Beginning January 1, 2013

Stop by the new site and take a look around.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Wise Woman by Christina Cole

I only agreed to do it for one reason: I wouldn't be seeing Todd Bollinger that weekend. Or any other weekend, for that matter.

Sighing, I slipped the wrinkled crone's mask over my face, donned the matted gray wig, and turned to the mirror. Old crones were said to be wise women, but I didn't feel a bit smarter. Beneath the wig and mask, I was still young and foolish. Breaking up with Todd had been a huge mistake. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized it until too late.


***
"I don't know anything about telling fortunes!" I protested when Marianne first asked me to help with the Halloween fundraiser for her club. I'd planned to attend the event with Todd, but after our break-up, I'd forgotten about it. When a last-minute cancellation left the group with no fortune-teller, Marianne turned to me.

"You don't have to know anything! It's all for fun." She thrust an odd-looking deck of cards into my hands. "Lay a few cards out, look at the pictures, and make up stories. You'll do fine," she said with a smile.

Despite lingering doubts, I nodded. I had nothing better to do on Friday night.

After Marianne left, I sat cross-legged on the floor with the strange cards spread out around me. One quickly caught my eye. A single heart pierced by swords. Nobody had to tell me what that meant. Heartbreak, plain and simple. I knew the feeling all too well.


***
My nerves were jittery when I arrived on Friday evening, but big signs posted in the event room reminded visitors that all readings were "for entertainment purposes only." No one would take me seriously.

I've always loved Halloween, and I'd gone all out on my costume. Along with the crone's mask and gray wig, I wore a long multi-hued skirt that swirled around my ankles. My bright belt was fashioned from old silk scarves. The scarves and the skirt were treasures I'd found at a thrift shop. I'd purchased a knarled walking stick, too, and as I hobbled toward the table, I hunched over, cackling in an eerie voice that would make any witch proud.

If only we could know the future, I thought as I spread the cards for the first guest at my table. As Marianne suggested, I looked at the pictures and made up stories. To my surprise, the woman across from me nodded in agreement with all I said. Not that I believed a word of it, and probably she didn't either. It was all in fun. For entertainment purposes only.

As the night wore on, my card-reading seemed quite popular. I soon had a line at my table. I think they came as much to hear my cackling voice as to listen to any fortunes I might tell. I promised myself to thank Marianne later. Spending the evening entertaining people as "The Wise Woman" sure beat sitting home alone pining over my broken romance.

"Next, please," I shrilled, adding a high-pitched cackle as a young woman got up from the chair.

"She's good," the woman told the man behind her.

Smiling behind my wrinkled mask, I looked up to greet my next client -- then froze.

Across from me sat Todd Bollinger.

With my voice shaking and my hands shaking, too, I forced myself through my well-rehearsed spiel.

"Welcome, welcome. I'm an old wise woman who sees all and knows all. What can I tell you, sonny?" My cackle sounded a bit hollow, but Todd didn't seem to notice. He looked serious, almost somber. "Well? What do you want to know?" I almost shouted the words at him, anxious to get him away from my table before I came completely undone.

"I -- well, --"

"Spit it out!" I cackled again, furiously shuffling the cards.

"My girlfriend and I broke up last week."

With my heart pounding in my chest, I nodded and laid out several cards. I cackled again, pointing to one bearing the name of The Fool. "The two of you broke up over a foolish misunderstanding."

"Yes, that's right."

Another card showed a hooded figure gazing at several overturned cups.

"Now, you're regretting it, aren't you?"

"I've never regretted anything more." Todd sounded sincere.

"But you haven't bothered to call her. You haven't told her how you feel."

He hung his head. "No, I've been afraid to call. Until tonight. But she wasn't home." He looked around the room as though searching for someone. "I thought she might be here." Todd sighed. "She's probably already found someone new. I wish I could tell her how I feel. I love her. I want her back."

I couldn't stop myself. Before I even knew what I was doing, I literally flew over the top of the table and into Todd's arms. People stopped to stare as he tried to pull away from the crazy Wise Woman who couldn't stop cackling and shrieking for joy.

"Todd! It's me," I cried out, my voice still sounding like an old crone. Frantically I tugged at the mask. My wig went flying off. It landed on the floor where most of the cards had fallen, too.

"Jennifer?" Todd stared at me as though I were an apparition. No doubt I looked like one.

"Yes, Todd, it's me. I'm sorry we broke up! I love you, and I'll take you back."

The crowd burst into applause.

Together, we bent down to pick up my old gray wig and the cards that had spilled from the table.

"What does this one mean?" Todd smiled and held up The Lovers.

"I don't know," I said with a shrug. "But I don't need any cards to tell me what our future holds," I added. "We're going to be very happy."

Todd took hold of one hand, and with the other I grabbed my walking stick. As we headed toward the door, I let out one last, long, joyous cackle. For entertainment purposes only.

About the Author: Christina has written previously for confession and inspirational markets, and is now devoting herself to romance writing. She lives in the mid-west where she is currently working on a full-length historical romance. You can find her at http://www.christinacoleromance.com

Author Interview: Anne Marsh

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome debut novelist Anne Marsh. The Hunt has just been released by Dorchester Press and has already garnered some rave reviews, including a 92 from Mrs. Giggles.

Anne told me she wrote most of The Hunt between 4 AM and 6 AM, because she's very much a morning person. "I'm one of those no-fun people who actually fall asleep sitting up at the table if you keep us up much past eight o'clock," she admitted.

Anne shared with me that she'd always been interested in writing and, in fact, has always done it in one shape or another. She's a professional technical writer and spends a lot of time, as she says, "translating Engineer into English. Which is harder than it sounds."

She'd always daydreamed about writing romance, but there never seemed to be enough time. She was laid off, though, from a dream job at Pixar, went home and, after crying, got mad and decided she was going to do what she'd always wanted to do. She started writing her first book.

"It will never, ever see the light of day (unless I just feel like torturing my agent and putting her manners to the test)," she said, "but it was an important start."

She credits Pixar, though, for being the inspiration for that first book.

Her dream job at Pixar was as a technical writer, which means she wrote software manuals for software Pixar used to make their movies. "My kids are always disappointed that I didn't get to write the movies," she told me.

"I firmly believe they put something in the free coffee they served in the atrium each morning. Everyone there-- and I mean everyone—wrote," she shared. "People would leave all the time to pursue independent writing projects."

She took a fiction writing class from Pixar University (their in-house training and education group). "I was in a room with junior directors, technical artists, model makers, project managers, two members of the security team, one of the kitchen chefs and the guy who offered weight training and personal fitness in the gym," she remembered. "And we all wanted to write. And Pixar believed we all could. Plus, at the time, my cubicle was right next to the rats that served as the inspiration for Ratatouille (the technical directors would take them out and let them run around to see what rats really looked like) and across from the conference space where the writers worked. So I'd watch the rats and sort of half-listen to the 'Well, should Remy say THIS?' conversations, and it just kind of rubbed off."

She preferred sexy shape shifters to rats, however, and three years ago began writing paranormal romance.

One of her favorite authors is Kresley Cole. "I had to call in sick and stay home from work with her last book," Anne admitted. "Her characters are all so distinct and three dimensional. Plus, she has a wacky sense of humor and she is one damn, sexy writer. Can I be her when I grow up?"

She's trying to follow Kresley's advice and she recommends the same practice for new writers.

Along with believing you can, setting a schedule, and sticking to it, Anne adds, "And follow Kresley Cole's advice-- always have 25 irons in the fire. I never made it to 25, but I'd always have 10-12 submissions out there, whether it was partials or contest submissions or other things. As soon as one rejection came in, I'd buy a bag of Cheddar Jalapeno Cheetos (with Diet Pepsi Max-- because saving those extra 150 calories soooo made up for the 2200 other calories), empty the bag and send the next manuscript out the door. And, when you take the bag out to the trash on your way to the mailbox, remind yourself again that you can do it."

I asked Anne, "How do you come up with the titles to your books?"

"I'm terrible at titles. Flat-out terrible. When I was pre-published, I was always tempted to call them Books A, B, and C, but that reminded me too strongly of Cat in the Hat Comes Back and the little Cats. My editor, Alicia Condon, came up with the title for The Hunt. I'd called it 'Caught by the Cat', but that was an act of sheer desperation when I started subbing it (since 'The Cat Book' didn't really have a NYC ring to it). I'm a) pathetically grateful that Alicia is outstanding at coming up with names and b) that I don't have a Marketing job where I have to name things."

Her job as a technical writer, though, comes in handy when she's suffering from writer's block.

"Writing software manuals is good for the romance and vice-versa," she told me. "Fortunately, my software engineers are always mucking around with the UI, so there's plenty for me to document and, usually, after describing the behavior of two or three pesky little widgets, my pesky alpha male starts to jump up and down for my attention and the writer's block goes away."

And, for those times it doesn't? "Typically, I order too many daylilies from the online nurseries and then, when I can't face the UPS guy anymore, I get back to work."

The revisions to her book were the hardest part of writing it, she told me.

