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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Sandy Lender

Determining the Demeanor of a Dragon By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

My tagline reads “Some days, I just want the dragon to win.” At appropriate times, I change it to say, “Some days, you just want the dragon to win.” Now, as charming as that seems, there are some dragons you must root against. (Julette from my CHOICES series) There are some slayers you root for (Brendan from my CHOICES series). The question arises: How do you know which dragons are “win” worthy? How do you know to root for the big scaly reptile on the pile o’ treasure versus the guy in the armor (or sans armor) with the sword (or clever ray gun)?

I think the first clue that a dragon could be labeled “good” is if he/she refrains from immediately roasting you when you stumble into his/her lair. If she holds up her head, looks at you quizzically, and challenges you to a riddle contest, you might be okay.

The dragon is only half the equation, though. Some folks pay close attention to the slayer, be he/she a human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, wizard, etc.

Always consider the caliber of the slayer when choosing sides. Some slayers are sympathetic and great. Some are monstrous themselves. The last thing I want to root for is some boisterous braggart who shows up proclaiming the number of drunken orgies he (or she) has participated in while still ridding the countryside of evil beasties because he’s just “all that.” Criminy. In that case, I don’t care if the dragon is good, bad, indifferent, young, old, senile, whatever. Just roast this guy and move on to something else. Like picking his bones out of the dragon’s teeth.

Yes, some days, I just want the dragon to win.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Sandy Lender

“Don’t Set Deals with Demons” By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

To start this essay on demons in fantasy, here’s a brief excerpt introducing one of the demons from my first fantasy novel, CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS. In this scene (already underway) Nigel and Chariss practice their sword technique in the training arena at Arcana. Nigel toys with Chariss because he just wants to get to know her a little better.

(beginning of excerpt)

At one point, she thought Nigel ignored an accidental opening she’d left, and it angered her to think he wasn’t trying his best. Did he think she needed favors to win the match? Did he think she wasn’t an excellent swordsman herself? When she went on the offensive, seriously, he was caught by surprise.

The press, the attack, the speed with which she suddenly came at him stunned him nearly as much as her skill. It took a minute of this onslaught, but she managed to lock the hilt of her sword against his and they struggled closely. She was shorter than him by a good seven inches, and didn’t have nearly the upper body strength he did.

So the last move was a mistake, she thought. She’d wring her way out of it and try another tactic. But she didn’t get the chance.

With his empty hand, Nigel reached his arm around her waist and spun her. Now that her sword arm was free and her back to him, she beheld one of the training monsters rushing toward them.

“By the gods!” she gasped, taking up a stance beside him.

Assuming Mia or Hrazon had entered the arena and conjured this beast, she began the usual two-man assault. Nigel had trained here, too, even if in secret, so he knew how to follow suit.

This quickly proved to be no simple training exercise. In fact, as they pressed the putrid-green and yellow beast with swords clanging against its exoskeleton, Chariss saw its foot—the size of her torso, by the way—land outside the training ring.

That shouldn’t have happened.

(end of excerpt)

The demon Nigel and Chariss find themselves fighting in this scene is called a ryfel. The ancient (and evil) goddess Julette created these things during the First War in Onweald’s history and they are large, poisonous, mindless beasts that exist solely to rip apart and eat followers of The Master (the society’s highest active god). Think Cthullu with less arms. He he.

At one point in CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS, Chariss (the heroine) becomes annoyed with teen Jake Taiman’s flirtations and starts lecturing him on what his family does and doesn’t expect of him. It’s not a long lecture because, personally, I don’t like reading lectures in books and figured my audience would appreciate an abbreviated one from Chariss. But she does tell Jake to watch out for pretty girls who might be demons in disguise. He tells her, basically, “yeah, I know not to set deals with demons.”

It’s interesting foreshadowing because Jake is slow to follow his own advice, we learn later that his father has already gone across that spiritual divide to disastrous effect, and a young lady who threatens our hero and heroine’s happiness needs some other-worldly dealings. Then, of course, the villain has joined forces with the ultimate demon. (Does he really think that’s going to get him all that he wants?)

In my fantasy world of Onweald, demons are bad. The edras and ryfel that Julette created have ugly, poisonous characteristics. While the ryfel are mindless, lumbering beasts that enter the mortal world by a gifted person’s command, the edras are intelligent enough to carry on conversations. They can solve problems. They can bow down and worship the evil goddess that called them into being. They can hunt down their prey. Luckily, they stink like rotting flesh so you can tell when one’s near at hand. These two examples aren’t the kind of beasts who seduce you with pretty words and lusty desires. These two are the kind of beasts who follow commands from dark forces and attack the innocent. I wouldn’t set any deals with them.

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Sandy Lender

The Amethyst on Chariss’s Cheek By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

The main character in the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS fantasy series bears a tiny amethyst birthstone on her cheekbone, high up near the corner of her right eye. You can see it reflecting out of her sword on the cover of CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS. You can see it vividly on the cover of CHOICES MEANT FOR KINGS. I didn’t choose this stone haphazardly.

If you know your Greek mythology, you may remember that the god Bacchus was angry one day and decreed that his tigers would pounce on (and gobble up) the next person that passed his way. The girl passing his way was named Amethyst, and she was going to the temple of the goddess Diana. Diana rushed to her rescue, turning her into a pillar of clear stone rather than letting Bacchus’s tigers munch her down. When Bacchus saw this, he felt contrite (didn’t happen often with him, you know) and poured grape wine over the clear stone as if in an offering. This is how the amethyst gets its lovely color, and why it’s said to “relieve frustrated passions” as well as keep someone from becoming inebriated.

The amethyst stone is said to offer protection and divine connection, both important to the heroine Amanda Chariss in my fantasy series. It is also a stone of transformation, aiding in spiritual journeys and high levels of understanding. While I never go into such story-bogging detail in my fantasy novels, readers familiar with mythology, gemology, mineralogy, or chakra work will recognize the rich symbolism employed in giving Chariss her beautiful birthmark.

I welcome you to learn more about Chariss through the excerpts posted on my website at www.authorsandylender.com or from the man who loves her, Nigel Taiman. His blog is located at http://sandylender.blogspot.com.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Hard Time by Ashley Ladd

Evie Cartland couldn’t stop her smile any more than she could stop a meteor. She sat on her hands to keep from flailing them. “Thank you. I won’t let you down.” She’d be the best director in company history. She’d work her ass off.

Mr. Farrell, the V.P., cracked a small smile and rose. “I know you won’t. Your work has been excellent. That’s why we promoted you.”

When he held out his hand, she stood and shook it. Tingles raced down her spine. To date she was only the second female director in the company. The only other was related to the CEO. Giddy, she squirmed. She’d done it! Broke through the glass ceiling.

“Let’s make the happy announcement to your department.” He held the door and waited for her to proceed.

A stitch attacked her side and she hung back. Her breath caught in her throat. “Does this mean the others up for this position already know?” Her nemesis, Will, specifically.

Will Hughes was her biggest rival and she feared her largest headache. Since his first day on the job, he’d dressed in expensive suits and lunched with upper management. Everyone knew he was destined for greatness.

Beside him she felt puny and invisible. But his presence had pushed her to work hard and many extra hours. She knew the job better than anyone else. So what if she didn’t have a degree from a fancy schmancy school?

She deserved this promotion!

So why was she about to jump out of her skin?

As they called together her department, she pasted a smile on her face and held her head high.

She barely heard Mr. Farrell say, “I’m happy to announce that your new director is Evie Cartland.” She was too busy sneaking furtive glances at Will, wondering how he took the news.

Several hands shook hers. Several co-workers gave her hugs. Still, she was focused on Will.

Hadn’t it been that way since he’d joined the company? If she was honest with herself she’d admit she spent way too much time thinking about him. Watching him. Goading him.

That evening after everybody had gone home, she arranged her new office. She was in awe of having walls. Blessed privacy!

“You looked nervous when Farrell announced your good news.” Will lounged against her door and loosened his tie.

She jumped and clutched her throat, then whirled about. Her heart threatened to gallop away.

Despite the long day he still looked crisp and delicious. She gulped. “Why are you still hanging around?”

“Hoping to catch you alone.” His dark eyes remained inscrutable. He didn’t move a muscle. He just watched her like a predator preparing to snag his prey.

Oh no! Her pulse skittered in her wrists. He was going to let her have it. She’d counted on a bit more time before he became a problem.

