (BTW, I would not recommend this course of action if you are ever in that situation.)

This year, my family and I had to evacuate from our home when the Freeway Complex Fire swept through Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills. I know all about the dark skies, choking air, and the charred smell, as well as ash and embers falling like deadly snowflakes.

Yes, current events are a great source for writing contemporary novels. I just don’t want to be that close to the action again!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Pound of Salt by Lianne Bruynell Lopes

As I pulled into the parking lot of the real estate agency, my eyes were drawn instinctively to the tall, dark haired man coming out the door.

"Alyssa!" He waved when he saw me and cast me that David Archuletta smile that made me weak in the knees.

"Nate." I smiled back at the handsome agent, hoping my lips didn’t shake as much as my legs. "What have you got for me?"

"A real looker this time." He jerked his head to the side. "Ride with me? Makes no sense to drive two cars."

I drew in a breath. I’d dreamed of such a scenario many times over the past couple of weeks, but logic always brought me back to reality. A guy as handsome as Nate Farmer would never go for a girl like me.

"Hey, come on." Nate gave an awkward chuckle. "We’ve spent enough time together that you must realize I’m no ax murderer."

I laughed, grateful he’d misunderstood. "No, you’re right. Makes no sense to use double the gasoline."

"Good." He led me to a black Mustang convertible and opened the passenger’s door.

"Nice ride," I said as Nate closed my door and jogged around to the driver’s side. "A lot nicer than the beat-up old SUV you’ve been driving around."

"I only bring out my Black Pearl on special occasions." Nate slid behind the wheel and started the car.

My stomach in knots, I plastered on a smile to hide my discomfort. "Hot date tonight?"

"Don’t know, yet." The hint of a grin lifted the corners of his mouth. "I think you’ll like this next house."

"I certainly hope so." My voice came out in a hoarse whisper.

Nate cast me a sympathetic glance. "We’ve seen some groaners, haven’t we? But I know you’ll like this one."

We rode in awkward silence until Nate pulled onto a little country road. Tall conifers lined each side, and the smell of pine sap blew over me. I sniffed in the fresh scent and relaxed against the leather seats.

"Refreshing, isn’t it?" Nate smiled. "I love nature. That’s one reason I fell in love with this house."

"It’s lovely here."

"Not too many neighbors, though."

"I don’t mind. I like the solitude."

He nodded as if he already realized that. He turned onto a narrow dirt road that wound up a small hill. A two-story log cabin soon came into view.

"Nate!" On impulse, I grabbed his arm. "It’s gorgeous."

With a chuckle, he gently pulled on my fingers. "That’s a powerful grip you’ve got."

"I’m sorry." My face burned and I wanted to disappear. "Did I hurt you?"

He laughed outright. "Of course not. Let’s go inside?"

"Is this in my price range?" I asked as he fumbled with the key in the front door.

"Actually– " He sucked in a breath. "It’s at the top." The lock clicked, and Nate pushed the door open. "After you."

He barely moved, leaving me just enough space to squeeze by him. My back brushed his chest, and the scent of his cologne wafted to me. This had to be the last house I saw with this man, or I might go crazy.

"You have to see this view." He led me into the dining room, through a set of French doors that opened onto a balcony. I gasped as I took in a view of forest and stream.

"It’s beautiful." I turned to find him close behind me.

"Very." He looked straight at me.

My heart throbbed. I swallowed a nervous laugh and looked back at the view.

"I knew this would be the perfect place for you." He spoke softly, a note of sadness in his voice.

I couldn’t look at him. "Y-you know me well, and we’ve only spent–"

"Two weeks. On Monday."

"Two weeks?" I raked in a breath...of air that smelled of him.

"Alyssa, I want to give you something." He took my hand, causing an electric-like jolt to course through me. I could barely breathe as he led me into the kitchen. A cylinder package wrapped in yellow paper stood on a black granite counter. He let go of my hand and pointed.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Open it." Nate grinned, a nervous wobble to his lips.

I tore off the paper to reveal–

"Table salt?" I blinked, hoping to hide my confusion.

Nate took the container from my hands and placed it on the counter.

"Unconventional, I know." He wrapped his hands around mine. "There’s this old Brazilian saying about only knowing someone well after eating a pound of salt together."

"I don’t understand."

"Do you know how many times you’d have to have dinner with someone to use that much salt?"

"A long time."

He nodded, inching toward me. "Would you eat a pound of salt with me? Starting with dinner tonight?"

I might have pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, but I didn’t want to look foolish in front of him.

"I would love to have dinner with you. But I must warn you. I’m a low sodium kind of girl. It might take a long time to use a pound."

"The longer the better." He took my face in his hands and softly kissed my lips. My head spun as I allowed him to pull me into his arms and kiss me more fully.

"Does this mean I don’t have to give up my house?" he whispered, then kissed the tip of my nose.

"Your house?"

"This is my house. I bought it a few months ago, began fixing it up to rent out to vacationers. But I liked being out here so much I planned on moving in myself. Until–" He smiled and looped a lock of my hair behind my ear. "Until I saw your disappointment after each house I took you to see."