"There was so much that I didn't know about everything, from point-of-view to plotting to character arcs. I am so fortunate that Dorchester and Alicia Condon are willing to work with new authors. I didn't fully understand what that meant until we started hammering through my revisions."

On more of a personal note, I asked Anne if she wanted a dog.

"Do all the dog-lovers take me out and shoot me if I admit that I'm really, really scared of dogs? And want absolutely nothing to do with them? I have four cats-- and would happily take four more. And I'm saying this after Baby #2 peed all over my laptop bag this morning right in front of me. Worse, I was just pathetically grateful that she'd waited until I'd removed the laptop. I should want a dog. I really should."

Anne's not a big fan of having her picture taken, she shared with me, and admitted she hadn't voluntarily had her picture taken since her wedding sixteen years ago. So, she was in a bit of a quandary when Dorchester asked for a headshot.

"The only photos I had of myself were the kind where your husband takes a charmingly enlarged shot of your rear-end in a bikini you never should have been wearing... yeah, as if I was going to put THAT on the back cover of umpteen books," she told me. "I kept slinking out into the backyard with my eight year-old son, telling him to 'take another picture of mommy.' He's now convinced he's a professional photographer and I've learned that there are drawbacks to working at home in your pajamas when you have to snap a quick photo."

Anne's favorite pizza is one you don't just run down the road for. "There's a French seafood place on Moorea called Le Sud," she told me. "Best. Seafood. Pizza. Ever. We keep flying four thousand miles just to eat pizza. I'm fairly certain the owner is convinced we're crazed Americans, but he lets us come back, so all is good."
You can keep up with Anne on her blog, http://annemarsh.wordpress.com/blog

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Ryshia Kennie

Imagination Rules!

I’ll leave you with thoughts of my favorite holiday. Halloween. I know it’s not officially a holiday. At least not one where stores, schools and businesses close - not that I don’t think they should. On a day when imagination can run wild and the absurd can be completely the norm, what’s not to love!

I have spent many cold evenings getting those cobwebs just right, angling wire from one tree to the next for my assortment of ghouls. Of course the background sounds are key, the clanking of chains and groaning of unearthly creatures must be heard half way down the street – that’s part of the ambiance.

With the yard ready in under an hour it’s time for the front door greeter. Over the years I’ve upgraded from masks to makeup that comes in a well-ordered stack. It’s foolproof in making the most disgusting road wreck on your face, arms, hands – whatever. Blood and bruising works every time in the costume department - add to that possibly a rat burrowing through your neck (don’t ask) and you’re ready to hand out the candy.

And the children love it – well as soon as they get over the first visit! After that, my dangling ghosts and glowing skeletons are expected. One little guy insisted on telling me the year I was dressed as a rotting skeleton, that I wasn’t real. He stamped his foot and persisted in the argument. He won, I didn’t have a hope from the beginning, and he left with a big smile.

While the decorations aren’t state of the art, in the dark they serve their purpose. It’s a hint of what if as creatures flit through the night and tales of the dark side abound and imaginations go wild. Now before I reveal all my secrets, you must excuse me, so I may go and get ready.

Happy Halloween! And thanks for having me.

Ryshia

www.ryshiakennie.com

Ring of Desire, November 2009

From the Dust, December 2007

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Ryshia Kennie

The Story Behind the Story

Ring of Desire

Black Lyon Publishing, November 2009


Whispers of an ancient magic

draw them together ...

1072 England, in Hafne a curse has swept the land. As one of the chosen, Vala is destined to drive away the darkness. But the newly arrived Norman is an unnecessary complication in Hafne - and in Vala's heart.

... An unspeakable evil fights

to keep them apart.

Giles arrives to claim his new holding only to rescue a mysterious woman from a watery death. Holding Vala in his arms, the stirrings of destiny and desire link him to a prophecy of which he wants no part - binding him in a fight to save his soul and hers.


Here’s how my most recent book, Ring of Desire, came to be:

Medieval England, keeps and castles, knights and armor aplenty – that Ring of Desire should be an historical was as inevitable as the fact that it would be written.

1072 England - I researched politics, dress, speech and customs and loved every minute of it. So, with a medieval background firmly in my mind, a hero begging to leap into action and an opening scene ready to go, I began to write. And that is when everything changed. Someone was whispering in the background.

“The One. The One,” they whispered every time my beleaguered hero made an appearance.

I was hearing voices! I admit the far reaches of my imagination can be a busy place, but the voices were totally unexpected and now they were populating my story.

What the heck was that about? Even in the opening scene as my hero, Giles, rescued Vala from a watery death, there was the whispering and hints of something else. I was as baffled as Giles and writing stopped for a bit as the plot had to be reworked to accommodate what was obviously a hint of magic.

Wrong! It was more than a hint of magic. Ring of Desire took me totally by surprise from its final name to the outcome of the story. It was one of my favorite stories to write.

The Ancients and their magical dynasty took the story to a place I originally didn’t consider. But in the end, Ring of Desire is still a story of overcoming the odds and trusting enough to love. It is literally a love affair that runs through time.

Til Tomorrow

Ryshia

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Ryshia Kennie

How Could I Not?

I wrote my first story set in the Great Depression and loved every minute of the research. The depression era was a time whose shadow flitted over the prairies long after those years were gone. One story in particular haunted me.

A young farmer working under the hot prairie sun accidentally grabbed a jug of gopher poison instead of water and drank it down. It was during the depression and he died leaving a young wife and a baby daughter. I found that story so heart wrenching that I knew bits of it would someday weave itself into a book.

The most enjoyable part of doing research on that era was that there are so many people still around who lived through it. Mention the Great Depression to an elderly person and I found on average you got a smile. That surprised me until a pattern emerged. The people I spoke to were children and young adults during those years. The optimism and resilience of their youth brought back joyful memories. There were tales of hardship but there were also stories of dances, weddings and skating parties.

And a story that was one of my favorites, in an era when young men packed onto boxcars and road the rails across the country looking for work, a girl fell in love with one of those men. She slipped on pants, tucked her hair under a cap and got on that train heading east. The town constable was unsuccessful in retrieving her so her father got in his Model T and used precious gas to find her. So in the end it wasn't a very satisfying love story.

Still, how could you not write a romance after hearing that? And I did…

1935 Saskatchewan

A Widow

A Stranger

A farm they both claim

Sometimes love can be so Unexpected

From the Dust, Black Lyon Publishing, December 2007



There’s more tomorrow….

Ryshia

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Ryshia Kennie

How Not to Deep Sea Fish


Hours ago we struggled through snow drifts. Now, under Venezuela’s tropical sun my husband and I anticipate tomorrow’s adventure, deep-sea fishing in paradise!

The hotels warn to use the tour groups to avoid beach cons. But us prairie people are smarter than that; we will not be conned so off to the beach we head to book our trip…

Sunrise finds us on the beach. Our guide is ready and he looks downright unfriendly.

The small rustic, wooden boat holds an umbrella and a cooler. The guide speaks only Spanish. Truthfully, he does not speak at all. It is only the taxi to the harbor I say to the others.

We arrive in a harbor filled with luxury fishing craft. I contain my “I was right” smile. Within minutes, the smugness slides deep into the bowels of the Caribbean as we chug out to sea. A trail of blue smoke follows in our wake.

It is not the big fishing trip we expected but it will be fun, a delightful morning of fishing on the high seas. Although it is clear we won’t be going far… there are no life jackets.

Many miles later…

There are five people onboard and four wooden spools of fish line. Our guide ignores us, takes a spool, and catches an angelfish. Someone else catches a nasty looking eel. Silent, the guide severs the line with a machete-sized knife. What else lurks below?

Sunburned and exhausted we inform our now surly guide with hand gestures that we would like to return.

The boat swings from the sheltered chain of islands to open water. Land is a speck in the horizon. The gentle swells morph into something far more sinister. They crash over the bow. A massive field of jellyfish clusters around the boat.

Hours after it all began we grind into shore! A spat worthy of both an orchestra and fireworks erupts between the other couple. The guide glares at the dueling duo.

We end the day alone, the feuding pair and hostile guide dispatched to a bad memory. Ice cubes clink in glasses of rum and coke, and with coke at a premium - more rum than coke of course…much more.

And the adventure continues…

Ryshia

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Ryshia Kennie

A Travel Journal Gone Askew

In the inevitable search for love there are many land mines but dodging them is half the fun and that’s the secret of my stories. In my travels there’s been many unexpected and amazing things and the memories of those are only the beginning of the fictional adventure. From earthquakes in Hawaii to being chased by enraged water carriers in Morocco to a deep-sea fishing trip gone slightly askew in Venezuela. It all happened. While not all and even not most of my trips have been earth shaking adventures they still have been incredible vignettes into another world.