She kept her expression neutral and motioned to her guest chair. “What did you want to see me about?”

He moved deeper into her office but remained standing. “I wanted to give you a hug but not in front of the others.”

“Oh!” Her mouth opened in a big “O” and her eyes widened until her cheeks ached.

“If that’s okay with you.”

Guilt overcame her for taking the job he’d also wanted. “I’m sorry you weren’t chosen. You’d be a wonderful director, too.”

“Is it okay?”

When his shadow fell over her she looked up. It would be more than okay—unless he felt her quaking and realized how crazy head over heels she was for him.

Before she could reply, he wrapped her in his arms and pulled her close. His warm breath coasted down her neck.

She stayed in his arms, waiting for him to move away. But he didn’t.

She looked up at him and was caught by his gaze. She couldn’t look away, couldn’t breathe.

His lips closed in on hers. When he was barely a breath away he asked, “Would it be okay if I kiss you? You won’t fire me?”

Was it okay?

Her blood sang in her veins. Her toes curled. Butterflies pirouetted in her tummy.

Hell yeah! It was a lot more than okay. It was a dream come true.

Her throat was too constricted to speak so she replied by tiptoeing and pressing her lips to his. When his hands splayed across her back and he pulled her impossibly close, she parted her lips.

To her immense relief he kissed her back. Greedily. As if he’d been starved for her. As if he was in love with her, too.

Too?

Revelation punched her in the gut and she groaned. This was impossible!

He stared at her as if she’d gone mad.

Her palms grew clammy and she pulled out of his embrace. “I’m sorry about that. Please forget it happened.”

He cornered her at her desk. “What if I don’t want to forget? What if I want to kiss you again? And again?”

Her breath hissed out and she wanted to pinch herself to make sure she was awake. In an awe-struck voice she asked, “You do?”

He slid his finger under her chin and forced her gaze to meet his. “Yes. I’ve wanted to for a long time.”

Relief flooded her and she had to laugh. “And you pick now to tell me? I was afraid you’d hate me. Maybe not enough to stick needles in a voodoo doll. But you’d give me a hard time.”

He cracked a lopsided grin. “Laverne’s more the voodoo doll type. Watch out for her.”

He pinned her to the desk and when she felt how hard he was, she gasped. She took it all back. She yearned for him to give her a “hard” time. The sooner, the better.

He nuzzled her neck and ran his hands down her arms. “Are you hungry, like me?"

She melted against him and gave him a wicked smile. “Starved…”

About the Author: Ashley Ladd has more than 40 published romances. Her most recently released story is "Sorry Charlie" in the "Friction" anthology, published by Total-E-Bound at www.total-e-bound.com She's originally from Cincinnati but now lives in sunny South Florida. Her next release, an erotic romance, will be on October 5, 2009 at www.total-e-bound.com and is entitled "Recipe for Disaster".

She loves to read and write about comedy romance, time-travel, and as a big Trekkie, Air Force vet, and cat lover, you'll often find military heroes and heroines, space, and talking cats in her novels. She invites you to visit her at her blog at
http://www.ashleyladd.blogspot.com and also on Twitter and Facebook as "Ashleyladd" (all one word, no quotes).

Author Interview: Linda Swift

The Long and the Short of It: LASR is pleased to have Linda Swift visiting with us this week. Linda's newest book Single Status is being released in October by Awe-Struck Publishing.

The idea for Single Status came to Linda when she was waiting at a power plant job site for her husband at the end of his day. She saw a woman in jeans and hard hat who was obviously one of the engineers. "It got me thinking what it must be like being the only woman on a crew," she said, "and how the other workers would feel about her. I had a heroine. Later my husband was on a single status job in St. Croix, which meant family was not allowed to join him, and he shared a villa with another employee. I had a setting. A bomb planted by terrorists brought down a plane in Scotland. The grieving hero appeared. I talked to my agent about the story. He didn't buy the premise of a mix-up that put a male and female together on the job site by mistake. But I had observed many errors made by large corporations and knew it could have happened. So while living in England I sat in my study overlooking the turbulent River Humber during a cold winter and began writing about a tropical paradise. And much later, an editor (snowbound in her office on a weekend) read the story and not only contracted it but made it winner of the short novel contest of the year."

Single Status is the story of B.J. Sutherland and Dana Thomas who, through a stateside error, find themselves sharing a villa when they come to start up a St. Croix power plant. The job is single status, which suites them in every way. B.J. is still smarting from the end of her ten year marriage and Dana carries hurt and guilt for the death of his wife and young son in a terrorist plant crash. B.J. is the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong on the job and Dana becomes her reluctant defender when he is not trying to defend himself from her unjust conclusions about him. But despite their attempts to prove otherwise the attraction between them thrives and the torrid Caribbean nights threaten to melt their firm resolve.

Linda knew nothing about starting up a power plant and almost as little about golf.

"I could never have written this story without the expertise of my husband in both," she told me. "I told him what I needed to have happen in the plot and he talked me through the mechanics of it. Then I wrote the scene and read it to him to see if the language rang true or needed revising. With his generous help, I am confident I have the facts right."

To read an excerpt, stop by Linda's website.

Since her first five hundred page novel, written when she was sixteen, Linda has completed ten books, six either published or contracted, and she has a few more in various stages of completion.

"My favorite book is my longest, a Civil War saga as yet unpublished," Linda said. "I love that period in history. It is so romantic. (Shades of Gone With The Wind) And I love my characters. I have made beginnings of three sequels to that book, or perhaps combining the three stories into one book as they are all of the next generation. And this book is one I've changed the title for about three times already. As of now I'm calling it 'This Time, Forever.'"

She's also working on her third historical that's set in England in 1605 involving the Gunpowder Plot. It's a sequel to Maid of the Midlands, set in 1573, which will be released by Awe-Struck eBooks early next year. "I'd really like to get this story out of my head and onto the printed page," she confessed, "as those characters keep clamoring to be released."

Characters are important to Linda, as it's the characters that determine whether or not a book is memorable to her. Linda has to relate to the characters—either loving or hating them—in order to care what happens in the story. "And then," she went on, "of course, the plot will grab me and I'll be right there with them all the way."

On a personal note, Linda told me that dogs are her favorite animal, however they don't have one at the present. "I would dearly love to have a dog but living in a condo half the year and driving back and forth between two states where we have homes, makes owning an animal difficult," she said. "And I still remember the sorrow of losing our last dog and I'm not sure I want to experience that again. So I will be content to be the Me-Maw of a precious Lhasa Apso granddog."

Sheep come in a close second to dogs, though, ever since Linda watched sheep grazing on green English hillsides. "I searched diligently for a painting that depicted the scenes I saw but all the paintings I found were of sheep in snow," she explained. "So I finally brought one of those back to the States when we came but in my mind, the hills are always green."

I asked Linda if she were a morning or night person.

" Morning? What's that?" she countered. "I would love for every day to begin about noon and continue until midnight or two a.m. I don't get into the creative mode until at least noon and I usually peak about mid-afternoon to five. "

She also wishes the calendar had two seasons: spring and autumn. "Or maybe just autumn," she said. "This is the season when I wax lyrical and am my most creative and productive. When Indian summer comes to Kentucky, with all the glorious colors, I am almost drunk with the beauty of it all."

If Linda could erase any horrible experience from her past, she would rewrite the script so that her daughter wouldn't be in a nearly fatal accident and have to go through all the suffering to recover. "Thanks be to God," Linda told me, "she has made a complete recovery. She is our miracle."

Finally, I asked Linda, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Don't try to write for the market because chances are what's 'in' at the moment will be out before you can get the book finished, accepted, and published," she told me. "Expect rejections and learn from them. The editor is not rejecting you, only what you have written. And it may only be that it doesn't fit their guidelines or needs at the moment. Unfortunately, many editors today don't have the time to tell you why their answer was 'no.'"

You can keep up with Linda on her website, http://www.lindaswift.net

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Candace Morehouse

The Bucket List

I thought it would be appropriate to end my week of guest posts with a bucket list, you know, that list of stuff you want to do before you die? Do you have one?

Here’s mine, but feel free to share yours, too:

1. Meet Gordon Ramsey. I’d love to challenge him to a cooking duel, a la “The F Word”. Maybe meatballs? By the way, if you would like a copy of the e-cookbook, Recipe for Romance, just send me and Email and I’ll be happy to oblige. It includes my recipe for meatballs and a funny excerpt from Suspicion of Love.