I looked deep into his eyes. "You were going to sell me your house and...walk away?"

"I hoped not to. Still do. In fact, if you still like me after a pound of salt, I thought we might make this a permanent thing."

"You mean...live together?" Disappointment shot through me.

He shook his head. "I mean, marriage. I’m not asking yet. Don’t want to scare you off. We’ve only know each other for the best two weeks of my life. But after–"

"Yes!" I thrust myself into his arms. "I’ll take it."

"Take it?"

"The house, the salt...you."

With a smile he hugged me to him. "Let’s go start on our first pound of salt."

About the Author: Lianne Bruynell Lopes is a wife and mother of two who currently teaches sixth grade at a small Christian school in southern Florida. An avid history buff, Lianne writes blending her love for the past with an appreciation of good, clean romance. Her first award-winning novel, Shadow of the Wolf, was published in 2002. Lianne is currently pursuing publication for a second novel.

Author Interview: Dara England

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Dara England, author of Brought to Life, which gave her the tag line she's adopted: Contemporary Fairytales.

"That's how I think of this book," she explained, "because it combines a modern setting with magic and romance. It’s basically a time travel love story but with a twist. The hero doesn’t have only time to contend with in his pursuit of the heroine—reality is against him too. You see, he’s a fictional character from a novel. Or is he? The real truth is only for the heroine to discover." She added with a wink, "And the readers."

Dara shared with me that she started writing because of a very basic human emotion: envy. "When I was about six years old, my big brother started writing a story. I got so envious of his little book I decided to write my own." She laughed and continued, "Sometimes my motivation to write is still envy. When I read something great, some little voice in the back of my head is always groaning, 'Man, I wish I’d thought of that idea.' It keeps me going."

Obviously at six, Dara was too young to write many words. Her first books were picture books. "I usually traced the pictures from coloring books since I couldn’t draw very well at that age either," she confessed.

"When did you first consider yourself a writer?" I asked.

"When I started writing." She laughed. "Sorry, maybe that’s too simple. I guess the image I had of myself as a writer just developed over the years. I knew since childhood that I wanted to write books someday, so it seemed natural to think of myself by that name. When did I consider myself an author? That’s a whole different question. I started thinking of myself by that term when I signed my first contract."

Even though she always knew writing would be in the picture somehow, Dara had different ideas at various times of what she wanted to be when she grew up. "I wanted to dance, to act, to sing, to paint, etc.," she told me. "For a long time I wanted to be a veterinarian."

One of her earliest influences in her writing was Tolkien. "A guy I was dating took me to The Fellowship of the Ring and, once I saw that—well, it was all over for me," she said. "I married my date and started writing fantasy. Later my love of fantasy led me to discover a new area: paranormal romance. I like to think of my paranormal romances as being something like modern fantasies or contemporary fairytales."

When her writing projects are still just a germ of an idea, Dara told me that she lets her imagination do most of the work. "It's like a movie rolling in my head," she said, "one I can direct any way I like. Once I sit down to write, I start straining my brain, of course."

Sometimes in this process, Dara develops a situation first and then invents characters to act them out.

"On the other hand I’ve also been known to invent whole worlds and societies just to fit my ideas for one character. I think of myself as very much a character writer," she explained.

On a personal note, all Dara's writing seems to slant downward. "I can't write a straight line unless I'm writing on lined paper," she said. "I also have hideous penmanship that could pass as a sort of code since no one besides me can make it out."

She also has discovered that apparently she says "my gosh" and "my goodness" a lot. The reason she thinks this? "My four-year-old and my three-year-old have started repeating it," she told me.

"Have you ever eaten a crayon?" I asked.

"I don’t recall a definite occasion," she said, "but I’m sure I have. It’s one of those remembered tastes, like the taste of a coin. You don’t know when you put one in your mouth but you have a very clear memory of what it was like."

Dara's not sure she wants to know the future, even though it might be nice to know something about her writing career. She told me, "I’m convinced that most of the time it’s best to be surprised by life. If the news is good, it’s a happy surprise and if it’s bad you don’t have to worry about it in advance."

Unlike a lot of romance writers, Dara has only cried once during a movie. "During Castaway, I cried when the soccer ball, 'Wilson,' floated away. Tom Hanks was sobbing and screaming for Wilson to come back. I got a bit choked up then but I'm not embarrassed about it. I suspect everyone who saw that movie wept for Wilson."

Dara told me that her husband describes her as "melancholy." "I don’t know exactly what all that entails," she said, "but I’m shy, withdrawn, and very quiet. I avoid confrontation at all costs and tend to lurk in the shadows if I can get away with it. Strangely enough the internet has brought out a different side of me. I’m comfortable chatting in forums, chat rooms, etc. online. I like having all the time I need to consider what I want to say. Then too, taking on a pen name has freed me up a bit. Dara England is like a whole different personality from the real me. She dares to go where I wouldn’t."

She's not fond of thunderstorms at all... in fact, she admits to hating them, and with good reason. "Living in Oklahoma," she told me, "I always have the fear of tornados in the back of my mind. We had one come pretty close to the house when I was a kid and I’ve never forgotten it. It made me realize these things don’t just happen to other people."