An elephant plodding home through Phnom Penh rush hour after a full day’s work was worth a trip back on two consecutive days to see. An apron clad woman waving a tea towel as she flags a ride in Costa Rica - we reluctantly had to leave her behind as our rental car was already full with other “hitchhikers.” A brawl on a Thai beach as guides fight for our fare – fortunately the other side of the beach provided much more amiable guides. A monitor emerging from the ocean on a quiet Malaysian beach – where was my camera? The scenes of foreign lands play vividly through my mind long after I return home. And it is these scenes where my hapless characters land but soon it is not them but me who is hapless as they lead me through adventure after adventure. From another country to another era – the world is full of the unique and the unusual and it is a joy to find it, live it and write about it.

Follow the adventure on my blog Passport to Romance: www.ryshia.blogspot.com

Want more? It’s not just a love story and I’ll prove it at: www.ryshiakennie.com

But in the meantime, in the ensuing few days, let me entertain you with one of those travel stories and a bit about the books I love to write. I’ll cap it all with a pre-celebration of my favorite holiday – Halloween.

Til tomorrow.

Ryshia

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You Know I Love You by Pierrino Mascarino

The red haired young woman raised her head suddenly and looked at the tender-eyed young man near her. She whispered, "Why are you standing so close?”

"Love you."

"You what?"

"Yes."

"Well--” She leveled her gaze at him, moving off a smidge. "Don't."

"Why?"

"It's--” Her large green eyes searched his. "It’s inconvenient."

"Inconvenient?"

"Yes."

"Love inconvenient?"

"Well, it is," she said and resumed walking. Her flaming hair gave off sun sparkles from passing hall windows.

"I see." He breathed in her sweet after draft --her body, her… .

"I'd just rather you didn't," she added over her shoulder.

"Didn't do what?" He caught up with her.

"Love…" She walked faster.

"What instead?"

"Something else."

"Something not love?" He kept up with her.

"Exactly."

"Could you be more specific?"

"Well," she flashed him a orange eye-browed look, "start off by liking."

"Already do, if you mean listening to the exquisite sound of your voice, watching your pellucid eyes flash, at first tender, then angry, then the prescient way your face changes when your boiling thoughts surface and are converted by your voluptuous brain to brilliant words; your laugh, the acuteness of your observation of the smallest things, like rotifers under the microscope in biology, and when you turn your head with that stunning big smile--there it is! The way you look into people's hearts when they speak to you? That sort of thing?"

"Hmm, not bad…but according to you sex maniacs here at school, love is mostly 'hooking up,' right? 'Love' means spending only one empty night or an afternoon with…."

"Yes, you're right; the word love’s degenerated and mostly does mean hooking up: that's the empty calories, high cholesterol, high sodium, nonnutritive emotional equivalent of junk food. Leaves you scared, empty and desperately dissatisfied. Ergo you, yourself think just liking could be less… empty?"

"Exactly," she said, “the very premise of being in 'like' with somebody first is more souls-touching than just being sexually attracted with all that premature hormonal stuff jammed in, and of course liking’s absolutely more scary because it's lots less impersonal than hooking up."

"Because it relies on real feeling and… .?"

"Yes." She slowed to thoughtfully make her point. "With liking you don't have the obfuscational refuge of the mere physical act to beg the question. You have to first develop real affection and friendship. That gives the initial affinity a chance to blossom into that dangerously intimate friendship that’s even 100 times more frightening."

"So this 'liking', he said, “can itself transmogrify to become just as scary and inconvenient as loving?"

She thought a moment. "Yes, but then it’s a good 'scary and inconvenient' because then it includes God."

"If, for instance, I wanted you to like me back?" he said.

"But then that sort of 'liking' would supersede my original definition."

"But, what besides just the empty physicality makes sexual love inconvenient?"

"It excludes God. When two people make love they--want to or not--call on the Holy Ghost to enter with them into their relationship. He’s given us the glory of powerful physical intimacy but for a divine purpose—can’t discard that purpose."

She stopped and was now really looking at him. Her soul was written in her face; it compelled an absolute, breath-stopping honesty from him, but urged him to touch her deeply; he said, "So, better live without love unless it’s based on friendship?"

"Exactly. And please don't do that."

"Touch your wrist?"

"Well, touch if you must, but not like that."

"Because it's not the proper precursor, not friendliness?"

"Exactly." But she was breathing a little harder.

"More toward the more inconvenient and scary thing?"

"Yes, it's pushing aside friendship... ."

"More toward?"

"Yes, more toward that."

"Bad inconvenient."

"Yes."

"I’d like to make a suggestion."

"What suggestion?"

"I think you invite that 'pushing aside.'”

"I invite it?"

"Exactly."

"How?"

"With your stupendously beautiful hair, so long."

She smiled that blinding smile. "My long hair is…I'm inviting messiness?"

"Exactly."

"You say... ."

"And orange, did you know your hair sparkles orange in the sun. It's coruscations are the brilliant outer manifestations of your good soul. Irresistible goodness that compels attraction."

"Orange?"

"Exactly."

"How orange?"

"People say red, but red doesn't really exist in human hair. It's really orange."

"Is that a difference without a distinction?"

"Well, look at that--no no, just let me hold up a little wisp so to see the sun shining through it. There. Look at that, way too much yellow in it to be called just red."

"You're right...yellow."

"So it's orange. Which, of course you were just being a little Bo-Peepish about, but you really know its effect because you're calculatedly wearing that complementary deep ultramarine blue sweater."

"I know it...?"

"Of course you know blue is the complement of your hair's orange and intoxicates the eye to drunkenness, that irresistible orange. Besides freckles. Orange hair and freckles are very, very beautiful."

"They are?"

"Exactly. And you're tall."

"So my freckles and being tall are inviting... ."

"The supercedence of friendship. And your body, you're not hiding it."

"And that... ."

"Another invitation."

"See," she said, "what you're doing now... ."

"You mean holding you as I’ve been wanting to do during all of our developing friendship?"

"Exactly. That's... ."

"I hope it’s not scary and inconvenient?"

"Exactly."

He turned his head slightly to one side and touched her freckled cheek with his fingertips, looked into her enormous green eyes, a long look that took both their breaths away and then moved gently toward her turning his head a little and pressing his lips against hers, "And what about that?" he said.

"Extremely… ."

"Shall I do it again? And now again? It can be very convenient especially if it has all the other wonderfulness we've been stipulating--don't you think?"

"Exactly," she said, but this time closing her eyes.

About the Author: Has pub. in The Linnet’s Wings, The Beat, Bartleby Snopes, Darkest Before Dawn, Dry Bones Anthology, currently in Black Lantern, 2 in Hackwriters, 2 in Fear of Monkeys. Has published the print quarterly Invertebrata, the instructional novella, My Aunt Rose, played the title role in the award winning movie, Uncle Nino, has appeared on National Television over 6000 times, won the Dramalogue Award in Los Angeles twice, and lettered in football at St. Anthony’s Grammar School in Atlanta GA in 1952

Author Interview: Phyllis Marie Campbell

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Phyllis Marie Cambell whose latest book Spanish Eyes has just been released by Bookstrand. Spanish Eyes is a historical set in 1879. It starts out in New York City and halfway through the book, the characters sail to Spain. Phyllis shared this blurb with us:


In a world when women must fight for every right, suffragette Rebecca Wakefield is determined to become a Pinkerton Detective. Her plan? Capturing the notorious thief, Anton Carerra; a man known as much for his womanizing as he is for his brilliant criminal mind.

Lady’s man, Anton Carrera is smitten with Rebecca from the very beginning. He wants nothing more than to seduce the stiff Miss Wakefield, until he learns she is investigating him for a crime he didn’t commit. She is innocent and naïve; convinced he is the villain her superiors have painted him. But her over-zealous determination places both of them in danger and he is forced to play the honorable rogue.

Sweeping her away to Padre Island off the coast of Spain seemed like a clever idea at the time. But how can he protect them both from his own uncle’s murderous games when Anton’s heart falls victim to a woman as full of independence as she is desire…


Phyllis started reading romance novels about a year after she got married and began having dreams in book form. "The whole dream wouldn’t be about a romance, but aspects in it were," she said. "After a while, I realize some of these dreams would make a great romance novel. So…one day (after having another dream), I decided to give it a try. I had a spiral notebook and pencil, curled up on the couch and began. That’s all it took before my muse kicked in. Before I finished that book, another idea came. It’s been like that ever since."

"How long have you been writing?" I asked.

"Since my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, so that would be…OH DEAR! Fourteen years!!! Although the first five of those years I wrote for fun. At first I wrote part time as I considered it a hobby. Then when I realized I loved it so much, I turned my ‘hobby’ into a budding career. Back when I first started I only worked part time. Now I work full time (10 hour days) and I also write full time. Sheesh! Personal time? What’s that?"

Because she and her husband both work most of the day, they currently don't have a dog. "Our poor little Teacup poodle died last year," she said, "and we don’t have time to train a puppy. Because I’m allergic to most animals, and there are only certain types of dogs I can be around, I have to be picky. Maybe when I’m writing full time from home and not worrying about a day job, I can get another puppy."