2. Drive a race car around the track. Not just those little carts that go around a circle at the indoor amusement park, a real NASCAR car in a real race. Of course, if Jeff Gordon was sitting next to me, I wouldn’t mind a bit. *sigh*

3. Make herbs grow. I don’t know why I can make houseplants flourish but herbs just take one look at me and die. For someone who loves to cook, this is really frustrating.

4. Stay in an old Irish castle. Preferably one with resident ghosts.

5. See my books featured in prominent displays at every bookstore. Guess I’d have to be the next Nora Roberts or Stephen King to accomplish this, but I’m working at it…

Whew! It was a lot of work coming up with five posts. It was a lot of fun. Thanks for reading.

Now that I’m done, I’m going to kick back and enjoy a glass of my favorite beverage, Shiraz wine. Care to join me?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Candace Morehouse

Men Sweat, Women Glisten

Have you ever thought about the difference between men and women? I mean the REAL differences, not just hairy chests versus soft breasts, or bald heads versus curls. What about those inherent differences that make their minds work different from ours?

I’ve had a great opportunity to explore this issue much deeper than I ever thought possible (“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About a Man’s Brain – or Lack Thereof – But Were Afraid to Ask”). Fellow author Michael Davis, aka “Big Mike”, and I teamed up to write a romantic suspense together. Our first venture is entitled Veil of Deception, which will be available through Champagne Books January 1, 2010. We’re currently working on our second one, Whispers of Innocence.

Writing with a man is…how shall I describe it? Challenging? Most definitely. Frustrating? You betcha. Enlightening? Yep, again.

The experience has given me an insight into the male psyche like I’ve never gotten from any of my four husbands!

For instance, Big Mike informs me about how men’s dialogue should go. When I write it, he always highlights in red with a note saying “A man wouldn’t say that!”. When two men are being confrontational, one of them won’t back down without coercion in the form of death threat or plainly visible weapon.

And then there’s the soft, tender side to men. Big Mike isn’t called that for nothin’. He’s a big’un. Yet, he often makes his characters far more sappy than mine. I’m always trying to write my heroines as tough and savvy, and he’s always looking for that tender, vulnerable spot.

Apparently men are also programmed to be a dragon slayer. All of Big Mike’s heroes try to take care of the heroine. I want my heroines to do things like fish and fix their own cars and be trained to use a gun. He wants them to do needlework, look to her man for rescuing, and recognize a man’s superior abilities. I want them to sweat, not just glisten (as a dear old Southern friend of mine once said).

Just like anything else in life, we end up compromising. I let his heroes exhibit their chest-pounding, macho traits but only if he allows my heroines to be more than a pretty face. I tend to work up a real “glisten” in the process, though.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Candace Morehouse

The Joy of Food

Don’t you hate it when a heroine is some little skinny-minnie who watches everything she puts into her mouth? I know I do. I love to eat, dammit!

I guess that’s why there’s always cooking and eating going on in my books. After all, taste is one of the five senses and after steamy sex, who doesn’t want dessert? Personally, I could do without the chocolate, but give me something almond or cherry flavored and I’m in seventh heaven.

Here’s a couple excerpts from my books that feature food:

From the Edwardian mystery/romance Suspicion of Love (Jacqueline, our erstwhile heroine, plays the part of a servant for handsome and rich Lord Derby’s decadent London soiree):
~~~~
Jacqueline grabbed her first tray filled with tiny pieces of brown bread topped with caviar and dollops of cream as well as silver pitchers holding a pungent tomato sauce. She carefully ascended the stairs with her burden and resolutely pushed open the door to the dining room…and promptly ran smack dab into a broad wall of man’s chest.

The little pieces of bread slipped and slid about the ornate salver, but thankfully none fell off, Jacqueline noted with some satisfaction.

“Well, well, well. Who have we here?”

The man’s voice was low and melodious and husky. Jacqueline nervously licked her lips and turned her gaze upward to spy the gentleman she’d nearly bowled over.

He was the finest specimen of man Jacqueline had ever laid eyes on. Taller than any she’d seen, too. She craned her neck to find his face, her mouth falling open. Finely crafted features of broad eyebrows, narrow nose, and strong, square jaw accented by a closely cropped beard and moustache were topped by an upswept fringe of thick brunette waves interspersed with streaks of deep auburn. His melting chocolate brown eyes sparkled with amusement at some bit of humor known only to him. He was attired in the costume of a medieval knight, and his broad shoulders amply filled out a velvet tunic beneath a shiny shirt of chain mail. His long, long legs were encased in a pair of indecently tight hose and knee-length soft leather boots, and spread apart in a classic warrior’s stance.

“Lucky for me it’s a dab hand you have there with the tray, miss, lest I find my armor gone to rust with tomatoes and cream.”

“My apologies, milord, for such clumsiness. I did not see you there whence I made to enter the dining room. I promise to be more careful next time,” Jacqueline said breathily, mesmerized by the man’s handsome visage and twinkling eyes. Was she supposed to curtsy in the presence of one who obviously belonged to the peerage? She doubted she could perform that act and not spill the contents of her tray this time.

“Here now, all’s fine. Very, very fine indeed.” His voice lowered along with his eyes, which came to rest on the very low cut of her blouse.
~~~~