Also, when her husband is out, she sleeps with the light on. "I can’t stand to sleep alone in the dark," she confessed. "It’s been a big fear of mine since I was a kid. Maybe that’s why I’m lenient about letting my own kids keep a light on at night. I also avoid dangling a leg over the side of the bed—just in case."

Finally, I asked Dana what advice she would give a new writer just starting out.

"In my opinion, perseverance is the most important part of being a writer. You can train yourself to develop a certain amount of talent and you can make your own opportunities. But if you quit after the first couple years of rejection you’ll probably never get far enough to build up your skills or to grab those chances and run with them."

You can keep up with Dara on her website, http://www.daraenglandauthor.com/

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Liana Laverentz

By now I pretty much have a book that is technically correct, with all the pieces in the right place, and the external events and internal growth and change happening in a logical manner, but it doesn’t have that sparkle yet. It’s there, but not there. It’s time to read it aloud, and time to find a friend or two to read it—critique partners are best for this—who will tell you if you’ve written something that doesn’t make sense or is full of glaring errors. Because by now I’ve read the manuscript so many times that I see what I think I wrote, or what I wanted to write, but in a lot of cases, not what’s really there. Maybe I cut a scene that didn’t work, and later on make reference to it, but it’s gone. It’s still in my mind, so I know what happened, but didn’t make it to the page, so the reader has no idea what happened. Those are the kind of things critique partners are great at pointing out.

So I’ll ship it off to a critique partner or two, and then get to work at what I call fine-tuning the manuscript. Making sure I’ve touched on the five senses in each scene. Adding in a breeze wafting through the open window, and the scent of jasmine on the wind. Draw out the experience of eating a piece of chocolate or an ice cream cone, exploring the sense of taste. Turn a sunset into a fiery ball of red in the sky to reflect the heroine’s mood, or create a deep purple sky to do the same. Make sure the weather and environment on the outside match what is happening to the characters inside. And touch…this is the part where you magnify every look, every touch, every nuance of falling in love. The part where your characters really come alive, as they interact with each other and their surroundings and become more aware of how beautiful the world they inhabit is. They’re in love. Everything looks brighter, feels softer, more sensual and even sexual, depending on the tone of the scene or story.

This is where you add that sexual tension, that heat, that slow burning fire that ends up consuming your characters. This is where you make that fire hotter and hotter until your characters have no choice but to give in to it, or feel like they are going to die from desire.

And because by now you know your conflict, your plot, how your story ends, who has the most at stake in each scene, what their emotions are and what they do externally to express those emotions, where those emotions come from in their backgrounds and why—it’s like putting icing on a very delicious cake. A little here, a lot there, using varying degrees of sweetness and color, reading it aloud again, tasting it on your tongue…realizing you’ve done the best job you can of creating a story that makes you laugh and cry and get furious and frustrated in all the right places…

Finally comes the moment when you know the work of your heart is done. All you can do is send it out and hope someone else will love it, and the characters who tell what has by now become their story, not yours, as much as you do. I’ve been blessed beyond belief by the response to my first two books, Thin Ice and Jake’s Return. I’m hoping readers will enjoy Ashton’s Secret just as much.

So thank you for reading. Without readers like you, writers would have no way of knowing if what we’re doing, if all the blood and sweat and tears we put into crafting our stories, creating our characters, makes sense to anyone but ourselves :-). It’s an honor to be read by you, and an honor to have been able to share the process that I use to write books I hope will touch the lives of my readers as much as they have touched my own.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Liana Laverentz

Okay, so we have our conflict established, we’ve blown through our book to see how it ends, (very important if you want to go back and foreshadow events, or, as in the case of a romantic suspense, plant clues where they need to be), and to see if we even have a story that will hold water. It’s mostly bare bones now, dialogue and a few stage directions, and the point of view in each scene has been established. Now it’s time to flesh out the manuscript.

This is where I add in the important external details, or what I call stage directions. (Who crossed the room, slammed the door, or gripped the pen too tightly, etc.). This is where I mine the emotions of the characters. I might have written a note to myself or somehow indicated that the hero is angry in this scene. This is where I find out WHY he’s angry, what is triggering his anger. Has he been betrayed? Does he just think he’s been betrayed? Whether he has been or not is immaterial. It’s how he feels about what has happened to him that matters in this stage. What is it in his background that makes him react so strongly to what the heroine just said or did?

This is the place where the back-story best fits into the story. Not as an information dump in the first three chapters, where the author is trying to let the reader know (in the author’s narrative voice) how the characters got to where they are at this point in the story, but in sprinkles and sparkles, coming from the characters themselves. A line or two of dialogue here, a couple of lines of internal narrative there…This is where I really get to know my characters inside and out, and I find this part of creating a story as much fun as getting it all down on paper in the first place. Because this is where I learn what really makes my characters tick, and more often than not, they are still full of surprises at this point. This is where I begin to shape each scene so that it reflects who my characters really are, deep down inside. This is where I pretty much fall in love with my story all over again. :-)

Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I wrap it all up into what I hope will be a story to be remembered.