The first romance Phyllis read, the one that hooked her, was A Rose in Winter by Kathleen Woodiwiss. "I love all of her stories," Phyllis said, "but that is my favorite. It's because of Woodiwiss that I fell in love with romance novels."

Phyllis told me that a constant discussion on some of the Yahoo loops she's on concerns good writing vs. a good plot. "Why are new authors learning the 'rules' when bigger authors don't abide by them?" she said. "I try my hardest to write a clean, tight, story, yet agents overlook my work. When I pick up a new book from the store, from a new author, they break a lot of the rules that was drilled into my head by critique partners. So, are they rules or merely just ‘guidelines’? I truly believe that it’s all about the story now. Big agents / editors are more interested in the plot, I think. At least that’s the way it looks when I pick up a new book and can’t believe all the ‘telling’ phrases are in there! Nevertheless, I will try my hardest to write by the ‘rules’ I’ve learned to write a clean, tight, story."

Phyllis grinned when I asked her if she was working on something currently she'd be interested in sharing with us.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I am. I’m writing about a yummy, seductive pirate, and the heroine who doesn’t want to love him but can’t help it. I’m also writing the second book in my Regency series – The Sweetest Torment – and I still need to finish a historical paranormal about a man who is cursed by a witch to shift into a wolf whenever he has those lustful feelings for a woman… (poor tortured hero, I know)."

The hardest part of writing, for Phyllis, is writing THE END. "I get so caught up in my stories and I hate for them to end," she confessed. "Sometimes I'll throw another twist close to the ending just so I can prolong it. Although I'm relieved to have the book finished...I'm also sad because their story is done."

"How do you come up with the titles to your books?" I asked.

"I first started using a saying from the book, like in my Victorian Always, My Love, that’s what the hero tells the heroine. In my historical western, Holding Out for a Hero, the theme is just that – heroes and holding out for them until they’re yours. But lately, I’ve been listening to songs, older love songs, and I can’t believe how romantic some of the titles are. So…my recent historical, Spanish Eyes, was named after the popular song from the late 60’s from Englebert Humperdinck. Also, my pirate story, After the Loving, is also from that wonderful singer. I suppose coming up with titles for my books all depends on my mood."

On a personal note, Phyllis admitted to me that she hates how she looks in pictures. "The camera puts on at least fifty pounds. Don't you know I'm a size 6 and always have been? But, noooo, the camera makes me look huge. Go figure. The only picture I have liked myself in was the one taken by a professional company. Cover Up? Some place like that; can't remember the exact name. But that's the picture I use on my website. Doesn't matter that it was taken almost ten years ago."

One time in Phyllis' life she wouldn't mind erasing from her past was six weeks about three years ago. "My youngest daughter got pregnant young, married the dope (who happened to abuse her), and then three months after my first grandson was born, they stole my car and drove from Utah to Louisiana with no air conditioner—and this was in July!" she said. "Anyway, her abusive husband wouldn't let her call home and, being a new grandmother, I worried myself sick. Even had a mental breakdown. It was the longest six weeks of torture I have ever experienced. Thankfully, she and the baby came home and left the idiot husband in Lousianna. That is definitely one time of my life I would like to have never experienced."

Finally, I asked Phyllis what advice she would give to a new writer just getting started. "Join a critique group and learn as much as you can," she said. "The more you learn, the better you’ll write. Don’t ever give up, even though days might bring you down. If writing is what you love, you need to do it! No excuses!"

You can keep up with Phyllis on her website, http://www.phyllismariecampbell.com

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Stefanie Worth

Birds in the Basement

One day last fall I trekked down to my basement office for a good night’s write and found. . . get this. . .a dead bird under my desk.

Oh, yeah. I was instantly creeped out.

My mind immediately searched for myths, superstitions and old wives tales about birds. I knew the sayings were out there, but I couldn’t recall the substance of a single one, save for a deep sense of, “this probably doesn’t bode well.” It shook me so much that I, the Miss Independent New Millennium Do-It-Aller, called my husband down to dispose of the bird. He did it, but not without teasing me about it first.

I took a deep breath, said a few prayers and then set about disinfecting the tiny circular area around the bird spot. We later scoured the basement for an entryway and found absolutely nothing. Weird.

The next morning, as I was leaving to take my daughter to school, my cat got to meowing like crazy and up from the basement flew a very flustered bird. We spent the next 15 minutes chasing it out of the house. The next day, there were two birds flying around the house. We searched again and came to the conclusion that somehow (after all these years in this house) the birds must’ve gotten misdirected and flown into the chimney that now connects to the furnace. Eeek.

Unfortunately, though, the theory was confirmed when the cat got crazy again and led me to a tiny bird body that had apparently come down the chimney, through the connector pipe to the furnace and slide out. Unfortunately, the furnace must’ve been on when it made its trip.

That was the last bird. And since then, I’ve settled down (mentally) over the whole ordeal. But, you know me: I write supernatural stories; reality-based tales with otherworldy twists. They are threaded with essence, spirit and unspoken occurrences.

In reality, I don’t believe that black cats should be blamed for bad days, or that purses left on the floor make you broke nearly as often as overspending does. And except for those creepy crows carrying the West Nile Virus, I don’t think that wayward winged creatures herald death – like the blurb I found about dead birds in a house purported.

Yet, if my mind wasn’t willing to explore these realms, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, The Sixth Sense, Hancock, Blade, Anne Rice, Tananarive Due and Dean Koontz would hold no interest for me. But they do. And that’s why writing what I write is so much fun for me. It’s all about the “what it?”

My characters claim skills and abilities the rest of us may not have, but I also empower them to overcome their circumstances and themselves. My supernatural heroines learn to control their actions and their powers and become better people because of their gifts. Then the tale wraps up and we all move on to my next flight of fancy.

For the immediate time being my eyes and imagination are on the lookout for more birds in the basement, or whatever source of inspiration might pass my way today.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Stefanie Worth

Love songs & writing romance

Have you met Maxwell “Mack” McKnight? Named for two favorite singers – Maxwell and Brian McKnight – he’s the leading man in my debut novel Where Souls Collide. As you read the book, you’ll notice the music strewn throughout. Whether en route to work, chiming from cell phones or accompanying love scenes, tunes abound.

Not so much during the writing phase, but definitely as I revised, I surrounded myself with what I deemed the soundtrack of this story. There were songs that seemed to define each character and set the mood I wanted to maintain throughout the novel. For Maxwell and Mack, that song is “For You to Love” by Luther VanDross.

In last year’s holiday novella, "Can You Believe", the chosen tune was “Far Away” by Nickelback. I played the song constantly to help keep me tuned into my hero – who was having a difficult time focusing on the priorities in his life. Not only did I know all the lyrics, my seven-year-old daughter knows them by heart, too.

While I haven’t created a soundtrack for my current work in progress, "HeavenSent.com", my latest novella (in the Holiday Brides anthology) was written to a wide variety of Christmas songs. Some happy, some sad, some from the 50s and other present-day, each melody found a purpose in the context of the story.

I heard my debut hero’s song on my way to work a few days ago. Every time I hear the words, “I came here. . .through a hurricane. . .never doubt, never fear. . .honey, it’s you I love,” I think of my his relentless pursuit of his heroine Navena. That a man would journey across the country – even through time and space – to have the woman his soul yearns for melts my heart.

After all, who wouldn’t want to be loved like that?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Stefanie Worth

Rejection

Well, while baseball season is winding down, basketball season is gearing up once again. Here in metro Detroit where I am that’s a big deal. Each year we enter November hoping that the multi-championship Pistons will once again emerge as tops in the NBA. The fact that they’ve made it there, means many others haven’t. In this game – it seems to me – victory is reserved for those who stare down rejection: three-pointers denied, free throws that won’t fall, blatant fouls and bad calls. Even so, this former high school power forward can vouch for the fact that b-ballers have nothing on writers when it comes to the big R.

I still remember my first rejection.

Somewhere between my sophomore and senior years of high school, I decided that years of daily “Dear Diary” entries, and countless lines of carefully rhymed verse had prepared me for the real world of writing: the poetry page in Seventeen magazine.

Five poems – per the magazine’s guidelines – made my personal cut. Using my father’s 200 pound manual typewriter, I transformed each loopy word into uniform stanzas (except for the one key that insisted on dropping its letter just below the line), folded my hopes into a business sized envelope “borrowed” from my father’s office, and sent them off with a self-addressed stamped envelope and all my dreams of becoming the next Maya Angelou.

Weeks later, my father approached me with a handful of mail and my SASE. “What’s this?” he asked, probably recognizing his typewriter’s signature on the envelope that bore my name. “It,” I told myself, heart racing, face burning. “This is it.” Maya, Nikki, Langston, Stefanie.

Not.

I opened the letter as he watched. I felt him studying my fallen face. Absolutely crushed, I was also a little angry. Righteous indignity beat inside my chest. Dad asked what it was and I told him – leaving out the hopes and dreams part, emphasizing the “they didn’t like my poems” that kept bouncing around in my brain. The sorrow of that moment still makes my pulse race. I so internalized that rejection that I figured my writing career was over.