This one is from the contemporary romance Full Throttle (due out October 1st from ChampagneBooks.com). This is the first part of ex-motorcycle racer Linc’s attempted seduction of Samantha:
~~~
“Have you eaten yet?” When Samantha shook her head Linc said, “Good.”

He uncorked the bottle, and while Samantha sipped champagne from a plastic goblet with a fresh raspberry soaking in the bottom, Linc proceeded to unpack the picnic basket. He’d assembled a virtual feast: shrimp cocktail, assorted cheeses and sausages and juicy raspberries, a crusty loaf of bread, chocolate cake.

Samantha dropped a plump raspberry into her champagne glass to accompany its twin, and Linc watched with fascination as she plopped the alcohol-drenched berry in her mouth. A trickle of sticky, red juice dripped down her chin. He couldn’t resist leaning over and running his tongue over it, gently licking and lapping up the juice before his lips rose and claimed her mouth in a hard kiss. He ended the kiss after only a moment, reminding himself to exhibit some patience. Seduction was best not hurried and, after all, this was only phase two in “Operation Seduce Samantha”. The best was yet to come, if he could just rein in his baser instincts.

After they’d gorged on the improvised dinner, Linc used his hands to break apart a slice of chocolate cake. His gooey fingers fed each crumbly piece to Samantha one by one until she moaned, complaining that she couldn’t take another bite or she’d explode. Linc licked off the chocolate frosting from his fingers but Samantha grabbed his wrist and brought them to her own mouth. He was the one moaning this time as her tongue laved and licked at his rough digits.

Samantha tossed back the rest of her champagne as Linc threw the leftovers of their picnic dinner back in the basket and set it aside. She leaned back on one of the big, silk-covered pillows, gazing at him as he moved with efficiency and grace, his thigh muscles bunching as he knelt on the blanket. She could hardly believe she was here, in the desert, under the soft illumination of the moon, on a blanket lying beside Linc Montgomery. The champagne was bubbling through her body, relaxing her limbs. Her eyelids grew heavy, and they started to close until she felt a tug on one boot.

Samantha’s eyes flew open and she tried to rise up on her elbows to see what Linc what was up to now, but he pushed her back down against the pillows. “Relax.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Candace Morehouse

Horsepower, Literally

After my son was born, I turned to a different kind of horsepower – an Arabian gelding of pure lineage named Nijem Warrior. I bought him for a song because he was young, and had him green broke at a ranch called the Ponderosa near Lake Roberts, NM (Hoss and Little Joe were nowhere in sight, though).

After getting him back home from boarding school, I was instructed to ride him every day so he wouldn’t forget his training. I’d race home from work on my lunch hour, saddle up Nijem, and pretend to barrel race between yuccas in the yard. On weekends, my friend, whose beautiful Appaloosa was named Cinnamon Sky, and I would take longer rides on a ranch across the street from my house. We’d bring gourmet picnics in our saddlebags with wine, cheese and crackers, and chocolate for dessert.

Nijem is long gone but today I am lucky enough to have a wonderful friend who lets me ride one of her horses. His name is Cochise, and he stands 17 hands tall. He always lags a little at first but when his afterburners kick in (letting go of digested hay – yes crapping – and farting endlessly), those huge, powerful muscles of his are hard to stop from breaking into a run. I just love this horse!

My love of horses prompted me to write my first book, Golden Enchantment. It takes place in 1880 New Mexico and involves the hunt for a buried treasure of gold left behind by the Spanish conquistadores. Golden Enchantment is available in print or e-book from ChampagneBooks.com.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Candace Morehouse

Horsepower and First Loves

I’ve always had the need for speed.

I guess it comes from growing up (literally) in the auto parts industry. My very first love was a mechanic named Jonesy. He worked at the auto parts store/repair shop my dad managed when I was a little girl. One day when he wasn’t looking, I wrote Candy + Jonesy = Love on the chalkboard where the day’s work orders were listed.

I love hot rods. When I was finally deemed old enough (21), my mom spoiled me rotten by buying me a 1984 Camaro Berlinetta. What a car! It was supposed to look futuristic, and it did with its black T-tops, completely digital gauges, and a stereo system on a pedestal that turned for either driver or passenger to control. Being young and skinny and blonde back then, I attracted a lot of attention driving around Las Cruces, NM in my hot Berlinetta. Ah, those were the days…

Ten years ago my boyfriend talked me into buying a motorcycle dynamometer. He was attending Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix at the time. He said he fell in love with me the night I changed the clutch on his bike. He went on to teach me how to rejet a carb, check the timing, and change the spark plugs on Harleys as we drove around the state and attended various motorcycle events.

Neither the relationship nor the business lasted, but the memories did. I wrote the contemporary romance, Full Throttle based on my experiences. Full Throttle is due out October 1st from Champagne Books. If you love motorcycles, hot men in leather chaps, and the thrill of riding at full-out horsepower, then you’ll love Full Throttle.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Love I Left Behind by Christina Cole

Is this what you really want?

I sat on the rocky ledge gazing at the Arizona sunrise. With a smile I grabbed my backpack and pulled out my pastels and sketchbook. In shades of pale pink, soft lavender, and bold strokes of yellow, I sketched the dawning day.

Yes, I wanted this time and place. I wanted this chance to pursue my art, to prove I had an artist's vision, an artist's voice. But that other voice -- the one inside my head -- insisted otherwise. It nagged at me that morning, as it had done every morning since I'd come to Sedona four weeks earlier.

"Yes, this is what I want!" I said aloud. For the first time I heard my own uncertainties.

I wanted this free-spirited life, but I wanted more.

I wanted Eddie, the love I'd left behind.

Or had I really left him behind? The voice inside my head belonged to him, and the aching in my heart came from the memories I carried with me.

After several hours, I had little to show for my morning's efforts. I'd spent most of my time staring off toward Thunder Mountain as though the majestic rock could give me its strength if I stared long enough -- strength enough to hold on to my fading dreams.

Thick, gray clouds gathered overhead. Angry with myself for wasting another morning, I put away my pastels and sketchbook, then slung the backpack over my shoulder and hiked down the rocky cliff.

My stomach grumbled with hunger, and I considered driving into town for a late breakfast. I decided instead to save what few dollars I had. The money I'd brought with me hadn't lasted long, and needless to say, tourists weren't beating paths to my doorstep to buy my artwork. To get by, I did odd jobs: trimming bushes, walking dogs, running errands.

I could always go home. But going home meant giving up Sedona, the sunlight glistening off the russet-red rocks, and the breath-taking vista of the canyons.

I pulled my battered old jeep off the highway and headed down the graveled road toward the cabin I'd rented. Dust hung in the air, and I frowned. Someone had been there. Worried about intruders ransacking my cabin, I pressed on the accelerator. As I rounded the bend, I saw an unfamiliar car parked out front, and I leaned on the jeep's horn, blaring out a warning.

"I don't know who you are, but -- " My jaw dropped in disbelief when I saw Eddie smiling at me.

"You're hard to find, Galinda. I spent hours this morning asking around town." He gestured toward my little cabin. "Interesting place you've got."

I couldn't get my head, or my heart, to stop pounding. "What are you doing here?" I already knew the answer. He'd come to tell me how foolish my dreams were, to point out my failures, and persuade me to go home.

Maybe he was right.

But I wasn't going to admit defeat quite yet. I had the glory of Sedona, the reckless freedom of being myself, and the one man I truly loved all together in one unforgettable moment of time. I savored it.


***


One week, we agreed. At the end of the week, we would go home together, or we would say good-bye. Forever. I had already made the decision. The moment I'd seen Eddie again, I knew how much I loved him. I would go with him, but I needed those last few days in Sedona.


***


Together, we hiked up Thunder Mountain, rode horseback through Oak Creek Canyon, and visited the local galleries and shops. We saw Coffeepot Rock, and Cathedral Mesa, and the energy of Sedona swirled around us. I wished the week would never end.

I awoke at dawn on the final day and stepped outside to gaze one last time at the beauty around me. Soon, I felt Eddie's hands on my shoulders. Strong. Warm. Comforting. He brushed a kiss against my neck.

"Beautiful morning," he said in a quiet voice.

I nodded, and tears began to fall. I loved Eddie, but as much as I wanted to be with him, I had to stay. Giving up my dreams would be too great a price to pay.

"I guess it's time to go," I whispered. I whirled around and looked up at him. "Eddie, I love you --"

He shook his head. "Don't say it, Galinda. I came here to find out why you walked away from all we had. I needed to see for myself what you wanted from life." His brown eyes held a look of understanding. "I've seen now how much your art means to you, and I know you're happy. I won't ask you to come back with me."

Another tear fell. It was over between us, but I would always remember our time together.

Eddie's arms went around me. "I won't ask you to give up what you love, but I won't give up what I love either."

"What?" I blinked in surprise.

"I have to go home today, but if you'll have me, I'll come back. To stay," he added. "I've loved you for a long time, but in this past week, I've seen the world from your eyes. I've seen what's in your heart. I've fallen even more in love with you."

***

We kissed good-bye and as Eddie drove toward the airport in his rental car, I floored the old jeep and headed toward the mountains. I'd climbed halfway up the rocky cliff when I saw the tiny plane soaring overhead. I waved, then stood watching until the plane disappeared from view.

Is this what you really want?

The old question made me laugh. I threw my arms upward, embracing the sun, the skies, the clouds, and the trees.

"Yes!" I shouted to the world, and the world echoed back a resounding affirmation.

About the Author: Christina Cole has recently returned to writing after being away from her desk for many years. She has been published in confession and inspirational markets, and now plans to devote herself to romance writing. Christina lives in the midwest. She is currently at work on a full-length historical romance. http://www.christinacoleromance.com

Author Interview: LaVerne Thompson