My dad, being the insightful man that he is, smiled and praised my courage. He told me that it took a lot of guts to send out something personal, let other people read it and judge it. He was so impressed that I had taken such a chance. And he was proud of me for not being afraid to try.

His viewpoint morphed that painful experience from an ending into a beginning for me.

Fast forward 25 years. Picture me seated at a computer keyboard (sans dropped letters) still angst-ridden and hope filled, churning out query letters, submission packages and SASEs for my first manuscript. The ritual is no less gut-wrenching than the Seventeen magazine attempt. And no more successful. But, it is different.

My husband told me a few days ago that he knew I was serious about publishing Where Souls Collide when I received the book’s first rejection. He said he could tell by my reaction, because I was so upset. What’s ironic is that I don’t remember my response. I’m sure I was disappointed – crushed, angry, indignant, no doubt.

But, in the years since I mailed off my Maya hopes, I learned that the word NO is a big part of freeing caged dreams. I got over that first “Not for us, sorry,” moved on, and racked up a slew of similarly phrased rejections. They’re all in a red folder with the date I received them noted in the upper right corner. And everyone who turned me down received a very polite “Thanks for reviewing my query, perhaps we can work together someday” kind of note from me.

Several letters contained helpful suggestions for plot or character adjustments. Most were complimentary of my writing. Many (too many!) were form letters without a hint of what went wrong. I learned how not to internalize every comment (positive or negative) and how to hang onto my belief in myself.

And then, on October 10, 2006, I got The Call from Dorchester. Suddenly I realized that the timing was perfect. Had Seventeen come calling on my adolescent self I could not have appreciated the moment the way I did when it finally happened. With all the energy I put into reaching this milestone, the accomplishment wouldn’t be considered “slam dunk showy” or “nothing-but-net easy” on a basketball court. Worlds wiser and really ready, the dream points I’ve scored in getting published resulted from the shoot around it often takes to outplay a bigger opponent.

Dropped pass. Sketchy plots.

Double-dribble. Weak heroine.

It’s all part of the game.

Take the shot; go for your dream.

There is no other way to win.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Stefanie Worth

Forget Everything Else and Rise

One of the quotes listed on my Facebook profile is from a sheet of paper my father gave me when I was about 16. “The most unfortunate thing that happens to a person who fears failure is that he limits himself by becoming afraid to try anything new. Give yourself a chance.”

I can honestly say that I’ve gone beyond the chance aspect of living and changed that into an expectation. My brothers and I might call it the Worth Ethic. We simply have this expectation that if we set our minds to it, the doggone thing will happen. End of story. So fear, I presumed at the start of this blog, has no place in my life.

But it does!

I am deathly afraid of failing to try. I am certain that if I have the slightest inkling of a talent that I don’t put to productive use, the good Lord will look at me as I stand before him and say, “But why didn’t you ever. . .?” I am a staunch believer in the parable of the talents (about multiplying what you’ve been given) to the point that I’m willing to pounce on the slightest glimmer of interest in any new activity by my children.

“Oh, you think you might like to draw?” We try an art class. “Want to be like Denzel Washington, do you?” Acting workshops. “Like to shake it up?” Dance class it is. And for speed, tackling, a good arm, a strong kick, there’s been track, football, hockey, soccer, basketball and baseball. Oh, and viola and trumpet lessons -- with the next household instrument to be determined. I even bought a camera for my son who (temporarily) showed a knack for great composition in impromptu photos.

Some might consider it overkill, I call it exposure. How else would Barack Obama have known he could be president if he’d never tried to be an elected official? I just want my kids to venture into new experiences without fear of failure. In our house, it’s not not succeeding that I focus on. It’s not exploring your heart’s desire, not attempting to discern your strengths and weaknesses, not learning what’s out there in the world waiting for you to find it.

As a writer, I’ve done my share of dabbling. Those things that didn’t work out get added to my Lived & Learned file. And I relish those experiences. Taking them along on this writer’s journey is perhaps one way of multiplying my gift; expanding my own mind while sharing with others.

The fear I carry is not a worrisome one that flinches at failure or cringes at condescending viewpoints. It’s more of a Forget Everything Else And Rise motivator that keeps pushing me to do my best.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Stefanie Worth

Raising Readers

My kids can’t wait to see Where the Wild Things Are. “Remember? We have that book!” my daughter exclaimed. Of course, mom remembers. And I recall the wonder of reading it as a child myself.

Funny how these things come back around. When How to Eat Fried Worms opened at the movies a few years ago, the trailer inspired yuck-filled disgust from my kids, but evoked a giggle from me. See, when I was in grade school, I read the gross aforementioned book. I liked it so much that I checked it out from the library three times in a row. (Since no one was waiting for it, Mrs. Riley said I could). Then I lost it.

I recall every painful day of that experience because books were treasured in my home. Of course I scoured the school, searched every room in the house, all to no avail. There was no way I could tell my parents. They’d kill me. (I thought.) Mrs. Riley, being my buddy, fully understood. But, she explained, the book had to be replaced.

(This is where the post-traumatic-stress-disorder kicks in and I forget how much it cost.)

Coming from a family that didn’t believe in allowance (you did what you were supposed to because…you were supposed to), any amount was too much. Again, the intuitive Mrs. Riley tapped into my distress and offered me a deal. Pay for the entire book, plus the overdue fee, and no one would ever know. Considering that my dad was president of the PTA and I thought he knew EVERYTHING that happened at the school, the idea of a secret like this was overwhelming. But I agreed to the impossible.

No penny went unpinched. No couch coin stayed covered. Every nickel treat meant for the Five & Dime went to Mrs. Riley instead. And, by the end of the school year, I’d paid off the entire debt. Whew.

Was I that afraid of my parents’ wrath? Sure. I had ultimate respect for them. But, more importantly, it was the high regard we held for books, reading and education that made me want to right this situation.

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. (That’ll make mom and dad cringe.) What I recall is the total immersion in all things learning that our household embodied. Using common sense, building book knowledge and speaking “The King’s English” were my father’s only boundaries. Beyond that, the world was ours to discover.

Every room had a bookcase – some wall length and ceiling high. My father read the paper every day, all day, front to back, comics, too. My mother attended college my entire life (from earning an LPN, to her RN, an associates, bachelors and, eventually, masters degree) and her medical books were strewn from room to room.

While me and my brothers’ bedrooms were overrun with children’s books of all kinds, World Book Encyclopedias, a set of children’s dictionaries, a series of animal journals and Ebony magazine’s African American reference library supplied my upbringing with authoritative information.

I remember teaching my dolls – lining them up along my closet wall with pencils and paper – from the time I was barely bigger than they were. (Much to his chagrin, my brother closest in age, now a major in the Marines, often got tossed into this “classroom” mix.) And what were my instructional materials? Textbooks my parents purchased from the school whenever the district revamped its curriculum.

A few years ago, while back home for a visit, I gathered all those old encyclopedias, reference books, and cherished childhood stories still stored in the basement. I carted boxes and boxes of dusty, much-thumbed and well-preserved books to my own hallways, bookshelves and coffee tables. Like the house I grew up in, my own family’s home boasts something to read in every room.

The lesson learned from losing How to Eat Fried Worms is that literacy is crucial. I spent one school year paying off a book and its fines. The costs of not being able to read, having access to decent schools or being open to the mind-expanding experiences education offers are socially irreplaceable.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I Believe in Music

The next line from this country song goes -- I believe in love, and as a romance writer, I'd better believe in love. But as a music therapist and performer, I believe that music inspires and can and does impact on people in more than just the obvious, 'oh, that's a sad song' way. I've seen positive physiological changes and improvement in the quality of life in every age group.

I don't play music when I write. I can't listen to a song or even instrumental piece without being distracted. When I hear music I hear stories -- even "long-haired" music as they call it. And forget about songs with lyrics or incidental music to movies or musicals where the composer actively sets out to create a specific image in your mind. If I'm writing a story set during the American Civil War the last thing I need to hear is music from "Wicked" playing.

But what I often do is set up a playlist beforehand and take note of music when I'm not writing and track down the song and/or artist.

Two of my stories were taken directly from specific songs. I mentioned one earlier (A Song of the Sidhe) but there's one story that owes everything to Country & Western music, from the title, to the name of the strip joint, to different scenes in the book, to character sketches. The list of songs can be found at this link: http://jeannebarrack.com/books/no-one-else-on-earth/.

No One Else on Earth was originally going to be called "A Real Bad Boy" from a line in the country song "Real Good Man" sung by Tim McGraw. As soon as I heard him sing this tune, I saw the scene in my head: A line of buff cowboys dressed in chaps doing the boot scoot boogie on stage to the music and then ripping off their chaps. Instead of I wound up using the song "No One Else on Earth" whose lyrics are just incredible and describe the heroine's feelings perfectly. I did call the strip club, "Real Bad Boys". It was just too perfect a name for a place like that.

Music is used throughout the book to evoke the feelings of several of the characters.

Here's the blurb:

Julie Turner returns to the quiet town of Greenrock, PA, to open a male stripping club with her three best friends and as part of the opening, they’re running a contest to find the best strippers.

The club is also being used as the base of operations by two very different males. Mike Winstead, is a Tracer, a hunter from another world chasing after an alien sexual predator who’s come to Greenrock. And Tzahyad, the predator,is a shape shifting, vampire-like alien who drains his victims of their sexual energy.

Two men want Julie - one for love, one for seduction; one for life and one for death. Choosing the right man has never been quite so crucial.

And I know you're dying for an excerpt featuring some of the guys from the club being 'real bad boys'.

EXCERPT:

Julie dawdled by the CD player as long as she could after she’d tweaked the sticky volume control.

What the hell had she gotten herself into?

Sex. Glorious, hot, sticky, down and dirty, pure sex. Well, maybe not so pure. A shiver of remembrance ran through her.

What had she done? But how could she have refused? What woman in her right mind could have refused being made love to by the man of her dreams?

Okay. One of the men of her dreams. Would her other lover come calling?

If he did, could she let him make love to her now that she’d had the most mind-blowing sex of her, to be honest, limited real life experience?

The answer was simple. In a New York minute!

She stared into space, reliving her earlier sexual encounter in the office. A sappy smile appeared on her face.

“Excuse me, Julie? Here’s my CD. When the spotlight goes on that’s the signal to play it.”

She started. Speak of the devil. One of her fantasy twosome had just interrupted a replay of his star performance.

“Sorry. Lot on my mind. Go ahead. I’ll be ready.”

The stage lights dimmed. A blue light washed over the empty platform. And Julie started the music.

The haunting strains of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera filled the air.

As though he’d appeared out of nowhere, her dream lover glided into the light. His mask covered half his face in his persona as the Phantom. He sported a long, black cape lined with crimson satin. A snowy white frilled dress shirt, black bow tie and tuxedo jacket, peeked from beneath the cape’s concealing folds. A blood red, satin cummerbund wrapped around his trim waist.

He wore only a miniscule, black satin jock below that. His bulging penis set off lascivious comments from several of the other performers.

“Christ, wouldn’t you like to peel off that piece of material and sample what’s underneath?”

“Please don’t tell me he’s straight. I want to take him home to meet my mother.”

“Straight. Queer. Who cares? Give me some time with him; I’ll unmask him.”

Julie blotted out the raunchy remarks she heard.

The man on stage mesmerized her.

He glided toward its edge and swooped low toward the tables down front. When they were filled with panting females, he’d have them fainting.

He flashed enticing parts of his skin as he moved around the stage. The voluminous material hid his hand movements. Pieces of his costume lay scattered on the platform. As they fluttered to the ground, he’d whip back his cape to offer a glimpse of the flesh unveiled.

Finally, as the seductive strains of the song faded away, he threw back the cape to stand gloriously naked except for the satin material covering his genitals.

Gathering the edge of the cape in his hands, he drew it over his body and the blue spotlight went out. When it went back on, the stage was empty. Only a black satin G-string remained in the light.

The spontaneous applause from the other contestants rocked the club.

He was going to be a hard act to beat.

A few minutes passed while the stage was made ready for the next act.

One of the men handed her a CD and gestured to the stage.

“He asked me to give this to you. You can start it any time.”

Julie placed the plastic disc in the rack and pressed the control.

A soft, golden spotlight illumined the stage centered on a life-size statue standing on a six-inch high marble platform. The sounds of Zamfir’s panpipes drifted into the audience.

The statue’s marbleized flesh was all muscle and sinew. Even the hair, à la Greco-Roman style, was a curly white wig with marble-like veins running through it.
The only spots of color were a deep purple bunch of grapes held aloft by one strong hand and a strategically placed fig leaf offering scanty covering for the heavy cock blossoming between the statue’s thighs.

Then the statue came to life. As it stepped about the stage, it paused and struck pose after pose.

One position had him on his knees, bending backward, thrusting his cock upward. He, too, drew near the rim of the platform, offering his grapes to the now empty tables.
In another pose, he lay on his back, the leg farthest away from the audience bent. He plucked a grape and slowly chewed it. The action proved incredibly erotic.

The following pose found him face down, and then, as though he were doing push-ups, he lifted his hips straight-legged from the floor. The movements that came after eliminated any doubt as to whether or not he was doing calisthenics.

With his head thrown back and the grapes lying neglected as he undulated his body, one knew that he was fucking an imaginary partner.

His thrusts grew more forceful as the music picked up its pace, growing wilder and more like a bacchanalia. One final lunge bowed his back and lifted his crotch from the floor.

He was as rigid as a tent pole, the white thong and fig leaf covering, but not concealing, his length.

A sigh ran through the spectators.

The lights went off and then on. He was posed back on his low pedestal, his profile to the front of the audience displaying his rampant manhood.
The lights went out again.
* * * *
So, do you believe in music now?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

One Good Deed by Giselle Renarde

As they walked home from the supermarket, Shahira caught sight of a scrap of paper at the sidewalk’s edge. Weighed down by bags of milk, oranges, and cat food, she bent down to pick it. It wasn’t until she’d unfolded it that she finally realized what she had in her hands.

When Lana turned around to see her kneeling on the sidewalk, she rolled her eyes. “What are you doing back there?”

“I found somebody’s paycheque,” Shahira replied, jogging to join her roommate.

“Let me see that.” Lana tore it from her hand.“Nice! All we have to do is forge his endorsement and we’re six hundred and fifty-seven dollars richer.”

Ripping the cheque from Lana’s clutches, Shahira scolded, “We’re not stealing this guy’s money!”

“Why? Who is he?” she asked with a blank stare.

“I don’t know,” Shahira said with a shrug. “Some guy who lost his paycheque. Marco Diaz. If you lost your paycheque, wouldn’t you want it returned to you?”

“I wouldn’t lose it in the first place,” Lana answered, nose in the air.

The employer’s address was in the top corner of the cheque, and it would only be three minutes out of their way, so Shahira set off in that direction.

“Where are you going?” Lana asked.

“He works at the Madeira Bistro.”

“You’re going there now?” Lana whined. “This sun is killing me. I’m not going with you.”

When Shahira only replied by pressing on in the direction of the Bistro, Lana chased after her. “Fine, I’ll come too. Maybe he’ll give us a reward.”

Shaking her head, Shahira said, “I don’t want a reward; I just want this guy to get his paycheque.”

“I’m sure they’ll replace it. It’s not a big deal,” Lana said. When Shahira didn’t respond, she went on, “I hope they at least give us a bottle of water. I’m dying out here.”

“Here it is,” Shahira said, stopping in front of the quaint Bistro. “It’s closed.”

Peeking into its darkened interior, Lana replied, “No kidding, Queen of the Obvious. Here, just push it through the mail slot.”

Shahira read the sign posted on the door and said, “Look at this—they’re on vacation until the end of the month. I can’t leave it here. He’ll never get it.”

“So, no reward, no water, and you won’t let me steal it,” Lana lamented, following her roommate back home. “What a waste of time.”

With a tender smile, Shahira said, “A good deed is never a waste of time.”

Leaving Lana to put the groceries away, she went straight for the computer. In a city of two and a half million, the name Marco Diaz didn’t appear even once, but there were twenty listings under M Diaz. She called every one. Seven were named Marco, but none of them worked at the Bistro.

“Are you still trying to find this guy?” Lana laughed, painting her nails as she read the local newspaper. “Give it up already.”

She placed the phone down and walked to the kitchen. “I’d just like to think that anybody out there would do the same for me.”

“Nope,” Lana chuckled. “There are no Good Samaritans anymore.”

“And some people don’t even put the milk away!” Shahira cried, finding the groceries still in bags on the floor. Shaking her head, she unpacked them herself.

“Oh yeah,” Lana said, mired in distraction. “What did you say that guy’s name was again? Marco Diaz?”

Looking up from the fridge, Shahira quickly said, “Yes. Why?”

Lana carried the paper across the room, walking on her heels so the polish on her toes wouldn’t get ruined. Placing it down on the cutting board, she pointed to a classified ad. For piano, guitar, or voice lessons, call Marco Diaz. “Did you try this number?”

“No,” Shahira said, grasping for the phone and dialing. “That’s a cell number, isn’t it? My search only gave me landlines.”

A satin-smooth voice answered on the second ring. “Marco Diaz music lessons.”

Her skin tingled as he spoke. Those two sentences swam through her like rippling waves of velvet, each word subtly running into the next.

“Do you work at the Madeira Bistro?” she asked, hearing the question from her lips without any awareness of speaking.

There was dead air for a moment before he answered, “Yes.”

“And you lost your paycheque?”

Again, he paused before saying, “Yes, I did,” and Shahira began to worry that he had the wrong impression. He was going to think she’d stolen it, or was holding it hostage or something.

“I found it,” she said, the words bursting from her lips. “On the sidewalk on Queen Street.”

“I live on Queen Street,” he replied. “At Silverbirch.”

“That’s where I found it!”