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome LaVerne Thompson, whose latest book Day in the Sun was just released by Red Rose Publishing.

Reading and writing have always been a big part of her life. "Before I was old enough to understand what I was doing," she told me, "I'd add to a story or change the pig to a frog."

And, there never was a time she didn't consider herself a writer. "I've always known that's what I was," she said. "Even my first profession involved lots of writing; I was an attorney."

She tried to write her first book when she was thirteen. "My father had gotten robbed while in a cab," she explained, "and I wrote a story about it."

The idea for her first published book, Promises, was also taken from her life—it was inspired by her cousin who married someone they had grown up with.

Usually, as in those cases, the plot comes first; however a few stories she's written have been character driven—LaVerne will have a character in mind and write the story to fit. Or she might get an idea from a song—sometimes she gets titles from music as well or from an element in the plot or an emotion she's trying to evoke.

"The title for one of my stories, Without You, came from the U2 song 'With or Without You.' The plot of the story is about living without someone in your life," she told me.

LaVerne has several books and authors who have influenced her own writing. I asked her to tell us a bit about them and how they have affected her.

"Pride and Prejudice for straight undiluted romance with a touch of humor. Robert Jordon's Wheel of Time series for complexity and depth. Deborah Smith for faith. Dune has it all. Lord of the Rings-- it's only the bible for fantasy writers. Dragons of Pern series—love my dragons! Christina Dodd is the mistress of the written word, Sandra Kitt can entertain, and I want to write like Julie Garwood when I grow up."

She admitted she could have gone on with more, but decided to stop with those.

One of the things that LaVerne enjoys doing, along with reading, is spending time with her family. She has two active pre-driving daughters and a husband who travels a lot, so she admits to being able to multitask, for sure! And, the relationship she has with her husband is one of the things that influenced her to write interracial romances, as she's been having her own for more than 23 years. LaVerne is from Trinidad and her husband is Anglo-American, but racial conflict is not one of the factors in her book. The romance is the important thing. LaVerne has enough of a mixed heritage, she told me, that she didn't want to list them because she was afraid she would miss one and insult one of her ancestors. She also didn't want to label herself as a stereotype, because, as she said, "I have a tendency to do my damndest to break these."

I asked her to describe her writing space.

"A seemingly cluttered office," she responded.

On a random note:

What does LaVerne want to know about the future? --That it's still there.

She feels scientists should invent worm hole access.

She loves thunderstorms.

And, finally, if she could wish for anything she'd wish for an added hour in the morning and one at night.

"I'd wish for peace," she explained, "but I think we have a better chance of getting that extra hour. Maybe if people had more time to think about things we wouldn't be in such a mess."

You can keep up with LaVerne on her blog, http://isisindcblog.blogspot.com

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Joyce and Jim Lavene

Killing people for fun and profit
Writing mysteries is fun. Some people seem to think that killing people in books has to be a serious subject but we tend to disagree.

Humor in the face of terrible tragedies helps balance both real life and fiction. Most stalwart mystery characters have humorous counterparts. Where would Holmes be without Watson?

While it’s true that death isn’t funny, people’s reactions to it are many times humorous. It’s our way of releasing tension and finding a way to get through the pain. We look for the bright spots during the darkest of storms and try to see the light. Writing fiction is no different.

Writing mystery gives our readers something not everyone gets in real life, closure and a sense of justice. The bad guys are always caught and the good guys take care of business. Sure, they may do it with a grin sometimes, but they always get the job one. Don’t you wish you could say the same about real life?

Sometimes when we are asked questions during interviews, people want to know why we’d choose to write books about death and murder. For us, it involves solving the puzzle and putting things right after the unspeakable has happened. Our characters are usually normal people like Peggy Lee in A Corpse for Yew and Jessie Morton in Ghastly Glass who want to help with that process. They find themselves in bad situations sometimes and the only way to cope with those times is to smile.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Joyce and Jim Lavene

The writing life
Being full-time writers is dream many part-time writers cherish. It seems like nothing could be better than to get up and put on your slippers to head to the computer. And while it’s true that writing full-time is great, it’s a lot more work than people seem to understand. Most beginning writers don’t even want to hear about it.

Everyone wants to hear about the book tours and the interviews, the dinners in New York with agents and editors. No one wants to know about the long days and short nights that sometimes accompany writing a book.

The writing life is more than dreaming up stories and putting them into your computer. It’s writing stories on deadlines that sometimes seem impossible to meet. It’s doing revisions on a second story while writing a rough draft on your current story.

Writing for yourself is a lot different than writing for publication. Don’t get us wrong; we love what we do and wouldn’t change a thing. But many times we are amazed at how many beginning writers have no idea about revisions or editorial letters, let alone promotion.

It’s been estimated by many authors that promotion is 90 percent of the job now. We tell writers they become small business owners the minute they begin writing for publication. A business owner is responsible for the product, financing, and marketing. They are the buck-stops-here people for reviewers and readers. Writers should be aware of this before they get started.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Joyce and Jim Lavene

Characters
How do you come up with your characters? Do you decide on them first? These are frequent questions from readers and writers. The character-plot conundrum is very chicken or the egg. The real answer is that sometimes you come up with characters first. Sometimes you are inspired by settings that invoke characters. Other times, a plot could come first that inspires the right character for it. Sometimes, writers admit their books are plot driven.

In series writing, your main characters are decided in the first book. The plot becomes essential and must be changed with each story, but many times, the characters remain the same as in Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes. The setting, side characters, and how the mystery is solved become very important.

In our first mystery series, our protagonist was a young woman whose father had been killed. He was the sheriff of a small town and she was asked to fill in for him until the next election. She found she liked being sheriff and wanted to continue. Sheriff Sharyn Howard changed a lot in the 12 books we wrote about her. She went from being an insecure young woman through a dark time when she doubted herself and eventually reached a place where she was happy with herself and her life.

The stories were very character driven, but they were also rich in settings and plot from the Uwharrie Mountains in North Carolina, so many found them plot driven. Really, the vehicle that takes your reader into the story and holds them there is what matters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Joyce and Jim Lavene

Team writing
One of the first things that readers ask us, no matter where we go, is what it’s like writing with another person. Many people can’t imagine working with a husband or wife at all. Writers are solitary people by nature. That seems to make it sound even worse.

We worked together for 15 years running an office supply business in Charlotte, NC. When our children started growing up, we decided to take the plunge and try our hands at writing. We didn’t know if it was possible to make one voice out of two, but we wanted to try. Finding that singular voice is the hardest thing two writers working together can undertake.

We tried short stories at first to see how it would work. It didn’t. We set our sights on novels but found we had the same problem. It wasn’t until we were sitting around a campfire with our kids, doing a round robin type story, that we realized this could work for us. We started writing a long synopsis so we both know what we’re thinking, and then we sit down together at the computer.

We tell each other the story, back and forth, across our linked monitors, until we come up with a rough draft. That is our discovery process, our storytelling that is then revised and revised until we have the finished product It’s exciting and fun working with someone you love and trust, someone you know has great ideas and the best interests of the book at heart. And of course there is always the extra benefit of being able to have someone to talk to when you’re sitting in a mall hundreds of miles from home with no friendly faces in sight. Team writing is the best!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Joyce and Jim Lavene

Ren Fests

People ask us why we write a mystery series set in a Renaissance Faire, of all places. The answer is easy; we love the Ren Faires and think they are the best things ever! They are local theme parks for adults where we can get a small taste of what things were like in Renaissance England.

Our series is set in a fictional Renaissance Faire in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that is open all year. Most Ren Faire sites are only open for a few weeks or months each year. Of course, that leads to all kinds of strange ideas since we visit so many of them. When you’re a mystery writer, your thoughts naturally turn to interesting places for your characters to live and solve crimes. What could be more interesting than a world inside a world? A world of actors playing parts sometimes to the extent of forgetting that they live in the modern world.

We are also history buffs. While Ren Faire history is not always accurate, you can’t help but feel its presence in the story as well as in real life. While we are certainly not within the scope of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Ren Faire Mysteries: Wicked Weaves and now, Ghastly Glass, are able to offer a glimpse into that time in history as our heroine, Jessie Morton, finds the lord, lady, or serf whodunit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In the Market for Love by Carol Ayer

Debbie pulled her coat closer and stifled a cough. She couldn't seem to shake the cold that had been hanging on now for almost two weeks. She no doubt needed a few days of bed rest, but then who would do the laundry, the cooking, and the shopping, and pick up Molly from day care? This was the lot of a single mother. If she didn't do it, no one would.

But enough of feeling sorry for herself. She had to focus on the task at hand. She threw some diet dinners into her cart and headed for the frozen pizza rolls. Just then, the wheels of her cart squealed and turned sideways, and she lost control. Much like with her life, she thought wryly as the cart veered off toward the other side of the aisle.

Right before the cart rammed into a man coming down the aisle, he caught it and righted it.

“Whoa, there,” he said to her. “You didn't have your turn signal on.”

Debbie looked at him. He was about her age and very attractive, with dark blonde hair and sweet-looking brown eyes. She felt her face turn red.

“Sorry about that,” she said in the hoarse voice she'd suffered with for the last few days. She wondered if he could even understand her.

He smiled. “I know how these runaway carts can be. Have you ever shopped at Henderson's? I never understood why they built the parking lot on that hill. I had my cart go AWOL on me and it slammed into a BMW.” He grinned. “Raised my insurance rates, I can tell you.”

Debbie giggled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I've wondered about that, too.”

“I'm Jack Dawson.”

“Debbie Lidell. I won't shake your hand. I've got a cold.”

“I hear you. I just got over one last week. I'm sure my son brought it home from day care.”

She nodded. “Mine's from my four-year-old, Molly. She and her friends were all sick.”

“My ex is always telling me I have to constantly wash my hands when Jake comes over. But I never seem to do it. Doesn't seem manly, you know?”

She laughed. Hmm, so he had an ex. Interesting.

Her gaze drifted to his cart, and she saw several boxes of mac and cheese piled on top of each other. Molly would kill her if she didn't bring home a similar stash.

“I'd better get going. I still have some shopping to do. Nice to meet you,” she said.

“You, too. Maybe I'll see you around.”

Another week passed, and Debbie's cold finally went away. Feeling much stronger, she set out for Henderson's, determined to pick up loads of the fruits and veggies the market was well-known for. She refused to get sick again.

Her heart rate sped up when she realized Jack had said he shopped there sometimes. Would they run into each other again? She kept her eye out, but she'd seen no sign of him by the time she stepped into line to pay for her groceries.

She arrived at the check-out stand and withdrew her ATM card from her wallet. But when she swiped the card, she was beset with a sudden loss of memory. What in the world was her pin number? She smiled at the cashier sheepishly, and tried her birthdate followed by Molly's--3271006. Wasn't that right? Or did she change it? She attempted it the other way around with no success. The familiar feeling of a loss of control came over her.

“Sorry, that's still the wrong code,” the cashier said, a sympathetic look on her face.

Debbie tried two more combinations of numbers, but nothing worked. “I feel so stupid,” she said. “I can't seem to get it. I'll just use my credit card.” Then she remembered she was at her credit limit. The card wouldn't be accepted. “No, make that cash.” She looked into her wallet, but she only had a twenty, a ten and a five. Her total was $38.49. Maybe she had the rest in coins. But her change purse revealed a pitiful collection of mostly pennies.

The cashier was starting to get antsy. “Maybe you could step away so I could help the customers behind you.”

Debbie felt herself burning up. She was about to move aside to ponder which items to give up when a hand reached around her with a five dollar bill.

“This should cover it.”

She turned to see Jack smiling at her.

“Uh, thanks,” she said, inwardly cringing with embarrassment.

Once she'd paid, Jack scooped up her grocery bags, settled them into her shopping cart, and led her outside to her car. He loaded her groceries neatly into the trunk.

“That was really nice of you,” she said, taking the cart from him. “I can pay you back. I'm just so embarrassed. I had a senior moment...well, an early forties moment, anyway."

“I have a better idea. Why don't you and Molly join Jake and me for pizza tonight? You can spring for the soda.”

She looked into his brown eyes and could see the kindness there. A kindness she wouldn't mind seeing for some time to come.

She nodded, and accidentally released her hold on the shopping cart. It went sailing away from her down the parking lot's incline. Open-mouthed, she watched it shoot directly into the corral for empty carts.

“Amazing,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Could you show me that again?”

They shared a long, hearty laugh. And for the first time, Debbie realized that losing control wasn't always such a bad thing.

About the Author: Carol Ayer's short romantic fiction has appeared in The Prairie Times, Woman's World, and a previous edition of The Long and the Short of It. Her romantic novella Storybook Love is available from Wild Child Publishing. Visit Carol's website at www.seaaircarol.com

Author Interview: Sandy James

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Sandy James. Sandy is no stranger to the regular readers of this site, as her latest book Faith of the Heart was voted Best Book of the Week by the readers. She has also had three other books garner the same recognition: Free Falling, Murphy's Law, and Turning Thirty-Twelve.

Sandy's a high school teacher and started writing when she realized she'd soon be face to face with the empty nest syndrome. She completed her first book the same year the younger of her two children graduated from high school. Writing a novel was on her "Must Do This Before I'm Too Old" list, and in her mind she'd cross it off and move on with her life.

"I had no idea I’d be so addicted to writing," she confessed. "It was as if I found my voice once I passed that forty-year milestone. I’ve always loved reading, and I flirted with writing in junior high and high school. I was part of a trio of close friends who passed a notebook to each other between classes. You had to write a new part of the story before you gave it to the next friend. In retrospect, and judging from our ages at the time, we were writing a romance, albeit a chaste one. But I never really considered writing a novel until I was inspired by a bad book."

Before Sandy started writing, she read every romance she could lay her hands on. She, of course, has her keeper authors that she read and re-read (Julie Garwood and Hannah Howell topping that list). She had been reading a story by another fairly well-known author, and the hero and heroine were already married.

"I was excited, because I hate that so many people consider the romance over when the couple marries," she said. "As I settled in to read it, I got angrier and angrier. The heroine was supposed to be close to forty-years old, but she was described as looking like she was still a teenager. Oh, please! Any woman over the age of thirty realizes that she doesn’t look like a teenager anymore. So I pitched the book at the wall in disgust, sat down with a blank pad of paper, and started to write a romance about a married couple where the heroine was close to forty and looked close to forty. But I couldn’t stop because there was a secondary character in that first book who I loved so much, I had to write him his own story. Once I started writing, I was hopelessly hooked. And when I shared those books with a few friends, they encouraged me to try to publish."

Since that first story, Sandy has completed ten books, two of which she said were so badly written they need a complete rewrite. She plans on giving it to them, because they are unique story ideas.

"There's always more a writer can learn about the craft," she said, "and I plan to be a lifelong learner."

Sandy started her learning through her father-in-law, M.R. James, author and founder of Bowhunter Magazine.

"Even though is is very busy with his own writing career," Sandy said, "he took the time to systematically destroy my first novel. How wonderful is a man to read his daughter-in-law’s first attempt at writing a romance and give her honest comments? He didn’t just buzz through it. Oh, no. He bled red pen all over that first manuscript, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for his candor. I learned so much from that critique, although I’ll admit I could only look at a page or two at a time or I would burst into tears."

She learned though that experience that a writer has to let her guard down and accept the constructive criticism, not taking it as an insult or indictment about her skill as a writer.

"That’s where the learning comes in. You need to have the wisdom to know the difference between constructive criticism you can learn from and criticism that isn’t helpful. My lessons began with that first critique."

Because of her desire to get serious about making her books the best she could make them, she joined Romance Writers of America and met her mentor, multi-published author Judie Aitken, at the Indiana RWA chapter meeting.

"She took me under her wing and ripped and shredded my work," Sandy said. "I learned as much from her as I did from my father-in-law. I joined her critique group, and I kept practicing and writing and learning. She encouraged me to enter writing contests. Yes, I’ll admit, I was a contest diva. There was a lot to be gained from contests. I developed a thicker hide and started to sort through good criticism and bad criticism."

Her contest diva role was important, because it was through that she finally decided she was a writer.

"I figured I was just having fun writing until I finaled in my first contest. Once I realized that other people appreciated what I wrote, it dawned on me I should take it more seriously and devote as much time as I could to improving my skills so I could make my books better," she told me. "Since that first contest, I’ve been lucky enough to final six different manuscripts in fifteen national contests, and I learned something from almost every judge who included comments with her score sheet."

Sandy's works are all strongly character driven and believes that characters are the most important elements of good writing.

"If you don’t have characters who are richly developed, your story will never fly. Your plot can be brilliant. You can use the perfect word choices. You can have the most original concept ever. None of it matters without rich characters," she said. "Most writers are also voracious readers. They know the kinds of characters who leap off the page and become 'real' in their minds, and they need to translate that into the stories they write."

Sandy has a degree in psychology and has always developed a sort of psychological profiles for all her characters, including the secondaries.

"I crawl around inside their heads and just get to know them. Several author websites have worksheets you can fill out that address things like the characters’ favorite foods, the type of music they listen to, and little things that make characters 'real.' It boils down to this, if a reader doesn’t like or identify with your characters, the story doesn’t matter."

On a personal note, a saying Sandy uses a lot is "you have fun with that."