Lana stood at her side whispering, "Don’t tell him where we live," but Shahira didn’t heed her advice. Their proximity even at that very moment excited her too much.

“We’re neighbours! I’m one street over at Willow.”

“You’re not serious!” The excitement in his voice matched her own. “Step outside now. I’ll meet you.”

Dropping the phone and grabbing his cheque, she ran down the stairs and onto the sidewalk, heading east. She knew Marco the moment she caught sight of him speeding toward her. They met, panting for breath, halfway between their two streets.

“Your cheque,” she said, extending the rectangle of paper.

He took it between his fingers, but she didn’t let go right away. His stylish black hair and bronze skin lent him the look of a Latin god.

“Your name?” he asked, smiling as she released his cheque.

“Shahira.”

Placing it in his pocket, he took her hand in his. “One good deed deserves another, Shahira. Tell me what I can do for you.”

She returned his smile and didn’t even blush as she chuckled, “Marry me?”

About the Author: Eroticist, environmentalist and pastry enthusiast, Giselle Renarde is a proud Canadian, committed volunteer, and supporter of the arts. For Giselle, a perfect day involves watching a snowstorm rage outside with a cup of tea in one hand and a chocolate truffle in the other. Ms Renarde lives across from a park with two bilingual cats who sleep on her head. She is published with several publishers including Phaze, eXcessiva, loveyoudivine, as well as numerous online erotic magazines and sites. For more information on Giselle and her work, visit her website at www.freewebs.com/gisellerenarde/ or her blog, Donuts & Desires

Author Interview: Keena Kincaid

The Long and the Short of It: LASR is pleased to welcome Keena Kincaid, who learned to read by picking words out of an old history book of short stories about children: The Grecian slave boy. The girl from Pompeii. The English knight’s squire. The stories stuck and she studied history in college and medieval history in graduate school.

She told me that she couldn't remember a time when she didn't write or make up stories to entertain herself and her friends, but she didn't take it seriously until she was in college, and it was all due to one of her professors.

"She returned a literature paper to me with the grades A/F," Keena remembered. "Naturally, I went up to her after class to ask about the odd grade. She said I had a God-given talent with words, but if I didn't stop being so lazy and turning in my first drafts (true) she would fail me. I think that's the first time I realized that not everyone could do this."

After college, Keena went to work as a newspaper reporter and then to marketing communications and public relations. She's been writing fiction for about ten years.

Keena's stories usually start with a "what if" idea. In Anam Cara, the first of her Druids of Duncarnoch books, the idea came to her while she was sitting in a centuries-old pub in northern England. She suddenly had the thought: What if these walls could talk. Liza the alekeep, the heroine of Anam Cara was born that day. In the sequel, Ties that Bind (coming out in December from The Wild Rose Press), the hero, Aedan, nagged her until she wrote his story.

"I left readers with a very unfair opinion of him, and he demanded I fix it," she confessed.

She heard from her fans about that once Anam Cara came out. "A few really didn't like it when Aedan broke his promise in Anam Cara," Keena told me. "What surprised me is no one wrote to complain when the dog died."

In the next book of the series, Enthralled, which Keena is completing, Aeden's sister is the heroine. You may pick up a trend here. For Keena, the characters come first and then the plot follows.

And flawed characters that the reader cares about is one of the elements, as far as she's concerned, of good writing, along with a strong voice and a plot that works.

Speaking of voice, the one piece of advice Keena would give to a writer just starting out is "Be confident in your voice. It's the one truly unique thing you bring to the process."

Keena and I talked about writers block and she told me that frequently she'll get stuck on a passage or a sentence.

"Usually, a brisk walk will give my brain time to relax and find the solution. I've never had true writer's block, where I couldn't write for months and months," she said.

Her favorite author varies with her mood, but she has a warm spot for Julie Garwood, whose book The Secret was the first romance Keena read. Other books and authors who have influenced her include Beowulf, Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen), Robin Hobb, and the Bible. Keena said, "Is King David not the ultimate flawed hero?"

Even though she's always loved reading and writing, when she was younger she wanted to be an astronaut. "And, if it weren't for all that math, I might be," she declared.

"What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?" I wondered.

"If I had a bad day, someone died in my book that night," she replied. "It's a surprisingly good tool for managing stress."

On a personal note, I asked Keena about her strangest habit.

"Not sure about the strangest, but the most annoying one (to others) is my insistence that everything stay in its place," she said. "I follow after guests and put things back where they belong." She added, with a smile, "It really isn't hospitable."

She would love to have a wolfhound, but needs a much bigger place before she gets one.

She hates how she looks in pictures about half the time, and she was neither a crayon or paste eater in school. However, she has eaten pickled chicken's feet in China and claims that as the strangest thing she's ever eaten. Her favorite pizza is New York-style cheese and pepperoni.

Keena swore to me she'd not made a crank phone call in decades, but admitted she thinks scientists should invent the transporter. She would also like to know if we manage to colonize Mars in the future.

She's a night person with a job that requires she be in by 8 A.M., so she told me she's always sleep-deprived. She's also never tried to unwrap a Starburst with her tongue, but she can tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue.

She can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi and prefers Coke, saying, "Pepsi is too sweet."

Finally, I asked, " What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you?"

She smiled. "Did you enjoy being a guest on Oprah?"

You can keep up with Keena on her website, http://www.keenakincaid.com

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Elysa Hendricks


Thanks so much to Long & Short Reviews for spotlighting my books and me this week. As much as I dislike writing essays (which why I don’t blog) it’s been fun. It’s given me a chance to share my love of writing and books with readers and other writers. I’ll leave now with a short excerpt from THE SWORD AND THE PEN.

BOOK ONE - SERILDA

CHAPTER ONE


While outside a storm raged, Brandon Alexander Davis wrote the final chapter of what he hoped would be his last Warrior Woman book.

Inch by inch Serilda fought her way forward. Lightning streaked across the rolling black clouds darkening the midday sky. In the brief light her sword flashed crimson. Thunder crashed drowning the screams of the men dying around her. The stench of death and gore stung her nostrils. Bits of flesh and bone along with a generous amount of blood splattered her face and body.

Despite Hausic’s wise counsel she’d launched a frontal attack against Andre Roark’s army.

She could see him. A few yards more and she’d break through his guard and cut him down. Arms burning from the strain of fighting for hours she swung again and…


###

Lightning touched the tip of my upraised sword. A jolt of energy shot through my body. Stunned I slipped on a puddle of blood and tumbled backwards. My sword flew out of my hand. A blade swept toward my neck and I faced death.

Regrets aren’t something I often consider, but at that moment I regretted my failure to reach my goal – burying my blade deep in Roark’s heartless chest - before I died.

Though I kept my eyes wide – better to embrace my demise and face my reward or punishment for my sins - I didn’t die.

Instead nothingness surrounded me. I blinked to clear the misty haze, but along with Roark, my troops and the battle that raged around me, vanished. Other than my own body I could neither see nor feel anything. How long I existed in that limbo I don’t know. In that place time had no meaning.

Had a great wizard plucked me from my world? Was this a place of safety or a place of death?

Though my chosen career involves death, I practice my skills with discretion. I take only righteous commissions and those I hunt are always given the opportunity to surrender. It isn’t my fault they rarely do so. Neither do I harm or kill innocents. I’m a mercenary with a solid code of ethics. I fight only for justice and freedom. Surely my few slips couldn’t condemn my soul to eternal boredom.

The voice I heard in my head gave me my first clue as to where I was and what I am. In the beginning the voice was faint, muffled, the words unclear, but with nothing else to do but listen – bodily needs seemed not to exist in this place - I deciphered the content.

Damn it woman. The voice spoke without real heat, just resigned frustration. I liked his strange accent. Deep and even, his voice hinted at long nights spent between the sheets. Why won’t you ever do what I tell you to?

“To whom do you speak?” I tried to shout, but no sound came from my throat.

I had Hausic counsel you to stage sneak attack from the rear, not make a frontal assault on Roark’s fortress. But no, you had to do it your way. Three weeks’ work wasted.

A frontal assault? How did this stranger know of my chief counsel’s argument against my decision? Our conversation had been private. Or so I thought. What spy of Roark’s had been listening?

My own fault for giving you a conscience, a sense of fair play and a stubborn streak.

I bristled at his assumptions. The monks that took me in after my parents died at Roark’s hands were to blame for my conscience, not this disembodied voice. My sense of fair play came from my father and my stubbornness my mother. Or so I believed. Unease slid down my spine.

If I didn’t have other plans, I swear I’d let that barbarian take your head off right now. Let’s go back and get it right.

I wanted to argue. To tell him I had gotten it right. The frontal assault was working fine. Roark was nearly within my reach. It wasn’t my fault I’d slipped on the gore left from the battle – was it? But at that point I had no voice – at least none my tormentor could hear.

And this time we’ll do it my way.

Before I could blink I found myself back in my tent a week earlier with Hausic repeating his arguments against a frontal assault on Roark. He sputtered when I pushed passed him and out into the night. Sword drawn I slipped around the tent, but found no one lurking about. The guards looked at me in confusion.