"I think it comes from hearing students tell me some of the dippy things they’re planning to do," she said. "It’s a way of letting them know I don’t think what they’re proposing is a good idea without being horribly insulting. I love my students, but, oh my. They do some really silly things."

Her father-in-law is a bowhunter, so Sandy said she can say she's eaten some types of meat most people will never have the opportunity to taste—antelope being her favorite.

"When I was expecting my daughter, my mother-in-law brought some soup for us to eat while we were busy painting our first house. I thought it was beef-vegetable," Sandy told me. "She didn’t tell me until after I’d eaten it that it was elk. I just shrugged. Tasted like beef to me. I’ve had deer, antelope, elk, bear – whatever my father-in-law had put in the freezer from his latest hunt."

"Have you ever cried during a movie?" I asked.

"A movie? No. Many, many movies? Yes", Sandy said. "I’m a very emotional person. If a book, play, or movie is sad, or even if it’s happy, I’ll cry. I only hope my stories inspire that type of emotion. The highest compliment I can receive is to hear one of my books moved a person to laugh or to cry."

Sandy told me she's a "Type A" personality through and through and is only truly happy when she has too much to do. And, that she can, and does, multi-task.

"Some days, I feel like a juggler because I have so many things going at the same time, especially during the school year," she told me. "Several of the psychology classes I teach at the high school are for the students to earn college credit, and that requires a tremendous amount of preparation. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done I’d like to get done. Being a Type A helps because I tend to be very organized, but there does come a point where I’m working on a story and the phone starts ringing, an email pops up, the dog is begging for something, and the hubby needs me that I have to yell, 'Enough!' After a few deep breaths, I tend to buckle down and take care of them all. Being a Type A sure isn’t easy."

You can keep up with Sandy on her website, http://www.sandy-james.com

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Judah Raine

Okay, I’ve done some pretty odd things in my life, but I’ve never had to interview myself before (quite a “novel” experience, lol!) Still, I’ll try anything once, just so long as it’s legal, so here goes…


You’re a South African girl, and the settings for your books are all South African. Do you find it a challenge writing for an international market?

In some ways, yes. The essence of romance is, of course, the same everywhere, but each country and culture has nuances, turns of phrase, expressions… things that lose their real flavour outside of their cultural setting. I find I often have to “rework” something because it’s loaded with “South Africanisms” that have no real significance to an audience who doesn’t intimately know the context. It’s about getting the balance between infusing a book with a personality that reflects “Africa” without making it “unreachable” to the reader.

So how do you go about choosing your settings, and do you have any preferences?

I don’t really “choose” them. Not consciously, anyway - they seem to just sort of happen, to just “be there” when the time is right. I suppose I prefer smaller settings, probably for a number of reasons. It’s what I know - I grew up as a farmer’s daughter in a small rural community and I’m fascinated by the workings of the small town dynamic. It’s very different to city life where to a large degree you can remain anonymous outside of your social circle. In small places, “community” is spelled in capitals and anonymous is no longer in the dictionary. You either love it or hate it, lol. I also like the canvas of the rural setting. It gives me the opportunity to paint the South African panorama, whether it be the rolling green hills, the mighty Drakensberg, the tucked away, secluded corners that speak beauty and magic and mystery. A city landscape has it’s own version of romance, but I guess at heart I’m a country girl.

And your characters? How do you go about “crafting” them into your books?

Again, I think it’s more a case of they were there and I told their story. For me, writing a book is a journey - I love exploring the layers and complexities of each character, going beyond the surface to the multitude of things beneath. The events, memories, happenings that make each of us individual are fascinating, and the joy of writing is the discovery of those, to be part of the process of bringing those to life, to making a character understandable, and lovable, so that their story is done justice. I love getting to know each of them, being surprised by them, finding out something I never knew…

You’ve said your first book, Still Running, is about real people and real “stuff”… I’ve also heard it said that “real” and “romance” is something of an anomaly, that “real” essentially negates the concept of “romance”. How do you feel about this?

I suppose on a simplistic level this might be true, but then we would have to exclude the things that actually go into well-rounded characters who grow and develop and change. “Real” people are multi-faceted, whether in a book our out of one. I look at “real stuff” as being the fabric of life, the basic cloth on which the “romantic picture” is then embroidered… I think romance can be defined as the ability to lift us beyond the ordinary, to take the “negative” and turn it into something good and beautiful and positive. Pretending that life, with all it’s ucky bits, isn’t there doesn’t make much sense to me. They are the foil against which romance is measured - I heard once that “you cannot really laugh until you’ve first learned to cry”. It made a lot of sense to me, still does. To me, the ultimate romance, is when love and passion and commitment transcend reality to triumph over it at the end. It’s what gives us all hope…

How do you go about writing - are you a planned person, or do you take it as it comes?

I tend to write in marathons - just let the story pour out onto the page. I have a problem with thinking. I think way too much, and analysis doesn’t work for romance. If I allow myself to plan or think, my writing becomes very clinical and I lose the passion of it. Words have their own life, their own power, and I’ve learned that my best work is when I let them get on with it. It’s vital to capture the thought, the emotion, the nuance right there and then, otherwise it’s lost and no matter how hard I try it’s impossible to get back. So I just get going and keep going until I have to come up for air. Then I go back and do the adjustments, the tweaking, adding or taking out.

So why write romance? Was it any particular influence - a writer, a person, a place?

Mainly because I believe in it - it’s a “have to” for everyone. It’s in us, and we all look for it, no matter who we are or what we may say to the contrary. As for influence - I’d have to say all of the above. I cut my teeth on the classics - Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, the romantic poets… the list goes on! My husband Gary was a real romantic, though he hated to admit it, and he taught me so much about finding romance in the little things in life. Then again, I live in Africa, which has to be one of the most passionate places in the whole world. Passion is the heartbeat of Africa - grand passion, sometimes harsh, but always hugely romantic. I was raised on the novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the ultimate in “African romantics” and the poetry in some of our African writers… Romance is inevitable for me, I suppose. And it’s fun. Immense fun. Being able to turn something around and make it beautiful and eternal.. that’s way too good an opportunity to miss.

You have several online ships you Captain. Would you like to share a little about Classic Romance Revival (CRR)?

The vision for CRR emerged from a growing awareness of a need among writers, readers and publishers of "classic" romance to redevelop this particular genre in the marketplace. Generally, with the current almost overwhelming demand for "hotter" romance, many of us felt that "classic" needed a little more attention, and CRR was born. Essentially it is a "home" for all lovers of "classic", which aims to provide opportunities to build relationship among readers, writers and publishers, where readers can find books, authors and publishers, specifically within this genre, publishers can reach authors and readers, and authors reach publishers and readers. We also work together to provide support, encouragement and platforms for existing and aspiring authors. Currently we have an "authors only" Yahoo group for affiliate authors (a think tank and admin group), our public Yahoo group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/classicromancerevival, as well as our blog at: http://www.classicromancerevival.com/blog where affiliated authors may post, and which has been our "headquarters" on the net while waiting for our website. CRR Reviews was recently launched, and is growing steadily, and offers a professional review service to authors and publishers within the "classic" genre. Our official website is being launched this month, along with a whole bunch of other services which include the newest "ship of the line", Classic Promotions. I could go on forever, but please use the links to check us out, and you're welcome to email me at judahraine@yahoo.com with any questions.

Well, that’s me - I hadn’t realised how difficult some of my own questions were, but hey, we survived. To find out more, visit my website on http://www.judahraine.com (I haven’t done an author profile for obvious reasons, but you can find out everything you need to know with just one click, or check our my Images of Africa slideshows too).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Judah Raine

Defining The “S” Factor…

I lurve scenery… Living in South Africa, that’s not surprising – we’re incredibly blessed in that particular department: rugged coastlines, dramatic shorelines, vast sweeping vistas that paint themselves on the imagination in dramatic shades – from soft, rolling hills to bold bushveld, through the near-arid conditions of the Karoo and the panoramic high ranges of our mountains…

Being a farmer’s daughter, I naturally gravitate to the rural landscape – small towns where community is king, farming a way of life and everyone knows everyone back to three or four generations. The kind of town that usually consists of a filling station, a general dealer (which also serves as the post office) and, of course, the farmers’ co-op. The general dealer usually stocks everything from pantyhose to safety pins to school shoes (our kids wear uniforms here) and beer. Oh, and brandy, let’s not forget that. Klipdrift, usually, a popular brand among farmers. The farmer’s co-op deals in anything from portable braai’s (barbeques) to irrigation systems and, of course, fertilizer.

The other advantage of these small towns is that they usually populate some of the most incredibly beautiful country in the world. (Okay, so I’m just a teeny bit prejudiced…). I currently live in Kwa-Zulu Natal, with it’s sweeping coastlines rolling into the Valley of a Thousand Hills and on into the foothills and finally the mighty Drakensberg mountain range, a place that has etched itself on my heart.