Back in the tent I slumped on my cot, sword dangling between my knees. Hausic pestered me with questions about my unusual behavior until I sent him away, the plans for the attack still unresolved. Perhaps a sneak attack was more prudent. Roark’s troops had been ready for the frontal assault. I would have considered the matter ended and gone on with my life if the voice had not asked, What is it now, woman? I’m already passed my deadline on this damned book.

Though I searched the small tent I knew the voice came from inside my head.

Donoval may be more brawn than brain but I never have this much trouble with his books.

King Donoval of the kingdom of Shallon was my one time lover, beautiful as an angel, strong as a bull and as dense as a rock - at least in matters of the heart. With more than a twinge of regret, I’d kicked Donnie out of my bed and my life several years ago. For all his faults he was spectacular to look at, honorable and a dedicated lover. But his demand that I choose between being a warrior or his bondmate was more than I could stomach.

Cooperate or I swear I’ll write you out of existence in the most painful way I can dream up.

Write me out of existence? The answer to what was happening that occurred to me was beyond my ability to believe, but once I thought it the idea wouldn’t leave me.

My breath stilled. Was I a wizard’s creation?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Elysa Hendricks

AUTUMN

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the warm sunny days with pristine white cotton candy clouds floating gently across sapphire blue skies, the early evenings as the sun sets more quickly each day, and the crisp, cool nights where the stars dominate the sky. I eagerly await the change of seasons, watching as the cool greens of summer give way to the warm reds, oranges and yellows of fall when as if in an attempt to forestall the coming cold the trees seem to burst into flame.

At the smell of burning leaves, fresh cut hay, and apples memories of growing up in a small rural Wisconsin town flood my mind. I remember tramping through the woods and fields surrounding our home on the lake, the fallen leaves crunching beneath my feet. Watching as my neighbors burned leaves and brush, the flames reaching high, crackling hungrily as they devoured summer’s leavings.

My birthday falls in late October so as a child each year my party was a combination birthday celebration and Halloween party. My friends arrived in costume. If the weather cooperated we held the party outside where we bobbed for apples, played hide’n’seek, raked and then jumped into piles of leaves, all the while pretending we didn’t recognize each other beneath our super hero capes, witches' hats and princess tiaras.

Occasionally rain or even a dusting of snow drove us inside where my poor, harried mother kept us busy playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Simon Says and Duck, Duck, Goose until it was time for cake and presents. In those days there were no video games; DVDs or cable, and broadcast TV consisted of three or four channels. We made our own entertainment.

Today even though I still love the fall season, now as the weather turns ever cooler, the days get shorter and the trees begin to change color I long for those carefree days of childhood. The time in my life when I didn’t know, didn’t understand, and didn’t care that autumn is merely Mother Nature’s bait and switch for the coming winter weather.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Elysa Hendricks

PLOT IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD

Every time I begin a new manuscript I’m loaded with anticipation and wonder. Here’s a totally blank slate for me to play with. New characters who whisper in my ear for me to tell their stories. An exciting inciting incident (say that three times fast) to kick things off. So what happens? Feverishly I write the first few chapters, maybe even four or five if I’m extremely lucky. Then suddenly I get to a point where I have to stop and start to plot the story. I have to figure out what my characters want, why they want it and why they can’t have it, at least not until the end of the story.

Now I’m what they call a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I write into the mist. To me plot is a four-letter word, one that sends a shudder of fear and loathing through me. Still, unless I decide to write esoteric literary stuff, I know I need a plot, so I stop having fun and start having to work. And believe me it is hard work.

Because I don’t plot before I start I often have no idea if the characters I’ve been writing actually fit the basic framework of the story. Are their goals, motivations and conflicts consistent with the story I think I’m telling? Or have I gone completely off track?

Some authors know almost everything about their characters and the story before they start writing. Not me. At times I’m lucky if I know their names or what they look like. Usually I start a story with an image in my mind. With my first fantasy GEMINI MOON I pictured a woman waking from a dream of a handsome warrior to find him standing naked in her room. Great opening, but then what happens and why? I had to stop writing and find out who the woman was, who the man was, why he was naked and why he was in her room.

Since I was writing a fantasy romance the man isn’t a serial rapist, he’s a prince from another realm who’s come to Earth’s dimension to find his new bride’s missing soul, which by the way the heroine of the story happens to be in possession of. Once I figured this out the questions only continued to grow and the plotting continued. Why was his new bride’s soul missing? Why did the heroine have it? Why did he need to get it back?

As I asked myself these questions the plot started to develop in my mind and more slowly on the page. I plod along seriously wishing I’d never started this particular story. New characters creep into my head whispering seductively how their stories are much more exciting and interesting, teasing me with claims of actually having a plot, tempting me to abandon my current project and start theirs. But I persevere, pushing through the dreaded “middle of the story” only to face the most difficult challenge – writing the end of the story.

No matter how I try, how I plan, how I try to plot it out, the end of the story is always the toughest. I write it one way then another, then still another. I dream about it. I whine and cry to my critique partners about how awful this book is to finish, how I’ve never had this much trouble with any of my other books. They pat my shoulder and sympathize saying yes, this book is truly the most difficult to finish that I’ve ever written, when they know the truth. I claim the same for every book.

And then the magic happens. Everything comes together. I write feverishly, fearful the perfect ending I’ve managed to think of will evaporate before I can get it down. But in the end – oh, my favorite two words to write – THE END – is finally in sight and I finish the book. I breathe a sigh of relief and vow never to put myself through this horror again. Before I start my next book I’m going to plot it from beginning to end.

Then the whispers and images start again and I’m off on another rollercoaster ride.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Elysa Hendricks

WHY I WRITE

Almost every author at one time or another gets asked why they write. I’m no exception. Usually, I just joke about the voices in my head not leaving me alone, but recently I’ve been thinking about my writing journey and wondering about the different journeys to writing and publication taken by other authors. Here’s my story.

As a child I was a bit of a nerd. I didn’t care for sports or most team activities. Still don’t. Growing up I spent my time scribbling stories in my school notebooks, trying to capture the same magic I found in the books I read voraciously. When I was in third grade I spun stories for my classmates at recess. At one point during my early sci-fi phase I convinced some of them I was actually an alien. That I came from Venus. Either those kids were really gullible, or I was pretty convincing. I like to think the latter is true.

My sophomore year in high school I was excited to take a creative writing class. Finally I had a forum and a teacher who understood who I was and what I wanted to do, but when we moved mid-term my new school didn’t have anything comparable. I was put in a journalism class, which sad to say totally destroyed my youthful dream of becoming an author and crushed my confidence and budding creativity in ways that still make me shudder. Trying to write articles with facts and figures to back up my “story” was a torturous process for me, as bad as writing this little essay. I’d much rather “make things up.”

After that disastrous start, the idea that I could actually write books that other people would read didn’t reoccur to me until years later when it finally dawned on me that though journalism and fiction writing both involve putting words down on paper, they are totally different beasts. They’re not mutually exclusive, but learning to be a good journalist doesn’t necessarily lead to being a novelist, nor the other way around.

I can remember the exact moment I decided to try and write a book, Christmas Eve 1989. My sister-in-law had passed away that morning. Sadly we postponed our Christmas celebrations, so my husband, his mother and our nine-year-old son could go to Phoenix, Arizona to attend the funeral while I remained at home in Illinois with our younger son. On top of that my parents who had always lived within a few miles of us had recently up and moved to Hawaii. So there I was on Christmas Eve alone with a cranky five-year-old.

For years my hubby had been teasing me about the number of books I read, telling me I should write one myself and earn back some of what I spent. Little did we know. So that night after my son finally fell asleep wondering what had happened to Santa Claus I sat down at my typewriter. I decided I’d write a short contemporary romance ala Harlequin style. I thought, how hard could it be?

Three hundred pages and three months later I had a sci-fi story about a winged, telepathic alien who stows away on a passing space ship. Hardly what I’d started out to write. At that point I didn’t have a clue what to do with my masterpiece, so I signed up at the local college for a course on how to write a romance taught by the wonderful Myra McWethy. As a result of that class I joined Romance Writers of America and spent the next three years learning how to write. I even helped found two chapters, Windy City in the Chicago, IL suburbs and the FF&P online chapter.

A little less than ten years later I sold my first book, RAWHIDE SURRENDER a western historical romance to Hard Shell Word Press. Then I wrote and sold several fantasy romances to another small press. In 2007 Dorchester bought my sci-fi romance STAR CRASH. THE SWORD AND THE PEN, a contemporary fantasy is my second book with Dorchester. And March 2010 they’ll be releasing my next sci-fi romance STAR RAIDERS. Now, as my hubby likes to say, after nearly twenty years and seven books I’m practically an overnight success.

My telepathic alien story resides in a box under my desk, providing me with a lovely footrest. I still love the story and maybe someday I’ll pull it out and totally rewrite it. If not, I’ve left instructions for it to be cremated along with me when I die.