All bring out the poet in me, I’m afraid, and it would be incredibly easy to fill my books with the passion and romance that is the African setting. Learning restraint was one of my first (and hardest) lessons! Then I discovered the “S” Factor, the secret of every setting, and it’s one that never ceases to fascinate me.

So, you may ask, just what is the “S” Factor? Simply put, it’s the setting as another “Someone”. In writing my books, I’ve found that setting transcends time and place, that it becomes as much a character, a protagonist, as any of the others in “centre stage”. Setting “speaks” as loudly as any hero or heroine, it has personality, depth, character and breath, and as it comes to life through the eyes of the participants, it forces them to act or react, to interact, and to acknowledge it’s power as a shelter, protector, catalyst or opponent… It’s never a static, easily captured thing.

In Still Running, for example, the scenery of South Africa’s “racing country” represents both the haunting past and the unnerving future for Josie. It is an antagonist that compels her to face her inner demons, a catalyst that forces her to face her fears, and a sheltered haven where she can finally find rest – and love, of course. Thrust into a place that is both frighteningly familiar and unnervingly different, Josie is challenged to dig deep and discover things beautiful…

For Morgan in The Look, the scenery is also a catalyst, but one which is wholly unfamiliar and challenging in a completely different way. Morgan is a sassy, streetwise city girl, and she heads off to the back of beyond in search of truth. She finds herself in a rural world of wide spaces and nothing much in between, where community is king, and the countryside presents a truth she never knew existed – one that runs timeless and deep, and turns her perceptions, her preconceived notions and her personal assumptions inside out. People and what they stand for are inextricably woven into the fabric of the landscape, and as she is drawn into the challenge of it, she finds the one thing she never imagined – a man who can speak into her soul through a single look…

In my third book, A Thick Black Line (due Tuesday 9th June), the heroine becomes the scenery in a sense. Betrayed, broken and bruised, Bo creates her own universe through hard work and sheer determination. Her dream becomes her purpose, and her purpose becomes herself, so that her world is defined by who she is and what she works for. The old colonial architecture, the sweeping gardens, the growth of her dream, all of these become the foundation of her life and her future. When the sinister shadows of the past intrude, when tragedy strikes, Bo must first rediscover pain and loneliness before she is able to emerge from her cocoon to the promise of love and wholeness.

Just as the complexity of a landscape shape and grow the inhabitants, so settings work on and with the characters. They add layers, complexity, a whole different dimension that brings a richness and a realness to every story… It’s the “S” factor, I think, that plays the “wild card”, brings in the unexpected, and ultimately can help to determine the final “equation” of the book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Judah Raine

My dad used to say I was born with a pen in one hand and a book in the other. He overlooked the animal magnet. I’m not quite sure where that’s located, but it’s definitely here somewhere… If you ask most people what they collect, it’s usually pottery cows, or stamps, coins, porcelain plates. You know the stuff I mean. Yours truly collects pets. Not consciously. It’s just this darn animal magnet. Every now and then it kicks in and hey presto, the zoo grows.

There’s a downside to a living, breathing, attention demanding collection. I have my hands full most of the time, feeding time is a frenzied affair, and more often than not I feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe. I have days where I’d like to ship the lot of them off somewhere far away… All in all, I now have 7 on board - four German Shepherds, a Great Dane masquerading as a Maltese Poodle and two cats. (It’s true. See for yourself at “My Zoo“) but actually I love them all and they put a lot into my life.

Another downside is that they all seem to have “odd” personalities. Some even have personality issues (we even had a cat once who had to go on “personality modifiers” – he somehow got the weird idea that his tail was an alien creature that had attached itself to him and need to be killed and removed, piece by piece if need be) or other disabilities, like our beloved Shadrach, a German Shepherd with brain damage from birth and epilepsy, who functioned only on the most basic level of pure instinct… eat, sleep, poop, then eat again… Still we loved him dearly and he loved us for the short time he was with us.

Sadly, our little rescued kitten Roscoe simply vanished one day, and we’ve cried many tears over him. I searched myself to exhaustion through ever road, street and piece of bush in our area with no luck. But the other day, along came Phat Larry. He’s not so phat right now, having been a bush cat for a fairly long time but the size of his head, ears, tail and feet present unlimited growth potential. Let’s just say “little larry” didn’t fit somehow. He simply moved in and is determined – no absolutely committed to working very enthusiastically at living up to his name, and I think it’s safe to say the old South African saying “as happy as Larry” just took on a whole new meaning. Now I just need to find a way to teach him that rescuing him from trees every second day is not my favorite pastime. Besides, I’m getting a little too old for that lark…

Of all of them, my old Keila, the matriarch of the family, is still the naughtiest and my best friend. While barely a pup, she ripped through a door to save my life the day I was held up at knife-point. I still don’t know how she did it, except it doesn’t say much for the door! She tried to do the same when my little tenant was brutally attacked one day, but the door was a lot more solid than the last one. She raised nine babies without batting an eyelid, and isn’t at all phased to have some of them move back home. Just mothers them all including the Maltese and the cats.

Most of all, she makes me laugh. Her best trick is stealing things. Still now, definitely grey and matronly (nicknames: Pork Chop and Rotunda, with good reason) she will flatten those ridiculous little ears along her head, get that particular wag and I swear she actually smiles, and proceeds to rifle around in whatever cupboard, box or bag might be open for something to steal. The game of course is to get it away from her. If you ignore her she waddles off to hide it in the couch. Anything missing? Look in the couch.

The other infuriating habit she has is the early morning wake-up call. The “I-need-to-go-out. Now” thing. I can’t even begin to imagine where she learned it. I’ve never ever seen (or heard) another dog even attempt it. But it is a guaranteed get you out of bed thing. She simply positions herself on which ever side of the bed gets her in close, then leans in so her mouth is right by your ear. No, no licking, heavy breathing… She clacks her teeth. Like castanets in the hand of an overly enthusiastic flamenco dancer. And continues to clack for however long it takes. It’s not usually long.

My “collection” may bring any number of headaches, but it’s a bit like parenting. You love ‘em, and sometimes you love to hate ‘em, but life just wouldn’t be the same without them. And I find their characters, their breed characteristics, their personalities all seep into my psyche and find expression in my books, all which contain animals in one form or another.

Life just wouldn’t be the same without them. And, truth be told, I don’t think my writing would either.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Judah Raine

After a lot of thought, and some very critical consideration, I’ve decided that maybe I’m perfectly sane and it’s the rest of the world that has the problem…

Those who know me really well would probably disagree. No, strongly disagree. My beloved late husband used to always say he hoped he never had to live in a house where I was the resident ghost. No-one would ever get any peace! It’s a general consensus that I’m the only human being on the planet that LOVES the ads on TV. They give me an excuse to get up and do something! Another friend, in great affection and frustration, once told me my problem was that I was a “perfectionist and over-achiever”.

I suppose it depends on your perspective, and your definition of “normal”. To me, it’s little more than a setting on a hairdryer. Not that I own one. I used to, but that was before I realized that the time and effort used in “driving” it effectively could be better diverted elsewhere.

The biggest problem is that life is just so full of potential, and opportunities, and explorations and… I suppose, if I really had to define myself, it would be “learning obsessive” and “creative obsessive”. I love new “stuff”, digging into a new challenge and mastering it. And I love anything creative. I write (like I actually need to say that!). I’m a musician (guitar) and vocalist and am currently experimenting with combining my love for music and my love for words in writing my own compositions. I’m also learning the piano backwards – writing the songs, then working out how to play them. The long way round I’m sure, but I seem to be making progress.

Growing up in a farming community that had none of the distractions of the bright lights of the city, and coming from good, solid British 1820 stock, I absorbed the wonderful heritage of the art of handcraft. From elaborately hand-knitted fine table-cloths to crochet milk jug covers with beaded patterns and edgings. The spectrum of possibilities was enormous. I learned how to “join holes together with cotton” – my Dad’s description of the almost lost art of tatting. I’ve learned to make hand-woven lace, spin yarn from the wool of “home-grown” sheep, fabric painting, how to draft patterns, and how to “cure” my own cowhide rugs.

It was a fabulous gift, a real passport to a world of infinite possibilities. Most of them I enjoyed, but I think discovering “bead craft” was possibly the best of all. Coming from “Kei country” – the narrow border strip between the Kei River and the Fish River – part of my heritage was the elaborate beading of the Xhosa tribes. Many a Saturday afternoon, the young Xhosa men would call in at the house on their way to one of their parties all decked out (literally head to toe) in their beaded finery, lovingly created by the girl they were courting, so that we could send them off with the right amount of admiration to get their egos primed.

For me, my love of romance took me in the direction of beaded wedding gowns and “one off” gowns, mainly for friends and family. It’s a wonderfully relaxing pastime, immensely creative as I usually create my own design and the appliqué motifs needed, and then “paint” the embroidered detail and beading to finish the picture.

Sadly, their aren’t enough hours in a day. I need to clone myself. One to write. One to bead. One to run Classic Romance Revival, created to bring together authors, readers and publishers of classic romance. What was that…? One to cook and clean? Now maybe that should be top of the list – with all the fun stuff out there waiting, who needs to do housework?